I’m going to be over at Al Jazeera tonight listening to and then offering reactions on Bush’s speech on Iraq.
Bush is going to restate his intention to draw down US force levels in Iraq by 30,000 troops, to pre-surge levels. In the judgment of many, this reduction was a structural reality anyway and is something that the Pentagon would have had to do — no matter what the results on the ground in Iraq. But politically, Bush’s reduction of forces deployed to Iraq will hold the line in Republican ranks increasingly skittish about the war.
However, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton sent this out this evening — and I think this articulates well the view of many skeptical Dems and some of the Republicans who have already defected from the White House’s position:
“”The force reductions proposed tonight by the President, while welcome, do not take the necessary step of changing the mission of American forces in Iraq and getting our forces out of policing a civil war. For our country’s sake, we need to begin a more significant redeployment of our troops from Iraq. The burden our country has placed on our military personnel and their families is tremendous, and their sacrifices deserve to be honored with a policy that furthers American national interests at home, in the Middle East, and around the world.
“We currently have more than 160,000 U.S. military personnel deployed to Iraq. General Petraeus testified this week that since the beginning of the surge of troops, levels of violence are down from the catastrophic levels of late 2006. But despite security improvements made possible by the dedication of our forces, the Government of Iraq has yet to achieve tangible progress toward national reconciliation. Without political progress, no security gains made by American troops will matter.
“Beyond disappointment that the Iraqis have not done enough to achieve political accommodation at the national level, we must not allow our focus on Iraq to jeopardize other critical national security concerns. This ongoing U.S. military commitment in Iraq has consequences, which include the strain placed on the health of the Army and the impact on U.S. military readiness should forces be needed to respond to other situations affecting our national interests. Bringing troop levels down to pre-surge levels will help reduce some of the strain on the Army, but not enough to ensure that it is trained and ready to deal with any future threat. I doubt it will also be enough to allow us sufficient forces for the hunt for Osama bin Laden and those who attacked us on September 11th.
“I remain unconvinced that placing U.S. military forces in charge of the counterinsurgency mission in Iraq, essentially fighting an Iraqi civil war, is worth the sacrifice in American lives, treasure, and the continued damage to the strategic ability of the United States to react to growing problems in other parts of the world. I believe that a change in mission for our forces in Iraq, coupled with a substantial reduction in their number, is in the best interest of U.S. national security. The Administration’s proposal of minimal troop reductions does not do enough to get us out of the civil war in Iraq and ready to deal with our many other strategic challenges.”
Since President Bush will be commenting as well on the testimony offered in Congress by US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, I think it is well worth taking time to read again Senator Richard Lugar’s opening statement at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing — which I found riveting — and the single best implied critique of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq and the Middle East.
I found particularly compelling the metaphor of farmers planting crops in a flood plain as a way of framing any “false positives” that we may be seeing in Anbar or in other regions because of the so-called “surge.”
One can debate, as many will do this week, whether progress in Iraq has been sufficient to justify continuing American sacrifices. But the greatest risk for U.S. policy is not that we are incapable of making progress, but that this progress may be largely beside the point given the divisions that now afflict Iraqi society. The risk is that our efforts are comparable to a farmer expending his resources and efforts to plant a crop on a flood plain without factoring in the probability that the waters may rise. In my judgment, some type of success in Iraq is possible, but as policy makers, we should acknowledge that we are facing extraordinarily narrow margins for achieving our goals.
— Steve Clemons