Consider it a sneak preview of his testimony next week, noting especially his criticism of the pace of political progress on page two. The money line comes early — “We are, in short, a long way from the goal line, but we do have the ball and we are driving down the field” — but the one resounding false note isn’t sounded until the last paragraph of the first page, when he mentions how, “with growing Government of Iraq support,” the Sunni tribesmen in Anbar are being integrated Iraqi national security forces. If that’s true, it’s only because Maliki and the Shiites are being dragged to it kicking and screaming.
As expected, his inevitable recommendation to withdraw the surge brigades will propose a modest start, with the removal of 4,000 troops or so in January to throw the anti-war crowd a bone. It won’t get going in earnest until March or April, and even then there’s wiggle room:
Many U.S. officials expect the U.S. presence in Iraq to shrink to about 130,000 troops by next August; in effect, Petraeus is signaling it could be done a little faster, though not as fast as some in the Pentagon might want.
“The debate now is, do we want to be at 12 brigades in August or 15?” one administration official said recently.
Gen. Jack Keane, who’s been wrong before about Iraq, estimates that no fewer than 30,000 Sunni insurgents have flipped to the U.S. side to offset the withdrawing troops. The Dems are back on their heels and today’s Osama tape won’t make things easier on them, although I continue to think that Schumer’s getting a slightly bad rap for what he said yesterday, Lieberman’s outrage to the contrary notwithstanding.
Exit question: Is there really such a thing as the “Petraeus report”?