Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that he might speed up our withdrawal from Iraq by pulling out an additional brigade combat team by year’s end. Good idea! How about pulling out FIVE more brigades by then?
It is an idea whose time clearly has arrived, as evidenced by the remarkable memo from a senior U.S. military adviser in Baghdad, Col. Timothy R. Reese, that was leaked this past week.
Reese, who spent his most recent tour as an adviser to the Iraqi army’s Baghdad command, says in his memo that it is time for us "to declare victory and go home."
He recommends that we accelerate the pullout so that all U.S. combat troops and virtually all the rest of the Americans now serving in Iraq are gone by August 2010, 15 months earlier than presently planned.
To stay longer, the colonel wrote, will do little to improve the performance of the Iraqi army but will do much to fuel a growing resentment at our presence among the Iraqi people and military.
Reese wrote that the huge advisory effort that has partnered U.S. combat troops with the Iraqi security forces "isn’t yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition."
What makes Col. Reese’s blunt observations and recommendations even more cogent is that he is one of the Army’s thinking warriors — formerly director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth and author of the official Army history of the Iraq War, "ON POINT II."
The Reese memo, which the Pentagon says was written in early July and was not meant for distribution outside the U.S. command in Baghdad, notes that since the new Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq went into effect there had been a decided cooling of Iraqi Army relations with their American advisers, a forcible Iraqi takeover of a checkpoint in the Green Zone and Iraqi units are now less willing to do joint operations with the Americans to pursue targets the U.S. considers high value.
Reese said that all our efforts to plant the seeds of a professional military culture in the Iraqi forces have failed. "The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change."
He goes on to delineate a score of points to prove that the Iraqi army isn’t very good by our standards but they are good enough to do what their political leadership demands.
At this point, the colonel declares, it is time for us to declare victory and go home before things get a whole lot worse.
The Pentagon, predictably, dismisses the Reese memo as one man’s personal view and one that is already outdated. Things between the American and Iraqi forces and governments are much better now than they were on June 30.
Uh-huh. Sure they are.
We have suggested a speedup in our Iraq withdrawal several times before in this column. Doubtless we will do so many more times in the future.
Our combat troops have now withdrawn to the huge central bases where life is much better and the work less of a life-and-death matter.
Why do we need our troops sitting there for another two years at such a phenomenal cost, when their hosts, the Iraqi people, don’t want them there anymore?
We have other, more pressing issues to deal with at home and abroad. It is going to take time to reset our Army and rebuild and refurbish or replace hundreds of billions of dollars worth of equipment chewed up or used up in six-plus years of war in Iraq.
We are presently doing a temporary but costly three-year expansion of Army strength by 30,000 men and women because we have all those soldiers sitting in the Iraqi desert waiting for the fire bell to ring.
Our eight-year war in Afghanistan suddenly needs more attention, money, and soldiers and Marines because we didn’t finish the job in 2002.
The only things that can happen in Iraq because a new president listens to the voices of old strategists with an old strategy are bad things: It’s hard to declare victory and leave with your head high if the old civil war comes roaring back; if the old communal butchery and murder resumes with a vengeance; if killing American troops again becomes the favorite sport of every side in the fight.
It’s high time to get while the getting’s good.
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