Analysis: The Next President and the 'Surge'
Council on Foreign Relations
April 10, 2008
Author: Greg Bruno
The “new way forward” in Iraq is now a waiting game. In testimony before the U.S. Congress on April 8 and 9, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the coalition commander in Iraq, called for an open-ended suspension (AP) of troop withdrawals scheduled to begin this summer. While security has improved, he said conditions in Iraq rule out the kind of withdrawal timetable put forth by the two leading Democratic presidential candidates. President Bush endorsed that view Thursday. “I’ve told him he’ll have all the time he needs,” Bush said. That means roughly 140,000 soldiers will remain on the ground at least through the summer. Bush also announced a reduction in the standard Iraq tour to twelve months from the current fifteen, something many senior commanders have been lobbying for.
The general’s recommendations drew heated criticism from advocates of a quick departure from Iraq. If implemented, they also effectively put the ball in the next administration’s court (CSMonitor). As Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin writes, the pause means “getting out of Iraq is now exclusively the next president’s problem.” Bush’s spokeswoman, Dana Perino, confirmed this (AFP): Ending the war before January 2009, she said, is “not going to be possible.” This underscores what many military analysts have been saying ever since the insurgency took root.
The debate over troop numbers and time frames plays out against the larger question of the viability of victory in Iraq. Both Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker used their testimony to paint a mixed picture on prospects for an eventual U.S. victory. Despite the fact that security and political progress in Iraq remain fragile, they said measurable gains have occurred. The number of weapons caches discovered has increased, the general said, contributing to a decline in overall violence (PDF) between June 2007 and February 2008.
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