The Great Unknown: American Troops in Iraq Under A Democratic Administration

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 18:22

Today, Senators Jim Webb and Harry Reid held a press conference on new legislation Webb is introducing. From the Senate majority leader website:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Jim Webb today discussed Democrats’ efforts to change course in Iraq and to ensure that our military and National Guard units deploying for combat operations are supported properly. Following the three deadliest months of the war, Democrats are forcing President Bush and Iraqis to finally accept some measure of accountability for this war through the Defense Authorization bill this week. Starting off the debate, Webb will introduce an amendment to the bill that requires active-duty troops to have at least the same amount of time at home as the length of their previous tour overseas.
This is a good piece of legislation, and I certainly hope it passes. However, for my money, the most interesting part of the press conference was a response Senator Reid gave to the final question of the presser. According to a video and rush transcript available at Crooks and Liars, Senator Reid said the following:
Feingold/Reid called for American troops to remain in Iraq to do counter-terrorsim…to protect our assets in Iraq. To train the Iraqis. There are estimates that that would still leave tens of thousands of troops to stay in Iraq. No one is calling for precipitous withdrawal in Iraq. No one
Wow. This is a remarkable admission, and one that virtually every Democratic politician has avoided like the plague. Very few Democrats have been willing to put an estimate on the amount of American troops that would remain in Iraq, even when it comes to legislation the Democrat in question is sponsoring. This is fairly justifiable, since estimates of any accuracy are very difficult to come by. Also, apart from the difficulty of making these estimations, there are obvious political concerns. After all, Democrats don’t exactly want to go around boasting that they will keep “tens of thousands” of troops in Iraq after claiming for nearly a year that we will end the war once in power.

More in the extended entry.
Chris Bowers :: The Great Unknown: American Troops in Iraq Under A Democratic Administration
Whether intentional or not, and whether accurate or not, I am glad that Senator Reid finally broached the subject and put a (very) rough estimate on the number of troops his sponsored legislation would leave in Iraq. This is a discussion we need to have. Importantly, once again underscoring the difficulty of these estimations, it should also be noted that Senator Feingold’s office disputes Reid’s “tens of thousands” number. Here is a statement I received over email from Senator Feingold’s office earlier today:
Senator Feingold believes that while decisions about exact troop levels should be made with input from military commanders, Feingold-Reid would redeploy the vast majority of U.S. troops in Iraq. Senator Feingold does not envision that the exceptions outlined in Feingold-Reid will require tens of thousands of troops.
Reid’s comment was off the cuff, and as such this more thought out statement from Feingold’s office is probably the more accurate one. Or, at least I hope it is more accurate. Even in this statement, it isn’t hard to see that no one is able to provide a reasonably precise estimate for how many American troops would stay in Iraq under most of the myriad Democratic redeployment plans. Democrats hope that “tens of thousands” won’t be necessary. Democrats don’t “envision” that tens of thousands will be necessary. Unfortunately, no one knows for sure.

What we do know for sure is that virtually every Democratic redeployment plan, whether coming from Congress or a 2008 Presidential candidate (or both), includes provisions for a reduced American troop presence in Iraq, as well as specific missions that troop presence would carry out. These missions range anywhere from conducting counter-terrorism operations, protecting humanitarian workers, maintaining a presence in the Kurdish north, to preventing genocide. Leaving arguments over the merits of these missions aside for the moment, what we don’t know is how many troops will be required to carry out these missions. The current best estimate for the most hawkish redeployment plan, Reid-Levin, is 40-60K. Of course, in what is still basically a game of guesswork, even that number comes with a few qualifiers. From what I have learned, the 40-60K figure actually comes from a New York Times estimate on how many troops would be required for the Iraq Study Group Report plan (counter-qualifier: even though that estimate comes form the New York Times, it is not seriously disputed in policy circles). Since Reid-Levin is basically turning the ISG into legislation, the generally accepted, though still admittedly guess-work, NYT estimate applies to that legislation as well. All other Democratic proposals would probably move downward from there, and thus require less than 40K. How much lower than 40K seems to be, quite literally, anyone’s guess at this point.

