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July 19, 2008

Comments

I wait for the Son of Cain (mis)quoting the late Erich Honecker:
"The [Berlin] Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not removed."
Just replace "wall" with "war" or "our troops in Iraq".
And like that unlamented commie gerontocrat, he is likely to be right in any case (i.e. depending on what you think the reasons are)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a German magazine he supported prospective U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's proposal…

I mentioned it yesterday, and will repeat it now. John McCain should be distributing Obama stickers, signs, and buttons in Sadr City. This should be done immediately. It would make for better imagery than the Mexicans running through the streets of Los Angeles waving their flags.

He would win the election.

This should be a watershed moment in the campaign. Just as McCain is rushing to copy Obama's policy on Afghanistan, the president of Iraq sides with Obama, too.

Also, hilzoy, sorry to be showing up with nitpicky corrections, but that's Karen Tumulty's post at Swampland, not Joe Klein.

I can hardly wait to see what happens when Obama hits Iraq this coming week. Will Maliki meet with him? Will they make a joint statement?

The press isn't going to be able to ignore it, especially not with all three network anchors tagging along on Obama's little field trip. So the question remains...how will they try to spin this so that it comes out as good for McCain? Fox and AP will be the outlets to watch as they are the most openly partisan.

Two general comments, irrespective of the merits of al-Maliki's, Obama's, McCain's, or my position on withdrawal on Iraq:

1. Consistent with my past criticism of Bush for being too close to al-Maliki, it has never been clear to me that al-Maliki's insterests are consistent with (a) are interests, (b) the interests of our allies, (c) regional stability, or (d) the interests of Iraq as a whole.

2. I agree with Brick Oven Bill that the negative counterreaction to al-Maliki's endorsement will likely swamp the initial, positive reaction. I don't think that this helps Obama in the long run (although it might of course).

are interests = our interests

Ambinder:

"Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, "We're fucked." No response yet from the McCain campaign, although here's what McCain said the last time Maliki mentioned withdrawal: "Since we are succeeding, then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. And I’m confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about, since he has told me that for many meetings we’'ve had.""

it has never been clear to me that al-Maliki's insterests are consistent with (a) are interests, (b) the interests of our allies, (c) regional stability, or (d) the interests of Iraq as a whole.

Quite possibly not, in general: but in this particular incident, given that everyone except George W. Bush and his loyal supporters knows that the withdrawal of the US occupation from Iraq is consistent with (a) American interests, since Dunkirque is a far better model to live by than Thermopylae (b) the interests of US allies (c) regional stability (d) the interests of Iraq as a whole, I'm at a loss to know what your point is here. Unless it's that, now you've decided to support McSame, you've lost track of why Bush was such a disaster area President?

incident=instance

I could certainly be wrong, Hilzoy, but, for now, I'll stick to my guns that Ambinder and his unnamed McCain confidant lack imagination.

All due respect, Jes, but every movie I've seen about Dunkirk was boring. Spartans make all the difference. ^.^

Thrilled to see broad agreement across the board from everyone but the thirty-per-centers that the U.S. should, as soon as George W. Bush leaves office, begin a withdrawal with the firm aim of completing it in sixteen months.

Now those of us who are serious about ending the occupation for real can devote ourselves to winning broad public support for the idea of U.S. troops and contractors leaving Iraq completely, with only a normal embassy-guarding batch of Marines (hopefully guarding something other than the moated base that is the new "embassy").

Best of luck, von and B.O.B., with your "scary brown people want it, so we're against it" campaign plan.

I've expressed plenty of reservations about Maliki and his allies in the Supreme Council myself, having to do with their narrow sectarianism and willingness to support a carving-up of Iraq. But on this withdrawal issue Maliki is in agreement with all the other major forces in (Arab) Iraqi society.

Possibly that little bit of gangsta action a few weeks ago in which U.S. special forces choppered down next to his sister's house and murdered one of her guards (a cousin of Maliki's) was just a little over the top as a negotiating tactic. If so, you've got to like the instant karma.

John McCain should be distributing Obama stickers, signs, and buttons in Sadr City... He would win the election.

