A Timetable for Iraq—Good for America? Maybe. Good for the Candidates? Definitely!

In recent days Iraq’s government has talked about creating a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops. If you’re waiting for the governments of Germany, Japan, or South Korea to do the same thing, don’t hold your breath. Some of the citizens of those countries might not be so happy with our presence there, but we have our uses. When our troops aren’t providing strategic defense, they’re spending money, which is nice for the local economies.

Anyway, the number of fatalities is down in Iraq—a place where our total number of dead is less than 1/10th what it was in Vietnam. Given the decrease in violence, plus the rhetoric from the democratically-elected Iraqi government, an end might be in sight for our troops over there.

This would certainly be a blessing to our Armed Forces and their loved ones, and one could see how it would have geopolitical benefits for the United States, but the two people who should be the happiest about these developments are Barack Obama and John McCain.

The situation in Iraq was creating political difficulties for both men that they now might be able to move beyond. John McCain’s steadfast support of our operation in Iraq was popular with over 80% of the American people—five years ago. But rising death counts, second guessing by pundits, and an inability to find the weapons of mass destruction that our politicians believed were there has sapped support. McCain has been steadfast on this issue. In theory, a candidate who sticks to his convictions should be admired in an age of poll-watching, vacillating politicians, but when a majority of Americans don’t like your position, it doesn’t matter how noble it might be.

Barack Obama’s potential problem on Iraq was the opposite of Mccain’s. Obama gained early traction in the Democratic nomination process for his consistency in being against the invasion. Most Americans have gradually swung around to his side on the issue. But the details of Obama’s position were starting to be problematic. He was in favor of a time table then he backed off that idea. He wanted to leave a strike force behind then he said he was against leaving such an idea. On this and a number of issues Obama has “re-positioned himself” according to supporters or “flip-flopped” say his detractors. There is a danger for Obama that his stirring call for change might become a punch line.

If the Iraqis impose a timetable on us then the candidates’ views on this issue will become less relevant. And the less time these men have to spend justifying their positions on Iraq, the better off they will be.