Pentagon divided on Iraq withdrawal?

Reports The Guardian, Aug. 24:

An American military commander in Iraq today said a senior Republican senator’s call for a troop withdrawal would represent “a giant step backwards” in one of the country’s most precarious regions.

Major General Rick Lynch, commander of troops south of Baghdad, told Pentagon reporters in a video conference from Iraq he did not back Senator John Warner’s call for George Bush to begin bringing some US troops back by Christmas.

“If coalition soldiers were to leave, having fought hard for that terrain, having denied the enemy their sanctuaries, what’d happen is the enemy would come back,” he said.

“He’d start building the bombs again, he’d start attacking the locals again and he’d start exporting that violence into Baghdad and we would take a giant step backward.”

He was replying to Mr Warner, who recently returned from Iraq and is widely respected by his Republican colleagues. He said yesterday: “We simply cannot, as a nation, stand and continue to put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action.”

The senator, navy secretary during the Vietnam war, first broke ranks with Mr Bush on Iraq in June, but the call yesterday went much further, coming in a week when Mr Bush had invoked the spectre of Vietnam to argue for a sustained US troop presence in Iraq and admitted “frustration” with the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki.

Following Mr Maliki’s assertion Iraq could “find friends elsewhere” – almost certainly a reference to Iran – Mr Bush praised him. However, a National Intelligence Estimate published yesterday said Iraqi leaders were “unable to govern effectively”…

Bush has been very good at ignoring unwelcome ideas from his own National Intelligence Estimate of late. Meanwhile, the LA Times reports Aug. 24:

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.

See our last posts on Iraq, the GWOT apparatus and the politics of withdrawal and escalation.

  1. NYT: Pentagon divided on Iraq withdrawal
    We seem to have second-guessed the New York Times‘ Aug. 25 front-page headline:

    Generals differ on timing of Iraq troop cuts
    WASHINGTON — As the Bush administration mulls over options for withdrawing forces in Iraq, fault lines are beginning to emerge in a debate between commanders in the field who favor slow reductions and senior generals at the Pentagon who favor cutting the number of combat troops more deeply.

    Among others, General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, are said to be leaning toward a recommendation that steep reductions by the end of 2008, perhaps to half of the 20 combat brigades now in Iraq, should be the administration’s goal.

    Such a drawdown would be deeper and faster than General David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, is expected to recommend next month, administration officials said.

    “If you’re out in Baghdad you might have a different priority for where you want the troops,” an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the White House has not authorized public remarks on the options being considered.

    It has been known since the spring that the White House was considering options for reducing combat forces in Iraq by almost half in 2008, which could bring overall troop levels below 100,000. But the shape of the debate is only beginning to emerge.

  2. Gen. Sanchez bashes Bush
    Another sure sign of dissension within the Pentagon—this time from former US commander in Iraq and accused war criminal Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez. From the New York Times, Oct. 12:

    Former Top General in Iraq Faults Bush Administration
    WASHINGTON — In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, the former top American commander called the Bush administration’s handling of the war incompetent and warned that the United States was “living a nightmare with no end in sight.”

    In one of his first major public speeches since leaving the Army in late 2006, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez blamed the administration for a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan” and denounced the current “surge” strategy as a “desperate” move that will not achieve long-term stability.

    “After more than fours years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve victory in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism,” Mr. Sanchez said, at a gathering here of military reporters and editors.

    General Sanchez is the most senior in a string of retired generals to harshly criticize the administration’s conduct of the war. Asked following his remarks why he waited nearly a year after his retirement to outline his views, he responded that that it was not the place of active duty officers to challenge lawful orders from civilian authorities. General Sanchez, who is said to be considering a book, promised further public statements criticizing officials by name.

    “There was been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” he said, adding later in his remarks that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”