So at this point there is no doubt: the Bush Administration supports a timetable for withdrawal.
Specifically, it supports withdrawing American troops out of Iraqi cities by summer 2009 and out of the rest of the country by the end of 2011. Those are the terms of a draft accord the Bush Administration is putting in front of Iraq’s leaders for ratification. The quickness with which American combat operations are supposed to cease is reportedly the price the Administration had to pay for the Iraqi government’s legalization of the American military presence in Iraq after this year, when the United Nations mandate currently authorizing the American presence expires. It is unclear whether the accord addresses the issue of permanent bases in Iraq, which are supported by John McCain and opposed by Barack Obama and wide swaths of the Iraqi public.
Of course, the Administration said that these dates are “aspirational goals” and that the actual pace of withdrawal will depend on the security situation in Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush Administration has put a plan for withdrawal on the table.
One has to ask — how does this change when the next president takes office? Barack Obama has said that he would have all combat troops home from Iraq in 16 months, meaning spring or summer of 2010. Would he rewrite the accord, if it is in fact ratified shortly, to speed up the pace of withdrawal?
McCain has remained vague, saying at one point that Obama’s 16-month timetable was “pretty good,” then frantically denying he said any such thing, adding, “Anything is a good timetable that is dictated by conditions on the ground.” As everyone knows, he sees a long-term, Korea-like American presence in Iraq. Would McCain rewrite the accord if he feels American troops need to be kept in Iraq longer? It would appear almost completely impossible to get Iraqi leaders, who favor a plan along the lines of Barack Obama’s, to agree to such a move.
And furthermore, how does this change the presidential election? Can McCain continue calling Obama a surrendercrat (not in that language, of course) for supporting a plan that is not too far off from what the Bush Administration is currently pushing and that the Iraqi government may soon approve?