Feature

Iraq: Is withdrawal still an issue?

How change on the ground shifts the debate

What happened
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that he will probably recommend withdrawing more U.S. troops from Iraq this fall if security continues improving. By August, there should be about 140,000 American soldiers in Iraq, a little more than before last year’s surge. (ABC News)

What the commentators said
Iraq was supposed to separate John McCain from Barack Obama, said The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. Obama wanted withdrawal within 16 months, while McCain said events, not a timetable, would determine everything. But with security improving and the Iraqi government demanding a timetable, the “debate may be largely diminished, if not moot.”

The war could still be Obama’s “chief vulnerability,” said Dick Morris and Eileen McGann in the New York Post, if McCain “plays it right.” Obama has loosened his pullout plan by saying he'd bring home combat troops but keep a residual presence, so McCain should press him on how he plans to keep terrorists at bay with such a rigid and limited ongoing commitment.

Obviously, “the United States cannot just turn its back on Iraq,” said The New York Times in an editorial, “but that is not remotely what Obama is suggesting.” He’s saying we should keep fighting al Qaida while openly moving toward leaving Iraq, which is the only way to give Iraqis incentive to “settle their political differences.”

Obama’s new policy is “a breathtaking change” from the old promises to his “antiwar base,” said Donald Lambro in The Washington Times. Yet the drift from his earlier calls for a complete pullout will cost him, by angering the left and making independents wonder where he really stands.

Set aside the partisan sniping, said John Diamond in USA Today, and you must admit we’ll have to discuss timetables for bringing U.S. forces home some day. “We are not going to sneak out of Iraq” overnight without anybody knowing.

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