It's become pretty apparent both from Prime Minister Maliki's statements over the past few days as well as through a slew of other assertions from senior Iraqi officials that they are comfortable with the idea of a timeline for the withdrawal of American combat forces by sometime in 2010 and a move towards a much more limited set of missions and presence.
Perhaps one of the most surreal things about this situation is that the Iraqis seem to have come to this conclusion before either John McCain or George Bush. For years, the administration's policy has been "When they stand up, we'll stand down." Well guess what. The Iraqis are standing up and so far at least Bush and McCain's response seems to be: "you're not ready yet." In fact, today when asked about Maliki's call for a timetable, McCain dismissed Maliki's concerns saying "I know what they want."
In another ironic twist, since 2005 most Democrats have pushed for an American withdrawal or at the very least a threat of withdrawal to force Iraqis to take responsibility for their country and make the hard choices that could bring about political reconciliation. Today the reverse is true. Rather than the U.S. having to pressure the Iraqi government, it is in fact the Maliki government that is trying to put political pressure on the Bush Administration to get American troops to leave.
This is absolutely crazy. After waiting for Iraqis to assert themselves for five years we should be seizing this moment. This is in fact in many ways one of the key elements for "success" -- an Iraqi government eager to step up and take control of its own country. I still can't understand why McCain wouldn't welcome this statement but here are some theories:
A. For years now Iraq diehards like McCain and Bush have had no sense of what victory is in Iraq or how to define it. Now that they are staring it in the face they don't believe it. They have fought for so long to keep American troops there, that they see any withdrawal as defeat -- even if it isn't and even if it comes at the request of the Iraqi government.
B. McCain really and truly wants permanent bases in Iraq and wants to use Iraq as a base from which to exert influence across the Middle East. This is where many of the Neocons are and I wouldn't be surprised if McCain agreed. Of course it is a horrifically bad idea and would only serve as a propaganda tool for Al Qaeda and create animosity across the Arab World.
C. McCain has worked himself into such a box throughout the campaign that he has no choice but to keep calling for our troops to stay and to present the Obama position as "surrender." So he's stuck taking this ridiculous political position because he has no other choice.
Either way you look at it. If you step back for a second, what we have here is the Iraqis trying to declare victory and offer Bush and McCain an "honorable" and responsible way out. Bush and McCain's response? No thank you.