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Obama and the Status of Forces Agreement « The Washington Independent

The Washington Post’s Michael Abramowitz has a piece looking at what the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) approved by the Iraqi cabinet means for the Obama administration.

Short answer: it goes a long way toward relieving the domestic political burdens of withdrawal.

Obama pledged during the campaign to withdraw the remaining U.S. combat troops in 16 months, at roughly the rate of one combat brigade a month. The plan tentatively approved in Baghdad yesterday would essentially give Obama until the end of 2011 to pull out all U.S. forces, while also putting the imprimatur of the Bush administration on the idea that there needs to be an ironclad deadline for troop removal.

As it happens, I was working on a piece about this that’s now been rendered obsolete. But that won’t stop me from purging my notebook! Many of the people I talked to reached pretty much the same conclusion as Abramowitz’s sources. For instance, here’s a Pentagon official who requested anonymity:

“Politically it is significant. The Iraqis are telling us to leave and the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, has basically agreed to go. Kind of hard for the far right to call what follows surrender or retreat.”

That’s exactly right. Bush’s ability to be outmaneuvered on the basing pact has turned withdrawal into a consensus position. The good news — the really good news — is that we’ll probably be spared a Vietnam-like 30 years’ worth of recriminations over withdrawal. I suppose it’s premature to say that, but this isn’t Congress cutting off funding, this is the same administration that started the war capitulating to Iraqi opinion.

Hussein Ibish, executive director of the Foundation for Arab-American Leadership, adds:

“The SOFA gives both the new Obama Administration and the Maliki government in Iraq an outside date-certain for ending the US military presence in Iraq — as such its a major achievement for those who wish to see an end to the occupation and a blow to those who hoped for a long-term American presence in that country or major military bases in Iraq. There is nothing in the SOFA that precludes Obama, Maliki and others from moving more quickly and sticking to the 16-month period both had spoken about in recent months – this should be seen as an outside deadline, not a starting point.”

In other words, the occupation could easily end in advance of Dec. 31, 2011, the date set in the accord. And why not? According to Maliki, who wanted a 2010 withdrawal, President Bush just wanted a 2011 withdrawal to help John McCain’s presidential campaign.

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