Despite the heated rhetoric on the campaign trail, President-elect Barack Obama's approach to the war in Iraq probably won't be much different from what John McCain's would have been, says Kenneth Adelman, an Obama supporter who once advised the Bush administration.
"Both candidates wanted to get out as soon as possible, and both candidates wanted to transfer more authority to the Iraqi government, and both candidates wanted to make sure that there was not an American defeat at the end of it," Adelman tells NPR's Robert Siegel.
An early and ardent supporter of the Iraq war, Adelman was formerly on the Defense Policy Board during part of the Bush administration. He was also director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Reagan years.
Obama's tentative timeline calls for 16 months between now and Iraqi government independence, but Adelman says he doesn't know whether this timetable will be enough to get the government running functionally.
"But I do know that the Iraqi government should know a lot better than I know," he says, "and if it is all right with the Iraqi government, I can't see why it would not be all right with the United States. So if they are telling the Bush administration now 'Let's have timelines at 16 months,' I don't know why the U.S. government would be kicking about that."
Since the beginning of the war, people have had dreams about what the U.S. relationship with Iraq would be after the dust settled — be it talks of Iraq being a bastion of democracy or an Arab country very friendly to the U.S. or whether Iraq might be a friendly supplier of oil to the West.
Adelman says the success in Iraq and its subsequent relations with the U.S. must be measured against other Arab nations.
"The main thing you have to remember is that on democracy, on freedom, on progress — you've got to grade on the curve, somewhat," Adelman says. "And out of all the members of the Arab League today, not one of them is a properly functioning and responsive democracy. So if we get one that's way above the curve on that, that's pretty darn good."
Adelman says that the situation in Iraq may end up looking like the governments of Egypt or Jordan. "Not exactly a democracy, but a not-bad place to live. I was hoping for a Middle East democracy in an impressive kind of way," Adelman says.
"I guess right now it'll be sloppier than that."
But, he says, the goals in Iraq remain clear.
"The fact is that it has always been our approach to get out of Iraq as soon as we can with stability," Adelman says. "And if the Iraqi government says we can do it in 16 months, God bless them."