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."