Notes from West Point

A reader — an Army Reserve colonel who has served two tours in Iraq — has kindly sent us this timely report from West Point:

I was at West Point this past week where I attended a speech on 10 November by SEN Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate and former Army paratrooper. His topic was foreign policy. As he is one of the more rational Democrats on defense policy, my hopes were high. Unfortunately, SEN Reed’s comments and suggestions were a mishmash of self-contradictions: 1) re-emphasize nuclear counterproliferation, which was harmed by the (counterproliferation) operations in Iraq; 2) stop being so unilateral, but eschew the multilateral approach with North Korea and Iran in favor of direct talks; 3) the US is overstretched right now, but should do more in Darfur. On Iraq itself, the Senator offered nothing.
What do I think is most likely for the Democrats to offer on Iraq? Rhetorical flourishes more than anything else. To calm the far Left, Senators Levin and Reid are already talking about “phased redeployment,” which can be interpreted as “retreat” or “withdrawal” by the Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan wing of the Party. Equally, to the more rational and the more Blue Dog, it can be interpreted to mean simply adopting what the US military itself is advocating. How so? Generals Abizaid and Casey have been pursuing a consistent plan for the past two years that centers on 1) recruiting, training, and equipping the Iraqi Army; 2) recruiting, training, and equipping the Iraqi Police forces; 3) putting Iraqi units increasingly into the front lines of operations; 4) as Iraqi units develop, turning over primary control of provinces to them, with Coalition forces first operating jointly (called “tactical overwatch”), then operating in a support role (encompassing supply, transport, medical, air operations, and quick reaction forces), called “operational overwatch.”
As the Coalition proceeds from tactical to operational overwatch, the number of US forces begins to fall. Abizaid and Casey have been quite flexible in their approach, based on conditions. In February 2004, US forces were at 115,000. By October 2005, this had risen to 160,000, a 39% increase that went unnoticed, even though in the 2004 campaign, the Democrat battlecry seemed to be that we didn’t have enough troops in Iraq. By mid this year, the total was down to about 127,000, and has recently risen to 140,000. What is the real chance that the Democrats in Congress will force the President to take away this flexibility from the generals? Not much. Indeed, it is far more likely that the Democrats will embrace the Abizaid-Casey Plan, of which most Americans are ignorant, and proclaim the plan to be major change. They might dress it up with a Timetable, but one that will almost certainly be flexible. Remember, the Democrats under Clinton were adamant that timetables not be required for their ventures in Bosnia and Kosovo (still on-going), so expect windowdressing rather than real substantive change.
The question, then, is whether the Republicans fight back or acquiesce to being painted as failures.

Our correspondent’s report does not consider the impact of the forthcoming Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group recommendations, but it bears on the issues the ISG will be addressing.


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