Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Defense nominee Gates believes U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq

US President George W Bush's nominee to replace Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced his first confirmation hearing Tuesday, backed by an appeal for quick approval from the president. Robert Gates, 63, a former director of the CIA spy agency, was expected to sail through the hearings by the US Senate's Armed Services Committee, setting the stage for his confirmation as early as this week.

When asked by incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) if he believed that the United States was winning the war in Iraq, Gates replied with a terse "no."

"What we are now doing is not satisfactory," Gates said.

"In my view, all options are on the table, in terms of how we address this problem in Iraq," the former CIA director added.

Gates, who has headed a Texas university since retiring from public life, was expected to face questioning from senators about how he plans to handle the war in Iraq, where the Bush administration is weighing a change of strategy in the face of sectarian warfare.

"I hope for a speedy confirmation so he can get sworn in and get to work," Bush said Tuesday at a White House meeting, shortly before his nominee headed to the Senate.

Rumsfeld resigned on November 8, a day after Bush's Republican Party lost control of both houses of Congress in national elections that the victorious centre-left Democrats cast as a referendum on the war in Iraq.

As the hearings began, the committee's senior Democrat, Carl Levin, told Gates he "will face the monumental challenge of picking up the pieces" of a failed policy in Iraq.

Gates served at the CIA for more than 26 years. This year, he served on a high-level panel set up by Congress to offer recommendations for a change of course in Iraq. The group is due to present its report in Washington on Wednesday.


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