Monday, December 4, 2006

White House: Significant changes but no significant shifts to U.S. Iraq policy

Why Military Calls to Raise Iraq Effort Grow
Rumsfeld Exit Revives Push to Boost Troops,
Money in One Last Effort to Stabilize Baghdad
December 4, 2006; Page A4

WASHINGTON -- As demands mount to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, a growing number of senior military officials are arguing that the only way to salvage the situation is to add more U.S. forces and more U.S. money.

Outside the military, most of the debate is focused on a U.S. troop withdrawal. But inside the Pentagon, the recent dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has given some new life to arguments by military officers who say the U.S. must pour more troops and money into the country to expand the Iraqi army -- the one institution in Iraq that has shown some promise -- and stabilize the capital.

Right now there are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Though there are no firm plans for an increase, some military officials said that as many as 30,000 more troops could be needed. Most of the U.S. troops would be focused on patrolling Baghdad and training the Iraqi Army.

During his tenure Mr. Rumsfeld largely rejected calls for sending in more Americans, countering that Iraqis should take on more security responsibility faster. He was backed in his approach by Gen. John Abizaid, the senior military commander in the Middle East, and Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq. The two generals have argued publicly that the U.S. goal must be to bolster Iraqi Army forces as quickly as feasible.

It isn't clear how much longer the two commanders -- both of whom have served long, grueling tours -- will stay in their jobs. Even before Mr. Rumsfeld's dismissal, the Bush administration was laying plans to replace them as early as this summer. The job of selecting their successors will now fall to Robert Gates, Mr. Bush's nominee to run the Pentagon, who could choose his own team or extend current tours. How hard new commanders might be willing to press to redouble the U.S. commitment in Iraq could have a major effect on U.S. policy going forward.

Even with new leadership in the Pentagon and Iraq, big barriers remain to boosting the size of the U.S. force. Any move to do so will draw the ire of the new Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill. Multiple reviews of U.S. policy in Iraq also seem poised to recommend that the U.S. start to disengage from Iraq.


See continuing coverage of developments in Iraq, including an interactive map of day-to-day events in Iraq. Plus, see a tally of military deaths.The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, is likely to recommend in a report later this week a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops. President Bush has asked for his own internal review, led by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who has suggested that a focus of the administration going forward will be building up Iraqi troops.

Senior military officials seeking to make one last push to stabilize Baghdad might find a receptive ear with President Bush.

The President used a joint appearance last week with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to signal that his administration wasn't planning troop reductions any time soon. Senior White House officials say Mr. Bush is open to the idea of a drive to stabilize the country by temporarily increasing the number of U.S. forces there. These officials say Mr. Bush has paid a political price for the war and now has a brief window of time before the 2008 election cycle intensifies to change conditions on the ground there. The officials say Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster was misinterpreted as a sign that a significant shift is coming.

"We have not failed in Iraq," said Stephen Hadley, Mr. Bush's National Security Adviser, on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday. "We will fail in Iraq if we pull out our troops before we're in a position to help the Iraqis succeed."

The push among the uniformed military to do more in Iraq is being driven, in part, by a small study group working for Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The group's work, which is classified, lays out several options for Iraq. But it seems to favor a temporary increase in U.S. forces as part of a broader effort to build the Iraqi Army, says an officer familiar with its work.

The officers' recommendations largely run counter to Mr. Rumsfeld's own ideas, which were revealed in a leaked memorandum written by Mr. Rumsfeld in early November and published yesterday by the New York Times. In the memo Mr. Rumsfeld suggests a pulling back of U.S. forces to bigger bases and possible withdrawals of U.S. troops "so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Most military officers, however, seem to believe that a pullback of U.S. forces would only trigger more violence and make political compromise in the country impossible. These officers argue that 20,000 U.S. troops are needed to bring order to Baghdad. Another 10,000 U.S. soldiers would also be needed to work as advisers with the Iraqi Army, which currently numbers about 134,000 troops and might need to double in size.

Military officials who advocate such an approach warn that it could take years and hundreds of billions of dollars. But many of these officers bristle at the idea that it is too hard or impossible.

"The notion that we can't provide protection for people in one of the capital cities of this world [Baghdad] is just rubbish," says retired Gen. Jack Keane, who has made trips to Iraq to meet with commanders and provide recommendations to senior military officials. Gen. Keane, who advocates sending more U.S. forces into Baghdad neighborhoods and bolstering the Iraq Army, says he is speaking for himself.

Active duty Army officers have also stepped forward publicly in recent days to call for a redoubling of the U.S. commitment in Iraq. Col. Bill Hix, who spent 13 months in Iraq as the chief strategist for Gen. George Casey, wrote last week in Stanford University's Hoover Digest that more money is needed in the country for reconstruction. At the same time he suggested that it would be a mistake to pull out U.S. troops. "Iraq is simply in no position to progress politically or economically without assistance," wrote Col. Hix, who is now a strategist in the Pentagon. He suggests finding $20 billion to revive the anemic and largely ineffective U.S.-led reconstruction effort.

Even backers of an increase in troops acknowledge the plan carries risks that President Bush and Mr. Gates will have to weigh. One worry is that the increase will break an already strained Army and Marine Corps at a time when they might be needed to address other problems in the world. To find the additional troops, the Pentagon likely would have to extend some units' tours in Iraq beyond a year. The Army, which is also short equipment for units, would have to pool equipment from many units back in the U.S. to prepare a few to deploy.

Write to Greg Jaffe at and Yochi J. Dreazen at

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