Commentary: Obama gives welcomed news on timetable of Iraq withdrawal

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

It came as a relief last week when President Barack Obama, less than five weeks in office, announced his timetable for getting U.S. combat troops out of Iraq. Ending the U.S. combat mission by Aug. 31, 2010, represents a practical and realistic timetable for withdrawal. It reflects the war-weariness of the Americans and the undeniable progress made over the last 14 months by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The timetable reflects the evolution of Mr. Obama's own thinking about Iraq and the influence of military commanders like Gen. David Petraeus. Mr. Obama's initial plan was to withdraw two brigades a month. At the height of his Democratic primary contest with Sen. Hillary Clinton, he said he would remove troops by the end of this year, before reverting to a 16-month pledge. Now he has stretched it out just a bit longer, but only the most unreasonable critics would take issue with that.

Indeed, Sen. John McCain, Mr. Obama's GOP presidential rival, endorsed Mr. Obama's plan even though the two argued long and often over Iraq's future during the campaign. Even House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio approved, calling Mr. Obama's withdrawal timetable "a responsible approach that retains maximum flexibility to reconsider troop levels and to respond to changes in the security environment" if necessary.

Mr. Obama's plan to leave behind a residual force of 35,000 to 50,000 troops means Iraqis will not be left by themselves, but it clearly leaves the most important decisions in their hands.

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