Backtracking on the drawdown

If war critics aren't celebrating, maybe that's because the "Return on Success" isn't all that.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 17, 2007 6:28PM (UTC)
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If the White House is still bewildered as to why war critics aren't greeting all the "good news" from Iraq with high-fives and a rousing chorus of "Kumbaya," maybe these news items will provide a little explanation:

1. The disappearing drawdown: As we noted Friday, the size of the Bush-Petraeus troop withdrawal is shrinking even before it begins. Need proof? Last Tuesday, the Washington Post talked of a "conditions based" drawdown of "35,0000 to 50,000 troops." By Sunday, the Post was saying that Petraeus had proposed "withdrawing more than 20,000 troops from Iraq."


2. The backtracking defense secretary: At a press conference Friday, Robert Gates said it would be his "hope" that the troop drawdown to be made in the first half of 2008 would continue at the same pace through the second half of 2008. When a reporter asked Gates if the result of the drawdowns for which he hoped would be 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of 2008, Gates said: "That would be the math." But when Fox's Chris Wallace asked Gates about those comments Sunday, the defense secretary got a little wobbly. He stressed that he never uttered the number "100,000" himself, and he suggested that there's doubt about even the initial drawdowns Petreaus has proposed and Bush has endorsed. "What I said was that I hoped the conditions would improve in Iraq to the extent that not only could we complete the drawdowns that Gen. Petraeus has said he would like to make between now and July, but also that they could continue thereafter," Gates explained.

3. The wary defense secretary: Although there may be bipartisan support in Congress for a bill that would guarantee troops more time between deployments to Iraq, Gates said Sunday that he would urge the president to veto any such measure if one gets to his desk. "If it were enacted," Gates said, "we would have force management problems that would be extremely difficult and, in fact, affect combat effectiveness and perhaps pose greater risk to our troops." If that sounds familiar, maybe it's because Petraeus said last week that he'd be "uncomfortable" with the idea of Congress' writing his proposed troop drawdown into law.

4. The undercutting advertisement: If we're having so much "success" in Iraq, the Post's Walter Pincus wonders why Petraeus' commanders have begun advertising for private contractors to take over supply operations that soldiers are too busy to handle. In a request for bids sent out earlier this month, Petraeus' commanders say "increased insurgent activity" -- hello? -- means that the soldiers who would otherwise be staffing combat-supply warehouses in Iraq "must continue to pull force protection along with convoy escort and patrol duties."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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