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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Game Changer II

Obama and Maliki shake hands

Monday, I did something I don't normally do. I gave the Bush administration, John McCain, the mainstream media, and various neocons the benefit of the doubt. After seven years of lies, propaganda, and straight-up BS, none of them deserve it. In a post I called "The Game Changer," I pretty much treated a statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the same way the press had -- it was a mistranslation. Not that I bought that -- in fact, I noted that the "mistranslation" denial came after Maliki was pressured by the White House and that denial didn't come from Maliki's office, but through US Central Command (CENTCOM). After that, I pretty much let it slide.

Of course, that's because -- for the sake of my argument -- it didn't matter whether or not Maliki had actually endorsed Barack Obama's plan for Iraq or not. For a long period of time, there was no denial and, during that period, Team McCain basically said that what Iraq wanted didn't matter. "...voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders," a McCainster was quoted as saying. I did what I always do; I called a spade a spade and pointed out that this was imperialism.

It turns out I didn't need to be so cautious. Maliki said what he said and he meant it. Juan Cole, has the statement, originally published in the German magazine Der Spiegel:

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. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business. But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want.

Seems pretty cut and dried to me. Given the broader context, it's hard to see how a mistranslation could possibly change the meaning. In fact, Cole has info that casts the "mistranslation" line in doubt. In dispelling the "Obama is right" comment, the US used a stooge.

-Continued after the jump-

Ali al-Dabbagh, who is usually described as al-Maliki's spokesman but actually seems to work for the CENTCOM or Pentagon Middle East command, was trotted out to make vague statements about Der Spiegel's having mistranslated or misinterpreted what al-Maliki said. This denial was issued through CENTCOM! When the original demand came from al-Maliki for a timetable for US withdrawal, it was al-Dabbagh who reinterpreted it as a 'time horizon.' Al-Dabbagh was contradicted by National Security Counsellor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, who seems actually closer in this thinking to al-Maliki. My guess is that al-Dabbagh has been recruited by some agency in Washington, DC, to explain away al-Maliki's statements whenever they contradict Bush's.

When it comes to the words of Nouri al-Maliki, what we seem to be getting has been run through a filter at the Ministry of Propaganda -- a sanitized version that the Bush administration finds more digestible.

In fact, what we're witnessing is an attempt to cover up an embarrassment that happened right out there in the open, in front of anyone, on the world stage. Thanks to a media who are either amazingly compliant or astoundingly lazy, it seems to be working.

And this isn't the only evidence that Maliki said exactly what he was reported to have said. "It was a move aimed at ingratiating the Shiite ruling majority in Baghdad with the man they expect to win the November presidential election," writes Eli Lake in The New York Sun.

"The matter was taken up at a meeting of Iraq's National Security Council on Thursday on the recommendation of Mr. Maliki, who had been advised by the Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi to express public support for the Obama withdrawal plan," Lake tells us. "Asked for a comment yesterday, Mr. Chalabi, an old hand at working the American political process to the advantage of Iraq, conveyed a statement via his Washington representative, Francis Brooke: 'This is an honor I will not claim and a rumor I will not deny.'"

Not that Ahmed Chalabi's the most trustworthy person on Earth. After all, it was Chalabi who supplied a lot of the BS that excused the invasion of Iraq. The man is scum of the very lowest order. In fact, if I stepped in a pile of Ahmed Chalabi, I wouldn't scrape him off, I'd throw the shoes away. He's the sort of person who makes me wish I believed in Hell. But the story didn't originate with him, it was -- for all intents and purposes -- confirmed by him. The Sun isn't asking us to trust Ahmed Chalabi.

Not that we'd have to. Der Spiegel stands by its story and a writer for DS explained its editorial policy to The New Republic in an email:

The reason the magazine scores so many high level interviews is that the editors agree to allow the subjects to "authorize" the interviews before they go to press. It wasn't just a slip of the tongue, in other words: Maliki not only endorsed Obama's plans for withdrawing from Iraq, but his office then explicitly approved the endorsement before it was printed. The denials, then, were doubly facetious. Spiegel couldn't say so, though, without revealing its embarrassing authorization policy.

There we go. Maliki said it, reviewed it. and signed off on it. Clearly, he said exactly what he was originally reported to have said. The real story here is that Maliki managed to endorse and not endorse Barack Obama at the same time.

So when I was cautious in dealing with a supposedly mistranslated statement, it turns out I didn't need to be. An, in doing so I've proven one of my beliefs correct -- when it comes to the Bush administration, you can never go wrong by refusing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm also proven correct about the media, who have taken this story at face value and moved on. Whether through complicity, laziness, or (my personal belief) a desire to keep the presidential race close enough to generate lots of news stories, the media have left a big story in the dust, unexamined and unreported.

Maliki backed Obama. That's not bad reporting, that's a fact. Not telling that story is bad reporting.


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