Wow. Big news from the Baker commission:
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panels deliberations.The report, unanimously approved by the 10-member panel, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, is to be delivered to President Bush next week. It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended. The recommendations of the group, formed at the request of members of Congress, are nonbinding.A person who participated in the commissions debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached.The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries. (A brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.) From those bases, they would still be responsible for protecting a substantial number of American troops who would remain in Iraq, including 70,000 or more American trainers, logistics experts and members of a rapid reaction force.So how will the President react?
"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," the president said during a joint news conference with Mr. Maliki, referring to the panel's reports that are expected next week. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there."So what's the right move? Speak up!UPDATE 4:29 PM: Feeling in the slightest bit upbeat? Like there's a shred of hope for good in the world? John Robb should take care of that. His forecast for Iraq:
The US will find itself forced to remain in Iraq indefinitely, despite an inability to achieve any meaningful victory conditions. The reason for this is simple. Iraq is a core producer of oil for global markets. Control of this oil cannot be ceded to either the guerrillas or Iran under any meaningful interpretation of US policy. Further, a full US withdrawal would put Saudi Arabia at risk -- the collapse of both of these oil producers in tandem would plunge the global economy into a depression. As a result, the US will stay. The most likely result is that the US will reconfigure its remaining forces to play the role of the "strongest faction" in Iraq.This new role is the inevitable result of the US withdrawal from pacification operations (particularly in Anbar), the evaporation of funding for reconstruction (Bechtel's departure from Iraq marked the end of the effort), and the failure of the effort to rebuild the Iraqi military (due to a deficit of loyalty to the government). As the strongest faction in Iraq, the US will adopt the strategy of a spoiler. This means that we will remain in Iraq to prevent (through the decisive application of force) any Iraqi faction (that is antagonistic to the US) or Iran from gaining control of Iraq and its oil. The US presence will also attempt to prevent the spread of the conflict to Saudi Arabia. It will be interesting to see how this role evolves over the next few decades, particularly as the conflict (despite US efforts, or worse, due to the inadvertent consequences of US efforts) spreads to Saudi Arabia. At that point, the entire strategy deck will be reshuffled (almost certainly for the worse, from the US perspective).UPDATE 5:42 PM: Check out Fred Kaplan's take, too.
It's hard to justify keeping even 50,000 American troops in Iraqeven if they're just sitting thereunless they have a mission. The mission might serve as an adjunct to a broader political initiative.If Iraq falls apart, the bordering states will be tempted to rush into the vacuum, partly for their own security, partly for aggrandizement. If they do, their forces may brush up against one another (Iraq's internal sectarian borders are far from distinct). The United States could serve as a mediator to keep this from happening. To play this role, it helps to have troops on the ground and planes in the air.This may be the only real purpose of a U.S. military presence in Iraq at this pointto keep the country and the region from erupting into flames.