The United States is involved in two wars — Iraq and Afghanistan — that it is not winning. If the situation is dire and deteriorating, as the Iraq Study Group concluded, why is Mr. Gates — who was confirmed by the Senate on December 6 — waiting 12 days to go to work? Why is Donald Rumsfeld, the leading architect of the failed strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan, still on the job?
One theory is that Mr. Gates wants to preside at the fall graduation ceremonies at Texas A&M before he begins at the Pentagon. If he headed to the Middle East today, he could be back by December 15 to distribute diplomas. Given the rich tradition of the A&M Corps of Cadets, Mr. Gates presence as Secretary of Defense rather than university president would be equally fitting.
Given the severity of the situation — 30 U.S. troops died in Iraq during the first week of December — a Senate-confirmed Mr. Gates should now be in charge. There is literally not a moment to lose. Over the next 7 days, he should undertake a detailed fact-finding mission to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He should have extensive conversations with key military commanders — Generals John Abazaid, George Casey, Jim Jones, Karl Eikenberry and British General David Richards — to receive an operational update and set a new tone with the military leadership as the Iraq Study Group suggested.
Later in December, he should confer with the military chiefs and the National Security Council principals in order to make informed recommendations to the President on a new military strategy. Most significantly, he should strongly recommend that the President accept the Iraq Study Group’s judgment to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq within 15 months. The President should be in a position to announce this change of course as soon as possible.