Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Farewell to arms

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.”

Washington Extra – Lying game

Allies lie.

Those words of wisdom came from outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a congressional hearing. “I would say based on 27 years in CIA and 4 1/2 years in this job — most governments lie to each other. That’s the way business gets done,” Gates said.

“And sometimes they send people to spy on us and they’re our close allies,” he said.

Gates was responding to questions about how the United States can trust and support governments like Pakistan and Afghanistan where the relationship is laced with duplicity.

Washington Extra – Au contraire

Who knew what when about where?

That is the persistent question about Pakistan after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found practically in the backyard of the country’s military and its capital.

Top U.S. defense officials tried to calm the fury today by saying they had no evidence that anyone in the senior Pakistani leadership had knowledge of bin Laden’s location.

“I have seen no evidence at all that the senior leadership knew. In fact, I’ve seen some evidence to the contrary,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Washington Extra – Royal news

bahraintowerCalling Bahrain.

As is increasingly the case, the United States is finding that talking pro-democracy is one thing. Dealing with the aftermath of uprisings another.

U.S. officials have been on the telephone with officials in Bahrain urging restraint after police attacked anti-government protesters.

The tiny Gulf kingdom that is home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet becomes another U.S. ally in the Middle East seeing unrest with protesters wanting their leaders gone.

Just the right tavern to celebrate 200 years of U.S.-French military ties

Not every U.S. ally who visits the Pentagon needs to be treated to a dinner that evokes more than 200 years of peaceful military relations.

France is the rare exception.

So when Defense Minister Alain Juppe traveled to Washington this week for talks with Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary found just the right venue: Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the few establishments in the United States that can boast of “fine dining since 1770.”

Its historical guest list includes the likes of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe.

Hillary wants a break, but maybe just a little one

RTXUT4X_Comp-150x150Hillary Clinton is committed to remaining U.S. secretary of state through Barack Obama’s first term. What will she want then? The answer seems to be “spare time”. But maybe just a little.

Hillary’s future has long been the subject of swirling speculation. Would she run for president against Obama in 2012? Join his ticket as the vice presidential nominee? Replace Bob Gates at the Pentagon?

The only sure bet is that she’s content to remain in the Obama administration through 2012.

Another poll comes out in favor of gays in the military

As Congress mulls “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a new poll finds support for repealing it.

A CNN poll showed that 78 percent, or nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe people who are openly gay should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. MILITARY-GAYS/

The results of the survey of 1,023 adults, conducted May 21-23, were similar to earlier polls — 81 percent in Dec. 19-21, 2008 and 79 percent in May 4-6, 2007.

General Kayani steals the spotlight at Pakistani embassy party

PAKISTAN-ZARDARI/

Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister  Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

With jobs the priority, Obama invites culture war?

AFGHANISTAN/Has President Obama opened a Pandora’s Box marked “Culture War” by moving — however slowly – to repeal the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military?
    
Conservative punditry hasn’t weighed in yet. But  there’s no reason to doubt  the issue will be red meat for those who want to sink the Obama agenda and send congressional Democrats to the unemployment office in November.
    
“Our service members wear the uniform to fight and win wars, not serve as liberal-social-policy guinea pigs,” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, tells Time magazine.
    
Sen. John McCain, a top Republican on military affairs, accused the administration of acting by fiat to circumvent Congress and the military’s chain of command after the Pentagon announced a year-long review of the policy.
    
“You’re embarking on saying it’s not whether the military prepares to make the change but how we best prepare for it, without ever hearing from members of Congress, without hearing from the members of the Joint Chiefs, and of course, without taking into consideration all the ramifications,” he told Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen at a Senate Armed Services hearing yesterday.
 
Polling data show most Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military. But the risk for Obama is that Republicans and their talk-show allies will cry up the issue and steer the now palpable frustrations of voters against him and his fellow Democrats.
    
Democrats, who got a taste of that voter frustration in Massachusetts last month, now hope to win favor by making the economy their USA-HEALTHCARE/PELOSItop priority.
    
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer favors repeal but seems happy to let the Pentagon take the lead until after this year’s election.
    
“What I want members to do in their districts? I want them to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility. Those are our messages,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “The American public clearly wants us focused on growing the economy, adding jobs. That is a principle responsibility.”

 Photo credits: Reuters/Andrees Latif (U.S. Marines in Helmand Province); Reuters/Jim Young (U.S. Capitol)

Click here for more political coverage from Reuters

Afghan hearings takeaway: Charlie Wilson, swimming pools

They weren’t the most “important” words said today at congressional hearings on President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan war strategy, but the following snippets were memorable.

AFGHANISTANAfghanistan and swimming pools:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “We’re not just going to throw these guys into the swimming pool … and walk away.”

Senator Joe Lieberman responded: “I appreciate what you said. We’re not just going to throw the Afghans into the pool and — and — and run away until we’re sure that they can swim on their own.”