From last night’s NewsHour:
On pulling all combat troops out of Iraq by May 2010:
Well, to do something like that I think would increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months. It would be almost a brigade a month that we would have to reduce.
Most people who understand what`s taking place in Iraq right now is a seminal event with a provincial elections at the end of this month, which will fundamentally change the character of Iraq forever, and also a national election at the end of this year.
Our commanders would like to see a force reduction this year, but a minimal one, to protect the political situation as it evolves throughout the rest of the year, with the reduction of maybe two brigades and possibly a third, and then with more major reductions in 2010 and completing it in 2011.
On whether Obama’s timetable is realistic:
The fact of the matter is, a 16-month reduction of combat troops is probably somewhat unrealistic in the sense that we would still have a significant amount of troops left, and you would have to have combat troops there to provide the security for those other troops who are more supporters than they are fighters, not that all soldiers can`t fight — they can — but it`s not their mission to fight.
So, realistically, this is the first day of the president`s responsibilities. He`s doing what he said he would do; he would talk to his commanders and the Joint Chiefs. And I think he`s probably listening more than anything else, learning from them, now in the position as commander-in-chief, one, getting updated, and, two, understanding what the current risk is, and certainly probing them about an accelerated reduction and what the risk inherent in that would be.
And I trust the judgment of the commanders and also the evidence of the president-elect, as he`s gone through this process, indicates that he listens and he makes deliberate and methodical decisions.
On the generals’ attitude toward Obama:
Well, the general view is, is that they`re going to provide the president with the best advice they can, lay out what the risks are associated with different options, and certainly support whatever decision he has. And that`s not lip service. They truly believe that. That`s number one.
Two, given the hard-fought gains that we have made in Iraq over a strategy that was failing for three years and a very dramatic turnaround in 18 months, and now we have an Arab-Muslim state that elects its government and is allied with the United States and wants a political relationship with us, and not with the Iranians in terms of being an ally, that is a major plus for us.
No one wants to squander those gains. And that would be their concern. And force reduction is certainly an issue that`s on the table that they have concern about.