THE PENTAGON’S WITHDRAWAL PLANS….In the Washington Post, Bradley Graham and Robin Wright report that the Pentagon plans to start reducing the American troop presence in Iraq after the December elections. They say that all the officers they spoke to “described the moves as likely”:

Barring any major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces there early next year by as many as three combat brigades….Pentagon authorities also have set a series of “decision points” during 2006 to consider further force cuts that, under a “moderately optimistic” scenario, would drop the total number of troops from more than 150,000 now to fewer than 100,000, including 10 combat brigades, by the end of the year, the officers said.

….To help gauge the particular impact that growth of Iraq’s security forces might have on the pace of a U.S. drawdown, military planners in Baghdad have devised a simple formula ? what one general called a “rough rule of thumb.”

The formula estimates that for every three Iraqi battalions and one Iraqi brigade headquarters achieving a readiness rating of level two, a U.S. battalion can be dropped. A level two rating, on a scale of one to four, indicates that a unit is able to take the lead in operations but still requires some U.S. military support.

They can call this a “rough rule of thumb” if they want, but it sure sounds like the Pentagon is adopting a set of measurable benchmarks for a phased withdrawal. This is almost precisely what John Kerry proposed last month, and what an RNC spokesman immediately slammed as a plan that would “endanger American forces on the ground.”

But politics aside, I sure hope they’re serious about this. If it’s done right, it’s probably the best hope we have for a non-catastrophic outcome in Iraq.