When is a withdrawal not a withdrawal? Apparently, when it's conducted by the Obama administration's "bipartisan" hangovers.
This Sunday,Joe Biden told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that a NY Times report alleging U.S. military commanders argued at Biden's national security meeting this week that they could not meet the 16-month U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq deadline called for by Obama was false.
"I'm not going to get into detail, but the answer is, nothing was that stark at all. There is -- there isn't any -- there isn't any conclusion reached or presentation made that suggests that we cannot rationalize the -- the status of forces agreement terms and the objectives of the Obama-Biden administration," Biden said.
"He is committed within the context of what he said at the time," Biden said of Obama. "He said he would at the time confer with the military leaders on the ground. We will be out of Iraq in -- in the same -- in the -- in the way in which Barack Obama described his position during the campaign. That will happen."
But on Charlie Rose midweek, Bob Gates was clear that withdrawal doesn't mean withdrawal, not by a long chalk.
ROSE: As far as you understand it, how many residual forces will be left [in Iraq] after 2011?
GATES: Well, I think that remains to be seen, and first of all, because any forces remaining there after the end of 2011 will have to be there as a result of a new agreement negotiated with the Iraqis. So they will clearly have a voice in how many are there as well.
ROSE: If they say none, it’s none or not?
GATES: That’s absolutely right.
GATES: That’s absolutely right. They are a sovereign country, and if they tell us after the end of 2011, we want you all out, I think we have no choice but to do that. I think that just in a ball park figure when I think of the support that they likely are going to need for their air force, for their navy, for counterterrorism, for continued training, for intelligence, for logistics and so on, my guess is that you’re looking at perhaps several tens of thousands of American troops, but clearly, in a very different role than we have played for the last five years.
Gates went on to say that these "several tens of thousands" of troops - the equivalent of at least ten brigades - wouldn't have a combat role, but this is still clearly parsing "complete withdrawal" as required by the SOFA beyond the boundaries of the language. Gates obviously expects three years to be "a long time", as both General Mullen and General Odierno have recently phrased it, and expects that what's in the SOFA right now won't be what happens when the day comes due to live up to it.
There's a massive disconnect between Gates and Biden here, one that's only explainable by two possibilities; either that major parsing of Obama's "withdrawal" and the letter of the SOFA agreement is taking place with Obama's permission, or that it isn't. The people deserve to know which one it is.
Meanwhile, Odierno himself, newly annointed as the only true Deciderer by the Three Amigos group of McCain, Lieberman and Graham, has built on his assertions last week that he had no intention of sticking to the U.S. agreement with Iraq which says all U.S. troops must be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by the summer. Now he's saying that "any decision on force structure here in Iraq will be made by me," and he won't be making it before next Spring, in anticipation of a Surge (TM) in violence surrounding the upcoming Iraqi provincial elections.
"So we have to make sure in the election those who didn't win understand that, and we will be able to seat the new government properly," Odierno, the overall commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, told AP late Saturday. "And once we get to that point, it's now time for us to take a look at what is right for the future."
... "I expect we will start to thin our forces in '09. It's the right time to do that," he said. "We will do it in a deliberate, careful way to make sure we have enough combat power to support the Iraqis in case there is the unexpected, a resurgence of an extremist group of some sort that tries to have an affect of the stability inside Iraq."
He also said he hasn't talked to the Obama team about his decision and won't until Obama actually takes office, as he's carrying out Bush policy until then.
Biden may be saying there's no difference in opinion between the Obama team and it's Pentagon holdovers, but it sure looks like there is to me.
Cross posted from Newshoggers. Thanks to Heather for the video clips.