As the deadline for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq draws nearer (the end of this year), neocons are starting to get a little nervous. Earlier this month, Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley said that it would be a “tragedy” to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq and the pro-Iraq war Washington Post editorial page wrote that the U.S. should try to find a way to “get around” the Status of Forces Agreement President Bush signed in 2008 mandating a U.S. withdrawl by the end of 2011.
But then, Defense Secretary Robert Gates subsequently said on his farewell trip to Iraq that the U.S. is willing to stay there a bit longer if the Iraqis so desire. Gates’s dog whistle brought some neocons out of the woodwork, who are now warning about the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal and calling for tens of thousands of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely:
FRED & KIM KAGAN: Nothing requires us to keep massive numbers of American troops in Iraq. Twenty thousand soldiers would be enough for the next several years.That number is smaller than the American military presence in Korea, Japan, and Germany. Nor would those forces be engaged in combat. The 50,000-odd U.S. troops in Iraq today are occupied primarily with peacekeeping, training, supporting the Iraqi Security Forces, and counterterrorism. These are missions Americans would continue to undertake in 2012 and beyond.
MAX BOOT: We don’t need to keep 50,000 troops there, but a continuing presence of 20,000 military personnel, as argued by military analysts Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, would seem to be the minimum necessary to ensure Iraq’s continued progress.
And the neocons seem to have some support in Congress. House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said he hopes the Iraqis ask for U.S. troops to say. Watch it:
One important factor the likes of Boot and the Kagans appear to be leaving out is what the Iraqis think. In fact, Kim and Fred Kagan even said as much, “The ball is not in Maliki’s court,” they said, “It is in Obama’s court.” But ultimately it is up to Iraq as to whether American troops have any continued presence after 2011. Is there any evidence they will allow 20,000 U.S. troops to stay in Iraq indefinitely? Unlikely — Gates announced last November that the U.S would stay past 2011 and even since then, from what Gates said this month, the Iraqis have remained mute.
Moreover, as the Washington Post noted today, Iraqi domestic politics will probably stand in the way of any U.S. troop extension:
Since Gates’s visit, [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki has faced renewed pressure from Iranian-backed Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr not to negotiate an extension. Sadr has threatened that his Mahdi Army, which contributed heavily to the bloodiest days of the Iraq war, could be reenergized if U.S. troops don’t leave as planned.
And while it’s unclear what Iraqi officials are saying in private, in public, they seem to understand the unpopularity among Iraqis of U.S. troops staying past the withdrawal deadline. “I think the agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq ends at the end of 2011,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Radio Free Europe recently, who added, “And there are no plans to extend that agreement or to postpone the withdrawal.”
Boot doubles down in a column today on the Commentary website. “Yesterday I wrote about the desirability of keeping troops for years to come in Iraq. All the same arguments apply to Afghanistan.”