It’s likely that the White House and the McCain campaign will call this a transcription error, or insist that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari
August 10, 2008

It’s likely that the White House and the McCain campaign will call this a transcription error, or insist that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari didn’t really mean what he said, or perhaps even parse the meaning of the word “timeline,” but for the rest of us, we now have yet another top Iraqi official demanding a “very clear” timeline for U.S. withdrawal. (thanks to S.W. for the tip)

The United States must provide a “very clear timeline” to withdraw its troops from Iraq as part of an agreement allowing them to stay beyond this year, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday.

It was the strongest public assertion yet that Iraq is demanding a timeline. U.S. President George W. Bush has long resisted setting a firm schedule for pulling troops out of Iraq, although last month the White House began speaking of a general “time horizon” and “aspirational goals” to withdraw. [...]

In an interview with Reuters, Zebari said the agreement, including the timeline, was “very close” and would probably be presented to the Iraqi parliament in early September.

Asked if Iraq would accept a document that did not include dates for a withdrawal, Zebari said: “No, no. Definitely there has to be a very clear timeline.”

And what might that timeline be? Iraqi officials have talked recently of an October 2010 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops — which would, of course, be fairly close to the timeline articulated by Barack Obama — but Zebari said to wait and see.

For those keeping score at home, we now have Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesperson for the Iraqi government, and Hoshiyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, all publicly endorsing a withdrawal timeline.

That sound you hear is John McCain losing his favorite campaign issue.

I suspect McCain will argue, again, that Iraqi support for a U.S. withdrawal is somehow politically motivated, and as he said a couple of weeks ago, “tailored” for “political purposes.” But let’s not forget, this argument still doesn’t work for the presumptive Republican nominee — as Matt Yglesias explained recently, “Even granting the premise that Maliki’s statements are purely about Iraqi domestic politics, all this amounts to is the fact that Barack Obama’s plan for Iraq is, according to both the Maliki government and the McCain campaign’s analysis, the only way forward that’s politically viable in Iraq.”

The other option available to McCain, of course, is for him to say what he’s been saying — he knows Iraq better than the Iraqis.

A few weeks ago, McCain was asked, “[I]f the Iraqi government were to say — if you were President — we want a timetable for troops being to removed, would you agree with that?”

McCain responded, “I have been there too many times. I’ve met too many times with him, and I know what they want.”

Got that? The prime minister of Iraq and the Iraqi people may seem to want U.S. troops out of their country, but John McCain has been to Iraq and he “knows what they want.”

Jason Zengerle noted, “So, basically, the new McCain position on withdrawal seems to be: we shouldn’t listen to what the Iraqi government says it wants, we should listen to what McCain says it wants.”

This isn’t going to work.

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