More hope and change: Bush, Maliki agree to "general time horizon" for withdrawal


The agreement, reached during a video conference Thursday between Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, marks a dramatic shift for the Bush administration, which for years has condemned any talk of timetables for withdrawal…

“In the area of security cooperation, the president and the prime minister agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals,” the statement said. It said those goals include turning over more control to Iraqi security forces and “the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.”

The statement continued: “The president and prime minister agreed that the goals would be based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal.”

I don’t see how it’s a “dramatic shift.” It sounds like non-binding benchmarks by another name, e.g., “Our goal is to transfer security responsibilities in Anbar province to the Iraqi government by June 2009,” etc. Presumably it’ll give Maliki some political cover on ending the occupation and Bush some flexibility in keeping troops in place if there’s a flare-up somewhere. Besides, the objection to a timetable has never been that it’s wrong under every circumstance; it’s that it’s wrong when there’s an enemy around capable of taking advantage of it. If security really has improved to the point where troops in Baghdad are complaining that they’re bored and people who know what they’re talking about are wondering if the war is over, then what exactly is the objection now to a hazy “time horizon” for withdrawing some people, particularly when both parties agree that Afghanistan needs help? If Obama’s plan was to crush the militias and then set a schedule for leaving, no one on the right would have a problem with it. As it is, he wanted to set a schedule last year, when the country was on the brink and might have toppled over if it lost the weight of the U.S. security presence. (Some Iraqis think they’re still in no position to lose that weight.) If Team Barry tries demagoging this news as Bush somehow coming around to his position, it’ll only be because the left operates forever under the illusion that the right wants troops in the field just to have them there, for the sheer imperialistic sport of it, which supposedly makes even the slightest gesture towards exiting — victoriously, not under fire — tantamount to lefty capitulation. Can’t wait for the press release.

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