Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Iraq Independence = Cut and Run = Drawdown = Two Years and Out

I intended to post this on the fourth, but indulged in too much beer, too much barbecue, and too much pursuit of happiness. Just as well, as I can now include the very sound bite from the President's speech at Fort Bragg that almost caused me to swallow a rib: "Setting an artificial timetable would be a terrible mistake,'' the President said. "A timetable would send a signal to Iraq's enemies that if they wait just a little bit longer, America will give up."

And yet, Mr. President, as you know, a timetable is already set. You know it, I know it, Bob Dole knows it, Nouri al-Maliki knows it and General George Casey knows it.

I keep reflectling on what Paul Reickoff said on Hardball last week (posted here). Chris Matthews asked two Iraq/Afganistan war vets and authors if by the year 2008, we will essentially be out of Iraq. Paul responds "... absolutely and I think it‘s because the generals in the Pentagon are going to force him to draw back our presence over there. I just think given the size of the active duty, we‘re very much over committed. And you can‘t continue to run the active duty in the Reserves this hard without a break." Nate Fick adds "I agree with Paul. The active duty force and the reserve force can‘t keep up this pace..."

It just rings true. We have a timetable to get the majority of our combat troops out of Iraq, because our military brass knows that what we are doing now is not sustainable, not win-able and they want our troops out. The deadline is 2008. Now, if it was just these two vets saying this, it could be easily dismissed, but step back and consider what has transpired over the last few weeks.

The debate on Iraq has changed dramatically, even if it seems that no one has noticed. Yes, the pundits are still speaking in easily digestable sound bites, bloggers are still spewing vitriolic partisan venom, and President Bush is still pandering to the base with meaningless phrases like "cut and run" and "stay the course". But the fact is, we are no longer talking about a debate between an undefined "stay the course" vs. an undefined "cut and run". In the last few weeks, there was real meat put on the bones of what Chuck Hagel called "focus-group tested buzz words". Suddenly we have some fairly detailed plans on the table from across the political spectrum. We have a plan from three leading opposition candidates. We have a plan from the prime minister of Iraq, and we have a leaked plan from our top officer on the ground in Iraq. We have also seen a debate of a specific drawdown plan conducted by the representatives of the people of the United States on the floor of the Senate. And - here is the real interesting part - In all of these plans, we are out of a primary combat role Iraq in two years.

So we are no longer arguing about the black and white issue of War or Peace. The debate is now about these shades of gray:
  • Are we out in 18 months Or 24?
  • Do we have a residual force of 1 Division or 4?
  • Will we have permanent bases in Iraq?
  • How many rapid-reaction troops will be deployed "over the horizon" in Kuwait and elsewhere?
This is the Iraq debate now. We are debating "when" and "how", but no longer "if". We will be out of Iraq in two years.

Details and nuance bring complexity. You can't track the plans without a scorecard. As a service to the blogospheric community, I have assembled an outline, summarizing and comparing key elements of these plans, which are linked and excerpted here. This is a first effort, a "beta" version if you will. I intend to keep this spreadsheet updated as details emerge, or until I find a website news story that is doing a better job. Included initially for comparison is the leaked General George Casey "Drawdown and Run" plan, the Biden plan, the Nouri al-Moliki plan, and the Kerry-Feingold resolution. Full spreadsheet linked from image below.

Of course, the right decision is to let the military tell us how they are going to get us out, rather than have drawdown details debated on the Senate floor. General Casey has develeoped a plan, and that makes the Casey plan the right plan.

This is what it boils down to.
The fear from the paranoid left is that General Casey's plan is just a Karl Rove "head-fake" to mollify the electorate until we get past the November elections. This was reinforced by Press spokesman Tony Snow who was all over the story in his briefing the next day. As Kevin Reese put it: "The bubble burst a day later when President Bush and his spokesperson, Tony Snow, played down talk of a withdrawal, saying it was one of many options presented by Casey."

I think the opposite is true. Casey's plan is the real plan. Snow's comments and Bush's pandering are intended to distract the base from the Casey drawdown plan until we get past the November election. I know that long term memory is a liability in the blogosphere, but it was only last April that five retired Generals were calling for Rumsfeld's head. Why would military dissatisfaction with administration strategy be limited to retired generals (who can talk openly) and not active generals (who cannot talk openly)? Last fall, General Casey was quite explicit about the problem with "stay the course", saying that troop reductions were needed to "take away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency, that of the coalition forces as an occupying force. A smaller U.S. presence could deflate some of the anger feeding the insurgency, Casey suggested." Crafting and presenting withdrawal plans to the ideologues in this administration may be the only vehicle for the military to communicate their strategic preference to "cut and run" drawdown the troops. The Casey plan creates a real political problem for Rove. Let's call it "The 38%er Problem" in deference to the hard-core support from 38% of the population that still think the President is doing a good job on Iraq. That 38% must be motivated and turn out in November for the Republicans to retain Congress. In fact, with the redistricting and the political dice heavily loaded for incumbents, that 38% may be all that is needed for the Republicans to retain control. Those 38%ers are motivated by "stay the course" and really do not want to hear anything out of the Bush adminstration except "stay the course". The Casey plan just does not sound like "stay the course". It actually sounds closer to "cut and run". Hence the problem. It is just too hard to explain - even for Karl Rove. An Iraq exit plan now presents real political risk with the core Republican base.

There is only one way to make absolutely certain that the Casey "Cut and Walk" plan is actually implemented, and not shelved or delayed for political gain in 2008. Elect a Democratic Congress in 2006, restore checks and balance to our Federal Government, and let our military lead us out of this morass.

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