What's the Plan?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, November 28, 2005; 6:33 PM

President Bush does have a plan for withdrawing troops in Iraq -- and pretty much everyone agrees with it, the White House insisted yesterday.

It's just that they won't say exactly what that plan is.

The White House's latest positioning on this issue came in response to an op-ed in The Washington Post on Saturday by Sen. Joseph R. Biden , the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, headlined "Time for An Iraq Timetable."

Biden wrote: "The president must set a schedule for getting Iraqi forces trained to the point that they can act on their own or take the lead with U.S. help."

His proposal: "Over the next six months, we must forge a sustainable political compromise between Iraqi factions, strengthen the Iraqi government and bolster reconstruction efforts, and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces."

And he concluded: "If the administration shows it has a blueprint for protecting our fundamental security interests in Iraq, Americans will support it."

The White House's new rapid-response team quickly fired out a press release in which Scott McClellan asserted that "There is a strong consensus building in Washington in favor of President Bush's strategy for victory in Iraq."

In fact, McClellan insisted that Biden had just "described a plan remarkably similar to the Administration's plan to fight and win the war on terror."

But the White House press release neglected to even address Biden's central point about timetables and provided no new details, not to mention a blueprint. Up until now, the president hasn't done much more than repeat: " As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down ."

Emerging Signs

Reporters are reading tea leaves -- and looking expectantly toward a presidential speech scheduled for Wednesday -- in an effort to determine just what his exit strategy is.

Paul Richter and Tyler Marshall write in Saturday's Los Angeles Times: "Even as debate over the Iraq war continues to rage, signs are emerging of a convergence of opinion on how the Bush administration might begin to exit the conflict.

"In a departure from previous statements, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week that the training of Iraqi soldiers had advanced so far that the current number of U.S. troops in the country probably would not be needed much longer.

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