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November 25, 2007

The 'desurge' begins
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Today's LA Times is reporting that an Army brigade scheduled to leave in December will indeed depart on time and will not be replaced. 

"The U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry, which has been operating primarily in the country's volatile eastern Diyala province, will be the first of five brigades to depart Iraq without being replaced over the next several months, officials confirmed."

"The U.S. military recently announced plans to reduce troop numbers by about 20,000 by July. The current level is about 162,000 troops."

And so the desurge begins. Depending on how this goes over the next six months or so, Secretary Gates may push for a more aggressive withdrawal that gets down to 100K before the end of 2008. I've also been hearing that 100K is a type of threshold number below which a force could be sustained for a long period of time without breaking the Army or the Marine Corps. 

In any event, I happen to believe that the slope of the withdrawal will now begin to define both the parameters of what is feasible and the venacular of the presidential candidates. Some will want the negative slope to be steep and in essence disconnected from whatever occurs on the ground in Iraq, others will endorse a more gradual decline that is linked to more limited American goals and flexible enough to be alterted if circumstances warrant, while the rest (Republican presidential candidates) will continue to talk about how the reduced violence in Iraq portends "victory" around the corner.

I tend to fall in the second grouping, and continue to believe that a rapid withdrawal could very well trigger events that could quickly spiral out of control. While I'm certainly not in the "stay the course" camp, and believe that we should be reducing our presence in Iraq, I fail to see the logic behind the quick withdrawal option as articulated today by Governor Bill Richardson on ABC's This Week:

"Until we withdrawal all our forces, the political reconciliation that we all want: a multinational peacekeeping force; a donor conference; the three groups in Iraq (the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds) coming together; a reunification of the country - is not going to happen."

I would respectfully submit that the chances of any of the above happening at all are highly questionable under any scenario, and the odds of them occuring subsequent to a complete withdrawal are paultry at best. I don't see any reason why we should jump from a Bush administration strategy predicated on hope (that the 'surge' would translate into political reconciliation) to another based on hope (withdrawal leads to political reconcilation). There are a variety of compelling strategic reasons to drawdown our forces in Iraq, but I remain convinced that using troop reductions to increase and/or maintain leverage with local actors is absolutely vital - esspecially as we begin to enter the endgame.

I am in general pessimistic that we will be able to prevent a resurgence of large-scale civil war in Iraq, as the increasingly well-armed and organized Sunni "local citizen's groups" show little sign of being motivated to integrate with the central government's national security forces or being encouraged to do so by the Maliki government at all. But I do think we need to think hard about how we leave Iraq and what the slope of our departure looks like. The next President will need options beyond simply "leave asap" and "stay the course." 

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Since most Americans didn't support the surge in the first place, and since the surge was always supposed to be temporary, the withdrawal of surge troops isn't all that significant. It simply gets us back to a level of troops that was too high before we added troops to it.

100,000 troops by the end of 2008? How is that acceptable?

Not to mention the amount of money we'd still be spending with troop levels that high. That's a good reason for getting out now that you haven't addressed -- I want the money we're wasting in Iraq to be redirected towards domestic spending programs.

Yes, that's the ticket--a more gradual decline that is linked to more limited American goals and flexible enough to be altered if circumstances warrant. It isn't like other people have other plans, like living a decent life, for example. Anyhow, we know what's best, don't we, and it's best that we draw this thing out as long as possible.

For former Army Spc. Mark Wilkerson, it was the raids — barging into the homes of regular Iraqis in search of weapons and insurgents — that turned him against the war. “Our mission was to win the hearts and minds of the people, and you don’t do that when you’re treating every single one like they’re an insurgent, like they’re a terrorist,” said Wilkerson, 23. After a year in Iraq with a Fort Hood-based military police unit, the 2002 Widefield High School graduate felt strongly enough that he sought conscientious objector status and, when that was denied, went AWOL. He served five months in a military prison this year.

He says he’s not sure if he did shoot and kill anybody, though he knows exactly what he did at close range. “I dehumanized people,” Mullins says. “I don’t even know how many raids I did while I was there. But during raids you’re throwing them up against the wall, you’re tying their hands behind their back, you’re dragging them out of the bed. “You’re dehumanizing them in front of their wives and their kids and, you know, the women are crying and the children are crying and you’re just like, whatever. Put a bag over their head or blindfold, drag them into the Humvee.

“I asked Sgt. Gaskins about his hopes for the future. He replied that he has no future.” — psychotherapist Rosemary Masters This is the cost of our wars, and sooner or later we need to begin paying down the debt. But it is only payable in the devalued currency of the truth. For now, Soldier, we’re still in denial and you’re under arrest.Welcome to PTSD Nation.

Marine Lance Cpl. Gene Landrus was hurt in a roadside bomb attack outside Abu Ghraib, Iraq, on May 15, 2006, and faces medical separation from the Corps. Along with 20,000 other veterans, he is not included in the Pentagon’s official count of U.S. troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is because Landrus’ wound was to his brain and hidden from view. Landrus, 24, of Clarkston, Wash., says he did not realize the nausea, dizziness, memory loss and headaches he suffered after the blast were signs of a lasting brain injury.

An American-Samoa native assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division was killed in Iraq Wednesday, according to a statement released Thursday by the Department of Defense. An improvised explosive device took the life of 29-year-old Sgt. Lui Tumanuvao during combat operations in Arab Jabour on Nov. 7. The infantryman was a member of the division’s 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Tumanuvao’s father, Kelekolio Tumanuvao, told Pacific Magazine his son was a brother, husband and father who will surely be missed. “It’s a very sad day for us,” he said. “My son was a very quiet and kind person.”

Residents in this small Ohio River town in southeastern Indiana are mourning the death of a hometown soldier who was killed in Iraq last week by a roadside bombing. A statement released Sunday by the Pentagon said Sgt. Kenneth R. Booker, 25, died Nov. 14 in Mukhisa, Iraq, from wounds he suffered when a bomb exploded near his vehicle. It gave no additional details. But Booker’s father, Charles Booker, said the family was told that his son’s vehicle, a Stryker eight-wheel-drive truck that he was commanding, was struck by a new form of improvised explosive device while on patrol.

A more gradual decline.

Gosh, how did I guess you would choose the middle course?

Anyway, if the US presence is truly preventing total collapse into civil war in one of the world's most important oil-producing regions and along vital oil transportation nodes, then it would seem we are in an extraordinarily advantageous position. Why don't we threaten to leave unless the globe's other petroleum gluttons pony up the cost of the operation? If they don't pay, we bug out and leave it to China, Europe and Japan to deal with the runaway oil prices and supply disruptions. We can use the protection money they pay us to hire soldiers from other countries, maintaining only US command and equipment, and let our own guys come home.

maintaining only US command and equipment, and let our own guys come home.

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maintaining only US command and equipment, and let our own guys come home.


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