Cut and Run, Baby!


If the surge fails, say Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel, the U.S. is ready to tuck tail and leave Iraq.

Such a strategy, based in part on the U.S. experience in El Salvador in the 1980s, is still in the early planning stages and would be adjusted to fit the outcome of the current surge in troop levels, according to military officials and Pentagon consultants who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing future plans.

But a drawdown of forces would be in line with comments to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month that if the "surge" fails, the backup plan would include moving troops "out of harm's way." Such a plan also would be close to recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member before his appointment as Defense Department chief.

What James Baker wants, James Baker gets. All of the experts Barnes and Spiegel talk to compare the prospective plan to what the U.S. did in El Salvador.

John D. Waghelstein, an El Salvador veteran who teaches counterinsurgency strategies at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said the large number of troops in Iraq had weakened U.S. influence with the Iraqis by putting American prestige on the line.

"When you're dealing with a host country, less is better," Waghelstein said. "You lose leverage when you're committed to the degree we're committed."

Yeah, you think?