President Bush has long maintained that if the Iraqi government wants the U.S. to leave Iraq, then the U.S. would do just that, as he said in May 2007:
We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.
Today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggested having a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops. “The direction we are taking is to have a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or to have a timetable for their withdrawal,” Maliki’s office quoted him as saying.
But the administration has rebuffed Maliki’s request for a timeline. Asked about the prime minister’s comments today, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman hedged on whether the administration would follow the Iraqi government’s request, criticizing timelines as “artificial“:
WHITMAN: [I]t is dependent on conditions on the ground. … But timelines tend to be artificial in nature. In a situation where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq, I would just tell you, it’s usually best to look at these things based on conditions on the ground.
The State Department also hedged on whether the Bush administration would listen to Maliki. In a briefing today, spokesperson Sean McCormack said the remark may have been a transcription error:
McCORMACK: Well, that’s really the part — the point at which I would seek greater clarification in terms of remarks. I’ve seen the same press reports that you have, but I haven’t yet had an opportunity to get greater clarify as to exactly to what Mr. Maliki was referring or if, in fact, that’s an accurate reporting of what he said.
“I’ve got confidence in him,” Bush said in 2007 about Maliki’s leadership. But despite its rhetoric, it seems the Bush administration could care less what the Iraqi people or the Iraqi government want.