The new Defense Secretary's influence seems to be drifting across the Potonac to Foggy Bottom.
Robert M. Gates won praise for public candor when asked at his Senate confirmation hearing whether the United States was winning the war in Iraq. "No, sir," he replied. But his real impact as Defense Secretary may come in persuading President Bush that stability in Iraq requires policy changes outside the military realm that is his statutory bailiwick.
Gates' fingerprints already appear on the Bush administration's abrupt shift in how it deals with two of Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria. For several years, the White House had blocked any meaningful dialogue with either nation, demanding from each a major change in behavior as a prerequisite for talks. Iran would have to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities. Syria would have to stop its destabilizing activities in Lebanon and halt support to Palestinian terrorists. Then on 27 February, the administration agreed to join Iraq's neighbors-including Iran and Syria, and with no preconditions-for meetings in Baghdad aimed at arresting Iraq's descent into sectarian carnage. The first session was held 10 March.