No, indeed, let there be no timetable for withdrawal of the American military presence in Iraq. It is a truism that events no more conform to the calendar than emotions do to the clock. Consequently there is both public and bipartisan agreement that the US needs an acknowledged set of objectives that, when met, constitute an exit signal.
On the part of a US administration wholly subjugated to presidential satrap Karl Rove there is much coyly felt, if blusterously delivered, resistance to any formula that might specify its future actions. After all, if they are no better at predicting the future than they have been at justifying their past military adventurism, they may never find a set of circumstances allowing a US departure.
But if this war weren't about oil, the US could say it will leave when the Iraqi water, sewage, telephone, media, medical, police, and fire services, together with the industrial, land transport, shipping and educational systems, are restored to the level of the day prior to the US invasion.
When the US gets Iraq back to the worst of how Saddam left it, Iraq will have improved substantially beyond its existing state. On present calculations of the current rate of restoration, the above measurements will be attained somewhere about the middle of Senator John McCain's first presidential term, say 2010.
However, the US may not have that much time. Commonly forgotten is that it left Vietnam because, or at least after, some battalions refused to march, some bombers refused to fly, and the naval lack of enthusiasm for a land conflict reached proportions unplumbed since the Indian wars. The US departure had everything to do with the officer class's justifiable fear of loss of control of the military machine, while the only connection with civilian opinion was that both voters and dogface soldiers had come to agree that this cause was, ultimately, not worth dying for.
Granted, it only took a few battalions, bombers, and gunboats in a posture, if not of mutiny, at least of dumb insolence, for unindicted war criminals former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Richard M. Nixon to get the message. But even they finally did.
By 1973 the Republican policy -- of hiding imperial intentions behind the bodies of US soldiers while simultaneously attacking the patriotism of the Democrats -- had descended from being unsuccessful to being unpopular. Although that point has not quite been reached with Iraq yet, the identical policy remains in force; and the end for the US on the ground is well visible and abruptly approaching closer.
The notion that, once committed, the national army must be supported because it has already been committed is wonderfully circular. Stumped by circumstances, responsible Constitutional officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush have each backslid into the rhetorical quagmire so well lamented by WWI doughboys: "We're here because we're here because we're here."
Or perhaps, like President Lyndon B. Johnson before them, the Rove administration draws its pugnacious validation from a misremembering of William Faulkner's Appendix to The Sound and the Fury (1929):
Jackson: An old duellist, a brawling lean fierce mangy durable imperishable old lion who set the wellbeing of the White House above the nation and the health of his political party above either and above them all set not his wife's honor but the principle that honor must be defended whether it was or not because defended it was whether or not.
This is a case where the statement of the principle is far more attractive than how it works out in real life. The way Faulkner puts it sounds remarkably like an intellectual and moral benchmark. In private life, of course, such infuriatingly hypocritical intransigeance would get you divorced or fired. In public practice, it eventually, inevitably, and irretrievably alienates an administration from its own countrymen, as both Jackson and Johnson discovered to their cost.
Rumsfeld may huff, as he did as June ended, that public opinion is being driven away from the war by the hopelessly civilized (such as the educated portion of the media and similarly overcultured members of both parties in the Senate. ) But the gross reality is that the results of the war verifiable by US citizens include: $60 gallon oil on its way to $70, a quadrupling during the Rove years. 1,750 US dead and 34,000 Iraqi dead. No conceivable connection to 9/11 and no WMD. No sustainable democracy over there, no political integrity over here. Meanwhile only the simian shrug of incomprehending irresponsibility emerges from the Rove White House.
The US can continue to pay these prices as they continue their ineluctable rise. Or it can set a limit as to when it will stop paying them. But the limit must be behavioral, rather than chronological.
After graduating from St Michael's College at the University of Toronto, James McCarty Yeager studied the novels of William Faulkner and the military policies of the United States at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a founding columnist at the Progressive Populist.