Sunday :: Jun 10, 2007

Pentagon's Iraq Plan Offer Way Forward For Democrats

by Steve

We’ve all seen the stories about the White House plans for a “Korea II” permanent occupation in Iraq for decades, consisting of 50,000 combat forces and another 30,000 support forces.

Forget it; the military isn’t buying it. According to a Page One in today’s Post by the respected and connected Thomas Ricks, Generals Petraeus and Odierno are planning for a long term force in Iraq of around 50,000 in total, and want to implement it by the time Bush leaves office.

U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a "post-occupation" troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years.
This goal, drawn from recent interviews with more than 20 U.S. military officers and other officials here, including senior commanders, strategists and analysts, remains in the early planning stages. It is based on officials' assessment that a sharp drawdown of troops is likely to begin by the middle of next year, with roughly two-thirds of the current force of 150,000 moving out by late 2008 or early 2009. The questions officials are grappling with are not whether the U.S. presence will be cut, but how quickly, to what level and to what purpose.

When forced to deal with the administration's detachment from reality and their own lack of troops for a long-term occupation, the Pentagon reaches for reality and common sense.

Such a long-term presence would have four major components. The centerpiece would be a reinforced mechanized infantry division of around 20,000 soldiers assigned to guarantee the security of the Iraqi government and to assist Iraqi forces or their U.S. advisers if they get into fights they can't handle.
Second, a training and advisory force of close to 10,000 troops would work with Iraqi military and police units. "I think it would be very helpful to have a force here for a period of time to continue to help the Iraqis train and continue to build their capabilities," Odierno said.
In addition, officials envision a small but significant Special Operations unit focused on fighting the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. "I think you'll retain a very robust counterterror capability in this country for a long, long time," a Pentagon official in Iraq said.
Finally, the headquarters and logistical elements to command and supply such a force would total more than 10,000 troops, plus some civilian contractors.
Even as they focus on the realities in Iraq, officials here are also keeping an eye on Washington politics. Despite the talk in the U.S. capital that Petraeus has only until September to stabilize the situation in Iraq, some officers here are quietly suggesting that they really may have until Jan. 20, 2009 -- when President Bush leaves office -- to put the smaller, revised force in place. They doubt that Bush will pull the plug on the war or that Congress will ultimately force his hand.

The military has it correct here. Even if the Democrats had the votes this fall for an immediate withdrawal, which they don't, it would take almost a year for those troops to be removed from Iraq. And neither the GOP or Bush would ever agree to something that remotely could be spun as "immediately redeployment" or withdrawal. However, the Democrats need to analyze what Petraeus and Odierno are planning here, set it in motion through the 2008 Defense authorization act as a "mission change", and thereby force Bush to clean up his mess so that it isn't dumped on his successor.

None of us likes the idea of having 40,000-50,000 US troops stationed in Iraq during the first term of the next president, but the plan Petraeus and Odierno are cobbling together, along with their efforts to reach out to insurgents and al-Sadr on becoming part of the solution is the way to go, allowing us as Ricks' story indicates to leave the country in a better way than how we came in.

Adopting the Petraeus/Odierno plan pays many dividends for the Democrats:

1. If Democrats get out ahead of this before the White House, they can portray the eventual policy in the 2008 defense budget as a case where Bush was forced to follow the Democrats rather than the other way around, repairing the disappointment felt by the base over the war funding vote;

2. Democrats can get out ahead of war hawks like McCain and Lieberman by adopting this plan, and keep their caucuses together by committing to a major drawdown that still aims to help Iraq survive while giving it the means to defeat Al Qaeda. It would force McCain, Lieberman, and the GOP field in 2008 to either endorse this, or tell the country why they oppose what the generals on the ground support;

3. Democratic messaging can be built around the theme that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress are needed in 2009 to get us out of Iraq in the right way consistent with what the generals rather than the armchair GOP warriors want; it will be a Democratic president and Democratic Congress that removes the Al Qaeda menace from Iraq that Bush and the GOP put there;

4. It forces the major drawdown to occur on Bush’s watch so that the Democratic president in 2009 doesn’t get tagged with doing it, forcing Bush to clean up his mess;

5. By tying the 2008 defense budget to the plan, Democrats would be doing nothing more than what McCain and other Republicans did to Clinton with Haiti and Somalia;

6. The plan bridges the divide between the anti-war “get out now” forces and the “we can’t just leave Iraq to chaos” crowd. It pleases neither totally but establishes the basis for a governing coalition on Iraq that the Democrats can build upon to a) demonstrate they can be trusted to get us out of Iraq responsibly while going after Al Qaeda with Special Forces; b) build a bipartisan and smart foreign policy, thereby also allowing them to c) reenergize their domestic agenda heading into the 2008 election season.

This plan should be the Democrats' plan from this day forward, and it should be spun as the Democrats, when given the choice of supporting the White House or the Pentagon chose the Pentagon. Murtha and Carl Levin should be sent to Baghdad for briefings on these plans unvarnished by White House spin, and then these plans should be the Democrats Iraq policy from now on.

Steve :: 6:36 AM :: Comments (22) :: Digg It!