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A new chapter
by Amin George Forji
2006-12-11 09:53:30
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Even before he embraces the job, the American people, like President Bush, seem to be unanimous in the view that Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the right person to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, who resigned from the post after coming under severe criticisms over his Iraq strategies.

Nominated in November by President Bush after the US midterm elections, Gates was unanimously confirmed on December 5th by the US Senate Armed Services Committee. Within 24 hours, the US senate voted by an overwhelming majority of 95-2 to approve the nomination.

Both votes were influenced by the same reason that forced Rumsfeld to resign - the war in Iraq. With casualties in Iraq almost insurmountable, law-makers have clearly indicated that they now want nothing less than someone with a clear vision of change of policy in Iraq, and Robert Gates, in his first statements since he was proposed by Bush, has hinted that he is up to nothing else but just that.

He is taking office at a time when no one, including President Bush can predict what is going to happen next in Iraq, as insurgents and terrorists battle the US and coalition troops in guerrilla warfare on daily basis. Gates has said he will be opened to new policies and ideas when he resumes duty.

Speaking to the Senate committee prior to his confirmation, Gates testified that the US was not winning the war in Iraq, and said it was at the point of degenerating into a regional conflagration if Iraq is not stabilized within the next one or two years. In pure diplomatic slang, he added that the US was not loosing the war either. He was confident that he will be speaking his mind both to Bush and Congress, but was quick to add that whatever his views are, it is the President that must have the last say on any changes in policy or approach.

"What we are now doing is not satisfactory…In my view, all options are on the table, in terms of how we address this problem in Iraq," Gates told the lawmakers. "Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people and the next president of the US will face a slowly but steadily improving situation in Iraq or... the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration," Gates added.

Gates’ Senate confirmation coincided on the same day that the Iraq Study Group was releasing its report on the war. The report recommended that the US mission in Iraq should be withdrawn from combat and be transformed immediately from a fighting force to a training force for the young Iraqi army. It further advised the government to engage in regional talks about Iraq with all parties concerned, including Iran and Syria, who have hitherto been jettisoned by the Bush government for any negotiation, referring to them as the “axis of evil”.

Senator Edward Kennedy, the Democratic lawmaker from Massachusetts, is impressed by Gates’ candour that the US is not winning the war in Iraq and he said that American hopes are now on him for a reversal of policy. "Dr. Gates spoke with a candour that has been sorely missing from the Department of Defense under this administration…He recognized the high price that our troops are paying for the current policy," said Senator Kennedy.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania also praised Gates as man about to carry America into a new chapter, "We see the possibilities of a new chapter ... but it is up to the commander in chief to structure a change in policy.” While Bush said, “I am confident that his leadership and capabilities will help our country meet its current military challenges and prepare for emerging threats of the 21st century."

Robert Gates, 63, has served in the Central Intelligence Agency the National Security Council for 26 years. He was the Director of Central Intelligence under President George H. W. Bush. He will now be sworn into office as Defence Secretary on December 18th.

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