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Dogs That Didn’t Bark Over Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal

As noted, Defense Secretary Bob Gates told reporters on Friday that President Obama’s combat-troop withdrawal plan had the support of Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, the chief of U.S. Central Command and the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, respectively. And that raises an interesting question: What hasn’t happened in the month between Obama’s inauguration and the withdrawal speech?

There haven’t been damaging quotes from anonymous military officials to The Washington Post and The New York Times about how Obama was gambling with the hard-won security gains in Iraq in order to appease his political base. Jack Keane hasn’t been all over TV saying that Obama is a liberal version of former President George W. Bush, ready to disregard his best military advice to suit an ideological agenda. And there hasn’t been a metanarrative in the press about heavy-handed Obama political hacks acting as if they know strategy better than the generals.

What happened? At least two things. First, my understanding is that Petraeus was impressed that Obama didn’t solicit his advice in a superficial way, but seemed genuinely interested in making Petraeus a partner for devising the plan. Second, with regard to Odierno, one of Odierno’s key concerns was having a significant force in place through the next two rounds of Iraqi elections this year — district and sub-district in August and national in December — and so Obama basically gave him what he wanted. Odierno issued a letter yesterday to his troops about the withdrawal plan:

Odiernoltr2
Odiernoltr2

Notice how Odierno praises the plan for its “flexibility,” for the “extensive consultation” displayed by Obama in creating it, and for fulfilling the obligations placed on the United States for withdrawal commensurate with the Status of Forces Agreement. Also, notice how Odierno says the plan will basically phase combat-troop withdrawal over six months, and then largely pause the drawdown at “a robust level” until the elections period ends, after which withdrawal will continue. Basically, it looks like Obama gave Odierno most of 2009 to keep levels at a level the general’s comfortable with. Don’t be surprised if we end the year with more than 100,000 troops in Iraq; it appears to be the cost of withdrawing to 55,000 by next summer.

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