How do you stand down?

June 27, 2006

It's tempting to find fault with the Bush administration for its sheer hypocrisy when it comes to the argument over withdrawing troops from Iraq, because of the rather thin difference between the "cut-and-run" plan of the Democrats and the pull-out-eight-brigades-before-2008 blueprint of Gen. George W. Casey Jr., U.S. commander in Iraq.

It's tempting, but it would be wrong, because any action by the White House to bring soldiers and Marines home is welcome - no matter how contrived the fig leaf or cynical the motivation or felicitous the election-year timing. The fewer Americans who are there to be killed and wounded, the better.

But here's what is reprehensible: Encouraging little boomlets of speculation that a cutback is in the air, when no such thing is about to happen. This has become almost standard operating procedure in this unpopular war. Here, for instance, is what The Sun reported last August: "American ground commanders in Iraq aim to reduce the 138,000 U.S. troops by about 20,000 by next spring, followed by a continued drawdown of tens of thousands more troops into late next year." Well, "next spring" in that sentence refers to the one that just ended, and somehow that drawdown never materialized. Go back to 2004, or 2003, and you can find the same sorts of stories.

Last week, General Casey briefed President Bush on the next pullback scenario. Maybe, this time, it's actually going to play out, but it's predicated on Iraq getting back on its feet. At the moment, though, death and mayhem are on the increase, not the reverse.

Eventually, someone in Washington will find a way to extract the U.S. forces there. No one seriously suggests there can be "victory" anymore. The Republicans will hope that an exit can be arranged that makes Democrats look like cowards, and the Democrats will try to make the Republicans look like heartless and arrogant failures.

It's dispiriting: Americans are still getting killed in Iraq, and the disastrous war continues to do long-lasting damage to America's interests. When U.S. troops finally do come home, that's going to be good news.

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