Already it’s begun — the endless non-departure from Iraq. The Obama plan, restated many times during the presidential campaign, involved a 16-month schedule for withdrawing not all U.S. forces, but only U.S. "combat troops." Now, his (and, of course, George W. Bush’s) generals are showing visible evidence of dragging their combat boots in the sand on the subject. We were given fair warning. Over the last two years, numerous military figures have claimed that, as fast as they got into Iraq, it would be hell just getting all the U.S. stuff now embedded there out — and that’s without even taking into account the political situation in that country. Recently, according to military leaks to the media, "U.S. military planners" have come up with two alternate scenarios to Obama’s 16-month plan. One is reportedly 19 months long, the other 23 months long, and — here’s a shock — the two top generals in charge, Centcom commander David Petraeus and U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, favor the 23-month approach.
"Odierno and Petraeus have said that we really need 23 months to do this without jeopardizing the security gains that we’ve secured," was the way one typical anonymous official put it. President Obama has yet to show any sign of agreeing to this, but the pressure is evidently only beginning. Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service indicates that a "network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilizing public opinion against Obama’s [16-month plan]… If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the ‘collapse’ they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops." Stab in the back, anyone?
Oh, and in the bargain, the generals are evidently also planning to re-label some of those withdrawable combat forces among the still staggering 144,000 troops in Iraq — the American invasion force of 2003 was only about 130,000 strong — as non-combat "support troops" or advisors. They would, Robert Burns of the Associated Press writes, be "redesigned and reconfigured as multipurpose units to provide training and advising for Iraqi security force" and so would "be considered noncombat outfits." What’s in a name, after all?
In the end, according to the New York Times, the generals hope to leave one third of American troops, almost 50,000 of them, in Iraq for an undetermined period (and that number, of course, doesn’t including private security contractors) after the combat troops are withdrawn.