Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wall Street Journal reports deal to get US out of Iraq

The Bush administration is working to establish the last elements of the Bush 43 Legacy. From the front page of today's Wall Street Journal:
U.S., Iraq Are Said to Have Set
Withdrawal Timetable

August 21, 2008; Page A1

BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi negotiators reached agreement on a security deal that calls for American military forces to leave Iraq's cities by next summer as a prelude to a full withdrawal of combat troops from the country, according to senior American officials.

The draft agreement sets 2011 as the goal date by which U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq, according to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Humood and other people familiar with the matter. In the meantime, American troops will be leaving cities, towns and other population centers by the summer of 2009, living in bases outside of those areas, according to the draft. [Snip]

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, cautioned that the deal was not yet complete. "Discussions are ongoing with the Iraqis to finalize a bilateral agreement," he said. "We are working to complete the agreement, but it is not final yet."

President George W. Bush is almost certain to accept the agreement, according to U.S. officials. The administration believes that the deal doesn't require congressional approval and won't present it to U.S. lawmakers. [Snip]

The security deal came together after the Bush administration made concessions on several long-held positions. The White House softened its stance over a pullout date after it became clear that Mr. Maliki was adamant that the agreement contain at least a vague timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.

The administration also dropped its insistence that American contractors remain immune from Iraqi law. Western contractors -- especially those working for Blackwater, which is under investigation for a deadly shooting last year -- are deeply unpopular in Iraq.

One of the last remaining roadblocks had been whether U.S. military personnel would enjoy immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. Mr. Humood, Iraq's chief negotiator on the agreement, said joint committees of U.S. and Iraqi officials will be formed to resolve such issues when cases arise.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander here, said in an interview that the U.S. already was focusing on turning control of the country over to Iraqis.

"We have to let go, and we're not reluctant to do that. And the Iraqis are not reluctant to take control," Gen. Petraeus said.
This agreement, if finalized, sets a time line for American troop withdrawal - first from the cities by 2009 and then getting American combat troops out of Iraq by 2011. Bush has, of course, adamantly opposed time lines for withdrawal. Yet here we get the Wall Street Journal reporting that the Bush administration has all but agreed to time lines for withdrawal while giving up legal immunity in Iraq for contractors and all but giving up legal immunity in Iraq for US military personnel. In short, the WSJ is reporting that the Bush administration has all but accepted the proposals made by Barack Obama and loudly decried by McCain and the entire right wing PR noise machine.

Spencer Ackerman points out:
That plan is right out of the Center for American Progress' "Strategic Redeployment" paper of 2005 -- get out of the cities, get less visible, move from a combat mission to a training mission, and then go. The left won the Iraq debate. Period.
Expect Republican spin to approach that of an Islamic Dervish. How does McCain spin this action reported right before his convention? He was just publicized as telling the VFW:
“Both candidates in this election pledge to end this war and bring our troops home. The great difference — the great difference — is that I intend to win it first.”
Now, suddenly, the Bush administration is reported as accepting the position of al Malaki and of Barak Obama and agreeing to time lines for pulling the American military out of Iraq.

Did the Bush administration somehow win the occupation of Iraq and but has not yet bothered to tell McCain, the Republican nominee for President, that American military action in Iraq is no longer needed? Or worse, did they tell Obama America has won in Iraq while letting McCain go out on the limb then saw it off after him? The McCain narrative for the Iraq occupation is now in tatters.

Kevin Drum offers some thoughts on the political effects of this WSJ report here in the US:
  1. This is very good news for Democrats. It means that our eventual withdrawal from Iraq will not only be a bipartisan action, it will have been the creation of a Republican president. This is going to make it almost impossible for conservatives to ramp up any kind of serious stab-in-the-back narrative against anti-war liberals.

  2. Basic Obama spin: "I'm glad to see that President Bush has finally come around to my view etc. etc." This ought to be a big win for him: he visits Iraq, meets with Nouri al-Maliki, gets Maliki's endorsement for a near-term troop withdrawal, and then gets to applaud as President Bush signs on.

