PLAYING POLITICS WITH THE TROOPS….Ponder the following timeline if you will.

Tuesday: George Bush tells the American Legion, “If Congress fails to pass a [war funding] bill I can sign by mid-May, the problems grow even more acute….Some of our forces now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may need to be extended, because other units are not ready to take their places.”

Wednesday: Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces, “Effective immediately, active Army units now in the Central Command area of responsibility and those headed there will deploy for not more than 15 months….” That’s a 3-month extension of the normal 12-month tour of duty.

Later in the press conference, Gates says they would have announced the new policy later, but someone leaked it and forced their hand.

Thursday: Dana Perino takes questions from the press:

Q: Why did [Bush] tell the American Legion that people would be staying in Iraq longer because of the Democrats, when his own Pentagon, 24 hours later, was going to keep people there longer?

MS. PERINO: Well, one, I don’t know if the President knew about the — the meeting — remember, yesterday morning is when Secretary Gates came and talked to the President….

Q: And so the President didn’t know about his own policy until Wednesday?

MS. PERINO: I’m not aware that the President knew that there was going to be — that Secretary Gates had come to any decisions.

Well, that’s possible, isn’t it? Alternatively, perhaps Bush was assuming the new policy wouldn’t be announced until after he’d had a chance to veto the war funding bill, thus making it look like the Democrats were responsible for the longer tours of duty. Of course, that would be a very cynical interpretation of events, wouldn’t it?

Thanks to Atrios, Steve Benen, and ThinkProgress for connecting the dots.