The Pentagon's New Plan

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The lead story on the front page of Monday's Washington Post will not come as a total surprise to readers of this blog. In that post six days ago I focused on the review of military operations in Iraq initiated by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace last September. The Post story by reporter Thomas Ricks focuses on this review, whose proceedings, it says, "are so secret that officials asked to help it have not even been told its title or mandate." Bottom line, citing unnamed "officials": "The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in U.S. troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces." Ricks goes on to speculate: "The hybrid version of 'Go Long' may be remarkably close to the recommendation that the Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). That group's findings, expected to be issued next month, are said to focus on changing the emphasis of U.S. military operations from combating the insurgency to training Iraqis, and also to find ways to increase security in Baghdad and bring neighboring countries into talks about stabilizing Iraq."

This plan may hearten the likes of Sen. John McCain and the editors of the Weekly Standard, who have called for more troops and have issued blistering criticisms of Central Command's Gen. John Abizaid. I can easily imagine that many Democrats who have called for withdrawal will be outraged, and will be full of doubts that any initial increase in troop levels will be followed by the withdrawals the Pace group calls for. The sharp opposition of Abizaid and, if Ricks's article is right, of Pace's group to any immediate withdrawals will surely lead many Democrats to demand that the new Democratic Congress use its power of the purse to force withdrawals.

My own sense is that the Democratic majorities are neither large enough nor united enough to meet such demands. Thus it's possible, as I suggested last week, that the election of a Democratic Congress may be followed by a stepped-up military effort in Iraq.

This is perhaps not as illogical as it seems. Voters were evidently voting against continuing on what they perceived as a course that was not leading to victory. But when Americans are faced with a choice of winning or getting out, many—quite possibly most—will prefer winning. I recall that Barry Goldwater and other conservative Republicans back in the Vietnam War years were saying, "Win or get out."

In 1968, the Democratic primary victories of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy were taken, not least by President Lyndon Johnson, as a demand that we should get out of Vietnam. But in the fall the voters preferred Richard Nixon, who held out a prospect of victory and, in the opinion of military historian Lewis Sorley, came very, very close to pulling it off. Interestingly, the author of another book critical of Johnson's Vietnam strategy, Army Col. H. R. McMaster, is one of the three "high-profile colonels" identified by Ricks as leading Pace's review; the others are Army Col. Peter Mansoor and Marine Col. Thomas Greenwood.