BENCHMARKS vs. TIMETABLES….Over at TPMCafe, Reed Hundt points out that our commanders in Iraq now agree that the U.S. presence in Iraq has become counterproductive. He thinks George Bush will eventually be forced to agree and that Democratic leaders are therefore foolish not to aggressively take ownership of this position right now. “I think it will be fairly judged as a tremendous missed opportunity,” he says.

Ed Kilgore disagrees:

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding Reed’s last point, but he seems to be saying that because Bush may move to the position that many Democrats currently hold ? a withdrawal linked to benchmarks for Iraqi self-government and marginalization of the insurgency ? we must rush to a different position in order to maintain a political advantage. This is an example of raising “partisan differentiation” to a fetish that ignores both principle and larger political issues.

….In reality, most Democrats favor a gradual withdrawal from Iraq linked to a political setttlement, enabled by “reducing our military footprint.” We mainly differ as to whether the pace should be dictated by a specific timetable or specific events, and there are people who opposed and supported the original decision to go to war in Iraq on both sides of that debate.

This doesn’t sound right to me. I’ve argued for a timetable before, but I’ve also argued that I’m not sure there’s really much difference between linking withdrawal to a timetable and linking it to benchmarks. In fact, I’d be pretty happy with a benchmark-based approach, since I think it’s impossible to have serious benchmarks and not have at least tacit timetables. After all, once you lay down benchmarks, people are inevitably going to start wondering how long it’s going to take to achieve them and how much progress we’re making toward getting there.

But here’s the thing. Is Ed right that “many Democrats” currently support “a withdrawal linked to benchmarks”? I can’t think of any. And I don’t mean just vaguely saying that this is what we should do, I mean seriously proposing a set of specific benchmarks that will lead to withdrawal of specific troop levels, combined with a demand that the President should propose benchmarks of his own if he’s serious about winning the war.

If anyone has done this, I’ve missed it. But if it were a sound plan, it would get my instant support. It’s a way of getting many of the advantages of a timetable ? firm goals, incentives for Iraqi leaders, and military accountability ? without some of the drawbacks that have been legitimately raised. Is there a Democratic leader who’s actually proposed something along these lines?