The New York Times reports that the White House has started working on a plan to reduce forces in Iraq, starting next year. However, the Times implies that this reduction represents some reversal on the part of the Bush administration, when it appears to be nothing more than the natural reduction from the surge’s timeline:
The White House plans to use a report next month assessing progress in Iraq to outline a plan for gradual troop reductions beginning next year that would fall far short of the drawdown demanded by Congressional opponents of the war, according to administration and military officials.
One administration official made it clear that the goal of the planned announcement was to counter public pressure for a more rapid reduction and to try to win support for a plan that could keep American involvement in Iraq on “a sustainable footing” at least through the end of the Bush presidency.
The officials said the White House would portray its approach as a new strategy for Iraq, a message aimed primarily at the growing numbers of Congressional Republicans who have criticized President Bush’s handling of the war. Many Republicans have urged Mr. Bush to unveil a new strategy, and even to propose a gradual reduction of American troops to the levels before this year’s troop increase — about 130,000 — or even lower to head off Democratic-led efforts to force the withdrawal of all combat forces by early next year.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of their reluctance to discuss internal White House deliberations publicly.
This reduction would be complete by next August, and it would return the Iraq forces to where they were at the time of the surge. All that means is that the surge troops — which have always been considered a temporary allocation — would rotate home on schedule. The Bush administration simply would not replace those units, but would maintain the base deployment for the Iraq war. In fact, since the surge units got completely deployed by the end of May, it would actually fit within the 15-month deployment schedule everyone already knows.
Either the Times wants to sell this as a reversal, or the White House wants to sell it as a sop to Democratic opposition to the war. Either way, it only makes sense as a withdrawal or reduction if people considered the surge elevation as a permanent deployment, which even the Bush administration didn’t request. The surge has always been considered a temporary measure designed to give Iraq enough room to mature its own security forces and to conduct some political reform.
Nevertheless, the salesmanship might work. With more Democrats supporting the continuing effort in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki finally reaching out to Sunnis, the Democrats may need a lifeline for their increasingly tenuous position on the war. A positive report from General David Petraeus will have made it difficult enough to insist on full retreat, and Brian Baird’s move from original war opponent to surge supporter will make it all but impossible. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid need a face-saving measure to allow Congress to continue funding the Iraq War effort, and calling a regular redeployment a victory for their side will probably suffice.