Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Talabani Channels Novak

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani strikes a chord that sounds eerily reminiscent of this Bob Novak piece penned way back in March 2005. Talabani, via Reuters:

The United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year because there are enough Iraqi forces ready to begin taking control of parts of the country, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told the Washington Post.

In an interview with the newspaper that was published on Tuesday, Talabani said he would discuss reductions in U.S. forces during a private meeting with President George W. Bush and said he thought the United States could pull some troops out immediately.

"We think that America has the full right to move some forces from Iraq to their country because I think we can replace them (with) our forces," Talabani said. "In my opinion, at least from 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be (withdrawn) by the end of this year."
Add Talabani to the growing chorus, both overt and subterranean, that seems to be building to a crescendo that will result in some form of withdrawal by Spring 2006. Novak reported as early as September 2004 (a point he reiterated in the March 2005 article cited above), that the Bush Administration would begin withdrawing forces in late 2005/early 2006 regardless of the realities on the ground in terms of democracy, insurgency, stability and order. At the time, Novak's bold predictions set of a mini-tempest of denials and disavowals among Bush supporters - culminating in a brief inter-blog exchange between myself and Greg Djerejian.

Now it seems that Talabani is reading from the same script as Novak - even if blunter than the Bush Administration would have preferred. For the record, though, that would also be
the same script used by Donald Rumsfeld, General George Casey (the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq) and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari in late July when they fired near-simultaneous warning shots off the bow of the USS Cut and Run.

Talabani was careful to walk back some of his claims, and reassert that any such troop withdrawals would be proportional to the increased readiness of Iraqi forces, level of insurgent violence, Sunni participation in the political process and other changes on the ground, but those caveats are starting to be drowned out by the deafening peal of the trumpet of retreat.

As I explained to Djerejian at the time of our original back and forth, I don't claim that Novak is or was right, nor am I in any way eager to get behind a dubious Novak column whose underlying premise I do not support. I think that we still owe it to the Iraqi people, and our own national interests, to try to hold Iraq together. But with recent remarks such as Talabani's and Jafari's, added to the emerging consensus amongst the military's top brass, it's starting to look like something is amiss. Naturally, I blame John Kerry.

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