Sen. Obama Re-states His Plan for Iraq

I think that Sen. Obama’s op-ed in the New York Times this morning is pretty benign. I agree with Joe Klein’s take:

The reality here is that the troops are likely to come home with all deliberate speed, but that the exact timetable will depend on the sort of boring how-do-we-move-that-truck, and what’s-the-rotation-schedule logistics that exist well beyond the realm of actual strategic policy. People in the military familiar with the process tell me that we should be down to about 30,000 troops in four years.

The bullet-point version of the plan is:

 Sen. Obama plans to withdraw “combat brigades” from Iraq over the period of about 16 months. Cf. above.

 By my count that would leave something like 50,000 to 80,000 U. S. troops in Iraq.

 The remaining force would engage in some combat operations. Not sure how this would work out.

 There’s nothing in the op-ed about removing that force.

 At least 10,000 (possibly more) of those withdrawn from Iraq would be re-deployed to Afghanistan.

Juan Cole, as if for the first time, has noticed the same thing, i.e. that Sen. Obama does not plan a complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq and isn’t particularly pleased with it:

That suggestion is not plausible for several reasons. If there is only a small force in the country, who will rescue them if their helicopter gets shot down or they are ambushed and besieged? Then, how would a small American unit be any good against a terrorist organization operating in remote parts of Sunni Iraq? They don’t know Arabic, can’t hope for really good intelligence from locals, etc. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to let the Special Police Commandos of the Iraqi Interior Ministry take care of this sort of thing?

President Obama is extremely unlikely to withdraw completely from Iraq however well that would poll and however well it would play in some segments of his base. The reasons aren’t logistic, tactical, or strategic but political: he can’t afford the risk of things going seriously wrong in Iraq after he’s withdrawn our forces from the country. Better to take the heat for not withdrawing from Iraq than the heat for his policy taking things badly awry. He can always blame the former on the mess his predecessor left.

There’s one other odd thing about Sen. Obama’s plan. His domestic policy plan is based at least in part on funding from the proceeds from a withdrawal dividend. I think it’s pretty unlikely that he’s going to achieve 100% savings by withdrawing 65% of the troops and then moving something upwards of 10,000 of them to Afghanistan (where the costs of maintaining them are higher). Perhaps if he’s very careful no one will notice that he’s spending the same money several times.

14 comments… add one
  • Hi Dave,

    McCain’s budget, otoh, is based on winning the whole war on terror in his first term and then keeping up the occupation.

    Regards, C

  • If you’re looking for somebody to defend Sen. McCain’s economic policy, you’ve come to the wrong place, Cernig. But this post isn’t about John McCain, it’s a reaction to Barack Obama’s op-ed. I’d prefer that Sen. Obama make his figures add up but I’m realistic enough to recognize that it’s politically hard for him to justify do so.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I also note that the Professor of Zionist Studies says that “Afghanistan is far more unwinnable even than Iraq.”

  • Col. Pat Lang says the same thing, PD Shaw.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I meant that I thought it was interesting that Juan Cole is aligned with the total M.E. withdrawal position. I believe it’s more intellectually coherent than the more popular view that there is a good war and a bad war and good things will happen if we redirect our resources to the good war.

    Frankly, I doubt Obama will put substantially more manpower in Afghanistan.

  • Dr. Cole’s advice has been suspect on Iraq for quite a while. Unsurprisingly, he was opposed to the invasion (as was I). However, the position he staked out immediately following the invasion was that the U. S. should withdraw troops from the population centers and build bases in the outlying areas. That’s essentially what was done in the 2004-2006 period and it was a miserable failure—exactly the opposite of our COIN doctrine which, when we returned to it, was actually a pretty good plan.

    BTW I agree with him on Afghanistan. Given the present constraints I don’t see any way of achieving much there beyond denying Al Qaeda and the Taliban their base there.

  • Wake me up when he finishes “refning” his position. That should let me get a good several month’s sleep.

  • I do not see how you come to the conclusion that the U.S. of all combat brigades would still leave upwards of 80,000 troops. For the most part, those Combat Support and CSS units are tied to the war fighters, and when the latter go, so do the former. Even leaving in country capacity to help with logistics, your talking no more than 10,000 soldiers. Further, Obama has previously spelled out his plan for a QRF force. That would amount to about a combat brigade. I can assure you that if they are ever deployed in the Iraq Obama would leave behind, they would suffer enormous casualities. Either we are in this to the end or we need to fully leave. I have no desire to see American blood spilled for Obama’s partisan politics. I saw my fill of that with Mogadishu. If you recall the Powell Doctrine, it says that we should always bring overwhelming force to a fight. The scenario Obama would create would turn that doctrine on its head. If he believes that is a realistic military option, he truly is utterly clueless – as is his chief military advisor who came up with this piece of brilliant strategy. He is an AF general and I do not recall his name, but he clearly has no feel for ground combat whatsoever.

  • We’re proceeding from different assumption, GW. I’m assuming that Sen. Obama can be taken literally at his word; you’re proceeding from the assumption that his plan makes sense.

    I don’t conclude that upwards of 80,000 troops would be left but that 50,000 to 80,000 would be left. That’s just arithmetic, total number of troops less “combat brigades” equals 50,000 to 80,000. Additionally, Sen. Obama has said that the remaining troops would have the following missions: training, security for U. S. personnel and facilities, occasional combat missions, force protection. That would require a force of from 50,000 to 80,000.

    Basically, I don’t think that Sen. Obama’s plan is coherent.

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