That's a great campaign line: "The American people don't want us there, the Iraqi people don't want us there, but I, John McCain want us there so we're staying my friends! Friends? Friends??? Where'd everybody go???


Nell: I have my disagreements with von, but I can't see what he's ever said to deserve this:

"scary brown people want it, so we're against it"

The WH press release of the Reuters story may be based on the same sort of calculation evident in BOB's and von's posts. But that seems to ask the press to overlook all the high-minded hooey about the sovereign, elected government of Iraq.

Nothing so low as a bought politician who won't stay bought, is there?

Von explicitly predicts the reaction to this news to play out as B.O.B. says. For the life of me, I can't see what such a response on the part of Americans could be based on except the Muslim bogeyman garbage that the McCain campaign has been doing its share of feeding.

That is, Maliki is a plucky elected leader doing his best as long as he agrees with McCain and Bush. If he sides with Obama... well, you know how those people stick together.

I have to go make sno-cones at the drive-in and will be there until late. I'll check in tomorrow and make whatever apologies seem in line then.

Right now I don't agree that I owe any.

Hilzoy: but I can't see what [von]'s ever said to deserve this: "scary brown people want it, so we're against it"

Perhaps you should re-read his comments in this thread?


Nell: I agree with hilzoy that ""scary brown people want it, so we're against it" is a fairy inapt recap of von's comments - although a fairly accurate synopsis of B.O.B.'s typically snarky crap.

But since you've brought the subject up...
I'm curious as to exactly what von might characterize as the important points relating to:

(a) our interests
(b) the interests of our allies
(c) regional stability
(d) the interests of Iraq as a whole.

And exactly how PM Maliki agreeing with Sen. Obama's proposed timetable for a significant drawdown of US military forces in Iraq might damage said "interests".

Of course, von might be arguing for a 100-year "presence" in Iraq, a la Sen. McCain's often-misconstrued remark, but that's not apparent from his comment.

2. I agree with Brick Oven Bill that the negative counterreaction to al-Maliki's endorsement will likely swamp the initial, positive reaction. I don't think that this helps Obama in the long run (although it might of course).

I hate to say it, but I get the impression that al-Maliki supporting Obama (implicity or explicitly) would be harped on like Hamas's supposed endorsement. At least by the Limbaughs and Hannitys.

Of course we know that he's the PM. But do any of you really think that Limbaugh's listeners know or care about that? All they will hear is some foreign sounding guy likes Obama. And since they're the terrorists...

We can argue about how influential talk radio is, but the point is this is just another chance to imply Obama isn't one of us, he's one of them.

Any extra ammo for the nuts is harmful, its just a question of how much it'll hurt.

It appears that to McCain's supporters, Maliki's statements matter mostly as a demonstration of how far the reconstruction project has to go - we haven't yet built puppets sturdy enough to stick to the script. Once we've got a government in place that can reliably thank us for all our efforts and ask us to please stay for a while more, then Iraq will be in shape. Basically, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Brick Oven Bill wasn't talking about a Maliki endorsement, and I'm not clear on why von thinks he was. The people in Sadr City aren't Maliki's constituency; they're Sadr's, and "scary brown people" is a reasonable summary of how BOB is saying they'll be seen here. von appears to be eliding Sadr City with all of Iraq. Offering a *less* nuanced analysis than BOB is, well, not a path I would have chosen myself, and also not consistent with von's past record.

I could certainly be wrong, Hilzoy, but, for now, I'll stick to my guns that Ambinder and his unnamed McCain confidant lack imagination.

I'd simply note that this might not be the best turn of phrase.

it has never been clear to me that al-Maliki's insterests are consistent with (a) are interests, (b) the interests of our allies, (c) regional stability, or (d) the interests of Iraq as a whole.

Yeah, well, who cares. Unless the US wants to stage a coup or something, the only thing that matters is if the Iraqi government/parliament wants the US there or not. The mandate expires December 31st 2008.

"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."

So that's the likely spin. Little brown people can't govern themselves, the government leaders we are supposed to be supporting must be ignored for their own good. Obama is supported by the Iraqi citizens, ie terrorists.

I dunno. The twenty eight percenters will buy it, but they'll buy anything the R party sells. I think that the rest of the country is going to be unwilling to keep fighting when the government WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SUPPORTING tells us to get out.

