The combined forces of domestic political pressure in the United States and an increasingly confident government in Iraq are creating a rare opportunity in our protracted conquest of that country " the chance for consensus. It is time for hard-liners on all sides of the issue to back down and agree on a responsible, orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces, to begin forthwith.
That sensible approach won favor last week in camps rarely allied with one another. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama signaled his willingness to break with critics of the war who demand immediate withdrawal and instead proposed a deliberate drawdown, though still in line with his long-held goal of bringing the troops home within 16 months of taking office. In Iraq, meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki indicated that he too wants U.S. troops out; on Monday, a government spokesman cited a 2010 deadline. The Bush administration, which has resisted specific timetables, reportedly put pressure on al-Maliki not to endorse Obama's plan. Yet the administration appears for the first time to be prepared to contemplate an end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq. (President Bush still avers the term "timetable," opting for "time horizon." Fine.) Even GOP candidate John McCain, once content to imagine Americans in Iraq for the next 100 years, welcomed the announcement, though he continued to stake out the inarguable position that no timetable should turn on politics.
In short, despite their different emphases, the leaders of both countries and the leading candidates to succeed Bush now jointly accept the notion of a phased withdrawal under at least a vague timetable. That is what passes for a breakthrough in this long war.
It matters little how we got here. Supporters of the war cite progress on the ground as creating the opportunity to leave; critics argue that it's an overdue concession to the reality that U.S. troops are now desperately needed to fight the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Military leaders can take pride in their surge strategy, as can Bush, who approved it, and McCain, who supported it. Al-Maliki can stand before his people as a ruler in his own right, not an American puppet. And Obama, who opposed the war from the outset, can deliver on his promise, if elected, to promptly bring Americans home.
The political solutions that work are often those for which many can claim credit. Let us allow all the players to proclaim victory, and by doing so clear the way for the United States to end its occupation of Iraq. Let us focus on stanching the bleeding " literal and figurative, military and diplomatic, domestic and geopolitical " that this conflict has caused.
- This editorial appeared in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times.