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Gates Urges Vigilance in Terror War

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

DALLAS, May 3, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today urged Americans to learn from past mistakes and steel their resolve to see the war on terror through to victory.  (Video)

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tells members of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce on May 3 that the United States must persevere against violent extremism and learn from the lessons of history as it prepares to face the future. Air Force photo by Michael Tolzmann

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates warned during an address to the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce here that giving up the fight too soon would be a devastating mistake with longstanding consequences. He urged the country to allocate the resources needed to win the war as it rebuilds its elements of national power, which withered after the end of the Cold War.

Re-donning the professor’s hat he wore as president of Texas A&M University, Gates offered a history lesson and cautioned against repeating past mistakes. He recounted five times during the past 90 years -- all after long conflicts -- when the United States cut its defense spending, disarmed outright or otherwise withdrew from the world.

“Each time we paid a price,” he said.

The most recent instance was in the 1990s, when the fall of the Soviet Union led people to seek a “peace dividend” rather than recognize new threats that were emerging, he said.

“Key instruments of America’s national power -- military, diplomatic and intelligence -- withered throughout the decade,” he said.

Within the Defense Department alone, the active Army was cut from almost 800,000 troops to fewer than 500,000. The number of Navy ships decreased by more than half. The Air Force went from 37 tactical wings to 20.

The State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies experienced similar cuts, he said.

“Even as we throttled back, the world became more unstable, more turbulent and more unpredictable than the Cold War years we had left behind,” Gates told the audience. “Our hopes for peace, once again, gave way to the realities of disorder and conflict.”

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks abruptly ended America’s “holiday from history,” he said. Those attacks and the campaigns that followed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the globe revealed shortcomings he said the country has had to work hard to correct.

Gates said this wake-up call has dealt a painful but important lesson for the country as it faces the future.

“As a nation, I believe we have to do two things,” he said. “First, we have to deal with the challenges we face now, to commit the necessary resources to be successful in the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“And second,” he said, “we must recoup some of the underinvestment of the past and commit ourselves to strengthening the instruments of national power across the board.”

That’s already happening in the Defense Department, with overstressed ground forces to increase by some 92,000 members over the next five years and outdated or worn-out equipment being modernized or replaced, he said.

Other government agencies are rethinking their strategies, too.

“The goal is an integrated effort, a reinvigoration of the key elements of national power so that the United States does not let down its guard again,” Gates said.

This groundwork is crucial in the face of threats facing the United States and its allies, including those posed by violent extremist networks and ideologies, he said.

Gates acknowledged that many Americans have grown weary of the ongoing conflict, particularly in light of setbacks and tragedy. This “is understandable and even to be expected,” he said.

But, Gates said, it would be a terrible mistake for the country to use that as an excuse to shirk from its duties or once again render itself unprepared.

Although it’s impossible to predict the future, he said history offers a glimpse of what’s likely to be ahead. When the United States takes the lead, meets its commitments, stands with its allies, prepares for current threats as well as those still beyond the horizon, “then great things are possible and probable for our country and the world,” he said.

“As a nation, we have made our share of mistakes, but we have always corrected our course,” he said. “That is why this country remains the most powerful cause for good … (and) why we will continue to be a beacon for all that is good.”

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