Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GETTING OUT....National Journal's cover story this week is about our inevitable withdrawal from Iraq. It might not happen soon, but it's going to happen eventually:

The military could take a host of steps to help mitigate the risks of a U.S. troop drawdown....But all of those options require the careful planning and hard decision-making that [retired Col. Richard Sinnreich] fears are being stymied by the deadlock in Washington. "The downside of this political theater in Washington, and the disingenuous refusal to admit that we've lost the political will to keep American troops heavily engaged in Iraq indefinitely," he said, "is that it keeps military planners from developing a timetable and a deliberate plan for withdrawal."

It's almost impossible for the military to seriously plan for a contingency — withdrawal — that the commander-in-chief won't even discuss, Sinnreich noted.

The U.S. military has contingencies for practically everything, as it should. But not for withdrawal from Iraq, even though everyone knows it's only a matter of time until it happens. Why? Because president Bush refuses to allow the planning to go forward.

Question: is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this? After all, they're the ones who have borne the brunt of the civilian leadership's irresponsible lack of planning for the original occupation, and they surely know that they'll also bear the brunt of a botched withdrawal, if and when it happens. How long will it be until they make it clear that they just aren't willing to be the scapegoat for yet another round of irresponsible leadership?

Kevin Drum 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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Good point. I haven't studied the supplemental troop-funding legislation that's currently being considered, but I presume there's nothing in that legislation that directs the Pentagon to develop contingency plans for an eventual removal of troops. Mandatory contingency planning could be added to the legislation. Of course this gives Bush another reason to veto, but if it's the right thing to do, let's do it.

Posted by: Tom Hamill on April 23, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

The top brass will just suck it up and shut up, because they're a willing tool, er, part of the military-industrial complex that benefit$ from being cozy with the GOP.

What? You think they care about G.I.'s dying because of a lack of a plan for an orderly withdrawl? How quaint. Caring was outsourced to Halliburton a long time ago.

Posted by: al-Anon on April 23, 2007 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Notice how what you correctly describe as Bush's refusal to accept reality is expressed by the National Journal as "the deadlock in Washington", in typical "pox on both their houses" fashion.

Posted by: KCinDC on April 23, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Bush thinks he can stop the bad news from happening if he doesn't read the papers. There is a worst case scenario date to begin planning withdrawal contingencies: 1/20/2009. Will that be too late? Yes.

Posted by: rusrus on April 23, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think military culture precludes the possibility of a revolt. Everyone who has spoken out is retired. About the only thing current members of the brass could/would do is resign, which usually goes against both self-interest and the sense of duty.

Posted by: Danwich on April 23, 2007 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

You know, if only everyone in Iraq was armed, I bet it would be a lot more peaceful.

Oh, wait...

Posted by: craigie on April 23, 2007 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

This is one of the reasons why immediately defunding the war is a bad idea. Some people are acting like if the Congress doesn't pass any funding bills, the troops will be immediately teleported home. It can take as much time and planning to get the troops out as it did to get them in (hopefully more considering how much planning was done before the war). Google Operation Magic Carpet for the biggest example.

I'm not sure how feasible it will be for Congress to direct the Pentagon to withdraw from Iraq over the objections of a president who's still all for the war. In Vietnam Nixon had to at least pretend he wanted to end the war.

Posted by: ArkPanda on April 23, 2007 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

The military 'brass' has too much at stake with personal economics to revolt against the executive leadership. They will resign to their tens of thousands of dollars a month pensions before they openly question their commanders. It is the enlisted soldiers who will revolt. They have their lives to save.

Posted by: Brojo on April 23, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

There is a plan. It may be a bit gray but it exists. The military war gamed this for years.

And does the Prez have to approve if a couple of cols. and their staffs discretely outline and then flesh out what a withdrawal looks like?

There may not be THE PLAN, but there are plans.

Posted by: Keith G on April 23, 2007 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Presumably this will involve dividing the country up, since it might actually save some lives and we won't have to be reading about an Iraqi civil war for the next four years in every piece of Republican campaign advertising?

Oh, wait, that's probably Rove's plan.

Posted by: brodix on April 23, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

The longer we wait, the harder it will get to withdraw. The route south to Kuwait is more dangerous without the Brits and with more animosity from the Shi'a. The airport road and airport itself become bigger targets if we are withdrawing that way, and we can expect to see shoulder-fired missles in action. Out through Turkey becomes problematic as well--remember part of the problem of getting in enough troops is that the Turks wouldn't let us come in that way. The sooner the better, in short.

