The Withdrawal Guessing Game

There’s been a lot of back and forth over whether the Bush administration will really start to draw down troops from Iraq in 2006. Maj. Gen. Doug Lute, director of operations at CENTCOM, says there’s a plan for doing just that. The president says no, no, we’ll stay until “we win the war on terror,” whatever that means. Garance Franke-Ruta of Tapped thinks that the president will follow his usual pattern, which means pretending to stand like a strong, tall oak in the wind of public opinion, and then bending at the last minute, which would mean drawing down troops next year while painting the (few) Democrats who are demanding just such a thing as craven appeasers and limp-kneed defeatists. All interesting theories. But Anthony Cordesman of CSIS takes a hard look and says no—it’s very unlikely that the U.S. will start to pull-out in 2006:

The talk of US withdrawals by US military and Bush Administration officials is based on a reasonable degree of political success and inclusiveness, Iraqi military and security forces coming on line in large numbers, and the assumption that the police will become more effective, hold together, and be supported by and Iraqi government presence in the field. None of these conditions as yet exist….

There are all kinds of reports about US withdrawal plans and well-defined exit strategies. I don’t believe them. None of my sources can give a clear target month for getting US forces down below 100,000 men and women.

Well, I’ll take Cordesman’s word for it: his BS detector has been pretty stellar these past few years. Plus, his take jibes with everything we know about the “enduring bases” being set up in Iraq—why we need those nobody knows; to guard the oil? to attack Iran? Not to mention the fact that timing the withdrawal right before the midterms, with Iraq going to hell, could well be disastrous for the Republican Party’s electoral chances if it goes badly. Can’t have that.