The Prime Minister of Iraq has endorsed U.S. plans for an withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Well, not Bush’s plan. And not McCain’s plan (McCain doesn’t really have one).
BERLIN (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a German magazine he supported prospective U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s proposal that U.S. troops should leave Iraq within 16 months.
In an interview with Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Maliki said he wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.
"U.S. 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."
It is the first time he has backed the withdrawal timetable put forward by Obama, who is visiting Afghanistan and us set to go to Iraq as part of a tour of Europe and the Middle East.
Obama has called for a shift away from a "single-minded" focus on Iraq and wants to pull out troops within 16 months, instead adding U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan.
Asked if he supported Obama’s ideas more than those of John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, Maliki said he did not want to recommend who people should vote for.
"Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems."
And with that, the notion of Obama being "inexperienced" and green about matter of foreign policy disappear. After all, it was Bush who repeatedly said that when we are asked to leave Iraq, we will (only to backpedal when it looks like we’ve been asked).
Marc Ambinder provides why this is a big deal:
This could be one of those unexpected events that forever changes the way the world perceives an issue. Iraq’s Prime Minister agrees with Obama, and there’s no wiggle room or fudge factor. This puts John McCain in an extremely precarious spot: what’s left to argue? To argue against Maliki would be to predicate that Iraqi sovereignty at this point means nothing. Obviously, our national interests aren’t equivalent to Iraq’s, but… Maliki isn’t listening to the generals on the ground…but the "hasn’t been to Iraq" line doesn’t work here.
So how will the McCain campaign respond?
The problem for McCain is that there is no good response. He’ll either have to agree that Obama’s plan was right all along, OR explain why Maliki’s opinion about events in his own country don’t matter.
And according to Ambinder, Republicans know McCain is in a tight spot:
(Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, "We’re fucked." No response yet from the McCain campaign, although here’s what McCain said the last time Maliki mentioned withdrawal: "Since we are succeeding, then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. And I’m confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about, since he has told me that for many meetings we’ve had.")
Obama’s campaign, however, was quick to issue this statement (from an email):
There are two problems with John McCain’s political attacks on Barack Obama’s foreign policy. First, on the biggest foreign policy questions of the last eight years, Barack Obama has made the right judgment and John McCain has sided with George Bush in making the wrong one. Second, the failure of the McCain-Bush foreign policy has forced John McCain to change his position, and to embrace the very same Obama approaches that he once attacked.
Just this week, Senator McCain has been forced by events to switch to Barack Obama’s position on two fundamental issues: more troops in Afghanistan, and more diplomacy with Iran. On both issues, Obama took stands that weren’t politically popular at the time – opposing the war in Iraq as a diversion from the critical mission in Afghanistan, and standing up for direct diplomacy with Iran – while John McCain lined up with George Bush. Time has proven Obama’s judgment right and McCain wrong.
The next shift appears to be Iraq. For months, Senator McCain has called any plan to redeploy our troops from Iraq “surrender” – even though we’d be leaving Iraq to a sovereign Iraqi government. Now, the Bush Administration is embracing the negotiation of troop withdrawals with the Iraqi government – a position that Senator Obama called for last September, and reiterated on Monday in the New York Times. And now, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports Barack Obama’s timeline, telling Der Speigel that, “Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months.”
The McCain campaign really has no clue what it is doing. It’s not thinking. First, they attacked Obama for having little foreign policy experience. "I mean, he’s never even been to Iraq and Afghanistan", they cried (while touting McCain’s foreign policy experience he gained as… a POW. I guess.)
So Obama says he’s going to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. And then, right away, before you know it, the trip becomes a HUGE media event, stealing whatever thing McCain has got going, and giving Obama all kinds of free media attention. Now desparate for the spotlight that they all but handed to Obama, the McCain people call the trip a political stunt, but nobody pays attention.
And then this. Before Obama’s foot steps off the plane, al-Maliki gives an interview which, in one full swoop, gives Obama more foreign policy cred than the Bush Administration (and its McCain successor).
Not a good week for McCain. He just lost his strong suit: foreign policy.
By the way, a sidenote from the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Most reporters got the story from a White House email…. by mistake:
The White House this afternoon accidentally sent to its extensive distribution list a Reuters story headlined "Iraqi PM backs Obama troop exit plan – magazine."
The story relayed how Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told the German magazine Der Spiegel that "he supported prospective U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s proposal that U.S. troops should leave Iraq within 16 months … ‘U.S. 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,’" the prime minister said.
The White House employee had intended to send the article to an internal distribution list, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz reports, but hit the wrong button.
Of course, they would have found out about al-Maliki’s interview in Der Spiegal anyway, but the whole White House error caused it to come out as a concussive grenade, rather than a slow blog-to-MSM hiss.
UPDATE: The McCain campaign has just released this weak statement in response:
ARLINGTON, VA — Today, McCain 2008 Senior Foreign Policy Advisor Randy Scheunemann issued the following statement:
"The difference between John McCain and Barack Obama is that Barack Obama advocates an unconditional withdrawal that ignores the facts on the ground and the advice of our top military commanders. John McCain believes withdrawal must be based on conditions on the ground. Prime Minister Maliki has repeatedly affirmed the same view, and did so again today. Timing is not as important as whether we leave with victory and honor, which is of no apparent concern to Barack Obama. The fundamental truth remains that Senator McCain was right about the surge and Senator Obama was wrong. We would not be in the position to discuss a responsible withdrawal today if Senator Obama’s views had prevailed."
It kind of dodges the issue at hand, and moves the playing field to an irrelevant place. The problem for McCain, which he dodges, is that he doesn’t believe in withdrawal at all. So it’s a little hard to see this as somehow vindicating him.