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Dec 3rd, 2008

Gates: Military Looks to Accelerate Iraq Pullout

‘Less concerned’ about 16-month withdrawal timetable

Dec. 2, 2008

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled a willingness Tuesday to forge ahead with two key priorities for the incoming Obama administration: accelerating the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

As the only Republican Cabinet member asked to stay on by President-elect Barack Obama, Gates told reporters that military commanders are looking at ways to more quickly pull troops out of Iraq in light of the 16-month timetable that was a centerpiece of the Democrat’s campaign.

He also said it will be a high priority to work with the new Congress on legislation that will enable the U.S. to close the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, where about 250 terrorism suspects are still being held. …

Gates, who oversaw the buildup of forces in Iraq in 2006-2007, made it clear that he is comfortable and even impressed with Obama’s commitment to the military and said he is “less concerned” about the 16-month Iraq withdrawal timetable. Although he has repeatedly insisted that any drawdown in Iraq must be based on security conditions there, Gates noted that Obama has said he will listen to his commanders and pull forces out responsibly. …

The situation in Iraq has changed, he said, pointing to the new security agreement with the Iraqis that calls for U.S. troops to be out of the cities by next June 30 and out of the country by Jan. 1, 2012. …


Secretary Gates meets with Obama on defense (NBC News Web Extra, Dec. 2, 2008) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells of a secret first meeting with President-elect Barack Obama and discusses future challenges to the U.S. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports. (02:07)



A Handpicked Team for a Sweeping Shift in Foreign Policy

By David E. Sanger

Dec. 1, 2008

WASHINGTON — As President-elect Barack Obama introduces his national security team on Monday, it includes two veteran cold warriors and a political rival whose records are all more hawkish than that of the new president who will face them in the White House Situation Room.

Yet all three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser; and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena.

The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr. Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change — one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best — “will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,” one of his senior advisers said recently. …

Denis McDonough, a senior Obama foreign policy adviser, cast the issue slightly differently in an interview on Sunday.

“This is not an experiment, but a pragmatic solution to a long-acknowledged problem,” he said. “During the campaign the then-senator invested a lot of time reaching out to retired military and also younger officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to draw on lessons learned. There wasn’t a meeting that didn’t include a discussion of the need to strengthen and integrate the other tools of national power to succeed against unconventional threats. It is critical to a long-term successful and sustainable national security strategy in the 21st century.” Mr. Obama’s advisers said they were already bracing themselves for the charge from the right that he is investing in social work, even though President Bush repeatedly promised such a shift, starting in a series of speeches in late 2005. …

Mr. Obama’s best political cover may come from Mr. Gates, the former Central Intelligence Agency director and veteran of the cold war, who just months ago said it was “hard to imagine any circumstance” in which he would stay in his post at the Pentagon. Now he will do exactly that.

A year ago, to studied silence from the Bush White House, Mr. Gates began giving a series of speeches about the limits of military power in wars in which no military victory is possible. He made popular the statistic, quoted by Mr. Obama, that the United States has more members of military marching bands than foreign service officers.

He also denounced “the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist and communicate with other parts of the world — the ‘soft power’ which had been so important throughout the cold war.” He blamed both the Clinton and Bush administrations and said later in an interview that “it is almost like we forgot everything we learned in Vietnam.”

Mr. Obama’s choice for national security adviser, General Jones, took the critique a step further in a searing report this year on what he called the Bush administration’s failed strategy in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama has vowed to intensify the fight as American troops depart from Iraq. When the report came out, General Jones was widely quoted as saying, “Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan,” a comment that directly contradicted the White House.

But he went on to describe why the United States and its allies were not winning: After nearly seven years of fighting, they had failed to develop a strategy that could dependably bring reconstruction projects and other assistance into areas from which the Taliban had been routed — making each victory a temporary one, reversed as soon as the forces departed.

Several times during his presidency, Mr. Bush promised to alter that strategy, even creating a “civilian reserve corps” of nation-builders under State Department auspices, but the administration never committed serious funds or personnel to the effort. If Mr. Obama and his team can bring about that kind of shift, it could mark one of the most significant changes in national security strategy in decades and greatly enhance the powers of Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state. …

Mr. Obama has promised a diplomatic push that is much broader than Afghanistan. In October 2007, he pledged to make diplomacy a high priority. “Instead of shuttering consulates, we need to open them in the tough and hopeless corners of the world,” he said.


Bombs kill 14, Wound Many Across Iraq

Dec. 2, 2008

BAGHDAD — Bombs killed 14 people across Iraq on Tuesday, police said, including a child hit by a blast outside his elementary school in the north of the country.

Students were leaving the school when the bomb placed in a cart in the northern city of Mosul was detonated, killing four people and wounding 12.

Some students were among the wounded. The blast also killed a two-year-old girl and two adults in an adjacent market. …

A spate of bombings in the past few days has come as Iraq prepares its security forces to take responsibility from U.S. troops, set to withdraw from towns by mid-2009 and from Iraq completely by the end of 2011, under a security pact approved by parliament last Thursday.

Many attacks are aimed at reigniting violence between minority Sunni Arabs and majority Shi’ites, disrupting preparations for provincial elections in January, or intended to signal rejection of the security pact, officials say. …

In a second attack, a roadside bomb targeting an army patrol killed five soldiers in Hilla, south of Baghdad, police and a witness said. …

In the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, a car bomb killed five men and wounded 30, including five children, Sabih Hussein, a senior doctor in the city’s main hospital, told Reuters.

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