Yesterday, the U.S. agreed to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by next June and from the country by the end of 2011. According to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the two countries agreed on forming “aspirational timetables” for withdrawal:
We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement.
Although the 2011 target is “prospective,” the embrace of a timetable is a significant development for an administration that has for five years disparaged those advocating any fixed schedule or date for withdrawal.
It is unclear, however, where Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will stand, as he has marched in lockstep with Bush in railing against any use of “timetables.” In January, for example, McCain said of Mitt Romney’s advocacy of a timeline, “Timetables was the buzzword for those that wanted to get out.” McCain has demagogued the issue, hammering anyone who advocates any form of timetables:
— “If you pass a resolution…that dictates withdrawal and a time for withdrawal, all you’re doing is telling the enemy, ‘hang on, we’re leaving.’” [March 2007]
— “If you set a date for withdrawal, then the consequences of failure are catastrophic.” [8/20/07]
— “An artificial timetable based on political expediency would have led to disaster and could still turn success into defeat.” [7/19/08]
— “They’ll come home with honor. And it won’t be just at a set timetable.” [7/22/08]
In July, after McCain said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s 16-month withdrawal timeline was a “pretty good timetable,” he quickly distanced himself from the “buzzword,” telling ABC two days later, “I didn’t use the word timetable.”
Even if the goal of withdrawing combat troops by 2011 is realized, the accord does leave open the possibility that American military trainers and support forces could remain in Iraq after that time. It is unclear whether the accord provides for semipermanent military bases in the country, and what role the United States would play in providing air and naval support for Iraq.