The Iraqi government wants

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June 24, 2006 1:26 p.m.

The Iraqi government wants a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The Bush administration is firmly against it.

What should we draw from that?

The key, I think, is this: putting a limit on the duration of the US troop presence in Iraq is not a counsel of despair. It isn’t just getting the hell out. It is a necessary part of the solution, or what we might call, at this late stage, the least bad possible outcome for the country.

Not just the departure of American troops at some distant and unspecified point in the future when everything in Iraq has calmed down and it’s a fun place to live, but having it begin to unfold in the here and now. That accomplishes two things — it begins to lance the boil of foreign occupation and it forces the Iraqis themselves to start taking steps to run and control the country themselves. This would have to take place as part of a political program of national reconciliation as Prime Minister Maliki is proposing.

Am I sure this will work? Not at all. As I’ve written at various points over the last couple years, this is the root irony and tragedy of the situation we’ve gotten ourselves into in Iraq. We are both the glue holding the country together and the solvent tearing it apart.

But President Bush’s policies are not only failing. He has shown by words and deeds that he’s given up on doing anything else but holding on with the status quo until he can unburden himself of his responsibility for the situation in January 2009. He has no policy or plan but denial.

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