By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 16, 2007 - Failure in Iraq would empower extremists and have "enormous" consequences for the Middle East and the United StatesDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today during his appearance on two television news talk shows. Appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace and This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Gates said the consequences of failure is a forgotten theme in Washington's debate about Iraq.
"No matter how you feel about how we got to where we are, the consequences of getting this wrong for Iraq, for the region, for us, are enormous," he told said.
Gates noted that Islamic extremists were emboldened after they successfully helped defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. U.S. failure in Iraq, the secretary said, would hand over a similar ideological victory to extremists fighting coalition forces today.
"If (extremists) were to be seen or claim a victory over us in Iraq, it would be far, far more empowering in the region than the defeat of the Soviet Union," he said. "Everyone is focused on timetables ... (but) what I think people also need to be talking about are the consequences of getting this thing wrong."
The secretary addressed a recent proposal to equalize the amount of time troops spend deployed in Iraq and at home. Gates called the initiative "a well-intentioned idea," but said that ultimately such measures would cause force management problems and strain the National Guard and Reserves.
If enacted, the proposal would limit flexibility, Gates said. The U.S. military would be forced to "cobble together" units from smaller elements with no prior experience training together, it would create gaps and might require more National Guard and Reserve members be deployed to fill shortages. Under the proposal, units might be pulled out before replacements arrive, eliminating the overlap time when experienced troops help prepare new arrivals, Gates added.
Gates reinforced a position put forward by President Bush, who said yesterday that his guiding principle on troop levels is "return on success."
"The drawdowns have to be based on the conditions on the ground," he said.
Assuming conditions in Iraq allow drawdowns, he said, the U.S. could remain there for a "protracted period of time" as a stabilizing force. Gates declined to define exactly how many troops a stabilizing force would necessitate, but he said it would be "a fraction" of today's figures.
The precise form, troop level and mission of a long-term U.S. security force would be negotiated with Iraqi government leaders, he added, noting that the U.S. force's purpose in its role to counter terrorism, guard Iraq's border, and provide support and training to Iraq's security forces likely would adhere to the principles outlined by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group headed by James A. Baker and Lee H. Hamilton.
Speaking about the current state of Iraqi politics, Gates said there is evidence that political reconciliation is occurring despite legislative stalls on key issues, including oil revenue sharing and debaathification reform.
"You're seeing the government actually share the revenues from the oil, you're seeing provincial empowerment, you're seeing former members of Saddam's army being brought back into the army," he said. "So you're seeing some of the steps that would have resulted from the passage of these laws."
Gates said issues that are too difficult to find widespread agreement within Iraq's legislative bodies are addressed first in piecemeal fashion. This approach sometimes occurs in the United States, he added.
"Some of these issues that are too hard, in many respects, politically get taken care of in small bites," he said. "Then you reach a certain point where you're able to codify it."