Our lack of information in this area is starting to frustrate me a great deal. I hope it frustrates you, as well. For one thing, it is very difficult to have a useful debate over Iraq during the Democratic primary season without comparing not only the specific missions the different candidates would have American troops carry out in Iraq if elected, but also reasonable estimate for how many troops those missions would require. Information like this is crucial both to understanding the differences between Democratic candidates on Iraq, and also to an informed electorate that understands our different options when it comes to Iraq. If ending the war means keeping 40,000 American troops in Iraq to one candidate (30% of pre-escalation levels), but it means only keeping 1,000-2,000 American troops in Iraq to another, well, then that’s something we ought to know. And it doesn’t help that the established media are not pushing Democrats on this point, at least yet.

Anyway, one of my first, long-term campaigns on Open Left will be to try and find the necessary information to clear up this matter. I’ll be posting about this again later in the week as I gather more information. I think it is a campaign that more people in the blogosphere should take up, because this is crucial not only to the way we understand the 2008 Democratic field, but also to what happens after Democrats win the White House in 2008. Almost every day, it seems more and more likely that we will in fact win the White House next year, and so we better start understanding what a Democratic administration would do when it comes to the defining issue of this decade: Iraq. This is one issue where we can’t afford to be surprised.

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Thanks for the well written diary n/t (0.00 / 0)

We Aren't Leaving Anytime Soon (0.00 / 0)
Sure, there may be a shell game with troop levels and an even greater emphasis on air power, but, as Reid puts it, we have to protect our 'assets'. That these assets are for the majority of the American people, liabilities, will not matter one whit.

We have, at the cost of billions, been building the largest embassy on the planet; between 6-11 permanent bases; opening up the Iraqi economy on terms beneficial to some of us.

The leading democrats and the party have hammered home the incompetance dodge enough for me to infer that they believe that they can handle this project better - without sacrificing the strategic goals. Whether they can reduce casualties, at least American ones, seems doubtful.

There is an amazingly broad bipartisan consensus on Mid-east policy. Iraq and in the future Iran are crucial objectives.

An occcupation is an occupation: just withdraw (0.00 / 0)
and both the Iraqis and the US must avoid an occupation. 

We've 'trained' their troops.  If more police or Army training is needed, then the UN, Iraq's neighbors, or some other Moslem entity should do the additional training. 

Richardson's position is the place to start: no residual force - except Embassy protection.  No permanent or semi-permanent bases.

Dems should not buy-in to a generation-long occupation of Iraq or any other nation where our presence will just generate more anti-occupation/anti-US terrorists.

[ Parent ]
We Will Be Forced Out Of Iraq (4.00 / 1)
Everything you say for Iraq was once true of Vietnam. The fact is that the occupation isn't sustainable in the face of a resistance that isn't giving up.

We have been here before, and Hillary looks set to be our generation's Lyndon Johnson. Ten thousand more dead troops by the end of her second term? Will we have another black wall to remember them afterwards? Where will the antiwar left be by then?

Four and a half years on from the commission of a monstrous, ongoing crime it beggars belief that our elected representatives are not demanding that those who committed and enabled it should be held accountable. Such an action would indict much of both parties and the "liberal" media alike.

I take some optimism from the extraordinarily broad swing of public opinion against war and even generally against foreign military adventures and imperialism. The question is whether the Democratic party will give this pressure an outlet.

[ Parent ]
nice diary (0.00 / 0)
the devil IS in the details. We owe it to our soldiers to figure out exactly what that number means to each candidate so that we can truly support the troops in the best manner possible.

Richardson said the magic, unspeakable, words (0.00 / 0)
"No residual forces." Hard to believe he means it. But he said it.

Can it happen here?

numbers at this point (0.00 / 0)
are likely meaningless and based more on results from a focus-group than in consultation with military commanders. The primary focus should be on what the candidates plan to do, then we can argue about how many troops that will take.

