Dealing with the political realities in both Washington and the country at large, the Administration is subtly but clearly beginning to revamp its rhetoric on Iraq. While still stressing that there will be no timetable for withdrawal, the President is now going beyond the generalities offered in the past to lay down specific goals to be achieved by the civilian and military elements in Iraq before the US could safely begin to dramatically draw down its forces.
The White House said that the strategy to be outlined Wednesday was not new, but that it had never been assembled into a single unclassified document. As the 27-page booklet was described by administration officials, much of it sounded like a list of goals for Iraq’s military, political and economic development rather than new prescriptions on how to accomplish the job.
The Pentagon now spends $6 billion a month to sustain the American military presence in Iraq. A senior administration official said Mr. Bush’s ultimate goal, to which he assigned no schedule, is to move to a “smaller, more lethal” American force that “can be just as successful.”
It is unclear how much of that vision Mr. Bush will explicitly describe Wednesday, in the first of four speeches about the Iraqi transition that he plans to give before the election of a long-term Iraqi government on Dec. 15.
Why the Times chooses to complain that there are no “new prescriptions on how to accomplish the job” of building up the Iraqi civilian and military is a mystery. Surely achieving these goals is almost totally dependent on the Iraqis themselves. We can train the forces to the best of our abilities but as much as working toward a stable, democratic government, it will be the Iraqis themselves who set the pace, not Americans.
That pace is quickening as this AP report points out:
Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, a spokesman in Baghdad for the U.S. command that is responsible for the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, said approximately 130 Iraqi army and special police battalions are fighting the insurgency, of which about 45 are rated as “in the lead,” with varying degrees of reliance on U.S. support.
The exact numbers are classified as secret, but the 45 figure is about five higher than the number given on Nov. 7 at a briefing by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who previously led the training mission. It is about 10 higher than the figure Gen. Petraeus offered at a Pentagon briefing on Oct. 5.
An Iraqi battalion usually numbers between 700 and 800 soldiers.
As another measure of progress, Col. Wellman said about 33 Iraqi security battalions are now in charge of their own “battle space,” including parts of Baghdad. That figure was at 24 in late October. Col. Wellman said it stood at three in March.
Also, American forces have pulled out of 30 “forward operating bases” inside Iraq, of which 16 have been transferred to Iraqi security forces. The most recent and widely publicized was a large base near Tikrit, which U.S. forces had used as a division headquarters since shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
Subtly changing the focus of their rhetoric on Iraq is an acknowledgment that the constant hammering by Democrats on the Administration’s war policies are beginning to have an effect outside of Washington. Even the President’s strongest supporters have been urging him to clarify what would constitute victory in Iraq since, as seems likely, the terrorists and insurgents will continue to oppose the Iraqi government for years to come. By listing clear and achievable goals for the Iraqi government and military, the Administration is; 1) reasserting dominance over Congress when it comes to guiding the war effort; and 2) attempting to steer the focus of debate on the war away from the cut and run crowd and toward a clear prescription for victory.
There may be those who will be unsatisfied with the President’s speech in that he will stop short in saying that all terrorists in Iraq must be destroyed before America draws down its forces significantly. The problem, according to this report written by two respected Army analysts, is that scenario is totally unrealistic:
In their new 60-page report, veteran Middle East scholar Terrill and Crane, director of the Army Military History Institute, say a U.S. troop presence in Iraq probably cannot be sustained more than three years further. Meantime, they write:
—’‘It appears increasingly unlikely that U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces will crush the insurgency prior to the beginning of a phased U.S. and coalition withdrawal.’’
—’‘It is no longer clear that the United States will be able to create (Iraqi) military and police forces that can secure the entire country no matter how long U.S. forces remain.’’
—And ‘’the United States may also have to scale back its expectations for Iraq’s political future,’’ by accepting a relatively stable but undemocratic state as preferable to a civil war among Iraq’s ethnic and religious factions.
‘’U.S. vital interests have never demanded a democratic state in Iraq before 2003,’’ they note
What kind of democracy we leave behind will be determined by how successful the various factions in Iraq are at working together. The amazing thing is that to date, every deadline set for the Iraqis to move forward with elections and writing the constitution has been met. Expectations have been exceeded which makes the pessimism in that report ring a little hollow. Nevertheless, there will come a time where our very presence becomes a zero sum game, when American troops are actually fueling a dying insurgency that could better be handled by Iraqi forces. That, of course, is Bush’s goal. The trick will be in recognizing when that point is reached and leave Iraq to continue the decades long process of building a peaceful, democratic society.