Tag Archives: Nouri al-Maliki

McCain, Obama and the Surge

Perhaps John McCain’s biggest strength this election has been his advocacy of the surge in Iraq. McCain’s story is now that the surge had never happened we would have “lost in Iraq.” Furthermore, McCain claims that Obama has been denying the success of the surge.

“Our troops will come home with honor. And we won’t be defeated. And there won’t be chaos in the region. There won’t be increased Iranian influence in the region. And it will have a bearing on what happens in Afghanistan, as well as the entire region of the world. And I’m proud of what they’ve done. And to deny their success — I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of what happened. The American people will make a judgment.”

McCain has also extended that argument and explicitly argued that “I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.”

The second attack is just crazy. It’s basically arguing that Obama is a traitor who is only interested in political power, but beyond the sheer ugliness of it, it is just wrong. Obama did argue for a different strategy in Iraq in early 2007. But so did a lot of other people. To say Obama wanted to lose the war is basically to say that people like James Baker, Jim Hamilton, Lawrence Eagleburger, William Perry and the rest of the Iraq Study Group all wanted to lose. It’s just not a credible story.

Furthermore, while the increased troops in Iraq have clearly helped the security situation, it really is debatable whether the surge deserves most of the credit for the reduction in violence. McCain certainly thinks so, but Obama doesn’t.

In an interview with ABC’s Terry Moran, Obama said that he “did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shii’a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct.”

Obama has a real point here. Additional US troops have definitely been a factor, but have they been the key factor? Nouri al-Maliki doesn’t think so.

SPIEGEL: In your opinion, which factor has contributed most to bringing calm to the situation in the country?

Maliki: There are many factors, but I see them in the following order. First, there is the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve in central Iraq. This has enabled us, above all, to pull the plug on al-Qaida. Second, there is the progress being made by our security forces. Third, there is the deep sense of abhorrence with which the population has reacted to the atrocities of al-Qaida and the militias. Finally, of course, there is the economic recovery.

Also, while many on the right argue that the Anbar Awakening and Sadr ceasefire are the results of the surge, that line of argument doesn’t really really hold up. Kevin Drum has the timeline:

  • February 2006: Muqtada al-Sadr orders an end to execution-style killings by Mahdi Army death squads.
  • August 2006: Sadr announces a broad ceasefire, which he has maintained ever since.
  • September 2006: The Sunni Awakening begins. Tribal leaders, first in Anbar and later in other provinces, start fighting back against al-Qaeda insurgents.
  • March 2007: The surge begins.

Spencer Ackerman and Matt Yglesias further point why this line is bullshit.

Spencer Ackerman asks the press corps to recognize that “this is completely fucking wrong” and points to then-Colonel, now-General Sean MacFarland explaining the origins of the awakening to UPI’s Pam Hess on September 29, 2006. That was a bit over a month before the midterm elections. The surge wasn’t announced until after the elections and wasn’t actually implemented until long after MacFarland gave the interview. And presumably the events he was describing happened before the interview itself.

This specific timing issue aside, we can see here the larger point that McCain doesn’t actually seem to know what the surge was. But the surge troops were overwhelmingly sent to increase the level of manpower in Baghdad (i.e., not where the Anbar Awakening happened) and almost certainly (along with a tactical shift to more of a population protection mission) deserves credit for reducing the bloodshed in Baghdad by stabilizing the borders between now-segregated neighborhoods. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that it had nothing to do what happened in Anbar, but it wasn’t a major factor, and certainly didn’t make anything happen in September 2006. I note that this isn’t the first time the right has had occasion to appeal to Michael Dummett’s theory of backward causation in their discussion of Iraq.

McCain really is in a tough spot here. He has to run on the surge, whatever the reality is. So, while the surge helped, the improvement in the security situation in Iraq has come from a lot of other things too. McCain can’t seem to acknowledge that, but it’s awfully rich to attack Obama for pointing out reality.

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Turns Out, Maliki Said It Afterall

So, after the Maliki government, through the occupation authority, tried to claim “mistranslation” on his Obama/timeline comments, it turns out they were full of shit. Not only was the translator for the interview Maliki’s, but the New York Times has gotten the audio and confirmed Maliki’s comments.

“Unfortunately, Der Spiegel was not accurate,” Mr. Dabbagh said Sunday by telephone. “I have the recording of the voice of Mr. Maliki. We even listened to the translation.”

But the interpreter for the interview works for Mr. Maliki’s office, not the magazine. And in an audio recording of Mr. Maliki’s interview that Der Spiegel provided to The New York Times, Mr. Maliki seemed to state a clear affinity for Mr. Obama’s position, bringing it up on his own in an answer to a general question on troop presence.

The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki’s comments by The Times: “Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.”

He continued: “Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.”

So, just to be clear. Comment as originally reported in Der Spiegel and as translated by Maliki’s guy:

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.

Comment as translated by the Times:

“Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.”

Not exactly the same, but the ideas are. Unsurprisingly, both the White House and McCain’s camp are full of shit on this. McCain put all of his eggs in the mistranslation/misunderstanding basket.

In an interview, Scheunemann dismissed the idea that events abroad had shifted the debate in ways that favor Obama. He also said McCain stood be his 2004 remarks, and that “if the sovereign Iraqi government wants our troops out, our troops will leave. They have not said that.”

Maliki’s comments to der Spiegel were only “inartful,” Scheunemann said.

