In the Arena

What Maliki Means

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The Iraqis have been sending signals for months. They didn’t want long term U.S. bases. They didn’t want U.S. troops acting independently any more. They wanted some sort of drawdown…and now this, which will have different meanings in both Iraq and the United States.

In Iraq, it means that Maliki now feels confident that he is in charge of the government–and that the government’s internal opposition, the Sunni insurgent remnants and the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr don’t have the strength to threaten him (or his Kurdish and Hakim family allies). It may also mean that he feels he has the strength to handle, by inclusion or exclusion, the Sunni Awakening forces that were raised and funded by the U.S. military. It should also be clear that Maliki isn’t commenting on the military viability of a 16 month withdrawal schedule: he has no idea about the logistics or problems involved in removing 130,000 troops and huge amounts of equipment from the theater of battle.

In short, what Maliki is saying is: Please leave, as soon as possible. He may be saying this for local, political reasons, in the runup to the regional Iraqi elections, but he’s saying it.

In the U.S., this is all bad news for the McCain campaign. Yes, McCain was right about the Surge, but that is a small, tactical truth too complicated to be understood by most Americans. Maliki Endorses Obama Withdrawal Plan is a headline everyone can understand. Maliki is also endorsing another position favored by Obama and opposed by McCain: no long-term (100 year) bases.

With this happening in the same week that the Bush Administration not only has agreed to sit down with the Iranians but also (and even more significant) is exploring the possibility of establishing a U.S. diplomatic Interests Section in Tehran, another of McCain’s foreign policy pillars–the nonrecognition of Iran–seems to be cratering as well.

It will be interesting to see how McCain responds to all this. But it does seem that real events in the real world are endorsing Obama’s foreign policy vision, not McCain’s.