Iraq: The View from Year Six
If Senator McCain were elected President, the American position in Iraq on March 19, 2009, will certainly be as described above--and, if he has anything to say about it, for many anniversaries thereafter. But when it comes to the sixth anniversary, the truth is that it probably doesn't matter much who is elected President in November.
Take Hillary Clinton. She's said that she'll task the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council with having a plan for (partial) withdrawal in place within sixty days of coming into office. That means March 21, two days after the sixth anniversary.
Barack Obama has promised to remove US "combat" troops at a pace of one to two brigades per month over a sixteen-month period. So it's possible that troop levels could drop, but only marginally before March 19, 2009, in an Obama presidency.
In addition, the stated plans of both Democratic candidates might not turn out to be their actual plans. Note the comments of Obama foreign policy advisor Samantha Powers, who resigned after calling Clinton a "monster" in an interview with The Scotsman during a book tour. Less noted were her comments in a BBC interview on her candidate's Iraq withdrawal policy. "He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a US Senator," Powers said and then she referred to Obama's plan as nothing more than a--you guessed it--"best-case scenario."
Similarly, a Clinton sometime-advisor, retired General Jack Keane, also one of the authors of President Bush's surge strategy, told the New York Sun that, in the Oval Office, "he is convinced [Hillary Clinton] would hold off on authorizing a large-scale immediate withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq." And Clinton herself has certainly hinted at a similar willingness to reconsider her policy promises in the light of an Oval Office morning.
So, barring an Iraqi surprise, the next year in that country may be nothing but a wash (and the lubricant is likely to be blood). Best-case scenario, we're talking about a holding action on the road to nowhere.