When the Obama camp thought Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki might be pressing for a firm deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal, they were delighted and insisted the Bush administration come up with a fixed exit schedule. Now that a general understanding based on long term conditions and facts on the ground ( “a general time horizon“) has been reached, Barack Obama is back to threatening and bad-mouthing the Maliki government. In a statement, Obama (in words that sound like they were lifted from 2006) declares:
Now, instead of vague illusions to a ‘general time horizon,’ it’s time to pressure Iraq’s leaders to reach the political accommodation necessary for long-term stability, and to refocus on strengthening our military and finishing the fight in Afghanistan.
Rather than seize on the new understanding as the best possible news (after all didn’t Obama fear John McCain would have us stay in Iraq “indefinitely“?) he plays once again to his base, insisting on “pressuring” the Maliki government. To do what exactly? They have already reached 15 of the 18 benchmarks.
McCain, by contrast, seems pleased as punch, noting this is evidence of the surge’s success and declaring:
When a further conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. forces is possible, it will be because we and our Iraqi partners built on the successes of the surge strategy, which Senator Obama opposed, predicted would fail, voted against and campaigned against in the primary. When we withdraw, we will withdraw with honor and victory. An honorable and victorious withdrawal would not be possible if Senator Obama’s views had prevailed. . . If we had followed Senator Obama’s policy, Iraq would have descended into chaos, American casualties would be far higher, and the region would be destabilized.”
It will be interesting to see what Obama will say to Maliki and what will he hear on his trip. Will Obama tell him what he allegedly told the Iraqi foreign minister (that he won’t abandon the Iraqis or sacrifice gains we have made), or will he read him the New York Times op-ed? And if Maliki, like General Petraeus, tells him that we can’t possibly adhere to Obama’s 16-month timetable, Obama will be faced with the prospect of ignoring him too (or flip-flopping once more).
Again, when you make up your mind in advance, facts and contrary advice have a way of catching up with you. Surely one of those 300 foreign policy staffers must have told him that.