Back in the fall of 2005, the Center for American Progress released a report called Strategic Redeployment, authored by Larry Korb and Brian Katulis. It argued for the redeployment of 80,000 troops from Iraq in 2006 to Afghanistan and other US bases in the Middle East and around the world. They then called for the rest of US combat forces to be withdrawn in 2007. The report concluded that:
By the end of 2007, the only US military forces in Iraq would be a small Marine contingent to protect the US embassy, a small group of military advisors to the Iraqi Government, and counterterrorist units that works closely with Iraqi security forces.
This report essentially laid a two-year timeline and while that timeline would shift up by a year in future documents, the central premise of the argument was that the US should set a date certain to prompt Iraqis to take control of their security and should withdraw its forces deliberately but responsibly in that period. It was the first Washington think tank report calling for withdrawal based on a fixed timeline.
Last year, Laura Rozen in March 2009 Laura Rozen wrote a piece for the Cable asking “Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan: who won the think tank wars?” Rozen concluded that the centrist Center for New American Security, which came on the scene in Washington in 2007, had won the debate largely because they were getting jobs in the Gates Pentagon.
But the CNAS approach was essentially an effort to find a centrist withdrawal strategy. As a result, CNAS advocated a more watered down, or “responsible” version of CAP’s plan with an extended timeline for withdrawal, leaving a very sizeable remaining force. In March of 2008 they released a policy brief titled the “case for conditional engagement,” which held that:
A policy of conditional engagement — a nuanced middle position between “all in” or “all out” — offers a better chance of producing lasting progress in Iraq. Under this strategy, U.S. negotiators would make clear that Iraq and America share a common interest in achieving sustainable stability in Iraq, and that the United States is willing to help support the Iraqi government over the long-term, but only so long as Iraqis move toward political accommodation.
One could argue that the Administration’s plan did include an aspect emphasized in CNAS’s plan to leave behind a large amount of advisors and trainers. But overall the CNAS plan has little resemblance to the plan put forth by Obama on the campaign and the plan that his administration implemented. There is little doubt that the Obama plan to set a date certain and to withdraw more than 120,000 troops in 16 months was essentially what CAP had been arguing for since the fall of 2005. In other words, Obama went with the progressive plan on Iraq.
If one was listening to conservatives over the last half decade, this should have led to disaster. Yet chaos didn’t ensue. The world did not end. Arguments that the enemy would just “wait us out” or would be “emboldened” didn’t materialize. The only thing emboldened have been Iraq’s own security forces.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media have yawned at this achievement and have largely bought the false conservative claim that this is because of the surge. But one should remember that if conservatives were in charge and John McCain had won the presidency the explicit plan was not to withdrawal troops. There was no conservative withdrawal plan. Instead of having just over 40,000 troops, there would almost assuredly be well over 100,000 troops still in Iraq. The reason there are just over 40,000 troops, is not because of the surge, it is because Obama decided to withdraw more than 100,000 troops.