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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Troops Levels: deja vu ad nauseum

November 18th, 2005 in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the measure by Representative John Murtha calling for withdrawal from Iraq, NBC reported that General George Casey had presented a "withdrawal plan" to the Pentagon:

Pentagon and U.S. military officials tell NBC News the plan calls for the substantial withdrawal of more than 60,000 troops from Iraq. The plan was drafted by Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, the two top U.S. commanders of the war.

Today, in the aftermath of Congress passing legislation giving George Bush yet another blank check extension funding the US occupation of Iraq we read a report from David Sanger in the New York Times that:

The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.

It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.

The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1.

This report runs exactly counter to Stewart Powell's reporting for the Hearst Newspapers that taking account of Pentagon schedules and overlapping troop deployments US troop levels in Iraq may well increase to 200,000 by the end of this year in a 'second surge':

The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday. The little-noticed second surge, designed to reinforce U.S. troops in Iraq, is being executed by the sending more combat brigades and the extending tours of duty for troops already there.

The actions could boost the number of combat soldiers from 52,500 in early January to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year if the Pentagon overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades.

Separately, when additional support troops are included in this second troop increase, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 -- a record-high number -- by the end of the year.

But this kind of head-spinning, politics-fueled flurry of contradictory press statements is nothing new. As Tim Grieve reported in Salon in November of 2005 in the wake of the Casey speculation:

As we approach the end of 2005, there are still more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. When will they come home? No one knows the answer to that question, but that doesn't keep Bush administration officials from making one up whenever political pressure suggests that it's time to do so.

In the course of just a few weeks this summer, the administration put out a flurry of semicontradictory predictions about what troop levels would be and how they would be set. First Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military official in Iraq, said the U.S. could make "some fairly substantial reductions" in troop levels in the spring and summer of 2006. Then Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said he had formed a committee with Iraqis to come up with a detailed plan that would involve withdrawing U.S. troops from specific regions in Iraq. Then it was reported that Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, had outlined a plan that could bring 20,000 or 30,000 U.S. troops home by the spring. Then an unnamed top U.S. military official in Baghdad told the Post that any early drawdown was "still possible" but unlikely. Then the president himself dismissed all talk about future troop levels as "kind of what we call 'speculation.'"

And, of course, no one should forget the way the administration played politics with press regarding troop levels way back in the summer of 2003, as reported in Time Magazine:

For obvious domestic political reasons, the Bush Administration going into the war had downplayed the scale and duration of a post-war occupation mission. When then-Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki told legislators that such a mission would require several hundred thousand U.S. troops, his assessment had been immediately dismissed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as "wildly off the mark." Wolfowitz explained that "I am reasonably certain that (the Iraqi people) will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down." Six weeks ago, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was still suggesting the U.S. force in Iraq could be reduced to 30,000 by the end of the year. But the prevailing assessment in Washington appears to be shifting to the idea of a figure closer to Shinseki's.

As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker prepare to deliver a two-year plan for the further US occupation of Iraq at the end of this month, it doesn't take a great deal of common sense for Americans to understand one thing about the Bush Administration: whatever the Pentagon might leak to the press and however much the President's various stated goals (WMD, freedom and democracy, 'hold and clear','as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down') have changed and fallen by the wayside, this administration has remained committed to one thing above all, the ongoing US occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its oil by major US companies.

In the midst of all this, that much is sure. You can take that to the bank.

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