New Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, sworn in at the Pentagon Monday, says he plans to visit Iraq soon, to get the "unvarnished" views of American commanders. A former CIA director, Gates promised candid and honest counsel.
Monday, President Bush said that Gates will help forge a new way forward in Iraq.
Gates stood before a bank of young men and women in uniform. The unassuming man in pinstripes got right to the point. "All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again," Gates said, before noting, "Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come."
Iraq policy is in disarray. There are calls to increase American troops, in a short term-surge meant to stop the violence. Senior officers want a larger Army and Marine Corps. But the Pentagon says it can't afford the new ships and planes it wants to build in the coming years.
There is an intense debate among both active-duty and retired officers about whether a surge in American troops, anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000, makes sense.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says Baghdad saw a surge in American soldiers starting in June. He says it failed.
"We have tried this surge of troops over the summer," Powell said. "I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence or civil war will work."
The top officers in the Army and Marine Corps say a surge should have a specific goal.
Whatever is decided, the Gates Pentagon is expected to be different than it was under his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld was criticized for not listening to military advice. Some officers say he was dismissive and arrogant. Gates today sent a clear message to the military.
"I value your professionalism and your experience," Gates said, "and I will rely on your clear-eyed advice in the weeks and months ahead."