Bush's Mysterious Iraq Policy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, July 21, 2008; 1:20 PM

Welcome to the latest Bush Doctrine: Leave 'em guessing.

On Friday, the White House announced that President Bush and Iraqi officials had agreed to a "general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals" regarding the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

While this was widely interpreted as a dramatic shift in policy by a president who had previously refused to commit to a timetable in Iraq, White House officials insist it is no such thing. And it is, in fact, hard to know what the statement means: It is a masterpiece of obfuscation.

There are at least three credible options. One is that the statement represents a huge reversal but is shrouded in euphemisms. Another is that nothing has really changed and the impenetrable language is a deceptive sop to Iraqis desperate for a sense of closure. A third possibility is that the White House issued a confusing statement because it is, well, confused.

Here's the key passage from the announcement: "In the area of security cooperation, the President and [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals -- such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. The President and Prime Minister agreed that the goals would be based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal."

From the Friday afternoon gaggle with White House spokesman Scott Stanzel:

Q. "On the statement about Maliki, the conversation with Maliki and agreement to have a time -- some sort of a timetable, is this not giving into -- well, basically doing what the Democrats have been asking for?"

Stanzel: "The -- no. And as the statement says, we have reached a point in Iraq where we can have these discussions about continuing to transition more control of the security situation to the Iraqi forces. . . . [T]hese are aspirational goals, not arbitrary time lines based on political expediency. . . . "

Q. "Can you define for us a little bit what the aspirational goal might be or what it might look like in an agreement? I mean, is it a date? Is it a tentative time frame? I mean, what does it mean to have a horizon? . . . "

Stanzel: "[I]n terms of how exactly that looks, I think it's best left to the two parties and the State Department and Ambassador Crocker to discuss those things at a time that they see appropriate."

AFP reports this morning: "The White House said Monday that a planned US-Iraq long-term strategic agreement will not include a specific date for a withdrawal of US combat troops.

"'What it will not do is have any sort date tied to combat troops, like how many American troops would be in Iraq at X date. That would not be included,' spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

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