Following the president’s speech on the drawdown, at the White House Friday, a senior government official sketched out the details behind the plan. Here is my takeaway. While the words “change of mission” and “ending the war” sound different—there is a lot more continuity than change between the goals and the plans of the last administration and the new one.
There are only three key dates in the plan. (1) Combat troops out of the city by June of this year. (2) Combat troops out of the country by August of next year. (3) All the troops out by December 2011.
More troops and a slower pace than some “critics” want is an insurance policy. The White House knows it is not out of the woods yet. They want to be ready for the “bumps” in the road to withdrawal. They might include: (1) flair-up of violence in Kirkuk; (2) trouble with political reconciliation; (3) Iranian meddling; or (4) backtracking by the Sons of Iraq.
All eyes are now on the upcoming national elections (not scheduled yet but could be December or January) and the period afterward to get the government seated. If that goes well, the timeline and drawdown numbers should hold.
The Administration now turns to Afghanistan. The plan is to have a new plan ready to pitch the allies at the NATO summit in April. Looks like the White House plans to follow the same book—start where the last administration left off. Over the last year there have been major reviews of Afghanistan policy by the Joint Chiefs, Central Command, and the National Security Council. All those are feeding into a sixty-day review of the strategy that is underway as we speak.