Barack Obama’s pledge to withdraw from Iraq on a 16-month timetable looks even more doubtful after a review by his top military and diplomatic advisers, McClatchy reports.  Even a 23-month timetable carries considerable risks to Iraqi stability, according to their reviews:

Responding to a request by President Barack Obama, top military and diplomatic advisers on Iraq have submitted a report to the White House that spells out the risks of drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq over periods as long as 23 months, two defense officials told McClatchy.

The multiple options are the first indication that the Obama administration may be willing to abandon a campaign promise of a 16-month withdrawal.

Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the outgoing U.S. envoy there, with input from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, provided “a unified assessment” to the White House in recent days, an official close to Petraeus said.

“On Iraq, we were asked to provide projections, assumptions and risks on accomplishing objectives associated with 16-, 19- and 23-month drawdown options,” according to one senior defense official’s account of the meeting. The commanders and Crocker didn’t recommend an option, but instead spelled out the pros and cons of each timetable.

Since winning the nomination, Obama has softened his position on Iraq, so this may not come as much of a surprise.  Since winning the election, Obama has made very pragmatic moves in defense and in the war on terror rather than bring in more ideological advisers.  That alone suggests that the 16-month timetable, which would be about as fast as the US could practically run away from Iraq with their equipment, will get bypassed.

Obama crafted that message in early 2007, when he wanted to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton, but the situation has changed in three important ways.  First, Iraq has become much less violent over the last two years, which Obama finally acknowledged in the general election.  American troops are no longer at the same risk as they were prior to the “surge” and the pacification of Iraq.  Second, the Iraqi Army has finally taken its place on the field, allowing the US military to act in support and logistics roles rather than front-line combat.  Lastly, the status-of-forces agreement signed by the outgoing Bush administration envisions a settlement of the US forces in Iraq by the end of 2011, and that allows Obama to simply do nothing if he chooses and allow our invitation to expire.

If the Obama administration is willing to consider a 23-month timeline, why not a 36-month timeline, especially if American forces are taking no casualties?  The Iraqis seem willing to keep us in the country on their terms in the SOFA, and that gives us a strategic position in that region.  I’d expect this to be a topic on which we will see a much more nuanced position from Obama in the next few weeks.