Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, "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." Within hours, U.S. Central Command -- at the behest of a clearly worried White House -- released a statement arguing that Maliki was misquoted through a botched translation. But Monday, Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said that the government was talking about "a timetable which Iraqis set." Asked when that timetable would run out, Dabbagh quickly specified, "2010."
As a result, the positions on Iraq of the Bush administration, the U.S. military and Sen. John McCain, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, now face numerous challenges. The administration's plans for a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq have been profoundly undermined. The military will have to adjust to a strategy of extrication. The McCain campaign is presented with one of its nightmare scenarios: the Iraqi premier embracing the judgment of its opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, which strengthens Obama's bona fides on a national-security issue McCain has largely staked his presidential bid on owning.
The weak link in all this, of course, is the media reporting of the events, which is a genuine X-factor considering their long-time love affair with St. John the Maverick. They've buried his flip flops and papered over his cringeworthy foreign policy gaffes, but can they avert their eyes and pretend not to notice that Maliki totally bankrupted McCain and Bush's primary argument for a permanent occupation of Iraq, handing Obama complete control of the crucial yellow/green corner of the board?