When administrations begin indulging in the generous use of bland euphemisms, we know what it means: They are not willing to do what the public wants and they are not willing to let the public know it. This "transition force" looks like a way of avoiding a transition, not making one.
The president says we will be entirely out by 2012, as required in our status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. Maybe so, but given how much Obama has yielded on his original plan, it's chancy to assume he'll stick to this one.
Though the American people voted for a different policy, the president is reluctant to take the risk of something unpleasant happening if we actually leave Iraq. That inclination, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology defense scholar Barry Posen, raises a question: "What's the difference between him and Bush on this?"
Bush, you may recall, promised that the surge he began in 2007 would "hasten the day our troops begin coming home." Yet we somehow have more troops in Iraq today than we had then.
Obama could conclude that since there is a high risk of failure even if we leave later, we might as well leave earlier -- which essentially was his campaign position. But he has moved a long way toward Bush's view that we cannot leave until some sort of victory or success has been achieved.
What he doesn't tell us is what he will do if that day fails to come, or if things get worse. But we can figure it out.
In Thomas Ricks' new book, "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008," the author asks an officer who advised Petraeus on the surge how our military involvement in Iraq will finally end. His answer: "I don't think it does end."