Today's New York Times reports that Democratic leaders are exploring "ways to block financing for a military expansion without being accused of abandoning American forces already in Iraq." But Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid are going to have to seek such a funding cut off over the likely objection of Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Odierno, the new senior ground commanders in Iraq.
John Burns of the New York Times has done first-rate reporting from Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Here's what he had to say on the surge issue the other day on CNN's Late Edition:
A group of us went out to the American military headquarters today to speak to Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the new operational commander of U.S. troops here -- tough guy; in fact, the guy whose forces captured Saddam back in December '03.
He believes, and I think a lot of people do, that those additional American troops on the street will make a difference in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, and they may very well be able to inhibit, certainly not stop, but seriously inhibit the cycle of Sunni bombing attacks and sectarian death squad revenge.
We're talking about a very large increase in U.S. troop presence here, and everybody agrees this war is lost if you cannot regain control of Baghdad.
I have to say that General Odierno, on his second tour here, seems confident, but at the same time, we've heard that, of course, from previous American commanders.
We know that Lieutenant General Petraeus -- shortly, we believe, to be General Petraeus -- coming back for his third tour to take over from General Casey, http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2007/01/newsflash_gen_petrae... target=_blank>strongly believes from his own experience in Mosul as the 101st Airborne commander in the first year after the American invasion, that having American troops in the neighborhoods makes an enormous difference.
And we've seen -- I've seen with my own eyes -- that when American humvees pull into a neighborhood, it quiets down. The bad guys don't want to stand and fight. They want the other guy to die for his country. They don't intend to do that for themselves.
So I think we can't dismiss the possibility that, over the time frame that they are talking about, and General Odierno, today, talked about three or four months after those troops are available to him in the spring, running through until the late summer -- that's the critical period, he thinks, whether they can control Baghdad and then bring the American troops, put them out on the periphery of Baghdad and go from there.
Certainly, one thing is true, and that is, if they don't do that, the war is lost. If they do it and they fail, the war is lost. The hopes may be 50-50 or less, but, you know, I think they feel that they don't have any other alternative than to do that or, as Dennis Kucinich was saying a few minutes ago, get out.
Burns' blunt assessment is consistent with that made by his colleague, Michael Gordon, on Meet the Press two days ago - see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16456248/ target=_blank>here. Also, National Review's Rich Lowry makes some good points -- here and here.