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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Bush OKs Time Horizon for Troops
But White House insists it's not a timetable; Iraqis view Obama with hope, worry
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/19/2008 01:37 AM ET
Here's a question for you: When is a timetable not a timetable? When the White House calls it a "time horizon," of course. Yes, the big news is that President George W. "I hate timetables" Bush has accepted the idea of a "time horizon" for troops in Iraq. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal all play this story big, as they should. But it's not quite as clear-cut as that.

'Time' to go?
Steve Lee Meyers of the Times writes that Bush's acceptance of a "general time horizon" -- but not a timetable! -- reflects both progress in Iraq and "the depth of political opposition to an open-ended military presence in Iraq and at home." His concession is part of the administration efforts to negotiate the terms for an American military presence after Dec. 31, when the U.N. mandate for Iraq expires. Bush has long derided timetables as dangerous, and in fact, neither Bush nor Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave a specific time frame. Meyers waits until the fourth graph to note that the details are still being negotiated and any dates would be cited as goals for handing responsibility to Iraqis, not for specifically reducing American troops. The announcement will surely shake up the presidential race, given that Sen. John McCain has been equally adamant about rejecting timelines and Sen. Barack Obama has been a proponent of one. (The announcement of Bush's acceptance comes on the eve of Obama's trip to Iraq. What a coincidence.) Obama's campaign dismissed the vagueness of the proposal while McCain said it showed the surge worked. Meanwhile in Iraq, it's also affecting elections there, and Maliki is responding to domestic pressures of his own. Members of his own party consider a troop withdrawal deadline as crucial in the negotiations with the U.S. And again, Washington and Baghdad spokespeople were at odds as to the state of the talks. Washington says they're coming along. Baghdad says no agreement is imminent. The last part of the story is all context, but highly valuable.

Dan Eggen and Michael Abramowitz of the Post have the story as well, and focus in large part of the back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. GOPers were at pains to show it wasn't a flip-flop on the part of Bush, while Democrats gleefully showed that it was.

The Journal's John D. McKinnon and Gina Chon have the story on their front page, and report that the White House says the "time horizon" language might not mean very much anyway, and is just cover for Maliki. "A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said Iraqi leaders 'still want us there in an overwatch role, in a training role and in a counterterrorism role, but with Iraqi security forces in the combat lead.' He added that the focus of Thursday's agreement 'is on the Iraqi assumption of missions, not on what troop levels will be.'" The Journal also is the only paper to actively assess who this move helps. It may help McCain by undercutting Obama's signature position.

Over there
Speaking of Obama, the Post's Sudarsan Raghavan takes to the streets to get a read on Iraqis' ideas toward the presumptive Democratic nominee. (The Times did this a few days ago.) Iraqis, like Americans, are divided over Obama's plans to pull out of the Iraq. Some Iraqis interviewed felt he was naive in wanting to pull U.S. combat troops by summer 2010. Others feel it's a political ploy to win votes in America. Iraqi Army officers want a gradual withdrawal and lots of high-tech equipment left behind. Some officers hoped the Americans would stay "until 2020."

James Risen follows up on his own story yesterday in the Times, noting that a Pentagon official was worried about the failure to fix faulty electrical wiring at Iraq bases. James O'Kane, a contract safety specialist with the Defense Contract Management Agency, wrote in May this year that the Pentagon had failed act after its own comprehensive safety survey in February 2007 found widespread problems that had led to injuries, fires and deaths.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Neely Tucker looks at Julie Marie Myatt's new play at the Kennedy Center in D.C. about a U.S. marine who comes home from the war missing a limb and lonely, sullen, black, female and a mother of two. She returns to find an empty bus station and an empty heart. She is tortured by PTSD. It's moving and touching.

Christian Science Monitor and USA Today

No Saturday editions.

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