The president’s shaky political consensus for the surge in Iraq is in danger of collapsing after the recent defections of prominent Senate Republicans such as Richard Lugar (Ind.), Pete Domenici (N.M.) and George Voinovich (Ohio). But this growing opposition to the surge has not yet translated into support for outright withdrawal — few lawmakers are comfortable with abandoning Iraq or admitting defeat. The result has been a search for some kind of politically moderate “Plan B” that would split the difference between surge and withdrawal.
The problem is that these politics do not fit the military reality of Iraq. Many would like to reduce the U.S. commitment to something like half of today’s troop presence there. But it is much harder to find a mission for the remaining 60,000 to 80,000 soldiers that makes any sense militarily.
Perhaps the most popular centrist option today is drawn from the Baker-Hamilton commission recommendations of last December. This would withdraw U.S. combat brigades, shift the American mission to one of training and supporting the Iraqi security forces, and cut total U.S. troop levels in the country by about half. This idea is at the heart of the proposed legislative effort that Domenici threw his support behind last week, and support is growing on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.
The politics make sense, but the compromise leaves us with an untenable military mission. Without a major U.S. combat effort to keep the violence down, the American training effort would face challenges even bigger than those our troops are confronting today.