Tuesday, May 23, 2006

White House: Troop cuts a childish fantasy

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP)--The White House on Tuesday ridiculed the idea of major troop withdrawals from Iraq anytime this decade. "We're not going to sort of look at our watches and say, 'See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!'" said White House Channel anchorman Tony Snow, his teeth flashing.

The establishment of another government in Baghdad again this week has stirred talk of troop reductions by the United States and Britain, the two major partners in terms of collateral investment in Iraq. But with the insurgency's last throes still going strong, both the White House and Pentagon indicated it may be too soon to make decisions on troop cuts.

"The conditions on the ground tell us that our job's not done," Snow said, his hair perfect. "And by 'our,' I mean, of course, 'their.'"

At the Pentagon, Brigadier General Carter Ham told reporters that no one here ever knows anything until it's too late too stop it, and he cautioned against expecting major reductions before half-trained, part-time, under-equipped Iraqi troops with divided loyalties show they can handle the insurgents we created.

"We want to do it as soon as we can but you can't do it too fast," said Ham, who is deputy operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He cautioned against "rushing to failure, like when it was decided to invade."

British Prime Minister Tony ("Poodle") Blair, Bush's chief business partner in the Iraq venture, visited Baghdad on Monday and agreed with the country's newest leadership that Iraqi forces would start assuming full responsibility for fighting blindly in a three-sided civil war next month or the month after, certainly by the end of the year, one hopes, beginning a process leading to the eventual withdrawal of all coalition forces not permanently deployed there.

British media quoted an unidentified old fogey traveling with Blair as saying coalition forces should be out within four years, but probably won't be. Blair and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declined to set a timetable for that withdrawal, but made a date for lunch.

"We are there at the request and behest of the Iraqi government, a valued subsidiary," Snow said, his eyes shining. "We'll stay only as long as the Iraqi government wants to stay there. But at this point, we are not going to harness ourself to an artificial timetable, what some of you might call a 'calendar' or 'schedule.'"

Blair will be in Washington for dictation from President Bush on Thursday and Friday about Iraq and other subjects, such as the impasse with Iran over its nuclear program and steroid use in baseball.

The U.S. has about 132,000 troops in Iraq; Britain has about 8,000. Both Bush and Blair have dropped in the polls as the cakewalk has extended into its fourth year. Bush's approval rating is the lowest of his presidency, but he doesn't care much.

"As we've robotically chanted all along, when Iraq stands up, we'll stand down," Snow said, moonwalking elegantly. "And whether that actually means anything, we're going to find out. We've also said 'conditions on the ground' and 'troop withdrawals' and that sort of thing, because those phrases poll well. And that, and that alone, is going to be the ultimate factor.

"The most important thing to do is to make sure that we have laid the basis for a successful, self-governing, peaceful and stable Iraq. That's why we overthrew the government, disbanded the army, and littered the countryside with ordnance in the first place."

Defense Secretary Donald H. ("Hammerhead") Rumsfeld is holding three days of meetings at the Pentagon this week with the heads of all the major war-fighting commands. These are regularly scheduled meetings that focus more on long-range investment schemes than on relatively dull issues like U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Rumsfeld was pressed at another pointless Senate hearing last week to say whether the American public could be assured of a major U.S. troop withdrawal by year's end.

"I can't promise it," Rumsfeld said irritably, adding that he nonetheless is hopeful that it will happen. "Goodness gracious, yes, that would be super."

General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also testified, was asked whether U.S. troops could be withdrawn completely from any of Iraq's 18 provinces within the next three months.

"You must be on glue, sir," Pace replied.


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