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Tilting at Windmills

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September 11, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

REVOLT AT THE PENTAGON?....OK, that's enough non-Iraq posting for the day. Back to business. Michael Hirsh tells us that a significant faction within the Pentagon wants to withdraw from Iraq considerably more quickly than Gen. Petraeus:

Newsweek has learned that a separate internal report being prepared by a Pentagon working group will "differ substantially" from Petraeus's recommendations, according to an official who is privy to the ongoing discussions but would speak about them only on condition of anonymity. An early version of the report, which is currently being drafted and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year, will "recommend a very rapid reduction in American forces: as much as two-thirds of the existing force very quickly, while keeping the remainder there." The strategy will involve unwinding the still large U.S. presence in big forward operation bases and putting smaller teams in outposts. "

Two things. First, this report isn't due until "the beginning of next year." That's plenty of time for it to get planed down until it essentially says whatever Bush and Cheney want it to say. I wouldn't get too excited about this.

Second, even if the generals do stand their ground, can someone explain how this makes sense? We're not fixing things now even with 168,000 troops, and if we draw down we're supposedly going to unleash a massive civil war. So what are 50,000 troops in scattered outposts going to do while that's going on? Hunker down? Head out and get slaughtered? Evacuate? I just don't see how this makes any sense at all.

Kevin Drum 3:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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OK, that's enough non-Iraq posting for the day.

Why? Ain't nothing gonna change as long as there is only a one vote majority in the senate. Find something else interesting that we can all feel superior to.

Posted by: JeffII on September 11, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Why do these generals hate America?
(Someone had to ask.)

Posted by: thersites on September 11, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Al's correct there is no reason to listen to Bush Cheney or Petraus, all defeatests.All you ever hear from them is defeat, cut and run,losers.It would be nice if they would have somthing postive to say.Thank you AL for once not being a troll.

Posted by: john john on September 11, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'd guess the Pentagon plan is to concentrate what's left in the Kurdish north.

Posted by: Flavius on September 11, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

The news article is based on third-hand information from an anonymous source about some working group at the Pentagon.

This is all it takes to make a "revolt?"

Second, even if the generals do stand their ground...

Who mentioned "generals?"

Posted by: harry on September 11, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe this Pentagon-Petraeus tug-of-war is a contest between bad plans: Petraeus wants to stay in Iraq with as many troops as he can, while the Pentagon would like to reduce the number of troops tied down in Iraq. Neither Petraeus nor the Pentagon is able to map their competing strategies out to their conclusions (which proves that they're not strategies at all), but neither can afford to give up on our greatest, most dangerous mistake: Invading the country in the first place.

So the Pentagon wants to reduce the number of vulnerable troops, which may render those who remain even more vulnerable. Petraeus wants to do the same thing, but on a longer timeline.

It would be nice for America if someone had a good plan--one with a beginning, a middle, and (most important) an end.

Posted by: Explitickitator on September 11, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

can you say "Protect the oil fields. Let Baghdad burn." ??

Does anyone really think that we care about stopping a humanitarian crisis?

Posted by: cj_n_pa on September 11, 2007 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Simple: it's 50,000 troops on Iran's doorstep. Don't assume that just because some people claim to have learned the lessons of Iraq that they'll apply those lessons to Iran.

Posted by: Gheby on September 11, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

so this new report is being produced at the rate of one or two sentences per day? how much time do they allow for the graphs, a month apiece? this couldn't possibly just be a leak as part of the ongoing internecine war, rather something real could it?

Posted by: supersaurus on September 11, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

The White House, the Congress and the Pentagon have shut it down. From here until November '08, there will be no major changes in policy, troop levels, and results.

The Democrats in Congress love this war: it's going badly, they can pin it on the Republicans, and by not stopping it they can pretend they are hawks (when they are just being their typical spineless wimps).

The Republicans know they are in a losing position but are stuck there anyway. No one is going to move much from their positions until the Fall of next year when a few chicken-hawks might turn tail when polls show them losing close races.

For the next 14 months White House attendants will be tasked with making sure Bush has a bottle of spirits nearby so he can start his slow descent into an inebriated state of mush. Cheney, in the meantime, will roam the halls of the mansion yelling at portraits of past Democratic presidents.

The Pentagon, all the while, will deal with mass retirements and a lack of recruiting. They will be like a mediocre football coach who knows he has had a lousy recruiting year: better to leave now and let the next sucker try and win with a less than stellar class of recruits.

