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When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again

Your Humble Blogger was surprised to read in the Hartford Courant this morning that General Petraeus had been Changing The Debate:

WASHINGTON - The report and proposed troop drawdown Gen. David H. Petraeus offered Monday opened a new phase in the fractious Washington debate over the future of the U.S. venture in Iraq.

From now on, the argument will no longer be about whether to withdraw U.S. troops, but about how many to pull out and how quickly. And the change could cause Republicans and Democrats in Washington to recalibrate their positions.

-from a combined wire services report.

That’s not the impression I had from what I had been reading. In the New York Times, for instance, Michael Gordon wrote Petraeus Sees Bigger Role in Protecting Iraqi Civilians: “...in his testimony on Monday, General Petraeus ... proposed an American presence that would not only be longer and larger than many Democrats have advocated but would also provide for a greater American combat role in protecting the Iraqi population.”

It seems to me that the public argument has not been about whether to withdraw US troops. Our Only President has been adamant that the troops will return. The question continues to be under what conditions will they come home. Our Only President has said that they will come home when the job is done, that is, when Iraq is secure and democratic, an ally in the Globar War on Terror, and a friend to US interests in Persia. Note: this is not sarcasm, this is actual United States foreign policy. Bill Richardson, on the other hand, wants the troops to come home as soon as they safely can.

Again, the question is what conditions need to be fulfilled before the troops leave Iraq. Both Governor Richardson (as one f’r’ex, there are many others who agree with him) and Our Only President have been pretty clear what those conditions are, even if the details are murky and would have to be judged on the fly. I don’t think Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or even John Edwards have been so clear. A question that comes to mind is what events would change the proposed timetable? For OOP, it would be (and has been) events on the ground in Iraq pertaining to the secure-democratic-ally-friend stuff. For Gov. Richardson, it would be events pertaining to the safe evacuation of our military men and women. For Hillary Clinton, it would be ... what? An attack on our bases? Some sort of political breakthrough? I don’t really know.

I acknowledge that the easy positions to work with are (a) leave ASAP and (2) stay until pigs fly. Policy ideas with more factors are more difficult to explain and more difficult to implement, but are not (sorry Occam) necessarily less likely to be correct. But I’d like to know what they are, at least.

I know that General Petreaus is not—absolutely not, certainly not, fundamentally not—supposed to set conditions for withdrawing. His job is to assess whether particular sets of conditions have been fulfilled, are being fulfilled, or are capable of being fulfilled. How expensive they would be to fulfill, in blood and time and treasure. He’s essentially told us that OOP’s conditions will not be fulfilled by a hundred thousand troops working for another year. That’s all.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I'm hearing, via NPR at least, that nobody in the know thinks we can really sustain the "surge" level of troop involvement past the middle of next year anyway, so it's, mm, convenient to suggest that sure, we can start bringing the "extras" home next year.

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