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Which Troops Withdrawn When?

Yesterday's Washington Post had an article comparing and contrasting Democratic presidential candidates' positions, as reflected in their DNC Winter Meeting speeches, about exactly how rapidly (assuming they endorse any sort of withdrawal "timetable") they want to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. And over at DKos, Trapper John provided a handy-dandy list with the number of months before withdrawal for each candidate's plan, followed up by a poll of Kossacks on their preference.This is all nice and neat, but there's one problem that I tried to draw attention to last week: it's not at all clear which troops would be withdrawn under some of the various proposals. Barack Obama's plan sets a "goal" for withdrawal of "combat brigades" by the end of March, 2008, but also says: "A residual U.S. presence may remain in Iraq for force protection, training of Iraqi security forces, and pursuit of international terrorists." And even the Kerry-Feingold resolution of last summer, generally thought of as the gold standard of "fixed withdrawal deadline" proposals, exempted from its entire withdrawal timetable "the minimal number of forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting targeted and specialized counterterrorism operations, and protecting United States facilities and personnel."Words like "residual" and "minimal" suggest we're not talking about a lot of troops, but who really knows? And who will make that determination if not the Bush administration? I raise this point not to annoy people with details, but because the growing obsession of many antiwar folks--and for that matter, of their critics-- with calendar dates may miss the more fundamental question that needs to be raised about Iraq: which missions would we be turning over to the Iraqis, and which missions would be continued, and for how long? Isn't that at least as important as how many months a given proposal would provide for withdrawal of an ill-defined number of troops?