No Permanent Bases But No Exit Strategy
The Greek chorus (see yesterday’s blog) set the stage early with the chant “bring them home.” Then it fell silent as the chief protagonists spoke their well-rehearsed lines.
Senator Levin’s opening statement touched on virtually all the major issues of the Iraq war, the under-performance of the Iraqi government, the continued use of U.S. troops instead of Iraqi forces “in the lead” against al-Qaeda-in-Iraq and other “criminal militias.”
Senator McCain declared that “success is in sight.” What must come next is turning over an expanded range of responsibilities to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki and Iraqi security forces. The U.S. has given the Iraqi’s a foundation for security on which they have to standup and buildup their capacities as U.S. forces start coming home.
McCain also stated it is time for Iraqis to advance two programs much talked about but so far with little to show. One is reconciliation among sectarian and ethnic groups. The other is to spend Iraqi money from the bonanza created by high oil prices on short term projects at local levels to demonstrate the government’s concerns. Right now the U.S. is still paying for almost everything Specifically, McCain pointed to the Commanders’ Emergency Relief Fund as a place for contributions that can be dispersed with high impact. Finally, McCain re-iterated that he would not leave U.S. troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary. But he also warned that “congress should not choose to lose.”
General Petraeus broke no new ground. He spoke of the successes in lowering fatalities – an achievement that is partially attributed to the surge. Under questioning from Senator Levin, he acknowledged that the truce declared by Muqtada al-Sadr was another factor. Petraeus pressed for approval of the FY2008 Iraq supplemental by the Congress. He spent time outlining the change in the security situation over the last eight months, including use of a series of charts. He singled out Iran as the chief threat to continued success of the U.S. endeavor, both directly in terms of operations and interference in Iraq’s affairs and indirectly by the training and weapons being provided by the Qods force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to the special operations groups sponsored by Iran.
On the two most important areas of contention, Ambassador Crocker flatly stated that there would be no permanent bases for U.S. forces in Iraq. There will be a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to go into effect when the UN Chapter VII mandate expires December 31, 2008. This agreement is already being discussed. In what sounded like a separate set of negotiations – not yet started – Iraq and the U.S. will strike a long-term Strategic Agreement based on the Declaration of Principles signed last fall.
And on the return of troops, after the last surge Brigade Combat Team returns to the U.S. min July, the U.S. commanders will take 45 days to consolidate and assess the situation on the ground. They will then begin analysis of what the necessary level of forces is to avoid losing ground to the enemy. This will be a continuous process and will form the basis for recommendations on troop levels in Iraq.
General Petraeus, in short, would not even begin to estimate when the troops will come home. The only assurance for the future from either man was that there will be no permanent bases in Iraq.
And this point, the Greek Chorus resumed its chant – until removed from the hearing room.