Over at Meet the Press, Michael Gordon talked about the progress that has been made since the beginning of the surge. The Cobra II author was somewhat optimistic about conditions as they stand now, telling Tim Russert
MR. GORDON: Well, I spent most of the summer in Iraq in Diyala province and then south of Baghdad, and really a lot has changed on the security front in Iraq. And there's been a very important development which has been the enabling of the Sunni tribes and some of the former insurgents. This is not just in Anbar. And there's a very delicate political game under way right now to try to find a way to connect these disparate Sunni groups who are working with the American military, with the Maliki government, and that's a work in progress. It's really just in the early phases.
MR. RUSSERT: If we, in fact, are arming the Sunnis and we've already armed the Shiites, are we arming both factions in a civil war?
MR. GORDON: Well, we're not arming these groups. They're not being given arms by the Americans, but you're pointing to one of the very real risks. I mean, the potential here is by organizing these Sunni groups in Baquba and...(unintelligible)...and...(unintelligible)...and all sorts of places in Iraq, we do have a mechanism to provide local security and really to drive out al-Qaeda of Iraq. The downside is unless this becomes institutionalized and these people become either Iraqi police or somehow approved by the Iraqi government, we might be setting the stage for more intensified civil war.
Later in the program on the NIE and the surge:
MR. GORDON: Well, the natural life of the surge, if you were to do nothing and just let it run its course, would be around March or April. Because at that point the troop levels in Iraq need to-will decrease unless they extend the tours further, which they're-have already ruled out doing, going beyond 15 months. So force levels will begin to recede, and indeed, that's anticipated by General Petraeus' two-year campaign plan which he's projected out for the summer.
MR. GORDON: But there's really-in the latest N.I.E., people are focused on the message that there's not political reconciliation at the national level. But there was a second message in the N.I.E., and the N.I.E. said that a large-scale withdrawal of American forces and a change of the mission from fighting counterinsurgency to advising the Iraqis and just going after al-Qaeda would erase the security gains that were made over the summer so far. So that's something that also has to be taken into account in this upcoming congressional debate.
MR. RUSSERT: So what do you do? If, in fact, you stop the surge, you could erase some of the gains you've made. And yet, we do not have the capacity to continue the surge because of the strain on our military.
MR. GORDON: Well, the surge will run its course, and then, as Tom said, we'll begin to reduce our forces. There's no question we're going to reduce our forces, and it's going to be more than 5,000 next year. The issues is at what pace these forces are reduced, what their mission is-no one likes to talk about the mission, they simply talk about the numbers game-and how this is connected up with the politics of Iraq.
And finally Richard Engel had this to say about calls for an American withdrawal:
And going back to, to their points, if you pull back the troops, the troops themselves are going to be furious. They have done so much and worked so hard and sacrificed so much that if you start pulling them back because of political debates and domestic pressure in the United States, they're going to be livid. They're not going to thank the Americans, and they're probably going to end up blaming Democrats, who said, "We never got a chance to complete the mission and all of our hard work hasn't been accomplished." So I think there's a real risk if you draw them-draw the troops down and don't give them a new mission that they're going to feel that they were just used and, and, and manipulated.
On This Week, guest host Terry Moran went after Virginia Senator Jim Webb, one of the foremost proponents for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
"[Video Clip] Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch: If coalition soldiers were to leave, having fought hard for that terrain, after denying the enemy that sanctuary, what would happen is the enemy'd come back. He'd start building the bombs again, he'd start attacking the locals again, he'd start exporting that violence into Baghdad, and we'd take a huge step backwards.
Terry Moran: So whatever security progress has been achieved, purchased with American sacrifice, you'd give up?
Jim Webb: I don't think it's a question of giving anything up. It's a question of how you fight a guerrilla war and how you use your troops.