Today’s Must Read

When Gen. David Petraeus made his big trip to Congress last September, he came armed with a full deck of slides. But none of them captured the U.S. strategy in Iraq quite like this one:

In it, you can see a neat illustration of how we’re going to eventually get out of Iraq. By July, as you can see above, the U.S. force level will return to the approximate size it was preceding the surge. After that, well… the question marks begin.

According to the chart, the date for the subsequent drawdown was to be determined this month (the “decision point”). But it won’t be, The Washington Post and New York Times report this morning.

When Petraeus returns to Congress in a couple weeks for his next big briefing, he will give a good idea of how many U.S. troops will remain in Iraq as of July. But beyond that, nothing. From the Times:

During the briefing to the president, General Petraeus laid out a number of potential options, the officials said, but avoided using the term “pause.” That word has gained traction here in Washington over recent weeks to describe the plateau in troop levels that is widely expected to last through the fall elections and perhaps beyond.

Instead, he described the weeks after the departure of the extra brigades ordered to Iraq in January 2007 as a period of “consolidation and evaluation,” a phrase first used publicly by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during a visit to Iraq in February.

The officials said that Mr. Bush and General Petraeus, recognizing public and Congressional wariness about the toll of the war, would publicly hold out the possibly of withdrawing more troops, but only if conditions allowed it. Mr. Bush, in particular, is eager to end his presidency with the appearance that things are getting better in Iraq.

The Times concludes that “it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president.” A state of affairs that should surprise no one, as the administration has ably kicked the can down the road with promises of dramatic improvement just six months away. Perhaps the only happy development from all this is that the administration has decided to chuck the farcical six month reviews and instead concentrate on a smaller review every month by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s Central Command, where, away from the distraction of noisy public debate, the military can privately ascertain whether it’s safe to draw down troops in the last months of Bush’s presidency.

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