Most people I've heard who are against setting a timetable for our withdrawal say it is because it will give a signal to our enemies they only have to bide their time until we leave. Then they can take over.
A signal to the enemy is only a part of it. And probably the smaller part. It's the signal to our potential allies among the Iraqi people that is more important. How can we gain their trust if they know we will go poof before the work is complete? Iraq is a nation of tribes, and the sunni tribes are the most important to win over in order to end the insurgency (and defeat the al Qaeda terrorists there because without the support of the local tribes, foreign terrorists are ratted out too).
The work that is going on under the radar to create jobs and strengthen the Iraqi economy and thus better the lives of its people is dependent on the good will and cooperation of tribal leaders. More and more are working with the coalition forces but if a town has split loyalites our job is harder and often compromised.
What we've been seeing in Iraq is a steady increase in the number of sunni tribes that are deciding to at minimum join the political process and at best help defeat the insurgents and terrorists in their towns. It has taken time for us to gain their trust. But it is not just the goodwill of Americans that wins them over, it is often the savagery and cruelty of the insurgents and terrorists themselves.
Here is an AP report about how the assassination of a tribal leader in Samarra backfired on the insurgents. (h/t Austin Bay).
But it's not enough to turn tribes against the insurgency, they must also have something to turn towards. And right now it's the Americans and their soldiers and civil affairs people that fill that niche. It is also not enough to have the Iraqi military be able to handle the fighting. The Iraqi government and fledgling institutions must also help to create jobs, get small businesses off the ground, and maintain/upgrade infrastructure. Thus Iraq's political process is every bit as important as its military progress.
And we cannot leave until both are ready to completely fill our shoes.
And that is Bush's plan. When Iraqi's stand up, we'll stand down. And Bush is not just talking about the Iraqi military. Though reading between the lines, I think Bush has quite a bit of confidence in Iraq's political progress.
So I simply cringed when I heard Barbara Boxer today say that Bush has no plan and we have to tell the Iraqi people to fight for their own country. Barbara, you are either naive, ill-informed, or stupid. Take your pick.