I really think it's weird for Obama and various Presidential candidates to give speeches on their 'plans' for withdrawing troops from Iraq during Bush's term as President. They aren't the President yet, and they won't be President until 2009. So the only 'plans' that matter are (a) what that person will do in the Senate right now and (b) what that person will do in 2009 as President after inheriting the situation we face right now, only 18 months worse.
What I want to know, on the cusp of Obama's big speech, is whether he will vote to cut off funding for combat operations that are not withdrawals from the country. If he avoids that question, he's avoiding one of two key issues in this primary. The other key question on Iraq is whether he will leave residual forces in the country as President. Here's Barack Obama on Iraq today.
I opposed this war from the beginning. I opposed the war in 2002. I opposed it in 2003. I opposed it in 2004. I opposed it in 2005. I opposed it in 2006. I introduced a plan in January to remove all of our combat brigades by next March. And I am here to say that we have to begin to end this war now. Let me be clear: there is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was.
I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq. The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with a shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.
At the same time, sufficient numbers of U.S. troops should be left in place to prevent Iraq from exploding into civil war, ethnic cleansing, and a haven for terrorism.
Obama in his plan today moves the withdrawal date back eight months from his stance in May, which is a right-ward move. That doesn't matter so much as his stance on stopping a bill that funds anything but withdrawals. I have two questions for every Presidential candidate in the Senate. Will they use the power of the purse to mandate a withdrawal? And will they leave residual forces in Iraq as President?
Answering these questions would be a big speech on Iraq. Not answering them is simply a lot of high level PR, which I suppose is appropriate during Petraeus's big week.