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Media Availability with Secretary Gates in Baghdad, Iraq

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
April 07, 2011

                 Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Do you get a sense of outrage about the fact that these soldiers might not get paid?  They’re out here in Iraq, they’re in Afghanistan? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, as I told them, I mean, they will get paid, but if the government shuts down for - as I told them, if it shuts down for a week, from the 8th to the 15th, based on the information I got this morning they’ll get half a paycheck.  And if the government were to shut down until the 30th, they would miss a whole paycheck.  Now, they get paid in arrears obviously, so over time they won’t lose anything. 

                But you all know as well as I do, a lot of these young troops live pretty much paycheck to paycheck.  And I just - when I start to think about the inconvenience that it’s going to cause these kids and a lot of their families, even half a paycheck delayed can be a problem for them.  So I hope they work this whole thing out. 

                Q:  Do you have any reaction to what Congress - how Congress is handling this?

                SEC. GATES:  I’m not going to wade into that swamp. 

                GEOFF MORRELL (Pentagon Press Secretary) :  Rachel? 

                Q:  Mr. Secretary, I’d like to ask a more - (off mic.) - question, if you’ll permit me.  You said this is perhaps your last time visiting Iraq.  You’ve been here over a dozen times.  Can you walk us through a little bit about what’s going through your head right now?  You’ve talked time and again about your respect for the troops.  Where will Iraq fall in your personal legacy and in your career as secretary? 

                SEC. GATES:  I think the thing to remember is that when I took this job I was asked what my agenda was.  And I said, Iraq, Iraq, and Iraq.  And the political heat was quite hot in Washington.  Things were not going well here.  As I mentioned when I gave my first press conference here in December of 2006, there was a firefight going on overhead and in the background.  And then, in the spring, we were losing up to 140 soldiers and Marines a month.  It was a very tough time.  

                And so to see Iraq today - and when you look at the turbulence going on across the entire region, as I told one of these soldiers, the amazing thing is a lot of these folks would be happy if they could get to where Iraq is today.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s new.  And it is a democracy and people do have rights.  

                So what has been achieved here at huge sacrifice on the part of the Iraqis, on the part of our troops, on the part of the American people is really extraordinary.  And it has been a long and painful journey for everybody.  

                But these young men and women and those who’ve come before them paid a terrible price to get this country to where it is today.  And I think Americans should certainly take pride in what they have accomplished. 

                Q:  (Off mic.) - you have accomplished what you wanted to here? 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, my agenda is no longer just Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.  Now Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Japan, the budget.  So there’s no shortage of things to spend time on.  But it is - I do feel that the other aspect of this was a lot of people, journalists and others, said my time in this job will - they were writing this two years ago, two and a half, three years ago, four years ago - that how I’m judged as having done as secretary of defense would be evaluated by how Iraq turned out because that was the issue.  And I’ll let people judge for themselves.  

                MR. MORRELL:  Thank you. 

                Q:  Thank you.