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Guess who’s shifting on Iraq? 

Let’s play a little game, not that the subject matter is a bit of fun. It’s deadly serious, literally. Tragic, even.

I’ll give you a couple of sets of fresh quotations from a politician. Your assignment is to guess the identity of the politician. Here we go:

• “I’ll say this: I’m still not for laying out any timetable for withdrawing from Iraq — at least not publicly.” Then, when asked if that meant that the politician favored imposing a timetable for withdrawal that the United States would keep to itself so as not to embolden the enemy, the politician said, “That’s correct.”

• “We need to be clear in our communication with the Iraqi leadership. The American people did not make an open-ended commitment. We need to make clear to them, ‘We’re not going to hang around for your civil war.’ Defense Secretary Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee the other day. You probably saw it. He got some very tough questions and didn’t answer very many. But I thought it was telling when Sen. Evan Bayh asked him whose side we would be on in a civil war in Iraq. He didn’t have an answer for that.”

Need a hint as to the identity of the speaker? The comments were made to me Thursday afternoon by cell phone from Monticello, the one in southeast Arkansas. That ought to remove Hillary Clinton as a suspect.

Need another? The caller was a noted moderate, a centrist Democrat heretofore generally patient with the Bush administration on Iraq and a few other things.

Need another? This is a male politician.

Oh, come on. Surely you have it by now.

That’s right — it’s U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

I told the senator that while actual position changes in those comments were expressed only in subtle and nuanced terms, they struck me as highly significant. He said something friendly about my ability to read subtlety and nuance.

Something big seems to be happening in America on the Iraq issue, and it’s bigger than what happened to Pryor’s buddy Joe Lieberman in Connecticut the other day. That was a combination of the Democratic Party’s national anti-war extremist base flexing muscle and of Lieber-man’s having overdone his bipartisanship to the point of appearing overly obliging, even smarmy.

What’s happening is represented vividly by the ever-temperate Pryor’s fresh comments, suggesting as they do that America doesn’t possess clearly achievable objectives in Iraq and that, whatever those objectives are, we should abandon them forthwith if civil war breaks out, or per-haps we should say escalates.

That would seem especially true if this civil war pits Iranian sympathizers against Saddam sympathizers, which seems to be the case. There’s not a lesser evil apparent in that particular pairing.

Meantime, we remain confronted by a clear and evil enemy. I refer to the creeps who nearly blew up more passenger airplanes just the other day and who now have us flying without carry-on toothpaste.

It may turn out that we’ll leave the Iraqis to fight among themselves. It may be that we’ll use such a departure — tragic though it be in terms of lost American and Iraqi lives — to turn our undivided attention and might toward our real problem.

Mark Pryor is clearing his throat in preparation to say that, if I read subtlety and nuance correctly.

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