McKeon Insists He Did Not Mischaracterize Gates’ Troop Comments
House Armed Services ranking member Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) on Friday pushed back at the Pentagon for questioning the validity of comments that he made following a conversation with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about troop increases for Afghanistan.“I don’t lie about anything,— McKeon said. “I may not get the details correct, but I don’t lie about it.—On Wednesday, McKeon said Gates told him during a July meeting that President Barack Obama “wasn’t inclined to send troops over there.— He also said Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal were “given instructions— to “scrub everything, to make sure they didn’t ask for more than they needed— when submitting their requests for troop deployments.McKeon’s comments drew a terse response from the Pentagon, which shot down the possibility that Gates would have made such comments to the Armed Services ranking member.“I do not believe Secretary Gates would have said something of that nature to Rep. McKeon,— Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday. “It just doesn’t make sense because neither the secretary nor the president has begun to consider additional forces for Afghanistan.—Added Morrell: “I don’t know how the secretary could convey to anyone— the president’s inclination on troop levels since “that is a conversation that has not happened yet with President Obama.—But McKeon is sticking to his story. Asked again Friday whether Gates told him personally that Obama was not inclined to send more troops into Afghanistan, McKeon said, “Yeah. That’s exactly the way I got it.—Bob Simmons, the Armed Services minority staff director, sought to clarify details of McKeon’s meeting with Gates. Their conversation took place during an hourlong breakfast before McKeon left on a solo trip to Afghanistan, not during a trip with Gates, as previously reported. Simmons also said it was Gates who instructed McChrystal and Petraeus to “scrub— their requests, not Obama.Simmons also emphasized that Gates’ comments came during a discussion on Afghanistan and in the wake of comments by National Security Adviser James Jones, who had previously signaled that the White House was not inclined to boost troop levels.Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, laughed when asked why he thought the Pentagon would be upset by McKeon’s comments — particularly because Gates serves at the pleasure of Obama.“They don’t want to make it look like the president’s telling them what to do, but that’s what they’re doing. The president tells them what to do,— Murtha said. He suggested that military officials take offense to the idea of Obama telling Gates to scrub his troop request.“That sounds like he’s trying to dictate to a field commander. That’s what it is,— Murtha said. “I know what the White House told him. He works for the White House. They set the policy. People keep forgetting the policy is set by the White House.— The result, Murtha added, is that military leaders try to “get their point across— by “leaking stuff,— referring to McChrystal’s report on Afghanistan being leaked to the Washington Post last week before it was due to reach Gates.Murtha and McKeon — who are on different sides of the issue of troop increases — acknowledged a divide between Obama and military leaders over how to handle Afghanistan. “There’s a heavy debate I’m sure going on in the White House,— McKeon said. “I don’t want to show a rift either if it’s going to hurt us in getting the troops. And I don’t know, maybe it would help.—Added Murtha: “I know they’re damn hesitant to send troops because they know how tough it’s going to be. The country’s not with it. Members of Congress sure as hell won’t like to hear it.—John Stanton contributed to this report.