Don’t be surprised if Sen. John McCain “refines” his own Iraq plans very soon, just as his campaign has accused Barack Obama of doing.
In an article in Monday’s USA Today, ret. Army Gen. Jack Keane, a key architect and supporter of the “Surge”, who is close to both Gen. David Petraeus and the neo-conservatives who are advising McCain, predicted “significant reductions (in U.S. troops in Iraq) in 2009 whoever becomes president.” Even more remarkably — and in contrast to the repeated cautions by senior military officials in Iraq, including Petraeus, that the progress made by the Surge over the past year remains “fragile” and “reversible” — Keane told the newspaper, “I think the momentum we have (in Iraq) is not reversible.”
With Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard already declaring victory, Keane’s assessment opens the door for McCain, who revised his previous opposition to setting any timetable for withdrawal when he declared in mid-May that most U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by 2013, to suggest an accelerated pace that may yet approach Obama’s timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops 16 months after taking office, or by June, 2010. Despite the ridicule that such a revision might invite, the fact is that the Iraq war remains a loser for McCain, especially among independent voters.
Interestingly, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, who is desperate to get more troops into Afghanistan, revived the possibility Monday that Washington will continue withdrawing troops from Iraq after only a brief pause in August after the formal end of the Surge. That possibility seemed to have been put on the shelf a couple of months ago when Bush indicated that troop levels were unlikely to be reduced below the 140,000 to be reached at the end of this month through the rest of the administration. Whether Mullen’s remarks were provoked by a new assessment that improvements in Iraq are indeed irreversible, as Keane apparently believes, or whether they reflect a new Pentagon effort to persuade Bush to revise his own timetable isn’t clear yet.