My FP colleague Tom Ricks has been arguing for quite some time not only that the U.S. should keep significant numbers of combat forces in Iraq well beyond Obama's timeline, but that U.S. commanders have actually asked for this. Today, he posts what he takes as a vindication of his reporting:
Here's the story in which Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, the U.S. commander for northern Iraq, discusses the need to keep a combat brigade up there beyond President Obama's August deadline to get all combat troops out of Iraq. As reported here about two weeks ago, I might add.
Uh oh! So, let's click the link and see what it says. The headline does indeed say "U.S. commander might need troops beyond August." What about the actual article? Let me just quote:
General Cucolo says he is only talking about maybe 800 troops in 26 small units spread along the Arab-Kurd regional border, and they could be redesignated as advisory units, the U.S. network said.
And the general says even that may not be necessary. He says the Kurdish and Arab forces that nearly went to war last year, before the three-way security system was established, are now working together quite well. In the interview, he predicted they might be able to work without U.S. help by the time the American combat role is to end six months from now, but later he backed off from that a little bit.
Eight hundred troops in 26 small advisory units, which may not be necessary? OK. If the "unravelling of Iraq" which Ricks has been predicting for the last year is of the same magnitude as this possible extension of 800 troops in small advisory units which may not be necessary, then I think we could probably all live with it.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.