So America will slip into recession, the dollar will continue to fall, and more Iraqis and Americans will die in a stupid, criminal misadventure -- all the while those who could do something will be waiting it out.

Posted by: Dicksknee on September 11, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

50,000 troops will enable us to ensure that Iraq's central government remains hostage to the US in the Green Zone, and to continue to control the country's foreign policy orientation and to maintain access to Iraqi oil contracts for US energy companies.

Posted by: brooksfoe on September 11, 2007 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Reports abound that Baghdad has gone from 65% Sunni to 75% Shia. I'd say that in terms of just the killings from the Civil war, there are now considerably less targets and the quasi civilian on civilian violence will naturally abate.

Less ethnic peace keeping equals fewer troops for same level of efficiency.

Posted by: cognitorex on September 11, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

It was Newsweek who incorrectly reported a Koran flushed down a toilet at Gitmo. It saddens me that our most popular news magazines no longer can be trusted.

I'm sure Pentagon folks are coming up with alternative strategies all the time; it's their job. Is this particular plan (if it exists) significant, as Newsweek implies? Newsweek has not convinced me.

Posted by: ex-liberal on September 11, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Well 50,000 soldiers in outposts can do a hell of a lot more than 168,000 soldiers in large, isolated bases. The key aspect of the surge, ignored by most critics, has not been the increase in soldiers so much as the change in how they have been employed in Iraq. The problem with what Petraeus himself stated was a failing strategy by the end of 2006 was that our soldiers were locked up in these large bases, going out on temporary patrols, and then heading back to base. You can't fight an insurgency that way. So the bottom line is that you can't focus exclusively on the numbers, you need to look at how those soldiers are being used.

Posted by: Hacksaw on September 11, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

I have to think somebody in the Pentagon has noticed Petraeus's desperate attempts to buy off Iraqis of all stripes from the bottom up hoping they’ll stop killing Americans is undercutting the Iraqi central government. That isn’t any way to build a united Iraq. Arming all sides to the teeth isn’t any way to end a civil war.

Rummy was right about one single thing. You don’t want Iraqis getting dependent on us the way the South Vietnamese did or the Kosovars are now. When we left Saigon the effects of taking all those GIs and their paychecks out of the South Vietnamese economy coupled with the first oil embargo in 1973 crippled their economy. God knows what would happen in Kosovo if we shut down Camp Bondsteel.

From listening to Petraeus and Crocker though paying off the Sunnis and Shiites is exactly what we’re doing now. When the only job in town is joining the local police force in Fallujah or some Shiite neighborhood you take it. You get your weapons cheap from whoever has those 190,000 AK-47s Petraeus misplaced (or Jordan or Iran) while he pretends not to notice and wait. And when we eventually leave that $300 a month for all those guys goes away too without paying jobs to replace it. If you’re trying to make sure there is the biggest street fight possible when we leave that’s the way to do it.

Looks like a perfect neocon-Rovian plan. Leave Iraq the biggest ticking IED possible for the next president and then blame him/her for making your predictions of disaster come true. For Petraeus it’s probably just the path of least resistance in both Iraq and at the White House. Paying off local sheiks with guns and dollars buys him a little temporary respite from attacks by the 1920s and other Sunnis while they, the Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigades and everybody else but AQI all rearm and retrain waiting for the big battles ahead.

Meanwhile the Cheneyites nod approvingly over the the poison lemonade being stirred for the next president.

Posted by: markg8 on September 11, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with what Petraeus himself stated was a failing strategy by the end of 2006 was that our soldiers were locked up in these large bases, going out on temporary patrols, and then heading back to base. You can't fight an insurgency that way. So the bottom line is that you can't focus exclusively on the numbers, you need to look at how those soldiers are being used.

Of course, the troops were "locked up" in large bases in response to the growing casualty rate, which of course increased once the so-called "surge" sent them out again. Of course, that is a known risk according to counterinsurgency doctrine, but it's interesting to see Hack admit, however obliquely, that Bush and Petraeus gambled with the lives of the troops for political purposes.

Posted by: Gregory on September 11, 2007 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

you need to look at how those soldiers are being used

...and, of course, you need to see what their sacrifice is achieving. By the original standards of the so-called "surge," of course, the answer is clearly failure. "Progress" -- especially the kind of "progress" claimed by an Amdinistration that's been calling this disaster "progress" straight along -- isn't enough.

