So let's talk about why this is so dumb. First, the most glaring reason: CAP's 2005 report "Strategic Reengagement," authored by Larry Korb and Brian Katulis (who happily echo Bergmann's insistence of their centrality to the war's end in their own op-ed on Foreign Policy), called for the withdrawal of 80,000 U.S. troops... IN 2006! That's prior to the Surge; prior to the Sahwa; prior to the JAM stand-down; prior to the Samarra mosque bombing; prior to the conclusion of ethno-sectarian cleansing across the neighborhoods of Baghdad; prior to the formation of the Maliki government; prior to the Iraqi offensive against Shia militias; prior to the conclusion of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA); and so on and so on. All of this seems so obvious as to not even need saying. In short, it's patently absurd to suggest that a massive troop withdrawal in 2006 would have gone as smoothly and produced similar results to the one currently taking place without the change in the security situation that took place in the intervening four years.
Bergmann argues that the real importance of the CAP report was the suggestion "that the US should set a date certain to prompt Iraqis to take control of their security and should withdraw its forces deliberately but responsibly in that period." Katulis and Korb echo this point:
This argument rests on the specious contention that promises of sustained American commitment to Iraq had a suppressive effect on Iraqis' enthusiasm to end the war that wracked their country. In a less charitable interpretation, one could conclude that Katulis and Korb think that sectarian violence and civil war drug out in Iraq simply because Iraqis weren't trying hard enough. (What else is there to believe, really, when you read the assertion that ISF recruiting numbers are causally related to vague assertions by opposition politicians and obscure think-tankers that the U.S. would not remain forever?)
Deadlines for a strategic redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq -- initially proposed in 2005 by leaders like former Representative Jack Murtha, championed by Democrats in Congress and candidates in the 2006 midterm elections, and outlined by the 2006 bipartisan Iraq Study Group ["and by US!", they modestly avoid noting] -- all sent the important signal that Iraqis needed to take greater responsibility and ownership of their own affairs. The message that America's commitment to Iraq was not open-ended motivated forces such as the Sunni Awakenings in Anbar province to partner with the U.S. to combat Al Qaeda in 2006, a movement that began long before the 2007 surge of U.S. forces.
The message that Americans were leaving also motivated Iraqis to sign up for the country's security forces in record numbers. The "surge" of U.S. troops to Iraq was only a modest increase of about 15 percent -- and smaller if one takes into account the reduced number of other foreign troops, which fell from 15,000 in 2006 to 5,000 by 2008. In Anbar province, the most violent area, only 2,000 troops were added.
Here's the thing, though: the U.S. was never going to "remain forever." You know how I know this? A SOFA mandating the removal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by July 2009 and from the entire country by the end of 2011 was NEGOTIATED AND SIGNED DURING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. That's right: the "Obama plan" is basically the Bush plan, with the addition of a couple of mid-course deadlines for the "removal of combat forces," an almost entirely meaningless milestone. Bergmann's claims that "there was no conservative withdrawal plan" seems a bit silly in light of this fact.
The WonkRoom post also takes a few shots at CNAS, suggesting that the perceived success of CAP's competitor in the so-called "think tank wars" was more attributable to good PR than substantive policy differences. "The CNAS approach was essentially an effort to find a centrist withdrawal strategy," Bergmann writes, so they concluded that redeployment should happen on a slower timeline, and with a more substantial residual force for advise and assist and counterterrorism missions. Uh, doesn't this sound a lot like what happened in 2008 and 2009?
And so here's the almost literally unbelievable conclusion:
There is little doubt that the Obama plan to set a date certain and to withdraw more than 120,000 troops in 16 months was essentially what CAP had been arguing for since the fall of 2005. In other words, Obama went with the progressive plan on Iraq. . . The reason there are just over 40,000 troops [in Iraq] is not because of the surge, it is because Obama decided to withdraw more than 100,000 troops.When you look closely, Bergmann's argument should really go something more like this: U.S. strategy in Iraq in 2011 is basically exactly like what CAP advocated in 2005... except that the country executed a combination of the CNAS approach and the AEI approach in the meantime in order to make "CAP's progressive plan for ending [the] Iraq war" even remotely plausible.
If you didn't understand my post the other day about how partisan national security politics is destroying my will to live, hopefully now it makes a little more sense. "Think tank experts" shamelessly shilling for one side or another and engaging in embarrassing self-gratification over their imagined success in impacting policy just intensify my disaffection.