Thursday, February 22, 2007

They've tried hard to spin the Brit withdrawal as good news, but behind the scenes it's being acknowledged as something quite problematic.

As the British announced the beginning of their departure from Iraq yesterday, President Bush's top foreign policy aide proclaimed it "basically a good-news story." Yet for an already besieged White House, the decision was doing a good job masquerading as a bad-news story.

What national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley meant was that the British believe they have made enough progress in southern Iraq to turn over more of their sector to Iraqi forces. To many back in Washington, though, what resonated was that Bush's main partner in Iraq is starting to get out just as the president is sending in more U.S. troops.

No matter the military merits, the British move, followed by a similar announcement by Denmark, roiled the political debate in Washington at perhaps the worst moment for the White House. Democrats seized on the news as evidence that Bush's international coalition is collapsing and that the United States is increasingly alone in a losing cause. Even some Republicans, and, in private, White House aides, agreed that the announcement sent an ill-timed message to the American public.

Regarding the great international coalition, just to be clear, after the initial British pullout, the U.S. will have 140,000 troops in Iraq with the next largest provider of troops (Britain) coming in at 5,500. Quite a drop-off to #2. Let's be real, there's never been much of a coalition; it's always pretty much been an all-United States effort.

Although Basra is less violent than Baghdad, many fear that the Brit withdrawal could empower insurgents in the region -- the line Bush/Cheney have been reiterating ad nauseum about Iraq in general as it relates to the Democrats. Remind me again why the Brits endorsing withdrawal is deemed "good news" but when the Dems utter anything concerning redeploying troops or measured withdrawal then this administration immediately tosses around words like "defeatist", "appease", and "retreat"...? Hmm, could it be they freely mix partisan politics with war policy?

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens to Basra post-Brit withdrawal. On the one hand, Bush/Cheney have proclaimed the area much-improved, within Iraqi control, and a model for all of Iraq ("ultimately the kind of thing that we want to be able to see throughout Iraq"). If things remain relatively quiet and peaceful after the Brits leave, it will work to confirm what the Dems have been saying all along regarding redeployment/withdrawal (establish benchmarks, train and empower Iraqi army ("Shifting greater responsibility to the Iraqis for their security and transitioning the principal mission of our forces from combat to training, logistics, force protection, and counter terrorism operations;"), etc.).

However, if all hell breaks loose post-withdrawal, it will negate all the good news stuff the administration pedaled regarding this announcement and serve as one more reason why we can't trust what they have to say. In a larger sense, it will provide a powerful argument for leaving Iraq now. How so? If this administration blesses a withdrawal given that an area is judged secure and under Iraqi control -- only to see that area erupt in violence soon thereafter -- than what can we expect whenever that day comes that all of Iraq is deemed secure, under Iraqi control, and set for withdrawal? Likely hundreds if not thousands of dead U.S. soldiers later, our troops finally begin to vacate only to see bloody violence and bedlam consume the country once again.

We'll see what happens.

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