Saturday, December 09, 2006

Will Dr. Gates Really Have a Role in Crafting the “New Way Forward” in Iraq?

President Bush quickened his search for a new war strategy, meeting with lawmakers and planning 3 days of talks with military brass, diplomats and outside experts. He is expected to set the new course and present it to the public in a speech before Christmas.

Robert Gates, the new Defense Department Chief won’t be sworn in until December 18th. In Congressional nomination hearings Dr. Gates postponed sharing his military strategy until he could go to Baghdad and meet with leaders on the ground. Will he be able to conduct those meetings and craft a strategy in time for the President’s expected speech?

Recall the Senate approved Mr. Gates on December 6th. The White House said the Texas A&M University President had some important work to wrap up before officially taking the job, thus the almost two week delay. My local paper addressed the work in College Station that pre-empts a rapidly deteriorating Iraq.

The good news is Robert Gates “is gradually adjusting to the idea of leaving the university and its cherished traditions to take charge of a U.S. military at war in two countries”.

Gates, who becomes U.S. secretary of defense later this month, met with reporters at the university Thursday to discuss his three years at the helm of A&M.

He offered this advice to his successor: “Don’t screw up a good thing.”

Gates included among his successes the faculty reinvestment program, providing nearly 450 faculty positions by next fall, and more than $500 million worth of campus construction planned or under way.

Gates acknowledged the importance of diversity efforts, saying his successor will need to continue those efforts. He also lauded the success of the school’s recent capital campaign, which is nearly complete and has exceeded its $1 billion goal.

When he heads to Washington, Gates also said, he will be taking an Aggie football helmet for prominent display in his office.

Do you think he’ll be wearing the helmet when he lands in Baghdad? Will he carry it with him to his sessions with President Bush on the new way forward in Iraq?

What would the nation find more important at this moment, Gates’ highlighting his record of fundraising or straightening out the mess in Iraq? While celebrating successes are important, finding that way forward out of America’s Middle Eastern debacle seems a greater priority.

Mr. Gates gave reporters his advice to his successor in Aggieland: “Don’t screw up a good thing.” Would Donald Rumsfeld offer a variation of that as he just proudly defended everything he did in the Iraq war?

Robert’s job is to unscrew a bad thing. However, given the timing of the President’s plans, it’s not clear he will have meaningful input…

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