“If they’re going to go after inartful statements, we can have that debate,” he quipped, noting Obama’s past equivocations on such issues as the Washington, D.C., gun ban and status of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

This is now a long way from “inartful statements.” Maliki brought Obama up and said that “he who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.” That doesn’t seem inartful, unless your definition of inartful is “saying something that hurts us.” That seems like Maliki knew what he was doing and said it anyways.

A White House spokesman, quoted in the Times piece, claimed that

Scott M. Stanzel, a White House spokesman with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., said that embassy officials explained to the Iraqis how the interview in Der Spiegel was being interpreted, given that it came just a day after the two governments announced an agreement over American troops.

“The Iraqis were not aware and wanted to correct it,” he said.

That bullshit spin is directly contradicted by an AP article from yesterday

Confusion over the Iraqi prime minister’s seeming endorsement of Barack Obama’s troop withdrawal plan is part of Baghdad’s strategy to play U.S. politics for the best deal possible over America’s military mission.

The goal is not necessarily to push out the Americans quickly, but instead give Iraqis a major voice in how long U.S. troops stay and what they will do while still there.

It also is designed to refurbish the nationalist credentials of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who owes his political survival to the steadfast support of President Bush. Now, an increasingly confident Iraqi government seems to be undermining long-standing White House policies on Iraq.

. . .

“Let’s squeeze them,” al-Maliki told his advisers, who related the conversation to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The squeeze came July 7, when al-Maliki announced in Abu Dhabi that Iraq wanted the base deal to include some kind of timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. The prime minister also proposed a short-term interim memorandum of agreement rather than the more formal status of forces agreement the two sides had been negotiating.

Hmmmm . . . It seems Maliki knows exactly what he is doing. Contrary to any idiot who thinks this thing may “help McCain” (?!?!?!?!?!), it sure seems like Maliki has just given Barack Obama a gigantic helping hand.

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We Asked Him To

Not only is Nouri al-Maliki’s walkback unconvincing and pretty hollow, now comes word that he only issued it after the US Embassy in Iraq asked him to.

But after the Spiegel interview was published and began generating headlines Saturday, officials at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad contacted Maliki’s office to express concern and seek clarification on the remarks, according to White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

This is seeming to be a tougher and tougher sell for the White House.

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McCain Chooses Empire

Just last week, John McCain’s advisers were saying:

“John McCain has always been clear that American forces operate in Iraq only with the consent of that country’s democratically elected government,” Michael Goldfarb, a McCain spokesman, told the Huffington Post.

Now, after Maliki’s bombshell that he agrees with Barack Obama, McCain has this to say:

“His domestic politics require him to be for us getting out,” said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The military says ‘conditions based’ and Maliki said ‘conditions based’ yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders.”

Leaving aside the obvious idiocy of claiming that Maliki’s statement was only for domestic political consumption (But as an aside, why would Maliki say this to a German newspaper if it were only to placate domestic politics? I have a feeling Der Spiegel isn’t all that well read in Iraq.), this is McCain’s camp saying that the American military occupation matters more as to what we do in Iraq than the supposedly sovereign government. Sure, we could continue to occupy Iraq if we really wanted to, it’s not as though the Iraqi army could kick us out. But staying there because American military generals want to, over the objections of the local government, is just imperialism. There really is no other way to put it.

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Maliki Embraces Obama

“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.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

John McCain is suddenly is a very tough position. In the campaign thus far he has taken two positions on Iraq. One, that a timeline such as that proposed by Barack Obama would be “setting a date certain for surrender,” and secondly, that if the Iraqi’s ask us to leave we will. Now, McCain is in the impossible position of having to either admit that he envisions the US in Iraq as a long-term, imperial force, staying on in defiance of the local population and sovereign government of Iraq, or embracing the withdrawal timeline that Obama layed out 18 months ago, at the beginning of the campaign, a postion that McCain has characterized as “wanting to lose.”

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Not a Timeline, but Sounding a lot like Obama

TUCSON, July 18 — President Bush and Iraq’s prime minister have agreed to set a “time horizon” for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq as security conditions in the war-ravaged nation continue to improve, White House officials said here Friday.

The agreement, reached during a video conference Thursday between Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, marks a dramatic shift for the Bush administration, which for years has condemned any talk of timetables for withdrawal.

But Maliki and other Iraqi leaders in recent weeks have begun demanding firm withdrawal deadlines from the United States. Bush said earlier this week that he opposes “arbitrary” timetables but was open to setting an “aspirational goal” for moving U.S. troops to a support role.

So, a “time horizon” is apparently different than a timeline, but this sounds an awful lot more like Obama’s Iraq policy than McCain’s. In reality, this sure seems like it is being driven by Maliki, who realizes that his constituents really would like the US to leave sooner rather than later, as opposed to Bush, who has always vociferously opposed this kind of move.

It will be interesting to see how McCain responds to this. McCain’s foreign policy platform thus far in the general has largely consisted of “Don’t surrender (read, withdraw any troops at all) in Iraq” and “Don’t negotiate with dictators.” In the past week Bush has now completely undercut that platform. He’s set a “time horizon” in Iraq and sent high ranking officials to negotiate with Iran. How does McCain respond to his foreign policy being mooted by Bush?

On the Obama side this couldn’t be timed better. He’s scheduled to head to Iraq this week, as well as to Europe and Israel, and this can’t come at a better time. Obama will meet with Iraqi leaders, who just embraced his position, and General Petraeus, who had to have signed off on this, putting Obama in a great position. Now, instead of meeting with officials who are publicly opposed to his position, he will be talking about to how to implement his plans, which aren’t substantively different from theirs.

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