“Return on Success”? President Bush Accepts Pentagon’s Recommendation on Iraq Troop Levels

Following up on Friday’s story, President Bush has accepted the Pentagon’s recommendation to hold off on any further troop cuts in Iraq until after the new year. The move, announced in a speech this morning at the National Defense University, was reportedly condemned by Democrats who wanted to see a ‘more sizable troop shift’ to Afghanistan.

In the speech, the President once again lauds the progress of the surge, originally presented as a short term increase in forces in Iraq, but which has now endured (at least in part) for well over a year. The President says this latest delay in troop pullouts is part of his “return on success” strategy, confusingly intermingled with claims of great successes which have already been made but which came without any such returns. The decision will allow for the shift of a Marine battalion and an Army combat brigade to Afghanistan sometime next year, provided the pause in the Iraq pullout is not further extended by his successor.

Before the surge, the United States had approximately 130,000 troops in Iraq. At its peak, the surge brought the number up to 168,000. One year ago, General David Petraeus testified to Congress that the surge had achieved all of its military objectives, and predicted that levels could return to 130,000 by summer of 2008. With summer ending two weeks from today the troop level sits at 146,000, far from his initial projection. General Petraeus has since been promoted to head of Central Command, and will hand over control of US forces in Iraq to General Raymond Odierno one week from today.

So what happened? Shortly before General Petraeus’ promotion he issued a recommendation for a “pause” in the drawdown of forces in Iraq. President Bush accepted and announced a 45 day freeze on troop withdrawals beginning August 1st. The decision came as Petraeus warned that the “gains” the surge had achieved were “fragile and reversible”. At the time of the announced freeze, the AP reported that this “virtually guarantees that more than 100,000” troops will be left when Bush leaves office.

But now the 45 day freeze has turned into more of a six month freeze, and while the President is still presenting it as a testament to the great success of the surge, we can say that this latest move virtually guarantees that there will be more troops when President Bush leaves office in January than there were in January of 2007, when he announced the surge.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.