President Bush announced earlier this month that there would be no further troop cuts in Iraq until 2009. CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus has already said he doesn’t believe the war will ever end in anything resembling a victory. And while the administration continues to insist at every opportunity that the Iraq War has been a “major success,” the war weary public is still waiting for an end.
But they’d better not hold their breath. During a speech at the National Defense University, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cautions that “no matter who is elected president in November” the troops will remain in some capacity “for years to come.”
Both major party presidential candidates have lauded the surge strategy as a great success despite mounting evidence that sectarian cleansing, not the surge, was responsible for the drop in violence. Republican nominee John McCain has remained hawkish on the war from the start, though Democratic nominee Barrack Obama has several times stated his intent to withdraw forces from Iraq if elected.
However, Senator Obama’s comment earlier this month that “the surge succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” and increasing insistence that he will seek guidance from military leaders on the pullout have left the differences between the two candidates less clear. And with Afghanistan taking up an increasing amount of the campaigns’ focus it seems unlikely that further clarification is immediately forthcoming.
Secretary Gates also predicted increases in the number of troops in Afghanistan next year. He says that failure in either nation “would be a disastrous blow to our credibility.” But with Gen. Petraeus doubting victory in Iraq and Admiral Mullen warning that the strategy in Afghanistan isn’t succeeding either, staving off failure in either, let alone both, an enormous challenge.
With the two enormous military endeavors likely to carry on for years, Secretary Gates doubts that the United States will launch any further offensive wars aimed at regime-change “anytime soon.”