The Strain on Our Armed Forces

The headline in the AP story by Anne Flaherty at 6:30 p.m. on Monday is “Petraeus Talks of Troop Withdrawal.” Really?

We can argue this headline, discuss whether we are withdrawing fast enough, whether the political situation in Iraq is getting better or worse, whether this administration’s policies in Iraq make any sense.

But one argument that seems to me to be overlooked by many of us, but probably not those in the military, is that we are really harming our armed forces with a continued presence in Iraq.

I worked in the Pentagon after graduate school and before serving as a staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and for Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). We all operated under the 2½ war strategy. That is, that America should be able to sustain two major conflicts and a brush fire conflict at the same time.

That meant we needed the troops, the equipment and the infrastructure to be ready and able around the globe. The generals who serve the United States so admirably today know that is certainly not the case now. We have moved light years forward with technology, yet we cannot deal with the war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan while we are mired in Iraq. We don’t have the manpower or womanpower to intervene in another conflict in Africa or the Middle East.

We cannot sustain 15-month deployments for our troops. We cannot continue to burn through equipment at the current rate, even at the spending level we are pursuing. Soon, this war will have exceeded all other wars —WWII, Korea, Vietnam — in 2007dollars.

The point I am making is that my guess is that Gen. David Petraeus worries, too, about what this war is doing to our military strength. We cannot police Iraq; we cannot continue to keep over 100,000 troops there indefinitely. It does not make military sense. Or, for that matter, political sense.

Right now, getting us back to pre-escalation numbers of 130,000 troops by July 2008 is really unacceptable to both a strong American military and to achieving stability in Iraq. The best possible strategy is to begin a real drawdown, send the message to the Iraqi government that it is time for them to step up and let the warring parties pursue a political solution over the coming year. We should be out of Iraq by July 2008 — not up to our necks in the quagmire.