Obama adviser: Keep 80,000 troops in Iraq

Barack Obama’s adviser on Iraq has written a confidential paper arguing that the US needs to remain robustly engaged in Iraq in order to build on the successes of the past year. The New York Sun’s Eli Lake reports on the confidential paper by Colin Kahl, the coordinator for Obama’s advisory group on Iraq, which foresees the same kind of long-term presence that John McCain has advocated. It calls for a gradual reduction through 2010 to a baseline presence of as many as 80,000 American troops:

A key adviser to Senator Obama’s campaign is recommending in a confidential paper that America keep between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq as of late 2010, a plan at odds with the public pledge of the Illinois senator to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

The paper, obtained by The New York Sun, was written by Colin Kahl for the center-left Center for a New American Security. In “Stay on Success: A Policy of Conditional Engagement,” Mr. Kahl writes that through negotiations with the Iraqi government “the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000–80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground).”

Mr. Kahl is the day-to-day coordinator of the Obama campaign’s working group on Iraq. A shorter and less detailed version of this paper appeared on the center’s Web site as a policy brief.

Both Mr. Kahl and a senior Obama campaign adviser reached yesterday said the paper does not represent the campaign’s Iraq position. Nonetheless, the paper could provide clues as to the ultimate size of the residual American force the candidate has said would remain in Iraq after the withdrawal of combat brigades. The campaign has not publicly discussed the size of such a force in the past.

This has some difficult implications for Obama.  He has made a point of distorting McCain’s remarks about maintaining a strong presence in a post-war Iraq for regional stability.  Now — for the second time — a close adviser offers the exact same policy.

Obama can’t shrug off the statement as five years old, as he apparently did with Tony McPeak.  This analysis comes from contemporaneous review of the situation in Iraq, and it calls into question all of Obama’s assumptions on the issue.  Iraq apparently hasn’t been a total failure, as Obama and the Democrats argue.  Otherwise, Kahl wouldn’t argue that the force needs to remain to “Stay on Success”.

In fact, Kahl winds up arguing for the Bush and McCain policies.  He wants the US to negotiate a long-term strategic partnership with the elected Iraqi government.  Kahl argues for a gradual reduction of combat troops, with a force in Iraq that would assist the Iraqis in training and logistics for their own security operations.  That’s exactly what President Bush has tried to do this year, and what McCain supports.

Obama has two choices.  He can either get rid of Kahl and apologize to the anti-war activists that form his base, or he has to explain why Kahl isn’t calling for “100 years of war”.  In doing so, he will have to acknowledge that he has lied about McCain’s position for weeks and exposed his own ignorance of war, peace, and strategic long-term military planning. I suspect Kahl will find other work in the days ahead.