Questions Petraeus cannot answer

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images The LA Times has the latest on the Pentagon debate over troops levels in Iraq: In the short run, supporters of [Gen. David] Petraeus would like to see about 140,000 troops, including 15 combat brigades, remain in Iraq through the end of the Bush administration. Members of the Joint Chiefs of ...

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595841_080321_petraeus2.jpg

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

The LA Times has the latest on the Pentagon debate over troops levels in Iraq:

In the short run, supporters of [Gen. David] Petraeus would like to see about 140,000 troops, including 15 combat brigades, remain in Iraq through the end of the Bush administration.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

The LA Times has the latest on the Pentagon debate over troops levels in Iraq:

In the short run, supporters of [Gen. David] Petraeus would like to see about 140,000 troops, including 15 combat brigades, remain in Iraq through the end of the Bush administration.

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their advisors favor a faster drawdown. Some are pushing for a reduction to 12 brigades or fewer by January 2009, which would amount to approximately 120,000 troops, depending on the configuration of forces.

That’s the big debate that supposedly got Admiral Fallon fired? Twenty thousand troops? As of now, there are about 158,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq, and that number is slated to come down to 140,000 in July. So, Petraeus is essentially asking for no further troop withdrawals before the next president takes office.

The troop-levels debate raises some of the same questions posed by Newsweek‘s Fareed Zakaria in his latest column: Has the surge succeeded in creating lasting, sustainable security or not? Are Iraq’s sectarian groups reaching a self-stabilizing balance of power or not? So far, the answer would appear to be no, but I think Petraeus would say the political conversation in Washington was always unrealistic on this scrore. Winning a counterinsurgency war takes years, not months. The more basic question, though, is one that is above Petraeus’s pay grade: Is it worth it? To put it another way, does it make strategic sense for the United States to stay in Iraq for another five to 10 years, looking at the expected payoff vs. the expected costs? I strongly doubt it.

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