Let’s not and say we did instead

August 1, 2008

A "flexible timeline" is not a timetable, and continuing the occupation is not ending it.

THE WALL Street Journal reports that the "The Bush administration's embrace of a flexible timeline for pulling U.S. troops from Iraq has accelerated negotiations between Washington and Baghdad over a long-term security pact."

Every day, it's becoming clearer that the Bush administration, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain are reaching a new consensus, which can be summed up as "let's not and say we did."

Let's not end the occupation. Let's not withdraw all the troops. Let's not resolve the fundamental problems created by the U.S. invasion and occupation. But let's all pretend we did (or will soon enough, though certainly never "precipitously," so leave us alone).

The advantages for all the parties are enormous. Nuri al-Maliki gets to pretend that he's standing up for the interests of Iraqis, who want to see an end to the occupation. The Bush administration gets to shout its mantra that "the surge worked," creating the illusion that things are getting better in Iraq thanks to its policies.

In addition, Washington will most likely now get concessions from Iraq on the "status of forces agreement" (SOFA) it needs to put in place before the United Nations mandate for the occupation expires on December 30. As the Wall Street Journal notes, "Iraqi officials had been adamant about not granting immunity to U.S. soldiers on duty. (Other SOFAs grant similar immunity, which doesn't include off-duty actions.) Now the Iraqi side appears to be more accepting of immunity, since it is seen as temporary, given the time horizon, people familiar with the talks said."

John McCain gets some room to maneuver out of the corner he had painted himself into on Iraq, while also claiming credit for supporting Bush's policies, in contrast to Obama. And Barack Obama gets to claim he has the only workable plan to end the war, which voters so desperately want, and the Iraqi government (and now pretty much every one else, including McCain) supports it.

The only problem is, the "flexible timeline" around which all these parties are now coalescing is a bridge to continuing the occupation for years, perhaps even decades, to come.

Obama's withdrawal plan--which he says he will revise based on advice from his military advisers and conditions on the ground--would still leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, as well as private contractors, including mercenaries, well beyond the year 2010.

U.S. politicians, including Obama, cannot just walk away from Iraq, a country that is in the heart of the world's energy resources and that is strategic to U.S. planning in the region--and globally--especially if walking away is perceived as a defeat for the United States.

Talk of "permanent bases" is a smokescreen, as Kyle Chrichton of the New York Times has rightly pointed out. There will be long-term bases in Iraq, troops in Iraq and the world's largest embassy in Baghdad for many years to come--unless we demand a real end to the occupation.

To start, we have to challenge this new consensus. A "flexible timeline" is not a timetable. Redeployment of some or even all "combat troops" is not withdrawal. Limited Iraqi sovereignty is not sovereignty. Continuing the occupation is not ending it.

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