Though Petraeus's much-anticipated appearance before Congress is a month away, comments by the Army's vice chief of staff seem to indicate that at least one top military commander believes the US will sustain the current "surge" in troop levels through June 2008.
Discussing the extension of deployments to 15 months in an interview Tuesday, Gen. Richard Cody told the AP that it would take until at least June to shrink the average back to 12 months while maintaining the 158,000 troops now deployed in the region.
“It’s going to take a while to get off the 15 months,” he said.
A number of military leaders have expressed a wish for more time to press on with the additional manpower, but this is the first one who appears to mention it as a foregone conclusion.
The US military may want more time to work on stabilizing the situation and preparing Iraqi security forces to assume control, but the Pentagon can expect to face a disagreeable, if not outright hostile, Democrat-led Congress next month.
That raises the issue of how exactly the Pentagon would pay for continuation of the surge. President Bush's budgetary request in the supplemental spending bill passed in late May included a funding estimate to cover the surge of additional troops only through the end of FY2007.
According to a CRS report released last month, the Pentagon's FY2008 budget estimate would "presumably be inadequate" to maintain the surge troop levels past the end of September, unless additional funding is requested or "DOD shifted funds from procurement to military personnel and operations."
CRS points out that military appropriations allots funding for types of expenses--such as personnel costs--rather than for specific operations, advising that, "Unless Congress enacts specific restrictions, the president can use currently available DOD funds to conduct military operations including the deployment of additional troops."
The report also outlines different Constitutionally-sound measures Congress could adopt to affect military operations and troop levels in Iraq--all involving restrictions on funding, or how funds can be used.
The Dems have been agitating to establish a plan for the draw down of US forces since they took control in January, and recent months have seen even senior Republicans turning against Bush's Iraq policy. A sense that the "DC clock" is running out of time pervades Capitol Hill, and many legislators look at September 15th as the end of patience.
With Petraeus expected to push for a sustainment of the surge, Hill-watchers can anticipate a more aggressive attempt by Democrats--and probably a handful of Republicans--to exercise the power of the purse.