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US Defense Nominee Says Need to Combine Old Ideas for New Strategy on Iraq

President Bush's nominee to be the next U.S. defense secretary told a Senate committee Tuesday there are no new ideas on what the U.S. military can do to stabilize the situation in Iraq. The nominee, Robert Gates, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the challenge is which ideas to use in order to put together a new strategy for defeating insurgents and controlling sectarian violence. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon on military aspects of Gates' testimony.

Robert Gates told the committee he does not think the United States is winning in Iraq, and that there is no new solution that will change that.

"It's my impression that, frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq," he said. "The list of tactics, the list of strategies, the list of approaches is pretty much out there. And the question is, is there a way to put pieces of those different proposals together in a way that provides a path forward."

Gates said the report due on Wednesday from the Iraq Study Group is "very important" and needs to be considered seriously. But he said it will not be "the last word" on Iraq policy. Still, he said he believes President Bush is open to making changes in that policy.

"Frankly, if the president thought that the current tactics and strategy that we were employing were successful, he wouldn't be looking for fresh eyes and looking for new approaches and new tactics in our situation in Iraq," he said.

The defense secretary nominee said the process of developing a new policy will "proceed with considerable urgency." And he said his part in that will begin with a visit to Iraq and consultations with U.S. military commanders there and at the Pentagon. In response to several questions, he deferred his answers, saying he wants to consult with the commanders before making judgments.

"I think any decision, senator, with respect to troop levels, first of all I would seek the views of the commanders themselves," Gates said.

That is the type of answer military analyst Michele Flournoy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies expected to hear.

"I think you'll hear him not only solicit but listen to the views of his top commanders and he'll want unvarnished views and take those into account," she said. "So I think the command climate inside the Pentagon is going to change pretty markedly and that will help him get better information on which to base his decisions."

Still, Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official, cautioned against expecting too much from Robert Gates if he becomes defense secretary.

"He can't turn this around by himself," she said. "He does not have the breadth of control over all the different instruments of national power to do that. That really has to come from the president."

Flournoy says Gates can not control broader U.S. foreign policy, but she says as a long-time Washington insider he may be able to help build a valuable bi-partisan consensus about how to proceed in Iraq and in the broader war on terrorism. Gates referred to building that consensus Tuesday as "imperative" and one of his top priorities because, he said, the fight against terrorism could last a generation.

"Then there would be consistency on the part of whoever is elected president in 2008 and beyond, so that we can carry on this struggle in a way that they [the terrorists] don't think we're going to cut and run, that they don't think we're going to walk away from this war on terrorism, and so that they don't think it's going to be easy to start attacking here at home because we're not willing to take them on abroad," he said.

Gates' testimony was generally well received by both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate committee. The full Senate is expected to approve his appointment as secretary of defense by Friday.