Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Delicate Politics of the Iraq War

When Baker's Iraq Study Group releases its final report on December 6, sparks are sure to be flying in DC. It seems that the group has the hard task of trying to be all things to all people, most particularly:

Committee members struggled with ways, short of a deadline, to signal to the Iraqis that Washington would not prop up the government with military forces endlessly, and that if sectarian warfare continued the pressure to withdraw American forces would become overwhelming. What they ended up with appears to be a classic Washington compromise: a report that sets no explicit timetable but, between the lines, appears to have one built in.

As one senior American military officer involved in Iraq strategy said, “The question is whether it doesn’t look like a timeline to Bush, and does to Maliki.”

According to The New York Times, which has offered a brief preview of the ISG's recommendations, a proposal to call for a 'gradual pullback' of 15 combat brigades to US military bases in Iraq may paint Bush into an uncomfortable corner.

The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.
Mr. Bush has rejected such contacts [with Iran and Syria] until now, and he has also rejected withdrawal, declaring in Riga, Latvia, on Tuesday that while he will show flexibility, “there’s one thing I’m not going to do: I’m not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.”

Meanwhile, al-Maliki announced on Thursday that he believes the Iraqis can take full control of their forces by June, 2007.

"I cannot answer on behalf of the U.S. administration but I can tell you that from our side our forces will be ready by June 2007," Maliki told ABC television after meeting President Bush in Jordan.

Bush offered him strong backing in their talks and said Iraqi forces would be trained more quickly to take over but rejected suggestions he was seeking a "graceful exit" for U.S. troops.

Right. That's exactly what the ISG has been working on - a way to get out of Iraq so Bush can cover his ass without being totally humiliated by this massive failure. It's a bit too late for that, however.

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