SO my question is: will our news media cover this? Will anyone off the blogs even notice? Or will katie Couric and pals find something totally inane to yammer about?
(Baghdad seems so normal so safe! Will it hurt Obama's campaign to recognize that the surge is working? It was so much more dangerous when McCain came here! etc etc.)

I'm a little surprised to see anybody supporting Maliki.

After all, less than four months ago, the talk was about

if this leads to the collapse of the current Iraqi regime, and the exit of US forces we'll all be better off.

(Here)

Some said what happened in March was proof of the civil war, and the failure of the surge. Now it appears that it was the beginning of the end of the civil war.

Unless the US wants to stage a coup or something

Um. I know what you mean, but we did stage a coup or something and the current Iraqi government turning against us would just mean one more hostile militia.

DaveC, I don't follow. Maliki had to ask us to leave in order to stay in office a while longer. He might or might not lose his position if we actually leave, but in any case he has to think about today first.

The Dems considered disinviting Maliki to speak to Congress back in 2006, but backed off. Which is a good thing for Obama nowadays.

I'd say that Maliki is a skilled politician who has as his top priority the interests of Iraqis in general. He didn't want US withdrawal two years ago and is OK with it now.

Stuff changes a lot in a couple of years.

I don't really care who was right or wrong about the surge. I'm glad that things are better in Baghdad. I do think that out of respect for the dead and the exiled that there should be no triumphalism over the decrease in violence since it was achieved by cleansing the capital of nearly all of the Christian population and a good sized hunk of the Sunnis. Ethnic cleansing isn't something to celebrate.

But that's not the point.
The point is McCAin can't have it both ways. He says we are winning. He says we have to stay indefinately.

But,if we are winning, why can't we plan our departure?


Becaiuse McCAin's defination of winning means permenent bases and a pupet government in Iraq.

Problem is those terms are not accdeptable to the Iraqis.

So, if we stay against the wishes of the Iraqi people and their government, then we are no longer fighting for Iraq. We would be fighting against Iraqi for the purpose of establishing permenent bases and a puppet government.

How many voters are going to support a war against the government we just spent all these years and all these lives to create?

After all, less than four months ago, the talk was about

if this leads to the collapse of the current Iraqi regime, and the exit of US forces we'll all be better off.

(Here)

On the contrary, you quote one guy, Frank. "The talk" turns out to be "Frank's talk." Take it up with him.

"The Dems considered disinviting Maliki to speak to Congress back in 2006,"

Indeed. Why? Funny, you don't say. Let's go to your own linked story, from Fox:

[...] Al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, was quoted in The New York Times and elsewhere calling Israel the aggressor in the conflict with Hezbollah, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed terror group that has been launching rockets at Israel from civilian communities in southern Lebanon.
But, gosh, DaveC, you're the great defender of Israel, ever ready to accuse everyone else of being an antisemite, and insufficiently willing to defend Israel. But here, suddenly, you're not. Why is that?
"The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” al-Maliki is quoted in the paper as saying last Wednesday during a news conference in Baghdad. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

House Democrats on Monday crafted a letter to Hastert urging him to cancel the speech by al-Maliki to the chamber. The letter, which was being circulated for signatures, argues that if the Iraqi leader's positions are at odds with U.S. foreign policy goals then he should not be given the honor of giving an address from the speaker's podium.

So, you're suddenly not willing to stand up for Israel against that kind of thing, eh, DaveC? Kinda tactically inconsistent, aren't you? Or did you approve of Maliki's attacks on Israel's aggression?

Do please clarify which it is, will you?

In recent months there have been extensive reports indicating that al-Maliki and many in the Iraqi leadership are increasingly influenced by the government in Iran. Further, they have expressed support of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, the latter of which was responsible for the death of 241 United States Marines in Beirut. The House should not allow an address from any world leader who has taken such action," the letter reads.

"We are unaware of any prior instance where a world leader who actively worked against the interests of the United States was afforded such an honor. We urge you to cancel the address," the letter concludes.

On Tuesday, asked specifically about his remarks, al-Maliki did not answer a question about his position on Hezbollah.

