Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Growing Numbers of U.S. Military Brass Want to Set Hard Deadline For Withdrawal From Iraq

October 2006 - Fourth Deadliest Month in Iraq for American Troops

If you think that this means the U.S. will ever withdraw completely from Iraq during the Bush administration, or under any Republican administration, and let Iraqis determine their own fate, think again:

Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon unit created by Donald Rumsfeld and led by Douglas Feith, dealing with intelligence on Iraq.

The Los Angeles Times reports:
Growing numbers of military officers have begun to privately question the conventional wisdom that has guided American strategy in Iraq - that setting a hard deadline for troop reductions would undermine efforts to create a stable country.

The Iraqi government's failure to tackle the problem of sectarian tensions has led these officers to conclude that, unless pushed, Iraqis will not undertake key political and security reforms. Therefore, the advantages of setting a hard deadline, these officials argue, may outweigh the disadvantages.

"The upside is that deadlines could help ensure that the Iraqi leaders recognize the imperative of coming to grips with the tough decisions they've got to make for there to be progress in the political arena," said a senior Army officer who has served in Iraq.

For months, the Bush administration has been prodding the Iraqis politely on key reforms such as sharing oil revenues, cracking down on Shiite militias and changing the constitution. But so far the discussions have yielded little in the way of real action.

Over the past week, administration officials have spoken about possible timetables for progress in Iraq, but softened their suggestions after talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Although top administration officials are still steering clear of discussing the timing of troop withdrawals, prominent Republicans in Congress have begun talking about the need to establish a date that the U.S. will begin to reduce its numbers, regardless of whether the Iraqi government takes steps toward political compromise.

President Bush and other administration opponents of hard deadlines have argued that establishing deadlines for withdrawal hands a road map to insurgents.

Once the U.S. sets a withdrawal date, insurgents know just how long they must hang on before American troops are gone, they have contended.

Opponents of timetables also fear that small draw-downs will unleash a public demand for faster and more dramatic withdrawals, creating even more instability in the country.

Although military leaders remain wary of the consequences of imposing deadlines, increasingly officers say the concept is starting to look more attractive. The shift in opinion is a sign that gridlock in the Iraqi government is seen as a greater threat to Iraq than the insurgency itself.

Kurt M. Campbell, a former Pentagon official and co-author of a book on national security policy, said he has heard more officers begin to call for setting hard deadlines for the Iraqis. One of the reasons is a realization that the indefinite presence of U.S. forces enables the Shiite-dominated government to avoid making compromises with its rivals.

"There is a new belief that the biggest problem that we face is that our forces are the sand in the gears creating problems," he said. "We are making things worse by giving the Iraqis a false sense of security at the governing level."

Some officers who have served in Iraq believe that much of the Iraqi government cannot function effectively enough to take on the insurgency. Finding ways to force the sectarian factions to put aside their differences and focus on improving security and basic services must be the top priority in Iraq, these officers say.

"It's basic counterinsurgency," said a military officer who has served in Baghdad. "You have to have a trusted, capable government."

Some in the military argue that publicizing a timetable for reducing forces is far less damaging to a counterinsurgency campaign than the administration has suggested. Many officers, particularly those who adhere to the military philosophy of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired Army general who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe that deadlines are necessary to avoid getting mired in an endless war.

"The Powell doctrine is all about overwhelming numbers of troops with specific missions, with specified end-states, for specified durations with - go figure - an exit strategy," said the officer. "To not mention this stuff is actually counter to the contemporary military mindset."

Although Democrats such as Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the senior Democrat on the Armed Services committee, have long argued that a concrete deadline is the best way to move development of the Iraqi security force forward, a number of Republicans now also are moving in that direction.

Among them are Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.; Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Richard L. Armitage, Powell's former top deputy at the State Department.

Without a deadline, al-Maliki will not tackle the difficult problem of bridging Sunni and Shiite political disagreements, said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Coalition Provisional Authority official.

"Maliki will not hit the benchmarks, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't give them," said Rubin, who does not favor troop withdrawals as a penalty. "Iraqis approach deadlines by doing nothing until two days before, and then locking themselves in smoke-filled rooms and only then do they ... try to hash out a solution."

When they speak about "American interests," they aren't referring to the ordinary American citizen driving up to the pump and filling his gas tank. They don't mean "Americans' interests"; they mean American business interests, Big Business's interests.

It doesn't mean lower prices to Americans, just as drilling off of America's coastlines and in ANWR doesn't mean lower gas prices for Americans at the pump - it means greater profits for the energy corporations (they're being given America's resource, all at the American taxpayers' expense, for the R&D, the drilling, all subsidized by the American taxpayer). For a product that we must develop alternatives for, because it is poisoning our environment and literally killing us and jeopardizing life on the planet. But getting off of oil isn't going to happen until we commit to alternative energies and make oil unprofitable for the Bush and Cheney families of the world.

Do you think many Americans know the real reason we're in Iraq, Afghanistan, and (shortly) Iran? Do your friends and neighbors know?

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