[A]ny further changes in war policy before Jan. 20, 2009, seem likely to be up to Bush, who has signaled that he is starting to shift. The White House said the Petraeus drawdown marks the beginning of a "gradual change in mission," and Bush suggested in his speech that he hopes to bring more troops home next year beyond the troops sent earlier this year for the buildup.
In fact, although senior officials did not use the term "exit strategy," the outlines of one emerged from the various statements and speeches they made last week. Petraeus plans to begin redefining his mission in December from leading combat operations to partnering with Iraqi security units and eventually to supporting them. At least 21,700 troops, and perhaps more from the buildup, will be pulled out by July. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters he hopes to bring the overall force, now at 168,000, down to 100,000 by the end of next year. And Petraeus told The Washington Post that he foresees "sustainable security" in Iraq by June 2009, a point at which the U.S. presence could be scaled back even more.
Although Petraeus did not define what that would mean for U.S. deployment, other senior officials have said the goal would be to get to a force of perhaps 50,000 once Iraq is secure enough for its own forces to take over. Whatever its precise size, that residual force would then remain for years, much as U.S. troops did in South Korea after the Korean War. Rather than be in the middle of sectarian warfare, the remainder force would engage only in counterterrorism, training, support and border protection. Leading Democrats have envisioned such a long-term smaller presence, as well.
But Bush did not address his extended plan that explicitly and made no commitment to do anything beyond the initial drawdown of forces sent for the buildup. And none of this goes far enough for leading Democrats, who want to pull out more troops, more rapidly. Still, White House aides expressed surprise that Democrats would not latch onto the concessions Bush has made. It is the first time the president has agreed to pull back any forces since last year's midterm elections overturned Republican control of Congress.
"Yes, the surge forces were scheduled to go home between April and mid-July, that is absolutely right,"
Several current and former Bush administration officials have publicly warned for several months that current troop levels cannot be sustained past next summer:
Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace: Pace “is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half” and “is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military.” [8/24/07]
Army Chief of Staff George Casey: “Right now we have in place deployment and mobilization policies that allow us to meet the current demands. If the demands don’t go down over time, it will become increasingly difficult for us to provide the trained and ready forces.” [8/20/07]
Commanding General Odierno: “We know that the surge of forces will come at least through April at the latest, April of ‘08, and then we’ll have to start to reduce…we know that they will start to reduce in April of ‘08 at the latest.” [8/26/07]
Army Secretary Peter Geren:“[T]he service’s top official, recently said he sees ‘no possibility’ of extending the duty tours of US troops beyond 15 months.” [8/30/07]
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell: “[T]hey probably can’t keep this up at this level past the middle of next year, I would guess. This is a tremendous burden on our troops.” [7/18/07]
Sunday, November 5, 2006; A01
The Army's National Guard and Reserve are bracing for possible new and accelerated call-ups, spurred by high demand for U.S. troops in Iraq, that leaders caution could undermine the citizen-soldier force as it struggles to rebuild.
Two Army National Guard combat brigades with about 7,000 troops have been identified recently in classified rotational plans for possible special deployment to Iraq, according to senior Army and Pentagon officials, who asked that the specific units not be named. One brigade could be diverted to Iraq next year from another assignment, and the other could be sent there in 2008, a year ahead of schedule.
Next year, the number of Army Guard soldiers providing security in Iraq will surge to more than 6,000 in about 50 companies, compared with 20 companies two years ago, Guard officials said. "We thought we'd see a downturn in operational tempo, but that hasn't happened," said one official.
A more sweeping policy shift is under consideration that would allow the Pentagon to launch a new wave of involuntary mobilizations of the reserves, as a growing proportion of Guard and Reserve soldiers are nearing a 24-month limit on time deployed, they said. Army officials said no decision had been made on the politically sensitive topic but that serious deliberations will unfold in the coming months.
Senior Army leaders have made clear that without a bigger active-duty force, the only way they can maintain the intense pace of rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan is by relying more heavily on the reserves, which make up 52 percent of the Army's total manpower.
By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq...
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: What he did is helped President Bush in his strategy of keeping the Republican firewall in place. Basically, the whole intention here was to make sure Republicans don't waiver, that they stand with the president on this policy.
And the most amazing story of the summer is that Republicans, not just in the Senate, but rank and file Republican voters, have continued to support this policy. And I think the Petraeus testimony, Crocker, the president's speech, were all meant at bolstering that base because as long as the Republicans in the Senate stand fast, the Democrats cannot force the president to change.
So I think that was where General Petraeus really had some impact. Not among Democrats, not among independents and not among the public at large.
BLITZER: And, Candy, you're out in Iowa, watching all these politicians as they deal with this. There's some suggestion from Republicans I've spoken to that have put forward this notion, be careful what you wish for, because continuing the military operations in Iraq, continuing, presumably, to see American casualties, a lot of expenditures, billions and billions of dollars, that could hurt Republican candidates whether presidential candidates or congressional candidates, in November of next year.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. I mean, the problem is, the war is already a drag on Republicans. They're looking, as of this moment, at a very bad 2008. When you look at some of the districts that are currently Republican, the races there, very early on, but look close, there are a lot of Senate seats that appear in jeopardy, including some retirements as well as those Republicans that are just in Democratic-leaning states.
So if these Republicans hang on until July, they almost have run out of time to split themselves from George Bush. And that's really the problem for some of these rank and file Republicans, because the idea -- and many thought that come this next year, they would begin to try to put some distance between themselves and president who, obviously, is quite unpopular.
But with the war, which is the overriding issue of this campaign, if it's difficult for them to break away in July, it's going to be difficult for them, at that point, to go forward with the election and have any chance, a minimal chance, of hanging on to their seats.
BLITZER: Even before he uttered a word, Bill Schneider, there was the full page ad in The New York Times last Monday morning, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the Books for the White House." a serious charge against this four-star general. But did that ad, when all the dust settled this week, come back to haunt the Democrats, hurt them more than help them?
SCHNEIDER: I don't think in any lasting way. It was really a distraction from the main issue, which is the testimony about the war. It was an unnecessary distraction. Republicans found a talking point there, a good rallying point.
It probably contributed to the affect that I described earlier, which is that Republicans were expected to rally behind the president. This probably gave them a little more fire.
And as you indicated and as Candy said, that could be very damaging to Republicans in the long run because they feel like they're forced to stick with this president and this policy and the political damage could be catastrophic.