As the New York Times reported over the weekend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq has briefed senior Pentagon officials on a plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops there by 20,000 or 30,000 as early as spring. But as John Aravosis notes at AMERICAblog, the plan comes with a mighty big "if": Gen. John P. Abizaid told the Pentagon that he could cut U.S. troop strength in Iraq from 138,000 down to something like 110,000 "if conditions on the ground permitted."
That's good to know. In other news, War Room could afford to drive a $443,000 Porsche Carerra GT if conditions in our bank account permitted. But conditions don't permit -- not in our bank account and, it seems, not in Iraq, either. It seems to us that, when what comes after the "if" so completely swallows what comes before it, there's not a whole lot of point in having the conversation in the first place.
Condoleezza Rice would surely say that we're being unduly pessimistic. In an interview with Time, the secretary of state says that the insurgency is "losing steam" as a political force. The trouble is, it's picking up steam as a killing force. Thirty-four U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq this month, and we're only eight days into it. If this month ends as it has begun, August will go down in the books as the third deadliest month in the war so far -- and the worst for U.S. troops since November 2004. It's a problem, Rice acknowledges, but she seems to see it as one of perception more than anything else. "It's a lot easier to see the violence and suicide bombing than to see the rather quiet political progress that's going on in parallel," she says.
We're all for making political progress in Iraq, but it would also be nice to find a way to keep U.S. troops from getting killed in the meantime. And for all the talk of bringing the troops home, there's at least some word this morning that the opposite approach is required. USA Today is reporting today that the Marine regiment that suffered heavy casualties in Iraq last week has been asking for more troops since February. The requests have not been granted.