Today on ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos challenged President Bush’s assertion that the troop drawdown is because of “success” in Iraq. He asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “Wasn’t the drawdown a matter of military necessity?”
Gates insisted that the military was not broken, noting the large size of the armed forces: “After all, we’ve got 2.1 million men and women in the United States armed forces. If the circumstances required it, other choices could have been made.”
Stephanopoulos continued to push Gates, asking, “So if General Petraeus comes back in March and says we’re making some progress, but we can’t continue to draw down right now, where would the troops come from?” Gates tried to back away from answering a “hypothetical,” but eventually conceded that they would potentially have to deploy more National Guard and Reserve forces. Watch it:
The United States may have “2.1 million men and women” in the armed forces, but 1.6 million of them have already served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Approximately 525,000 troops have served more than once. Additionally, all “38 of the Army’s available combat units are deployed, have or are just returning or are already scheduled to deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere – leaving the U.S. without any available combat-ready units.”
Despite Gates’s claims, several current and former Bush administration officials have publicly warned for several months that current troop levels could not be sustained past the summer:
Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace: Pace “is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half” and “is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military.” [8/24/07]
Army Chief of Staff George Casey: “Right now we have in place deployment and mobilization policies that allow us to meet the current demands. If the demands don’t go down over time, it will become increasingly difficult for us to provide the trained and ready forces.” [8/20/07]
Commanding General Odierno: “We know that the surge of forces will come at least through April at the latest, April of ‘08, and then we’ll have to start to reduce…we know that they will start to reduce in April of ‘08 at the latest.” [8/26/07]
Army Secretary Peter Geren:“[T]he service’s top official, recently said he sees ‘no possibility’ of extending the duty tours of US troops beyond 15 months.” [8/30/07]
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell: “[T]hey probably can’t keep this up at this level past the middle of next year, I would guess. This is a tremendous burden on our troops.” [7/18/07]
Gates’s suggestion that the National Guard and Reserve could be further called upon is also unrealistic. The nation’s governors have confirmed that the Iraq war is straining their states’ abilities to respond to national emergencies. According to a recent report by a congressional commission, nearly “90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated ‘not ready,” largely “as a result of shortfalls in billions of dollars’ worth of equipment.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: Democrats have also been making the point all week long that this drawdown was much more a function of stress on the military than political success and any kind of political and military success in Iraq.
Here’s what Senator Clinton had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: Since troop levels in Iraq must decrease by this amount in order to avoid extending Army deployments beyond 15 months and straining our military even further, taking credit for this troop reduction is like taking credit for the sun coming up in the morning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Wasn’t the drawdown a matter of military necessity?
GATES: No. I think the way that General Pace and others have described it, other military leaders have described it, is resource informed but not resource driven. After all, we’ve got 2.1 million men and women in the United States armed forces. If the circumstances required it, other choices could have been made.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But hasn’t General Casey, the Army chief of staff, said he wouldn’t even consider extending the tours beyond 15 months, which is pretty much the only way beyond calling in the National Guard that you could get the forces there, isn’t it?
GATES: Well, that’s one alternative, but there are other ways in which you can manage the force that could allow you to sustain that force.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So if General Petraeus comes back in March and says we’re making some progress, but we can’t continue to draw down right now, where would the troops come from?
GATES: Well, I don’t want to get into that kind of a hypothetical. Obviously, his expectation is that he will be able to continue the progress that we’ve seen on the ground in Anbar and around Baghdad, and so he’s anticipating that he’ll be able to follow through on what the president announced.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you’re saying alternatives are on the table, so does that indicate a willingness to extend tours, if necessary?
GATES: We do not want to extend tours. There’s no question about that. And we would look at alternatives other than extending tours. But I think that no one believes right now that that’s going to prove necessary.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, Democrats and some Republicans in Congress want to pretty much mandate that, that the tours cannot be extended. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia wants to pass a bill that would say that troops must spend as much time at home as their previous tour in Iraq. And it appears that they’re getting close to the 60 votes they need to pass the Senate.
Would you recommend a veto of that bill?
GATES: Yes, I would.
GATES: Because it would be extremely difficult for us to manage that. It really is a back-door way to try and force the president to accelerate the drawdowns. Again, the drawdowns have to be based on the conditions on the ground. We have to leave Iraq in a much more stable place than it has been over the last two or three years.
So the alternative to accelerating the drawdowns is to take a number of steps in terms of managing the force that actually involve some of the things that I was just alluding to, potentially using more Guard and Reserve. Extensions are a possibility if we were to have to comply with a law like that, that gave us no flexibility.