President Bush’s nominee to be Secretary of Defense said today that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq, and that an American failure there could help to ignite “a regional conflagration” in the Middle East.Wow, some of that actually sounded kinda like straight talk. But don't worry, he starts sneaking back onto the reservation:
Robert M. Gates, who will succeed Donald H. Rumsfeld as Pentagon chief if he is confirmed as expected, also told senators that the United States went to war in Iraq without enough troops, as some generals said at the outset of the conflict.
The statements about the situation in Iraq came during an exchange with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, during Mr. Gates’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We are not winning the war in Iraq, is that correct?” Mr. McCain asked.
“That is my view, yes, senator,” Mr. Gates replied, adding shortly afterward that the United States is not losing the war either. His assessment came minutes after Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the committee, said he believed that the United States was “drifting sideways” in Iraq, and that the American people are demanding change.
Mr. Gates said “there clearly were insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial invasion.” While he said that he envisions “a dramatically smaller” number of United States troops there, he said an American presence would be required “for a long time.”
Developments in Iraq “in the next year or two” will shape the future of the entire Middle East, Mr. Gates said in describing the possibility of a “regional conflagration” arising out of the Iraq bloodshed.
Mr. Gates told the senators at the outset that he is “open to a wide range of ideas and proposals” about what to do in Iraq, and that America’s overall goal should still be an Iraq that can “sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself,” the objective that President Bush has long set out.Yeah, good luck with that, Bob.
Mr. Gates has been president of Texas A&M University, and he told the senators that he is not giving up that job, which he loves, to be anyone’s sycophant in Washington. “I don’t owe anybody anything,” he said, vowing to give not only the president but the Congress his unvarnished advice.
The thing is, while yes, Rummy was incompetent and awful, most of what went wrong with Iraq was dictated from above. If we venture for a moment into Magical Sugarplum Fantasyland and imagine that The Donald was the smartest, most competent SecDef in the history of all the universes, and told Dubya that his plan was The Suck, and refused to invade without a better plan, our clueless leader would have immediately shitcanned him and replaced him with Harriet Miers, or Joe Lieberman, or Jeff "Bulldog" Gannon, or Ryan Seacrest DSV.
In other words, the Defense Secretary does not set the Iraq policy; he merely executes it (or tortures it, as the circumstances require). It really doesn't matter whether Gates has a plan for Iraq or not. Bush will do What Bush Wants To Do, which will inevitably be the most foolhardy and disastrous course possible.
Replacing the SecDef is all well and good, but we won't have any chance of a least-bad outcome until we replace his boss.
UPDATE: I have found the perfect replacement! Certainly a better strategic thinker than Gates or Rummy, and probably more compassionate as well.