- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sen. Dick Lugar yesterday provided the latest illustration that the quickest way for a member of Congress — especially a Republican — to win fawning coverage from the mainstream media is to call for yanking U.S. troops out of Iraq more quickly. As Gen. David Petraeus waited to testify about Iraq before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Lugar suggested that the general’s plan to withdraw almost one-fifth of troops in Iraq by next summer does not go far enough. Mr. Lugar lectured Gen. Petraeus that the current troop surge “must not be an excuse for failing to prepare for the next phase of our involvement in Iraq, whether that is partial withdrawal, a gradual redeployment or some other option.” As media coverage in the past day clearly shows, Mr. Lugar’s comments (which were non-specific enough to give him plenty of wiggle room if they should result in disaster) make perfect sense as means of self-promotion. But as a prescription for policy-makers, the senator’s approach is irresponsible.

On Monday, Gen. Petraeus recommended reducing troop levels in Iraq, bringing home at least 3,500 by Christmas and about 30,000 by next summer. These cuts, which are deep and substantial, are a calculated effort by Gen. Petraeus to balance military and political realities, which are very different. As Gen. Petraeus said, “five Army brigade teams, a Marine expeditionary unit and two Marine battalions” are designated to be withdrawn from Iraq by July. These soldiers, he noted, “are the force, in fact, that have helped us substantially in achieving some of the recent gains [Americans] have fought so hard to achieve.” For this reason — the possibility that premature troop withdrawals of this magnitude could jeopardize hard-won gains in Iraq — we have reservations about any reductions in U.S. forces. But we understand that given the political realities in Washington, the Petraeus plan reflects a serious, good-faith effort to balance the need to keep troops in Iraq for years to come against other pressing national security needs.

By contrast, the effort by Republicans like Mr. Lugar and Sens. Lamar Alexander and John Warner and Democrats like Sens. Carl Levin, Ken Salazar and Jack Reed to come up with a “compromise” between the general’s efforts and a total withdrawal from Iraq are defeatist. For months, these lawmakers have been alternatively working together and competing with one another in putting forward bad idea after bad idea on Iraq — ranging from troop pullbacks that would dwarf those proposed by Gen. Petraeus to various takes on the Baker-Hamilton plan.

Their strategy is to pull American forces out of active combat operations as quickly as possible, while leaving behind a much smaller force (approximately 40,000 to 80,000 troops) to fight al Qaeda and to train and assist Iraqi security forces. According to Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, AEI recently conducted an exercise to determine whether such a low number of troops would be feasible. The exercise concluded that such a plan “simply could not be executed,” Mr. Kagan writes in the Weekly Standard. “The margin of failure wasn’t even close — adding 10,000 or even 20,000 soldiers to the… target wouldn’t make it work.”

The problem, as the Jones commission on Iraqi security forces pointed out last week, is that Iraqis are completely dependent on the American military for intelligence, logistics, communications and many other things. Mr. Kagan adds that “any rapid drawdown of American forces now would lead almost certainly to the immediate collapse of the Iraqi military… Achieving bipartisan support for a militarily infeasible ‘middle way’ would be simply another way of legislating defeat.” Yet that appears to be precisely what Mr. Lugar and many of his colleagues propose to do.

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