By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 11, 2007 – President Bush's plan for the way ahead in Iraq recognizes the importance of victory and encompasses all the elements of national power required to achieve it, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the House Armed Services Committee today. Gates said the strategy, which Bush announced in a televised address last night, represents close cooperation with the Iraqi government and puts more responsibility on it to bring a stop to sectarian violence.
Commanders on the ground, including Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, Bush's nominee for command of Multinational Force Iraq, consider the strategy "a sound plan" that can work if the Iraqi government follows through on its commitments and non-military aspects of the strategy are put into place, Gates said.
The new strategy follows "prolonged and extremely candid conversations" between U.S. and Iraqi leaders that left Bush, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad and Gen. George Casey Jr., Multinational Force Iraq commander, "persuaded (the Iraqis) have the will and capacity to act against all instigators of violence in Baghdad," Gates reported.
"This is, I think, the pivot point in Iraq as the Iraqi government insists on assuming the mantle of leadership in the effort to regain control of its own capital," he told the committee.
Gates emphasized that increasing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will be linked directly to the Iraqis' demonstration that they will live up to this commitment. "I want you to know that the timetable for the introduction of additional U.S. forces will provide ample opportunity early on - and before many of the additional U.S. troops arrive in Iraq - to evaluate the progress of this endeavor and whether the Iraqis are fulfilling their commitments to us," he said.
Bush's plan calls for increasing not just the military forces in Iraq, but other aspects of the war effort, including those in the economic, governance and political areas, Gates said. "Overcoming the challenges in Iraq cannot be achieved simply by military means - no matter how large or sustained - without progress by the Iraqis in addressing the underlying issues dividing the country," he said.
In evaluating this strategy, Gates said it's important to keep in mind the consequences of failure in Iraq. "Multiple administrations of both political parties have concluded that what happens in Southwest Asia, the Gulf region and the Middle East is of vital interest to the security and prosperity of the American people," he said. "As I said in my confirmation hearing, developments in Iraq over the next year or two will shape the future of the Middle East and impact global geopolitics for a long time to come."
Regardless of what people think about the decision to go to war in Iraq or the conduct of the war so far, there's broad agreement that failure there would be "a calamity for our nation of lasting historical consequence," Gates said.
Left unchecked, the violence in Iraq could spread outside its borders and draw other states into a regional conflagration, he said. He pointed to the challenges the U.S. and other free nations would face: an emboldened and strengthened Iran; a safe haven and base of operations for jihadist networks in the heart of the Middle East; a humiliating defeat in the overall campaign against violent extremism worldwide; and an undermining of U.S. credibility.
"The actors in this region - both friends and adversaries - are watching closely what we do in Iraq and will draw conclusions about our resolve and the reliability of our commitments," Gates said. "And should we withdraw prematurely, we could well leave chaos and the disintegration of Iraq behind us. Further, governments in the region are already asking themselves: If the Americans withdraw in defeat from Iraq, just how much farther, and from where else, might we withdraw?"
Gates told the committee he would never have accepted his post if he didn't believe the outcome in Iraq would have a profound and long-lived impact on the national interest.
"Mistakes have certainly been made by the United States in Iraq, just like in virtually every war in human history," he said. "That is the nature of war. But however we got to this moment, the stakes now are incalculable."
Gates encouraged Congress to join military leaders in supporting the new plan. "Your senior military officers in Iraq and in Washington believe in the efficacy of the strategy outlined by the president last night," he said. "Our senior military officers have worked closely with the Iraqis to develop this plan The impetus to add U.S. forces came initially from our commanders, there," he said.
"It would be a sublime, yet historic, irony if those who believe the views of the military professionals were neglected at the onset of this war were now to dismiss the views of the military as irrelevant or wrong," he said.
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