Troop cuts

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(HOST) When and how to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq is much in debate these days, and commentator Bill Seamans says it’s likely to become even more of a political hot potato.

(SEAMANS) When are we getting out of Iraq? We the people have been asking that question and the Bush regime has responded with an attitude of – let’s call it positive sounding ambiguity. We’ve heard President Bush promise that “When they stand up, we’ll stand down.” During his Rose Garden news conference after he returned from his surprise secret trip to the American Green Zone fortress in Baghdad, Mr. Bush tossed the question of how long our troops will be in Iraq squarely into the November mid-term election campaign. He warned Democrats that their withdrawal demands would throw his counter terrorism war off track and “endanger our country.” Despite his protestations of “progress” Bush said that the “challenges that remain are serious…and they will require more sacrifice and patience.” It’s quite apparent that he does not yet see a light at the end of the troop withdrawal tunnel.

Bush has repeatedly said that the decision when to pull out of Iraq will be made by his generals on the ground. In one of those closely held secrets leaked last weekend to the press by the Bush people, our troop commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, is said to have presented a plan to the Pentagon that calls for the first withdrawal this September of two combat brigades of about seven thousand troops. Then the anonymous leakers said the so-called secret plan called for reducing the current fourteen combat brigades in Iraq to five or six by December, next year… However, taking out eight brigades or about twenty-eight thousand troops by December, 2007, would still leave about one hundred thousand troops in Iraq.

Now the numbers game can be really confusing. As reported in the New York Times, a senior White House official said that General Casey did not present a FORMAL PLAN for Mr. Bush’s approval but rather a CONCEPT of how the U.S. might move forward after consulting with the Iraqi Prime Minister… So I guess we’ll have to wait for the Prime Minister’s approval.

Meanwhile, the leaked secret troop withdrawal plan or concept raises the question whether it was devised by the strategic thinking of our generals on the ground or by the domestic political imperatives weighing on the strategic thinking of Republican campaign officials. The first seven thousand troops would be withdrawn before the November congressional elections – and a larger number of troops before the 2008 presidential election which would enable Bush to claim that at least some of his Mission has been accomplished.

And as expected, the Democrats angrily charge that while being criticized for trying to set a withdrawal timetable President Bush was secretly planning a timetable of his own.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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