There's a new Downing Street memo out now, but this one isn't about how the United States and Britain got themselves into the war in Iraq. It's about how they might get out. And this time, the mainstream press actually seems a little interested.
As the Washington Post reports this morning, The Mail published a memorandum Sunday in which British Defense Secretary John Reid says that U.S. and British military leaders are drawing up plans for withdrawing a substantial percentage of their troops from Iraq by the middle of next year.
The undated memo to Tony Blair says that "emerging U.S. plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006," allowing U.S troop levels to drop from 138,000 today to about 66,000 then. The memo says -- and where have we heard this before? -- that Pentagon officials and U.S. military commanders on the ground in Iraq see things a little differently. While Washington would like to see "a relatively bold reduction in force numbers," the commanders closer to the war have a "more cautious" approach, the memo says.
The Bush administration has resisted calls for a timetable for the withdrawal of troops, warning that an announcement of an endgame would simply encourage the insurgency to wait out U.S. forces. And a Pentagon spokesman insisted Sunday that the plan discussed in the memo isn't actually the plan. "At any given time, there are a number of plans, for all sorts of developments, good or bad," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter told the Post.
Carpenter said that the administration has been clear that "our drawdown and eventual withdrawal is based on a conditions-based strategy." Is it possible that, all the bad reports coming out of Iraq notwithstanding, the Pentagon thinks "conditions" there could be so good by the middle of next year that U.S. troop levels could be cut by more than half? Sure. While Donald Rumsfeld warned the other day that the insurgency could go on for more than a decade still, the Bush administration has made some pretty optimistic predictions for Iraq before: Time was, Rumsfeld predicted that U.S troop levels might be reduced to about 30,000 by the fall of 2003.