Secretary Gates at JINSA, Part III: On Iraq

[Ed. Note: This is the third of a three-part series covering the speech delivered by Secretary of Defense Gates to JINSA on October 15, 2007.]

[Ed. Note: This is the third of a three-part series covering the speech delivered by Secretary of Defense Gates to JINSA on October 15, 2007.]

How we got to this point, whether and what kind of mistakes were made, will undoubtedly be the subject of historical analysis for a long time to come. Right now though, members of both parties are realizing the full extent of the challenges we face – how dangerous a failed state in Iraq and an ascendant al Qaeda would be, not just in the short-term, but for decades to come. And, despite the sometimes acrimonious debate, I believe that members of both parties are slowly coming to the same conclusions about our future course in Iraq – even if they disagree on dates and details.

Bravo. One of our ongoing complaints has been the inability of either party to focus on the present or the future in Iraq and the implications of failure. Too much time has been wasted considering who said what to whom under what circumstance in the past. Secretary Gates focused on changes in the U.S. deployment and the circumstances that will enable us to draw down our forces in a manner consistent with security for Iraq, the region and the United States.

Over the last few months, there have been a series of public expectations about what the President should do in Iraq. It started with asking him to say he would draw down our forces; then it was a date to begin the drawdown of forces; then it was a timetable for the drawdown of those forces; and then it was asking him to state that there would be a change of mission.

The President has moved on all of those. He has announced that there would be a drawdown; he announced when it would begin – and that was a few weeks ago; he accepted General Petraeus’s schedule through next July with a review in March to see what to do beyond July, a conditions-based timetable; and the President announced that this December would mark the beginning of a transition of mission.

Most people now are focused on whether the drawdown is swift enough, whether the timelines should be binding, and so forth. It is not, it seems to me, a debate, however, about the overall trajectory of the President’s plan.

He couldn’t resist a dig at Congressional critics:

I would only add that I hope those who have alleged that the views of our generals were neglected at the start of this war will not now dismiss the unanimous recommendations of our generals for the next steps.

Dr. Gates left JINSA with a clear statement of American goals in the region:

  • A unified and stable Iraq;
  • A just and comprehensive peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people, including, as the President has said, a two state solution;
  • An Iran that does not attempt to dominate the region by subverting its neighbors, by building nuclear weapons, or by holding Israel hostage with the threat of attack, and;
  • A reversal of the growth and influence of extremist networks and sectarian militia organizations that have become, in the words of our former theater commander, “the curse of the region.”

We would broadly agree, with the caveat that the United States and its allies – including, surely, Israel – will find determined opposition on all fronts. America should be prepared to rein in the inevitable frustration and not push our allies for concessions when concessions are due from our adversaries.