In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Bipartisan approach to US Iraq withdrawal emerging

Posted by seumasach on July 9, 2008

Bipartisanship(Missing Links)

9th July, 2008

AlHayat this morning sums up this way

The negotiations between Iraq and the US have reached a ticklish stage with the disagreement having been made public: Baghdad is insisting on a schedule for the withdrawal of the forces, and rejects immunity from Iraqi law [for the US forces]; while Washington says it is not opposed to a temporal framework [probably “timeframe” is the Washingtonese] for the operation (of withdrawal) and it links the operation to circumstances on the ground.

To illustrate the Baghdad position, they quote Mowaffaq Rubaie following his meeting with Sistani in Najaf where he said: “We are not now talking about a schedule for the presence of the forces; rather, we are talking about the evacuation of the foreign forces from the country.” He said in effect, we have our dates, and they have their dates, so there isn’t an agreement yet. Rubaie added: “We cannot talk about fixed [or permanent] bases in Iraq”, but the reporter notes he also mentioned the “possibility of camps subject to Iraqi sovereignty.”

On the Washington side, the reporter refers to a statement by the White House that said the negotiations with Iraq are not aimed at a “deadline” [or “firm date”] for withdrawal, however this does not rule out the possibility of an agreement about a timeframe”. And he reviews the Pentagon statement about any agreement being linked to conditions on the ground.

But setting aside the question of “firm date” versus “time-frame”, I think there is an important point raised in yesterday’s AlHayat story that hasn’t been noticed. What that source said was that Washington had agreed to a transitional or bridge agreement (by way of a memo of understanding) for, among other reasons, a specific Washington-centered reason: namely that there is a desire to avoid the risk of any “dramatic change” in US policy in Iraq and the region with the change of administration. And at about the same time, there has been this highly-publicized Obama “move to the center” in the form of a new focus on the idea of conditioning troop-withdrawal to conditions on the ground. If you put those two developments together–switching the negotiations to a bridge agreement, and Obama’s switch to the kind of “conditionality” that isn’t in principle any different from that of the Bush administration–then the conclusion seems to be that the negotiations have become “bipartisan” on the Washington side. So that he only partisan differences are in the rhetoric: Yes to speedy withdrawal on the Democratic side; Yes to taking into account conditions on the ground on the Bush-administration side.

The candidates’ reactions to the Maliki and Rubaie statements illustrate this nicely: AlHayat quotes McCain telling MSNBC that “the Iraqis have told me very clearly” that they think withdrawal should depend on conditions on the ground… “We will withdraw…but the withdrawal must be dictated by events on the ground”. And Obama, for his part, is quoted by AFP as having said on Monday:

“I think it’s encouraging … that the prime minister himself now acknowledges that in cooperation with Iraq, it’s time for American forces to start sending out a timeframe for the withdrawal.”

In other words, Washington position is “timeframe, with links to conditions on the ground”, and this is shared by the two parties, with only rhetorical differences in emphasis. And the agreement to switch the negotiations to a bridge or Memorandum of Understanding format is the mechanism for handing this bipartisan position off to the new administration.

And you thought there were two parties in Washington involved in a struggle over this.

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