An ABC News report this morning raised two questions about the feasibility of a sixteen-month withdrawal from Iraq: “Is it possible to get all those troops and equipment out of there that fast? And if you could, what would happen after they left?” Watch it:
In regard to the first question, last September the Center for American Progress released How to Redeploy (pdf), a report authored by Lawrence Korb and others detailing a 12-month time-frame for redeployment from Iraq. The report shows that “it is possible to conduct an orderly and relatively complete redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in roughly a year” :
Using all elements of U.S. military power, focused on our land forces’ proficiencies — maneuver warfare and logistics — we believe that our military can accomplish such a task.
One of the reasons the authors believe this sort of redeployment is possible is that it has been done before:
The Pentagon was able to organize the rotation of nearly 235,000 soldiers and their accompanying equipment in the spring of 2004 in and out of Iraq as the forces who led the invasion reached the end of their one-year deployments.[...]
During [a 10 to 12 month] timeframe, the military will not replace outgoing troops as they rotate home at the end of their tours and will draw down force and equipment levels gradually, at a pace similar to previous rotations conducted by our military over the past four years. According to a U.S. military official in Baghdad involved in planning, a withdrawal could take place safely in this time period.
Withdrawing at this rate would force some choices about what equipment to take and leave. The report states that the U.S. “clearly wants to remove all equipment of value or sensitive nature from Iraq as it withdraws, but it does not need to remove every nut and bolt belonging to the U.S. government.”
A 12-month timeframe should be sufficient to remove most heavy or sensitive assets from Iraq while leaving behind non-essential equipment and supplies.
As to Raddatz’s second question, she doesn’t really attempt to answer it. The strong consensus from the soldiers she interviewed is that they want to “finish the mission,” and while this is of course commendable, there are some additional facts that should be considered.
The first is that, while the continued American deployment in Iraq may have shown benefits in mitigating some of the more disastrous consequences of the Iraq invasion, it continues to exact a heavy price for overall U.S. national security, most significantly for the fight against Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
In remarks on July 2, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, alluded to these costs:
Let me also say just a word about Afghanistan. I am and have been for some time now deeply troubled by the increasing violence there. The Taliban and their supporters have, without question, grown more effective and more aggressive in recent weeks and as the casualty figures clearly demonstrate.[...]
I’ve made no secret of my desire to flow more forces, U.S. forces, to Afghanistan just as soon as I can, nor have I been shy about saying that those forces will not be available unless or until the situation in Iraq permits us to do so.
Another fact to consider is that there is no military solution to the political problems that persist among Iraq’s leaders. If Iraqi politicians don’t have the proper incentives to come to a political accommodation — and the open-ended American military commitment that both Bush and McCain advocate does nothing to provide those incentives, in fact it does the the opposite — it really doesn’t matter whether American troops are there for one more year, or a hundred more years, as John McCain would like.
Finally, while it’s certainly advisable to listen to what military leaders have to say about Iraq — something Bush, Rumsfeld, and McCain failed to do when they supported a vastly under-manned “war on the cheap” approach to the Iraq invasion — the Iraqi people and their elected leaders have made it abundantly clear that they want a U.S. commitment to a timeline for withdrawal from their country. This is the “fact on the ground” that McCain and other war supporters have consistently ignored.