VICTORY IN IRAQ….Jacques Chirac, two months ago, on the transfer of power in Iraq:

French President Jacques Chirac has called for the transfer of power in Iraq from military occupation forces led by the United States to the Iraqi people in a two-stage plan.

In an interview with The New York Times, Chirac said the plan would consist of a symbolic transfer of power from the Americans to the Iraqi Governing Council, then a gradual process of transferring real power over a period of six to nine months.

The American plan, announced today:

The discussion Friday outlined a rough timetable under which the new plan would be presented to the U.N. Under the proposal, the Governing Council would draw up a package of laws by March under which an interim government would function.

….Between early spring and June, a legislative body would be formed, probably through a process involving a modified election in which provincial councils and possibly tribal councils hold caucuses to choose representatives.

Then in June, power would be formally handed over from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the transitional government.

And U.S. troops? According to Jalal Talabani, the current chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, “The presence of the forces of the United States and other countries will be discussed by the transitional government. If we need them to stay, we will ask them to stay. If we don’t, we will respectfully ask them to leave.”

I’ve been wracking my brain for the past week trying to figure out what the administration is really planning for Iraq. Are we going to stay until the bitter swamp-draining end, as they sometimes say? Or are we going to cut and run now that the guerrilla war has become an electoral liability, as their actions often seem to indicate? I truly can’t make make up my mind anymore.

But let me ask this: back in September Chirac was ridiculed by the pro-war forces. If we accepted his plan, it would be a craven betrayal of our obligations to build a civil society in Iraq and would send a message that America wasn’t serious about this fight. It would do nothing but embolden the terrorists and Bush was right to spurn it.

The problem is that while the words can be sliced and diced and spun endlessly ? and I’m sure they will be ? the simple fact is that today’s anouncement is basically the same as Chirac’s plan: he wanted a handover of “real power” to the Iraqis between March and June of 2004, and our plan involves a handover of sovereignty between….March and June of 2004. What’s more, this entire plan was drawn up in a virtual panic over increasing battlefield losses, and against a background of previously announced preparations to draw down troops starting in February and begin handing over security to laughably ill-trained Iraqis.

So I want to know what the war party thinks of this. If it was wrong when Chirac proposed it, is it wrong now when we’re proposing it? Has Bush betrayed the war cause? Are we demonstrating that America really is too weak to sustain battlefield losses? Or, if you’ll excuse some snark since it’s a weekend and my brain is ready to melt trying to figure this out, is it all OK because (1) it’s being done by a Republican president; and (2) it’s obviously in the best interests of getting him reelected?

What’s the new party line?

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