Last week, in what appears to be a momentous and welcome shift, the Bush administration announced that it would be working with the Iraqi government to develop a "general time horizon" for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq. According to White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have reached a verbal accord on the issue of setting what might otherwise be called a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq. But don't make the mistake of confusing the terms "timetable" and "general time horizon."
In order to wade through the ambiguity that the seemingly synonymous terms could create in the minds of readers, we believe it may be instructive to allow the White House press secretary to present a quick lesson on Washington-speak, or if you prefer, political-speak, at this juncture.
As Perino was careful to note, the contours of the agreement on when American servicemen and servicewomen can come home is not "an arbitrary deadline" (timetable), but rather is contingent on the meeting of certain "aspirational goals" (general time horizon), which include, but are not limited to, the reduction of American troop levels in Iraq. Got it? Yeah, we didn't either.
Perhaps the Iraqi prime minister could shed some light on the difference between "timetable" and "general time horizon."
In an interview with a German magazine, Prime Minister al-Maliki had this to say about the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. in regards to troop redeployment: "So far, the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory." The prime minister went on to say that Iraqis want "to establish a timeframe for the withdrawal of international troops - and it should be short." In other words, the Iraqis are seeking a timetable for withdrawal, and they want U.S. troops to leave sooner rather than later.
Later in the interview, al-Maliki essentially endorsed Sen. Barack Obama's phased redeployment plan, although he has since attempted to qualify his remarks so as to temper tensions between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration. You see, in politics, it's almost never a good idea to admit you were wrong about anything. Especially when you are playing the role of a principled, resolute, confident commander-in-chief.
It has been a trademark of the Bush administration to deride the mere mention of timetables as dangerous, naïve and even unpatriotic. The president and his neoconservative acolytes have labeled anyone who has called for timetables a "cut-and-runner" - meaning someone who is willing to accept defeat in Iraq when victory is ostensibly within sight. The problem with that logic, however, is once again a matter of semantics. How do we define "victory" within the construct of a woefully unnecessary conflict so devoid of any intelligible purpose?
For an answer to the above question, we turn to Sen. John McCain - that is, the McCain of 2004. In 2004, McCain was asked whether the U.S. should accept timetables if the Iraqis asked for them. This is what he said: "I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."
We couldn't agree more. Timetables or time horizons, the verbiage is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is exchanging our current "win-in-Iraq-or-die-trying" strategy for something more tangible and coherent.