But for Bush the troops are just props.

Posted by: Mimikatz on April 23, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Well, we're either going to see one of two scenarios:

1) A group of people start planning within DoD, keeping it very quiet. As soon as we get something pretty obvious (say, an overrunning of the Green Zone) it will be whipped out and used.

2) Overrunning of the Green Zone and our Idiot-in-Chief STILL insists that "victory is just around the corner." I think at that point we're going to see the military just ignore anything Bush says and goes for saving their skins.

In both cases, the nitwits-on-the-right will continue to bemoan how Them Evil Democrats Caused Us To Lose and will attempt to use this card in every election for the next 100 years.

Posted by: grumpy realist on April 23, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

The U.S. military has contingencies for practically everything, as it should. But not for withdrawal from Iraq, even though everyone knows it's only a matter of time until it happens. Why? Because president Bush refuses to allow the planning to go forward.

Question: is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this?

Why does our military brass hate America?

Posted by: Mr Furious on April 23, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

The military should never 'revolt'. It's up to congress to impeach any president who refuses to implement the congressional grand strategy (eg fight this war, end that war). If bush tries to leave our troops out there to die so he can score some political points he and cheney need to be rotting in prison cells for treason while president pelosi executes the withdrawl.

Posted by: jefff on April 23, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

So who is going to write Decent Interval II? Sure looks like we are heading that way.

Posted by: Tigershark on April 23, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Indeed, the military should never revolt against legal orders from the CinC, but that's essentially what they did do when Clinton told them to accept gays. Some might think that keeping the Army in a meat grinder in Iraq with no feasible idea for winning and no plans to withdraw is an even more important issue.

If the Joint Chiefs are at all competent, the planning for withdrawal is going on somewhere in that vast bureaucracy, and the next President will be offered several well-designed plans for withdrawal to choose from.

Posted by: Alex F on April 23, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Well, considering the banana republic this country has become in many ways under the Repugs, a military revolt is pretty much the next thing to happen. Let's see, the tanks roll up to the White House and some general with way too many medals on his chest walks in....

Posted by: Jim H from Indiana on April 23, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

The cost to withdraw will be huge because most of the military's equipment is now in Iraq. Of course the cost of staying is larger. Bush has totally screwed the military in this one. No wonder they are all in denial: how can they admit the magnitude of their fiasco?

Posted by: Mike on April 23, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Shameless self-promotion alert: I posted about this for the night owls last night at Watching Those We Chose and it got picked up by the Salon Blog Report.

[/vanity]

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 23, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Jefff at 12:47 pm believes that "The military should never 'revolt' ". I strenuously disagree. 500,000 military personnel deserted during the Vietnam War because they said that they were not going to be used as cannon fodder for the U.S. government for that illegal and immoral war. The incredibly moving 2006 documentary Sir! No Sir! focused on the GI Resistance that took place during that time period. David Cortright also examined how and why and where this movement took place in his book "Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War." Because of the absence of the draft, the current resistance has not had the impact of that of the Vietnam War but the numbers of the IVAW [Iraq Veterans Against the War] and those who have deserted are growing because of increasing disenchantment that this unnecessary war/occupation has had on today's military. Today's soldiers can and should resist by saying NO to this needless war/occupation.

Posted by: Erroll on April 23, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

...is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this?

It's fantasy, sure, but I'd love to see the court martial of the colonel who draws up a withdrawal plan. Let the prosecution explain how it's a crime to disobey this particular order from the Commander in Chief.

Barring that, jefff's suggestion that the impeachment of the CinC is the only option is, frankly, also just fantasy. But just as juicy a trial.

Posted by: Grumpy on April 23, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

sorry, but the military brass is just as complicit in this clusterfuck as dim son chimpy.

Posted by: linda on April 23, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

that we've lost the political will to keep American troops heavily engaged in Iraq indefinitely

Dishonest meme insertion alert: America never had the will to stay indefinitely. AFAIK, that was one part of Bush's plan America never bought.

Posted by: Boronx on April 23, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm... that is a good point.

