The New York Sun reports that Colin Kahl, Barack Obama’s working group coordinator on Iraq, has written a paper about U.S. troop numbers in that country in which he advises that significant numbers of U.S. forces should be retained in Iraq for at least 2 more years.
"…the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000–80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground)."
“It refers to the U.S. being out of the lead, largely in a support role. It doesn’t mean the U.S. does not do things like targeted counter-terrorism missions or continue to train and advise the Iraqis,” he said. “It would not be 150,000 Americans taking the lead in counterinsurgency.”
The Obama camp is playing fast-and-loose with Kahl’s report, with both Kahl and Obama’s campaign saying that the report is unrelated to any official campaign position. Even so, it’s good to see Obama at least tacitly acknowledging the reality that our presence is need in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
It would be utterly irresponsible for any American president to execute a mass withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. If Obama is elected to the presidency I would expect him to execute Kahl-like policy, something that would leave his rabidly anti-war progressive supporters gnashing their teeth at his "betrayal" of them. And wouldn’t that be a shame?! 🙂
Yet after the recent fiasco in Basra, I think it’s fair to wonder again if the Iraqi army will ever be able to exert its influence over the country in an independent fashion. Is its failure to seize control over the region merely growing pains? Or is the Iraqi army more similar to that of South Vietnam than the Bush administration would have us believe? At this point the question is still open.
Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon’s new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year’s reports had forecast a transition in 2008.
One thing is obvious: The Bush administration will leave this war and the decision about troop levels to the next president. That fact alone means that John McCain is the best choice in 2008.