Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- If George Bush did not flirt with withdrawal during last year's presidential campaign when it looked as if Iraq might cost him his political career, he certainly will not do so as a second-term president. Americans know that. But the world may not. Particularly as it keeps hearing congressional voices calling for withdrawal, timetables and exit strategies. 
   
    Hence the president's nationally televised address to the nation Tuesday on Iraq. One purpose, of course, was to state, once again, the case for the war. But the most important line was the restatement of his position on withdrawal before victory: ``This will not happen on my watch.''

     So now we do have the timetable for withdrawal. We are signed on to Iraq into 2008, when the contract comes up for renewal. If we are in roughly the same position in Iraq then as today, the 2008 campaign will become a referendum on withdrawal.

     And if we are no further advanced in securing Iraqi democracy three years from now, the American voter will cancel the contract. But success is more likely, I believe. As the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami reported recently upon returning from the region: ``The insurgents will do what they are good at. But no one (in Iraq) really believes that those dispensers of death can turn back the clock. ... By a twist of fate, the one Arab country that had seemed ever marked for brutality and sorrow now stands poised on the frontier of a new political world.''

     But there is one major flaw in the agenda for this new political world: writing a constitution. Americans love constitutions. And they are generally a good idea. Ours has worked well. But we had practice and lots of time. The Iraqis do not.

     The deadline is Aug. 15. That leaves six weeks. It took three months just to form a government after the elections, and over a month to find a formula for including Sunnis on the drafting committee for the constitution.

     It will be impossible to write it in the next six weeks, particularly because, as the price for joining the drafting process, the Sunni delegates demanded that all decisions be made by consensus, not by vote. Nor is the six-month extension permitted by the interim constitution the answer.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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