Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Juan Cole, reading Al-Hayat, reports on the conference of Iraqi leaders in Cairo:

Sources at the conference told al-Hayat that they envisaged the withdrawal of foreign military forces from the cities within 6 months (i.e. mid-May?). They said that the withdrawal would be completed over a period of two years (i.e. November 2007). This timetable, al-Hayat says, appears actually to have been put forward by the Americans themselves. If that is true, we finally know exactly what George W. Bush means by "staying the course." It is a course that takes us to withdrawal.

I'm not so sure. With regard to Iraq, every time the American public seems restless, someone -- Donald Rumsfeld or a general or some other high-level functionary -- speculates out loud that a drawdown of troops could happen in the very near future. Then along comes Bush with his riding crop and jodhpurs to dismiss all that girl talk and reiterate that we're staying until the mission is accomplished, dammit. This little two-step is meant to placate both nervous centrist voters and rabid consumers of GOP red meat; it's intended to add up to: We're going to stay until we've kicked ass and established God's shining city on a hill, and we really are going to get that done very soon.

Nobody but the Republican base is buying it, of course, but it's the only riff these guys know how to play.

I suspect that this timetable is more of the same -- manly enough to make it seem as if the Bushies aren't caving into pressure from Democrats and other weaklings, yet light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel enough to offer a ray of hope to non-frothers. Persuading the Iraqis to accept the timetable was a victory for the Bush spin machine; Bush, however, should be rejecting it any minute now.

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