There was no "reversal"

The Washington Post continues a rather dishonest meme regarding the status of forces agreement (SOFA) with Iraq in today’s edition.  They claim that an agreement on withdrawal contradicts “years of promises” to refuse to leave Iraq based on timelines alone.  The Post completely ignores the context of those promises and the changed conditions in Iraq:

By agreeing to a fixed deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, President Bush contradicted years of promises that he would never agree to anything but a “conditions-based” plan for phasing out the American military role there. But he may also have given President-elect Barack Obama more flexibility in fulfilling his campaign promise to bring the troops home.

Obama pledged during the campaign to withdraw the remaining U.S. combat troops in 16 months, at roughly the rate of one combat brigade a month. The plan tentatively approved in Baghdad yesterday would essentially give Obama until the end of 2011 to pull out all U.S. forces, while also putting the imprimatur of the Bush administration on the idea that there needs to be an ironclad deadline for troop removal.

“It greatly eases the pressure on [Obama] to meet a fixed abstract schedule for U.S. withdrawals,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

This is unadulterated hogwash.  Bush repeatedly vowed not to withdraw from Iraq until the violence dwindled to levels that Iraq can handle on its own.  We’ve already all but arrived at that point.  The Iraqi Army and its national police have been handling primary security duties for months, and took back control of militia-held areas on their own initiative earlier this year.  In three years — the length of the SOFA — the Iraqis will be able to seal their own borders and defend themselves from assault from both within and without Iraq.

Signing the SOFA doesn’t reverse anything.  We’ve won the war, and we’ve finally won the peace.  Now we’re negotiating future relations with a sovereign democratic ally.

The Post also indulges in another misleading point along these same lines:

In at least one respect, the timeline may complicate what Obama had proposed on the campaign trail: leaving a residual force in Iraq to protect U.S. officials and conduct counter-terrorism operations after the withdrawal of all combat troops. The agreement makes clear that the U.S. government would need approval from the Iraqis if a residual force is to remain beyond Dec. 31, 2011.

Perhaps Michael Abramowitz doesn’t realize this, but the US needs official approval for the forces to remain in Iraq starting on January 1, and needed it implicitly since Iraq held its first constitutional elections.  We’re there under the UN mandate that the Iraqi government supported through several years.  Had the Iraqis demanded that we leave during this period, we would have left.  Even if we were inclined to ignore the sovereign government in Baghdad, the UN would almost certainly have withdrawn its mandate.  This entire paragraph is completely pointless.

If Obama wants to extend a military presence in Iraq, he can negotiate that with the Iraqis, the same as Bush would have had to do, or John McCain had he won the election.  At this moment, the Iraqis want us out entirely, but that may change as 2012 grows nearer.  They may want us to help provide air cover as they rebuild their air force, or provide other military assistance if Iran gets too menacing.  In any case, that was always subject to more negotiation, and the SOFA doesn’t impede any future options at all.

The Post has supported the war, but they still seem to have difficulty understanding it.  There is a vast difference between retreating from one’s enemies and returning after the war has been won.  That was George Bush’s point all along, and this article shows that it still hasn’t been learned.