Sure enough, the minute I say I’m going to be offline for a few days, something happens. This, though, is a really big “something”:
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.
SPIEGEL: Is this an endorsement for the US presidential election in November? Does Obama, who has no military background, ultimately have a better understanding of Iraq than war hero John McCain?
Maliki: 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. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement.
However one chooses to slice and dice McCain v Obama on Iraq across the past six years, there’s a very clear distinction between them in how they plan to approach the future. And al-Maliki has even more clearly signalled his preference.
This is a very big deal.
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Here are a few snippets of opinion and reaction. I encourage you to read them in their entirety.
Dr. Steven Taylor at Poliblog:
This strikes me a boon for Obama, as it enhances his credence in terms of the Iraq question.
Elrod at The Moderate Voice:
But if this is a debate about the future, Maliki has just signaled that Obama’s position is more strategically sound for Iraq and tactically acceptable than McCain’s open-ended commitment.
And then there’s this brave soul — an Obama supporter writing at RedState (of all places):
The big question for McCain is how to respond to this kind of talk. I’m not sure what the best answer is, but as of now it seems that he needs to start undercutting Maliki’s competence, judgment, etc. I’m not sure it will work, but he can’t afford to have the elected Iraqi government essentially campaigning for Obama.
First, realize Maliki sees Obama as the Presidential front runner. It’s rational not to rock the boat. Second, Iraq and the U.S. wouldn’t be in this situation if it weren’t for the surge that quelled violence.
That is absolutely the McCain campaign’s narrative on Iraq. It has to be, since it’s all they’ve got now. And you can bet your bottom dollar that many millions of Americans will recall — with or without the reminders that are surely coming — that the dire situation that led to the surge was predicated by an incredibly stupid invasion.