The Makings Of An October Surprise? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Today's remarks by General Casey, that seem to indicate some troop reduction in Iraq by years end, coupled with yesterdays Associated Press article outlining a significant reduction in military equipment in the troubled country may be the makings of an October surprise. What I find particularly curious is that while we are seeing signs of a pending military reduction, we see the Republican Party spinning calls by Democrats to begin the process of transitioning security and military oversight to the Iraqi's as a "cut and run" strategy.

As I view the facts, it appears to me that the realities on the ground may in fact come close to matching the objective outlined in one of the Democratic proposals...and yet if we listen to the rhetoric on the floor of the Senate, one would be apt to conclude that the difference between the Republican and Democratic strategies is significant and tangible. My cynical and suspicious mind tells me the administration may be splitting hairs in order to garner political advantage.

BALAD, Iraq -- The U.S. military has begun sending thousands of battered Humvees and other war-torn equipment home as more Iraqi units join the fight against insurgents and American units scheduled for Iraq duty have their orders canceled.

In the last four months, the Army has tagged 7,000 Humvees and 17,000 other pieces of equipment to be shipped to the United States to be rebuilt. They then will be distributed among active and reserve units at home, or possibly returned to equip Iraqi security forces.

"This is all a byproduct of Iraqi forces accepting battle space and U.S. forces being displaced, which has allowed our government to decide not to send more forces," said Col. Jack O'Connor, commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command's sustainment brigade in Iraq.

While I'm certainly not a military strategist, logic tells me that one doesn't remove equipment from the battlefield unless troops are going to follow. What troubles me is that the Bush administration has long argued that establishing any time line for troop withdrawal would be tipping off insurgents...a move that might allow those who are intent on defeating the efforts to establish a democratic society in Iraq a strategic advantage. While removing equipment isn't the same as establishing a hard and fast withdrawal date, it certainly provides some clear insight into the U.S. intentions. In addition to giving the insurgents some sense of timing, it also begins to give the Iraqi's notice that they must begin the process of assuming responsibility for their own security...something many Democrats have been suggesting needed to happen for some time now.

"It is much harder to move equipment than it is to move people," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "So if the Army is increasing its movement of equipment out of the country, that may signal that it expects fewer soldiers in Iraq six or 12 months from now."

In most cases, a unit returning home from Iraq has left its equipment behind for the unit sent to replace them. But as more units rotate home between June and September, fewer U.S. units will be sent in behind them, O'Connor said.

The brigade from Materiel Command oversees and anticipates equipment needs of incoming and outgoing military units, O'Connor said. As more units stay home and Iraqis take control of larger areas, O'Connor said there will be a push in the months ahead to "clean up the battlefield" by removing equipment that is no longer needed.

Under a plan announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi security forces will take responsibility for security in all of the country's 18 provinces within 18 months.

Getting equipment home after more than three years in Iraq is among the military's most cumbersome tasks ahead, O'Connor said.

Following the Gulf War in 1991, for example, it took two years for the military to recover its equipment -- after a six-month deployment and a ground campaign lasting roughly 100 hours.

As I piece this information together with the current activity in the Senate, it becomes increasingly obvious to me that the Republicans have a clear strategy that may be leading Democrats into a trap of their own making. There have been some clues that haven't received much attention. Prior to the current debate on Iraq, many speculated that once the Democratic proposals were defeated, the Republicans would offer their own administration affirming measure. It now appears that they will do no such thing. The question is why not?

I have a theory. Democrats are addressing voter sentiment as it exists today...particularly the vocal anti-war netroot Democrats who are insisting the Party demand a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. While it may seem appropriate to address those concerns today, it may prove to be a strategic mistake come fall. Despite the polling that indicates most Americans believe the Iraq invasion was a mistake and a that they would like to see a plan that includes a timeframe for troop withdrawal, one must always remember that a poll is only a snapshot of current circumstances and sentiment and is not necessarily a predictor of the future.

