White House Says It's Building Scenarios In Iraq... But What About Permanent Military Bases?

How confused is the GOP's policy on Iraq? Tony Snow called Gen. Casey's leaked withdrawal plan "." But Democrats should forget about the "scenario building" of troop reductions that, according to Snow,and focus on a different kind of building -- the building of a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq. We know that it's always beento establish permanent military bases in Iraq. But the White House steadfastly refuses to make its intentions on this matter clear -- a point the Democrats need to keep hammering home. "If we are planning to leave in the near future," Gary Hart told me, "why are we pouring concrete and welding steel?"
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How confused is the GOP's policy on Iraq? They can't even keep their leaks straight.

Hot on the heels of spanking the Democrats up and down the halls of Congress last week for raising even the toothless notion of a nonbinding resolution on a non-completion-date-specific plan for withdrawal from Iraq, comes this weekend's leak of the classified briefing Gen. Casey and Rummy gave the president on Friday raising the notion of substantial troop reductions -- as many as 31,500 of the 42,000 combat troops currently in Iraq -- by the end of 2007. Maybe the Kerry resolution should have been called the Kerry-Casey plan.

This leak was immediately followed by today's waffling, have-it-both-ways explanation from Tony Snow.

"Maybe they will, maybe they won't," said Snow of the report that two combat brigades will be rotated out of Iraq in September without being replaced. He resisted the urge to put his thumbs in his ears, wiggle his fingers, and stick out his tongue. But just barely.

So maybe they will pull out 7,000 troops just in time for the midterm elections and maybe they won't. And maybe voters will just be confused enough to give the GOP props for standing firm on the war and for starting to bring some of the troops home.

We've seen this movie before. As Needlenose points out, this leak of a classified Pentagon briefing is almost identical to the leak of a classified Pentagon briefing last summer in which Generals Abizaid and Casey outlined a plan to reduce U.S. troops in Iraq by 20,000 to 30,000 by the spring of '06.

And we know how well that plan turned out.

Snow admitted that the administration's crystal ball has grown a little cloudy on Iraq (except for Dick Cheney who has his last throes story and is sticking to it), saying that any withdrawal "really does depend upon a whole series of things that we cannot at this juncture predict."

Of course, "this juncture" is just as unpredictable as all the junctures that have preceded it (remember when Wolfowitz couldn't conceive that almost all of our troops wouldn't be out of Iraq just a few months after the invasion?). Which is why Snow wanted to make it clear Casey and Rummy weren't really offering a plan: "I would characterize this more in terms of scenario building and we'll see how it proceeds."

According to Snow, Casey has "a number of scenarios in mind for differing situations on the ground." Fair enough, but even a true believer like Rumsfeld can't think that the situation on the ground is going to substantially improve any time soon. For proof, all he has to do is look at the less than enthusiastic reaction in Iraq to Prime Minister Maliki's new reconciliation plan. "We're giving Maliki a full opportunity," said Sheik Ali Abdullah, leader of a Sunni faction, "but we're sure this government will fail."

Sounds like daylight is just around the corner.

If you thought the Democrats looked divided and indecisive on Iraq before, just watch how they handle this latest fuzzy messaging from the White House and its congressional allies.

Anti-war Dems like Kerry, Boxer, and Levin will rail against the duplicity of the GOP slamming them for offering a proposal that is actually "in sync" with the military's own plans, while those afraid of getting out front on Iraq will use this as an excuse to fall back on the "Bush is going to withdraw troops anyway" dodge, and fail to take advantage of the Republicans' greatest vulnerability -- the fact that they don't have a clue about how to handle Iraq.

Which is exactly how Karl Rove has planned it, I'm sure.

Instead of playing into Rove's hands, Democrats should forget about the "scenario building" of troop reductions that will or won't happen and focus on a different kind of building -- the building of a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq.

We know Bush is planning on keeping a 50,000 man force in Iraq for years to come (remember we still have 30,000 troops in South Korea, 50,000 in Japan, and 70,000 in Germany). And we know that we're building a massive billion dollar U.S. embassy in Baghdad with 21 buildings on 104 acres -- not exactly indicative of an occupying force on the way out anytime soon.

And we know that it's always been a neocon dream to establish permanent military bases in Iraq as the base from which to wield political and military dominance throughout the greater Middle East. The White House steadfastly refuses to make its intentions on this matter clear -- a point the Democrats need to attack them on and keep hammering home.

As Jamie at Firedoglake put it:

Whenever a Democrat speaks out against the Iraq war, the right wing pundits and politicians are quick to jump on the same talking point of "what kind of message is this sending to our enemies?"... What kind of message is building permanent bases in Iraq and retaining a troop level of 50,000 for years to come going to send? This could provide to be a key recruiting tool for al Qaeda and provide great propaganda.

"If we are planning to leave in the near future," Gary Hart, who has been pushing the issue for many months, told me, "why are we pouring concrete and welding steel? The hope is that the next president will also be a clueless Republican under the influence of the neoconservatives who will support their original plan."

Jack Murtha had this to say on the message we should be sending to Iraqis: "We do not want permanent bases. We want them to understand that we're going to leave."

For its part, Congress has gone back and forth on the subject. Back in March, the House by voice vote passed an amendment to the latest supplemental Defense spending bill barring the use of any of the money for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq. In May, the Senate unanimously did the same. Then, earlier this month, Republican staffers deleted the no-funding-for-permanent-bases provision. And, just last week, the House overwhelmingly voted to restore the provision.

You can bet that won't be the end of it. As Hart told me: "The truth is that what's really happening regarding these permanent bases is the most closely held secret in Washington."

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