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Gates' Grand Slam By: Ralph Peters
New York Post | Friday, April 25, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert Gates demonstrated, again, that he's the most capable Cabinet member to serve during President Bush's second term: The SecDef hit a grand-slam homer for our national security.

First, he nominated Gen. David Petraeus to move up and take over the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the headquarters directing our efforts not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan and throughout most of the Middle East.

Employing his war-taught grasp of the Islamic heartlands and his expertise in postmodern forms of warfare, Petraeus will ensure that all our efforts are integrated and complementary, that we maximize our effectiveness in this vital theater of war.

As Lincoln said of Grant, "I can't spare this man - he fights."

Gates also made it clear that the quality of the leadership transition matters: Petraeus won't leave Baghdad immediately. He'll stay long enough to oversee the withdrawal of the last surge forces and to assess the situation before he "pulls pitch."

The grownups are in charge now.

Gates' second run batted in was the nomination of the New York area's own Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno to succeed Petraeus as our top gun in Baghdad.

Big Ray has only been back home with his family for two months, but he's tough: He'll suck it up and do what our country asks.

And there couldn't be a better choice. Not only because Odierno's a soldier's soldier, but because he's the man who had the day-to-day responsibility for executing Petraeus' command vision. Petreaus plotted the route, but Odierno drove the car. We won't turn back toward failure.

Of course, sending Odierno back to Baghdad leaves a hole in the Pentagon lineup: He'd been nominated to become the next US Army vice chief of staff and to pin on a fourth star (he'll still get that deserved promotion, but back on the front lines).

That brings us to the third runner across the plate: Gates nominated another combat-tested Iraq vet, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, to take that job in Odierno's place. Chiarelli was a bright star during some of our darkest nights in Iraq. He'll clean up the Army dugout back at Pentagon Field.

Secretary Gates' determination to nominate the most qualified soldiers, rather than yes-men, is stand-up-and-cheer evidence that he's the polar opposite of his failed predecessor, the odious Donald Rumsfeld. But it was the fourth "run" yesterday that really underscored the difference between the two men.

What made the SecDef's performance a grand slam was his heartfelt thank-you to Gen. Odierno's wife and family for their sacrifice as Big Ray heads back to Baghdad - after little more than a spring break.

An Army saying goes, "You enlist the soldier, but you re-enlist the family." Gates gets it: Every soldier's family, whether a junior enlisted man's or a general's, is a vital part of the team.

It's also a great thing to have a SecDef who just tells the truth: Gates noted bluntly yesterday that "Iranians are killing Americans in Iraq."

It's now up to Congress to respond to Gates' request that these nominations be approved by Memorial Day. Will the partisans on Capitol Hill create another spectacle, or will they do the right thing? Will election-year politics undercut our soldiers yet again?

One Potomac ritual remained the same yesterday, as the SecDef's press session soon degenerated into spring-butt reporters asking questions revealing their miraculous ignorance of military affairs.

But the word was already out to our enemies throughout the Middle East:

We're determined to win - and we've got the right men to do it, by God.

Ralph Peters is a New York Post Opinion columnist and the author of "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."

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