- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

Defense Secretary Roberts M. Gates took the oath of office yesterday and immediately said the U.S. must win in Iraq or face a “calamity” that would “endanger Americans for decades to come.”

Sworn in at the Pentagon by Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gates has the daunting challenge of finding a way for 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq to turn the tide of battle that has Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims killing each other and inciting violence throughout Greater Baghdad.

President Bush has ordered the Pentagon and other agencies to develop a new strategy and tactics that may involve bolstering troop numbers and increasing the emphasis on a political solution. His administration also must find a way to stem Iran’s growing influence in Shi’ite-dominated southern Iraq, where Tehran is funding and training militias whose death squads target Sunnis.

“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,” Mr. Gates told an audience that included the Joint Chiefs of Staff, civilian service secretaries and rank-and-file Pentagon workers.

He said at his Senate confirmation hearing that the U.S. is neither winning nor losing in Iraq. He plans to visit Iraq later this week to consult with field commanders before making final recommendations to Mr. Bush. He said he wants generals in Iraq to provide him advice “unvarnished and straight from the shoulder.”

He said he has participated in a series of National Security Council meetings on Iraq and discussed a “way forward in Iraq in depth with the president.”

Mr. Bush said at the swearing-in ceremony that he will rely on Mr. Gates “to provide me with the best possible advice and to help direct our nation’s armed forces as they engage the enemies of freedom around the world.”

“Bob Gates is the right man to take on these challenges. … He understands that defeating the terrorists and the radicals and the extremists in Iraq and the Middle East is essential to leading toward peace.”

Mr. Gates said the stakes are high for the final two years of Mr. Bush’s presidency.

“The next two years will determine whether Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations at a crossroads will pursue paths of gradual progress towards sustainable governments which are allies in the global war on terrorism or whether the forces of extremism and chaos will become ascendant,” he said.

The Pentagon’s first new chief in nearly six years is expected to bring a new style. Out is Donald H. Rumsfeld, the whirlwind who put scores of new policies in place. In is the CIA director in the first Bush administration who is considered more of a pragmatic manager.

Pentagon officials do not expect Mr. Gates to review every transformation begun by Mr. Rumsfeld, but to focus on Iraq and counterterrorism.

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