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The fading debate over an Iraq pullout

Events on the ground could cause Obama or McCain to carry out similar strategies.

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Americans are split down the middle on the presidential candidates' withdrawal plans for US troops in Iraq, and the two men are ardently pointing out their differences. By the November election, though, this debate may be largely diminished, if not moot.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week showed half of Americans favor Mr. Obama's plan to withdraw the bulk of US troops over 16 months. The other half sides with Mr. McCain's view that events in Iraq – not a timetable – should determine the drawdown.

But recent trends on the ground could cause the candidates' goals to generally converge, especially now that the Pentagon says Iraqi police and the Army will be fully operational by mid-2009.

If the positive trends continue in Iraq, the bulk of US troops could leave sooner rather than later (Obama promises by mid-2010; McCain envisions by 2013).

McCain criticizes his opponent for hugging a set timeline. He has urged Obama to heed US generals before deciding what to do.

On an imminent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama will likely be told by the generals that things are looking up in Iraq – in no small part because of the 2007-2008 troop surge he opposed. Insurgent attacks are down. Al Qaeda is pretty much routed. By mid-2009, American ground troops will be "mostly" done with their combat role, says Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who has been responsible for Iraqi training.

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