Ever since Iraq’s cabinet “overwhelmingly approved” a proposed security agreement that mandates the full withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, the White House has been engaged in a rhetorical dance — in large part due to President Bush’s long-held opposition to “artificial timetables.”
On Monday, White House press secretary Dana Perino tried to mold the agreement to fit her boss’s view, saying that the withdrawal timeline contained within is only “aspirational” and tied to conditions on the ground remaining favorable. (It’s not). Today, Perino went further, claiming that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) represents a celebration of victory in Iraq:
Q: Can you remind us again why this agreement is not the timetable that the president fought so hard against? [...]
PERINO: This is a mutually agreed to agreement. And that’s what one of the things that is different about an arbitrary date for withdrawal when you say you’re going to leave win or lose. We believe that the conditions are such now that we are able to celebrate the victory that we’ve had so far and establish…a strategic framework agreement.
The firm redeployment deadline is less a declaration of victory and more a reflection of Iraqis’ long-held dissatisfaction with the occupation. For months, Iraqis have been pushing the Bush administration to set a final date. Part of the reason that the final SOFA has such a deadline is not because of “victory,” but because the Iraqis were able to leverage Obama’s election “to pressure the Bush administration to make last-minute concessions.”
The most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) completed last month suggests that Perino shouldn’t be bringing out the champagne bottles just yet either. The new NIE reportedly warns that “unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year.”
In fact, even CentCom commander Gen. David Petraeus will not use the term “victory” or “winning” regarding Iraq. But more importantly, as the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss has noted, there will never be any “victory” there. “Let’s understand,” Duss writes, “there is no plausible scenario in which the decision to invade Iraq can or will ever be vindicated. In the best case, we will have simply averted disaster.”