“NEARLY ALL”….Apparently Bill Richardson is on the warpath about an alleged Hillary Clinton flip-flop on Iraq. Really? I hadn’t heard that. So what’s her current position?

On Wednesday, Clinton told a voter that nearly all forces could be withdrawn within a year if she were elected president. But Richardson pointed out that during a debate in September, she, Obama and Edwards said they couldn’t commit to withdrawing all the troops by 2013 — the end of the next president’s first term.

….”Governor Richardson knows that Senator Clinton has been clear and consistent: If George Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, she will,” [Clinton spokesman Howard] Wolfson said. “As she has said, she would accomplish that by beginning to withdraw our troops within 60 days after inauguration at the rate of one or two brigades a month. This would mean that nearly all troops could be home within a year.”

Wolfson is right: Hillary has said this before. So I guess what we’re really arguing about is the meaning of “nearly all.” Gotcha. So let’s parse this. The next president will probably take office with 15 combat brigades still active in Iraq, which means that ten months of withdrawals starting in April 2009 would get us down to five brigades by January 2010. If the drawdown were a bit faster than one brigade per month, you might get down to one or two brigades, which is Hillary’s well-known “residual force.”

The problem is that this still doesn’t tell us everything. You can figure a combat brigade at about 3,500 troops, so 2-5 brigades means somewhere between 7,000 and 17,000 combat troops. But that still leaves you with tens of thousands of additional troops that are outside the brigade structure. Are they coming home too? Or does this leave some wiggle room to keep upwards of 50,000 troops in Iraq?

Who knows? Bottom line: it’s a word game right now. Richardson has said he’d withdraw all troops, which is clear enough, but both Clinton and Obama have been vague about their plans. And they still are. In today’s Rorschach primary, “nearly all” means whatever you want it to mean.