Washington, DC — Dr. Robert Gates takes over as Secretary of Defense as U.S. troops are caught in an Iraqi civil war and our military is stretched to the breaking point. His arrival brings with it an opportunity for new leadership and a desperately needed change in direction in Iraq. Democrats look forward to working with Dr. Gates to address the many security challenges confronting our nation today. The most urgent and important step that must be taken is to change direction in Iraq – - and that change can only come from the President of the United States. U.S. troops have sacrificed a great deal in Iraq. After nearly four years of a conflict that has taken the lives of nearly 3,000 American troops and cost American taxpayers over $400 billion, it is long past time for the Iraqis to take control of their own future. They must govern and secure their nation. U.S. military forces, who have performed heroically, cannot do the job for them.
“Seven weeks ago the American people demanded a change of course in Iraq,” said incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “Democrats have called for the phased redeployment of troops from Iraq, beginning in the next four to six months. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has also unanimously called for combat forces to transition out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008. Now, it is up to the President to respond accordingly, and bring our open-ended commitment in Iraq to a close. Democrats and the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group have given the President a road-map for change. The President is Commander in Chief, and only he can make the changes in Iraq our national security demands. The ball is in his court, and he must act soon.”
“During his nomination hearing, Dr. Gates testified that he doesn’t believe we should stay the course in Iraq and he agreed that only a political settlement by the Iraqis can end the violence in Iraq. I hope that he will counsel the President to end the open-ended commitment of our forces in Iraq as apparently the only way of pressing the Iraqi government to take the practical steps toward reconciliation – sharing resources and sharing power – that only the Iraqi government can take,” said Senator Carl Levin.
“A change in leadership at the Pentagon matters substantively and symbolically,” said Senator Biden. “It’s important to have a fresh pair of eyes looking at Iraq. And it’s important to send a message at home and abroad that we are serious about not over staying the course. Most Americans share the same objective: to begin to leave Iraq responsibly, without trading a dictator for chaos. Secretary Gates has an opportunity and a responsibility to help move us toward that goal.”
“Secretary Gates has signaled he will be more realistic than his predecessor; analyzing and admitting mistakes that have been made and charting a better course forward. The President needs to start being more candid about the stress placed on our military and the challenges ahead in Iraq and the cost going forward. The American people don’t want to hear more slogans, they want a real strategy,” said Senator Reed. “The President must also send the Iraqis a signal that our presence in Iraq is not open-ended. He should expedite the transition of U.S. forces in Iraq to a limited presence and mission of training Iraqi security forces, providing logistical support, protecting U.S. infrastructure and personnel, and counter-terrorism activities.”