(Note the UPDATE below--apparently repeated references in the interview cited below to Obama, timetables, and withdrawal were all "mistranslated." Or something.)
Or so it would seem from Nouri al-Maliki's statements:
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."Anytime anyone on the American left (or, increasingly, in the American center--for that matter, even on the American center-right) suggests a time-table or a definite date by which US troops should be home safe in their beds instead of being electrocuted by KBR, we get called all kinds of vile names, such as those you see in the title of this post. (I am afraid to look at the conservative blogs for fear of learning that I have inadvertently copied one of them.) We'll see if Our Man in Baghdad suffers the same fate.
Maliki was careful to back away from outright support for Obama. "Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business," he said. But then, apparently referring to Republican candidate John McCain's more open-ended Iraq policy, Maliki said: "Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems."
What I quoted here is not the worst of it, for McCain:
Maliki has long shown impatience with the open-ended presence of US troops in Iraq. In his conversation with SPIEGEL, he was once again candid about his frustration over the Bush administration's hesitancy about agreeing to a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. But he did say he was optimistic that such a schedule would be drawn up before Bush leaves the White House next January -- a confidence that appeared justified following Friday's joint announcement in Baghdad and Washington that Bush has now, for the first time, spoken of "a general time horizon" for moving US troops out of Iraq.Perhaps you haven't noticed, but only one (increasingly small) side in this argument has been saying all along that leaving, or even setting a time to leave, is admitting defeat. I'll probably be told that in comments. I look forward to it, almost.
"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," Maliki told SPIEGEL. "But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias."
I predict one or both of the following to happen in the next week: 1) Nouri al-Maliki will suddenly not be the Iraqi Prime Minister any more; and 2) Barack Obama, if he meets with (Obama-supporter-lite) Maliki in Iraq on the trip Obama's currently taking to Europe and the Middle East, will be accused of treason by the right. They will demand, as they did to Nancy Pelosi, that he be arrested for conducting foreign policy without permission from the president.
UPDATE: After a panicky White House accidentally emailed its entire distribution list the text of the Reuters story about Maliki's statements, they must have settled on a strategy: The United States Central Command (CentCom) issued a statement from a Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh saying, "Prime Minister Maliki's statement was 'misunderstood and mistranslated' and 'not conveyed accurately regarding the vision of Senator Barack Obama, U.S. presidential candidate, on the timeframe for U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq.'"
This is at least the second time in recent weeks that Maliki has explicitly called for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops and the US then walked back his statement:
BAGHDAD July 7, 2008, 11:17 pm ET · Iraq's prime minister said Monday his country wants some type of timetable for a withdrawal of American troops included in the deal the two countries are negotiating. [. . .] The White House said it did not believe al-Maliki was proposing a rigid timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals.Anyway, I guess we have to believe the new version of the story that Maliki's multiple references to Obama, to "those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq" and so forth in Der Spiegel were "mistranslated."
As Josh Marshall wryly notes (from the second link of the update): "I'm learning that it's very difficult to translate the nuances of the Arabic of Iraqi leaders when they're speaking at variance with the talking points of the Bush White House. Language is a funny thing."