Playing Politics with Timetables


In another Woody Allen moment reminiscent of George W. Bush pinning the Medal of Freedom on disgraced ex-CIA Director George Tenet, a third George – General Casey – has taken a page from the Democrats’ troop withdrawal playbook.

After being prepped with the Pentagon’s 74-page cheat sheet about "staying the course" rather than "cutting-and-running" from Iraq, the Republicans walked in lockstep for the past two weeks, shooting down the Democrats’ calls for bringing our soldiers home.

Late last week, Casey, the US commander in Iraq, condemned the concept of a withdrawal timetable. "I don’t like it," he declared. "I feel it would limit my flexibility. I think it would give the enemy a fixed timetable, and I think it would send a terrible signal to a new government of national unity in Iraq that’s trying to stand up and get its legs underneath it."

At the same time, speaking out of both sides of his medals, Casey was secretly recommending that Bush drastically reduce our troop commitment, coincidentally, just before the November elections. How bizarre.

Maybe it wasn’t Woody Allen who said, "When you’re being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it look like a parade." But that’s just what the un-indicted Karl Rove is best at.

Karl Rove knows that the mess his boss created in Iraq will be on voters’ minds come November. By pulling the rug out from under the (semi-unified) Democrats’ strongest issue, he maximizes the chances of GOP retention of Congress.

Senator John Kerry, who finally admitted a couple of weeks ago he was wrong to vote for the war, said Casey’s plan "looks an awful lot like what the Republicans spent the last week attacking. Will the partisan attack dogs now turn their venom and disinformation campaign on General Casey?" Unlikely, given the GOP’s proclivity to goosestep to its commander in chief.

Keeping his options open, Bush conditions the pullback on the Iraqis’ ability to do the job. He can always send the troops back in after the election.

Things are not going swimmingly in Iraq right now. Twelve US troops died or were found dead this week. On Friday, a car bomb killed at least 5 people and wounded 18 in Basra. A bomb hit the Sunni mosque in Hibhib northeast of Baghdad where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed earlier this month; Friday’s bomb killed 10 worshippers and wounded 15. Also on Friday, the Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in Baghdad as US and Iraqi forces battled resistance fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and rifles near the Green Zone.

On Monday, bombs at markets in two Iraqi cities killed at least 40 people and at least 22 others died throughout Iraq.

The same day, Zalmay Khalizad, US ambassador to Iraq, verified claims in a paper he signed documenting retaliation against Iraqis working with the US in the Green Zone. He touted the 8 hours of electricity per day that people in Baghdad now enjoy, up from 4 just a month ago.

Ultimately, the Bush administration plans to retain a small contingent of about 50,000 troops and the large "super" military bases it is building in Iraq, the raison d’etre for Operation "Iraqi Freedom." Bush has no intention of ever leaving Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki presented a 24-point national reconciliation plan on Sunday. 

It calls for the recognition of the legitimacy of the national resistance, differentiating it from the terrorists. The plan also calls for a timetable for withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq but specifies no actual date.

According to recent surveys, 87 percent of Iraqis favor a withdrawal timetable for US forces. On Monday, one Sunni leader in Iraq said the insurgency would persist until Washington sets such a timetable, but 7 Sunni groups offered the government a conditional truce.

The prime minister’s plan aims to offer amnesty to insurgents "not proved to be involved in crimes, terrorist activities and war crimes against humanity." That would seem to exclude Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. 

Oddly, it was the Democrats who screamed the loudest about the amnesty plan. Senator Carl Levin called it "unconscionable," exclaiming, "For heaven’s sake, we liberated that country."

Tell that to the Iraqi people.

MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild.


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