The New York Times reports:
The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq's borders from external threat until at least 2018.
Those comments from the minister, Abdul Qadir, were among the most specific public projections of a timeline for the American commitment in Iraq by officials in either Washington or Baghdad. And they suggested a longer commitment than either government had previously indicated.
Pentagon officials expressed no surprise at Mr. Qadir's projections, which were even less optimistic than those he made last year.
Germany couldn't protect its border until the fall of the Soviet Union. South Korea still can't defend its border. I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised to find out that Iraq will be unable to defend its border with Iran anytime soon. Even the most stable and wealthy countries in the region fear an Iranian attack, as demonstrated by the recent sale of $20 billion worth of arms to allied states in the Gulf.
If the Iraqis can manage their own internal security by 2012, that would mean U.S. soldiers would be relegated to a role similar to the one they played in Germany for much of the Cold War. I find that to be an optimistic assessment, but even so it seems entirely possible that American casualties (if not expenses) could be reduced to a level not all that different from what they might be during peace time at their bases in the United States. If that were to happen, and U.S. forces were to remain in the country to provide the kind of air power and maneuver warfare capability necessary to deter the regime in Tehran, that doesn't seem like a bad outcome at all. Certainly not worth the type of hyperventilating this report has caused on the left.