The planned timetable for American withdrawal from Iraq doesn’t tell you much about either Presidential candidate, though I grant you there’s a meaningful difference between McCain’s declaration that we could stay for a hundred years and Obama planning to leave by 2010. If it comes down to a situation where the current holders of political power in Iraq genuinely want us to leave (as opposed to posturing that they want us to leave in advance of their own elections), then I think that’s going to trump the plans of either candidate in any event.
What’s really important is what the candidates say about what went wrong in the first place. Not that they admit or agree that something went wrong, but their concrete plans for repairing the political and executive processes that shaped the decision to go to war and the execution of national security policy through this Administration. Obama could say a lot more about how he specifically intends to govern in this area, sketching process as well as policy, because process is policy. McCain, on the other hand, has made it very clear that the process of decision-making by Cheney and Bush is more or less how he will conduct business, that while mistakes may have been made, each of them stands alone as a specific miscalculation rather than as the systemic consequence of a philosophy of deliberative process and executive authority.
Withdrawal is the wrong issue for opponents of the war to worry about. The real question to the candidates is: how will you deliberate and decide? Will you reverse the flow of power and prerogative to the executive?