Today’s Must Read

April 10, 2008 9:35 a.m.

After all that talk, finally a decision. Behold, America, your new (sort of) way forward in Iraq:

President Bush plans to announce today that he will cut Army combat tours in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months, returning rotations to where they were before last year’s troop buildup in an effort to alleviate the tremendous stress on the military, administration officials said.

The move is in response to intense pressure from service commanders who have expressed anxiety about the toll of long deployments on their soldiers and, more broadly, about the U.S. military’s ability to confront unanticipated threats. Bush will announce the decision during a national speech, in which aides said he will also embrace Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’s plan to indefinitely suspend a drawdown of forces.

The twin decisions may set the course for U.S. policy in Iraq through the fall and perhaps for the rest of Bush’s presidency….

The bottom line seems to be that after pulling out the extra forces Bush sent last year, the United States will keep about 140,000 troops in Iraq at least through the November presidential election….

But Bush’s decision will affect only those troops sent to Iraq as of Aug. 1 or later, meaning that those already there still have to complete 15-month tours. Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America, an advocacy group, said that nearly half of the Army’s active-duty frontline units are currently deployed for 15 months, and that Bush’s decision leaves them out.

And how will you know whether things are going well, well enough to expect any troop withdrawals before the end of the year? As Gen. David Petraeus made abundantly clear this week, it’s not clear. It’s a lack of clarity shared at the highest levels of the administration:

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration had abandoned the benchmarks [Congress set for Iraq] as a strict standard of progress because establishing a secure Iraq would also depend on factors other than political and military progress.

Over two days of testimony, General Petraeus repeatedly was asked to explain the conditions that would allow further withdrawals, but he answered that they were not based on some easily defined measurements.

Asked for elaboration, the senior administration official said, “It’s a very hard concept to explain publicly because it doesn’t feature a sort of setting of the dial. It features what we call a running assessment.”

Bush is set to speak at 11:30 this morning.

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