Kinda surprising to see this in the NYT, but nevertheless, here it is:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 — One of the most resonant arguments in the debate over Iraq holds that the United States can move forward by pulling its troops back, as part of a phased withdrawal. If American troops begin to leave and the remaining forces assume a more limited role, the argument holds, it will galvanize the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for securing and rebuilding Iraq.
This is the case now being argued by many Democrats, most notably Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who asserts that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months.
But this argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.
Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command and one of the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argued that any substantial reduction of American forces over the next several months would be more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than stop it.
“The logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this” General Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. “Well, you can’t put pressure on a wounded guy. There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence.”
Instead of taking troops out, General Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to “regain momentum” as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.
But some current and retired military officers say the situation in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq is too precarious to start thinning out the number of American troops. In addition, they worry that some Shiite leaders would see the reduction of American troops as an opportunity to unleash their militias against the Sunnis and engage in wholesale ethnic cleansing to consolidate their control of the capital.
John Batiste, a retired Army major general who also joined in the call for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, described the Congressional proposals for troop withdrawals as “terribly naÃ¯ve.”
“There are lots of things that have to happen to set them up for success” General Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq, said in an interview, describing the Iraqi government. “Until they happen, it does not matter what we tell Maliki.”
Before considering troop reductions, General Batiste said, the United States needs to take an array of steps, including fresh efforts to alleviate unemployment in Iraq, secure its long and porous borders, enlist more cooperation from tribal sheiks, step up the effort to train Iraq’s security forces, engage Iraq’s neighbors and weaken, or if necessary, crush the militias.
Indeed, General Batiste has recently written that pending the training of an effective Iraqi force, it may be necessary to deploy tens of thousands of additional “coalition troops.” General Batiste said he hoped that Arab and other foreign nations could be encouraged to send troops.
Some military experts said that while the American military is stretched thin, the number of American troops in Iraq could be increased temporarily — by perhaps 10,000 or more, in addition to the 150,000 or so already there — by prolonging combat tours.
Kenneth M. Pollack, an expert at the Brookings Institution who served on the staff of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, also argued that a push for troop reductions would backfire by contributing to the disorder in Iraq.
“If we start pulling out troops and the violence gets worse and the control of the militias increases and people become confirmed in their suspicion that the United States is not going to be there to prevent civil war, they are to going to start making decisions today to prepare for the eventuality of civil war tomorrow” he said. “That is how civil wars start.”
I’m sure this isn’t what cut and runners like Rep. John Murtha, Sen. Carl Levin, and other newly crowned ‘leaders’ of the Democratic party want to read first thing this morning …
Captain Ed nails it:
Before the elections, Democrats insisted that the White House and especially Donald Rumsfeld needed to listen to the generals rather than remaining married to their own strategies and assumptions. Now that the election is over, the Democrats need to do the same. Will they? It’s doubtful, and for one very strong reason: they ran on forcing a change of policy in Iraq. Their voters were led to believe that a Democratic majority in Congress would lead to a withdrawal, and in short order. If the Democrats do not make good on that promise, they will have to accept some responsibility for Iraq from this point forward — and they will lose the anti-war Left that currently fuels their activism.
My one minor quibble with that would be that their Democratic base of voters voted for them based on their belief that they’d withdraw ASAP, but I don’t think that’s what the rest of the people who voted for them were hoping for.
Rick Moran also has a must-read commentary on this and the Baker-led “Iraq Study Group” as well.