I think there is a line though. "The military" should not revolt. Individual officers and soldiers, however, can, given grievous enough circumstances. Officers can communicate privately with congress (congress is a civilian authority over the military so communicating with it is not 'revolt') asking to be called to testify. Before the war Shinseki did exactly that and we learned, before the war, that Bush was already living in a fantasy land constructed by people like Wolfowitz and that in his professional opinion the war was going to be fought with too few soldiers. They can still do that sort of thing. Individual soldiers can refuse to follow illegal orders. They can even refuse to follow legal orders and face the consequences.

What I don't think they should do is start a withdrawal while the president it telling them not too, even if congress is telling them to do so.

The military in a democracy just doesn't play that role.

Now some people may think the situation is dire enough that the military ought to act outside the constitution. I think that the present administration could be removed quickly enough that that is not true. This does likely mean that some American soldiers will actually die to protect our constitution (because acting extra-constitutionally would be faster, thus reducing US casualties in Iraq), but that is what they signed on for.

Posted by: jefff on April 23, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Worst case scenario:
All the senior officers intelligent, decent, hell, patriotic to oppose the Chimpocracy resign, leaving toadies and blind carrerists. Then we are truly screwed, none more so than the troops on the ground.

Posted by: thersites on April 23, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

...patriotic enougn to oppose...
it's called preview.

Posted by: thersites on April 23, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

BTW I never said it was the only option.

I just think impeaching the president is a better option than having the military ignore the constitution and end the war despite presidential orders. Historically I believe that militaries with that sort of power start a lot more wars than they end, so it is a ridiculously bad precedent.

I do agree that the pentagon would be wise to have a group of people in a dank room someplace doing whatever they can to keep a constantly up to date set of withdrawal options in planning.

However I believe they tried to do post war planning before the war, but Rumsfeld quite effectively quashed it because he didn't like the looks of the planning (not enough flower throwing I guess).

Posted by: jefff on April 23, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

"Shinseki did exactly that "

btw I mean he testified honestly to congress, I have no idea if maneuvered himself into the position of testafying.

Posted by: jefff on April 23, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I see this a lot now: "not if but when" we leave Iraq (c.f. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/13710030/leaving_iraq_the_grim_truth/print)

I like to believe this, but aren't we really going to be there for fifty--make that a hundred years?

Repent. The end is near.

Posted by: Cassandro on April 23, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Question: is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this?

I certainly hope not. Much as I despise Bush and all he stands for, in this country the civilian leadership is supposed to be in charge. It's not and should not be up to the military brass to decide what orders they do and don't feel like following (barring, of course, illegal orders).

If we don't like what Bush is doing, the solution is to work through electoral means by getting him out of office and using the Congress to hamstring him. We shouldn't look to the military as our savior unless we're willing to take ourselves further down the road towards a Latin American style autocracy.

Posted by: Stefan on April 23, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Question: is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this?

Answer: If they revolt, they'll be lined up against a wall and shot.

It's called "civilian control of the military" and, yes, our generals know what that means and no, they are NOT going to revolt.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on April 23, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Even though I earlier said the military leadership would not revolt due to financial incentives, like Stefan and others have pointed out, a military revolt would ony make things worse for our political situation. It is better that they resign instead of trying to use military power to make political change.

Posted by: Brojo on April 23, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Question: is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this?

Under NO circumstances should the military brass revolt over this. They should salute and follow orders - even if those orders are to march over a cliff.

Make no mistake. I despise the Iraq invasion and always have. I also despise Bush. I further think that the military should promptly be withdrawn. I also think a revolt over Bush's "policies" (such as they are) is overdue.

However, I do not think it is the office of the MILITARY to conduct this revolt. It is the office of Congress, of the press, and of the public at large.

My reason is that - whatever the merits of the current Iraq situation - it remains vitally important for the overall health our system that the military always remain subordinate to civilian control, however feckless it may be.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on April 23, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Officers have an obligation to refuse to follow illegal orders. It is a tenet of the Honor Code.

I have been associated with one branch or the other of the military for my entire life, and that will never change.

The climate right now is frankly unrecognizable to me. And frightening.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 23, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Question: is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this?

Answer: No. The military brass obey the elected government.

When the Democrats start ordering the military to withdraw, by passing binding resolutions or by winning the presidency, then the military brass will obey them.

