There is nothing much wrong with Iraq that can't be improved by having fewer American troops there. So contend outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the anti-war stalwart Rep. John Murtha, and, apparently, the James Baker-Lee Hamilton-led Iraq Study Group.
The ISG's report won't be released until Wednesday. At first it seemed it would recommend a steady drawdown of the American combat role throughout the next year, to end entirely by 2008. Now, it seems the recommendation will be vaguer, suggesting that President Bush kinda maybe, if conditions are right, based on the judgment of U.S. commanders acting with all due diligence, should reduce the U.S. combat role sometime.
The logic behind this proposal has already been set out by Rumsfeld and Murtha. In a classified Nov. 6 memo, Rumsfeld favorably mentions the idea of modest reductions in U.S. troops "so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks." In support of his proposal for a withdrawal, Murtha says: "We cannot expect the Iraqi people to take over unless we give them incentive. ... I'm convinced there'll be more stability, less chaos." Obviously, Rumsfeld and Murtha disagree on much, but their preferred approach shares enough that it roughly can be called the Rumsfeld-Murtha Option. Would it work?
If American troops are contributing to instability in Iraq, then the Anbar province -- where American troops have always been too thin on the ground -- should be an oasis of calm. Cities unpatrolled by Americans should be orderly, with well-functioning local governments. No droopy socks should be in sight. Of course, the opposite is the case. It is cities like Tal Afar and Fallujah -- inundated by American troops -- that are relatively stable, while the rest of the province is being taken over by al-Qaida.
The Rumsfeld-Murtha Option is based on the theory that the Iraqis are hanging back, enjoying the luxury of having their country occupied by 140,000 foreign infidels. The simple reason that the Iraqi government isn't stepping up, however, is that it doesn't have enough functioning troops. Rumsfeld and Murtha are correct, in one sense, that Iraqis will step forward to take control of their country when we begin to leave, except those Iraqis will be the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr -- extremists who have built private armies that are more effective than any fighting force in the country, outside of the U.S. military.