A front page story in the Washington Post today declares: “Iraq Panel to Urge Pullout Of Combat Troops by ’08.”

The headline makes it sound like all US troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by 2008. In reality, the rest of the article makes clear, that’s not what the Iraq Study Group is recommending.

“The call to pull out combat brigades by early 2008 would be more a conditional goal than a firm timetable, predicated on the assumption that circumstances on the ground would permit it,” the Post reports. “The panel included a significant caveat for the 2008 goal for troop withdrawals by recommending that commanders should plan to pull out combat units by then unless ‘unexpected developments’ make them decide that such a move would be unwise.”

Moreover, the Post buries the kicker: as many as 70,000 US troops, half of the current force, will stay in Iraq indefinitely to embed with Iraqi forces. Instead of US troops fighting the insurgency, whatever that means nowadays, US troops will help Iraqis fight the insurgency. (In practice, it means that US forces will help the Shiites and the Kurds kill the Sunnis.)

Say what you will about the merits of that plan, but it doesn’t sound like an end to the war. If anything, the Iraq Study Group has dealt a blow to proponents of a speedy withdrawal.

According to the New York Times, “the group never seriously considered” the views of respected national security figures like Congressman Jack Murtha, who argued that America should begin redeploying troops as soon as feasible.

The Democrats the panel did interview, such as Senator Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton, “seemed to agree that hard timelines could invite trouble,” the Times reports. Their reasoning is not explained.

This is Washington after all. When a consensus becomes a consensus, you don’t ask why.