So, DaveC, nice of you to stand up for Hezbollah and Hamas, your good buddies.

Inconsistent, but there you are. Either the Democrats are good defenders of Israel against your buddies, Hezbollah, Hamas, and al-Maliki, or you're for Israel, and against those terrible Islamic fundamentalists, those guys supported by Iran, the ones in power in Iraq, the Iraqi government of Dawa and SCII.

This is about the usual level of sophistication you make your usual accusations at, so I thought putting in these terms might make you more comfortable. But it's all so confusing, isn't it?

So: who are the good guys whose side you are on here, DaveC? Please do clarify. Is it the Islamic fundamentalists, or the Democratic Party?

Here, have some aspirin.

I'd say that Maliki is a skilled politician who has as his top priority the interests of Iraqis in general.

Let me understand you here- you'd say that Maliki's priories are the well-being and future prosperity of 1)the Sadrists and 2)the Sunnis (among others, of course)? Those are some pretty big chunks of Iraqi society. And his actions towards those groups have not inspired in me a belief in his desire for their future well-being.

My read of the situation has Maliki's top priorities somewhere between staying in power and working to benefit his particular consituencies (ie the United Iraqi Alliance, and Dawa in particular).

Nitpick all you want, but DaveC is right: as Maliki has shifted his position towards withdrawal, the left and the right side of the political spectrum have shifted their position towards Maliki - this should be rather unsurprising. It ain't pretty, but it's politics.

novakant: I don't think a lot of Maliki particularly. I think the importance of his saying this, in terms of US politics, doesn't turn much on my opinion of him. He's the head of Iraq; he just said that Obama's allegedly unrealistic and naive plan is what he wants; he therefore forces us to ask: (a) if the Iraqis don't want us there, what are we doing there? (here he's a sort of stand-in for Iraqi popular opinion) and (b) is McCain prepared to stay even if we don't want him? (here he's the head of state.) He also vastly complicates the 'Obama is clueless' story, which is crucial to McCain's story about why he's the better candidate.

More later.

Nell:

Best of luck, von and B.O.B., with your "scary brown people want it, so we're against it" campaign plan.

First: I never said this.

Second: I never implied this.

Third: To the extent that B-O-B meant to imply this, I hereby reject and denounce the notion (or is it "denounce and reject"?)

Fourth: The American electorate does not like being told what to do by anyone, whether France, Iraq, etc. As you may have noted during the last eight years, this sometimes causes the American electorate to react poorly to good advice -- e.g., on immigration reform. (I favor letting more "brown people" into the country, as you so charmingly put it).

von

It's perfectly fine to criticize the Iraqi government and one certainly isn't obligated to like its representatives. It's also fine to support the Iraqi government when it shifts its position towards one's own.

What is a bit contradictory, though, is that opponents of the US occupation have for a long time criticized the Iraqi government for not being representative of the will of the Iraqi people, but then, after it has shifted its position regarding the occupation, to claim that this same government now expresses the will of the Iraqi people.

He also vastly complicates the 'Obama is clueless' story, which is crucial to McCain's story about why he's the better candidate.

This is where I'm not sure. (Note, by the way, that Maliki is already saying that his views were "misunderstood, mistranslated and not conveyed accurately" in this report.) That's predictable: even if this statement reflects his beliefs, he can't know for sure who he'll be dealing with in '09. He can't be seen as favoring Obama at this stage.

Here's how I see it playing out:

1. Obama and his supporters play this up hard. (Already happened.)

2. Maliki walks back from this remark, cutting the rug out from under Obama and his supporters. (Starting to happen.)

3. Maliki says something favorable about McCain's views, mostly likely in praise of the "surge." (Hasn't happened yet, to my knowledge.)

4. Obama is damaged in three ways: (1) he voted against the surge; (2) he seemed to accept the endorsement of a foreign leader on an American political question (problematic for the reason identified above); (3) his reaction feeds into the naive thread.

Again, it could play out differently -- but I'll go out on a limb at this point.

I'd simply note that this might not be the best turn of phrase.

It was intentional, LJ.

I'm curious as to exactly what von might characterize as the important points relating to:

(a) our interests
(b) the interests of our allies
(c) regional stability
(d) the interests of Iraq as a whole.

