Barack Obama’s recent trip to the Middle East and Europe caused a number of disparate reactions, even among Republicans, who charged Obama with being anything between audacious and presumptive to wrong-headed and naïve. Equally audacious, the most telling reaction, in the language of Wall Street, came from George Bush’s insistence on a “time horizon” in Iraq.
McCain, who previously complained that Obama hadn’t been to Iraq “in years”–his last trip was in January 2006–was now whining that Obama’s July 15 Iraq speech preceded his visit and that there was a problem with articulating his vision before seeing the devastation one more time. More likely, McCain was jealous that Obama’s New York Times op-ed, “My Plan for Iraq,” had been published the previous day while his was rejected.
In that piece, Obama noted, “We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months.” That, according to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, sounded like “the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”
Forced to offer nuance, the Bush White House issued this statement July 18: “In the area of security cooperation, the President and the Prime Minister 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.”
Politicians and pundits alike struggled to find concrete meaning behind his invocation of the term “time horizon.”
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sees no distinction between a “time horizon” and a “timetable.” The Los Angeles Times reported Levin as saying that Bush is “now apparently willing to accept what he repeatedly has told a majority in both houses of Congress was unacceptable regarding Iraq: a commitment to transition U.S. forces from combat to a limited ‘overwatch’ role, focused on training and counter-terrorism operations, and a ‘time horizon’ for completing this transition.”
Others insist that without specific dates, this is no concession.
The Washington Post reported Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior political adviser to Maliki, as saying that negotiators were still hashing out the details of troop cuts and that the Iraqi government wants specific timelines governing the stages of an eventual full US withdrawal of combat forces. “There are two principles that determine the military relationship: no permanent bases and no permanent existence,” al-Rikabi said. “In such a way, there should be a timetable for withdrawal.”