The following short exchange is from a Department of Defense Briefing with Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace from the Pentagon, September 27th, 2007.
Tony Capaccio of the Bloomberg News asked a question: The Turkish prime minister today up in New York said that he thought it would be a good idea if the United States set a timetable for a gradual withdrawal from Iraq because of its impact on Iraqi forces stepping up to their responsibility. He also said that he would look favorably — positively, I think, is the word he used, on the United States exiting through Turkey and were not allowed to do so, of course, when we came in. Your reaction to those statements?
Sec. Gates answered: Well, I think that the reality is that there have been sort of over a period of months a series of expectations or a series of views of what the president ought to do in Iraq. It started with saying that he will begin to draw down the forces; then it was a date to begin the draw-down of the forces; then it was a timetable for the draw-down of the forces; and then it was stating that there would be a change of mission.
I think the president, in his speech, essentially moved on all four of those. He announced that there would be withdrawals, draw-downs; he announced when the draw-downs would begin — last week, as a matter of fact; he — and General Petraeus has laid out a schedule of sorts through at least July with a review in March to see what to do beyond July, so at least there is some kind of conditions-based timetable; and the president announced that the beginning of the withdrawal — the withdrawal of the first brigade or the — not replacing a brigade in December would mark the beginning of a transition of mission.
An end date creates two problems for me. One is it tells your adversary how long they have to wait and puts a precise calendar date on it. If you guys can just hang in there for X months, the Americans will be gone.
Related to that, it essentially — and the second point — it sends the same message to the Iraqis.
Now, the assumption is that an end date will drive the Iraqis together; that's an assumption. I think an equally valid assumption might be it might drive them apart as they try to protect themselves, and if the Americans aren't going to be here, then how do we preserve our community and our lives post-coalition?
And so it seems to me that the real issue we've arrived at is the pacing of the draw-downs depending on the circumstances. And as I've said before, I think how we get this next phase — that it's very important that we get this next phase right, because the consequences of getting it wrong are so significant.
General Petraeus and all of the senior American military commanders have said the way General Petraeus has laid it out is what we think is the best way to go.
I find some irony in the notion that some of those who have alleged that the views of the senior military officers who were not taken seriously enough at the beginning of the war are now prepared to set aside the recommendations and views of the senior military officers in this next phase of the war.
So this is one where, it seems to me, if the issue is truly pacing of draw-downs depending on circumstances, then it seems to me that our professional military officers, including the commander on the ground, probably have a better feel for how to do that in a way that minimizes negative consequences, both in terms of risks to our own troops but also the circumstances in Iraq, is worth paying attention to.
Read why we need to look at Iraq as only a small part of a much larger war.
Read what you can do with this information to help halt terrorism.