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Questions on Iraq, budget await new defense chief

Published November 10, 2006


WASHINGTON - President Bush's choice to head the Pentagon would inherit an unpopular war in Iraq, a straining military mobilized in hot spots around the world and a budget that commanders say has underfunded their combat needs.

Robert Gates' biggest hurdle is expected to be meeting calls for an Iraq exit strategy under pressure from next year's Democratic-controlled Congress.

Given Bush's suggestion this week that his new Cabinet member would be a force for change, Gates would be expected to do what the outgoing secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, could not: Figure out how to bring home substantial numbers of troops from Iraq in short order, without surrendering the country to a new insurgency or triggering all-out civil war.

"If anybody had a silver bullet answer for this, the president and the previous secretary would have done it; they would have loved to get the troops out early," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said not to expect any quick recommendations for change, given that Gates "probably hasn't had as much time as he would like."

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Gates will have to grapple with North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs, a military that is also stretched in Afghanistan, East Asia and elsewhere, and how to fund the billions needed to fix military equipment.

"There are a host of issues that involve not only the mission in Iraq, but also the resources to accomplish that mission," Reed said.

[Last modified November 10, 2006, 01:43:51]

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