In the Arena

Gates Defends Democrats

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This nugget may get lost in all the Virginia Tech news, but Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a pretty bold step away from all the Bush-Cheney-McCain rhetoric about the Congressional war funding debate “hurting” the troops. Here’s the key quote:

“The debate in Congress . . . has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited,” Gates told Pentagon reporters traveling with him in Jordan. “The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact . . . in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment.”

I just got off the phone with Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, who was cheering Gates’s candor: “That’s the fight we want to have on this appropriation,” says Levin. “Whether or not the commitment should be open-ended. If we can’t override Bush’s veto of the appropriations bill we’re about to send, the next bill we send should give him the $100 billion he’s asking for, but with the promise of economic consequences for the Iraqi government if they don’t start meeting their own benchmarks for progress in 60-90 days.”

I’ll have more on the legislative battle between Bush and the Democrats in my column in the magazine, which I’ll try to post here tomorrow. But meanwhile, kudos to Gates for his willingness to depart from the disgraceful Bush party line.