Let me change the subject to demonstrate what I mean before coming back to the Iraq situation. I've previously written about the risks of supporting Ned Lamont against Joe Lieberman and I've cited some polling to make my point (Lieberman had a significant lead over Lamont in April and polling showed Lieberman would defeat Lamont even if he ran as an independent). Some who have responded to my thoughts argued that despite the polling, the "prevailing sentiment" was a better indication of what was going to happen in the August primary and the subsequent November election. I appreciate the perspective of those individuals as there is some likely truth in their observations. In fact, more recent polling has shown Lamont to be gaining ground.

Coming back to the Iraq situation, one can draw some important parallels. The Iraq war isn't popular today and the news has offered little to encourage or to change people’s minds. However, if the voting public sees a troop reduction by October, there is a reasonable likelihood that many voters who are unhappy with the war, but are also hesitant to see the U.S. quit (or be perceived to lose), will decide that the administration's plan is working and that the Democrats haven't the conviction to make the hard military and security choices that are often necessary. Despite the fact that such a shift would be frustrating and would justify an assertion that voters are fickle, it may also spell defeat for Democrats come November.

There is an important difference between my Lamont example and the Iraq situation. The Republican administration is in a position to determine what happens in October and that has the likelihood of impacting voter sentiment ahead of the November election...whereas Lamont must rely upon more intangible factors.

In my theory, Republicans have determined that they are best to allow the Democrats to stake a claim to the position that seeks an "arbitrary" withdrawal approach. At the same time, if the Republicans were to offer up a bill and a vote to support the administration's more or less open-ended position, they would make campaigning between now and October more difficult and give Democrats something concrete to point to when arguing that Republicans are out of touch with voter sentiment. I believe this also indicates that the Republicans have determined that the debate and the issues in October will have changed and that they are laying the groundwork for that portion of their campaign. The use of the oft heard "cut and run" accusation being made by Republicans is the opening salvo in an elaborate strategy.

Let me jump forward to explain my argument. If one believes that a meaningful number of troops will be withdrawn before the November election, then one can adopt a strategy that plans for that eventuality and also begin to focus on the realities it will create when it occurs. In my opinion, that is the Republican plan. If there is any doubt, look no further than the recent remarks by Karl Rove in which he has invoked the issues of terror and security and laid the groundwork for asking voters in November to decide if they can hand the reigns of America's safety over to the Democrats. Given what Republicans will have cultivated as the propensity of Democrats to quit before the job is finished, that answer may well be no.

Simultaneously, Democrats have become enamored with the success that opposing the Iraq war has provided. The problem I see is that they haven't thought far enough ahead to a situation where troops may be coming home in the fall and where voter sentiment begins to conclude that the Iraq mission was one that was misguided, one that was mismanaged...but also one that is going to succeed because the Republicans "stayed the course". While voters, at this moment, see staying in Iraq as the more tenuous plan, at the point in the future that I am defining; they may well see an arbitrary withdrawal plan as the more tenuous approach.

If anyone doubts the willingness of the American voter to change their thinking and give politicians the benefit of the doubt as soon as they can see daylight (a tenable outcome), they should take a look at the Clinton presidency. As soon as Clinton admitted his errors, the public was ready to move on while the Republicans were still waging a war based upon the prior voter doubt and sentiment that they had been able to use to their advantage.

While some may see my theory as speculation, I point back to the facts contained in the article I am citing. Is it possible that we are removing equipment from Iraq without any firm intention of removing troops? Sure it is possible but it would be a very costly move should it have to be reversed. Could one argue that it might simply be another administration miscalculation? Sure, but it wouldn't explain some of the counterintuitive moves now being made by Republicans. I've previously argued that Karl Rove's strategies are often counterintuitive. This may well be another example.

Daniel DiRito | June 22, 2006 | 9:28 AM
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1 On June 22, 2006 at 5:47 PM, Maleko wrote —

Your arguement is interesting but fails to take into consideration that nothing ever goes as planned in the world. To wit, much blood (literally and figuratively) can go under the bridge between now and November. There are too many variables in the Middle East that can have a very serious effect upon the GOP plans. I predict that we will see some serious developments by the end of summer.

We will see.

2 On June 22, 2006 at 6:03 PM, Daniel wrote —


Thank you for your comments and insights. I always appreciate different points of view.

