Over the weekend, Iraq’s cabinet “overwhelmingly approved a proposed security agreement that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2011.” Noting President Bush’s long-held opposition to “artificial timetables,” one reporter asked at today’s White House press conference if the inclusion of a deadline in the security agreement was a “departure” from or “repudiation” of Bush’s views on Iraq.
Press Secretary Dana Perino demurred, claiming that the security agreement is, in fact, in line with Bush’s views on Iraq because it included only an “aspirational” deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq:
QUESTION: The President has said for months that he opposes any timetable and that any decision should be based on the conditions on the ground. How much is the latest agreement a departure, if not a repudiation — ?
PERINO: [W]hen you work with a partner on a negotiation, you have to concede some points. One of the points that we conceded was that we would establish these aspirational dates.
In reality, there is nothing “aspirational” about the security agreement’s withdrawal deadline. Members of the Iraqi government are referring to the pact as a “withdrawal agreement” and the Washington Post reported just how firm the deadline is:
“The total withdrawal will be completed by December 31, 2011. This is not governed by circumstances on the ground,” the [Iraqi government] spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told Iraqi reporters, pointedly rejecting the more conditional language that the U.S. government had sought in the accord.
In addition, the “Iraqi spokesman noted that his government could cancel the agreement if its own forces became capable of controlling security at an earlier time.”
The agreement guarantees a more complete withdrawal from Iraq than even President-elect Barack Obama proposed. As Spencer Ackerman noted, “Obama’s plan for a 30,000-troop residual force? Officially overtaken by events.” The agreement also prohibits the U.S. military from conducting raids on Iraqi homes “without an order from an Iraqi judge and permission of the government,” and requires U.S. forces to “leave the streets of Iraq’s towns and villages by the middle of 2009.”
By contrast, here’s what Bush had to say in May 2007: “I believe setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East, and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments. Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure — and that would be irresponsible.”