Why the Pull-Out?

Arms and Influence tries to make sense of the recent surprise announcement that the Bush administration is planning to draw down troops from Iraq in 2006. What are they thinking? Do they really think Iraq is getting better rather than worse? Surely their assessment of what’s going on in Iraq can’t be that different from everyone else’s assessment, namely, that Iraq’s going to hell and is all set to implode. Bush may live in a cocoon, hearing only the news he wants to hear, but surely it can’t be that bad, right? Alternatively, maybe the administration just plans to pull out regardless and risk letting a civil war erupt in Iraq, thus disregarding everything they’ve said in the past about “staying the course” and democracy and whatnot. That’s possible. Who knows? Here’s another interpretation:

My guess—and at this point, it’s just a guess—is that we’re seeing a combination of different forces at play. There are clear signs that the top levels of the Bush Administration genuinely do see the Iraq war in a more positive light than the general population. There are also reasons to believe that the DoD’s manpower crisis has reached a critical level.

Recent polls show that Republican legislators do face a lot of antipathy about Iraq—even if the Democrats continue to look as though they can’t lead us to victory, either. All of these pressures may be pushing through different channels of government to the very top, where senior decision-makers may be pre-disposed to seeing progress that isn’t really there. Any one of these officials may be of two minds about Iraq: (1) the insurgent groups are defying our best efforts; (2) on the other hand, we could turn the corner tomorrow.

That seems about right. But if that’s right, it also means that we’re very likely to see a draw-down in 2006 no matter what the situation looks like; too many other outside factors are at work here for the “facts on the ground” to matter all that much.