Posted by: spider on April 23, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, military people of lower rank especially seem genuinely grateful for and fully behind civilian rule. Thank goodness. But what of this criminally incompetent and morally bankrupt grand-scheming cabal?
Even the Democratic plan has 40,000 troops and an equal number of mercenary forces in Iraq "after" a pull-out.
Military junta? Pray not. The need to turn back not just this mask-off band in control but the, to quote Ike "military-industrial-congressional complex"? Yes: pray for peace and wish us luck. We need both.

Posted by: Cassandro on April 23, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

"Question: is the military brass eventually going to revolt over this?"

You need to define what you mean by "revolt", Kevin. I don't think that you mean a military coup. I think the chance of that is pretty near zero. Possibly direct insubordination by top brass? I doubt that even. Mass resignation would have far more powerful consequences. We will likely see a lot more of the public utterances like Gen. Sheehan's. All it would take is more of that.. and the GOP leadership will likely start to bail and *that's* when the big unwinding kicks in. No need for a "revolt".

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 23, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

another quote from the original: For their part, congressional Democrats are torn between a desire to politically punish the Bush administration and to force a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and a fear of overreaching and owning the ugly endgame of a lost war. The party went down that road with Vietnam in the early 1970s and bore the brand of "weak on defense" for decades. Today, tensions are flaring between the party's liberal base that wants out of Iraq now and Democratic presidential candidates who worry about inheriting the blowback of a precipitous exit.

Right now, a majority of Congress and a majority of Americans oppose a precipitous withdrawal. The earliest the Democrats can agree on is sometime next year, and even for that some of them favor leaving a small force for specific purposes.

Consequently, a revolt by the brass would be a revolt against Congress and the voters, not just against Bush. Planners who start writing, or at least outlining, plans for a withdrawal would not constitute a revolt. Perhaps all you are asking is that Gen. Petreaus change his mind and publicly announce that his plan can't work.

Posted by: spider on April 23, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

While of course the military brass never should and, I hope, never will "revolt", I do think there might be obvious ways in which they can express their disagreement.

Perhaps they can be brought before Congress and asked their candid opinions about the prospects for winning the war in Iraq. I'd think that that might do the job very nicely, if they are at sufficient levels of disgust.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 23, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

How long will it be until they make it clear that they just aren't willing to be the scapegoat for yet another round of irresponsible leadership

Oh Kevin, you're so funny sometimes. They'll scape and skate, and on to the next project.

Posted by: Mooser on April 23, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's difficult or impossible to plan for withdrawal of troops without knowing what the circumstances would be. Consider various scenarios:

1. US is successful in Iraq but keeps troops there for decades, as we did in Japan and Europe after WW2

2. US suffers overwhelming defeat and must withdraw as best we can, as was done in Vietnam.

3 Peolsi and Read end the war legislatively, giving the US time to plan an orderly withdrawal in 2007.

4. President Clinton or Obama demands a withdrawal beginning in 2009.

Any number of other scenarios are conceivable.

Posted by: ex-liberal on April 23, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Why can't someone assign a withdrawal plan as a hypothetical at the Army War College or at West Point? Think up some other designation for the country where the troops are stationed, but set up the exercise so that it's got the exact same physical features as Iraq, and call it something other than a withdrawal. For instance, you could say -- in the hypothetical -- that soldiers on this mission had to leave because they were urgently needed elsewhere.

Posted by: AnnieCat on April 23, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Those who insist on some scrap of "victory" have the petticoat to hide beneath right now, if they would just take it.

Bush famously said "when they stand up, we will stand down" - right?

Well, Mr. Maliki, as the leader of the Iraqi government stood up and said "no" to the wall. Thank him for standing up, roll up the gear and bug out.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 23, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

AnnieCat, I strongly suspect that all the articles I have read lately expressing concern about readiness and ability to respond to other threats are cover for just that.

I also suspect that was a component of the Pentagon leak that outed Gates on extended tours.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 23, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

J-5 has several withdrawal plans developed and waiting in the JCS corridor; it will not take long to flesh them out when the order is finally given.

Dubya will withdraw two-thirds of the troops within a year with the balance staying on secure bases in Iraq for force protection for air assets or moving to Afghanistan. The timing of the withdrawal depends on when the Democrats and Iraqi government own enough of the failure to control the spin and when the dirty oil deal is done. The returning troops will receive parades and endless photo-ops with the prez and other GOP luminaries to cement the spin for Dubya as a valiant leader and the GOP as the party "strong" on national security.

