Michael Gerson

There have been at least three practical outcomes of the nicely rhymed Gates Doctrine -- "the war we are in ... is the war we must win" -- in Iraq and beyond.

First, Gates has pushed to deploy technologies immediately useful in low intensity conflict, particularly unmanned aerial vehicles. "Three armed Predators over Sadr City," says my military contact, "have hammered anyone challenging our forces. They help account for the eagerness for a cease-fire."

Second, Gates is institutionalizing the teaching of counterinsurgency strategy. The old theory, says my contact, went: "If we could do the big stuff -- major combat operations -- we could take care of the little stuff, the asymmetrical stuff. But the little stuff turned out to be more prolonged and difficult." So the Army's new manual on "Full Spectrum Operations" trains new officers to conduct simultaneous offensive, defensive and "stability operations" -- things like political reconciliation, providing basic services, promoting local government. "The human terrain," says my source, "is the decisive terrain, and Gates gets it."

Third, Gates argues that while American military power can be a prerequisite for stability, winning asymmetrical wars requires other elements of American power. So he calls for "a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security -- diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development." The Gates Doctrine has helped right a listing Iraq War -- and has met opposition. Getting the Air Force to deploy unmanned vehicles instead of concentrating on expensive, manned aircraft has been, Gates says, like "pulling teeth." Elements of the defense establishment, he charges, have been "preoccupied with future capabilities and procurement programs, wedded to lumbering peacetime process and procedures, stuck in bureaucratic low-gear." Recently -- seven years after 9/11, five years after the Iraq War began -- Gates noted that portions of the military are still not on a "war footing."

With Americans engaged in a war, this scandal dwarfs any Gates has faced. In confronting it, the "realist" has become genuinely transformational.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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