Call me silly, but (0.00 / 0)
I don't see Kucinich's 12 point plan as leaving American troops in Iraq:  He calls for an international force to replace our troops, but he doesn't say we're going to leave any of our troops there.  He also calls for the withdrawl of the mercinary contractors.

Trust no organization bigger than two, and even those are suspect.

Please provide those specifics (0.00 / 0)
Since an anti-war war movement doesn't appear to have emerged as an influential force, I suppose we are doomed to attempt an imitation of our Korean half-century in Iraq. I can't see how that can mean anything but continued IED attacks for whatever US forces remain after we pull out of Baghdad and other heavily populated areas. But, it is becoming clear to me that Congress is full of people who still think occupying Iraq is a good idea, poorly executed.

What about the Contractors? (0.00 / 0)
Here's an idea, what doesn't the House strip any and all funding for military contractors in Iraq in its DoD supplemental?

The true number of Americans "troops" in Iraq is nearly doubled when you add in the unaccountable contractors.

Plus, even if Bush vetos the bill, it would be great to make GOP members of Congress vote to support Blackwater and rest, especially after Waxman has done a few hearings documenting the atrocities.

If it were to pass, we would already halve the number of military folks in Iraq and really force the military to admit (aka Sec. Gates) it is stretched WAY too thin.

Truth over balance, progress over ideology

A Plan? I Don't Need No Stinkin' Plan! (0.00 / 1)
Now that Iraq is an unholy mess doesn't it commend that the Democratic candidates actually state their plans to resolve the situation?

I don't mean generalities like "Bring our troops home," or "Protect our interests," or "Force protection." What the hell do any of those actually mean in terms of blood and treasure? Do we bring in the UN, the Arab League? Do we have troops in Iraq forever? Do we bring back the Draft? There are any number of options, I'd really appreciate hearing which ones each candidate endorses.

I desperately wanted Bush to lose to Kerry in the last election. On voting day I still had no idea what John Kerry actually stood for. I voted for him anyway even though I knew that it was hopeless. It would be sad to watch the swearing-in of President Thompson for the same reason.

if you want a read on intentions look at capabilities (4.00 / 2)
This is a very important line of questioning that Chris Bowers is opening.  If you want to get a read on the intentions of the potential leaders of a next Democratic administration take a look at the capabilities they want to have when they are president.

All the leading Presidential candidates (with the possible exception of Edwards) support the increase in size of the Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 soldiers.  According to an analysis by the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA) this will be an increase in those two service's end-strengths sufficient to keep 75,000 American troops in Kuwait and Iraq (as well as 15,000 in Afghanistan) indefinitely.  See:

PDA senior analyst Carl Conetta estimates that at least 40,000 and possibly up to 60,000 troops would have to stay behind in Iraq to carry out the functions allowed by Congress in Feingold/Reid.  For more see:

Charles Knight
Project on Defense Alternatives

Thanks Guys! (4.00 / 1)
Another stellar effort. Can't wait to watch this project evolve.
Bet you meet ALL of YOUR maybe have a beer and get some rest!

When Corporatist Dems (0.00 / 0)
decide to stay the course and keep a garrison "over there"
is when you'll see an anti-war movement with depth and vigor.  I 'spect it'll get pretty frosty on the left end of th' tubes, but fun to see how many crypto-facsists shake out.

There's an important distinction to keep in mind here (4.00 / 2)
I'd rather see a debate about how the United States should relate to the Middle East, about the role of military power in our foreign policy, about Iran, Israel, Palestine, etc.

Asking candidates to present plans for withdrawal is premature - I want to know what sort of visions they have for the big picture, and then tell me how we get from here to there - and that's where how many troops come home when becomes an important question.

If I understood the candidates' visions for the future, I just might believe them when they said they were going to bring the troops home. The "pin 'em down on the details" approach is tempting because it gives us something to hold the eventual winner to when he or she is President - but I'm not going to believe any of them is doing anything but pulling numbers out of the air until I hear a real plan and real priorities and principles for how we're going deal with the world.