  3. Looking ahead, it's also a big win for Obama if he wins in November. Instead of a bruising congressional battle on withdrawal starting in January, he can just continue along the path Bush has set out. At most he'll tweak it a bit, which he can do on his own and without expending a lot of political capital.

  4. This is also good news for Dems in conservative districts, since it eliminates a campaign issue that potentially hurts them.

  5. Basic McCain spin: "It's good news that Iraq is now secure enough that we can envision bringing our troops home etc. etc." He'll also talk about how the surge deserves all the credit and he'll claim that 2011 is a totally different thing than Obama's plan to withdraw by 2010. This isn't great spin, but it's probably the best he's got.

  6. Outside of spin alley, the news for McCain is mixed. The agreement takes Iraq largely off the table as a partisan campaign issue, which might be good (the public supports withdrawal, so it's been an Achilles heel for him) or might be bad (it takes the spotlight off foreign affairs, which he considers his strong suit). Overall, though, it's got to be a negative for a guy who just a few months ago was talking about staying in Iraq for a hundred years.

  7. I wonder what McCain's initial reaction to this is going to be? When rumors of an agreement like this were being floated last month, he insisted that he had talked to Maliki personally and he knew that Maliki didn't really want a timetable for withdrawal. Looks like he was wrong about that. Is he going to stick to that line, or, like Jerry Brown after Prop 13 passed in 1978, is he suddenly going to become withdrawal's greatest advocate?
Kevin's first point is extremely important. The widely anticipated right-wing cries that Iraq was lost because of some kind of stab-in-the-back by anti-war liberals is very unlikely to get traction now. Cries of "Who lost Iraq?" will be met by "Bush got us out."

As for Kevin's seventh point, I can't see McCain going into the Republican National Convention on Sept 1 without having addressed this, so we have eleven days to see his response.

As for the effects of this report in Iraq itself, Juan Cole has not yet addressed it, nor has anyone else who might be credible. We'll have to wait to find that out. But it is clear that, contrary to the spin out of the White House and out of Centcom headquarters, al Maliki has been serious all along about demanding an early withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. He is in the process of consolidating his power and will dispense with American combat troops at the earliest possible moment.

One other thought is how this will effect the US military. Unfortunately, it appears that it will only slowly free up troops to transfer into the war in Afghanistan - the war Bush didn't want to begin with and has ignored in order to fight and occupy Iraq. As combat troops are withdrawn from Iraq, much of the US military equipment there will be turned over to the Iraqis. Most of it is not worth the cost of shipping it back to the US or on to Afghanistan. The remaining US troops will be there primarily to maintain that equipment. Since that accounts for much of the Army's and Marine Corps' equipment, all of that will have to be replaced, and a good deal more sent to Afghanistan. In addition, the costs of retraining and reequipping the hollowed-out military Bush has left for his successor are going to be tremendous, so all military expenses will remain high, not counting the benefits given to casualties and veterans. The very high costs of the invasion of Iraq are, of course, lives and treasure thrown down a rat hole for no known payoff.

All of this speculation is dependent on the accuracy of the WSJ article. There is always the possibility that the Bush administration and al Maliki will quickly come out and deny the whole story and the Wall Street Journal will publish a "Whoops! We goofed." story next week. Somehow that seems to most unlikely possibility of them all.

Beyond the revamping of both the Republican and Democratic narratives for the national security issue in the run up to the Presidential election, this pretty much establishes the Bush Presidential Legacy. He stole the 2000 election in Florida, allowed 9/11 to happen, then used the events of 9/11 as permission to attack Iraq just because he wanted to attack Iraq even before becoming President. Since then he has spent more days on vacation in Crawford, TX than any prior President. He has also spent more time goofing off at Camp David than any prior President. Now, five years later he is acting to close out the war that will always remain known as "Bush's War." There is no known gain from Bush's War whatsoever.

Hell of a rotten legacy, isn't it?

Addendum 1:44 pm CDT
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has published an Associated Press news story that confirms the WSJ story.

A Google search of "Iraqi and U.S. negotiators have completed" shows that the AP story has been widely published today. That adds some credibility to the story itself. It doesn't show who released it or why, but it suggests that there might be some basis of truth to the story.

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