Day 33, December 2, 2008

Dec 17, 2008
*Special to asia!


“... over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory."

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates

US President-elect Barack Obama confirms the buzz that has been going around by announcing that he will be keeping Robert Gates as the Defense Secretary. Gates had taken over from the deeply unpopular and controversial hawk Donald Rumsfeld in 2006.

As the Deputy Director for Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Reagan years, he had called for all efforts to be taken to topple the democratically-elected leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In a recently-declassified memo, he declared,

“... the only way that we can prevent disaster in Central America is to acknowledge openly what some have argued privately: that the existence of a Marxist-Leninist regime in Nicaragua closely allied with the Soviet Union and Cuba is unacceptable to the United States and that the United States will do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out."

An academic and civilian career later, Gates appears now to have mellowed from his former hardline ways in his latest outing as Defense Secretary, he may have mellowed from his obnoxious hardline ways.

He is comparatively less hawkish than Rumsfeld and supports a less ideological and conciliatory approach when it comes to dealing with other countries, as seen from the defence strategies since his takeover, which have been more focused on nation-building and establishing rapport with local guerillas in Iraq, and talking to adversaries like Iran.

The continuation of Gates at the helm of the Pentagon has generally been lauded and in fact encouraged by many observers for the success he has had mended the catastrophes of the Rumsfeld era. And it is also regarded as a toast to the military and the commanders with whom he has been working well with and giving full support to, especially General Petraeus, whom he appointed to take over Iraq when he came into office.

In an article titled “ The Case for Keeping Gates”, co-author former U.S. ambassador to the United Nation Nancy Sodenberg, presents a well-argued case for Obama to retain Gates as Defense Secretary.

Quite simply : “There's no need to look for a new secretary of defense. You already have the best man in the job.”

The article also goes on to touch on the relationship of Gates and his generals.

Gates realises that from Iraq and Afghanistan that “"economic development, . . . good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more -- these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success.", and has put in place similarly-thinking commanders who will put that into practice.

Sodeberg writes,

“Our generals know that the secret of the "surge" wasn't simply putting more U.S. troops on the ground as our coalition partners withdrew. The secret was implementing a new set of tactics, largely drawn from the counterinsurgency manual developed by Petraeus, that focused on the Iraqi people's basic needs.

Petraeus's strategy was honed during his earlier service in Haiti and Bosnia, but his most formative assignment was his 2003 stint as commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Iraq. There, he recognized that security depended not only on killing insurgents but also on making sure that the people of Mosul had a chance to improve their quality of life. Petraeus kept asking, "Is life better than it was under Saddam Hussein?" He made great strides in improving the security situation by bettering Iraqis' lives with quick, high-impact construction projects, by employing Iraqis rather than foreign contractors to help build their own country and even jump-starting trade between northern Iraq and Syria.

It's this sort of broad-mindedness that we need -- and that Gates values. Petraeus is Gates's kind of leader; the Pentagon chief likes to quote Gen. George Marshall's description of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the "almost perfect model of a modern commander: part soldier, part diplomat, part administrator." Gates understands that all three aspects are crucial, that for all our core national security problems -- finishing the jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, stabilizing Pakistan, defeating al-Qaeda, confronting a resurgent Russia and advancing the Middle East peace process -- the secret to success will be improving the basic security of people in the area and giving them more comfortable, hopeful lives.”


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi