The question isn’t whether withdrawal is going to hurt the military’s ability to secure Iraq. Everyone knows that it will, including Domenici, Lugar, Warner, Voinovich, and whichever other Republicans are set to abandon ship. The question, given the fact that the surge isn’t going to last forever, is whether the territory now being gained and the areas being secured can be held by a pre-surge number of troops once the surge is over or whether we’re destined to lose that territory the way we’ve lost it so many times before. If we are, then what will keeping a large force achieve? You can lose with 40,000 troops as easily as with 120,000.

Responding to a question from CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre in a video briefing, Iraq Commander Major General Rick Lynch said, “Those surge forces are giving us the capability we have now to take the fight to the enemy. And the enemy only responds to force and we now have that force. We can conduct detailed, kinetic strikes, we can do cordon and searches, and we can deny the enemy the sanctuaries. If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away, and the Iraqi security forces aren’t ready yet to do that. So now what you’re going to find, if you did that, is you’d find the enemy regaining ground, re-establishing the sanctuary, building more IEDs, carrying those IEDs in Baghdad and the violence would escalate. It’d be a mess.”

General Lynch said the extra forces are needed to “mature the situation” and allow them to turn areas over to Iraqi security forces so they can start withdrawing US troops, but “that’s not going to happen any time soon.”

Gen. Mixon, speaking specifically of Diyala, makes the same point:

Maintaining security in Diyala province north of Baghdad will be impossible if U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq, according to a U.S. senior ground commander there.

“We obviously cannot maintain that if the forces are withdrawn — and that would be a very, very bad idea, to do a significant withdrawal immediately,” Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, told CNN’s Jamie McIntyre on CNN.com Live…

“Now I have enough force to go in, establish permanent compound outposts throughout the city that will be manned by coalition forces, Iraqi army, and Iraqi police, and maintain a permanent presence.

“But all of this has been made possible with the additional forces that have been given to me as a result of the surge,” Mixon said…

“We would like to see things move along more quickly. However, a counterinsurgency operation is a long fight,” he said. “We’re going to have to develop a strategy in the near term to deal with the immediate threat, which I believe the surge has done.”

It sounds like they’re saying we need to sustain surge-level forces indefinitely, but even if we had the political will to do that we apparently don’t have the manpower. Exit question: What exactly are they asking for here?