Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The draw down speculation

Yesterday on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, David Martin reported on the expected announcements regarding the draw down in Iraq, noting the speculation of insiders that Barack has elected to go with a 19-month timeline to withdraw "combat" troops from Iraq.

David Martin: But there would still be tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, perhaps as many as 50,000. They would be formed into so-called 'training and assistance' brigades to support the Iraqi army and police but they would still be capable of conducting combat operations and would be able to call in strikes from carrier or land-based aircraft.

You can click here to stream the broadcast. Or you can click here for just that segment -- and maybe you should considering all the garbage that surrounded it -- pre-game analysis isn't news -- not even ahead of sports event and possibly networks could do some actual reporting and not offer a lot of gossip and hot air and toss to the 'loyal opposition' for lengthy statements on expectations that translate as, "We're going to go in there and fight our best, Katie, and we're going to have a win. I really believe this is our season." A half-hour news broadcast doesn't have time to waste but that's all the broadcast did as it attempted to predict what might happen in a speech later that night. It wasn't news. It was a time waster.

Staying with the expected drawdown, let's drop back to the last January broadcast of PBS' Washington Week which Ava and I noted here:

Martha Raddatz: They laid out plans or started to lay out plans for the sixteen-month withdrawal, which President Obama says he wants, or the three-year withdrawal which is the Status Of Forces Agreement that the US has gone into with the Iraqis. And they talked about the risks with each of those. Ray Odierno, who is the general in charge of Iraqi forces, said, 'If you run out in sixteen months -- if you get out in sixteen months, there are risks. The security gains could go down the tube. If you wait three years, there are other risks because you can't get forces into Afghanistan as quickly.' So President Obama made no decisions. Again, he's going to meet with Joint Chiefs next week and probably will make a military decision. But also a key there is how many troops he leaves behind. That's something we're not talking about so much, he's not talking about so much. This residual force that could be 50, 60, 70,000 troops even if he withdraws --

Gwen Ifill: That's not exactly getting out of Iraq.

Martha Raddatz: Not exactly getting out completely.

Friends in the administration are now pushing the figure 60,000 which means the figure most likely is 70,000. That's not a withdrawal, it's barely a draw down. (For context, David Martin stated there were 142,000 US troops in Iraq currently.)

Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) observes:

Obama offered no details of his plans in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, though he renewed his promise to outline his Iraq exit strategy quickly.
"I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war," he said.

He renewed his promise? That promise was to announce his new strategy as soon as he was sworn in, over a month ago. That's why all the time after the election was spent 'strategizing,' so that when he was sworn in, he could 'hit the ground running.' Let's not change what the so-called 'promise' was. Also grabbing the baby wipes to clean Barack's toushy are AP's Anne Geran and Pamela Hess:

Obama built enormous grass-roots support for his White House bid by promising a quick end to the unpopular Iraq war. His 16-month withdrawal plan, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, had been predicated on commanders determining that it would not endanger U.S. troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.

His applause lines at the rallies was not "one brigade a month." His applause line -- and the video exists -- was 'we want to end the war now.' In February, his applause getting timeline became 10 months, upon being sworn in, he would withdraw US troops from Iraq in ten months.

Thomas E. Ricks (author of The Gamble) appeared on CBS' Washington Unplugged (click here for just the Ricks' segment) two Fridays ago and explained how Barack's 'promise' came across to Americans:

Thomas E. Ricks: I think there well indeed might be a clash by the end of the year. Obama's campaign promise to get American troops out of Iraq in sixteen months was a fatuous promise. When Americans heard it, what they heard was I will have no American troops dying in 16 months. But it was a false phraseology: "combat troops." Well, newsflash for Obama, there is no such thing as non-combat troops. There's no pacifistic branch of the US Army. Anytime you have American troops out there, there are going to be some of them fighting and dying -- in counter-terror missions against al Qaeda, if you have American advisers with Iraqi troops, they're going to be getting into fights, some Americans will be dying. So I think we're there for a long time and as long as we're there -- unlike, say, the occupations of Korea, Japan and Germany, American troops will be engaged in combat. General Odierno says in the book he'd like to see 35,000 troops there as late as 2015. Well into . . . it will be Obama's second term. So I think that at the end of this year, you're going to see a conflict. Obama's going to want to see troop numbers coming down. Odierno, the other big O, as they call him in Iraq, is going to say, "Wait a minute, you're holding general elections here in December, in Iraq. That's exactly the wrong time to take troops out."

Having avoided the topic in last night's speech, Elisabeth Bumiller and Peter Baker (New York Times) report that there is speculation he will make an announcement Friday while in North Carolina visiting bases and the reporters explain:

It was not clear on Tuesday exactly how many of the 140,000 troops would remain in Iraq after August 2010 or whether any of the 14 combat brigades now there would stay under a new mission.
[. . .]
Pentagon officials said Tuesday that they did not know what the size of the residual force in Iraq might be, although one of Mr. Obama’s national security advisers said during the campaign that it could number 30,000 to 55,000 troops.
Similarly, defense officials said they did not know how many combat troops would stay behind in new missions as trainers, advisers or counterterrorism forces, at least some of whom would still be effectively in combat roles. Military planners have said that in order to meet withdrawal deadlines, they would reassign some combat troops to training and support of the Iraqis, even though the troops would still be armed and go on combat patrols with their Iraqi counterparts.

As David Martin noted yesterday, "He can always slow it down if conditions on the ground get worse."

Lily notes Chris Hedges' "A Choice Between Peace and Peril" (Information Clearing House):

Bibi Netanyahu's assumption of power in Israel sets the stage for a huge campaign by the Israeli government, and its well-oiled lobby groups in Washington, to push us into a war with Iran.
Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. But reality rarely impedes on politics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, along with Netanyahu, all talk as if Iran is on the brink of dropping the big one on the Jewish state.
Netanyahu on Friday named Iran as Israel's main threat after he was called to form a new government following the Feb. 20 elections.
"Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence," Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres' official residence. "The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north," the presumptive prime minister said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. "For decades, Israel has not faced such formidable challenges."
Netanyahu, whose arrogance is as outsized as his bellicosity, knows that for all his threats and chest thumping, Israel is incapable of attacking Iranian targets alone. Israel cannot fly its attack aircraft over Iraqi air space into Iran without U.S. permission, something George W. Bush refused to grant, fearing massive retaliatory strikes by Iran on American bases in Iraq. Israel's air force is not big enough to neutralize the multiple targets, from radar stations to missile batteries to Revolutionary Guard units to bunkers housing Iran's Soviet- and Chinese-made fighter jets and bombers, and also hit suspected nuclear targets. The only route to a war with Tehran for the Israeli military is through Washington.

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