It will be interesting to see how--and if--the candidates adapt their policies on Iraq to take into account Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's announcement this week that his government will work towards a negotiated timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. McCain, for one--despite his attempts yesterday to do dismiss the relevance of Maliki's statements to his Iraq policy--may have a big problem on his hands: As the folks over at Democracy Arsenal point out, the Arizona senator stated unequivocally in a 2004 Q&A session at the Council on Foreign Relations that the U.S. would be obligated to pull its troops from Iraq if requested to do so by a democratically elected Iraqi government:
[Peter] Peterson: Let me give you a hypothetical, senator. What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there? I understand it's a hypothetical, but it's at least possible.
McCAIN: Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because if it was an elected government of Iraq and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.
In light of these earlier statements on his full commitment to Iraqi sovereignty on this issue, how can McCain now declare--without appearing to be a flip-flopper--that a U.S. pull-out will not occur "according to a set timetable," even if the Iraqi government requests otherwise? And we thought Obama's recent reconsiderations on Iraq would land him in flip-flop territory...