Saturday, July 19, 2008

Something for everyone

Here's the operative part of the text the White House published:
In the area of security cooperation, the President and the Prime Minister agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals -- such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. The President and Prime Minister agreed that the goals would be based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal. The two leaders welcomed in this regard the return of the final surge brigade to the United States this month, and the ongoing transition from a primary combat role for U.S. forces to an overwatch role, which focuses on training and advising Iraqi forces, and conducting counter-terror operations in support of those forces.
Here's the way one of the big-circulation Iraqi papers understood that:
[The White House said Friday that Bush and Maliki] agreed that the security agreement under negotiation should define a time-horizon for fulfilling "ambitious targets" [arguably, but less obviously: "aspirational" targets] for reducing the American forces in Iraq. And [in a move that is] the closest the Bush administration has come to accepting the possibility of establishing a time-schedule of some kind for future reductions in the American forces, the White House said the "ambitious targets" will be based on "continuing improvement in conditions on the ground, and not on a random date for withdrawal."
And here is the operative part of the text of what official Maliki spokesman Ali Dabbagh said, according the Iraqi government website:
[Dabbagh explained] the two parties focused ["centered"] on the defining of a time-horizon for carrying out the complete transfer of security responsibility into the hands of the Iraqi forces, in preparation for a reduction in the number of American forces and their withdrawal from Iraq with both sides working toward increasing the abilities and effectiveness of the Iraqi forces and [toward] improving security conditions on the ground in order to realize this goal.
And Dabbagh echoed the White House statement respecting the welcoming of the most recent troop-reduction and the conversion of remaining troops to an advisory role.

Two points are pretty clear: (1) Despite the NYT/WaPo harping on "agreement", this wasn't an agreement except in the sense of agreement to talk about some combination of responsibility-transfer and withdrawal-times. (2) There are two possible readings: (a) Ambitious transfer- and withdrawal-dates will be set based on the continuing improvements on the ground; or (b) Aspirational targets will be penciled in but they will be conditional on whether or not conditions on the ground continue to improve.

(For your instant breakfast this morning, Juan serves up a simplified version of reading (a), and ridiculing the "aspirational" reading of this, and suggesting the "Bush caved in" interpretation, soothing for those looking forward to withdrawal. Elsewhere, you can find a version of reading (b), suggesting the important point is that the US has agreed to continue to help Maliki, and arguing that the US (the benevolent mediator) should have obtained some reconciliation promises in return.)


Blogger Nell said...

Maliki's remarks in a Der Spiegel interview released today seem a good deal more specific, though readers of English only have access to second-hand accounts. Given that he'll meet Obama within a few days, the spotlight appears to be shining brightly...

8:42 AM  
Blogger jmeasor said...

The Maliki interview can be read in its entirety here:,1518,566841,00.html

I'd see the U.S. 'aspirational' as "we'll pull out troops - most likely to bases within Iraq itself - as soon as you've demonstrated and continue to demonstrate that you'll continue to do what we want."

Maliki believes that sooner is better than later, but don't leave as you are our principle basis of 'legitimacy' ...

A fine dance.

11:28 AM  

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