Pentagon urges lawmakers to keep working with Pakistan

The Pentagon’s top leaders urged Congress to resist giving up on Pakistan, telling a Senate panel “real world” factors often make managing such partnerships a complicated business.

Frustrated by the actions of Pakistani and Afghan officials, lawmakers from both parties are talking about cutting off U.S. aid to Pakistan or severely restricting it. This growing bipartisan mood has developed on Capitol Hill since Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 1.

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Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates how long Washington should continue working with “governments that lie to us?” Leahy wanted to know “when do we say, ‘Enough is enough?’”

"Based on 27 years in the CIA and four-and-a-half years in this job, most governments lie to each other,” Gates shot back. “That's the way business gets done.”

Leahy was not done, asking if every government also arrests “people that help us when they say they are allies?” He was referring to reports that surfaced Wednesday alleging Pakistan has arrested five individuals that helped the CIA in the run-up to the raid that killed bin Laden near Islamabad.

"Sometimes,” Gates said bluntly. “And sometimes they send people to spy on us and they are our close allies,” the former CIA director said. "That's the real world that we deal with."

More evidence of the mounting war fatigue in Congress came Wednesday, as 27 senators — 24 Democrats, two Republican and one Independent — urged President Obama to begin a “sizable” withdrawal of U.S. forces this summer.

“Mr. President, according to our own intelligence officials, al Qaeda no longer has a large presence in Afghanistan, and, as the strike against bin Laden demonstrated, we have the capacity to confront our terrorist enemies with a dramatically smaller footprint,” the 27 senators said in a June 15 letter to Obama. "The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.”

The Hill obtained a copy of the letter. GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), and Rand Paul (Ky.), as well as Independent Bernie Sanders (Vt.), joined 24 Democrats in signing it.

Several members of the chamber’s Democratic leadership signed the letter, including Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Vice Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).

Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen urged lawmakers Wednesday to avoid cutting aid to Pakistan, warning that such a move could permanently damage the already chilly relationship between countries.

The aid dollars are intended to be in return for Pakistan's cooperation in the fight against the Taliban and other groups inside its borders.

But lawmakers, as they and the public grow increasingly tired of the decade-old Afghanistan war, feel the bin Laden discovery shows Washington is getting a poor return on its investment.

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) claims Washington has sent Pakistan over $20 billion in civilian and military aid since 2001. The Obama administration is seeking $3 billion more for fiscal 2012.

Mullen told the Senate committee that any funding changes should be made with an eye toward the “long view,” meaning with an understanding of the big-picture ramifications if the U.S.-Pakistani relationship goes south for good.

He warned against making aid cuts due to a “flush of public passion” or a zeal to merely “save a dollar.”

Those comments came during a hearing about the Pentagon budget.

The House Appropriations Committee already is proposing around $544 billion in 2012 Defense Department spending; Senate appropriators have yet to begin crafting their version of the legislation.

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At the Pentagon, work is progressing on the 2013 Defense budget blueprint  and on a landmark national security study that will examine America’s likely national security needs over the next few decades.

That study will examine everything from where the Pentagon can make more internal cuts such as terminating unneeded organizations to shedding missions to making the military services share coveted mission sets.

Gates said Wednesday he wants the review, set to wrap up in a few months, to explore questions like: What will America’s role in the world be over the next few years? Should the U.S. military be smaller to cut costs? What missions would have to be shed if the force is shrunk?

On the latter matter, Gates said he would favor a smaller but much more lethal force that is spared from hardware cuts than a larger one with subpar equipment to use in combat.

The soup-to-nuts review will be used to inform the start of a budget drill ordered by Obama to find $400 billion over 12 years in savings from the national security community.

Gates revealed Wednesday that he was informed of the president’s desire for those budget reductions one day before they were announced. He quickly signed on, but not before he insisted the review be conducted first to help determine where cuts should be made -- and which cost-cutting moves might be too risky.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) criticized the White House both for its desire for $400 billion in national security cuts and the way the administration wants to carry them out.

In her view, the findings of the national security review should lead officials to an acceptable dollar amount that could be taken from the security budget pie.