In the Arena

Petraeus Watch

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The LA Times has this speculation about what Petraeus is going to say next month. The administration officials quoted in the piece say the general will ask for a restructuring of the force, moving troops from Anbar into Baghdad, but not reducing troop levels. I think this may be a smokescreen: I suspect that with trumpets and whistles Bush will announce that a brigade is being pulled from Anbar and the U.S. troop levels will be reduced, using “progress” in the surge as the reason for the beginning of an American “withdrawal.” …and hoping that jittery Republicans will stay on board. It’s also possible that they’ll try to get away with announcing a drawdown from 20 to 15 combat brigades over the next year–which is merely following the natural rotation course as the surge troops end their 15 month deployments.

There is considerable debate right now within the U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence communities about whether to use the threat of a more significant drawdown–a partial drawdown out of Baghdad, which would leave Muqtada al-Sadr in control of the capital, for example–as leverage to force the Iraqis into making the political deal necessary to stem a complete descent into chaos. As I’ve written before, this is an extreme longshot: the U.S. has practically no control over the Iraqi civil war, especially the intra-Shi’ite festivities that will explode in Basrah once the British depart. (And it’s even more of an extreme longshot that Bush and Cheney would use the threat of an American withdrawal to push the Iraqis.)

The fact is that the “progress” in the surge–the success in turning the Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Salafists–deprives Bush of his rationale for continuing the war: there is no role for the U.S. military in a war between indigenous Sunnis and Shi’ites (and Kurds, given yesterday’s horrific bombing). A smaller U.S. force should remain to protect the Kurds from Turkish attack and to continue chasing the Salafist remnants out of the country (and also to clear out the Jaish al Mahdi Special Groups, the sliver of Shi’ite extremists). And yes, there will be lots of violence, including massacres, after we leave. But, if nothing else, after all this blood and waste, we should have learned the limits of the possible by now.