The Iraqi Numbers Game

Yesterday, General Ray Odierno was sworn in as chief of the army. Working with General Petraeus, Odierno was key to the surge in Iraq, spending over fifty months deployed to the country. In the ceremony yesterday Odierno echoed sentiments other admin officials have made recently about too-drastic budget cuts: “We must avoid our historical pattern of drawing down too fast and getting too small, especially since our record of predicting the future frankly has not been very good.”

Obama and his team are meanwhile trying to make some decisions about the future of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. There have been whispers that the administration wants to keep three thousand troops on the ground to continue to train Iraqi security forces, but the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, said nothing is set in stone. True, the number ten thousand has also been floated, as well as four thousand or five thousand. But it does seem the administration is leaning toward a smaller force, smaller than some on the ground might like—a size that would only be capable of training the Iraqis and wouldn’t be able to do anything about still-bubbling ethnic tensions in the country.

In another hot spot, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told USA Today that “there's got to be a political settlement at some point” in Afghanistan. “You can’t kill your way out of an insurgency.” In that spirit, Crocker said that if Pakistan wants to participate in talks with the Taliban, it certainly should, since it is in the Pakistanis’ “interests as well as Afghanistan’s.”

Former VP Dick Cheney is still talking about Hillary Clinton. In an interview with ABC about his new book, Cheney kinda sorta said the secretary of state should run for president: “So far she hasn’t said she would, but I think it’s not a bad idea.” He said he thought Clinton would have won the nomination during the last election cycle, and proposed that if things get bad enough, maybe there will even be a primary on the Democratic side this time around.

Bill Richardson is meanwhile back on the diplomatic circuit, attempting to convince Cuba to release an American contractor. Richardson traveled to Havana as a “private citizen,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, but with Washington’s blessing.