Drawing Down

Obama marks his calendar for the end of the American mission in Iraq.

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President Obama has declared that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq will end on Aug. 31, 2010. The administration plans to withdraw the bulk of the 142,000 U.S. combat troops over the next 19 months, fulfilling (more or less) a central campaign promise and even leaving a few Republicans nodding in approval. Another Bush reversal and a bold budget are good for 55 on the Change-o-Meter.

Obama promised a 16-month withdrawal from Iraq during the campaign but added an extra three months on the advice of his military advisers. Praise from Republicans was surprisingly forthcoming, given the flop of Obama’s bipartisanship efforts for his stimulus bill. Sen. John McCain and House Minority Leader John Boehner both praised the effort, while some Democrats had beef with the 35,000-50,000 contingency force that will stay in Iraq until the end of 2011 in order to support civilian operations and counterterrorism efforts. Despite the Democratic grumbling, Obama’s plan embraces a firm timetable in a stark departure from the Bush administration. The move is good for 30 from the ‘Meter, plus another 10 for winning the early support of key Republicans.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, has revoked an 18-year-old military policy that banned news media from photographing coffins of fallen U.S. soldiers. Critics say the ban, which was instituted by George H.W. Bush and renewed by George W., conceals the human cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the new policy permits photographs with the consent of the families of the deceased. The ‘Meter moves 10 points for change.

Meanwhile, the economic news continues to be bad, as a report released from the Commerce Department on Friday posts grim numbers for the gross domestic product. The economy shrank at a 6.2 percent pace in the last three months of 2008, surpassing the government’s 3.8 percent estimated drop, suggesting that the recession is worse than expected as businesses and consumers continue to reduce spending.

One notable exception to that reduction: government spending. Obama unveiled a jumbo budget on Thursday, which would result in a record deficit if enacted. But as Slate’s John Dickerson notes, the budget still has its share of gimmicks. Nevertheless, Obama gets 5 points on the ‘Meter for a budget that is more honest in its accounting than the Bush budgets—not exactly a high bar to cross.

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