LET’S MAKE A DEAL?….The Wall Street Journal reports today that Defense Secretary Bob Gates has an idea in mind that he wants to bring to the Hill.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and some allies in the Bush administration are seeking to build bipartisan political support for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq by moving toward withdrawing significant numbers of troops from Iraq by the end of President Bush’s term. […]

The emerging plan would shift the U.S. mission in Iraq to a more-modest attempt to contain its civil war, rather than the current effort to end the conflict. A smaller force of American troops, operating out of large bases far from Iraq’s major cities, would focus on battling al Qaeda, securing Iraq’s borders and training the country’s struggling security forces.

The approach represents a stark shift for many senior administration officials, who have gone from arguing to maintain existing troop levels in Iraq — if not increasing them, as with the surge — to embracing a large-scale withdrawal as part of a shrinking of the overall U.S. mission there.

In a nutshell, Gates wants Congress to agree to a long-term, Korea-like presence for U.S. troops in Iraq, and in return, Gates will give Congress an end to an ineffective “surge” policy.

Gates’ approach has a certain logic to it, at least as far as war supporters go. Bush wants the surge to last indefinitely, which in turn exposes the tragic flaws in the existing policy, which in turn increases the likelihood that Congress will intervene and end the war and end the U.S. presence in Iraq. Gates doesn’t want that, so he’ll take what he sees as “middle” ground — no more surge, but indefinite stay for a smaller troop contingent.

I suppose it’s encouraging that the existing policy is losing support at the Pentagon, but it’s hard to imagine congressional Dems going along with Gates’ proposal. What would this smaller fighting force do for the next several decades? Would they even have a mission? How would this force improve U.S. security interests?

If Gates knows, he’s not saying.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.