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Withdrawal Pains

It's time to acknowledge the reality of Iraq and stop talking about fewer troops.

7:00 AM, Dec 5, 2005 • By ROBERT KAGAN
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Now that indigenous Iraqi forces are starting to fight more effectively and in greater numbers, we may be getting to the point where the current U.S. force of more than 150,000 troops is adequate to start providing Iraqis the necessary security and stability. We may be today where we should have been two years ago. If American force levels hold steady while Iraqi force levels increase, that gradually shifts the balance in the conflict in our favor. But we will almost certainly have to maintain something like these levels for another two years, and possibly longer.

Talk of reductions and withdrawal is as unhelpful as it almost certainly is ephemeral. For 2 1/2 years, despite the endless promise of reductions, despite election battles, scandals and shifting political fortunes, the United States has maintained a steady force of 130,000 to 150,000 troops in Iraq. You can bet that the numbers will not be dramatically smaller a year from now or even two years from now. Wouldn't we be better off, wouldn't our prospects for success be greater, if we just admitted it? Better still, the administration could explain why it is so important to keep these troops in place so that the public understands the long road ahead. It could start taking steps to increase the overall size of the U.S. military so that the sustained deployment doesn't "break" the Army. And it could stop making false promises of reductions that cannot and should not occur until Iraq is indeed secure and stable.

Robert Kagan is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund. This column originally appeared in the Washington Post.