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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Game Changer

What if we were in the middle of a national election, something happened that changed the game overnight, and the media yawned? I wish that were a hypothetical, but that was the situation this weekend when Iraqi Prime Minister told the German magazine Der Speigel that Obama was right about troop withdrawal.

"Obama is right when he talks about 16 months," Maliki said. "Assuming that positive developments continue, this is about the same time period that corresponds to our wishes."

This was out all over the web Saturday -- I saw it a little before noon. Fun things happened after that...

McClatchy Newspapers:

The White House press office, which usually offers a daily dose of schedules, presidential proclamations and explanations of administration positions, Saturday offered something very different--a Reuters news service story explaining how Iraq's prime minister backed Democrat Barack Obama's troop exit strategy.


White House reporters were sent a story explaining "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a German magazine he supported prospective U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's proposal that U.S. troops should leave Iraq within 16 months. In an interview with Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Maliki said he wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.


ABC News reported that the story was intended for a more select White House audience, not the general press corps, but an employee hit the wrong button.

But that wasn't the game changer. That was just a incompetent White House doing the only thing it does well -- screwing up royally.

-Continued after the jump-

Later, after a call from the White House, Maliki's office released a statement saying he was mistranslated -- without saying what it was he was actually supposed to have said. And did I say Maliki's office released the statement? I'm sorry, that's wrong, it was released through the US Central Command -- at about 1:30 am US Eastern time. Way too late to do anything about the day's worth of news and comment his statement had generated. Maliki apparently felt no urgency in issuing his weak denial. Most observers believe Maliki's statement was both correct and deliberate (DS stands by the story). After all, Maliki let it hang out there for somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 hours -- then pulled it after everyone in the US was done with their news-consuming. Effectively, he let the reporting go on for an entire day.

The Associated Press's Baghdad Bureau chief Robert H. Reid is one of those observers. Noting that Obama was scheduled to visit Iraq, Reid said the comment was meant to "exploit Obama's position on the war to force the Bush administration into accepting concessions considered unthinkable a few months ago."

The problem for the Bush administration is that they aren't negotiating from a position of strength -- they want, Iraq has. The White House has already caved on a timetable for withdrawal, but they aren't calling it that. They use the ridiculous euphamism "a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals." After months and months and months of abusing the English language by using the word "timetable" as if it were synonymous with "schedule," the Bush administration now can't call a timetable a timetable. While Bush and McCain argue that withdrawal would depend on the conditions on the ground, they pretend that that's not what everyone else was saying as well.

"...I come to the floor to talk about why we need a timeframe for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," Russ Feingold said in 2005. "I don’t mean a rigid timetable, nor do I mean a timetable that isn’t connected to clear and achievable benchmarks. What we need is a public, flexible, realistic timetable that will tell people when and how we expect to finish the military mission in Iraq."

This is exactly what the Bush administration has conceded to. Suck it, Bush fans, Russ Feingold came out on top in the end here. Bush is now a cut-and-running surrender-monkey.

But even that's not the game changer. Bush and Feingold and Obama and Maliki are all in agreement against John McCain's position. That's been the new game for about a week. No, the game changer I'm talking about came in Team McCain's first response to Maliki's then-unretracted statement:

Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic:

"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."

In other words, "We don't care about the Iraqi government, we're going to do what we want." Add this to McCain's many flip-flops. When asked about exactly this situation in 2004, McCain said, "Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it’s obvious that we would have to leave because -- if it was an elected government of Iraq -- and we’ve been asked to leave other places in the world."

Yet, when Team McCain believed that Iraq would ask us to leave, they pulled a 180. Why? Simple. McCain needs the war more than the war needs him. This whole thing is winding down. The McCain campaign's response was way too honest to be helpful -- a McCain White House would see the Iraqi government as subservient to American desires. Iraq would be as free and sovereign as they were allowed to be, otherwise they answer to the American Empire. Iraqis be damned.

Another unnamed GOP strategist put things very honestly and succinctly to Marc Ambinder; "We're fucked." Of course, this was before Maliki was pressured to issue the denial. But that strategist's assessment tells us all we need to know about how much power the Iraqi government holds in this election. It also tells you how much power they hold in negotiations -- nearly all of it. Maliki has demonstrated that he can pull the rug out from under McCain and McCain's campaign doesn't seem to realize that. Clueless in America would go before the voters and tell them that the war goes on, despite the fact that Iraqis have moved to stop it.

Man, is that ever a loser of a message.

But this is the game changer. McCain's campaign has shown an unwillingness to adjust to reality. The war is crumbling beneath him and he has no plan B. In fact, his plan A has been revealed as freakin' awful. He'd keep fighting after the war was over, rather than admit that Obama's plan is better.

The media, as they always do, have skipped over this unfortunate little reality. They'd rather keep this "tight race" narrative going to keep up their ratings. There's no way they're going to give Team Obama this "Dukakis-in-a-tank" moment from Team McCain. They want to pretend McCain has a chance right down to the wire.

And this won't be the only game changer we'll see this week. Obama's overseas trip is going to swing through Europe. He's a rock star in Europe. Where Bush gets protesters dressed like the Grim Reaper and giant papier-mâché puppets whenever he appears in Europe, Obama's appearances will look more like the second coming of The Beatles. American voters will be reminded of a time when everyone on Earth didn't hate us.

But it should've been that Team McCain had dug their candidate's grave with the assertion that the Iraqi government was irrelevant. It should've been that McCain's own flip-flop on the issue was the clincher. It should've been that the media would serve the public and report the news. It should've been that this election ended this weekend with a gaffe of epic proportions and a dismissive and imperial attitude toward Iraqi sovereignty.

The game should've changed this weekend. In Washington and in the White House, it certainly has. The Iraq war is ending and no one can keep it going. Without it, McCain has nothing.

And, as the occupation of Iraq draws to a close, John McCain's last chance at the presidency does as well. Without the war, Baghdad Johnny is nothing.

Just don't expect the media to tell you that.


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Xigent said...

Really, Wisco, sometimes I wonder about you. We're all entitled to our off days. But this....

How can any emergent, self-governing country not expect to report to the War Departm... er, the Defense Department of the sole proprietors (that would be the Homeland) of the Democracy McModel™? How else does democracy get spread, silly man?

You don't endow an embryonic democracy with a functioning government right off the bat. You must know that. You endow it with a play government, to see how the client sta... er, the liberated country handles a mock-up first.

Have you forgotten how well this strategy worked in Vichy France?

The Decider's Administration rightly recognized that "meeting aspirational goals" can be a tricky affair. Everyone knows that democracies must crawl before they can walk, which means that you begin with the unaspirational goals first and work up to the aspirational goals.

This is especially germane for a country that has been making mistakes all the way back to its first screw-up as one of the Four Great Ancient Civilizations. This nonsense about the place being "the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of writing" and the center of a dozen empires should be dismissed as the crude PR that it was.[*]

That was then; this is a new general time horizon.

If Babylon had been properly managed by a Homeland Command back in 1700 BCE, do you think modern Iraq would have needed a Shock & Awe invasion? If Mesopotamia was so damned great, why did they leave all that oil in the ground?

You also conveniently forget that, thanks to RayGun and Bush41, not to mention Uncle Bill carrying the water for the Contract-on-America Republican Congress and claiming ignorance of the genocide of 800,000 Rwandans, many younger voters don't remember "a time when everyone on Earth didn't hate us."

Have another cuppa, Wisco. Take the afternoon off. Go sun yourself on Bascom Hill.

May your head be clearer tomorrow, man.

- Xigent

Wisco said...

Silly of me, I know.

I think I'll have a lemonade... with a little vodka ;)