Under Pressure From Baghdad -- and Scrambling to Find More Troops to Send to Afghanistan -- White House Agreement to Talk 'Time Horizon' for Troop Withdrawal from Iraq Appears to Embrace Obama's Position and Undermines McCain's
NOTE TO READERS: This will be my last column for the next two weeks, as I'm going on vacation. The next edition of The 'Skeeter Bites Report will be published on Monday, August 18.
Senator John McCain has been sounding increasingly strident in his attacks on fellow senator -- and presidential rival -- Barack Obama in recent days over Obama's insistence on a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, accusing the Democratic nominee-elect of playing politics with war for his own gain.
The Republican nominee-elect also lashed out at Obama for not appearing with U.S. troops in Germany during his just-completed tour of Europe, claiming in a new TV ad that it would not generate sufficient publicity for his campaign.
McCain's campaign centerpiece -- that the U.S. stay the course in Iraq -- is being undermined by the White House, which last week agreed, at the insistence of the Iraqi government, to consider a "time horizon" of 16 months for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, according to The New York Times.
Although McCain said publicly last Friday that the 16-month "time horizon" was "pretty good timetable" -- provided that it be based on conditions on the ground -- the Arizona senator was reported as being privately furious at the White House, not only for the withdrawal timetable, but also with the Bush administration's decision to authorize high-level talks with Iran and North Korea to resolve the nuclear issue with the two countries that President Bush labeled part of the "Axis of Evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address.
Bush Reversal Comes Amid Iraqi Pressure, Worsening Afghan Situation
Bush, who has steadfastly opposed any troop-withdrawal timetables for Iraq, made his dramatic about-face as the Iraqi government for the first time publicly voiced its preference for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from its territory by the end of 2010 -- which fits neatly with Obama's vow to pursue a strict timetable for a phased withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops from Iraq over 16 months, starting , if elected, shortly after his inauguration in January.
Bush made his policy shift under pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which is pressing for a withdrawal timetable as a condition for an agreement for continued U.S. presence in Iraq beyond the expiration at the end of this year of the United Nations resolution that authorized the troop presence after the toppling of the dictator Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
Without a new agreement, the UN would be free to brand the U.S. presence in Iraq an "illegal occupation" after December 31.
Adding to the pressure is a growing need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, where more GIs and Afghan army soldiers are becoming casualties in an intensifying insurgency by the Taliban and other fighters. Intelligence reports say that insurgents appear to be shifting their operations from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Both Obama and McCain have pledged to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Obama has long argued that the war in Iraq was a diversion away from the "real war on terror" against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan -- a position McCain flatly rejects.