The release of a new intelligence assessment of the war in Iraq on Thursday has prompted several high-visibility US politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, to call for American troop withdrawals. Composed by the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the report indicates that while the troop surge in Iraq has been effective in reducing violence in "measurable but uneven improvements," it gives a grim prognosis of Iraq's government under the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Though some politicians have used the reports findings to support the war effort, others, most prominently Sen. John W. Warner (R) of Virginia, have used it as further fodder to challenge the Iraq war.
NIE offers a mixed progress report of the war. Its report, titled "Prospects for Iraq's Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive," represents the general consensus of the US's 16 intelligence agencies. Though coalition forces have made some security gains, Iraq's security forces remain incapable of operating independently of the US military and the nation's political failures ultimately threaten the security situation, says the NIE report.
We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq's security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance. Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.
The report indicated that it "implicitly criticizes" the type of large scale troop withdrawals proposed by several Democrats, including some presidential candidates. The Democratic proposals call for less focus on "manpower-intensive" operations and greater focus on supporting Iraqi troops and carrying out high speed, counterterrorism raids, reports The New York Times. While White House officials focused on this aspect of the report, their opponents drew attention to the risks posed by a weak Iraqi government, as described in the NIE assessment.
White House officials said the assessment was evidence that the American troop increase had begun to dampen violence in Iraq, that progress was possible, and that a precipitous troop withdrawal would sow chaos in the country. Democrats said the report showed that the White House had failed in its effort to use the troop increase in Iraq to promote political progress, and that it was time for the United States to change course.
White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe argued in The Washington Times that the report indicated a great success for the Bush administration. "While the February NIE concluded that conditions in Iraq were worsening, today's key judgments clearly show that the military's counterinsurgency strategy, fully operational since mid-summer, has begun to slow the rapidly increasing violence and patterns of the violence we've been seeing in Iraq," he said. One of his opponents, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, said in The Hill newspaper that the NIE report indicated just the opposite, showing "what most Americans already know: Our troops are mired in an Iraqi civil war and the President's escalation strategy has failed to produce the political results he promised to our troops and the American people."
However, at least one prominent Republican, Senator Warner, took a more Democratic line following the report's release on Thursday. Warner called for the withdrawal of 5,000 US troops by Christmas. Throughout his speech, he stressed that he was not calling for a timetable or funding cuts, rather he was simply offering President Bush a suggestion, reports The Politico, a Washington, D.C.-based publication.
[W]hen a senior Republican senator like Warner, who is a former Armed Services Committee chairman, lays out a path that rebukes the course of action by the White House, it sets a new tone for the debate.
"Republicans have to find something in between. They don't want to run on the president's position and they don't want to be with Democrats," said Robert Holsworth, professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert in Virginia politics. "You'll now have a number of people who want to associate themselves with the 'Warner position."
Stars and Stripes, the official US military newspaper, said Warner's proposal would represent a "symbolic move." Warner said he believed that the limited withdrawal would send a message to Iraqi political leaders that they needed to begin taking responsibility for the security of their country without seriously detracting from the US presence there.
"You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly with 160,000-plus troops, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their loved ones by Christmas," he told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference.
"I think it sends a strong message, that the United States means it when it says, 'We didn't come here to stay.' "
Several presidential candidates, such as Sen. John Edwards, have used the report as an opportunity to express their opinions and proposed plans for Iraq. In a statement published on his website, Senator Edwards called for "bold change and real solutions in Iraq."
It is more obvious now than ever before that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not doing a good enough job leading his country. Job performance matters in a democracy. Iraqis should replace al-Maliki with a leader more capable of unifying the country's warring factions and achieving the political solution that will stabilize Iraq. However, American policymakers must focus on comprehensive solutions, not individual band-aids. And they must avoid the conventional Washington-style decisions that created the Iraq mess in the first place.