SIGNS OF WITHDRAWAL….The New York Times reports that Donald Rumsfeld has signed an order reducing force levels in Iraq by 3,000-5,000 troops:

The elevated troop level for the Dec. 15 vote already was intended to drop back to 138,000 by early next year, and the new orders mean troop strength will drop below that by next spring….American commanders and senior Pentagon officials have said that American troop levels could fall to about 100,000 by next fall, depending on security conditions, political stability and whether Iraqi soldiers and police officers continue to assume greater responsibility for securing swaths of their country.

Reports from Britain are vaguer, but along the same lines:

Tony Blair indicated yesterday that a phased withdrawal of British troops from Iraq could begin within six months in the first official confirmation of an exit plan….Asked whether Major General Tim Dutton, the former British commander in southeast Iraq, had been right when he said troop withdrawals could begin in six months, the prime minister replied: “There is no reason why not, if everything goes to plan.”

I think this is probably bigger news than it seems. Although the initial troop reduction is small, further reductions are almost inevitable since anything else would be taken as an admission that things are getting worse in Iraq. Once this process is started, it becomes a symbol of progress and there’s not much choice except to continue it.

Plus Republicans have an election coming in the fall. Can’t forget that. And while I continue to think these reductions would do us even more good if we were more forthright about our plans, I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. Whatever the reason, this announcement is good news.

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