In the Arena

Why Maliki Doesn’t Support McCain

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Krauthammer has a column today that is absolutely correct about Nouri al-Maliki’s reasons for giving Barack Obama a boost this week…and also revealing about the central absurdity of the McCain-neocon line on Iraq.

Maliki, you see, wants Obama to become President because he’d been an easier mark in the negotiations about the long-term relationship between Iraq and the United States:

McCain, like George Bush, envisions the United States seizing the fruits of victory from a bloody and costly war by establishing an extensive strategic relationship that would not only make the new Iraq a strong ally in the war on terror but would also provide the U.S. with the infrastructure and freedom of action to project American power regionally, as do U.S. forces in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

For example, we might want to retain an air base to deter Iran, protect regional allies and relieve our naval forces, which today carry much of the burden of protecting the Persian Gulf region, thus allowing redeployment elsewhere.

Any Iraqi leader would prefer a more pliant American negotiator because all countries — we’ve seen this in Germany, Japan and South Korea — want to maximize their own sovereign freedom of action while still retaining American protection.

It is no mystery who would be the more pliant U.S. negotiator. The Democrats have long been protesting the Bush administration’s hard bargaining for strategic assets in postwar Iraq.

Imagine that! The Iraqis want to “maximize their own freedom of action.” Conversely, Krauthammer’s pals must want to minimize Iraqi sovereignty. How neocolonial. I’m all for a U.S. military presence in the region, but only in countries that actually want us, which–in the Islamic world of former European colonies–tend to be countries we haven’t invaded and occupied. Maliki’s growth and increasing independence as a statesman has been one of the more surprising events of the past six months. It is excellent news. It makes our departure possible.

This has always been the bright line of the Iraq debate, and remains so: whether to leave or stay once Iraq was stabilized. Those who want to stay have a vision of a U.S. imperium that makes most Americans (and the rest of the world) uncomfortable. It’s good that Krauthammer has laid out the stakes so clearly. Happily, it’s an argument that he’s going to lose.