Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Robert Gates, new U.S. defense secretary, sounds like he is preaching "Stay The Course"!!!

Gates warns against failure in Iraq
By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Robert Gates, sworn in as U.S. defense secretary on Monday, said he understood the desire to bring troops home but that failure in Iraq would be a "calamity" that haunts and threatens America for decades.

"All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again. But, as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East," Gates said at the Pentagon.

"Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come," he said.

The 63-year-old former CIA director acknowledged during his Senate confirmation hearings in December that the United States was not winning in Iraq, but said it was not losing either.

Gates was officially sworn in at 7:03 a.m. EST by White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in the chief of staff's office. Later, he was ceremonially sworn in at the Pentagon by Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the Bush administration's strongest defenders of the Iraq war.

Gates called Iraq his top priority and said he would travel there soon to meet with commanders as he tries to develop a new war plan.

But Gates also warned about growing problems in Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces face a resurgent Taliban five years after the invasion.

"The progress made by the Afghan people over the past five years is at risk. The United States and its NATO allies have made a commitment to the Afghan people and we intend to keep it," he said. "Afghanistan cannot be allowed to become a sanctuary for extremists again."

Gates said the U.S. approach to Iraq and Afghanistan would determine whether those countries and others pursue paths of gradual progress or the "forces of extremism and chaos will become ascendant."

President George W. Bush announced Gates would replace Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon a day after voters swept Republicans out of control in the next Congress, largely over anger about Iraq. Rumsfeld had become a focus for criticism of America's management of that war.

"We are a nation at war," Bush said at the swearing-in ceremony. "And I rely on our secretary of defense to provide me with the best possible advice and to help direct our nation's armed force as they engage the enemies of freedom around the world. Bob Gates is the right man to take on these challenges."

Gates easily won the Senate's confirmation earlier this month and has since participated in National Security Council meetings and received briefings at the Pentagon.

Gates, who served as CIA director from 1991 until 1993 under Bush's father, told the president to expect candor.

"You have asked for my candor and my honest counsel at this critical moment in our nation's history and you will get both," Gates told Bush in his six-minute speech at the Pentagon.

Bush has been seeking advice about a new plan for Iraq from military officials, the State Department and others in and out of government.

Recommendations have included both withdrawing and increasing troop levels, now at 134,000. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow would not discuss speculation that the president was considering a plan to add 20,000 or more troops.

"I'm not going to talk about theories of surges (of troops) or non-surges," Snow said, adding the alternatives being weighed include non-military components as well.

Many Democrats have called for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, although Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he would support a short-term increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq if it was part of a broader pull-out plan.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander and Jeremy Pelofsky)