During a recent interview with the Financial Times, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that the United States should offer the Iraqis up to 13,000 troops to stay past the Dec. 31, 2011 total withdrawal deadline. As if to water down his proposal, McCain stressed that these forces would be “non-combat”:
McCAIN: The United States has got to come forth with our proposal as to what we think they need and then I believe that it’s very possible — and I emphasize possible — that the Iraqis could then decide unanimously that they want the residual U.S. presence, which would certainly be non-combat and would certainly be largely technical.
McCain also said that he’s not concerned about the cost of maintaining a large military presence abroad. FT’s Anna Fifield asked McCain if he thinks it’s “realistic” for the United States to be continuing and expanding its military presence abroad “in a time of such budgetary pressure.” “I do,” McCain said. Watch it:
Even though McCain doesn’t seem to be worried about the debt and deficit here at home, the United States could save up to $12 billion per year by responsibly scaling back its military presence in Europe and Asia and reducing the amount of active-duty troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to below 100,000.
But as we’ve seen over the past several months, a “non-combat” role for U.S. troops in Iraq doesn’t mean that U.S. troops won’t be engaging in combat with insurgents and extremists there. Blogger Spencer Ackerman recently called any suggestion that these U.S. forces won’t be engaging in combat past 2011 “bullshit“:
A prospective post-2011 residual force gets spun as an embassy-based force that’ll train Iraqis how to operate and maintain their American weaponry, or help keep diplomats safe. Bullshit. You can bet that the absolute last units to leave will [be the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula]. During his confirmation hearing last week, ex-JSOC/incoming SOCOM chief Adm. William McRaven forecasted his desire to keep them there. And since the new White House counterterrorism strategy boils down to “kill anyone anywhere with drones and commandos who we think might have so much as plus-one’d al-Qaeda,” Iraq can’t very well fall off that list. You can also bet that Panetta and McRaven don’t want to cede Iraq to Iranian influence, no matter how many times we have to be reminded that a democratic Iraq is going to be comfortable with Teheran.
No matter how much McCain and others dress up keeping U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011, they are most certainly going to be engaging in combat, which will of course mean more American casualties.