The Joint Chiefs talk smack on Iraq

Here’s a taste of the intra-military battle that is already shaping up over Iraq in the run up to September, courtesy of Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel at the LA Times: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating ...

599768_070824_pace_05.jpg
599768_070824_pace_05.jpg

Here's a taste of the intra-military battle that is already shaping up over Iraq in the run up to September, courtesy of Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel at the LA Times:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war.

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military."

Here’s a taste of the intra-military battle that is already shaping up over Iraq in the run up to September, courtesy of Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel at the LA Times:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war.

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military.”

It’s not Pace’s style to talk smack on the court. Everyone knows the outgoing chairman prefers such confrontations be handled in the privacy of the locker room. Which is why this leak is so significant. It’s no secret that military commanders have been worried for some time about strains on the force. There are currently 20 combat brigades, or about 162,000 U.S. troops, in Iraq, the highest number at any point since the war began. The Joint Chiefs of Staff would reportedly like to see the number of brigades cut in half, bringing troop levels in Iraq to below 100,000.

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

No one disputes that some troop withdrawals, however modest, will be required within the next year, both to quell eroding public opinion on Iraq and to stem any further damage to the overall force’s ability to respond to contingencies. The White House, however, appears to be headed for a clash with the Joint Chiefs over just how many troops will be pulled out, which might be the JCS’s motivation for going public. The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, along with President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly favor a plan similar to that originally put forward by Petraeus’s ousted predecessor, Gen. George Casey, that would bring U.S. troops levels down to 15 brigades, or about 140,000 troops over the next year. That was essentially the strength of the U.S. force before the “surge.”

Despite the fact that Pace will be out of a job come the end of September, his preferred plan puts the White House in an awkward situation. Bush repeatedly says that his decisions on Iraq are based on the advice of the Pentagon brass. And if, as Barnes and Spiegel report, Pace’s recommendation to Bush reflects “the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” writ large, then that would include Bush’s incoming JCS chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen. —who is already known as an Iraq skeptic.

As the National Intelligence Estimate released yesterday concludes, while the security situation in Iraq has improved some, the political reconciliation that improvement was supposed to create a space for is nowhere in sight. The Joint Chiefs appear to be increasingly asking why they should be asked to continue to create space for a political solution when one is impossible. For the Bush administration, that will be a tough question to answer come September.

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