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Pentagon Proposes Leadership Moves; Immigration Bill Stalls

The Pentagon announced a proposed leadership change to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while the Senate's debate on immigration reform lost steam. David Brooks and E.J. Dionne discuss the week's news.

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    Well, now the analysis of Brooks and Dionne, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. Mark Shields is off tonight.

    Gentlemen, just picking up on what we were just talking about, this shuffle at the Pentagon. David, what does it look like to you?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    It bothers me a little. I understand wanting to get a new fresh set of eyes and that sort of thing. I don't understand ending somebody's career because it might make for politically inconvenient hearings, a bad television show.

    If Peter Pace is a competent general — and I have no opinion on that — but if Bill Gates thinks he is — Robert Gates thinks he is a competent general, I think he should defend him. And if he's a tough, competent general, he should be able to take some tough questions from a Senate Armed Service Committee. I mean, there's something odd about that there are men and women in Iraq dodging bullets, and the general in charge of the war can't dodge a few questions. There's something weird about all this.

  • E.J. DIONNE, Columnist, Washington Post:

    You know, and I think David's comments suggest that the reason they gave is not the real reason why he's gone. I think what this really means, as both Mark and Josh suggested, is this is going to be the Gates Pentagon.

    General Pace was seen as someone who was either close to Rumsfeld or willing to do what Rumsfeld wanted. I was talking to somebody on the Hill today who said that he seemed more willing to go along with Rumsfeld than the alternative, who was up for a consideration at the time.

    And so what I really think this is, is Gates taking over. I think that will be pretty popular on the Hill, because so far the notion of shaking up that place is very popular up on the Hill.


    Does this suggest there's more room for a change in policy toward Iraq?


    Among the administration, yes, I think there is. I think the administration is thinking long term. They're thinking beyond the surge. They're trying to create a sustainable policy that will really bind the next president, and that involves probably moving some troops out of Baghdad, trying to fight al-Qaida, do some other things, making sure nobody tackles the Iraqi regime. But I do think there is flexibility now, because they really want to make sure that some Iraq policy is sustained by the next president.


    And in terms of the hearings, E.J., in the fall, when the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs and vice chairman come forward, that will change the tone of those hearings.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    It will change the tone of the hearings, but it's going to be a donnybrook in the fall. I mean, when the House and the Senate passed the Iraq funding bill, Speaker Pelosi said, "See you in September." And we're waiting for a number of things to happen in September.

    Pelosi told her anti-war Democrats, "Look, this is coming up again. We're going to vote on this again." Mitch McConnell has said, the Republican leader in the Senate, that we're going to wait to see what happens and has suggested that he and other Republicans are looking for a change in policy.

    So they are going to have — whatever they're going to be selling in September, they're going to have a very large selling job to do, because there's still a lot of skepticism in the Democratic Party, growing skepticism among congressional Republicans.


    And in the White House, they're now trying to head that off at the pass. They don't want to get to September. They want to have some policy that at least Mitch McConnell and the Republicans can buy into that will be sustainable, because they know that, if it comes to September, we get a mixed report from Petraeus, then that really is a disaster. There are a lot of Republicans who do not think it's worth destroying the Republican Party over Iraq.


    Any sense of what that policy is?


    Well, as I say, I think it's a bit of an anti-surge, if you want to put it that way. I do think it's pulling some troops out of Baghdad, hopefully putting Iraqi troops in there, if they're capable, but something that will reduce American casualties.