Growing numbers of American military officers have begun to privately question a key tenet of U.S. strategy in Iraq — that setting a hard deadline for troop reductions would strengthen the insurgency and undermine efforts to create a stable state.
The Iraqi government's refusal to take certain measures to reduce sectarian tensions between Sunni Arabs and the nation's Shiite Muslim majority has led these officers to conclude that Iraqis will not make difficult decisions unless they are pushed.
Therefore, they say, the advantages of deadlines may outweigh the drawbacks.
"Deadlines could help ensure that the Iraqi leaders recognize the imperative of coming to grips with the tough decisions they've got to make for there to be progress in the political arena," said a senior Army officer who has served in Iraq. He asked that his name not be used because he did not want to publicly disagree with the stated policy of the president.
Former Pentagon official Kurt Campbell said more officers are calling for deadlines after concluding that the indefinite presence of U.S. forces enables the Shiite-run Iraqi government to avoid making compromises.
"There is a new belief that the biggest problem that we face is that our forces are the sand in the gears creating problems," said Campbell, coauthor of a book on national security policy. "We are making things worse by giving the Iraqis a false sense of security at the governing level."