The number of ways to spin Maliki's statement about timelines probably compares to the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. McCain has already been quoted responding, in effect, well I know Maliki and I know what's going on there, and any withdrawal will have to be conditioned on conditions at the time, so at the end of the day there won't be a timeline, there'll be conditional plans to withdraw.
Maliki and German interviewers have already been at odds over exactly what Maliki said and what it meant. Maybe nobody knows for sure what a politician means when his lips are moving.
One thing is certain: it's put McCain on the defensive and Obama will seek to keep him there.
One thing Maliki has done is to try to redefine victory, though:
So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias.The genius here is that Maliki is doing what Americans have failed to do, which is to define victory in a tangible sense. Just because it's arguably true doesn't mean it's not potentially good propaganda.
via Der Spiegel
Curiously, the headline at Der Spiegel stating Maliki endorses Obama's 16-month timeline is contradicted by a careful look at Maliki's actual quote:
That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.If he isn't accepting Obama's 16-month fixed timeline, is Maliki really endorsing a conditional withdrawal scheme like that suggested by McCain? Obviously I don't think this is what he meant -- it's clear he views McCain as too willing to stay longer than Iraqi politics will tolerate -- but it makes one wonder what he means. Given McCain's comments on Maliki's practicality, perhaps what it means to withdraw U.S. troops also varies from camp to camp; might air support be welcome, but not ground patrols?
The truth is out there ....
The fact that U.S. troops' ongoing presence offend Iraqi's notions of sovereignty are clear from this comment:
It is a fundamental problem for us that it should not be possible, in my country, to prosecute offences or crimes committed by US soldiers against our populationIf it's the hope of all parties that Iraq govern itself successfully and defend its people from terrorists, it's odd that there should be such debate about making it plain this has occurred. The political issues seem to include whether Iraq's ability to handle its security problems should be proven ahead of time or should be tested by a no-conditions withdrawal designed to scare Iraq into readiness, and the political charge certain terms like "timetable" and "timeline" have taken on in the U.S.