And so the great “timetable vs. conditions-based” debate finally ends, with security having improved so much as to make it largely irrelevant.

The United States will withdraw most of its troops from Iraq by August 2010, 19 months after President Barack Obama’s inauguration day, according to administration officials who expect Obama to make the announcement this week…

The U.S. military would leave behind a residual force, between 30,000 and 50,000 troops, to continue advising and training Iraqi security forces. Also staying beyond the 19 months would be intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public…

The 19-month strategy is a compromise between commanders and advisers who are worried that security gains could backslide in Iraq and those who think the bulk of U.S. combat work is long since done.

Everyone will be out by 2011 per the SOFA between the U.S. and Iraq, unless security deteriorates in the interim. In that case, no doubt the agreement will be hastily amended and The One’s plans elegantly finessed, probably by slowing down the pace of withdrawal and tasking combat troops in the theater with nominal training duties so that they can be recharacterized as “residual” and he can claim to be keeping his promise. Obama’s “timetable” has always been conditions-based, at least with respect to residual troops, which helps explain why he and the Pentagon settled on the happy middle option in the game of multiple choice they were playing with respect to withdrawal deadlines. 19 months seems like a reasonable compromise and that’s what’s important now — the appearance of prudence, halfway between fulfilling his pledge to the left to get out and to the right not to get out too hastily. Exit question: To what extent is the speed of withdrawal tied to the economic recovery? If things bounce back quickly, the public will be forgiving about The One breaking his promise and pouring more money into a sustained presence in Iraq. If not…

Tags: Barack Obama