ARMY GENERAL SUPPORTS WITHDRAWAL….My argument in favor of a public withdrawal plan for Iraq has been based on three points: (1) it will motivate the Iraqis to take training of their own security forces more seriously, (2) it will reduce local support for the insurgency, much of which is based on a belief that we plan to occupy Iraq forever, and (3) we’re going to have trouble keeping 135,000 troops in Iraq much past 2006 anyway. Today, the top operations commander for Iraq backed me up:

The US is expected to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next 12 months in spite of the continuing violence, according to the general responsible for near-term planning in the country.

Maj Gen Douglas Lute, director of operations at US Central Command, yesterday said the reductions were part of a push by Gen John Abizaid, commander of all US troops in the region, to put the burden of defending Iraq on Iraqi forces.

….He said: “We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the…coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward.

“You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It’s very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country.”

That’s some pretty high level support for points #1 and #2, and although Lute can’t publicly acknowledge point #3, all you have to do is look at the latest year-to-date recruiting figures to see that the Army’s manpower problems are becoming very real.

It’s worth noting that Lute is providing grounds not just for a withdrawal plan, but for a public withdrawal plan. After all, point #1 is common sense: anyone who’s ever been in charge of anything knows that things don’t get done unless people have firm goals and firm deadlines. Iraq’s leaders simply aren’t going to take troop training seriously until they figure out that America won’t be around forever ? at which point they’re going to need security forces of their own in order to keep their government intact. And the only way to make that warning credible is to make it public.

Point #2 is similar. Insurgencies depend on support from the surrounding population, and public support for the Iraqi insurgency is partly motivated by hatred of the U.S. occupation. The only way to “undercut the perception of occupation” is to convince them that we aren’t going to be around forever ? and the only way to do that credibly is to do it publicly.

We simply don’t get any benefit from points #1 and #2 unless people believe we’re serious about meeting our goals in Iraq and then leaving, and the only way to do that is to make our intentions public. It’s true that things might end badly in Iraq anyway, but at least we will have done everything we possibly could to make it work. Considering how disastrous a failed Iraqi state would be, we can’t afford to do any less.

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