“Misunderstood and mistranslated”

Some have made much of an alleged statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to the effect that he agreed with Barack Obama that U.S. troops should withdraw from Iraq on a 16 month timetable. The statement appears in an interview Maliki gave to the German magazine Der Spiegel.

However, a spokesman for Maliki has said that the Prime Minister’s remarks “were misunderstood, mistranslated and not conveyed accurately.” The spokesman explained that the possibility of troop withdrawal was based on the continued improvement of security.

This is the position of the White House as set forth following a meeting last week between Maliki and President Bush. It is also the position of John McCain. Obama’s position (to the extent he has a consistent one) is different. He favors withdrawal pursuant to a timetable without regard to whether security continues to improve, though he might be willing to push back the exit date a bit.

As Max Boot explains, Maliki’s nebulous call for a “time horizon” for our departure, made by a politician attempting to navigate his way through Iraqi politics, is not the same thing as a call for the U.S. to be out of Iraq in 16 months, give or take, regardless of the situation on the ground. Nor is it the same thing as a call for the U.S. to begin effectuating such a pull-out.

JOHN adds: It also appears that Der Spiegel has published two different versions of the Maliki interview. In the first one, the exchange went like this:

SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?

Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned. US presidential candidate Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months. Assuming that positive developments continue, this is about the same time period that corresponds to our wishes.

Spiegel apparently dropped that key qualifier from its Maliki quote after it was first published. Spiegel is a pretty hard-core left-wing publication, and its attitude toward our election is summed up pretty well on the cover its current issue, featuring the “Superstar” Barack Obama:

ROSPANZ20080300001-312.jpg

This is sort of a teapot tempest, I think. It’s easy to understand why Maliki wants to be seen as pressing for the departure of U.S. troops, now that things are going well. Further, it’s entirely reasonable for the Bush administration to be talking to Iraq’s government about a plan for withdrawing American troops. In fact, it would be rather absurd, given the progress now being made, not to do so. But there is an important difference between setting an arbitrary deadline for ridding ourselves of Iraq (or vice versa) regardless of conditions there, and drawing down troops–as everyone wants to do–as it becomes possible to do so because we have won.

The even more important point is that Obama has been demanding a more or less immediate withdrawal from Iraq since at least October 2005. If his counsel had been followed then, or at any time up to the present, the results would have been disastrous. It is only because Obama’s defeatist position did not prevail, and the administration instead implemented the opposite strategy as urged by John McCain, that it is now reasonable to talk about withdrawing most or all troops by late 2009.

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