I don't have enough time today to get into this in full, but suffice to say: Maliki represents (and originally found his support in) SIIC (previously, SCIRI), which represents the Shia establishment. He has recently cut some sort of deal with Sadr (another Shia figure), the terms of which are unclear.

It's not clear that SIIC/Sadr fairly represent a substantial majority of the Shia, but let's assume that they do and let's further assume (against instinct) that the deal with Sadr is largely benign. There are three other substantial minority groups in Iraq that are more-or-less in opposition to SIIC/Sadr: the nonreligious and/or unaligned, the Sunni, and the Kurds. Here's my question: If the US pulls out, is Maliki more or less likely to deal justly with these other ethnic minorities?

The fact that no deal has been done on power sharing, oil, etc., may have something to do with the fact that certain members of the Shia majority think that they can get a better deal in their favor after the US leaves.

novakant: but then, after it has shifted its position regarding the occupation, to claim that this same government now expresses the will of the Iraqi people.

The only claim being made is a correct one. By shifting its position regarding the occupation, the Iraqi government does now express the will of the Iraqi people on this issue.

No one is now embracing Maliki in general who was critical of him before. All the flaws of the Dawa-Supreme Council faction remain intact, and it will take words, not actions, to demonstrate that they are willing to give ground on the much tougher issues blocking Iraqi unity and reconciliation.

Nevertheless, this statement is positive for the reasons Hilzoy outlines in the comment just above.

von: that all depends on the credibility of the walkback, which I think was inevitable.

In this case, it's completely non-specific (what bits were allegedly misrepresented?), doesn't quote Maliki as having said anything, and was -- my favorite detail -- released by CentCom.

I think the bigger reason to worry about this having no effect is that a lot of media outlets are ignoring it. Unlike really important stories, like the imaginary Obama backtrack on Iraq, and the Post's 12-part running series on Chandra Levi.

Von: 1. Obama and his supporters play this up hard. (Already happened.)

Another possible explanation for the White House mass press release of the story -- to set Obama up for the scenario Von envisions.

But 2. (Maliki claims mistranslation) is pretty weak, for reasons Kevin Drum gets across well:

Then they followed this up by leaning on Maliki to retract, an effort made clumsily transparent by releasing the Iraqi statement via the U.S. military's Central Command press office.

The retraction claimed that Maliki's comments were "were misunderstood, mistranslated and not conveyed accurately," which might be plausible if there were only a single sentence in question. However, how likely is it that Spiegel mistranslated three separate comments? Here are the relevant excerpts from the interview:

Today, we in Iraq want to establish a timeframe for the withdrawal of international troops — and it should be short.

....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.

....Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic....The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.

Hilzoy, I agree that the alleged Obama backtrack is a waste of paper, but the Chandra Levy story does deserve a thorough investigation. Would you agree that what happened was horrendous, might be part of a serial killing, and does merit more indepth imvestigation and discussion? It seems to me that the two stories are qualitatively different and lumping them together is unfair.

@von:

I apologize for tarring you with the racism expressed by B.O.B.

I understood you to be predicting/hoping for a popular reaction to the Maliki statement that I couldn't imagine coming from another source than anti-Muslim racism. But you are quite correct that another reliable source of such response is American xenophobia, or chauvinism, or however you want to characterize the attitude of "don't tell us what to do, we give the orders around here."

As McCain fans begin to talk about this in the coming days, be clear: Maliki is not telling Americans what to do, or "endorsing Obama". He's doing something perfectly legitimate, which is expressing Iraqi opinion of the proposals regarding Iraq being offered by the two major candidates.

Oh jeez.

Please disembolden if this doesn't work.

I'm okay with leaving the first sentence of my 10:19 comment in boldface, in that I do owe Von an apology and would like him to see it.

But the rest...

The American electorate does not like being told what to do by anyone, whether France, Iraq, etc.

I always wondered why the slogan "Yankee go home" never seemed to produce the desired response. Still, it seems a bit much that an ally is expected to keep his opinions on the presence of troops in "his" country to himself, for fear his remarks might be construed as interference in American politics.

Don't worry about it at all, Nell.

