Sunday, July 20, 2008

When Will the Maliki Bomb Go Off?

MALIKI'S TIMETABLE BOMB. On Saturday, Maliki certainly dropped a bomb when he told Der Spiegel that he agreed with Obama's plans to withdraw American troops from Iraq within 16 months. Here's the key passages from the interview

SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq.

Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. 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 . . .

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.

FALLING INTO THE CLUTTER ZONE. As I noted in an earlier post, Maliki's agreement to any kind of timetable severely undercuts John McCain's presidential candidacy. McCain has banked most of his argument for being elected on his greater foreign policy wisdom. If Obama's position on withdrawing troops from Iraq in 16 months becomes widely accepted, McCain's going to lose most of the justification for electing him president.

As a result, McCain is lucky that the Maliki's announced agreement with Obama's particular timetable did not go off with the big bang that might have been expected. The liberal blogs caught on quickly and fully recognized al-Maliki's statement as a "game-changer." But the significance of Maliki's statement ended up being lost in the mainstream media "clutter." After the McCain campaign issued a counter-statement and Bush administration leaned on the al-Maliki government to take the statement back, the mainstream media began reporting on the various sides of the "controversy" rather than focus on the significance of what al-Maliki originally said.

MSNBC's report was typical in its "he said/she said" effort to appear objective:
The Illinois senator, challenged at every turn on the Iraq issue by Republicans, including presidential rival Sen. John McCain, was expected to arrive in the country amid the controversy over comments by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that were supportive of Obama's 16-month timetable.

The Iraqi leader's aides have said his remarks, published in a German magazine, were misunderstood and that he was not taking sides in the U.S. election.

Other media sources buried al-Maliki's statement in their reporting about Obama's trip to Afghanistan. Following the conservative blogs, some media figures are warning against Obama becoming over-confident or appearing immodest. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Trudy Rubin framed her comment in terms of Obama's need to stay "humble" despite his positions in favor of negotiations with Iran, troop increases in Afghanistan, and troop withdrawals from Iraq all being validated within the last week.

Given the various forms of media clutter that have obscured the significance of al-Maliki's endorsement of Obama's position, it's possible to wonder whether al-Maliki's bombshell will eventually explode to Obama's benefit.

THE ULTIMATE ANSWER. It's likely that al-Maliki's statement is going to help Obama a great deal over the long run. There are several ways in which it will be helpful. The most immediate effect will be that day to day campaigning is going to be easier for Obama. Barack Obama and his surrogates can use the day to day jousting to remind voters that the Iraqi prime minister and Iraqi people agree with Obama's position and that McCain hasn't adjusted to the realities on the ground. Obama will also be able to quote al-Maliki to great effect during the campaign debates. Obama can also al-Maliki's statement to great effect in his campaign advertising. Although the al-Maliki bombshell on troop withdrawals isn't going to greatly help Obama on a short-term basis, it will be a gift that keeps on giving to the Obama campaign.

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