Morning Bell: Arbitrary Deadlines No Way to Run a Military

Conn Carroll /

Now that headlines across the world proclaim “Al-Qaeda leaders admit: ‘We are in crisis. There is panic and fear.’” the campaign promises of prominent political leaders here in the United States are finally coming under much-needed scrutiny. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer discussed the policy and rhetoric of all three top presidential candidates this Sunday with retired Gen. Colin Powell. On John McCain, Powell provided the necessary context for McCain’s recent comments on the possibility of the U.S. being in Iraq for a hundred years:

Now, you notice, in the very last part of his statement, he said, assuming nobody is getting killed. … He was talking about a more sustained deployment such as we had in Germany, for all those years, or in Japan … So I think you have to listen very carefully to what the senator said. He knows what he’s talking about when he talks about military matters.

On Hillary Clinton’s promise to withdraw troops in 60 days, Powell said:

Well, I have no idea on what basis she is making these statements. Is this based on some military advice she has received from her staff, or — you know, I don’t know what’s magic about 60 days and what’s magic about one or two brigades a month. …What we need to do is to stop throwing numbers out like this, but take a look at the situation on the ground, listen to General Petraeus, listen to the other senior members of the military, work with the Iraqis.

On Barack Obama’s promise to remove all combat forces from Iraq in 16 months:

I have found in my many years of service, to set arbitrary dates that don’t coincide with the situation on the ground or what actually is happening tends not to be a useful strategy. … Arbitrary deadlines that are snatched out of the air and are based on some lunar calculation is not the way to run a military or a strategic operation of this type. You have got to look at the situation.

There has been much progress in Iraq, but as Powell said, “not yet final progress.” Many opponents of the surge continue to argue that the way to force Iraqis to compromise is to rapidly withdraw U.S. troops. But such a policy is likely to have the reverse effect. A premature reduction in troops would squander hard-won gains in security. The United States must maintain enough troops in Iraq to help the country’s young government to establish the security conditions necessary to forge a durable power-sharing agreement.

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