For example, a candidate could say, "We're out of there in 18 months tops." But that doesn't give me any idea what they'll do if things change. If we're 70% out and the Shiites start rounding up the Sunnis and shooting them en masse, where does prevention of genocide stack up as a priority? Does it supersede other priorities?

The other thing that worries me is that I have no clue how long it takes to withdraw a couple of hundred thousand people from a country, and what choices you have to make along the way. And I'm willing to bet that most of these candidates don't either - they'll be taking advisors' words for it, and those advisors' opinions are probably subject to debate among people who know about these things.

The point is that I want the candidates to convince me that they have a real plan for the Middle East and that their vision for Iraq fits into that plan in a believable way. Then maybe I'll feel like we have a credible leader on our hands.

Where would those left behind (4.00 / 1)
be stationed: in Iraq, or one of our allies in the region?  If they are still in Iraq, it doesn't seem likely that we could summon the political will to get those permanent bases stopped and removed.  Isn't such removal something we are interested in, as part of an effective withdrawal?  Otherwise, we might remove a lot of troops, but those bases would still signal "OCCUPIER!"  There is no way that Iraq has enough sovereignty to justify those bases as there with the agreement of the Iraqi government.

Any Puppet Will Do (0.00 / 0)
See: Afghanistan, Viet-Nam

[ Parent ]
Well, yes, but (0.00 / 0)
my question is "what are they going to do" not "what should they do?"

[ Parent ]
Far too many variables in this equation (0.00 / 0)
WHEN, repeat when, the US pulls out of Iraq, the number of troops that remain in-country for security purposes can only be a wild-assed guess.  The US military presence in Europe after WWII, until this moment, has been subject to several different definitions for force levels.  One of the most important was an unstated "hostage" component in which the troops were a trigger or tripwire; if Warsaw Pact forces did something, the engagement with US Army units would have initiated a massive, strategic, possibly nuclear response from the USA.  The numbers for actual post-war security forces in Germany (US, French & British) were variable downward over the years as the DBR became self-sufficient as a government.

As another complexity, NATO was a different, but parallel, & significant factor for the US military presence in Europe.  Further, right now, the European Command is of its size very much as a support force to elements in Iraq, Afghanistan & other non-European nations in Africa, Central Asia, Asia & the nearby oceans.

My point is that simple equations from folks like those publishing at the New York Times are not based in reality.  The residual, security-related force estimates for Iraq & Afghanistan are not at all useful (and, perhaps, not meaningful) in evaluating presidential candidates and their positions.

Some arm-chair generals offer opinions based on the troop levels in Korea.  For both geographic & strategic reasons, the numbers of US Army soldiers on the ground in Korea are not a useful guideline because of other US forces in other locations throughout the Pacific area.  I was cognizant & aware when Gen. Eisenhower talked about "ending hostilities" in Korea.  He was an expert on the subject.  As a result the US citizens trusted him.

Nixon repeated that technique/tactic.  He lied.  Tricky Dicky did not have a plan to end the war in Vietnam.  He knew nothing about the issue, but he knew that Ike's "thingee" worked well.  Pretty tricky, hunh?

Presently, none of the announced candidates have any knowledge on this topic in terms of Iraq . . . or Afghanistan.  In my opinion, any so-called plan from any of the potential presidents would be nonsense.

It may be very sensible for the Democratic Party hopefuls to keep their mouths shut or just state that they intend to consult with Gen. Eric Shinsecki.

Assets? (0.00 / 0)
The only assets belong to halliburton and the oil companies.
I can condone protecting the Kurds, after they stood up for us and got thrown under the bus for their trouble, under the reagan/bush regime. We owe them one. Or a couple, considering we just gave saddam a wink and a nod, and attack helicopters, after they gassed the Kurds. Which the reich wing now uses as evidence for the war, even though they condoned it.

jeez..I get a headache just thinking about it...

