DURHAM, N.C., Sept. 29, 2010 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed concern today that Congress could doom successes achieved in Iraq by failing to properly fund the civilian-led efforts required to ensure they stick.
“I worry that having invested hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives in Iraq, that now that we are at the end game, we will stint on the resources needed to bring this to the kind of conclusion we all want,” Gates told about 300 ROTC students from Duke University and several of its neighboring colleges here.
Gates called the organization of remaining U.S. forces — six advise-and-assist brigades with “a clear understanding of the mission” — one of the great strengths of the Operation New Dawn campaign that marked the official end of U.S. combat operations and a transition to civilian-led operations in Iraq.
Another, he said, is the “unheralded logistics miracle” that occurred during the drawdown of troops and equipment.
Any weakness of the campaign has nothing to do with the military, he said, but with the fact that the State Department has inadequate funding to take over the responsibilities President Barack Obama has assigned it.
Gates noted, for example, that the State Department is programmed to take over responsibility for Iraqi police training over the course of the next year. Yet when it submitted its budget request to cover that effort and establish “branch embassies” that would provide a diplomatic civilian presence throughout Iraq, Congress made “a big cut,” he said.
“These are relatively small sums of money we are talking about that we need at this point to convert to a civilian-dominated role in Iraq,” Gates said, shaking his head.
“So now … the State Department has to go back and figure out how to adjust our plans,” he said. “How do we do this in a different way with fewer resources?”
Gates said he shared concern about this quandary when he met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Rajiv Shah, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
Gates said the situation reminds him of the last scene in the movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
“The United States had spent billions to help the Mujahadeen drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan,” Gates said, noting that Wilson had been the congressman most responsible for securing that money.
“And after the Soviets are gone, he goes to the same committee and asks for a million dollars for Afghan schools, and he can’t get it,” Gates said.
Gates also underscored the importance of governance and development in Afghanistan – efforts he said are critical to the U.S. strategy there – during a question-and-answer session following his address as part of the Ambassador David S. Phillips Family International Lectureship.
“The reality is, you can’t have development without security or security without development,” he told an audience of about 1,200 Duke University students and faculty members, with another 600 watching from an overflow room.
“And what I have argued for a long time is that our own civilian resources need to be increased in this area, because the military ends up doing things that really are the providence of better trained and more professional experts in this area in the civilian world,” Gates said.
That issue was the subject of Gates’ last major address to a civilian university audience, at Kansas State University’s Landon Lecture series in November 2007.
During that speech, Gates called on the United States to strengthen all elements of its national power – the “soft” power as well as “hard” military might — to face challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan and others it will confront in the future.
“I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use soft power, and for better integrating it with hard power,’ ” he told the Kansas attendees.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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