Here we go. The bipartisan PR campaign to extend our military presence in Iraq has begun at the legislative level. Military officials already were making loaded statements about how Iraq would have to inform them soon if they wanted the troops to stay. This never materialized, so I guess you could see this as Plan B.

“Most Americans believe we’re done in Iraq,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asia subcommittee. “That is at odds with the reality in Iraq.

“The American people thought they had already bought this and paid for this,” Ackerman said. “That appears to not be the case.”

So, too, did members of Congress.

That means the White House soon will have to start “selling a lot of members,” Ackerman said, predicting that the “collision” of reality and lawmakers’ desires “will not be pretty.”

The State Department is slated to assume responsibility for helping Iraqi leaders build up that nation’s military, economic and governing entities on Jan. 1.

“Although the administration’s plan to transition the mission is well-intentioned, I am concerned that it is neither well-timed nor well-reasoned,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the subcommittee’s chairman.

Let’s be clear. This is actually not the Administration’s intention. They’re dying to stay in Iraq. They just want the Iraqis to ask for their presence, because only then will it comply with international law, and more importantly because it will give the Administration political cover. Though Sophie Quinton at National Security writes that “it seems likely” that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will ask for this extension, since it would be career suicide, I would be wary of such a statement.

The Administration, through deputy assistant Defense Secretary Colin Kahl, has pathetically resorted to saying that Iraqi security forces can secure the country internally, but wouldn’t be able to fight an external foe after December. Other than the US, who exactly is planning to invade Iraq? Iran already has their man in charge in Baghdad.

Even if the extension never gets called for, the US plans to have a large State Department presence in their enormous embassy. So the idea that we’re “leaving” Iraq is probably not the right way to look at it. But a total withdrawal of military forces would be an important step, considering that we haven’t actually left a country in many decades without being chased out. It would signal that we actually have the slightest belief in self-determination in the Arab world.