Still, it seems a bit much that an ally is expected to keep his opinions on the presence of troops in "his" country to himself, for fear his remarks might be construed as interference in American politics.

Kevin, cosmic notions of right and wrong really don't enter into it (nor is this a uniquely American thing).

The only claim being made is a correct one.

I'm not really disputing this, just saying that it might have been wiser in the past not to to try so hard to delegitimize the freely elected officials of another country.

Still, it seems a bit much that an ally is expected to keep his opinions on the presence of troops in "his" country to himself, for fear his remarks might be construed as interference in American politics.

Very true, and sadly indicative of the fact that Iraq still seems to be viewed as a US fiefdom.

I think the bigger reason to worry about this having no effect is that a lot of media outlets are ignoring it.

They're doing you a favor, Hilzoy.

The fact that Kevin Drum (and other Obama supporters) can point to reasons why the walkback isn't credible misses the point. No matter what Maliki originally said, he will make his current position clear and that current position will be reinforced every time someone asserts that he might have said something the opposite in the past. Moreover, the more you latch on his inconsistency, the stronger his (predicted by me) pro-McCain statement will become.

I don't think that this is a watershed event for either side. Don't believe the hype.

Von, what precisely is a "cosmic" notion of right and wrong? And why should ideas of right and wrong not apply?

Von, I doubt that Maliki will go anywhere near endorsing McCain. How would his coalition react to support for an ongoing occupation, bases and all the generally disliked apparatus of American empire? Polls of Iraqis have consistently shown that "Yankee go home" is an extremely popular way of thinking.

Maliki will offer, at most, variations on "his" tepid line about mistranslation, which will be generally understood as "I said it, but can't quite say that I said it". This is refuted by the whole trend of the interview, which makes quite clear that he prefers the way Obama thinks. Der Spiegel hardly mistranslated all of it - and so the "lost in translation" line just doesn't cut it.

Overall, your vision of the escalating walkback is simply not plausible, because it ignores Maliki's political commitments at home. Maliki has no interest in looking like an American puppet. That would be the most self-destructive choice he could make.

I always wondered why the slogan "Yankee go home" never seemed to produce the desired response.

The slogan works a bit better when it is articulated by the head of an ostensibly friendly government of the country in which American troops are located, rather than being simply scribbled on a wall.

might have been wiser not to to try so hard to delegitimize the freely elected officials of another country.

Sorry, not buying. Freely elected? Sure, the Shia parties were always going to have a majority, but the 2005 elections took place in the aftermath of systematic assaults on Sunni cities, under U.S. occupation, and in a framework set up by the U.S. and its favored officials.

The Supreme Council and Da'wa-run government winked at massive death-squad activities by their own security forces. They have blocked substantial integration of Sunnis into the police and army.

And Maliki himself was installed after the U.S. pressured Jaafari out as PM.

The deligitimizing has been done by the U.S. and the sectarian behavior of the ruling faction; I've just been reporting it.

I welcome Maliki's statement on a short timeline for U.S. withdrawal, which brings him in line with the Iraqi legislature, the other Iraqi parties, and the Iraqi people. But it changes very little about the fundamental legitimacy of his government.

Von, what precisely is a "cosmic" notion of right and wrong? And why should ideas of right and wrong not apply?

Put it this way: Kevin's statement of ideal does not survive conflict with the reality.

Massimo, it won't play that way. Maliki has long been on record as wanting a quick US withdrawal -- he won't walk back from it. (And, as I allude to above, his desires for a US withdrawal may not be at all pure.)

What he will do is say that his was misunderstand. And at some point (I predict) he will say something nice about the surge. That's it -- but that's all that McCain needs.

So, von, if I understand you correctly, you meant to say that Kevin was too idealistic? Why the big talk about "cosmic" right and wrong? And are you suggesting that we might as well discard notions of right and wrong and simply pursue all calculations based on, presumably, self-interest?

@jacksonone: [to von]: why should ideas of right and wrong not apply?

Von will probably want to answer for himself, but I understood him to be saying that ideas of right and wrong have not much to do with how American voters might respond to a given event. Which is true enough.

My 11:06 was supposed to read "the ideal ... the reality" -- my morning try at weak cleverdom.

