This is a little late, but I was out on travel last week and didn’t have much time to sit and put thoughts together. As I watched Obama trek through the Middle East and Europe last week, a remarkable thing happened. The Iraqi Prime Minister gave the Bush Administration the greatest gift it could have wanted – a way out of Iraq immediately and under the Administration’s terms.
In January of 2005, President Bush was asked if we would leave if the Iraqi government indicated it wanted us out. His reply? “Absolutely. This is a sovereign government. They’re on their feet.”
Last week, when Nouri al-Maliki announced his support for Obama’s withdrawal timetable, and signaled the Iraqi people were ready for us to leave, the Administration had an opening to live up to those words. The Administration should have immediately issued the following statement:
Today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the desire of the Iraqi people to see a US withdrawal. We have always stated that the US is operating in Iraq only as long as the Iraqi government requests our help. We now see the Iraqi government requesting our departure and we will respect their wishes.
I have asked our military advisers to prepare a plan for the immediate withdrawal of US troops, and I expect to see 50% of our troops stateside within the next six months with a full draw down to be completed by the end of 2009.
This would have done three things. First, it would have taken withdrawal off the table as a political issue the Democrats could demagogue. Second, it would have lived up to the word of the Administration that they would leave when the Iraqis asked. Third, it would have completely deflated one of two issues that will weigh heaviest on the general election – the other being the economic turbulence.
For McCain, it would have offered a chance to shift to support withdrawal without being seen as a flip-flopper. He could simply say that he, too, agrees that the Iraqi move toward self-determination is the final condition for US withdrawal. Having met that, the US will honor its obligation and remove its troops.
Having missed this opportunity, both McCain and the Republicans have a problem in that we are now the occupying force that so many have alleged. If we insist on staying, despite clear statements from Iraqi leadership that they are ready for us to leave, the GOP is in the unfortunate position of having to justify our continued presence in a country that has said they want us out. That’s a much worse position to be in for the general election than simply supporting an unpopular war.