Iraqi leaders have called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. This is viewed as a gesture from the dominant Shiites to the minority Sunnis, who coincidentally lack oil in the regions they are a majority in.
I think the United States needs to meet that demand. I don't see how, failing to do as asked, the Sunnis, who are stoked to suspicion if not violence by their extremist factions, will see the US as anything but an unwanted oppressor. I think ideally, we can hopefully hedge our bets a bit with some comments about how our withdrawal dates will be "if the government of Iraq confirms it has met its goals for the readiness of its security forces". We won't want to pull out and leave the Iraqi government unable to maintain order. It's clear that the extremist Sunnis are still very unhappy about not being in absolute control and the process to have even a remotely secular government will not be an easy road to travel. However, given the pressure to pull out here at home, I think the Bush administration has no choice but to respond affirmatively to the request.
I also think that this will be good for Bush's poll numbers. It may sound too petty to compare, but I think the psychology is the same, so I'm going to contrast Bush's policy decisions with customer service. Customers who call up a customer service line with a problem are happier with their call when they are immediately told that they will be helped. This is why many good customer service departments will respond to a query they are equipped to handle with, "Okay, I can help you with that," as the first sentence in their response. Why? Because people like progress. It doesn't matter how bad things are; if you feel like you're headed in the right direction, you feel good. A pullout from Iraq has been discussed since before we went in, but endless repetition of, "When the job is done" does not provide any comfort to Americans. We need a timetable. We need a goal. Even if the dates are not absolute, rock-solid, drop-dead dates, we need some dates, and we need the contingencies to be spelled out. "One hundred thousand trained security force members, and we withdraw 50% of our troops over eight weeks, starting April 1st, 2006" - that's a real goal. (And yes, I know.)
Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said American-led foreign forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, noting that the one-year extension of the mandate for multinational force in Iraq by the United Nations Security Council earlier this month could be the last.
"By mid next year, we will be 75 percent done in building our forces and by the end of next year it will be fully ready," he told Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab broadcast news channel and Web service.
Good. I think that while the majority of Americans want to see us out - and I count myself among that number - we also want to see things work out. Somewhere between the vehement anti-war rhetoric that has grown stronger as the support for the war has eroded, and the right-wing "dishonor the sacrafice of the fallen" rhetoric, is the reality: this war is painful, it was started under false pretenses by an administration dead set on going to war, but to allow the country to fall into the hands of extremists when we are close to being able to ensure a balanced secular government remains in power would be tragic. The fear, of course, is that no amount of money and sacrafice can help us win. If I believed that were true, I'd be in favor of an immediate pullout. I think the war has far-reaching negative consequences, but I do think that there are enough people in Iraq who want to see their fledgling government survive that they can do it, if we help. But we have nearly nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing to a withdrawal timetable, especially since so long as that deadline remains in the future and relatively near, it may block the effectiveness of any sort of "rebel against the oppressor" line taken by extremists who strike without any apparent distinction at both Iraqi and American people.