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Bush Given Iraq War Plan

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - March 27, 2008
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Bush Given Iraq War Plan With a Steady Troop Level
By Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker
The New York Times

Washington - Troop levels in Iraq would remain nearly the 
same through 2008 as they have been through most of the 
five years of war there, under plans presented to President 
Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the 
top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and 
military officials said. 

Mr. Bush announced no final decision on future troop levels 
after the video briefing by the commander, Gen. David H. 
Petraeus, and the diplomat, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. The 
briefing took place on the day when the 4,000th American 
military death of the war was reported and just after the 
invasion's fifth anniversary. 

But it now appears likely that any decision on major 
reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to 
the next president. That ensures that the question over 
what comes next will remain in the center of the 
presidential campaign through Election Day. 

General Petraeus, speaking to Mr. Bush by secure video-
conference during a two-hour meeting of the National 
Security Council, recommended putting off decisions on 
further troop reductions for a month or two after the 
departure in July of five extra brigades sent last year 
to help secure the nation, the officials said. They spoke 
on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely 
about internal deliberations. 

There would be more frequent reviews after that to see when 
withdrawals might be allowed to resume, without any pre-
determined outcome and, given the time required to put 
troops into motion, little likelihood of big reductions 
on short timetables. 

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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.

A review of conditions in Iraq roughly once a month, as 
opposed to the large, formal reviews that have taken place 
every six months, would be likely to prevent long debates 
like the one that began almost the moment General Petraeus 
and Ambassador Crocker reported to Congress last September 
on the progress of the troop increase up to that point. 
The withdrawal of the additional troops began in December 
and will be completed in July. 

The two men are to appear on Capitol Hill again on April 
8 and 9. 

These more frequent reviews are advocated, officials said, 
by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by the military's Central 
Command, which is responsible for operations across the 
region, including those in Afghanistan. The reviews would 
determine how many more brigades, if any, could be ordered 
out of Iraq in the final months of the Bush presidency. 

Reducing the troops in Iraq as much as is feasible has been 
a priority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are to brief 
Mr. Bush this week. The Joint Chiefs have argued in favor 
of finding ways to ease the strain of the war in Iraq on 
military training and morale and to balance General 
Petraeus's plans for Iraq with the need to prepare for 
other potential conflicts. A decision to suspend further 
reductions has already prompted criticism from Democrats 
in Congress, especially as the presidential primary 
campaign has intensified. 

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The two Democratic candidates, Senators Hillary Rodham 
Clinton and Barack Obama, have proposed more rapid with-
drawals of troops, though on different timelines. The 
Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, has advocated 
following a policy close to that of President Bush's. 

Mr. Bush on Monday addressed the milestone of the 4,000th 
death during a brief statement at the State Department, 
where he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and 
other senior aides. In a statement that began haltingly, 
he expressed his sympathies for the families of those 
killed, both soldiers and diplomats, and sought to put 
their deaths in historical context. 

"I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I'm 
president, to make sure that those lives were not lost in 
vain; that, in fact, there is a outcome that will merit 
the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made; 
that our strategy going forward will be aimed at making 
sure that we achieve victory," he said. 

By many accounts, the addition of five combat brigades 
last year, which raised the American troop level to a 
peak of nearly 170,000 from 132,000, was a factor in 
helping reduce violence in Iraq. But Mr. Bush and his 
aides are described as wary of risking the gains. 

Mr. Bush, according to officials, could decide to make 
no further reductions in troops after the departure this 
summer of the last of the additional troops, leaving 
roughly 140,000. That number includes the 15 combat 
brigades in Iraq before the troop increase, as well as 
additional support, training and other units that are 
expected to stay. 

Senior Army planning officers say it typically takes about 
45 days to withdraw a combat brigade, meaning that only 
two or three more brigades - at most - could be withdrawn 
before the end of the year, which would leave troop levels 
far above 100,000. 

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At the same time, a fresh brigade now on the rotation 
schedule for Iraq would need to know 70 to 90 days in 
advance of a change in plans, in particular as heavy 
equipment is loaded long before the troops step onto 
transport planes.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, as part of a study ahead of 
their report to Mr. Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday, 
have been analyzing how those brigades that may not be 
sent to Iraq can be used best, with options including 
greater attention to training as well as whether missions 
or elsewhere can be bolstered.

Another factor that may complicate the decisions on troop 
levels this fall is the anticipation of provincial 
elections across Iraq in October. For each previous 
nationwide election, American force levels actually were 
increased significantly to provide security for the voting. 

Michele A. Flournoy, president of the Center for a New 
American Security, a nonpartisan research organization, 
said that many factors weighed on General Petraeus and 
other commanders as they considered recommendations to 
the president. Those included the coming Iraqi regional 
elections, as well as the period of transition that will 
follow the American election in November. 

Ms. Flournoy expressed concern that some officials, 
lawmakers and analysts were already looking beyond the 
Bush presidency, when, she said, the administration 
needed to keep pressing for more meaningful progress by 
the Iraqi government to provide security and bridge 
ethnic and sectarian divisions. 

Referring to the troop increase ordered last year, she 
said, "The only happy ending to the surge is for it to 
produce some strategic results, which it has yet to do." 

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