Or, what Nell said.

Von, why should Maliki have a "pure" view of anything? No-one else does! Also, do you think one or two nice comments about the surge really help McCain compared to a clear rejection of the longterm occupation and multiple bases? I would think that most Americans regard the surge as not particularly glorious, especially in the context of a much-disliked war.

It seems to me that McCain has lost more in this latest war of words than Obama, mostly because he adopted an outdated and foolish vision of foreign policy. Basically, Obama's vision of foreign policy is pretty much intact, while McCain can only cling to "but the surge worked", while losing his longterm program. That's pretty thin gruel electorally, especially when you consider that people prefer Obama on the economy, which is generally the number one issue in polls.

Nell, I think you are precisely wrong on this point. American voters always adopt a right or wrong position - but simply assume that right = their own, rather unreflective vision of America. I don't think you'll find too many relativists or adherents of realpolitik among the populace. The same is true in other countries, of course!

von: well, I suppose we'll see in the fulness of time.

Sorry, not buying. Freely elected?

Bush wasn't elected at all, but put in power by the judiciary. That said, there weren't any death squads in Florida, so it kind of balances out. You have to deal with what you've got.

Sorry, not buying. Freely elected?

Well, it's a relative concept. Sadr (as an example) might legitimately complain that US interference means Maliki's government wasn't "freely elected." The US can hardly make that complaint, however. It's like the parricide asking for mercy because he's a poor orphan.

You have to deal with what you've got.

Yes, you do. But you don't have to call it legitimate if it isn't.

it has never been clear to me that al-Maliki's insterests are consistent with (a) [our] interests, (b) the interests of our allies, (c) regional stability, or (d) the interests of Iraq as a whole.

With all respect, von, you're exposing the fatal internal contradictions of the Bush/McCain position on Iraq.

If Maliki's interests aren't consistent with ours, why did we go to so much trouble to install him? And what are we going to do about it now--overthrow him by force? And with whom will we replace him? Sadr? The Baathists?

How can we maintain a pretense of a sovereign, democratic Iraq if we won't go when they ask us to leave? And if we're not interested in at least maintaining a pretense of a sovereign, democratic Iraq, what's in this deal for the Iraqis? And if the answer to that last question is, "nothing," then how can we hope to keep Iraq peaceful without committing genocide? And if we cannot hope to keep Iraq peaceful without committing genocide, then how is staying in Iraq "consistent with (a) [our] interests, (b) the interests of our allies, (c) regional stability, or (d) the interests of Iraq as a whole"?

This whole mess has been worked out by von's side with all the planning skills of the underpants gnomes. It has never, at any point, made any sense. Say what you will about the Coulter/LGF/BOB idea of global war to the death against all Islamics and other scarey brown people, at least it has a kind of hideous internal logic to it . .

The point is McCAin can't have it both ways. He says we are winning. He says we have to stay indefinately.

But,if we are winning, why can't we plan our departure?

Because "winning", for McCain's side, means "getting to stay in Iraq indefinitely"?

von has a point. If we weren't willing to stay where the locals don't want us, this country wouldn't even exist.

"novakant: I don't think a lot of Maliki particularly. I think the importance of his saying this, in terms of US politics, doesn't turn much on my opinion of him. He's the head of Iraq; he just said that Obama's allegedly unrealistic and naive plan is what he wants; he therefore forces us to ask: (a) if the Iraqis don't want us there, what are we doing there? (here he's a sort of stand-in for Iraqi popular opinion) and (b) is McCain prepared to stay even if we don't want him? (here he's the head of state.)"

Maliki is not the head of state of Iraq. Jalal Talabani, the President of Iraq, and first in the Presidency Council, is the Head of State. Maliki is Prime Minister, which is always head of government.

chief of state: President Jalal TALABANI (since 6 April 2005); Vice Presidents Adil ABD AL-MAHDI and Tariq al-HASHIMI (since 22 April 2006); note - the president and vice presidents comprise the Presidency Council)
head of government: Prime Minister Nuri al-MALIKI (since 20 May 2006); Deputy Prime Minister Barham SALIH (since 20 May 2006); second deputy prime minister positon vacant
cabinet: 34 ministers appointed by the Presidency Council, plus Prime Minister Nuri al-MALIKI, and Deputy Prime Minister Barham SALIH; second deputy prime minister position vacant
elections: held 15 December 2005 to elect a 275-member Council of Representatives

Von: "Fourth: The American electorate does not like being told what to do by anyone, whether France, Iraq, etc."

