From the German paper Der Spiegel:
In an interview with SPIEGEL, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Barack Obama’s 16 timeframe for a withdrawal from Iraq is the right one. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports US presidential candidate Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. When asked in and interview with SPIEGEL when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, Maliki responded “as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned.” He then continued: “US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”
Now, normally it might have taken days for the story to break in the US press. Maybe it wouldn’t have received any attention at all. But somebody in the Bush administration, intending to distribute the story to an internal e-mail list, accidentally “hit the wrong button” and sent it to a much wider list. The unemployment rate probably just jumped one.
Obama’s camp seized on the opportunity:
The national security adviser to the Obama campaign, Susan Rice, said the senator welcomed Maliki’s support.“This presents an important opportunity to transition to Iraqi responsibility, while restoring our military and increasing our commitment to finish the fight in Afghanistan,” Rice said in a statement Saturday.
Ezra Klein of the American Prospect explains the significance of the development.
To really understand the importance of Maliki’s comments, you need to consider their opposite. Imagine if Maliki had walked in front of the cameras and said, “at this stage, a timetable for withdrawal is unrealistic, and we hope our American friends will not bow to domestic political pressures and be hasty in leaving Iraq just as the country improves.” It would be a transformative moment in this election. John McCain would talk of nothing else. The cable shows would talk of nothing else. Magazines would run thousands of covers about “Obama’s Iraq Problem.” Obama would probably lose the race.
So how should McCain respond? Probably they just keep their cool and let it ride out, hope Obama makes some more centrist concessions, and harp on those as flip flops once Obama is back and his trip is no longer making news. But he’s got two problems coming out of this.
1. Obama is starting to look like a statesman internationally. That’s cutting into the one advantage the talking heads are giving to McCain.
2. McCain made a comment way back in 2005 to the effect that if the Iraqi government asked us to leave, we would have to leave. Having already flip flopped on long term presence, he will be hard pressed to flip flop on Iraqi sovereignty. Right now McCain’s simply in denial.
Addendum – McCain strategist: “We’re f#$%ed!”
As one poster remarked, the timeline is popular with the Iraqi people and so Maliki’s hand may be forced by prevailing politics. But I wonder if the Bush people didn’t somehow manage to piss them off like they’ve done with pretty much everyone else.
And this goes beyond the presidential election. It could actually mean and end to the war, or our part in it anyway.
Expect from McCain over the next week: “…but, but, but… it was the surge! I deserve credit because I supported the surge!”
Second addendum – Maliki: “So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat.”
Third addendum: McCain, it turns out, does not believe in Iraqi sovereignty, making this flip-flop number 62. He doesn’t care what Maliki says.
“His domestic politics require him to be for us getting out,” said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The military says ‘conditions based’ and Maliki said ‘conditions based’ yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders.”
An Obama official, also speaking on background, asks:
“So given that al-Maliki said today that it’s time for an official timetable and that Obama “is right when he talks about 16 months,” will McCain honor that commitment and call for withdrawal or change his position that we should leave Iraq if asked?”
Fourth addendum: Looks like Malaki is trying to backtrack (no doubt he got an earful from Bush or a surly surrogate), but it’s too late. In fact, I think this is a tactical error which will only draw the whole discussion out longer. The cat’s out of the bag, and it’s the second time he’s said it. Note he’s not saying precisely how he was “misquoted.”
Fifth addendum: Turns out, Malaki’s only clarification was to emphasize that he’s not endorsing Obama for president. Even Fox reports it this way.
Sixth addendum: Telling quote from Sen. McCain:
“Could I mention the presence of my friend, Congressman Steve Pearce, who I believe will be joining me in the United States Senate?”
– Sen. John McCain, quoted by Politico, apparently planning to still be in the Senate next year.