Secretary of Defense Robert Gates this morning called proposed legislation to give troops more time off between deployments "a back-door way to try and force the president to accelerate the drawdown."
Gates said he would recommend the president veto a bill proposed by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., mandating that tours cannot be extended. "Trying to manage to this kind of legislation is extremely difficult," Gates said in an appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." The legislation proposed would also require troops to spend as much time at home as their previous tour of duty.
In a separate interview Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who earlier this week gave the Democratic rebuttal to the president's speech on Iraq, defended the Webb legislation.
"I think it's sensible, it can be managed, and it responds to 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," Reed said.
Gates defended the troop reduction put forth by Gen. David Petraeus -- and backed this week by President Bush -- against criticism that it was simply a military necessity. "[The drawdown] is resource informed but not resource driven. After all, we've got 2.1 million men and women in the United States Armed Forces. If the circumstances required it, other choices could have been made," Gates said.
Despite saying that other alternatives to a troop reduction were on the table, Gates reiterated that "we do not want to extend tours. There's no question about that. And we would look at alternatives other than extending tours. But I think that no one believes right now that that's going to prove necessary."
While the administration is calling for troops to begin returning home, the President said in a speech this week that the American presence in Iraq will remain for years to come. Gates declined to say exactly how many years, but said the timeline would be decided in conjunction with the Iraqis.
"We're thinking that it's a relatively small number compared to what we have today. And we wouldn't be doing these tasks all by ourselves. We would be in a support role for the Iraqis. So it's not like we would have the sole responsibility for carrying out these activities," Gates said.
Reed responded that that the troop reduction be legislated and not left up to the Iraqis.
"I think it's important to make that the policy, not simply to say we hope that happens, it might happen, it depends on the Iraqis. I think it has to be policy of the United States," Reed said.
When asked by Stephanopoulos if the United States has moved the goalposts for success in Iraq, Gates conceded that "what's going on is a different kind of reconciliation, or a different kind of progress, perhaps, than we had anticipated."
Critics of the administration, including Reed, have said that the Iraqis failed to meet the fundamental purpose of the surge to foster breathing room for political reconciliation.
Gates responded to that allegation. "The truth is that in many of these cases, and it happens here in the United States, as well, some of these issues that are too hard, in many respects, politically, get taken care of in small bits."