It depends on the meaning of ‘aspirational’

IT DEPENDS ON THE MEANING OF ‘ASPIRATIONAL’…. By any reasonable measure, the SOFA-related developments in Iraq are encouraging.

Iraq’s cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a proposed security agreement that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2011. The cabinet’s decision brings a final date for the departure of American troops a significant step closer after more than five and a half years of war.

The proposed pact must still be approved by Iraq’s Parliament, in a vote scheduled to take place in a week. But leaders of some of the largest parliamentary blocs expressed confidence that with the backing of most Shiites and Kurds they had enough support to ensure its approval.

Twenty-seven of the 28 cabinet ministers who were present at the two-and-a-half-hour session voted in favor of the pact.

If it’s approved by the Parliament — success is not a given — the security agreement would then go to Iraq’s three-member presidential council.

At this point, the developments clearly represent good news. As Kevin noted yesterday, “This is good for the Iraqis, who really do need the U.S. presence for a little while longer; good for George Bush, who’s getting a slightly longer timetable than Barack Obama would have negotiated; and good for Obama, since this essentially makes his decision to withdraw into a bipartisan agreement. After all, conservatives can hardly complain about Obama following a timetable that was negotiated and approved by Bush.”

And speaking of Bush, all of this must be slightly embarrassing for him, given the years he spent railing against withdrawal timelines (“cut and run,” “artificial deadline for defeat,” etc.). Here’s a presidential gem from just last year: “I believe setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East, and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments. Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure — and that would be irresponsible.”

With that in mind, Ryan Powers noted today’s White House press briefing, where Press Secretary Dana Perino said the administration conceded to “these aspirational dates.”

“Aspirational”? That’s not the Iraqis’ understanding. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters yesterday, “This withdrawal date is firm and holy and will not be changed according to conditions on the ground.”

Now, to be fair, the Iraqi government can decide later whether it wants U.S. troops to stick around after 2011 with a new agreement. (For that matter, Iraqi officials can also tell us to leave before the end of 2010.)

Either way, to call the withdrawal timeline “aspirational” just isn’t true.