What comes after the troop surge? Even though it isn’t complete yet, it makes sense to think about this issue now. The best proposal I’ve seen so far comes from Bing West and Owen West—a father-and-son pair of Marines and national security analysts with vast experience in Iraq. They propose maintaining about 80,000 troops for a decade or so, with 20,000 of them working as advisers to the Iraqi security forces, 25,000 in a combat role, and another 35,000 providing logistics. The only problem is how to get from here to there—how to send home half of the American troops without causing a complete collapse of the Iraqi government and its security forces. That’s where the surge comes in: the plan to downsize only works if the current surge manages to restore a semblance of order in Baghdad and its environs.
The question now is whether General Petraeus and his troops will have the time and support needed to make progress on the ground. They are, of course, being undermined on a daily basis by Congressional leaders who proclaim that we’ve already lost the war. But the Bush administration isn’t helping the cause, either. Take, for example, the leak-based story that appeared on the front page of the New York Times this Saturday: “White House Is Said to Debate ’08 Cut in Iraq Combat Forces by 50 Percent.”
This is one of those typical, maddening, inside-the-Beltway articles that doesn’t report on an actual decision, but deals instead with the administration’s “internal debate” about whether to reduce troop numbers sharply next year. The leakers appear to be floating a trial balloon: the article gives no reason to think that President Bush will actually sign off on what some senior officials are said to be considering.
As Daily Mail blogger Don Surber notes, this is hardly the first time that the New York Times (or other major newspapers) have run such stories. In fact, such accounts began appearing in 2003, reflecting the desire of many senior generals and administration officials—including former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld and former Centcom chief General John Abizaid—to reduce U.S. forces as rapidly as possible. (In the event, deteriorating security conditions did not make possible most of the planned reductions.)
But leaking word that such cuts are under consideration undermines the attempts by American troops to control the situation. It sends a message of wavering resolve, suggesting to our enemies that they can wait us out. (That problem is admittedly exacerbated by the Times’ imprecise reporting. In a subsequent correction, the Newspaper of Record clarified that the administration is debating only pulling out half of our combat brigades, or about one-third of the total troop numbers—not one-half of all troops.) The Bush government accuses Democrats of undermining our position in Iraq, and they are. But it is guilty of the same sin. Or at least those officials who leak such reports are.