Monday, July 21, 2008

What In The World Is Maliki Saying?

PM Maliki's interview with Der Spiegel has now been translated into three different versions. Did Maliki say in the interview that he wanted to see the complete withdraw of U.S. troops from Iraq within sixteen months? Translation one - no. Translation two - maybe. And now the NYT translation three - yes, and Maliki all but endorsed Obama. What is going on?

Before addressing what Maliki said, let's address the current context. We have won the counterinsurgency war in Iraq. For all of the reasons I posted here, it's over. Having called it several days ago, McCain, apparently read my post and followed suit with his own announcement of victory two days later.

Unfortunately, victory in a counterinsurgency does not mean the end to hostilities - just that the enemy is so fragmented and the government sufficiently strong that, so long as the military continues its current clean up operations aimed at pressuring the remnants of the enemy still milling about in the dark corners, the the enemy cannot conduct any sustained operations. That goes for both Iran through its proxies and al Qaeda. If major hostilities restart, and that is still possible over the next few years, it will be a new war. That said, as I wrote in my post assessing victory in the counterinsurgency war:

We will likely see significant force reductions from Iraq over the next several months and I would not be surprised to see force reductions below those of pre-surge levels by September. There is still a mission to keep the remnants of al Qaeda and the Special Groups under constant pressure. And there is a need to maintain significant combat power to dissuade Iran from any unwise moves for the foreseeable future.

So into all of this we have McCain saying we need to drawdown forces based on conditions. We have Obama who wants to "end" the a war that is already won, pulling out all combat brigades on a firm schedule of surrender over sixteen months. And now we have Maliki saying . . . what?

Hot Air captured the initial translation published by Der Spiegel of their interview with Maliki:

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.

Maliki seems to be saying that most U.S. troops can withdraw, predicated on the security situation. I am less sanguine that the situation will allow a drawdown that fast, and it also depends on how you define "most of the U.S. troops." I would hardly call this an embrace of the hard timeline for which Obama has called as part of his plan to declare the Iraq war illegitimate.

That would seem to coincide with this from General Petraeus in an interview given before the Der Spiegel interview was published:

But then there was translation two, also captured at the Hot Air link above. Der Spiegel did a bit of covert midnight editing and, voila, the interview now reads:

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. 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.

Now it appears that Maliki is closer to endorsing the Obama plan, with some lip service being paid to conditions on the ground. That would be significant. But now today we get a third version where Maliki does everything but endorse Obama for President - according to a NYT translation of the still unreleased audio. This from the NYT:

. . . But in Iraq, controversy continued to reverberate between the United States and Iraqi governments over a weekend news report that Mr. Maliki had expressed support for Mr. Obama’s proposal to withdraw American combat troops within 16 months of January. The reported comments came after Mr. Bush agreed on Friday to a “general time horizon” for pulling out troops from Iraq without a specific timeline.

Diplomats from the United States Embassy in Baghdad spoke to Mr. Maliki’s advisers on Saturday, said an American official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss what he called diplomatic communications. After that, the government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, issued a statement casting doubt on the magazine’s rendering of the interview.

The statement, which was distributed to media organizations by the American military early on Sunday, said Mr. Maliki’s words had been “misunderstood and mistranslated,” but it failed to cite specifics.

“Unfortunately, Der Spiegel was not accurate,” Mr. Dabbagh said Sunday by telephone. “I have the recording of the voice of Mr. Maliki. We even listened to the translation.”

But the interpreter for the interview works for Mr. Maliki’s office, not the magazine. And in an audio recording of Mr. Maliki’s interview that Der Spiegel provided to The New York Times, Mr. Maliki seemed to state a clear affinity for Mr. Obama’s position, bringing it up on his own in an answer to a general question on troop presence.

The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki’s comments by The Times: “Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.”

He continued: “Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.”

Mr. Maliki’s top political adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi, declined to comment on the remarks, but spoke in general about the Iraqi position on Sunday. Part of that position, he said, comes from domestic political pressure to withdraw.

Read the entire article. Patterico, commenting on this latest translation, notes:

I trust the New York Times implicitly, which is why I see no reason for them to release the actual audio of the tape, to see if anyone disagrees with their translation. We don’t want to double-check things ourselves; we want to be told what the truth is. And yes, I’m entirely serious about that. (Click the links to see just how serious.)

UPDATE: What is the point? A number of people are making a big deal of the fact that the statement from Maliki’s office was issued by CENTCOM, after the U.S. Government contacted Maliki’s office. It is relevant, then, that Der Spiegel’s original translation contained exactly the part that Maliki’s office insists was left out of the final version — namely, an explicit condition that Maliki’s agreement to a rough 16-month timetable “[a]ssum[es] that positive developments continue.” In other words, Maliki’s support for withdrawal depends on conditions on the ground.

(H/T Instapundit) The actual audio of the interview needs to be made public to clarify what was actually said. Beyond that, Maliki may be playing an incredibly dangerous game indeed. Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that the only thing standing between Iraq as a functioning democracy and Iraq as a sattelite of Iran is the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. While Maliki may be playing for the domestic political scene as it exists today, his politicing could well undermine John McCain and do his country incredible harm in the long run if the U.S. elects as President a man whose central promise has been to declare Iraq an illegitimate war and a defeat. If we are asked to go, we of course should do so. But Maliki may have just bought himself a defeat straight from the jaws of victory.

1 comment:

MK said...

I think it's safe to say the NYT translation is about as trustworthy as the a statement from the father of lies himself.