WHAT LEAVING LOOKS LIKE.

Obama's big Iraq speech today was good, if a bit listless in delivery -- he was in professor mode -- but all in all it laid out a foreign policy liberals can believe in (while not flip-flopping). Matt notes the woulda-coulda-shouldas, but one of the more interesting developments was Obama's description of what victory in Iraq would actually look like:

Iraq is not going
to be a perfect place, and we don’t have unlimited resources to try to
make it one. We are not going to kill every al Qaeda sympathizer, eliminate
every trace of Iranian influence, or stand up a flawless democracy before we
leave... victory in Iraq – will not take place in a surrender
ceremony where an enemy lays down their arms. True success will take place when
we leave Iraq to a government that is taking responsibility for its future
– a government that prevents sectarian conflict, and ensures that the al
Qaeda threat which has been beaten back by our troops does not reemerge. That
is an achievable goal if we pursue a comprehensive plan to press the Iraqis
stand up. 

...We can safely
redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months.
That would be the summer of 2010 – one year after Iraqi Security Forces
will be prepared to stand up; two years from now, and more than seven
years after the war began. After this redeployment, we’ll keep a residual
force to perform specific missions in Iraq: targeting any remnants of al Qaeda;
protecting our service members and diplomats; and training and supporting
Iraq’s Security Forces, so long as the Iraqis make political progress.

This is the most complete and pragmatic descriptions of the endgame in Iraq that I've seen from a politician, even if some questions remain (just how big will that residual force be?). It's a clear signal to the Iraqi government that it had best get its house in order. Judging by Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's request for a withdrawal timetable, that is a signal they're ready to receive. See the full text of the speech after the jump.

--Tim Fernholz

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