Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that a congressional resolution opposing President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq amounts to undercutting U.S. commanders in a way that “emboldens the enemy.”
He also said the Pentagon was now studying whether it could accelerate the deployment of the five additional Army brigades that it has announced will be sent to Baghdad between now and May to bolster security in the capital.
At his first Pentagon news conference since taking office, Gates was asked his reaction to the debate in Congress over the effect of such a nonbinding resolution. “It’s pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn’t have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries,” he said.
Gates talked to reporters as Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill prepared for the start of debate next week on the resolution of opposition to Bush’s decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. forces into battle in wartorn Iraq. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Friday that a quick test vote would likely be taken if Republicans try to delay or block the move.
Danger of 'flagging'
Gates was referring to Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who was confirmed by the full Senate on Friday to replace Gen. George Casey as the top American commander in Iraq. Petraeus has said he needs all 21,500 extra troops that Bush has ordered to Iraq in order to quell the raging sectarian violence in Baghdad.
“I think it’s hard to measure that with any precision, but it seems pretty straightforward that any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks,” Gates said, referring to the anti-government forces in Baghdad. He added that he was certain this was not the intent of those who support the congressional resolution.
“But that’s the effect,” he said.
Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing last week that he wanted the 21,500 additional troops in Iraq as quickly as possible. Gates said Friday that they had discussed this further and that the Pentagon would see if there are ways of speeding up at least some of the brigades.
“There some simply logistical constraints that make it difficult to do a lot” of acceleration, he said. “But I have asked people to look at it and see to what extent they could be — or some portion of it — accelerated.”
Until now, the Pentagon had envisioned sending a brigade a month over the next five months.
The resolution Gates talked about was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday on a near party-line vote of 12-9, a day after Bush implored lawmakers in his State of the Union address to give his revised war strategy a chance to work.
Several Republicans have lined up behind an alternative proposal that is also critical of Bush’s plans to deploy an additional 21,500 troop, but in softer terms.
Some Democrats have called for an effort to merge the two proposals, hoping for a large, bipartisan vote putting the Senate on record as critical of the administration’s plans. But key Republicans have said they are not interested in compromise talks.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats were “moving forward to demand a new direction in Iraq. ... We hope the Republican leadership will join with us to thoroughly debate this issue ... our troops and the American people deserve no less.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said GOP lawmakers may submit one or more alternatives to the Democratic-backed legislation. He said that next week he hoped to be able to “sit down and structure the process by which those will be considered in the Senate.”
Under Senate rules, a minority can try to prevent legislation from coming to the floor. McConnell did not say he would do so, but Reid said if he did, the Senate would vote on whether to go ahead anyway. Democrats would need 60 votes to prevail, but are unlikely to do so, given that Republicans control 49 seats in the 100-member Senate.