Actually, most countries are like that. Including, say, Iraq, and their electorate.

Just for the record, since I haven't had occasion to say it before, I think it's entirely possible that the situation in Iraq may indeed be slowly improving, now that the ethnic cleansing is over with, millions of refugees were created, and so on.

When the situation had become so awful, there's less room to continue going down, and more room to go up. If this is happening: great. I'm all for it. If that makes any of my past judgements wrong: great.

Nell: "The only claim being made is a correct one. By shifting its position regarding the occupation, the Iraqi government does now express the will of the Iraqi people on this issue."

Hold on a sec: the "will of the Iraqi people" is obviously at least somewhat mixed, just as it is of the US people, or any people. One can talk about the will of the majority, or a specific percentage of the population, or a particularly strong majority, but that's all; also, wills of people tend to shift with time and circumstance.

But mostly, if one is going to cite "the will of the people," any people, an actual cite is usually in order, and it's best, if it's meant to apply to a current circumstance, that it be as recent a cite as possible.

(In 2004, the "will of the American people" was apparently to still have G. W. Bush as president -- no matter that almost as many Americans disagreed, and no matter that opinion clearly shifted against that in subsequent years.)

"All the flaws of the Dawa-Supreme Council faction remain intact, and it will take words, not actions, to demonstrate that they are willing to give ground on the much tougher issues blocking Iraqi unity and reconciliation."

I'm guessing you meant "actions, not words," instead.

But you don't have to call it legitimate if it isn't.

No, but if the government truly illegitimate, then a good democrat is obliged to stop paying taxes and start a revolt or something. Illegitimacy is a strong word, maybe credibility is better in this case.

Maliki is not the head of state of Iraq.

True, but generally the heads of state in systems comparable to Iraq (it varies slightly) aren't terribly important to the political decision making process. I'm sure everybody here has heard of Merkel, but very few would know the name of Germany's head of state (Horst Köhler). And while everybody knows Elizabeth II, it's not because of her political influence.

"True, but generally the heads of state in systems comparable to Iraq (it varies slightly) aren't terribly important to the political decision making process."

Perfectly true, of course. "Parliamentary systems" may be the phrase you're looking for, as opposed to strong-President systems. (Or Supreme Leader systems.)

@Gary: re "will of the Iraqi people": I was following novakant in my phrasing. I assumed that it would be read as "a majority of Iraqi public opinion".

The two Iraqi legislators who testified in June before Rep. Delahunt's committee brought with them a letter signed by legislators representing a majority of the Iraqi parliament -- it demanded a timeline for withdrawal.

This demand accorded with polls of Iraqis in 2005 and 2006 that showed big majorities supporting a timeline of 2 years or less for U.S. withdrawal. (The winning party of the 2005 elections, the Shiite block UIA, campaigned on a platform of ending the occupation. Democratic voters who thought their candidates were serious about ending the occupation and reining in executive power can sympathize.)

A more recent poll from last September had a plurality (47%) for immediate withdrawal, the highest that measure's ever been. There is a 2008 poll showing a seventy-plus percentage favoring a fairly short timeline for withdrawal, but I can't find it right now.

more -- too many links for the first comment. Gary's right, four links is okay.

Here's a good overview of Iraqi attitudes toward the occupation and U.S. forces over the last four years.

Want cites for the idea that a strong majority of the U.S. public wants troops out of Iraq? Go here.

"There is a 2008 poll showing a seventy-plus percentage favoring a fairly short timeline for withdrawal, but I can't find it right now."

For the record, I wasn't disagreeing; I just think it's very useful to give cites for that sort of thing; tends to pre-empt requests for it, and subsequent arguments somewhat.

"Gary's right"

Of course he is. ;-)

The Jane Mayer/Steve Clemons interview on C-Span's Book Notes I mentioned watching on the other thread was quite good, btw.

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