It seems to me undeniable that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki provided a huge boost to Obama when he said, "U.S 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."
In recent weeks McCain has been winning the Iraq issue by making Obama seem like a rigid ideologue who would withdraw troops at a reckless pace, regardless of the advice of commanders or facts on the ground, just to satisfy the left. What the Maliki statement does is provide Obama something he can point to coming from somebody who speaks with authority on Iraq, suggesting he isn't so naive by advocating a 16-month timetable.
It's true that Maliki did include the qualifier "assuming that positive developments continue" and the Iraqi government later distanced itself from the the interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel, saying it had "misunderstood and mistranslated" Maliki and that his statement didn't constitute an endorsement.
However, in political season, the nuances may easily get lost, and what Americans are left with is the basic impression that the Iraqi government is getting antsy about the presence of U.S. troops and wants to handle its own security, and that a 16-month timetable seems realistic to them.
With Obama in Iraq, McCain's senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann held a conference call in which he said that Maliki's statement was an "inartful" one that the government later backed away from. Scheunemann compared it to Obama's string of "inartful" statements, such as the "cling to guns and religion" comment.
Scheunemann said he hoped that by meeting with Gen. Petraeus and other commanders for the first time, Obama could come to understand why arbitrary deadlines set without regard to facts on the ground were a bad idea. He also noted that had Obama gotten his way last year, we never would have seen the security improvements we have.
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