The reports I read about troop withdrawals focused on Bush’s calibrated message: “I . . . have heard the voices of those saying, pull out now, and I’ve thought about their cry, and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree.” The president was referring especially to Sheehan’s cry, but also to the call for an immediate withdrawal from the antiwar movement, the Left, the Center, and even from some on the Right.
But that wasn’t really the question, Mr. Bush. The question on the minds of most isn’t whether the president will withdraw immediately. Instead, the question is: “Mr. Bush, are you planning to withdraw any time soon?” Or, “Mr. Bush, do you agree with General George W. Casey, Jr. that the U.S. could or will reduce American troop strength in Iraq by 30,000 in Spring 2006?” And, “Mr. Bush, are you making these calibrated statements for political reasons?”
Bush doesn’t want to answer these questions because it would confirm what we now know is true; namely, that the Pentagon has drafted contingency plans for a phased withdrawal of American troops. Bush can’t or won’t confirm this because he believes it would raise doubts about his resolve and thus encourage the insurgents. But Bush also doesn’t want to confirm the implications of Casey’s comment because it indicates that (1) he is driving hard to meet the deadline for the drafting of an Iraqi constitution acceptable to the U.S. so that, (2) he can claim some measure of success in bringing “democracy” to Iraq, and (3) with luck, he can announce the beginning of troop withdrawals ahead of the 2006 midterm congressional elections, thereby improving his party’s chances.
Now, I’m all for troop withdrawals as quickly as possible, coupled with other diplomatic and political measures that I will attempt to discuss another time. But I believe we must think hard about this matter of political timing and how it is affecting the ongoing war, the negotiations for the constitution, the prospects for a solution to the war, an end to the American occupation, and the return of American troops.