SOVEREIGNTY UPDATE….On Wednesday I mentioned that the UK foreign secretary had told a talk show host that if the Iraqis wanted us to leave after June 30, then we’d leave. I was….surprised.

Then, on Thursday, a State Department lackey said that was our policy too. However he was contradicted shortly afterward by Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, the policy and plans director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On Friday, Paul Bremer contradicted Sharp’s contradiction: we’ll leave if the Iraqis ask us to, he said. Finally, later on Friday, Colin Powell, echoed by the foreign ministers of Britain, Italy and Japan, confirmed that this was everyone’s policy: the Iraqis are in charge after June 30. If they want us to leave, we’ll leave.

Like me, Spencer Ackerman wonders what the hell is going on here:

The real question here is if Powell’s trial balloon–or Bremer’s–comes with Bush’s approval, tacit or otherwise. Granted, Powell isn’t the most plugged-in member of the administration. But Bush and Karl Rove can read the polls. They can see that public support for the war is collapsing, and taking Bush’s prospects for reelection with it.

….Bush needs to say whether he agrees with Powell and Bremer. (And if he says he doesn’t think Iraqis would tell us to leave, that’s playing with fire, as the post below argues.) The consequences of pulling out of Iraq will be catastrophic, not only for the future of U.S. foreign policy, but for the bloodbath that Iraq will become as it falls into failed statehood–and 9/11 should have taught us what failed states mean for our national security. But last year on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush proved how willing he is to declare victory prematurely. Is Colin Powell preparing us for a moment when Bush does so again?

If this is a trial balloon, it’s the damnedest trial balloon I’ve ever seen: the Secretary of State plus the foreign ministers of three of our principal allies, going out of their way to clarify a policy that didn’t really have to be clarified and doing it in an unusually direct way. Even in George Bush’s kindergarten administration, a statement like that couldn’t have been made without his approval, could it?

Like everyone else in the world, I have no idea what Bush really thinks about this. Trying to figure him out is like trying to analyze Soviet-era May Day photographs or Mao-era Peking wall posters. But it wouldn’t really surprise me if he’s trying to find some way to get the hell out of Dodge before the elections. Like a late-90s CEO who discovered that announcing an internet taco didn’t drive up his taco company’s stock price the way he’d hoped, Bush is discovering that his war-as-campaign-commercial isn’t working out quite the way he planned either. After all the tough talk, is he looking for a cut-and-run fig leaf in order to save his job?

Stay tuned.