What they’re describing sounds too involved to be pro forma contingency planning but Petraeus and his team can’t seriously believe they’ll have a chance to put it into action with Republicans already itching for September to roll around so they can abandon ship. Mitch McConnell has all but promised to push Baker-Hamilton when it does, and once he heads for the lifeboats he’ll take plenty of others with him. So either they’re leaking this now for political leverage, to make it harder for Congress to withdraw as many troops as it would like after Petraeus’s progress report (“but there’s already a plan in place!”) or it’s an insurance policy to which Bush can point after they pull the plug to claim that Congress abandoned the mission before the new strategy had a chance to work (“but there was a plan in place!”).
Whatever the truth is, Baker-Hamilton is not a security plan so between that and this, something’s got to give.
The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document…
That new approach put a premium on protecting the Iraqi population in Baghdad, on the theory that improved security would provide Iraqi political leaders with the breathing space they needed to try political reconciliation.
The latest plan does not explicitly address troop levels or withdrawal schedules. It anticipates a decline in American forces as the “surge” in troops runs its course later this year or in early 2008. But it nonetheless assumes continued American involvement to train soldiers, act as partners with Iraqi forces and fight terrorist groups in Iraq, American officials said.
That last part describes the basic tenets of B-H, which makes me think that what this really is is a deal they’re offering Congress: let us continue the surge until next summer and then Baker-Hamilton goes into effect, replete with the obligatory drawdown of combat troops and shift to an advisory posture. Reid won’t go for that and McConnell probably won’t either, but unlike Reid McConnell’s got to walk a line between his hawkish base and centrist Republicans who are tired of the war. Maybe Bush figures this is the way to exploit that divide — offer Senate Republicans a timetable for (partial) withdrawal in exchange for 12 more months of support. To wit:
The plan envisions two phases. The “near-term” goal is to achieve “localized security” in Baghdad and other areas no later than June 2008. It envisions encouraging political accommodations at the local level, including with former insurgents, while pressing Iraq’s leaders to make headway on their program of national reconciliation.
The “intermediate” goal is to stitch together such local arrangements to establish a broader sense of security on a nationwide basis no later than June 2009…
The hope is that sufficient progress might be made at the local level to encourage accommodation at the national level, and vice versa. The plan also calls for efforts to encourage the rule of law, such as the establishment of secure zones in Baghdad and other cities to promote criminal trials and process detainee cases.
I.e., secure Baghdad and then try to recreate the Anbar awakening in the rest of the country at the ground level, the way they’re doing now in Diyala with that Sunni/Shia tribal agreement. The problem is, if the GOP gambles on it and the plan fails — and see the last paragraph of the piece for the prospects of that — then they’re left holding the bag next June, five months before the election and staring at an unholy recriminatory landslide. McCain may be willing to risk that but no one else will be. No one who’s up for reelection, in any case.