Tuesday, July 22, 2008

John! - Remember that "Iraq stands up, we stand down" bit?

UPDATED: Apparently McCain is taking my advice (see end of post). Good. Very Good.

Conventional Wisdom is that Maliki's statements about a time horizon for our withdrawal from Iraq is a big plus for Obama and a negative for McCain. On the right - AllahPundit says that the McCain camp "discomfort is palpable" and Ross Douthat writes that Maliki's comments have "placed John McCain in a difficult spot". On the left - Jonathon Chait crows that Maliki endorsing a US withdrawal is "a huge huge deal" and Markos Zúniga agrees that these event "suck for him [McCain]". In the center - John Whitehouse is sure this is "the perfect time for this story to break as far as the Obama campaign is concerned..." and Justin Gardner wonders if "...Maliki stabbed McCain in the back?" while explaining that "this puts McCain in a particularly precarious position." Among the libertarian leaning Doug Mataconis scores this "a big win for Obama". Main stream media like NBC, Politico, and the Washington Post agree.

Yes - it is virtually unanimous. Bloggers and pundits across the political spectrum agree that the Maliki withdrawal time-frame statements are bad news for McCain and great news for Obama.

It is truly astonishing that they could all be so very wrong.

In fact, the entire story out of Iraq this week works to McCain's political advantage. Well... let me be more clear. It should work to McCain's political advantage and could work to McCain's political advantage, if only John McCain and his campaign could get out of their own way and get the narrative right.

If McCain has been politically wounded by this, then it is a self-inflicted - shoot yourself in the foot- reload - shoot the other foot - kind of injury. Maliki has served up on a silver platter a perfect opportunity for McCain to undercut Obama's support among independent voters. Whether he chooses to partake of this opportunity is another matter altogether.

The simple fact remains that a majority of Americans (59%) think the Iraq War was a mistake and (51%) think the war is going badly [NYT/CBS Poll PDF]. Among those Americans are many conservatives, libertarians, and independents who would be inclined to vote for McCain were it not for the Iraq War. I am among them. Many or these voters find the 2009 prospect of the largest concentration of single party power since FDR to be disquieting - to say the least. There is ample reason to fear the what might emerge out of the very real possibility of a 100 vote Democratic party majority in the House of Representatives, a 60-40 filibuster-proof Democratic Party plurality in the Senate, all "led" by a 95% toe-the-party-line voting record Barack Obama as President. Despite the concerns and enormous risk inherent in that concentration of power, as it stands today, many independents may still choose to vote for Obama on the basis of the single overriding issue of getting out of Iraq.

I presented the independent voter conundrum in my Iraq War anniversary post - It's still the war stupid:
I find myself impaled on the horns of a dilemma. The choice:
  • RED PILL - Divided Government (good) but Permanent War (bad)
  • BLUE PILL - Single Party Democratic government (bad) with expanded majorities, possibly a filibuster proof Senate (really bad) and Obama at the controls of a Cheney designed unitary presidency (really really bad).
Pick your poison.
Maliki and the Iraqi government has resolved the dilemma. They are clearly behaving like a real sovereign government and stating they are ready for us to leave. All McCain need do to take advantage of this opening, is follow this simple 3 step process:
Step 1- McCain must strongly embrace the Iraqi government position on American withdrawal. This does not mean any change of position for McCain. All he has to do is say exactly, word for word, what he said in 2004:

Question: “What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?”

McCain’s Answer: “Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it’s obvious that we would have to leave because — if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we’ve been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don’t see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.”

Step 2 - McCain should repeatedly point out that if the Iraq government is ready for us to leave, it means that the surge worked. McCain can rightfully claim that he was right and Obama was wrong on the surge strategy and pound that point over and over. He can legitimately say that his aggressive support for the surge created the path out of the quagmire. It is a perfect time to declare victory. He can even use this construct from his rejected NYT Op-Ed piece:
"Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse." Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted..."
Then add this one sentence:
The success of the surge in creating room for political progress in now undeniable - even for Senator Obama. The elected Iraqi Government has stated that they are ready to stand on their own. My friends, our job in Iraq is done. We have victory.
Step 3 - McCain should leave himself the exact same wiggle room that Obama uses - by holding out the possibility that the pace of the draw-down can and will be "refined" by evolving conditions on the ground.
This would do so many good things for McCain's campaign. It would render moot Obama's single strongest issue against McCain. It puts McCain on the same side as the majority of American voters. It creates space between McCain and Bush. It makes it easy for independents, moderates, and libertarians to vote for McCain on the basis of maintaining the checks and balances of divided government.

Finally, it is just the right thing to do and the way for McCain to get on the right side of history. Our military leadership wants a draw down in Iraq, because we need to rebuild our forces and reinforce Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want out, because we cannot afford to maintain this level of military presence in Iraq. And now the Iraqi government want us out by the end of 2010, because they want their country back. It is inevitable that we will be mostly out of a combat role in Iraq in this 2010 timeframe.

Maliki's statement simply reinforces that there is no practical difference on what our military posture will look like in Iraq by the end of 2010 regardless of who is president. With that realization Obama loses his biggest advantage in November, and we can potentially avoid the disaster of single party Democratic government with expanded and potentially filibuster proof Democratic majorities.

Net net. As a voter I get my cake and eat it too. I can vote to limit the concentration of single party power in Washington, and get also get a quicker or at least equivalent draw down in Iraq by supporting McCain. It's all good.

Just do it John. After all, It is exactly what this administration said we wanted all along...

"When the Iraqis stand up, we stand down."

The Iraqi government is standing up.

Time to stand down.

UPDATE: Friday 25-July-2008
John McCain wisely decided to take my advice today. ABC picks out the interesting quote in a CNN interview:
"During a Friday interview with CNN, McCain called a 16-month withdrawal from Iraq "a pretty good timetable. That answer came when McCain was asked by Wolf Blitzer about the Iraqi prime minister's recent description of a 16-month timetable as "the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."

The Left of center blogosphere calls it a flip-flop, and completely misses the point. Sure it is. So what? Most Obama supporters cheered when Obama flip-flopped moved to the center on a whole host of issues. With a similar move, McCain just took away the single biggest issue advantage that Obama had with Moderate/Center/Independent voters - Iraq.

If there is no practical difference on an Iraq withdrawal time frame, then Independents will vote based on other priorities. Like maybe avoiding a single party Dem government with a toe-the-line Democratic party president, 100 vote Democratic majority in the House, and a filibuster proof Democratic Senate promising more taxes, more regulation, more spending programs, more money for faith based initiatives, less free trade, mandatory government service, etc. etc. None of that stuff comes into play if all the Independent voter cares about is Iraq. But as far as I can tell, Iraq as a distinguishing issue between these candidates just went away. Good on ya John.

X-posted at Donklephant.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

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