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WASHINGTON — John McCain and Barack Obama aren’t necessarily lying when they present their broad views on Iraq.

But the presidential candidates and voters should realize that anything they say now about U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq won’t have much to do with the reality the next president will face next year, according to noted national security expert Anthony H. Cordesman.

"Does any of it … really tell you what is going to happen in 2009? No," said Cordesman, author of "Transferring Provinces to Iraqi Control: The Reality and the Risks."

"Should any president act in 2009 on the basis of campaign statements made in 2008? We don’t elect presidents to keep campaign promises. We elect presidents to lead the nation on the basis of the reality they face as presidents."

One reality, Cordesman added, was that the time for withdrawal of U.S. troops will be determined more by the Iraqi government than by the next president. The Iraqis, he said, have already stood their ground by rejecting U.S.-authored agreements to prolong its troops presence.

"I don’t foresee [withdrawal of U.S. forces] as some kind of U.S.-driven calculation," said Cordesman, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and ABC News. "I see it as part of a political dialectic between the U.S.’s desire to leave a lasting legacy of a stable and democratic Iraq and Iraq’s internal politics, which want the U.S. out as soon as possible.

"The question is, how do you phase U.S. troops down — brigade, support, contractors, the entire U.S. presence — as quickly as possible without creating a level of instability that would make all of the sacrifices and expenditures … wasted."

In his paper, which he discussed Wednesday with Stars and Stripes, Cordesman contends that Iraqi military, police and government are now able to only enact the first part of the "win, hold and build" strategy needed to defeat its enemy insurgency.

A timeline-based withdrawal of U.S. troops as floated by Obama, or an indefinite presence as suggested by McCain, are mere talking points, Cordesman said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Cordesman said, will likewise make pronouncements to his audiences, such as insisting that U.S. troops leave Iraq, in order to deflect charges that he is in long-term collusion with America.

The United States and Iraq have reached a tentative settlement on 2011 for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to recent reports.

The deadline could nudge Iraq toward self-sufficiency and the United States toward withdrawal planning, Cordesman said. But ultimately the date would be worth only the paper on which it is written.

"This is three-dimensional chess," Cordesman said. "If you try to play it as checkers, you’ll lose."


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