It's hard not to be cheered, as I was this morning, by news of possibly accelerated withdrawals from Iraq. It's equally hard not to fear that we may be re-branding rather than actually changing anything:

Maliki, who last week publicly insisted on a withdrawal timeline, wants to frame the agreement as outlining the terms for "Americans leaving Iraq" rather than the conditions under which they will stay, said the U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because U.S.-Iraqi negotiations are ongoing. The idea, he said, is to "take the heat off [Maliki] a little bit, to rebrand the thing and counter the narrative that he's negotiating for a permanent military presence in Iraq."

Even though he is. So we may get a temporary deal:

"What we're doing now is more . . . a bridge to have the authority in place so we don't turn into a pumpkin on December 31," the official said. Neither country wants an extension of the U.N. mandate. Iraq has rejected its explicit limits on sovereignty, and the administration believes that a limited extension would only postpone the need for a bilateral accord and potentially leave U.S. troops with "our backs against the wall."

According to U.S. officials, Maliki also hopes that a temporary protocol would circumvent the full parliamentary review and two-thirds vote he has promised for a status-of-forces agreement. "He is trying to figure out, just as we did, how you can set up an agreement between the two and have it be legally binding," one official said, "but not go through the legislative body."

Bush never had much sympathy for legislative bodies in the US when it comes to foreign policy. So why would he bend to the Iraqi legislature? Nonetheless, the post-Bush future of Iraq will clearly be determined by the looming US and Iraq  elections. Do we want to stay indefinitely and use our forces there to contain or attack Iran? Or do we want to leave as soon as possible with a minimal footprint in the short and medium term? Or some kind of mush in the middle? Do the Iraqis want us out? Or will their elites find a way, as ours are, to keep us enmeshed?

Occupations are like government programs. Once instituted, it seems they can never be abolished. And so government grows and grows and grows. And its costs rise and rise and rise. And the problems many programs or occupations were supposed to solve disappear, and the programs and occupations find new reasons to stay in existence.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty.)