It does appear that we are seeing the beginning of the end game for our involvement in Iraq according to the Washington Post:
U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a "post-occupation" troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years.
This goal, drawn from recent interviews with more than 20 U.S. military officers and other officials here, including senior commanders, strategists and analysts, remains in the early planning stages. It is based on officials' assessment that a sharp drawdown of troops is likely to begin by the middle of next year, with roughly two-thirds of the current force of 150,000 moving out by late 2008 or early 2009. The questions officials are grappling with are not whether the U.S. presence will be cut, but how quickly, to what level and to what purpose.
It does appear that George W Bush is placing the desire to head off another electoral disaster for the Republicans in 2008 above his often-stated goal of fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here. We are no longer waiting for the Iraqis to stand up before we stand down:
Officials now dismiss the 2004-06 years -- when Gen. George W. Casey Jr. was in command -- as a fruitless "rush to transition," as one senior defense official here put it. "The idea was, 'As they stand up, we'll stand down,' " he said. That phrase has been all but banished from the Green Zone, as has the notion of measuring U.S. progress in Iraq by the number of Iraqi troops trained or by changes in U.S. casualty counts.
And, as I have written before, so-called "turning points" like the Iraqi elections of 2005 have only accelerated the country's slide into civil war. These events were used simply as propaganda by the administration to shore up faltering support for the war.
Top military officials even say that Iraq's elections in December 2005 only deepened sectarian divides and contributed to the outbreak of a low-grade civil war in Baghdad last year. "We wanted an election in the worst way, and we got one in the worst way," one U.S. general here said.
The important objective right now is to get the ball rolling in the direction of withdrawal. Complete withdrawal won't happen overnight and it probably shouldn't. It's clear that George W Bush wants to maintain a presence of probably 50,000 troops in Iraq right up to the time he leaves office in January of 2009. That's too large a force in my estimation but it's a clear reversal of Bush's ill-advised escalation that began early this year. With the Republicans banished from the Presidency in 2009 and a strengthened Democratic majority in Congress we will be able to build momentum towards an even further reduction of our forces in Iraq.
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