November 22, 2005
the Tide, McCain Calls for More Troops in Iraq
Democrats are pushing for early troop withdrawals from Iraq. Republicans
are panting for them. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that
would be "a major step on the road to disaster."
last week, The New York Times and The Washington
Post decided to give top-of-Page 1 treatment to Democratic
Rep. John Murtha's (Pa.) call for immediate troop withdrawals.
Yet when McCain, normally a hero of the media (myself included),
advocated increasing U.S. troop strength by 10,000 in a Washington,
D.C., speech on Nov. 10, it got played on Page 21 of the Times
and Page 16 of the Post. McCain, though, has it right.
must stay in Iraq until the government there has a fully functioning
security apparatus that can keep [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and his
terrorists at bay, and ultimately defeat them," he said at
the American Enterprise Institute. "Drawdowns must be based
on conditions in-country, not arbitrary deadlines rooted in our
out, better than President Bush has, the stakes involved in
leaving Iraq prematurely. He also recommended changes in military
strategy needed to achieve victory.
domestic politics is driving calls for withdrawal in Washington
and may be having an effect on the U.S. military and the White
vows that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq "until the job
is done," but White House aides have let it be known that
they think the president's dismal political fortunes won't improve
until withdrawals begin.
Members of Congress said they urgently hope sizable withdrawals
begin before the 2006 election, even as Democrats ratchet up the
pressure for withdrawal deadlines and an "exit strategy."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it's strictly up to U.S.
commanders in the region to decide how many troops the United
States needs, based on local conditions. But those commanders
often indicate that withdrawals should begin in 2006 - partly
because they worry that political support is flagging.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius attended a "commanders
huddle" at Centcom headquarters in Doha, Qatar, where top
U.S. generals almost sounded like Murtha in making the point that
U.S. troops were becoming the chief targets of insurgent activity
and the job of defending Iraq should be turned over as rapidly
as possible to Iraqis.
quoted Gen. George Casey, who commands U.S. troops in Iraq, as
saying that "the longer we carry the brunt of the counterinsurgency
fight, the longer we will carry the brunt. The sooner we shift
[to Iraqi security] the better. A smaller U.S. footprint, that
is allowed to decline gradually as Iraqi forces get stronger,
actually helps us."
Ignatius reported, are planning to cut U.S. troop levels over
the next year and focus on training and advising Iraqis. And,
he wrote, "what [Centcom Commander Gen. John] Abaizaid and
his commanders seem to fear most is that eroding political support
for the war in the United States will undermine their strategy
for gradual transition to Iraqi control."
support is eroding, although politicians of both parties are more
eager for withdrawal than the public. The latest Gallup poll found
that only 19 percent of U.S. adults favor immediate withdrawal
of all U.S. troops. Thirty-five percent favor withdrawal over
12 months, while 38 percent are willing to keep U.S. troops in
Iraq until stability is established and 7 percent want troop levels
week the Senate voted 79-19 for a resolution backed by GOP leaders
calling for 2006 to be "a period of significant transition
to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi forces taking the lead for
the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the
conditions for the phased redeployment of U.S. forces."
voted down, and denounced as "cut and run," a Democratic
amendment calling for "a campaign plan with estimated dates"
for withdrawals. But if that was cut and run, the measure that
passed was "loosen and walk" - a definite sign that
politicians in Washington want out, and soon.
one of the 19 Senators voting against that measure, in addition
to six Democrats who want faster withdrawal and 12 other Republicans
who don't want to give the enemy in Iraq a signal that America
is losing its resolve.
at AEI before Murtha made his proposal. His "major step on
the road to disaster" statement was directed at a proposal
by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) calling for withdrawal of 20,000
of America's 153,000 troops this year and full withdrawal by the
end of next year.
America follow these calls," McCain said, "we would
face consequences of the most serious nature. Because Iraqi forces
are not yet capable of carrying out most security operations on
their own, great bloodshed would occur. If we were to leave prematurely,
the most likely result would be full-scale civil war."
America toppled Saddam Hussein," McCain said, "we incurred
a moral duty not to abandon the people to terrorists and killers.
If we withdraw prematurely ... we will have done precisely that.
I can hardly imagine that any U.S. Senator or any American leader
would want our nation to suffer that moral stain."
But he said
the reasons for staying went beyond the moral and into the realm
of national security: Syria and Iran would be stronger, U.S. allies
would be weaker, Iraq would turn into a "failed state"
like pre-2001 Afghanistan and "the jihadists will interpret
our withdrawal as their great victory against our great power.
or failure in Iraq is the transcendent issue of our foreign policy
and our national security, for now and years to come. I submit
that the stakes are higher than in the Vietnam War."
to develop a winning strategy - clearing territory of insurgents
and holding it, rather than leaving and moving on - McCain said
"we need more troops. For this reason I believe that current
ideas to effect a partial withdrawal during 2006 are wrong.
of drawing down, we should be ramping up, with more civil-military
soldiers, translators and counter-insurgency operations teams."
He said that the overall size of the U.S. military needs to be
expanded by 10,000 troops.
been speaking out lately to rebut Democratic charges that he lied
to get the United States into Iraq. What he needs to do even more
is to make the case for winning. He should take his cues from
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.