General David Petraeus, in his testimony to Congress earlier this week, said he believes the additional 30,000 “surge” troops sent to Iraq earlier this year could return home by the summer of 2008. That would reduce the number of U.S. forces in the country to around 130,000 -- the operational strength before the surge began.
"I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the presurge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve," Petraeus said.
'Solidify The Gains'
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on September 12 in an interview with U.S. television, reiterated that the White House sees signs of military progress in Iraq, clearing the way for some U.S. troop reductions.
"The way ahead here is to solidify the gains that we have made," Rice said, "to extend those gains, to begin to turn over responsibilities for a changed and better security circumstance to Iraqi forces who are being trained, and to begin to have American forces, in lower numbers, turn to other responsibilities, which, frankly, like a stable Iraq, are very key to our interests, including securing the territorial integrity of Iraq."
But opposition Democrats have greeted Petraeus’s recommendation with skepticism. They note that the U.S. military has little choice but to end the surge next summer -- if it wants to avoid extending soldiers’ standard tours of duty. Many Democrats in Congress have called for a deeper and quicker drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, leading to a withdrawal of most combat troops by 2008.
'More Of The Same'
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Petraeus’s proposal “more of the same” and “unacceptable.” Senator Hillary Clinton, the front-running Democratic Party presidential candidate, was even more biting in her assessment. "Taking credit for this troop reduction is like taking credit for the sun coming up in the morning," she said.
But it is clear the White House intends to go on the offensive against its opponents in Congress. Whether that will succeed in changing public opinion remains unclear. According to the latest polls, more than half of Americans surveyed believe the Iraq war was a mistake, and they do not believe sending more troops to Iraq has improved the situation there.
Bush is scheduled to follow his speech today with another one on September 14 at a Marine Corps base near Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney is also scheduled to speak on September 14 before a military audience, at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.