U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.
It’s unremarkable on its own terms for someone to tell a periodical that they think Barack Obama is basically right about Iraq, but in this case the person talking is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki being interviewed by Der Spiegel so that seems pretty noteworthy. We shouldn’t slavishly adhere to whatever the Iraqi government happens to want (if they say we need 100,000 soldiers in Iraq for the next 20 years, we need to tell them no way) but as even John McCain and George Bush used to admit if the Iraqis want us to leave we really have to leave.
Maliki here — and for the past couple of weeks more broadly — is addressing himself to the most fundamental “facts on the ground” in Iraq of all, the gross unpopularity of the American military presence. Under those circumstances, only real desperation (such as the terrible situation prevailing in 2006) makes it make sense for Maliki to uncritically endorse an open-ended presence. Whatever it is he would like to get from US forces (and you’ve got to believe it’s plenty, given that plenty of security issues still exist for Iraq) the larger imperative is to get it in the context of also getting a plan to get Iraq’s sovereignty back.