PM Maliki undercut McCain's stance on Iraq by embracing Obama's call for short timelines. Obama, a man who narcissim and arrogance clearly outweighs his judgment, has given McCain an incredible gift by denigrating the surge and claiming, incredibly, that his own plan for withdraw might have had the same impact as the surge. In light of all this, McCain can still eviscerate Obama on the issue of judgement, he merely needs to make the focus of his arguments less about Iraq in particular and more about the larger challenges we face.
I am not sure what game Iraq PM Maliki is playing by inserting himself into U.S. politics with his comments in Der Spiegel that, in essence, though unlcear, seem to be an embrace of a 16 month timetable for withdraw of all combat forces from Iraq. Whether or not this was a mistranslation is near meaningless as it has already had whatever impact it will in the U.S. Joshua Pundit speculates that this is an attempt by Maliki to play both ends against the middle in order to extract the maximum concessions from Pres. Bush in a high stakes game of chicken over the SOFA Agreement. It JP is correct, then Maliki has made a foolish move. He would do well to remember what happened to South Vietnman and how that country was treated by its neighbors and the the U.S. after the U.S. withdrew. If you don't recall the story, you can find it in the Arthur Hermann article here.
But Iraq is a sovereign and democratic country. If the elected government at any time asks for us to remove our troops, then out we should go, posthaste. That is not the central point of this post. The question is, how is McCain to regain his footing. The "time horizons for victory" versus "time tables for defeat" is still a valid argument. Even Obama admits that General Petraeus is strongly opposed to time lines as putting all of our gains in Iraq in danger. But because of Maliki, it no longer has the importance to make it alone the decisive issue.
We still have wars going on. There is still the war in Afghanistan. There is still the problem of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan which is only going worse by the day - and which at the moment we are watching from the sidelines. There is still the problem of Iran, which could very easily become a major shooting war. Even if we finish Iraq in uncontested victory and depart that nation, we are still a nation at war.
While Maliki may have undercut McCain, Obama has provided the gift of all gifts - Kerryesque nuance on the surge. Specifically, Obama said that knowing what he knows now, he still would not vote for the surge. He is defending the indefensible. He does so by denigrating the success of the surge, he credits the Anbar Awakening and Sadr's ceasefire as the unforseeable keys to the success in Iraq and he posits that these two acts where unrelated to the U.S. actions in Iraq. Finally, he just throws up his arms saying who knew what would have happened had his plan been followed. I've spelled out the utter gaping holes in Obama's positions here.
Obama could not have given McCain more ammunition. McCain's message needs to transcend Iraq. He needs to shift the focus from 16 months or time horizons in Iraq to a combination of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and the Global War on Terror generally. The arguments will be the same, he merely needs to make them more global - and mine Obama's "nuance" for all it is worth.
As an aside, Americans are hardly a stupid people. Even as the entirity of the MSM has gone in the tank for Obama, the rest of America seems not to be falling in behind the MSM like lemmings. Amazingly, even as the MSM holds a wall to wall Obamathon, the Washington Post is reporting that McCain is significantly closing the gap in major battleground states. If Obama can't improve his numbers under these absolutely most favorable of conditions, he is going to have a lot of problems when the debates come around and McCain is able to finally press him eye to eye for the nation to watch.