By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 9, 2007
On the eve of a trip to Central and South America, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday postponed his travel plans to help the White House assemble a progress report on the situation in Iraq.
The move comes amid growing pressure on the Bush administration to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The political climate for the war in Washington has grown markedly worse in recent days, with a group of senior Republicans changing their stance on Iraq and now leaning toward a withdrawal of troops.
On Thursday, Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) became the latest to announce his break with President Bush, joining Republican Sens. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), George V. Voinovich (Ohio), John W. Warner (Va.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) in voicing some level of pessimism about the current U.S. course.
Congress has given the Bush administration two deadlines to report on the situation in Iraq and assess whether it is improving. The first of those deadlines is Sunday, and the Pentagon said in a statement yesterday that Gates's participation is needed in policy meetings.
Senior administration officials have already concluded that the Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the benchmarks that Bush set for it earlier this year, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
Also this week, Congress is set to begin consideration of the defense spending bill, a debate that is sure to be dominated by discussion of Iraq.
The statement said Gates's long-planned trip to El Salvador, Colombia, Peru and Chile will be rescheduled. It was to be his first trip to the region since becoming defense secretary.