View Full Version : Gates Sees Military Power As Means To Making Negotiations Effective

01-23-2007, 09:39 AM
Gates sees military power as a means to making negotiations effective
New leader sees force as means of leverage


By David S. Cloud Published: January 22, 2007

WASHINGTON: Less than a month after Defense Secretary Robert Gates took office, his imprint on American military strategy is beginning to show.

Gates, it turns out, is a hawk.

In just the past two weeks, he has supported deepening the American military commitment in Iraq, spoken approvingly of sending more troops to Afghanistan and, after dispatching a second American aircraft carrier to the Gulf, declared that negotiations with Iran right now would be futile.

But a hawk may not be all he is. His favorite quotation from history, he told reporters traveling with him recently for meetings with allies and commanders in Europe and the Middle East, is one from Frederick the Great, the 18th- century Prussian monarch who was also A gifted musician: "Negotiations without arms are like music books without instruments."

Or, put another way, it takes military power to create the leverage necessary to make negotiations fruitful.

Gates seems to be hoping that a short- term application of military might can shift the balance of power in the region sufficiently to make eventual political settlements — between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and even with the ayatollahs in Iran — more plausible for the United States than they appear to be right now.

It is too early to say whether this new approach will work, of course, or even whether Gates's views will ultimately drive decisions in an administration where President George W. Bush himself has rarely shown interest in this sort of strategic thinking.

But there is no mistaking the course change at the Pentagon.

Already there are signs that he would like to discard assumptions that have dictated how the Bush administration has fought in Iraq. The most far-reaching of these has been the idea, promoted by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, that the American military should be deployed with the lowest level of forces necessary to do the job.

In practice, critics inside and outside the military say, this has meant that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have never had adequate force levels in Iraq.

Gates quickly supported the idea of a troop buildup after joining the administration last month, even overruling commanders who asked initially for only about 7,000 more troops.

Gates does seem to share Rumsfeld's concern that sending more troops will delay the day when the Iraqi government assumes greater responsibility.

But rather than withhold additional troops altogether, Gates has insisted that the additional forces are a source of leverage over the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

He has emphasized repeatedly that the American troop buildup, which is to happen over a period of months, could be halted if the Shiite-dominated government does not deliver on promises to send its own troops to Baghdad and not to interfere with operations against Shiite death squads in Baghdad.

Perhaps the biggest test of Gates's influence will be whether the United States follows through on this threat if Maliki does not comply with those promises. Hopscotching around the Gulf last week, Gates met with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, appealing to those Sunni governments to urge their fellow Sunnis in Iraq to reach a political accommodation with Maliki's Shiite-dominated government.

His warning to the Gulf kingdoms was blunt: If Iraq falls apart, the Iranian Shiites will gain power in the region, to the Sunnis' disadvantage.

Gates also seems to think that there might be a way to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions and its meddling in Iraq, short of going to war against Iran. He mused publicly last week that negotiations between the United States and Iran might one day make sense, if the United States could regain "leverage" over the Iranians.

How to do that? As Frederick the Great might have said, send in more troops and another carrier first.