The Cable

Conservatives launch pre-emptive strike against Obama’s Iraq plan

40 prominent conservative foreign policy leaders in Washington are planning to release an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to shrink the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq down to 4,000, as several reports say he plans to do.

"Failure to leave a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States," the pundits and former officials argue. "A successful, democratic Iraq will remain a model for other emerging Arab democracies and one day, its neighbor, Iran.  However, a failing state in the heart of the Middle East would destabilize the region, empower Iran, and make vain more than eight years of efforts by the United States in Iraq."

The letter goes on to say that a residual force of only 4,000 U.S. troops "is significantly smaller than what U.S. military commanders on the ground have reportedly recommended and would limit our ability to ensure that Iraq remains stable and free from significant foreign influence."

The letter was organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a group led by William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman, and Dan Senor, and run by Executive Director Jamie Fly. Other signatories on the letter include Gary Bauer, Max Boot, Paul Bremer, Norm Coleman, John Hannah, Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Karl Rove, Kori Schake, Randy Scheunemann, Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, Marc Thiessen, and Paul Wolfowitz.

There was one Democratic signee, the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon. One of the organizers of the letter told The Cable that many Democrats contacted to sign on to the letter largely agreed with its contents, but weren't ready to speak out.

"We believe that many Democrats share our concerns about the need for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, but some wanted to give the administration more time to make a final decision. Many of us, however, are concerned that time is running out and the message sent by recent press reports is not encouraging to our Iraqi allies," the organizer said.

The Obama team has been negotiating with the Iraqi government on changes to the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the two countries in 2008, which calls for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year. The administraiton had been proposing 8,000 to 20,000 troops  to remain, but now seems set to settle on a much lower number.

GOP lawmakers are not holding their fire and have already been decrying the expected decision by the White House.

"It would be one of the biggest blunders in American foreign policy to lose Iraq because you had 3,000 troops when you need 10 to 15 [thousand]," Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said this week. "Iran would love that."

Read the full text of the letter after the jump:

Dear President Obama:

The United States has invested significant resources in Iraq over the last eight years.  Under your leadership and that of your predecessor, America has helped Iraq's fledgling democracy emerge as a symbol to other peoples of the region, becoming, in the words of former Secretary of Defense Gates, "a multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic society in the Arab world that shows that democracy can work."

We are thus gravely concerned about recent news reports suggesting that the White House is considering leaving only a residual force of 4,000 or fewer U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of this year.  This number is significantly smaller than what U.S. military commanders on the ground have reportedly recommended and would limit our ability to ensure that Iraq remains stable and free from significant foreign influence in the years to come.

While the Iraqi Security Forces have become increasingly capable of defending Iraq against internal threats, they are not yet able to defend Iraq from external forces.  As a result, Iraq's troops will require after the end of this year continued U.S. assistance in combined-arms training, border protection, air and naval capabilities, logistics, and intelligence.  It is also essential that we maintain a significant military presence at multiple places along Iraq's disputed internal boundaries to allow the United States to assist Kurds and Arabs in the disputed zones with confidence-building.

In recent months, Iran has increased its attempts to expand its influence in Iraq, including through the killing of American forces and support to Iraqi political parties.  Maintaining a robust American presence in-country would blunt these efforts, and help ensure Iraq remains oriented away from Iran and a long-term ally of the United States. 

We therefore urge you to ensure that an adequate number of U.S. troops in Iraq remain after 2011.  We were encouraged by your pragmatism in 2009 as you showed flexibility in the pace of America's drawdown.  We believe that the same pragmatism would counsel a significantly larger force than 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of this year.

Failure to leave a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States.  A successful, democratic Iraq will remain a model for other emerging Arab democracies and one day, its neighbor, Iran.  However, a failing state in the heart of the Middle East would destabilize the region, empower Iran, and make vain more than eight years of efforts by the United States in Iraq.

You have fulfilled your campaign commitment to the nation to end the war in Iraq.  Now, we request that you ensure that in doing so, we do not lose the peace.

Sincerely,

Gary Bauer

Max Boot

Ellen Bork

Paul Bremer

Norm Coleman

Seth Cropsey

Thomas Donnelly

Colin Dueck

Eric Edelman

Jamie Fly

Reuel Marc Gerecht

Abe Greenwald

John Hannah

Bruce Pitcairn Jackson

Ash Jain

Kenneth M. Jensen

Frederick Kagan

Robert Kagan

Kimberly Kagan

Lawrence Kaplan

William Kristol

Tod Lindberg

Herbert London

Michael Makovsky

Cliff May

Joshua Muravchik

Andrew Natsios

Michael O'Hanlon

Danielle Pletka

John Podhoretz

Karl Rove

Kori Schake

Randy Scheunemann

Gary Schmitt

Dan Senor

Michael Singh

Marisa Cochrane Sullivan

Marc Thiessen

Daniel Twining

Peter Wehner

Kenneth Weinstein

Paul Wolfowitz

The Cable

Rick Perry clarifies: No speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry kicked up a firestorm inside the GOP when he seemed to endorse Jon Huntsman's call for a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan during this week's debate, but his real views on Afghanistan don't match those of Huntsman, the GOP hawks, or President Barack Obama, a senior Perry foreign policy advisor told The Cable.

"In the dynamic of a debate when you follow someone, you kind of play off of them, and what Gov. Perry wanted to do was to express a similar sentiment to Gov. Huntsman that he very much wants to bring the troops home, we all do, but he wasn't saying ‘I want to bring the troops home now,'" the advisor said.

Perry's stance on Afghanistan seems to be searching for a middle ground. Like the Obama administration, he wants to shift emphasis to handing over responsibility to the Afghan security forces as a means of bringing U.S. troops home. But also thinks Obama's announcement of a timetable for withdrawal was unwise -- and he's unsure whether the United States really needs 100,000 troops fighting there still.

"If increasingly the Afghans can do this kind of work, then of course we want to bring our people home. It's good for us, it's good for them. But Gov. Perry is not confident in the Obama policy, which seems to be driven largely by politics, and he's not confident in the 100,000 troops number. He'd like to know if it's possible at 40,000," the advisor said, explaining that the rationale for the specific number of U.S. troops on the ground has never been clearly explained by the administration.

"He would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he's recommending."

Perry's stance on Afghanistan isn't likely to fully satisfy those calling for a more rapid withdrawal, or those calling for the 30,000 U.S. "surge" troops to remain in the country past summer 2012, when Obama has said he plans to remove them.

"What [Perry] doesn't have is confidence that [the Afghan  campaign] is being done in a way that's focused on achieving the mission, which would be keeping Afghanistan free of terrorists and not destabilizing the region," the advisor said.

So how many troops does Perry believe should be withdrawn and at what pace?

"We're not in a position to answer that question, we're not in those briefings," the senior advisor said.

Perry also believes the United States should focus greater attention on how it uses foreign aid. He wants to "shine a really bright light on that whole culture of foreign aid and revisit how it is deployed as part of our larger foreign policy," the advisor said.

The advisor touted the fact that Perry is a former member of the military, and signaled that the presidential candidate is prepared to stick to his middle-of-the-road stance in Afghanistan.

"He has a clear sense of the mission and wanting to win it, but not just by throwing the kitchen sink at it," the advisor said.

Update: The Romney and Hunstman campaigns respond, accusing Perry of "flip-flop."

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