Smart Drawdowns

Sometimes I despair of this administration. After three and a half years of fumbling, the president in late 2006 finally made a courageous if overdue decision to send more troops to Iraq. The payoff has been impressive: The war effort was rescued from the brink of defeat. Now the withdrawal of the surge brigades is underway, and no one knows what will happen when the number of U.S. troops goes back to roughly the pre-surge level of 140,000 by mid-July. At the same time thousands of detainees are being released from American custody, and tensions continue between the Iraqi government and neighborhood volunteers—the Concerned Local Citizens.

The only responsible stance in such a situation is to go slow on troop drawdowns. General Petraeus has recommended a pause and evaluation before resuming the withdrawals. But certain sectors of the administration and the military seem determined to accelerate the pace of withdrawals no matter what. On Friday a “senior White House official”—presumably National Security Adviser Steve Hadley or possibly his deputy, Doug Lute—told reports that, as the Wall Street Journal story has it, “the temporary halt in troop reductions set to begin in July would likely last only four to six weeks, and further withdrawals would almost certainly occur in 2008.” This same article quotes aides to Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying “troop withdrawals could resume this fall and continue at the pace of one brigade — about 3,500-4,500 troops — a month, pushing overall troop levels down to roughly 115,000 by the end of the year, the lowest level since the invasion.”

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Smart Drawdowns

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