You haven't seen the anti-war movement yet (0.00 / 0)
And you won't until we have a Democratic president and no end to the War in Iraq. There is no escape from Iraq. We can tweak the troop levels and change objectives, but the cold hard truth is there will be Civil War the second we leave. If you think it's ugly now, wait until the entire country erupts into open warfare.

No Democrat will significantly change our current Iraq policy. When we're 4 years into Clinton, Obama, or Edwards' term, and there are still 70,000 US troops in Iraq, THEN you will see the anti-war movement. And I guarantee you that our troops will still be there in four years, regardless of who is elected.

There you have it. (0.00 / 0)
You're absolutely correct. And, no matter who is elected, we still won't have universal health care or a graduated income tax either.

Money talks, constituents walk.

[ Parent ]
Color me crazy... (0.00 / 0)
Butt Former Alaskan Senator, and current Democratic Presidential Nominee Mike Gravel have a plan to get us out of the war in Iraq. He also have a plan to do away with the income tax and replace it with a Federal Sales Tax (Fairtax). His tales of ending the draft seem historically accurate, and I suppose he's as qualified as any other nominee for the job (what the hell has Hillary Clinton done for me anyway?).

tax (0.00 / 0)
This is probably not a discussion for here, but since you brought it up.  I have read about a national sales tax and think it has merit(gets rid of the IRS anyway).  Theoretically people who consume the most would pay the most tax.  My question would be, what about people buying their  goods from another country (such as canada or mexico)?  What about buying from another country over the internet?  How would that be taxed?  Anyway, I like to see people who think outside the box as far as things like taxes, insurance, healthcare and education.  The right way might not have even been thought of yet.

[ Parent ]
Probably a topic for a different thread but... (0.00 / 0)
Ewww!  Sales tax is regressive.  People who have the least money end up paying the highest percentage of their income in taxes for the same items purchased, and that alone cancels any merit it might have.

[ Parent ]
Leaving 10,000 US troops in Iraq (0.00 / 0)
seems like the Neo-Con plan all along.

Rumsfeld is smiling.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

Troops in Iraq under the Dems (0.00 / 0)
The question that should be asked is where are they going to get replacements come next April when our Army is destroyed from within, thanks to dumya and cabal.  Either we have a draft, we get out or we decrease the numbers markedly.

Sigh. The ISG's proposal for a similar ... (0.00 / 0)
...residual force was characterized by retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters as leaving behind "tens of thousands of hostages in uniform."

We are rapidly approaching the day when there will be a major split in the antiwar movement.

Chris, (0.00 / 0)
Have you seen the challenge that Mike over in Blue Hampshire issued to the presidential campaigns?

Announcing New BH Feature: Policy Straw Poll

Quick: give me the distinguising traits of each primary candidate's health plan: not the stuff in common, but the distinguishing traits.

Can you do it? There's mandates in Senator Clinton's, right? Or not? If so, is she the only one? Kucinich is the only single-payer supporter, right? (or is Gravel in there too?)

The oddest thing about watching the debates is that despite the fact that the people watching need to know the DIFFERENCES between each candidate, you walk away knowing mostly what's the same.

That's why I'm announcing a new feature here at Blue Hampshire. For candidates who want to distinguish themselves from their competition, we will provide a forum.

Each week I will solicit from the campaigns a single paragraph asking the campaigns to define what makes them DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER CANDIDATES on a specific issue, i.e. Iraq, Energy Policy, Health Care, etc.

The two rules of the response are this -- the paragraph has to begin with the phrase "I am the only candidate who..." and  must deal with policy or approach, not resume (although if you are the only candidate that voted for x bill, etc., that qualifies as policy).

We'll post the responses on our front page along with a poll rating the responses.

The first subject will be Iraq

The word is that a number of campaigns, including top tier ones, have already responded or promised to respond, so some of what you are looking for may be found out when that post comes.

Blue Hampshire - Defeating Republicans since 2006.


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