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President Bush might have been temped to announce a dramatic drawdown of U.S. troops as a way of declaring victory in Iraq as he is on his way out of office. Whatever happened next would be his successor’s headache.
Instead, he announced that he would leave the U.S. forces in Iraq largely intact, bringing home another 8,000 by February from the 146,000 there now. It is a wise choice. And he has done John McCain and Barack Obama a favor.
If the gains in Iraq prove, as Gen. David Petraeus said, "fragile and reversible," there will still be enough U.S. troops to stabilize the situation. McCain, if elected, can continue to prosecute the war as he has promised and Obama, who criticized the drawdown as too little and too slow, can make the major reductions he has promised, although the reality may look a little different from the White House.
The Iraq government wants us out by 2011. But there’s "out" and there is "out." The New York Times sampled Iraq opinion on whether we should stay or go. One group, mostly Shias, wants us out, now. But other, seemingly more numerous groups, want us to get out of their face but stick around the neighborhood just in case or, as Bush puts it, in "an over watch role."
The later would be the preferred course and one that now may be practical. Thanks to the surge, the Mahdi Army’s overreaching and the brutality of Al-Qaeda in Irag, violence is, according to Bush, "down to the lowest level since the spring of 2004. Civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down, suicide bombings are down, and normal life is returning to communities across the country."
As for our other problem, Afghanistan, Bush said a "quiet surge" is underway there with U.S. troop presence increasing from 21,000 to 31,000 and NATO forces from 20,000 to 31,000.
Obama believes Afghanistan should be our major focus and if he’s elected, Bush has left him enough troops to fight there too.