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Why Petraeus' Concession Is Less Than It Appears

At first blush, it may seem encouraging that Gen. David Petraeus is suddenly open to the idea of withdrawing about 4,000 troops from Iraq in January.

At first blush, it may seem encouraging that Gen. David Petraeus is suddenly open to the idea of withdrawing about 4,000 troops from Iraq in January. The news isn't nearly as heartening as it may appear.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus has indicated a willingness to consider a drawdown of one brigade of between 3,500 and 4,500 U.S. troops from Iraq early next year, with more to follow over the next months based on conditions on the ground, according to a senior U.S. official.

The pullouts would be contingent on the ability of U.S. and Iraqi forces to sustain what the administration heralds as recent gains in security and to make further gains in stabilizing Iraq. President Bush signaled the possibility of drawdowns after visiting Anbar province earlier this week. After meeting with Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Bush said he was told that "if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."

If someone were really trying to put a positive change-in-policy spin on all of this, I suppose they could come up with a pitch that's vaguely coherent. It would go something like this: Bush wants to continue with the status quo indefinitely, but here we have Petraeus agreeing with Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) that a brigade can come home fairly soon. Last week, far-right activists were saying Warner was "hurting the cause of freedom" by even suggesting a modest drawdown, but now Petraeus is apparently on board with the idea. It's a step in the right direction.

Except it really isn't. As Daniel Politi noted, "[I]s this even a real withdrawal? The goal of these pullbacks would merely reduce the number of American troops to their pre-'surge' levels of about 130,000. Is this really much of a concession when many have pointed to April 2008 as a date when the 'surge' is simply not going to be able to be sustained anymore?"

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