The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Gen. Petreaus may advocate a pullback from certain areas in Iraq, relocating forces to other hot spots. This isn’t the withdrawal that the Democrats want — we wouldn’t be sending troops home, but it would be a necessary precondition to an American withdrawal. The Times explains:
Intent on demonstrating progress in Iraq, the top U.S. general there is expected by Bush administration officials to recommend removing American troops soon from several areas where commanders believe security has improved, possibly including Al Anbar province.
According to the officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus is expected to propose the partial pullback in his September status report to Congress, when both the war’s critics and supporters plan to reassess its course. Administration officials who support the current troop levels hope Petraeus’ recommendations will persuade Congress to reject pressure for a major U.S. withdrawal.
The expected recommendation would authorize U.S. commanders to withdraw troops from places that have become less violent and turn over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.
But it does not necessarily follow that Petraeus would call for reducing the overall number of troops in the country. Instead, he could move them to another hot spot, or use them to create a reserve force to counter any rise in violence.
On its face, that seems like a sensible strategy. The thing we’re trying to avoid is the sort of thing that happened throughout the early portion of the war: US and coalition forces would clear an area of terrorists, then put under-trained and under-equipped Iraqi troops in charge. The Iraqi troops would be overrun, and the terrorists would come back in. It was a vicious cycle that wasted time and cost American lives.
The difference here is that the American troops would be on reserve to assist the Iraqis if need be, and hopefully the Iraqis have enough training that it won’t be necessary. Moreover, the political situation has changed. Al-Anbar is less and less hospitable to terrorists each day after al-Qaeda overplayed their hand: after living under radical Islamist law, the Iraqis have little desire to go back. The same nationalist militias who used to fight the US now realize that the path to a new Iraq is to fight al-Qaeda — groups like the 1920 Revolution Brigades have realized that if they want the Americans to leave, the way to do that is to take out al-Qaeda. That strategy is wise on their part, as that’s exactly what we’re intending to do.
The next battle is with the Shi’ite militias — something that is already quietly going on. Taking on the Jaish-al-Mahdi and other Iranian-backed groups will be critical to the future of Iraq. To do that, we’ll probably have to shift troops from al-Anbar. If we can do that without compromising security in that region, so much the better.
Petreaus is looking at the long game now, concerning himself with how we beat al-Qaeda and secure Iraq in the next few months. The big variable is the quality of the Iraqi troops — if they can fight off al-Qaeda, that means that we’re close to the point where we can make a responsible exit from Iraq. If they can’t, we’ll need to continue the surge throughout 2008 and start planning for how best to reduce the strain on our armed forces. However, with the recent military successes in Iraq, it’s quite possible that a pullback from al-Anbar would not open that area to terrorists, making it easier for us to take on the next set of challenges and bringing us closer from the day when Iraq can defend itself and American troops can finally return home to the heroes’ welcome they so richly deserve.
Watch for withdrawal enthusiasts to denounce any partial drawdown on grounds that Iraqi forces aren’t ready, and then go on to proclaim the cause hopeless, and demand total abandonment.
A few years ago, I’d say that was partisan satire. Today, I’d wager that’s exactly what they’ll say…