On the main blog, Leon Hadar notes the administration’s new “time horizon” language, and I agree with those who are saying that this is a way of claiming that the administration is not interested in an indefinite presence in Iraq without making any meaningful commitment as to when that presence will be ended. This is not really a shift, as the NYT would have it, so much as it is yet another rhetorical dodge. Officially, the administration has always wanted to leave Iraq as quickly as possible, and we all know that this claim is not credible. The difference between such a horizon and a firm timetable is clear enough: the former can be revised and allowed to recede far off into the future, while a timetable ought to mean that there are certain dates by which such-and-such a number of troops must be withdrawn with a final target date for removing all combat troops. To the extent that anyone links a timetable to conditions, as Obama has done, he is leaving the door open to the same kind of perpetual revision and delay that the “time horizon” concept already allows. In this, he is not really doing anything new, but that isn’t really reassuring, as The Nation noted earlier this week:
That said, Obama’s Iraq plan has always left the door open for what could become an “occupation of undetermined length” under a Democratic President. Even as he rejects permanent US military bases in Iraq, Obama has said that no timetable should be “overly rigid.” He has indicated that he would “work with our military commanders” to determine a withdrawal plan. He has supported the presence of residual troops, which could number as many as 80,000, to guard a militarized embassy, combat terrorism and provide training and assistance to the Iraqi government.
These positions, which he echoed in his Iraq speech on July 15, are not new, but they do raise the concern that Obama’s pledge to end the war on a timetable could become subordinated to a shifting landscape of worst-case scenarios that impose new and unachievable conditions for withdrawal.