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Security politics

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that he expects the plan involving a US troop increase in Iraq to "take months, not 18 months to two years," and predicted that if the plan succeeds, troops could start withdrawing by the end of 2007, NBC's Scott Foster reports.  Gates made these remarks yesterday while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the Pentagon's $625 billion budget request, which includes $142 billion for war costs for fiscal year 2008.  Gates also said the so-called "surge" strategy "is not the last chance," and that he would be "irresponsible" if he didn't consider possible alternatives in case the plan fails.  One of those possible options, he indicated, would be to reposition US troops in Iraq "out of harm's way as much as possible and then see where we go from there."

The Los Angeles Times says the shift from the Senate to the House in the debate over the troop increase "may further isolate the White House and its Senate allies." 

A New York Times analysis notes that Senate Republicans spent yesterday trying to counter the perception that they obstructed the debate.  "It was a label they had successfully hung on Democrats for years, and they did not appreciate the role reversal." 

The Washington Post profiles Gen. David Petraeus as the Administration's new front man for the increase.  "At a time when the president and most of his top surrogates have lost credibility even among many Republicans in Congress, the administration has turned to the chiseled, widely respected Petraeus to win the day."  The story also notes, "Bush strategists have been surprised by how quickly the politics of the war have shifted... and they have been grappling for a strategy to contain the political damage.  The White House privately believes that a statement of opposition by Congress may be inevitable." 

The Post's Milbank observes how former Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer deftly fended off House Democrats' inquiries and criticisms yesterday during their first hearing on the awarding of Iraq reconstruction contracts. 

Pegged to that hearing, the Wall Street Journal says Bush's request for more spending on Iraq reconstruction could get hung up by "questions about why the Iraqi government has so much unspent money on hand...  The large number of pending corruption investigations by an Iraqi commission established by Mr. Bremer is believed to be deterring government ministries from spending additional money." 

Four top Republican members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs are sending a letter today "calling on the Pentagon and State Department to dramatically change their tactics in that country to better contain its growing insurgency and flow of opium to the rest of the world," says the Los Angeles Times

The Financial Times focuses on the lofty foreign policy goals laid out in Bush's budget, which include "the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programme and the start of comprehensive multilateral negotiations with Iran."