- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he would advise President Bush to veto a Senate proposal that would effectively force a major drawdown of American forces in Iraq.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, that would require that troops be given equal time off to match tours of duty, was dismissed by Mr. Gates as “a backdoor way to try and force the president to accelerate the drawdown.”

“Trying to manage to this kind of legislation is extremely difficult,” Mr. Gates said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that the military has a difficult enough time managing current policy, which gives troops 12 months off for 15 months of combat duty.

Asked in a separate interview by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace whether he would recommend a veto of the bill, Mr. Gates said, “Yes, I would.”

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, defended the Senate proposal during his own “This Week” appearance.

“I think it’s sensible, it can be managed, and it responds to the most-persistent issue that my colleagues and I observe when we go there, which is troops are beginning to feel the pressure, and their families, of these deployments,” he said.

Both Mr. Webb and Mr. Reed are military veterans.

During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and also a combat veteran, said the proposal is supported by a majority of senators. He accused Republicans of blocking its passage.

The Webb proposal reportedly has 57 votes, three short of the 60 votes needed for passage to overcome a likely filibuster. If vetoed by Mr. Bush, it would need 67 votes to override his veto.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, defended the administration’s strategy during a “Meet the Press” appearance, saying U.S. troop reductions should be tied to military and political progress on the ground.

Mr. McCain, a decorated Vietnam veteran who is seeking his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, said that along with military progress, Iraqis have made significant progress toward political reconciliation on the local level.

He warned, however, that an early withdrawal would force the country’s various political factions to form alliances with Iran and al Qaeda.

“I am convinced that the … government [of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki], if they are told we are leaving, they have to stay in the neighborhood, and they will adjust to conditions in the neighborhood. That’s dealing — making deals with al Qaeda and others,” he said.

Sen. Carl Levin has offered his own redeployment proposal. His bill would limit the mission of U.S. forces to training Iraqi forces and combating al Qaeda, something the administration says already is reflected in their long-term goals.

“The president has dangled a carrot in front of the American people talking about troop reductions,” Mr. Levin, Michigan Democrat, said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But, again, it is an illusion of a change of course, and the American people are not buying it. My colleagues are not buying it.”

Mr. Gates rejected claims from Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, that the Bush war policy would leave more than 100,000 troops in the country for the next decade.

“I think that no one believes right now that that’s going to prove necessary,” he said.


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