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Sunday, September 16, 2007


by digby

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday he would recommend a veto of a Senate proposal that would give troops more rest between deployments in Iraq, branding it a dangerous "backdoor way" to draw down forces.

Democrats pledged to push ahead with the plan by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and expressed confidence they could round up the votes to pass it, although perhaps not by the margin to override a veto.

"The operational tempo that our forces are under is excruciatingly difficult for our soldiers, Marines, all of our personnel and their families," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. "They deserve the same amount of time back home as they stay in the field."

The comments represented the latest political clash over the future course of the war. Last week, President Bush announced plans for a limited drawdown but indicated that combat forces would stay in Iraq well past 2008.

With the Senate expected to resume debate this week on anti-war legislation, Gates sharpened his criticism of Webb's proposal. It would require troops get as much time at their home station as their deployments to the war front.

Gates was asked in broadcast interviews about recommending a veto to Bush should the proposal pass. "Yes I would," the Pentagon chief said.

"If it were enacted, we would have force management problems that would be extremely difficult and, in fact, affect combat effectiveness and perhaps pose greater risk to our troops," he said.

Supporters of Webb's proposal say it has at least 57 of the 60 votes needed for passage. It would need 67 votes to override a veto.


"It would be extremely difficult for us to manage that. It really is a backdoor way to try and force the president to accelerate the drawdown," Gates said. "Again, the drawdowns have to be based on the conditions on the ground."

If they really have 57 votes then there is absolutely no reason for the Senate not to implement the Kleiman strategy for sure. (And even if there is some unknown reason as to why this strategy wouldn't work, at 57 votes, there is ample reason to force this vote over and over again keeping the spotlight on the plight of the troops.)

They are dragging out the "reasonable" Gates on this because they are actually scared the Dems might make this one happen. And if the Dems play hardball, they could be right. It's very hard to argue that the troops shouldn't get a decent period of time off between deployments, as you can see by Gates' convoluted explanation.

This is one where the Democrats can seize the argument in simple terms if they have the discipline to stick with it. "The troops have been stretched to the breaking point fighting in Iraq for longer than it took us to win WWII. The president refuses to give them the time off between deployments that all the experts say is necessary. We will."

The argument has juice:

Some Democrats believe that the Webb bill, which has support among military families, and from some senior military officers concerned about strains on the troops, may be their best chance yet to entice wavering Republicans...

The Republicans' dilemma was apparent Sunday when Senator John Cornyn, a conservative Texas Republican, was asked on CNN how he would vote on the Webb proposal. "I'm concerned about deployments, lengthy deployments," and their effect on military families, he said - while declining to say how he would vote.

They needn't get into long explanations and shouldn't respond to the notion that it's a backdoor drawdown. Let the Republicans keep making the accusation in public --- preferably over and over again so every single person in the country hears it. Just keep pounding away at the "support the troops" line. It has the virtue of being the right thing on the merits as well. This administration is breaking the military with its inability to get any allies on board with its neocon catastrophe. These repeated deployments without proper respite are causing huge problems. It's not a ploy. Somebody really does have to step in and do something about this.

That it could result in a real drawdown is merely an added inducement.

That is also reveals the Republicans to be complete charlatans in their vaunted great love for the military is frosting on the cakewalk.