Gates: Early Iraq Withdrawal Would Have ‘Dire’ Consequences for U.S.
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2007 The United States has a responsibility to leave Iraq with a sense of stability or else face a stronger enemy that threatens the region and Americans at home, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in congressional testimony here today.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates makes a point to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee during testimony on the proposed defense budget, May 9. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“If we were to withdraw, leaving Iraq in chaos, al Qaeda almost certainly would use Anbar province … as another base from which to plan operations not only inside Iraq, but first of all in the neighborhood and then potentially against the United States,” Gates told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Al Qaeda is an adaptive enemy that changes its tactics as U.S. forces change theirs, and would be able to reorganize their forces if the United States left before significant political progress is made, Gates said while arguing for the fiscal 2008 Defense Department budget request. The budget request funds $141.7 billion for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and the fiscal 2007 emergency supplemental request for the war on terror is for $93.4 billion.
The Iraqi government has been meeting its commitments under the new Baghdad security plan, Gates noted, and the level of violence has gone down in some areas. However, he said, the surge is still in its initial stages, as the fourth of five additional brigades just arrived in Iraq, and commanders on the ground need time to implement the plan before its effectiveness is judged.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, are due to give an assessment of the security plan in September. At that time, violence will not be completely eliminated in Iraq, but the leaders will judge whether the level of violence has been reduced enough to allow political reconciliation to move forward, Gates said.
“I think we're going to be looking for the direction of events,” Gates said. “We don't have to have it all locked in place and everything already completed. I think if we see some very positive progress and it looks like things are headed in the right direction, then that's the point at which I think we can begin to consider reducing some of these forces.”
Gates stressed that he, Petraeus and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, consider it an obligation to provide an honest assessment of the situation in Iraq to Congress and the American people.
The Iraqi government has made some progress on legislation, but it has not been as quickly as U.S. leaders would like, Gates said. He said that he and other leaders have made it clear to the Iraqi Council of Representatives that it would not be a good idea to take a two-month recess this summer, as they were planning.
“I'll be blunt; I told some of the Iraqis with whom I met that we are buying them (time) for political reconciliation and that every day (we) buy them, we buy it with American blood; and that for this group to go out for two months, it would, in my opinion, be unacceptable,” Gates said.
The United States will need to have a presence in Iraq for some time, even after major combat operations are concluded, Gates said. Iraq is just part of a global war on terrorism that will take a commitment for years to come, he said.
“That's one of the reasons why the sum of money is as large as it is, because we need to be in a position to deal with the challenges potentially posed by other large states, we need to be in a position to deal with the threat posed by proliferating medium-sized states like North Korea and Iran, and we need to be prepared to deal with this global war on terror that is going to be with us for a very long time,” Gates said.