Thursday, August 21, 2008

U.S. and Iraq close to a deal in pulling out U.S. troops by 2011

I will be honest, I never would have expected President Bush to make a withdrawal timetable deal for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. From MSNBC News:

BAGHDAD - Iraq and the U.S. pushed close to a deal Thursday setting a course for American combat troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by next June on the way to broader withdrawal from the long and costly war by 2011.

Subject to final approval by the top Iraqi leadership, the exit date for U.S. troops would be December 2011, although the Americans insist on linking that target to additional security and political progress.

President Bush has long resisted a timetable for pulling out, even under heavy pressure from a nation distressed by American deaths and discouraged by the length of the war that began in 2003. But that has softened in recent weeks.

The timing has major political importance in both Iraq and the U.S.

The two contenders to replace Bush as U.S. commander in chief, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, spar almost daily over the future course of the war.

Obama wants all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months of his taking office, saying they are needed more urgently in Afghanistan. McCain says recent security improvements in Iraq show that decisions on the timing of further pullouts should be determined by circumstances on the ground rather than by prearranged timetables — a position the White House has vigorously held until recently.

The administration has inched toward the Iraqi view that setting at least a target date for withdrawal would make it politically palatable for Iraq's government to accept a substantial U.S. troop presence beyond this year.

This is just huge. This presidential campaign has really been defined by two major issues--the slowing U.S. economy, and the U.S. war in Iraq. Both Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain have staked opposing positions on the war. Obama wanted to remove U.S. combat forces within 16 months after he enters office--around the summer of 2010. McCain wanted to continue the war in Iraq until Iraqi forces could defeat al Qaeda terrorists. Congressional Republicans have been attacking Democratic withdrawal timetables for the past couple of years. President Bush threatened to veto Iraq war spending bills if they contained withdrawal timetables. Iraq was one of the big issues in defining the presidential election for this year. And now President Bush may have just thrown the Iraq chessboard in the air. Because President Bush has now accepted a Democratic withdrawal timetable, which has been agreed upon by the Maliki government, who also expressed the demand for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. I'm sure that the Obama campaign will welcome the Bush withdrawal timetable plan without any criticism. But how will the McCain campaign respond, even as McCain has claimed that a U.S. pullout of Iraq would result in genocide and a civil war? McCain has even insisted that he knows what the Iraqi people want, and that the Iraqi government cannot order the U.S. to withdrawal from Iraq. John McCain has taken a hard-lined approach of continuing the U.S. war in Iraq for the next hundred years. Will he support President Bush's troop withdrawal plan or reject it? Or will McCain enthusiastically support the withdrawal plan until he is elected into office, and then rip it to shreds in order to continue his war? I can't really say.

Kevin Drum has some interesting thoughts on this latest chessboard toss:

1. This is very good news for Democrats. It means that our eventual withdrawal from Iraq will not only be a bipartisan action, it will have been the creation of a Republican president. This is going to make it almost impossible for conservatives to ramp up any kind of serious stab-in-the-back narrative against anti-war liberals.

2. Basic Obama spin: "I'm glad to see that President Bush has finally come around to my view etc. etc." This ought to be a big win for him: he visits Iraq, meets with Nouri al-Maliki, gets Maliki's endorsement for a near-term troop withdrawal, and then gets to applaud as President Bush signs on.

3. Looking ahead, it's also a big win for Obama if he wins in November. Instead of a bruising congressional battle on withdrawal starting in January, he can just continue along the path Bush has set out. At most he'll tweak it a bit, which he can do on his own and without expending a lot of political capital.

4. This is also good news for Dems in conservative districts, since it eliminates a campaign issue that potentially hurts them.

5. Basic McCain spin: "It's good news that Iraq is now secure enough that we can envision bringing our troops home etc. etc." He'll also talk about how the surge deserves all the credit and he'll claim that 2011 is a totally different thing than Obama's plan to withdraw by 2010. This isn't great spin, but it's probably the best he's got.

6. Outside of spin alley, the news for McCain is mixed. The agreement takes Iraq largely off the table as a partisan campaign issue, which might be good (the public supports withdrawal, so it's been an Achilles heel for him) or might be bad (it takes the spotlight off foreign affairs, which he considers his strong suit). Overall, though, it's got to be a negative for a guy who just a few months ago was talking about staying in Iraq for a hundred years.

7. I wonder what McCain's initial reaction to this is going to be? When rumors of an agreement like this were being floated last month, he insisted that he had talked to Maliki personally and he knew that Maliki didn't really want a timetable for withdrawal. Looks like he was wrong about that. Is he going to stick to that line, or, like Jerry Brown after Prop 13 passed in 1978, is he suddenly going to become withdrawal's greatest advocate?

This is certainly going to be a huge game-changer for Obama, since now Obama can claim that Bush has come around to a withdrawal timetable that Obama has advocated, while McCain has been completely wrong about Iraq. Drum also makes another interesting point in that the Iraq agreement takes McCain's signature foreign policy issue off the election table, forcing the McCain campaign to rethink another signature campaign issue. Considering how McCain's economic or domestic policy issues are practically a disaster, that may also be a problem for the McCain campaign.


Paul Racataian said...

If Iraq is a negative issue for Sen. McCain, such that we havn't 'won' yet, then it makes perfect sense to take that entire topic off the table.

War's over!!! We won!!!

Sorry... just threw up a little in my mouth...

Eric A Hopp said...

Hello Paul:

And thank you for your comment. I am still trying to figure out this entire game-changing policy the Bush administration has brought into the presidential election. It practically negates John McCain's entire campaign strategy for electing him into the White House--McCain has the foreign policy credentials over Barack Obama, and could defeat the al Qaeda terrorists in the Iraq War. The problem is that this is John McCain's only campaign issue that he can run on. His domestic policy agenda is a complete disaster of continuing the Bush tax cuts to the rich, continuing deregulation for the benefit of corporations, privatizing Social Security, and advocating more oil drilling which will not reduce prices at the gas pumps. Take Iraq off the table, and John McCain has nothing to campaign on, with the exception of baseless characterization attacks against Barack Obama.

Oh wait, that is all McCain has been doing in his campaign.