Big Headline, but take a minute to look underneath
White House Said to Debate ’08 Cut in Troops by 50%
The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.
But let's take a minute to look at what's really going on here.
Look at the sourcing for instance. "The officials declined to be quoted for attribution because they were discussing internal deliberations that they expected to evolve over several months."
That certainly seems to suggest an authorized "leak," (watch for the White House's non-outraged reaction,) but why would the administration want this out there, and why now?
I would argue that they have come to the conclusion that "the surge" will fail, and are now trying to present the impression that "the surge" was never the final answer they previously said it was, but merely a bridge in a broader plan.
Take a look at that key section on Baker Hamilton at Bush's press conference Thursday,
The President: As I have constantly made clear, the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appeal to me, and that is to be embedded and to train and to guard the territorial integrity of the country, and to have Special Forces to chase down al Qaeda. But I didn't think we could get there unless we increased the troop levels to secure the capital. I was fearful that violence would spiral out of control in Iraq, and that this experience of trying to help this democracy would -- couldn't succeed.
To my memory, that is a complete rewriting of history, although I'll leave it to others to dig up the quotes to prove it. My memory is that this administration completely disavowed the ISG in an effort to push "the surge."
(Also notice that this appears to be a coordinated rollout. The President makes a statement, supporting facts are coincidentally leaked, etc...
By Sunday, I would expect some key talking heads to be full on Orwellian, "The President believes in Baker Hamilton, he has always believed in Baker Hamilton.")
Their strategy is to try and shift into the Iraq Study Group as a Plan B, but to do so in such a way that the failure of "the surge" will be absolved as a necessary step, not as the horrifically wrongheaded decision that it was.
He's also trying to seize Baker Hamilton as his idea, so that when the idea is thrust upon him by Republicans looking at elections, he can claim that was his intention all along.
Remember this as we pass through the "bloody -- it could be a very difficult" summer.
(It should also, of course, be noted that we've heard "significantly lower troop levels next year" more than a few times before.)
SAT AM: Let's also take a step back and look at the reason this is being discussed. (From an AP condensation,)
Several officials said the hope was that a troop reduction would shift the campaign debate over Iraq from a time frame for a pullout to what long-term presence the United States should have there. Democrats in Congress have been pushing for setting deadlines to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from the unpopular war.
See, this new plan is all about domestic politics. It's about developing a plan that will allow Republican presidential candidates and Congressional members something to run on.
Also: I'm curious at the appearance of timing from the Iraqi side. Sadr returns Thursday, makes a "fiery"speech calling for US withdrawal at about 5 AM US time, and then, 14 hours later the Bush administration is in the papers talking partial withdrawal.
Certainly, the US discussions were taking place before yesterday, but from a Sadr supporter's viewpoint, it looks like the man with the big eyebrows scared the US.