Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama Seeks Accord With Military on Iraq

As President Obama moves to redefine the nation’s mission in Iraq, he faces a difficult choice: Is he willing to abandon a campaign promise or risk a rupture with the military? Or can he finesse the difference?

This will not be as easy as making a campaign promise.

Since taking office last week, Mr. Obama has recommitted to ending the war in Iraq but not to his specific campaign pledge to pull out roughly one combat brigade a month for the first 16 months of his presidency. His top commander in Iraq has proposed a slower start to the withdrawal, warning of the dangers of drawing down too quickly.

Well, it is not simply a military decision, and the Commander-in-Chief makes the final decision.

“We’re no longer involved in a debate about whether, but how and when,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said about a withdrawal from Iraq. “That’s a process the president wants to take seriously.”

Key words: whether, how and when.

Among those consulted by the president was Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, who has developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama’s campaign timetable, by pulling out two brigades over the next six months. In an interview in Iraq on Wednesday, General Odierno suggested that it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly.

“I believe that if we can get through the next year peacefully, with incidents about what they are today or better, I think we’re getting close to enduring stability, which enables us to really reduce,” General Odierno said as he inspected a polling center south of Baghdad in advance of provincial elections on Saturday.

General Odierno said the period between this weekend’s elections and the national elections to be held about a year from now would be critical to determining the future of Iraq. While some American forces could be withdrawn before then, he suggested that the bulk of any pullout would probably come after that.

Just have to make sure the general doesn't have a case of the slows.

Righties want it to go slow, heeding the military's concerns. Lefties want it to go as candidate Obama promised, if not faster.

Others said the timetable was less important than the goal. “It helps for him to aim for it,” said Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “If you can draw your troops down to within the ballpark and they’re safe, that’s what counts.”

Excellent point.

In Jisr Diyala, south of Baghdad, General Odierno traveled in an armored vehicle on Wednesday to inspect preparations for Saturday’s voting. He said his focus now was on “drivers of instability” that could halt Iraq’s security gains, including Arab-Kurdish friction in northern Iraq and tension between Shiite political parties over the division of power elsewhere in the country.

These do not seem to be military as much as civilian tasks.

Under the security agreement approved by Baghdad and Washington before Mr. Obama took office, all United States forces are supposed to leave by the end of 2011 unless requested to stay by the Iraqis — a date confirmed by General Odierno, who said, “By 2011 we’ll be zero.”

16 months from now will be May of 2010. Between May 2010 and December 2011 there are 19 months. I'd guess the difference will be split.

“We’re making progress every day,” General Odierno said. “But I still see some issues that could cause problems that I worry about. Political issues that could turn into security issues. But the longer we go, if we get through the elections, we get closer and closer to not being able to backslide.”

Political issues becoming security concerns is for the Iraqis to address.

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