Posted by: Gregory on September 11, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

It's blindingly and, sadly, obvious: the Pentagon is now in the grasp of state bureaucrats that were once held at bay by the excellent leadership of Donald Rumsfeld. Add the Leftagon to the list of left-ridden departments cheering for our defeat against Islamofacism (along the usual suspects of the No-See-IA and the Anti-State Dept.).

These are perlious times, indeed. Like Caesar, Bush is surrounded by enemies who subscribe to his vision of a democratic Iraq, and seek to pull him down for partisan advantage. For shame, for shame.

Posted by: Boorring on September 11, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

The idea behind leaving 50k troops there is, of course, to leave them there: to let the bloodshed play itself out, while maintaining the idea of American presence. When things settle down, we'll still be there, in a position to influence and control political events, behind the guise of "hunting terrorists," or "preventing a failed state," or some such. I hate to sound like one of those "no blood for oil" people, but we are there until the oil is gone or they find a way to kick us out.

Posted by: Martin Gale on September 11, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK


Like Caesar, Bush is surrounded by enemies who do not subscribe to his vision...

Posted by: Boorring on September 11, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK
Second, even if the generals do stand their ground, can someone explain how this makes sense? We're not fixing things now even with 168,000 troops, and if we draw down we're supposedly going to unleash a massive civil war.

"Supposedly" is the key word. It's more than conceivable that a US drawdown could create pressure that would produce the political progress that the surge has at least failed to produce, and arguably inhibited, because as long as the massive US presence is being maintained indefinitely, there is little consequence for failure for Iraqi politicians, and the most significant consequences come from losing support of their own factional constituents. An imminent drawdown of US forces would change the incentives substantially.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 11, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

"I just don't see how this makes any sense at all."

—Kevin Drum 3:54 PM
Sort of an appropriate observation for nearly any aspect of this war, wouldn't you say?

Posted by: steve duncan on September 11, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

trolling...nobody responded...sniff.

Posted by: Boorring on September 11, 2007 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

The Hirsh story isn't about a Pentagon revolt, he is reporting the Pentagon's recognition of reality.

Petraeus is the general on the ground. It is to be expected that he wants more troops. He sure doesn't want to lose any. The Army and Marines are currently on 15 month tours. That deployment pace can't be sustained with our current troop levels much longer--next spring at the latest. Unless we draft the mercenaries currently providing "security" in Iraq, we are going to run out of trained soldiers sooner than later. The Pentagon group is struggling with that manpower reality.

At the end of WWII Hitler kept ordering divisions in to battle that had been so damaged in combat they should no longer have been part of the order of battle. His generals knew better, but he kept on sending orders.

Bush and Petraeous might want to keep the surge going, but at some point in the next few months, the gig will be up. The only alternative to downsizing the force is to initiate the draft. If they want to do that, they better do it right about now.

Posted by: corpus juris on September 11, 2007 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

50,000 troops means holing up and letting the civil war play itself out while maybe *maybe* killing the occasional AQI cell and poining guns at the Iranian border.

Posted by: Tlaloc on September 11, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's bruised ego and unresolved issues with daddy are the issue. Just like he had to match or better his dad at making money with speeches when he finishes ruining the country.
That was a very telling remark. (From the Draper book)
As I said, chronic low self-esteem disturbance, and aggression, with elated sense of self.

Posted by: consider wisely always on September 11, 2007 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

Petraeus is unwelcomed at the pentagon. He sided with the politicians against his superiors on Iraq, violating the chain of command. In about a year we'll see: "Gen Petreaus (ret.)"

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on September 11, 2007 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is right. Petraeus is 3 years too late with a force half the size he needs to accomplish his objectives. If Bush really wanted to win in Iraq, he should have had 500K troops from the start or recommended doubling the force for the surge.

Petraeus knows this is a major cluster. He is just trying to get some semblance of stability in areas and then hand them over to whoever seems competent at the time. And who cares if we pay them? If it works, do it. He is doing the best he can with what he has and who he has for a commander in chief. We've all worked for assholes but that doesn't make you one too. That's why I am reluctant to bash this guy.

Posted by: Dee on September 11, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kev wrote:

OK, that's enough non-Iraq posting for the day.

Ha, ha. You mean you're not going to let the Repubs have their way, and shy away from war posting, so it will seem like the Repubs are the ones who are "interested in war" even though they shy away from war posting because the war is bad political news for them?

Posted by: Swan on September 11, 2007 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

"We've all worked for assholes but that doesn't make you one too. That's why I am reluctant to bash this guy."

But Petraeus also campaigned for bush with his 2004 just before the election war support editorial. He worked to keep Bush as his boss.

