The Times repackages Obama's campaign promises on Iraq:
Campaign Promises on Ending the War in Iraq Now Muted by Reality
By THOM SHANKER
But as he moves closer to the White House, President-elect Obama is making clearer than ever that tens of thousands of American troops will be left behind in Iraq, even if he can make good on his campaign promise to pull all combat forces out within 16 months.
“I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, with the understanding that it might be necessary — likely to be necessary — to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said this week as he introduced his national security team.
Publicly at least, Mr. Obama has not set a firm number for that “residual force,” a phrase certain to become central to the debate on the way ahead in Iraq, though one of his national security advisers, Richard Danzig, said during the campaign that it could amount to 30,000 to 55,000 troops. Nor has Mr. Obama laid out any timetable beyond 16 months for troop drawdowns, or suggested when he believes a time might come for a declaration that the war is over.
I applaud the use of quotes around "end the war" in the lead, since ending US involvement is quite different from ending the war. In fact, when Obama proposed his surrender strategy in January 2007 the National Intelligence Estimate was that the most likely result would be an increase in violence, which did not sound like an "end" to the war.
Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this Estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.
That was then, of course. Now the surge, opposed by Obama as likely to lead to an increase in violence, has contributed to a much more stable and promising situation. The Times soldiers on:
As American combat forces decline in numbers and more provinces are turned over to Iraqi control, these military planners say, Iraqi security forces will remain reliant on significant numbers of Americans for training, supplies, logistics, intelligence and transportation for a long time to come.
There always was a tension, if not a bit of a contradiction, in the two parts of Mr. Obama’s campaign platform to “end the war” by withdrawing all combat troops by May 2010. To be sure, Mr. Obama was careful to say that the drawdowns he was promising included only combat troops. But supporters who keyed on the language of ending the war might be forgiven if they thought that would mean bringing home all of the troops.
People hear what they want to hear. But last summer with Katie Couric Obama wanted them to hear about the residual force that would be available to assist the Iraqi security forces.
The Times closes with an entertaining "Then and Now":
At the Pentagon and the military headquarters in Iraq, the response to the statements this week from Mr. Obama and his national security team has been akin to the senior officer corps’ letting out its collective breath; the words sounded to them like the new president would take a measured approach on the question of troop levels.
“I believe that 16 months is the right time frame, but, as I’ve said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders,” Mr. Obama said at that news conference on Monday. “And my No. 1 priority is making sure that our troops remain safe in this transition phase, and that the Iraqi people are well served by a government that is taking on increased responsibility for its own security.”
An apparent evolution of Mr. Obama’s thinking can be heard in contrast to comments he made in July, when he called a news conference to lay out his Iraq policy in unambiguous terms.
“I intend to end this war,” he said then. “My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war — responsibly, deliberately, but decisively.” And in a news conference that month in Amman, Jordan, Mr. Obama acknowledged that the American troop increase had bolstered Iraqi security but declared that he would not hesitate to overrule American commanders and redirect troops in Afghanistan.
Mr. Gates, speaking at the Pentagon on Tuesday, a day after he appeared with Mr. Obama to announce the new national security team, made clear that the direction of troop levels now had been decided, with the only decisions remaining on how fast and how low.
“And so the question is, How do we do this in a responsible way?” Mr. Gates said. “And nobody wants to put at risk the gains that have been achieved, with so much sacrifice, on the part of our soldiers and the Iraqis, at this point.”
I have not done the math but there are currently 15 combat brigades in Iraq; current plans seem to call for an additional three brigades (and support troops) in Afghanistan. Even allowing for rotations I would guess that getting all fifteen brigades out in sixteen months is not required in order to support the Afghanistan mission.
The strategy of declaring defeat in Iraq and blaming Bush seems to have gone by the boards.