DEBORAH AMOS, host:
When and how to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq? Answering that question hits a new level of urgency in Congress this week. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning an all night debate on the war, as Democrats and Republicans fight over their respective timetables
But we wanted to talk for a minute about some realities of troop withdrawal and some deadlines that already exist no matter what Congress does.
Joining me is Andrew Bacevich. He's a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. Thanks for coming on the program.
Doctor ANDREW BACEVICH (Professor of History and International Relations, Boston University): Oh, glad to be with you.
AMOS: I want to start with something practical. There is already a deadline that exists for troops, when this surge is scheduled to end and what that means for troops starting to come home? Can you walk me through the deadlines that are already out there?
Dr. BACEVICH: I would identify March of next year - March of 2008 - as a very hard deadline. It's a deadline in the sense that that's the date by which troops committed to the surge will be redeploying back to the United States, absent a decision to further extend their 15-month-long tours.
AMOS: And if those tours were extended, the president would have to do that in the middle of a presidential election. He's unlikely to do that.
Dr. BACEVICH: It would be politically very unpopular. And I think perhaps, at least as important, that it would probably be the straw that would break the camel's back in terms of the long-term viability of the army as a cohesive and professional force.
AMOS: Congress on the Democratic side is talking about a 120-day term for withdrawal. That puts us somewhere in November. Republicans are a little less clear, but sometime at the beginning of 2008. So these calendars are not that far apart.
Dr. BACEVICH: No, they're not. And I think that the point you're touching on really is reflective of the fact that in Washington there's something of a bipartisan consensus between the parties. Now, the president hasn't bought into this consensus yet. But both the Democratic and the Republican Parties now realized that the war has to be brought to an end and it has to be brought to an end soon.
AMOS: Do you think that inside the Pentagon there is already planning for the post-surge and the troop drawdown?
Dr. BACEVICH: They certainly are preparing contingency plans. They're examining options. They would be fools not to do so. But to say that they're working on a plan is not to say that anything like a decision has been made. But the handwriting's on the wall, so I'm sure that there's fairly advanced planning going on about how we're going to extricate ourselves from this mess.
AMOS: Once a date is set for withdrawal, is that a game changer in the region? Does that force everybody from the militias to Iraq's neighbors to recalculate?
Dr. BACEVICH: Oh, absolutely. And that's where we really enter into the realm of huge unknowns. If the U.S. - if the president announced tomorrow that the mission had changed and we were going to begin some process of withdrawal, were you the leader of an insurgent faction, there's at least two ways you might respond to a U.S. decision to withdraw.
One response might be to say, well, if the Americans are leaving, let's let them leave. Let's husband our insurgent resources for the fight for Iraq that is going to occur after the Americans are gone. So we might actually have a lessening of the level of violence. On the other hand, an insurgent leader might say, now that the Americans have clearly signaled that they have failed, let us capitalize on their weakness. Let us intensify the violence in order to make as clear as possible a statement that we have defeated the United States of America. Which would be the case, I don't know. But one could imagine different scenarios.
AMOS: Thank you very much.
Andrew Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.