IS APRIL THE END OF THE LINE?….Matt Yglesias has browsed through the Iraq white paper from the new CNAS think tank and comes away unimpressed. The best he can muster is that for a bunch of establishment weenies, it’s slightly better than you might expect. Then there’s this:
The conceit of the report is that the Bush administration will take their advice seriously and begin the process of withdrawing troops and transition to a training mission this very summer. That’s a fun conceit, obviously, but equally obviously Bush doesn’t care — at all — about what these people think, what’s right for the country, what’s right for Iraq, what’s right for America’s soldiers, or anything else.
Now, I agree with this — although I don’t actually doubt that Bush is doing what he thinks is right for the country. But it’s odd that there have been two major stories in the past couple of days making exactly the opposite point.
On Sunday the New York Times reported that in addition to Gen. Petraeus’s much-awaited report in September, there are going to be a whole bunch of others too. This initially struck me as nothing more than a way to generate lots of conflicting advice so that Bush can continue to do whatever he wants, but at least a few of the Times’ sources don’t see it that way. They see it as providing cover for the start of a withdrawal:
“The issue now is when do we start withdrawing troops and at what pace,” one senior administration official said. “Petraeus wants as much time as he can get,” the official said, but added that “the president may not have the leeway” to give him that time.
The reality, officials said, is that starting around April the military will simply run out of troops to maintain the current effort. By then, officials said, Mr. Bush would either have to withdraw roughly one brigade a month, or extend the tours of troops now in Iraq and shorten their time back home before redeployment. The latter, said one White House official, “is not something the president wants to do” and would likely become a centerpiece of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Hmmm. April is a drop dead date? I’ve been hearing for at least the past couple of years that the military is close to the breaking point in Iraq, and yet that breaking point never seems to happen. This is an unusually flat statement, though.
Then, today, the LA Times ran this story:
With public support of the war dropping, President Bush has authorized an internal policy review to find a plan that could satisfy opponents without sacrificing his top goals, the officials said.
The president and senior officials “realize they can’t keep fighting this over and over,” said one administration official, who along with others declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly or because decisions were pending.
We’ve heard this kind of talk before as well, and it’s never amounted to anything. Still, two big stories in major newspapers on successive days suggests that, at the least, the administration is suddenly eager to start market testing the idea of some kind of compromise over Iraq. Election season might have something to do with this, though probably only at the margins. So what is it?
Has the military really given Bush a firm April deadline? I haven’t heard this anywhere else, but it would certainly explain Bush’s sudden search for a withdrawal option. Stay tuned.