The fact that Iraq's prime Minister has endorsed, by name, Barack Obama's plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from his country in 16 months is a huge, huge deal. Most commentary has focused on the political repercussions -- as a GOP strategist succinctly put it to Marc Ambinder, "We're fucked" -- and that certainly seems to be the case. How can John McCain paint Obama's plan as wildly naive or irresponsible when the Iraqi government favors it too?
The Bush administration and the McCain campaign have replied by suggesting that Maliki doesn't really want an American withdrawal, he's just saying it for domestic political purposes. Maybe so. But that just underscores the point. If Maliki has to publicly favor American withdrawal, this shows that the Iraqi polity is not going to stand for an extended occupation. President Bush may not have been sincere either when he came out for a prescription drug benefit and campaign finance reform, but he signed those measures because he had to. That's the nature of democracy. If Iraq is going to be a democracy, then we're not going to stay there forever. So the bigger story, beyond the presidential ramifications, is that we know how the Iraq occupation is going to end.
Meanwhile, the paucity of coverage of these remarks is inexplicable. The big newspapers have given this story a paragraph at most. Unbelievably, The Page gave this headline to Maliki's walkback: "Maliki Clarifies Seemingly Pro-Obama Remarks."
Seemingly? It was a direct endorsement of the idea. And, for that matter, Clarifies? There was no attempt to clarify, only to muddy the waters to minimize the embarassment to President Bush and his allies.
Ben Smith explains this pretty well:
It's almost a convention of politics that when a politician says he was misquoted, but doesn't detail the misquote or offer an alternative, he's really saying he wishes he hadn't said what he did, or that he needs to issue a pro-forma denial to please someone.
The Iraqi Prime Minister's vague denial seems to fall in that category. The fact that it arrived to the American press via CENTCOM, seems to support that. It came, as Mike Allen notes, 18 hours later, and at 1:30 a.m. Eastern, a little late for Sunday papers; his staff also seems, Der Spiegel reports, not to have contested Iraqi reporting of the quote, even in the "government-affiliated" Iraqi press.
Exactly right. The Page's credulousness about the walkback is an embarrassment.