Four More Months?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, May 8, 2007; 1:04 PM

After four years of perpetually kicking the can down the road, President Bush may finally be facing a deadline in Iraq that he can't ignore. This one is from his own party. It would force him to either show signs of success in Iraq in four months -- or admit failure. And unlike so many of the previous, ever-shifting deadlines, this one has a proper noun associated with it: September.

For many American politicians and pundits, "the next several months" have always been make or break in Iraq. But the actual moment of truth never seemed to come around.

The ubiquity of those ever-postponed reckonings has even led some bloggers to use the term "Friedman Unit" to represent a six-month period. Liberal blogger Duncan Black (Atrios) coined the phrase about two Friedmans ago, inspired by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's revelation that New York Times columnist and talking head Thomas L. Friedman had been making six-month do-or-die forecasts about Iraq ever since November 2003. dKosopedia has a list of other's use of the Friedman unit.

But this timetable could be for real.

Jonathan Weisman and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post: "Congressional leaders from both political parties are giving President Bush a matter of months to prove that the Iraq war effort has turned a corner, with September looking increasingly like a decisive deadline. . . .

"'Many of my Republican colleagues have been promised they will get a straight story on the surge by September,' said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). 'I won't be the only Republican, or one of two Republicans, demanding a change in our disposition of troops in Iraq at that point. That is very clear to me.'

"'September is the key,' said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds defense. 'If we don't see a light at the end of the tunnel, September is going to be a very bleak month for this administration.' . . .

"House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has taken a hard line in Bush's favor, said Sunday, 'By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B.' . . .

"'There were always two debates in the debate over timelines to end the war,' said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). 'George W. Bush is hellbent on January 20, 2009, when he walks out of the door, leaving a box stamped 'Iraq' for the next president. The Republicans are hellbent on not going through the next election with Iraq tied to their ankles. All Boehner said publicly was what Republicans have been saying privately for months.'"

What's so special about September? As Weisman and Ricks explain, "political pressures in Washington will dovetail with the military timeline in Baghdad. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, has said that by then he will have a handle on whether the current troop increase is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq's warring factions. And fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1, will almost certainly begin with Congress placing tough new strings on war funding."

In the meantime, Carl Hulse writes for the New York Times: "House Democrats may push ahead this week with a new war spending bill that would provide money for combat operations through midsummer, with the rest of the funds sought by President Bush withheld until commanders in Iraq provide a report on conditions there. . . .

"Aides and other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal was still being vetted, said it would provide about $40 billion of the $95 billion sought by the administration. The proposal would require Mr. Bush to report to Congress in July on events in Iraq.

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