Trying to meet the folks on the Murtha side 1/2-way, it seems the retreat's already begun, or at least the planning therefor:
Barring any major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces there early next year by as many as three combat brigades, from 18 now, but to keep at least one brigade "on call" in Kuwait in case more troops are needed quickly, several senior military officers said.
Pentagon authorities also have set a series of "decision points" during 2006 to consider further force cuts that, under a "moderately optimistic" scenario, would drop the total number of troops from more than 150,000 now to fewer than 100,000, including 10 combat brigades, by the end of the year, the officers said.
Despite an intensified congressional debate about a withdrawal timetable after last week's call by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) for a quick pullout, administration officials say that military and political factors heavily constrain how fast U.S. forces should leave. They cite a continuing need to assist Iraq's fledgling security forces, ensure establishment of a permanent government, suppress the insurgency and reduce the potential for civil war.
U.S. military commanders, too, continue to favor a gradual, phased reduction, saying that too rapid a departure would sacrifice strategic gains made over the past 30 months and provide a propaganda windfall to insurgents.
Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the senior tactical commander in Iraq, indicated to reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that his staff had looked at shrinking U.S. force levels more quickly. But he made his opposition to such a move clear.
"A precipitous pullout, I believe, would be destabilizing," Vines said from Baghdad.
Another senior general likened an accelerated withdrawal to "taking the training wheels off of a bike too early," warning that a sudden removal of all U.S. troops would risk the collapse of Iraq's fledgling security forces. He and several other officers privy to the planning for force reductions said the process has not been affected by the mounting political pressure in the United States and among some Iraqi leaders for U.S. troops to leave.
It's still not there yet; no objective criteria for "success" (just when is the Iraqi forces "sufficiently trained," and how much is the lack of their being sufficiently trained is enabled by our continuing presence?)
But that- combined with the bombshell news that everyone in the Bush regime knew there was no Iraq-al Qaeda connection at least as far back as 9/21/01, indicates that this is only the beginning.
This will pick up.