Spencer Ackerman, among others, has posted the details on President Obama’s announcement today of his planned timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
This morning’s New York Times, though, had an ominous background description of the plan, attributed to “administration officials”:
The plan would maintain relatively high troop levels through Iraq’s parliamentary elections, to be held in December, before beginning in earnest to meet the August 2010 target for removing combat forces, the officials said.
. . . The withdrawal would start slowly, with 2 of the 14 American combat brigades now in Iraq pulling out before the December elections, officials said. After the transition to a new government, the withdrawal would accelerate early next year.
“The commanders are concerned about maximizing their numbers on the ground for as long as possible, at least until we get to the other side of the elections,” another senior official said.
Marc Lynch (neé Abu Aardvark) explains the problem with this plan:
Iraq’s Parliamentary elections have not yet been scheduled and don’t even have an electoral law, and according to a number of senior Iraqi politicians probably will not be held until March 2010 (not December 2009). That would then give the U.S. about five months to withdraw the bulk of the dozen combat brigades which would reportedly remain. And then, keep in mind that U.S. officials generally agree (correctly) that the most dangerous period of elections is actually in their aftermath, when disgruntled losers might turn to violence or other destabilizing measures. So the following month will likely not seem a good time either. So that would leave four months to move, what — 9 brigades? Did someone say precipitous? Good luck with that.
I’ve never been too worked up over debates about the size of a “residual force” after the U.S. withdraws the bulk of its troops from Iraq — in my view, that’s the last 25-30% of a process that will take on a logic of its own once it has begun. The important thing has been to begin the process.
For that exact reason, I’m worried now. As Lynch notes, this slow-starting withdrawal plan originated among folks (in the military and elsewhere) who were perfectly comfortable with not withdrawing from Iraq at all.
President Obama may think that he’s worked a compromise that has gotten those skeptics/opponents to buy into accepting a withdrawal. But when I see that John McCain is “cautiously optimistic” about Obama’s plan, I fear that they think they’ve lured him into a trap. Which means that someone is in for an unpleasant surprise.
(Cross-posted at Firedoglake.)