I agree that it is always difficult to plan for the future...which by the way is part of the Republican argument against setting a timeframe for withdrawal. That said, the movement of significant amounts of equipment may actually mean a determination has been made to do some of what Democrats have been calling for...troop reductions this year in order to push and test the Iraqi resolve to assume security and military responsibility for their country.

While you're absolutely right that nothing is certain, I still feel this administration believes they can reduce troop levels before the midterm elections and have the added political benefit as well. Regardless, my remarks are an attempt to deconstruct possible GOP strategies (which I believe are in place) in the hopes that Democrats consider all the possibilities in order to avoid an "October surprise".

I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future.


3 On June 23, 2006 at 9:21 AM, Charles Valentine wrote —

The convoluted strategy you envision is certainly a possibility, the more so since the administration hardly ever allows reality to impinge on their plans.

But Iraq seems to be getting hotter rather than calmer, though the MSM continues to soft-pedal all negative developments.

So we may see troops coming home in October as all hell breaks loose in Iraq. The MSM can be counted on to look the other way.

4 On June 23, 2006 at 10:08 AM, Daniel wrote —


Thank you for your observations and comments.

I agree with you about this administration and reality although I have previously characterized it as "They know how to run a campaign; not a country".

What I've also noticed is that Democratic anger at the administration and the desire to defeat the Republican Party often gets in the way of exploring the strategies that this administration may be employing...we just don't want to think they might be able to pull off another victory.

I have, on many occasions, found that some of my fellow Democrats discount contrarian observations because they are so averse to the thought that the Republicans could possibly retain power in 2006...that they don't even want to hear plausible simply heightens their anger...sometimes incorrectly directed at the messenger.

I simply approach the problem differently. I've long discounted the notion that says, "What you don't know won't hurt you"...I believe just the opposite and that guides my contrarian explorations. I also think such efforts are warranted since it seems that we Democrats have yet to figure out a way to defeat this current group of Republicans...and I want to win more than I want to satisfy my anger.

My concern is that we may be giving too much weight to the President's poor polling numbers and the apparent voter anger and dissatisfaction with the Iraq situation. While these are favorable factors, Democrats also need to have a clear strategy and a full understanding of the one employed by the opposition if we are to be successful in 2006.

I don't know (I have my suspicions) what is going to unfold in Iraq between now and November...but I also don't want to stake a campaign upon the assumption that it will only get worse...that may happen but I'm not much of a gambler so I like to cover all the possibilities.

I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future.


5 On June 23, 2006 at 10:59 AM, Growth Factor wrote —

There is one issue that is not addressed in this analysis that I think you may want to consider.

A military strike on Iran between now and the next election. We may be removing worn-out equipment from the field to streamline the logistical footprint of our forces in the event that a serious military response to Iranian retaliation is required. That response could be a bail out, defense of bases from insurgent and Iranian military attacks, or realignment of forces to adapt to subtle but serious changes in the in-theater threat profile.

All of the Republican posturing on the Hill may simply be a way to put lipstick on an increasingly ornery wild boar at a time when the public is wavering in support.

I personally think that the administration never intends to withdraw, and civil war is coming no matter what we do. Cheney simply intends to let the war burn itself out. He can then deal with the weakened victor on our terms. Damn all of the death and destruction in the interim.

Streamlining our logistical footprint is a good idea even if we do not attack Iran as well and is not necessarily a sign of withdrawal.

6 On June 23, 2006 at 12:20 PM, Daniel wrote —

Growth Factor,

I appreciate your insights.

I've previously talked about the Iran issue and while a strike is a possibility, my opinion is that, barring some unforeseen change in the situation there, I can't see the administration deciding to do so before the November election. As a matter of strategy, I don't see a plausible political benefit at the moment since a war with Iran would provide voters with an added uncertainty...something I believe the Republicans are attempting to reduce before November. Nonetheless, you make a good point.

As to the longer term goals of Bush, Cheney, and fellow administration the moment I would be hard pressed to reach any definitive conclusions. If there appears to be future economic or political benefit, they may well prefer to stay in Iraq.

I see Bush focused on winning elections and on his legacy vis-a-vis that of his father. As to Cheney...go figure? I think the man always seeks to operate from a position of control and power so you may well be right on his long range perspective.

Thanks again for your comments and I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future.


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