The Small Force

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Chris Bowers draws my attention to John Edwards' most specific statement yet, at yesterday's debate, of his view on the question of residual forces in Iraq:

I can tell you what i would do as president. When I'm sworn into office, come January of 2009, if there are, in fact, as General Petraeus suggests, 100,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, I will immediately draw down 40,000 to 50,000 troops; and over the course of the next several months, continue to bring our combat out of Iraq until all of our combat are, in fact, out of Iraq.

I think the problem is -- and it's what you just heard discussed -- is we will maintain an embassy in Baghdad. That embassy has to be protected. We will probably have humanitarian workers in Iraq. Those humanitarian workers have to be protected. I think somewhere in the neighborhood of a brigade of troops will be necessary to accomplish that, 3,500 to 5,000 troops.

To me, this is clearly preferable to more ambitious plans involving tends of thousands of soldiers. I wonder, though, if it's really possible. My guess is that deploying such a small force into such a chaotic country as Iraq would be too dangerous for the troops themselves. I'm not in a position to make a category statement to that effect, but I have a really hard time envisioning this as workable (think of the supply lines). The logic of the situation is that either you stay in Iraq in force, or else you give up on trying to use the US military as a tool for influencing political developments in Iraq and you leave.

The good news, however, as Ilan Goldenberg notes is that all of the major Democrats have been subtly shifting away from their previous commitment to an ill-defined and counter-productive "training" mission in Iraq.

Photo by Senior Airman Steve Czyz, US Air Force

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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