Interview With Defense Secretary Gates

Interview With Defense Secretary Gates
April 14th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Interview With Defense Secretary Gates

Interview With Defense Secretary Gates
April 13, 2008
Face The Nation (CBS), 9:30 AM
BOB SCHIEFFER: And we begin this morning with the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us. I think we ought to get right to Iraq. General Petraeus was here all week. He said we can't leave Iraq until things get better, basically. But he couldn't say exactly what it is that is going to tell us things are good enough that we can start withdrawing troops. Can you enlighten us on what has to happen here?
DEFENSE SECRETARY GATES: Actually, I think it's already happening. Eight provinces in Iraq are already under provincial Iraqi control where there are either no coalition forces or they are in a strategic overwatch, a background position. They're not involved in combat. The next province to go that direction will be al Anbar, of all places, considering where it was 18 months ago.
So what we have is half of Iraq where the transition has already been made to a different kind of role or mission for U.S. forces. We're still involved in combat in Baghdad. We're still involved in combat in Mosul and in the north. But the process is one of province- by-province, district-by-district, when the Iraqi security forces are good enough, when the security situation locally is calm enough that we can then recede into the background. This is the process that's under way. And there are clearly large populous areas that aren't in that category yet. But that's the direction in which we're headed.
SCHIEFFER: Well, can you give us any idea of when that might be?
GATES: Well, I think people want certainty about things that no one can know. Clearly, things have headed in a direction that very few would have thought a year ago, that things would be as good as they are in Iraq, despite the challenges that remain before us now. So who knows how fast these things can develop? It may take a while, or one of the things we're hearing is that some of the local Shi'a tribes and leaders in the Basra area are now beginning to think along the same lines as some of their Sunni counterparts in al Anbar. They are looking at Shi'a bad guys in their own neighborhoods and saying, we don't want these people here. So whether that would turn in the same way that Anbar did with the locals taking control of their own future, if you will, remains to be seen. But a lot depends on those kinds of developments. And frankly, they're not predictable.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, are you talking about something that might could happen before the end of the year? I mean, General Petraeus said we've got to have a pause here, we've got to kind of reassess. I believe you called it a brief pause.
GATES: Well, I think what the general is doing is basically he will have withdrawn 25 percent of the U.S. combat troops in Iraq. What he basically wants to do is look at the battlefield geometry. He wants to see, where he's spread forces out, has the security remained? Where there are fewer U.S. forces than there used to be, where the Iraqis have taken over more responsibility for security, is that stable after the withdrawal of these five brigade combat teams? That's what he's really evaluating. And then he can move on in terms of recommendations in mid September or whenever of whether he thinks conditions are right to continue the drawdowns or whether if elections upcoming may require a little heavier troop presence to make sure they take place safely. So it's a process, and I would say that the process has been moving in the right direction, if unevenly, over the past year.
SCHIEFFER: The president talks about chaos if we leave Iraq. But some critics talk about just the opposite. Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, who was Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, says he believes that the possibility is greater that we might stumble into some sort of a head-on confrontation with Iran the longer we stay in Iraq.
GATES: Well, I have the highest respect for Dr. Brzezinski. In fact, I worked for him for three years when he was national security adviser. But in this instance, I would disagree with Zbig. I think that the chances of us "stumbling" into a confrontation with Iran are very low. We are concerned about their activities in the south. We are concerned about the weapons that they continue to send into Iraq. But I think that the process that's under way is, as I said, headed in the right direction.
SCHIEFFER: The president seems to be a little more worried about Iran than what I just heard you say.
GATES: Well, I think what the president said, that Iran has a choice. Do they want to be a cultural, religious and economic partner of Iraq? The religious ties, particularly in the south, where the holy places are and religious sites go back many centuries. But he was positing, do they want to have a positive relationship with Iraq, or do they want to have a negative relationship with Iraq? And I think that one of the interesting developments of Prime Minister Maliki's offensive in Basra is that it has revealed to the Shi'a, particularly in the Iraqi government, the level of Iranian-maligned influence in the south and on their economic heart-line through Basra.
So I think what has happened is that the hand of Iran has been exposed in a way that perhaps it had not been before to some of the Iraqi government. And frankly, I think that's a very positive development.
SCHIEFFER: It's hard for me to understand exactly who we're fighting, who the enemy is right now in Iraq. We went there to topple Saddam Hussein. We did that. Then we found ourselves fighting the Sunni-backed al Qaeda. Now we seem to be in the middle of some sort of a Shi'ite civil war where you have some of the Shi'ites backed by Iran on one side and others on the other side. Who exactly is the enemy now? We don't hear much about al Qaeda anymore.
GATES: Well, the reason you don't hear much about al Qaeda is because our soldiers have been very successful, our soldiers and our Marines, in taking them on as have the Sunnis in Iraq themselves. I think the enemy is extremism in Iraq, and it's Shi'a extremism in the form of the special groups and the Jaish al Mahdi, it's extremism in terms of al Qaeda. It's those who are not willing to participate in the political process and do so peacefully. Those are the enemy. And those who we are trying to help are those who are trying to build a stable government and a stable country.
SCHIEFFER: Are you worried about the strain on the military troops? Colin Powell said just the other day that we're basically maxed out right now, the American military. You've got problems in Afghanistan. I understand the situation in Pakistan grows worse. What do you feel about that?
GATES: Obviously, I worry about strain on the force. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs, we all worry about the strain on the force. We all know that these 15-month tours have been very difficult on our soldiers. We know that the longer tours for the Marines have been very difficult for them. But the generals will tell you these young men and women are amazingly resilient and determined. And I think that Admiral Mullen has said just this week that there's a spring in their step because they know that they're being successful. So yes, they're under strain, but they're determined. And frankly, the decision to go back to 12-month deployments, the increase in the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, there are a number of measures in effect to begin to relieve that strain.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, do you have enough troops available to do what is going to need to be done in Afghanistan because we hear the Taliban grows stronger by the day? Aren't you going to have to reduce those levels in Iraq in order to get troops to Afghanistan?
GATES: I think we have sufficient forces in Afghanistan for this fighting season in 2008. We've deployed 3,500 additional Marines there. The French have committed to send a battalion, which will allow us to send additional forces to the southern part of the country. I think that there is a requirement to have more forces in the longer term. And frankly, I'm confident that we will have lower force levels in Iraq in 2009 that will enable us to be more helpful in Afghanistan.
SCHIEFFER: Do you want more help from NATO? Is NATO doing what it needs to be doing?
GATES: I always want more help from NATO.
SCHIEFFER: And do you have any idea that you're going to get it?
GATES: Well, I think that several countries stepped up to the plate at the Bucharest summit, the French foremost among them. But there are a number of countries that are increasing their commitment. And I think really an important element of the Bucharest summit was that when NATO took over this mission in Afghanistan two years ago at Riga, they really didn't know, I think, in many respects, what they were getting into, that this was going to be a tough fight, and it was going to last a while. What's amazing is, knowing what they know now, every single NATO head of government signed the commitment that Afghanistan was NATO's most important operation, and we were determined to win there.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for coming by. We'll be back in one minute, and we'll talk to the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
SCHIEFFER: We talked to Secretary Gates on Friday to accommodate his very busy schedule.

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