A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 27, 2009

Early Thoughts on the Iraq Drawdown

President Obama's announcement of details of the Iraq drawdown at Camp Lejeune today didn't add much to what had already leaked during the week, but a few comments may be in order:
  • First, a residual force of 35,000 to 50,000, remaining in the country from August of 2010 until the deadline spelled out in the status of forces agreement, the end of 2011, keeps a significant force in Iraq for more than an additional year: up to a third of the total in Iraq at its peak.
  • The Administration insists these are not combat troops but will be there in a training and advisory capacity. Those of us of a certain age remember the casualties our advisors took in Vietnam before we sent the first combat troops in; as General Petraeus at CENTCOM is well aware (having literally written the book, or rather the Field Manual, on Counterinsurgency), and as General Odierno, designer of the surge, is also well aware, in a counterinsurgency there are no front lines. In the age of the IED, everyone is a combat soldier. Our advisors will presumably include some assigned to Iraqi combat units. So what we are really looking at is a drawdown of deployed forces by two-thirds between now and next August, and reports indicate only about two brigades will be withdrawn before the end of this year.
  • I think it is pretty well understood in Washington that Gates has wanted to draw down in Iraq since early in his term at the Pentagon; and let's remember that it was the Bush Administration that negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement setting a 2011 date for full departure, so the drawdown is really not a very radical one. But it does make it clear that the US plans to leave, and that may help defuse some of the fury in the Arab world about the US as an occupying power.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Obama's decision confirms the signal to the Iraqi political establishment: The US is not going to be there much longer to provide security. Starting in August 2010, we are out of the business of fighting Iraqi insurgents or militia groups. Now is the time for you to start making the political progress that will enable your own security forces to maintain stability. We will continue to provide support to an Iraqi government proceeding in a non-sectarian manner, but we will adhere to the SOFA's requirements for full withdrawal of US forces at the end of 2011. If you want a continuing relationship between the Iraqi military and the US military, that is subject to negotiations.