Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Farewell to arms

June 30, 2011

Some memorable lines in the farewell tribute for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

President Barack Obama said when he took office, Gates had already served seven presidents and when asked by a reporter whether he might stay on, Gates replied “inconceivable.” (Turned out to be a case of famous last words…)

Gates, true to his reputation as a plain-spoken guy, said his views about the State Department “evolved” over four decades. “For much of my professional life, the Secretaries of State and Defense were barely speaking to one another,” he said.

But that changed. “In the case of Secretaries Rice and Clinton, I’ve not only been on speaking terms with these two formidable women, we’ve also become cherished colleagues and good friends.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen revealed this gem: “He can throw a barb with the best of them. Like the time he called Washington the only place in the world where someone can walk down lover’s lane holding their own hand.”

Be sure to read Reuters interview with Gates.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Gates weighs toll of war

Robert Gates, in his final interview as defense secretary, grew quiet as he tried to articulate the heavy toll his job took on him over the past four and a half years — every day of them during wartime. Gates remarked about a funeral he attended this week for a Marine killed in Afghanistan. During the service, he peered out over the rows of white tombstones that have been added for war dead at Arlington National Cemetery since he took office.

For more of this interview by Phil Stewart, Missy Ryan and David Alexander, read here.

Obama weighed military and political risk for Afghan plan

President Obama’s plan for pulling troops from Afghanistan will intensify risks in the thick of next year’s fighting season, but Obama was right to factor in waning support at home for the war, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

For more of this story by Missy Ryan, read here.

U.S. shifts to closer contact with Egypt Islamists

The United States will resume limited contacts with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Secretary of State Clinton confirmed, saying it was in Washington’s interests to deal with parties committed to non-violent politics. While Clinton portrayed the decision as a continuation of an earlier policy, it reflects a subtle shift in that officials will be able to deal directly with officials of the Islamist movement who are not members of parliament. The move is likely to upset Israel and supporters who have deep misgivings about the Brotherhood.

For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed, read here.

Democrats weigh short-term US debt limit increase

President Obama and Senate Democrats are weighing a seven-month budget deal that would avert a looming default but force Congress to tackle the politically toxic issue again before the 2012 elections, a Senate Democratic aide said. It would theoretically include budget savings of roughly $1 trillion to attract the Republican support needed to pass. There has been no progress since talks collapsed last week over tax increases that Democrats want.

For more of this story by Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan, read here.

Weak US economy shadows Obama in bright areas

A bright spot for President Obama in the bleak economic picture should be that many swing states crucial to his re-election bid are weathering the recession relatively well. Unfortunately, voters are not seeing the light.

For more of this analysis by Patricia Zengerle, read here.

US regulators weigh Greek risk to money funds

Regulators are looking at contingency plans in case Europe’s debt crisis triggers another run on the money fund industry, though crafting an effective response may be tougher than in 2008. U.S. prime money market funds have a heavy exposure to Europe, and managers probably breathed a sigh of relief when the Greek government’s austerity push passed a second test in parliament.

For more of this analysis by Mark Felsenthal and Kristina Cooke, read here.

Corn prices dive on U.S. acreage/stocks shocker

Reports showing a surprisingly large corn crop and higher-than-expected stockpiles sent corn futures sharply lower and alleviated some concerns about global food prices. The USDA’s annual acreage and quarterly grain stocks reports showed ample supplies despite months of fretting over dwindling stockpiles which drove corn prices to record highs in recent weeks. “American producers stepped up,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

For more of this story by Charles Abbott and Christine Stebbins, read here.

Comedian Colbert lampoons US campaign finance laws

Political satirist Stephen Colbert won approval from the election regulatory agency to form a PAC that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. Colbert emerged to cheers from supporters outside the agency’s headquarters. Asked what message he was sending to big corporations, the comedian said: “None. I want their money.”

For more of this story by Kim Dixon, read here.

From elsewhere…

U.S. caught China buying more debt than disclosed

The rules of Treasury auctions may not sound like the stuff of high-stakes diplomacy. But a little-noticed 2009 change in how Washington sells its debt sheds new light on America’s delicate balancing act with its biggest creditor, China.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Gates, Obama, Mullen salute at farewell ceremony)

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