Bush's "return on success"

In his State of the Union, the president said American troops are coming home from Iraq because of U.S. success there -- but once again, it's not true.

By Alex Koppelman
January 29, 2008 7:50AM (UTC)
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In his speech tonight, President Bush told the country -- not for the first time -- that some of the U.S. troops who constituted the surge are beginning to come home from Iraq because of American military success there. "Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt," Bush said. "Al Qaida is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.

"When we met last year, our troop levels in Iraq were on the rise. Today, because of the progress just described, we are implementing a policy of 'return on success,' and the surge forces we sent to Iraq are beginning to come home. ... Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders."


As I've previously reported for Salon, though, the withdrawal of these forces isn't tied to success in the way the president pretends. In fact, he had little choice but to begin these drawdowns, and his top generals -- including Gen. David Petraeus -- have not made a secret of that.

In July 2007, Petraeus appeared on Good Morning America, where he said, "We know that the surge has to come to an end ... General Odierno and I have -- are on the record telling our soldiers that we will not ask for any extension certainly beyond 15 months."

And an exchange between Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also revealing. From my previous article:


"You said ... you were going to do your utmost to maintain rotations no more than 12 to 15 months," Reed said to Mullen. "Effectively, that means, as you also suggest, by next April, regardless of the conditions on the ground, the surge will end, because we simply will not be able to put manpower on the ground unless we extend rotations.

"Is that a fair..." Reed continued, before Mullen interjected, according to a transcript of the hearing, "Yes, sir, that's fair."

Later in the hearing, Reed said to Mullen, "[T]his notion that we're going to have an unlimited opportunity to keep forces there at this level, that we're only going to take forces down based upon General Petraeus' suggestion that things are OK now is, I think, fully rebutted by the force structure. Is that an irrational..."


Mullen interrupted Reed again. "I think that's fair, Senator," he said.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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