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Not Really Withdrawal

Newsweek has a piece on the Senate Republicans who are grumbling about Iraq. But what are they going to do about it? This here looks like a crucial caveat:

[Susan Collins] introduced a bipartisan amendment to immediately wind down combat operations and instead have troops focus on counterterrorism, border security and training Iraqi troops. Collins believes her plan--broadly similar to others floating around Congress--will result in a "significant drawdown of our troops."

Maybe. But military experts whom NEWSWEEK interviewed (among them senior officers serving in Iraq) suggest that for such a combination of missions to be done effectively, there would be little allowance for any reduction in troops. Given political realities, of course, adding troops is a nonstarter.

It's also not clear that "counterterrorism, border security and training" are things that actually should get greater emphasis: "Training" could just end up bolstering the various militias and making future sectarian warfare worse; it's not obvious that "border security" would significantly reduce the level of violence in Iraq (although it could increase the risk of a shooting incident with Iranian troops), and "counterterrorism" sounds like a license to carry on as usual, since presumably pretty much any operation can be considered "counterterrorism."

But this approach has the most support in Congress right now: Beyond Collins' amendment and the Iraq Study Group bill, even the Levin-Reed bill would shift troops to "counterterrorism, border security, and training" as a prelude to (perhaps) eventual withdrawal.

--Bradford Plumer