Posted by: PDL on April 23, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Can we leave some neo-cons behind in the green zone to provide covering fire? Cheney isn't going to live forever anyway, so he can shoot Iraqi militants, instead of just moderate Republicans.
Don't leave Bush. He'd probably just shoot himself in the foot and pee in his pants. Maybe ten years of community service, cleaning toilets and picking up trash.

Posted by: brodix on April 23, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

In this post, and the previous one where you said, "This is a political war more than a physical one, and that's the war we're losing. Eventually Republicans will figure that out." you display a Pollyana-ish optimism that Republicans and/or generals in the field can get some kind of control over the debacle that is Iraq.

Unfortunately, the Little Idiot will NOT change course, will NOT admit even that things are going badly. No one and nothing can dissuade him, and this will continue until he leaves the White House on January 20, 2009.

Posted by: Cal Gal on April 23, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Not planning for retreat is excellent strategy.

When Cortez landed on the shores of Mexico, he burned his boats so that retreat was not an option.

That was how he defeated the Incas, and that is how we will defeat the terrorists and achieve democracy in Iraq.

Posted by: Al on April 23, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

"...how we will ... achieve democracy in Iraq." Nothing like trying to force democracy upon another country at the point of a gun. That certainly is a great way to win those hearts and minds, now isn't it.

Posted by: Erroll on April 23, 2007 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

worst president ever

Posted by: exgop on April 23, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

"What? You think they care about G.I.'s dying because of a lack of a plan for an orderly withdrawl? How quaint. Caring was outsourced to Halliburton a long time ago."
____________________

Posted by someone who obviously has never met even a single senior military officer.

Posted by: Trashhauler on April 23, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Second that, Trashhauler.

And I answered the "horrifying" question you asked on another thread - I presume you wanted me to answer for the benefit of the rest of the class?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 23, 2007 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Al --

The Aztecs! Hernando Cortez defeated the Aztecs.

Posted by: notthere on April 23, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Now there is the downside to the greasemonkey script. I miss some prime nuttery!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 23, 2007 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Could you please explain in what way the military brass have, in any meaningful sense, borne the brunt of anything bad in Iraq or anywhere else? No general or flag officer has lost life, limb or stars throughout this entire sorry debacle. Not one single bastard with a star on his shoulder has been willing place his precious career in the tiniest little bit of jeopardy in support of the men and women whose lives have been placed their charge.

So, I dispute the premise of your argument. Clearly, if recent history is any guide, the generals won’t be bearing the brunt of a botched withdrawal any more than they bore the brunt of the botched war.

And as long they themselves don’t have to pay the price, our Generals will be more than happy to allow themselves to be “scapegoats” in return for career advancement right up to the point where their lives, limbs and careers cease to be insulated from the consequences of failure.

Posted by: Mitch Guthman on April 23, 2007 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

"Question: Is the military brass ever going to revolt over this?"
Answer: The military brass has "revolted" before; during the Truman administration several admirals and other higher-ups threatened to resign their commissions rather than go along with Truman's plans for reorganizing the armed forces in the late 1940's. I'm not certain if the admirals would have resigned and Truman apparently didn't want to risk it. Nor do I know how deep the opposition was to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; it may have been simply the Joint Chiefs, it may have been other general officers as well.
The problem now is that the President has already gone through the first and second tiers of general officers (in regard to military skill, reputation, etc.) and the ones in place now are not likely to buck whatever the President wants.
D.E. Stamate
USN (ret)

Posted by: Doug on April 23, 2007 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

"It's difficult or impossible to plan for withdrawal of troops without knowing what the circumstances would be. Consider various scenarios"

It'd be great if they would. That was the whole point.

Posted by: Ian on April 23, 2007 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

Al, are you suiting up yet, so that "we" can defeat the Incas?

Posted by: Kenji on April 23, 2007 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

I agree the brass will stay quiet, at least until there is a Dem president. Maybe if someone threatens to revoke dontaskdonttell they'll get their insubordination on again. Until then, quit dreaming. They were part and parcel of this screw up, and they will never admit they were wrong.

Posted by: jussumbody on April 23, 2007 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

I for one will never rest, burning both boats and bridges behind me, until the Inca bastards are defeated! I'm with you, Al!

Posted by: Mooser on April 24, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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