Troop Cuts Shocker . . . Not So Shocking

The L.A. Times leads with a Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel story about a shocking rift between outgoing JCS Chairman and the Bush administration.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war.

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace 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. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond.

Petraeus is expected to support a White House view that the absence of widespread political progress in Iraq requires several more months of the U.S. troop buildup before force levels are decreased to their pre-buildup numbers sometime next year.

The drama! The conflict! The intrigue!

Well, actually, this isn’t particularly shocking. Indeed, pretty much everyone has been saying this for weeks now.

    Gates says troop drawdown possible (AP, Aug 5)

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates . . . declined to predict that a drawdown of U.S. military forces in such a scenario would happen by year’s end. He cited some progress in reducing violence locally in regions such as Anbar Province, a former base of al-Qaida’s activities in Iraq. “There is a possibility,” Gates hedged, when asked in broadcast interviews if he considered a troop drawdown this year a “good possibility” or would bet on it.

    Boozman says troop reduction likely after report (AP, Aug 15)

    Arkansas Congressman John Boozman (BOZE’-mun) says a report expected next month on the war in Iraq will likely result in a reduction of forces in the country — no matter what the report actually says.

    US Iraq Commanders Plan Troop Drawdown Next April (VOA, Aug 17)

    Speaking via satellite from Baghdad, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno said forces sent to Iraq as part of the surge will end their tours of duty starting in April, and the current plan is not to replace them. “The decision is, if we decide to backfill those units,” he explained. “Right now, our plan is not to backfill those units. But General Petraeus, as we continue to make assessments, will make that decision.”

    About one of the additional combat brigades will reach the end of its tour each month, which, along with support troops, would bring the U.S. troop total in Iraq down from the current level of 162,000 to about 132,000 by next August. “The surge, we know, as it is today, goes through April of ’08,” he said. “We believe at some time around that time we will begin to reduce our forces down to pre-surge level

    General to urge cut in troops (The Australian, Aug 17)

    THE US general overseeing President George W.Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq will recommend troop reductions by next northern summer, but has cautioned against a significant withdrawal. General David Petraeus, in comments that appeared to lay the ground for his pivotal report to the US Congress due next month, yesterday said the US footprint in Iraq would have to be “a good bit smaller by next summer”. But he also signalled the surge would continue into next year, and gave warning against a quick or hefty withdrawal that could surrender “the gains we have fought so hard to achieve”.

    White House to Offer Iraq Plan of Gradual Cuts (NYT, Aug 18)

    The White House plans to use a report next month assessing progress in Iraq to outline a plan for gradual troop reductions beginning next year that would fall far short of the drawdown demanded by Congressional opponents of the war, according to administration and military officials.

    Bush May Reduce Troops, But Gradually (ABC News, Aug 18)

    The Bush administration is expected to call for a gradual reduction of American troop levels in Iraq beginning next year, a move that falls short of the demands of critics in Congress seeking a major troop withdrawal.

    U.S. could cut troop levels in Iraq next April (People’s Daily Online [China], Aug 18)

    The United States will start cutting troop levels in Iraq next April, if the security situation there continues to improve, a senior U.S. general in Iraq said on Friday.

As the name implies, the Surge was always intended to be a short term spike in forces. Pretty much every knowledgeable observer has said that the current levels are not sustainable for very long. Now, it may be that Gates’ proposal would cut troop strength somewhat further than has previously been announced but, really, it’s just haggling over numbers.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum and Steve Benen think this is a bigger deal than I’m making out, noting that the size of the proposed cuts is significantly larger than simply rolling back to pre-Surge levels.

That’s true, presuming the numbers reported by LAT are 1) accurate and 2) not merely a bargaining position aimed at getting to the numbers they really want. Further, it’s interesting that JCS is pushing back, especially since Pace has a reputation as a Yes man. Then again, there’s a CYA/worst case institutional mindset there that goes back since literally its creation.

Ultimately, though, to the extent President Bush is going to heed the advice of the military brass, he’s likely to pay attention to Petraeus and others in theater. Remember, the JCS is a bureaucratic planning institution, not part of the operational chain.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Iraq War, Media, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jim Henley says:

    Talk of gradual troop drawdowns to about 100,000 soldiers beginning sometime next year? Must be August!

    Late summer traditions make me wistful.

  2. […] officials and other military commanders over the course of the war. Actually, no.   As James Joyner points out this morning and this is hardly a major disagreement, since pretty much everyone has […]

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  5. legion says:

    Indeed, Jim. Funny, I seem to recall Bush going on at great length just about this time last year about how he was going to consult with his generals in September and then do, as he’s claimed all along, what the military folks say ought to be done, and give them what they say they need. And just like every time he’s said that in the past, it was an unrepentant lie – Bush did what Cheney told him to, ignored the advice of the JCS, and searched high & low for someone willing to be the ‘face’ of this ‘new’ policy, and continued on the same doomed course of trying to use military power to achieve political stability.

  6. Randy says:

    See you this time next year, having the same conversation. I’ll do my best not to say “I told you so”.

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  8. Philadelphia Steve says:

    Except for one thing.

    George W. Bush will never draw down the troop levels, beyond some token returns, no matter what it does to the American military.

    That is because President Bush, along with everyone else, knows that the Iraqi government cannot last a day without the US military propping it up, and the Iraqi security forces are virtually all in the camp of one or another militia.

    Therfore President Bush will continue to Run Out the Clock to January 2009, singing, “We’re on the road to Victory” all the way.

    Sorry about all those hundreds (thousands?) of additional people who will die in the mean time so Bush does not have to admit his failure.

    But then, what are a few thousand lives when the ego of a President is involved?

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  14. legion says:

    And in another curious piece of timing, MG Lynch, head of MND-Center, described any sort of cutback of the ‘surge’, let alone additional reductions in troop levels, as a “giant step backward.” He was specifically addressing a question about Sen Warner’s proposal to start withdrawals by Xmas, but the timing makes it look like a huge shot at Pace & the JCS also. I suspect Lynch will have some fast talking to do the next time he’s in a conference with the JCS folk…

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  18. Robert says:

    Of course troop numbers will be cut next year.
    There isn’t enough troops to continue at this pace next year.

    Of course, we could send some imaginary troops.
    After all, the war was “ginned up” using imaginary WMDs.