Iraq Forever

by | Feb 11, 2008 | Stress Blog | 1 comment


At last summer’s debate on Iraq, Cheney urged the president to resist the Democrats’ call for troop withdrawals and to prolong the surge indefinitely. But the Joint Chiefs argued that they didn’t have the troops to sustain the surge beyond the summer of 2008. Gates made a more political point: that if there were no prospects for gradual but substantial troop withdrawals, popular support for the war would evaporate, and the next president would probably pull out all the troops as quickly as possible, resulting in Iraq’s potential collapse. On the plane from Fort Hood, Gates spelled out his position. ‘We need bipartisan support for a prolonged presence in Iraq,’ he said. ‘But to do that, we need to demonstrate that we’re drawing down to lower levels.’ He recalled watching one of the early Democratic presidential debates. The moderator asked the candidates if they would promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by 2013, the end of the first term. The three candidates with the highest poll ratings all declined to make that pledge. Gates remembered saying to himself, ‘My work here is done.’

Still, the matter is far from settled. In his Pentagon office, Gates told me that he doesn’t know how long troops will need to stay in Iraq, though he said the involvement would probably last ‘through several presidencies.’ And as for how quickly troops can be withdrawn, he seems less and less certain.

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