As recently as yesterday, Obama aides were treating the president’s campaign promise for a 16-month timetable to withdraw from Iraq as a working plan. It didn’t take long for what many voters assumed was a firm commitment to become, in the parlance of the previous administration, an aspirational time horizon.
Indeed, while his Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon will present the president “a range of options” from which to decide on his course of action, the indication is that none of the top military brass are looking very favorably on the promise, to the extent one must wonder if it will even be one of the options presented.
Speaking to a group of journalists today, outgoing US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker warned that a “precipitous withdrawal” from Iraq would be “very dangerous.” Much to his relief, and the consternation of those hoping the Obama Administration would live up to its promises, Crocker believes “it’s clear that’s not the direction in which this is training.”
While President Obama could overrule the military and insist on keeping his campaign promise, there is no indication that he is inclined to do so. Indeed, after his first Iraq-themed meeting with officials Obama himself is now speaking of a “responsible military drawdown.” And as all those officials continue to crow about the “progress” made in Iraq, the question must be asked: how did a promise made when conditions on the ground were ostensibly so much worse become unworkable?
Ultimately the military seems committed to stone-walling, discouraging the president from making any long-term decisions on the Iraq occupation until after as-yet-unscheduled elections. According to Ambassador Crocker, the key is that the elections “be perceived as free and fair, at least in a general sense.” With Crocker declaring progress in the nation “hugely impressive,” it is worth wondering why the best six years of nation-building has yielded is a chance that the elections will seem generally free and fair.