Commentary: Sam Dissects 'Myth' Behind American Troop Presence

Sam Donaldson on Iraqi PM's request for a U.S. troop withdrawal date.

July 8, 2008 -- The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson. Click here to view a video version of Sam's latest essay

Myths die hard, and one of the most corrosive ones today is the mistaken idea that Iraqis want us in Iraq. They do not.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has shocked official Washington by publicly saying he wants to negotiate a withdrawal date for U.S. forces and if not an exact date, a timetable for their withdrawal.

Who does he think he is, Barack Obama?

Yes, yes, Maliki may be a politician with his finger in the wind as he is trying to fend off his young firebrand Shiite rival, Muqtada al-Sadr, who wants the U.S. out yesterday, but clearly the Iraqi "wind" is blowing Sadr's way.

Depending on how the question is asked, it appears that at least 70 percent of Iraqis want Americans to leave either immediately or expeditiously.

Here at home, about 60 percent of Americans want U.S. forces to be withdrawn within the next year.

And as far as negotiating permanent bases in Iraq -- something the Bush administration is trying to do in a way that would not allow Congress to veto the matter -- the Maliki government is balking again. You can say Maliki is just playing to Iraqi public opinion.

But then, who, ultimately, is supposed to run either country? Iraq or the United States?

The story is told that back in 1882, when a reporter told William Vanderbilt, the railroad king, that the public had a right to the facts surrounding his railroad's operations, Vanderbilt replied, "The public be damned."

Vanderbilt could get away with it. My guess is that no one can get away with it much longer when it comes to Iraq.

Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from January 1998 to August 1999 and from 1977-1989, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Sam Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show, "Politics Live."