Memo to media: Bush set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq

Media conservatives have criticized the Obama administration for placing “the burden of the deadline” for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, falsely claiming that President Bush “never spoke about a date of withdrawal.” In fact, Bush signed off on a specific timeline of withdrawal from Iraq, and Obama's timeline has been endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Conservative media criticize Obama's timeline for Afghanistan drawback

Krauthammer: Bush “never spoke about a date for withdrawal.” On Fox News' Special Report, Charles Krauthammer commented: “The biggest self-inflicted impediment and the biggest difference between Iraq and Afghanistan is that in Iraq, we had a president famous, and attacked, for his stubbornness. He never spoke about exit strategy. He never spoke about a date of withdrawal.” Krauthammer later criticized Obama for announcing “a surge in Afghanistan and the next sentence, in the speech he gave on December 1, he says, 'And we're going to begin our withdrawal, leavening in July 2011.' ” [Special Report, 6/24/10]

Kristol calls for repudiation of timeline, compares to “President Bush's leadership in Iraq.” On Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol said that “we can win if we have real leadership here” and said that “it would be better if the president ultimately repudiates that July 2011 date.” Kristol added that Obama “does need to show leadership” and called for “having this burden of the deadline lifted” from Petraeus. Kristol concluded: “I think with Obama's leadership here, we can do in Afghanistan what we did with President Bush's leadership in Iraq.” [Fox News Sunday, 6/27/10]

George Will criticized Obama for timeline. After praising Obama's pick of General Petraeus to lead the forces in Afghanistan, George Will said on ABC's This Week that “this again raises the question of, you're sending Petraeus into a situation with this deadline.” Will continued: “One of the reasons of setting the July deadline in 2011 was to concentrate the mysterious mind of Harmid Karzai, on what? Reconciliation. But having a deadline makes the incentive for the Taliban to reconcile minimal.” [This Week, 6/27/10]

Bush agreed to timeline for withdrawal from Iraq

Iraq and U.S. agree that all U.S. forces will withdraw “no later than December 31, 2011.” On November 17, 2008, US and Iraqi officials signed a Security Agreement, often referred to as a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), stating that “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.” The agreement also called for all U.S. combat forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities “no later than June 30, 2009.” [U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, 11/17/08]

Bush praised agreement as “another sign of progress.” Calling the SOFA “another sign of progress,” President Bush said in a November 27, 2008, statement, “The Strategic Framework Agreement sets the foundation for a long-term bilateral relationship between our two countries, and the Security Agreement addresses our presence, activities, and withdrawal from Iraq.” [, 11/27/08]

Bush signed SOFA, which “lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq.” In a press conference at the signing of the SOFA, President Bush commented: “We're also signing a Security Agreement, sometimes called a Status of Forces Agreement. The agreement provides American troops and Defense Department officials with authorizations and protections to continue supporting Iraq's democracy once the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. This agreement respects the sovereignty and the authority of Iraq's democracy. The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq -- a withdrawal that is possible because of the success of the surge.” Bush later commented: “There are certain benchmarks that will be met -- such as troops out of the cities by June of '09. And then there's a benchmark at the end of the agreement. As to the pace of meeting those agreements, that will depend of course upon the Iraqi government, the recommendations of the Iraqi military, and the close coordination between General Odierno and our military.” [, 12/14/08]

Obama's conditions-based timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan mirrors what “we have done in Iraq”

Obama called to “begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011... taking into account conditions on the ground.” In his December 1, 2009 address at West Point, Obama stated his strategy will “allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011” and said: “Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.” [, 12/1/09]

Petraeus: I agree “with the July 2011 date described by the president.” During a June 16 House Armed Services Committee hearing (accessed via the Nexis database), Gen. David Petraeus, recently appointed as Commander of American and international forces in Afghanistan, commented:

PETRAEUS: I did support and agree at the end of the president's decision-making process last fall with the July 2011 date described by the president as the point at which a process begins to transition security tasks to Afghan forces at a rate to be determined by conditions at that time.

I also agreed with July 2011 as the date at which a responsible drawdown of the surge forces is scheduled to begin at a rate to be determined by conditions at the time. And I did believe there was value in sending a message of urgency, which is how I interpreted July 2011 as -- announced at West Point -- as well as the message of substantial commitment, the considerable additional forces that the president ordered as well as additional civilians' authorization for extra ANSF and additional NATO forces as well.

Mullen: “This strategy ... is still the right decision.” During a June 24 Pentagon press conference, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen agreed that “the military was deeply involved in the development of the president's strategy and signed on to the president's strategy” and commented, “And getting there using this strategy, with everything we understand right now, is still the right decision.” [Department of Defense, 6/24/10]

Gates: "[W]e are all on board for ... this gradual process of drawdown in July of 2011." In the same press conference, Defense Secretary Gates commented: “General Petraeus absolutely agrees with the president's strategy. He agrees with the December review, and he agrees with the timeline to begin a drawdown in July of 2011 that is conditions-based.” Gates continued: “I would tell you, as a going-in proposition, we are all on board for beginning this process of -- this gradual process of drawdown in July of 2011. That is the president's decision, and that decision stands as far as all of us are concerned.” [Department of Defense, 6/24/10]