President Bush today announced that he would be following U.S. Army
General David Petraeus' recommendations to withdraw 25 percent of
American combat forces from Iraq by the end of July. Despite the
president's assertion that the withdrawal of these troops represents a
"return on success" from his "surge" policy, the president is merely
making a virtue out of necessity.
The fact of the matter is that these 5 brigades, or about 20,000
combat troops, were scheduled to be withdrawn after their 15 month
tours came to an end--whether Iraq witnessed a temporary decline in
violence or not. It would have taken extraordinary measures such as an
extension of these soldiers' deployments to 18 months to maintain
current levels beyond this time.
Moreover, the 8,000 support personnel that deployed along with the
surge's additional combat brigades will remain in Iraq after the surge
draws down. This means that even with the current reduction in force
levels, there will be more soldiers and Marines in Iraq after the
surge runs its course in July than when it began in January of 2007.
The president also announced that Army units would begin a one-to-one
deployment-to dwell-time ratio, or 12 months deployed in combat
followed by 12 months of dwell time. Dwell time is time at home
between deployments to rest, reset, reconnect with family, integrate
new unit members, train, and prepare to deploy again for combat.
These decisions are inadequate for two reasons. First, this change
will have no immediate effect on relieving the stress and strain on
our soldiers because it will not reduce the tours of any soldier
currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan--and will only affect
soldiers deploying after August 1, 2008. In fact, tens of thousands of
soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will remain there under the 15-month
cycle until their deployment is over.
Second, even with this modest reduction in deployment length, the
president will still be forcing the Defense Department to violate its
own deployment policy. U.S. Department of Defense policy calls for a
1-to-2 ratio of deployment to dwell time. Dwell time is critically
important to maintaining high levels of readiness in our armed forces.
President Bush also made no mention of the Marine Corps in his
remarks. Though smaller than the Army, the Marine Corps, too, is
feeling the effects of frequent repeated deployments.
To justify his actions, the president insisted that a "strategic
shift" has taken place in Iraq. The reality appears more like a
"strategic drift." As the president pointed out, Iraqis are taking
increasing control of security in their respective neighborhoods. This
is true, but at a cost to the president's stated goal of a unified,
independent, and stable Iraq that is an ally in the war on terrorism
Case in point: The United States today independently funds
approximately 90,000 predominantly Sunni militiamen across Iraq, many
of whom demonstrate little allegiance to Iraq's central government,
and some of whom until recently were members of the Sunni insurgency
attacking U.S. forces in Iraq. These Awakening groups have made it
clear their allegiance is to their own religious sect and Sunni
tribes, not the Iraqi government or the United States. Their possible
return to the insurgency will ultimately (and perhaps quickly) under
mine the security progress that has been made.
In recent weeks, the United States has also provided air and ground
military support to one side in an intra-Shi'a civil war that has
raged throughout the southern and central parts of Iraq. Moreover, the
Bush administration continues to provide unconditional and open-ended
support to an Iraqi central govern ment bitterly divided along
sectarian and ethnic lines.
Consequently, the United States has made achieving lasting national
reconciliation more elusive by providing support to different sides in
Iraq's internal conflicts through separate channels. Today, Iraq is no
closer to be coming a dependable and independent ally in the fight
against radical Islamist extremists than it was in January 2007. And
the United States is less secure than it was 15 months ago.
Put simply, President Bush's 2007 military escalation in Iraq has
failed strategically despite some short-term tactical gains. The time
to implement a strategic reset of U.S. military and diplomatic
strategy in Iraq and around the region is long overdue.