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.