Mike questioned below whether Maliki's support for an Iraq exit plan nearer to Obama's ideas than McCain's could ultimately benefit McCain. Maybe by some kind of Rube-Goldberg-esque chain of political events (the man who uttered the comments was actually just wearing a Maliki mask! And he turns out to have been paid off by Atrios! And ...), but at least in the short term it hardly could have gone better for Obama. Here's the nearly full-page headline on the Washington Post that hit my doorstep this morning:

IRAQ POINTS TO PULLOUT IN 2010

High-Level Statement Is Second in Days to Back Timetable Similar to Obama's

Inside, Dan Balz does the analysis

Obama has certainly not won the argument over Iraq policy. Far from it. His proposal to withdraw U.S. combat forces over a 16-month period still faces serious questions, including from some of the commanders who might be asked to implement it if he is elected. But the curious turn of events made for an unexpected opening act for the Democrat's week-long tour of seven countries, demonstrating anew the combination of agility and good fortune that has marked his campaign. ... [A]s political theater, the events of the past few days have played unfailingly in the Democrat's favor. [emphasis mine]

The implication is that Obama took this round thanks to sheer serendipity, like a hapless farmer in dry season randomly experiencing an inexplicable rainshower. (Balz goes on to devote seven-and-a-half paragraphs to McCain's or the administration's critiques of Obama's proposal, weighting the analysis towards the naysayers on the substance.)

I haven't always liked Obama's Iraq policy -- his idea to get "everybody" out while leaving a vaguely-defined "residual force" that could turn out to equal something like 50,000 troops is, in particular, a real effort to have his cake and eat it too -- but I think Balz is being unfair to Obama here by painting him as a naif whose astonishing, "unexpected" good luck is totally unlinked to the quality of his preparations. How is this turn of events really that unexpected? Obama's sense of timing is generally preferred by the Iraqi government -- a sentiment nobody can be surprised that government held in private, given their recent reluctance to broker a permanent agreement with the U.S. -- and now he's getting public credit for it, as he should. Somebody could say Maliki and company have their heads screwed on backwards and don't have a firm grasp on what's necessary for their country, but that's a different debate altogether. Balz isn't too convincing here.

--Eve Fairbanks