Drudge has the siren up. Why? Petraeus has to recommend a drawdown. The only alternatives are (a) further extending the troops’ already extended 15-month tours, (b) calling up a the Reserves, a measure usually confined to national emergencies, and (c) instituting the draft. As Fred Kaplan said last week at Slate, “Sorry, Mr. President, you’re all out of troops.” Once their tours end in the spring, the surge brigades will rotate out and we’ll be back to the pre-surge level of 130,000; the only mystery is whether there’ll be further drawdowns beyond that.
In fairness to ABC, there is a small nugget of news here — namely, that the surge drawdown may begin a few months ahead of schedule:
While he would not get specific about the recommendations that he gave to President Bush during a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday, when Raddatz asked if March would be the time for a drawdown to avoid further strain on the military and even longer deployments, he answered by saying, “Your calculations are about right.”
A military official told ABC News that a small drawdown could begin as soon as December, with further reductions every 45 days until the troop numbers are once again down to 130,000 from the current 164,000 troops…
As for the duration, U.S. troops will remain in Iraq. The top commander said he sees this as a “traditional counterinsurgency,” which would typically last a decade…
“Iraq will be dealing with a variety of issues for quite some time, without question. What everyone needs to figure out is how much will we need to contribute, and I think the answer is, less.”
Anbar has improved enough that they can probably afford to rotate out some troops from there early; doing it in December instead of the spring would be Bush’s way of throwing the left (and jittery Republicans) a bone by giving them sort of withdrawal to focus on while the security plan goes forward. Starting early would also let them withdraw more gradually so that the loss of the departing brigades isn’t as much of a shock as it would be if it started in the spring. Which way is Petraeus leaning? Towards spring, it sounds like:
“As you know, Sen. John Warner … after a visit to Iraq, said some troops must come home by Christmas. Do you agree with that?” asked Couric.
“Wait and see when I offer my recommendations to Congress,” Petraeus replied. “The surge has to run its course. There’s no question about that. The question is how can you make adjustments to the force to bring the force levels down and retain what we have fought so hard to achieve?”
In the meantime, keep your eye on this. It probably won’t amount to much, but it sounds like it was organized without significant U.S. input and the timing is fortuitous insofar as it gives Petraeus something concrete to point to next week as an example of national reconciliation. Quote: “‘There was across-the-board unanimity for the occupation of Iraq to end,’ O’Malley said. ‘That was tempered by the realization that if all coalition troops left tomorrow morning there would be a power vacuum that probably would result in a bloodbath.'”
Update: Another reason Petraeus is leaning towards spring is because they’re not sure yet what Gordon Brown’s going to do in Basra. If the Brits pull out, the U.S. might have to pull in, which would be a double nightmare: not only spreading the dwindling troops around Baghdad even thinner but somehow having to secure a city in Basra that’s already on its way to being a Mad Max set piece.
Update: Gateway Pundit relays a report from Voice of Iraq that the government is now considering permanent U.S. bases. That cuts against every bit of popular sentiment I’ve heard of, from Sadr all the way up to stalwart American friends like Jalal Talabani. They all want America out; some of them just want us to wait a few years until things calm down before we go.