General David Petraeus' congressional testimony this week directly contradicted the findings of last year's Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. While the bipartisan study group unanimously recommended that the US change its role from combat operations to training and anti-terrorist commando raids almost a year ago, General Petraeus still calls such a strategy premature, and warns against "handing over tasks to the Iraqi security forces before their capability and local conditions warrant." In his testimony this week, the general merely offered a slightly updated version of the logic the Bush Administration has used to keep American troops in Iraq for the past four and a half years: "We'll stand down when they stand up."
Yet the Iraq Study Group rightly concluded that America would need to stand down by the spring of 2008 whether or not Iraq was standing up, noting that "America's other security needs and the future of our military can not be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government." Almost one year ago, they recommended that if Iraq was not making substantial progress on national reconciliation, security, and governance, then the US should reduce not only its military support, but also its political and economic support for the government.
The contradiction between General Petraeus and the diplomats is not so surprising; the general is offering his tactical analysis looking at the military facts on the ground, and the Iraq Study Group offered a strategic analysis based upon the long term interests of our country. The President and Congress need to now come to the same strategic conclusion: a firm timeline to end America's combat role and redeploy our combat troops, no permanent bases, and direct negotiations with all countries in the region including Iran and Syria - without preconditions.
Waiting and waiting for the central government to act is not a plan, since there is no central government. Even Ambassador Crocker was forced to admit during testimony this week that the "government, in many respects, is dysfunctional, and members of the government know it." Our military has been working with the local Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar and our aid is being directed to Anbar - a policy of "go directly to Anbar without passing Baghdad." Prime Minister Maliki probably needed Mapquest to find Anbar when President Bush decided to meet him there last week.
Meanwhile, Hunt Oil is not waiting for an oil partition plan - they are contracting directly with the Kurds as if they were a separate government. Move over Sykes and Picot (the WWI diplomats who manufactured Iraq's current borders) and enter Gelb and Biden (who suggested last year that these borders are manufactured and not worth fighting to defend). Like it or not, Iraq is already in "soft partition" mode, and it's time for us to get out of the way and do everything we can to make sure that other countries in the region do the same.
So, thank you General Petraeus for your military analysis of the ground game, but it's time to pressure Congress to finally rally behind the strategic findings of the Iraq Study Group - and pass a timeline to end America's combat operations in Iraq. We need to put in place the parameters and give our generals and the Iraqi government(s) time to plan accordingly.
On Thursday night, the President will again ask Congress and the American people to stay the course, whatever the cost in American blood and treasure, whatever the foregone opportunities around the world for America to take the lead again.
A clear timeline for redeployment of our combat troops still offers our best hope for a stable outcome in Iraq - and our best opportunity to repair our military, repair our relations with allies around the world, and make America safer, stronger, and more secure.
(Originally posted at NedLamont.com.)