In his speech, President Bush announced his intention to reduce American forces in Iraq to pre-surge levels by mid-2008, if conditions permit. His critics have been quick to ridicule this announcement, since they reject the notion that there has been any progress in Iraq that might justify it. But they choose to miss the point. The size of American military forces in Iraq is not, and should not be, dependent on the status of legislation in the Iraqi parliament. It is dependent on the security situation on the ground--notably the ability of the Iraqis to maintain security themselves. Despite Democratic rhetoric to the contrary, security on the ground can improve without the passage of benchmark legislation. It has improved over the past few months. Petraeus and Bush know that, which is why they announced an intention to unwind the surge.
In choosing this plan for force reductions over the coming months, the president accepts greater risk than we would have preferred. His decision was clearly driven by valid concerns about the strain on the Army and Marines, and by the reasonable expectation that a continuation of current trends on the ground in Iraq will justify the reductions. But Iraq is a war, and the enemy gets a vote. Continued Iranian escalation could destabilize the south or Baghdad; Al Qaeda In Iraq could strike another lucky blow; and other unforeseen contingencies could arise over the next six months that might be manageable with 20 brigades but dangerous with 15.
At this point, the likeliest sources of most such contingencies lie outside of Iraq, with increased "accelerants" (as our commanders call them) of violence coming from Iran above all, but also from Syria and (indirectly) from Saudi Arabia. We cannot allow Iraq's neighbors a free hand at strengthening the forces of terror even as we work to subdue them. Restricting the ability of these outside accelerants to intervene in Iraq is the best way to mitigate the risks entailed in the announced drawdown. Given the drawdown, and given the emphasis General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker put on the damage done by these outside actors, especially Iran, in fanning the violence in Iraq, we expect that the Bush administration will now turn its attention more directly to this critical problem.
--Frederick W. Kagan & William Kristol