Combat Withdrawal By August 2010
At a speech today at Camp Lejune, the President announced his intentions to remove combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010, with the residual forces leaving by the end of 2011 (here's a transcript). That second part is important - a short-term residual force with a clear end date is far more desirable than an open commitment to de facto permanent bases.
Between 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, he said. They would be withdrawn gradually until all U.S. forces are out of Iraq by December 31, 2011 — the deadline set under an agreement the Bush administration signed with the Iraqi government last year.
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," Obama said in a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
"By any measure, this has already been a long war," Obama said. It is time to "bring our troops home with the honor they have earned."
Apparently John McCain supports the plan, saying that it is "far different" from the one Obama pushed during the campaign. Except it isn't. It delays the withdrawal of combat troops by three months, and keeps the same manner of residual force, although it's perhaps slightly bigger than expected (it was never clear what the size of the residual force would be). This is only a difference from the wildly false scenarios McCain and the Republicans were pushing last fall. I think McCain is jumping aboard because the train is leaving. He has consistently shifted his position on Iraq depending on the political winds, and there's no major difference here. Also, there's a certain benefit to claiming that Obama changed his position, it undermines him a bit.
What may have changed is the commitment to leaving large numbers of forces in the country through the December elections.
According to the Times, the Obama administration has decided to "maintain relatively high troop levels through Iraq’s parliamentary elections, to be held in December " and only then draw down to hit the August 2010 deadline. That would be a shame -- if it turns out to be the actual plan as opposed to one last public salvo in the ongoing internal deliberations and arguments. Those of us pleased with the original report may be much less supportive of a plan which would leave the vast majority of U.S. troops in Iraq for the next year, and put the commitment to withdrawal on the proposed timeline in real question.
I won't recount the arguments on this score since I've made them repeatedly. But I will say that such a plan could dangerously muddle what needs to be a clear signal of a commitment to withdrawal and probably not work the way it's been presented.
Just look at the calender. Iraq's Parliamentary elections have not yet been scheduled and don't even have an electoral law, and according to a number of senior Iraqi politicians probably will not be held until March 2010 (not December 2009). That would then give the U.S. about five months to withdraw the bulk of the dozen combat brigades which would reportedly remain. And then, keep in mind that U.S. officials generally agree (correctly) that the most dangerous period of elections is actually in their aftermath, when disgruntled losers might turn to violence or other destabilizing measures. So the following month will likely not seem a good time either. So that would leave four months to move, what -- 9 brigades? Did someone say precipitous? Good luck with that. And that's assuming, of course, that nothing else risky or destabilizing comes up in April or May 2010 (Kirkuk?) which would make a drawdown at that moment appear risky.
So which is it? "Combat brigades out by August 2010" or "Most combat brigades there until spring 2010 at which point we can have another big debate about how fragile the situation is and how unrealistic it would be to move all those troops in half a year"? Not exactly the same.
Though it's unclear whether or not this is the proposal, that would be a very bad sign, and ought to be considered by antiwar groups who want to push Obama on this from the left. For his part, Obama was very firm on the commitment to having combat troops out by August 2010, and I appreciated this paragraph:
What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq’s streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq’s union is perfected. We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars. America’s men and women in uniform have fought block by block, province by province, year after year, to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future. Now, we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it.