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White House Claims Bush Was In The Dark About Iraq Troop Extensions, Fueling Speculation

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"White House Claims Bush Was In The Dark About Iraq Troop Extensions, Fueling Speculation"

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On Tuesday, President Bush addressed the American Legion and accused Congress of forcing U.S. troops to extend their deployments in Iraq:

The bottom line is this: Congress’s failure to fund our troops will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines.

The very next day, his own Pentagon announced that all U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq would have their 12-month tours in Iraq extended by 3 additional months.

What explains the strange timing? As Atrios noted, when the Pentagon announced its new policy on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Gates said he was angry that the news had been leaked to the press. That has sparked suspicion that the deployment extension was actually supposed to be announced after Bush had vetoed Congress’ Iraq legislation “so that he could try to claim it was their fault.” In that scenario, Bush’s remarks on Tuesday were just meant to prime the pump.

This speculation was fueled by Wednesday’s White House press conference, where Dana Perino explained the strange timing by claiming that President Bush had been in the dark about this major policy shift until the morning it was announced:

Q So why did he tell the American Legion that people would be staying in Iraq longer because of the Democrats, when his own Pentagon, 24 hours later, was going to keep people there longer?

MS. PERINO: Well, one, I don’t know if the President knew about the — the meeting — remember, yesterday morning is when Secretary Gates came and talked to the President. [...]

Q And so the President didn’t know about his own policy until Wednesday?

MS. PERINO: I’m not aware that the President knew that there was going to be — that Secretary Gates had come to any decisions.

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/04/pertrroops.320.240.flv]

Could it really be that President Bush was completely unaware of the Pentagon’s new policy until hours before it was made public? Or is the White House now trying to cover up a botched plan to blame Congress for its own decision to further strain the U.S. military, a move that has hurt Bush politically and angered troops on the ground.

Digg It!

Transcript:

Q Dana, on the supplemental, on Tuesday the President said that because the Democrats have not gotten this in yet — “The failure to fund our troops will mean some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines, others could see their loved ones headed back to war sooner.” Why did the President mention — this is a day before his own Pentagon is going to announce that, actually, those loved ones are going to stay in harm’s way longer. And he clearly had to know that this policy was going to take place, that the deployments were going to be stretched from 12 months to 15 months. So why did he tell the American Legion that people would be staying in Iraq longer because of the Democrats, when his own Pentagon, 24 hours later, was going to keep people there longer?

MS. PERINO: Well, one, I don’t know if the President knew about the — the meeting — remember, yesterday morning is when Secretary Gates came and talked to the President.

[...]

We have never said that if we got the money immediately tomorrow, that folks would be able to have just a 12-year [sic] deployment and a 12-year [sic] dwell time.*** Every day that we don’t get the money is one that, as Secretary Gates and General Pace have said, creates problems in terms of the training. And so by piecemeal, you see some troops have been there for 16 months, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.

Q Is that really the first time the President — it’s a pretty big policy, to keep people in Iraq three months longer –

MS. PERINO: No, I think that we’ve known for a while –

Q — he just heard about it yesterday morning?

MS. PERINO: I think we’ve known for a while that Secretary Gates was trying to figure out a way to make sure that we can alleviate this problem of having longer deployments, or troops being deployed for a longer period of time. And one of the things that he did yesterday was to say that we need more certainty for the troops. And I talked to the President about that this morning, that having more certainty for a military family to plan ahead is something that is probably priceless. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a youngster, when three months seems like five years, that their parent isn’t going to be home.

[...]

Q But if the President really wants certainty for the families, he had an opportunity before the American Legion, a highly respected veterans organization, to say, you know what, for certainty’s sake for these families, tomorrow we’re going to announce a pretty big change. They’re going to stay in harm’s way longer. Why wasn’t he straightforward with the American Legion about his own policy?

MS. PERINO: I think the President was absolutely straightforward. And remember, I don’t — I know that Secretary Gates came and talked to the President yesterday morning, so that speech you’re talking about was last Tuesday. We’ve known for a while that we’re going to have to –

Q Two days ago, the speech.

MS. PERINO: Yes, two days ago, right.

Q And so the President didn’t know about his own policy until Wednesday?

MS. PERINO: I’m not aware that the President knew that there was going to be — that Secretary Gates had come to any decisions.

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