Sunday, November 16, 2003

Bush Bails

There's little reason to describe this any other way:

Iraq's Governing Council and the American occupation authority agreed Saturday on the terms of a radical new plan for the country's political transition that would end the U.S.-led occupation by July 1 and could facilitate a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops next year.

In a major revision of the Bush administration's earlier political blueprints, the new plan authorizes the creation of a provisional national assembly that would assume sovereignty and serve as Iraq's interim government until a constitution is written and elections are held. The administration had demanded that a constitution be drafted and elections convened before a transfer of power, a process that could have stretched into 2005.

Although the creation of the assembly will result in the dissolution of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, its leaders nevertheless hailed the accelerated handover of sovereignty as a victory for Iraqis. "This is a feast for the Iraqi people," said Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader who holds the council's rotating presidency. "This is what Iraqi people were dreaming to have."
The Iraqi people... and the guerillas. I have little doubt that this will be seen in the Middle East as a major victory by anti-American forces. They got what they wanted: they wanted the Americans out, and the Americans are getting out, far quicker than that "long hard slog" rhetoric ever suggested. It's fair to say that the U.S. won't get everything it wanted, either:

But just as it speeds up the political transition, the process will introduce a new level of uncertainty for the U.S. government. By ceding sovereignty to a provisional administration, the United States will lose veto power over the content of Iraq's constitution and the shape of the government. The Bush administration also will have no guarantee that formerly exiled Iraqi political leaders, with which it has long cultivated ties, will be chosen in the caucuses.

"When sovereignty is transferred, sovereignty is transferred," a senior White House official said. But the official added that the administration expects to have "a good working relationship" with the provisional government.

Talabani said U.S. troops would remain as "invited guests," but he added that precise details on the size of the force and its role would have to be worked out with the U.S. government. Adnan Pachachi, another council member, said the negotiations would be "between two sovereign powers."
"Expects" doesn't cut it in heavy traffic: this leaves the Iraqis open to pretty much do whatever they wish, including (if necessary) the nationalization of oil. This is, obviously, not what the U.S. was going for. It's excellent news for the Iraqis, as they'll regain the sovereignty they wanted so badly, but there are probably a lot of very angry people in the Pentagon right now.

Why did this happen? It's pretty obvious:

The midyear handover would enable President Bush to head into the 2004 election with a much smaller -- and less vulnerable -- contingent of U.S. forces in Iraq. Under Saturday's accord with the Governing Council, the United States would sign an agreement with the provisional government that would stipulate the size and function of the U.S. force in Iraq after June, although U.S. officials expressed confidence that the new government would endorse a continued U.S. military presence. Pentagon officials have said they want to base tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq for the next few years.
This is what this is all about- the most politically conscious White House in recent memory strikes again. With the economy (perhaps) improving, Iraq was the big sticking point for the Bush administration, and they needed to do something to alleviate the situation. This is exactly the timing they need... a pullout early enough so that it'll be done with in time for the election, and late enough so that it won't

a) fade from memory
or b) leave Bush holding the bag for whatever nasty consequences follow the pullout.

Indeed, there may be a plan to go right back in after the election; I wouldn't be surprised.

In the balance, however, this could be welcome news. "Could be" because the whole thing sounds hasty as usual and that could backfire... but hopefully, it'll be the first step towards a truly free Iraq.

Edit: On the other hand, according to CNN, Rummy insists that "The timetable or the way ahead that the (Iraqi) Governing Council has been describing relates to the governance aspects of the country and not to the security aspect... [t]hat's on a separate track."

So maybe things won't be so different after all. Or maybe the divide over Iraq is reaching a breaking point. Thing is, if this is a contest between Rummy and Rove, Rove will win. No question.

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