- Jun 30, 2004
- Reaction score
Can I assume the Dems read the NY Times?
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: November 15, 2006
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: November 15, 2006
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 One of the most resonant arguments in the debate over Iraq holds that the United States can move forward by pulling its troops back, as part of a phased withdrawal. If American troops begin to leave and the remaining forces assume a more limited role, the argument holds, it will galvanize the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for securing and rebuilding Iraq.
This is the case now being argued by many Democrats, most notably Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who asserts that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months.
But this argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administrations Iraq policies.
Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command and one of the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argued that any substantial reduction of American forces over the next several months would be more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than stop it.
The logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this, General Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. Well, you cant put pressure on a wounded guy. There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence.
Instead of taking troops out, General Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to regain momentum as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.
The debate over American troop levels in Iraq was raging well before the establishment in March of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by James A. Baker III, a former secretary of state, and Lee H. Hamilton, a former congressman. Initially, it centered on Mr. Rumsfelds stewardship at the Pentagon and whether the United States had deployed sufficient forces and taken the requisite nation-building steps to defeat, or at least contain, a virulent insurgency.
But as the character of the Iraq conflict has changed over the past year, so has the debate. The primary worry for American commanders now is preventing the bloody cycle of drive-by shootings, kidnappings and bombings from spiraling into an all-out civil war.
With more American than Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, there has been mounting frustration on the part of American officials over the failure of the Iraqi government to send sufficient reinforcements to the Iraqi capital, to establish a genuine unity government and to effectively challenge the power of the militias, some of whom have infiltrated the very Iraqi Army and police units that the American military is working with.
In essence, the current debate turns on whether Iraqi leaders would be susceptible to the sort of blunt American pressure entailed by troop reductions. Arguing that such pressure was necessary, Senator Levin joined forces with another Democrat, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, to offer an amendment in June calling for a phased reduction of American troops, a measure he stressed has been supported by all of the potential Democratic presidential candidates. The proposal is less sweeping than most other Democratic proposals, which have called for the withdrawal of all American forces over a fixed time frame. Senator Levins plan has assumed more political importance following the Democratic gains in the midterm elections.
There is no purely military solution here, Mr. Levin said in an interview. They have got to reach a political compromise in Iraq. The leaders have got to make concessions involving power sharing and resource sharing or else this insurgency and the violence continues to spiral.
While Mr. Levins plan calls for beginning troop reductions over the next six months, it does not stipulate a time-frame for completing the withdrawal, or spell out precisely how many troops should be removed in the initial phase. The plan, however, does call for shifting the American military role to more limited missions like protecting the American Embassy, training the Iraqi forces and engaging in counterterrorist operations against cells of Al Qaeda.
The point of the proposal is to force the Iraqis to take hold of the situation politically, Mr. Levin said.
But some current and retired military officers say the situation in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq is too precarious to start thinning out the number of American troops. In addition, they worry that some Shiite leaders would see the reduction of American troops as an opportunity to unleash their militias against the Sunnis and engage in wholesale ethnic cleansing to consolidate their control of the capital.
John Batiste, a retired Army major general who also joined in the call for Mr. Rumsfelds resignation, described the Congressional proposals for troop withdrawals as terribly naïve.
There are lots of things that have to happen to set them up for success, General Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq, said in an interview, describing the Iraqi government. Until they happen, it does not matter what we tell Maliki.
Before considering troop reductions, General Batiste said, the United States needs to take an array of steps, including fresh efforts to alleviate unemployment in Iraq, secure its long and porous borders, enlist more cooperation from tribal sheiks, step up the effort to train Iraqs security forces, engage Iraqs neighbors and weaken, or if necessary, crush the militias.
Indeed, General Batiste has recently written that pending the training of an effective Iraqi force, it may be necessary to deploy tens of thousands of additional coalition troops. General Batiste said he hoped that Arab and other foreign nations could be encouraged to send troops.
Some military experts said that while the American military is stretched thin, the number of American troops in Iraq could be increased temporarily by perhaps 10,000 or more, in addition to the 150,000 or so already there by prolonging combat tours.
Kenneth M. Pollack, an expert at the Brookings Institution who served on the staff of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, also argued that a push for troop reductions would backfire by contributing to the disorder in Iraq.
If we start pulling out troops and the violence gets worse and the control of the militias increases and people become confirmed in their suspicion that the United States is not going to be there to prevent civil war, they are to going to start making decisions today to prepare for the eventuality of civil war tomorrow, he said. That is how civil wars start.