Posted by: jefff on September 11, 2007 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

From the point of view of the administration, 50,000 troops are probably more than adequate to protect our permanent bases, oil facilities, and embassy and shine targeting lasers on any wise guy Syrians or Iranians.

Posted by: Luther on September 11, 2007 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

I have nothing substantive to add here. But I was struck by the name of one commenter - ex-liberal. Ex-liberal? You mean to tell me that you used to favor generally liberal positions, but something has happened in the past six years to convince you to become a *conservative*? I'm dumbfounded.

Posted by: christor on September 11, 2007 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

"...a very rapid reduction in American forces..." Hmmmm....That kind of report certainly wouldn't make George happy. Perhaps one of those nuclear "bunker buster" bombs we hear is under development would be capable of boring a sufficiently deep hole where BushCo can bury this report, never to see the light of day, let alone public scrutiny.

Posted by: TC-14 on September 11, 2007 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Guys, guys, please! You're making me sick here!

The military has no solutions that are workable, period.

Unless diplomatic outreach programs start first, and that outreach must include both Shia and Sunni imams, mullahs, and ayatollahs, there can be no military endgame, period.

Endgame must be the removal of considerable military hardware, junk of war, and a coordinated hand-over of areas, with us leaving the Kurdish regions lastly, not firstly!

Iran is NOT and issue for the US, it is an issue for the Saudis, got that? The Saudis, not the Israelis, not the Chinese, not the Pakistanis, but the Saudis. This is an area where we can score massive diplomatic victories. A cooperative Iran will be a partner in peace, a frightened Iran, made terrified by a bellicose Bush, will insure no peace in the Gulf Region.

We are doomed to be stuck in Iraq until Bush is out of office in January 2009. Between now and then there will be lots of jawing, lots of dying, plenty of lying, plenty of plans, schemes and doubletalk. But until Chimpy and Uncle Dick are gone from the stage, Iraq will continue to devour men, money, and material for no other reason than Bush's will and neo-con ideological imperative.

Threats of funding cut-offs? Not a chance, no one wants to starve the troops, NO ONE, except Bush if confronted in this way, for Bush is a political animal, and he will play hardball with our troops lives if he thinks he can get political gain out of it.

We are in Iraq, and will stay there until Bush and the rest of the Chimpy Junta are gone. Get used to it.

Posted by: boilerman10 on September 11, 2007 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

'Stay the course...'

'Thousand points of light...'

'Stay the course...'

Oops, sorry, wrong bullshit presidency.

We all know that Cheney and Bush are leaving the troop withdrawal to the next preznit.

Posted by: sara on September 12, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

He didn't work for Bush in 2004. He wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about his views on how the training of Iraqi soldiers was going. At that time, the training was going well. Petraeus was the commanding general of the 101st and in charge of training the army. But by some people's standards I guess that's working for Bush b/c someone makes a positive observation about what he/she perceives at that time. Every Democrat that has interacted with him has stated unequivocally that he is a straight forward guy.

Did anyone notice his answer to Joe Biden about if the conditions today are the same as they are in July 2008 that Petraeus would be hard-pressed to request keeping 160K troops in theater? We will start pulling out more troops if no political progress takes place before the election (and we should). But don't be surprised if big results start happening over there just in time for the 2008 election here.

Posted by: Dee on September 12, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Let's back up to square one and look straight at this steaming crock.

The only question that really, fundamentally, matters is whether we have any troops there when we're "done," whatever that means. It seems that bush and everybody military thinks we do, that we have about 50,000 of them there just like in Korea.

There can only be two reasons for this. The big one would be to fly around the region at a moment's notice to seize oil fields. Threatening Iran is secondary. Guarding the embassy compound doesn't count because we do that everywhere (though not on the Hearst Castle scale of Baghdad).

I don't buy the "smaller teams in outposts" line. It's more like "smaller bases in the desert" to the west and north, about two brigades each. 50,000 troops all massed in Baghdad would hardly make a dent there and if dispersed among neighborhood stations would be nothing but car-bomb bait.

We have to say that we won't have anybody there when it's all over. Whenever *that* is. That has to be our premise. Otherwise we're saying the plan is for Iraq to become a really messy version of what Saudi Arabia was: our base in the ME.

Remember we left Arabia mostly because the Saudis said our presence undermined them and told us our situation there was untenable and they couldn't protect us from wild-ass terrorists.

Tell me how Iraq is any more tenable than Saudi Arabia was.

Posted by: Altoid on September 12, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK
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