The Buzzword Is ‘Timetables, Timetables’

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"The Buzzword Is ‘Timetables, Timetables’"

mccain-romney.jpgRecent statements from Iraqi officials in favor of a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from their country have put John McCain is in a tough spot. McCain has made opposition to any such timeline a centerpiece of his campaign, insisting that U.S. withdrawal would be dictated only by “facts on the ground,” and attacking anyone who even used the word “timetable.”

In a primary debate back in January, McCain shamelessly demagogued this issue against Mitt Romney, badgering Romney with a hilariously tendentious interpretation of one of the former governor’s statements:

ROMNEY:I do not support [a timetable for a phased withdrawal from Iraq], never have. We’ve had — we’ve — and Senator McCain pointed to an interview I had back in April with ABC, when I said that our president and their prime minister should have timetables and milestones. We have timetables and milestones for progress that we’re making together. But I never suggested a date specific to withdraw… I’m opposed to setting a specific date for withdrawal.[...]

MCCAIN: Well, of course, he said he wanted a timetable. Before that, we have to understand that we lost the 2006 election and the Democrats thought that they had a mandate. They thought they had a mandate to get us out of Iraq.[...]

And the buzzword was “timetables, timetables.”

Watch it:

Transcript:

ROMNEY:I do not support [a timetable for a phased withdrawal from Iraq], never have. We’ve had — we’ve — and Senator McCain pointed to an interview I had back in April with ABC, when I said that our president and their prime minister should have timetables and milestones. We have timetables and milestones for progress that we’re making together. But I never suggested a date specific to withdraw… I’m opposed to setting a specific date for withdrawal.[...]

MCCAIN: Well, of course, he said he wanted a timetable. Before that, we have to understand that we lost the 2006 election and the Democrats thought that they had a mandate. They thought they had a mandate to get us out of Iraq.[...]

And the buzzword was “timetables, timetables.”

ROMNEY: Why don’t you use the whole quote, Senator?

MCCAIN: … withdrawal. That…

ROMNEY: Why don’t you use the whole quote? Why do you insist on…

MCCAIN: I’m using the whole quote, where you said “I won’t”…

ROMNEY: … not using the actual quote? That’s not what I said.

MCCAIN: The actual quote is, “We don’t want them to lay in the weeds until we leave.” That is the actual quote and I’m sure…

ROMNEY: What does that mean?

MCCAIN: … fact-checkers –

ROMNEY: What is the meaning?

MCCAIN: It means a timetable until we leave.

Lots of fun. So how will John McCain square his strident and long-standing opposition to a timeline for withdrawal with the Iraqi government’s demand for a timeline for withdrawal? McCain has found a way: Simply deny that the Iraqis have said what the Iraqis have in fact said. From an interview yesterday with the Pittsburgh Tribune:

QUESTION: Senator, with Iraqi leaders now calling for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals …

MCCAIN: Actually the Iraqis are not, the Iraqis widely reported as short a time ago as a couple of weeks ago that there would be no status of forces agreement, and Maliki would say that, and it got headlines, and of course it turned out not to be true.

I’ll admit, I didn’t see the “completely deny everything” approach coming.

In regard to Maliki’s statements about the status of forces agreement, what Maliki actually said was that negotiations over the agreement had “reached a dead end” because U.S. demands “violate[d] Iraqi sovereignty.” This was part of the bargaining process, and the headlines “turned out not to be true” only in the sense that the tactic worked, the U.S. eventually gave Maliki more of what he wanted, and thus the negotiations continue.

While it’s clear that Maliki and other members of the Green Zone elite prefer a continued U.S. military presence (in the short term to support their shaping of the the electoral environment so as to prevent losing power to disfavored parties like the Sadrists and the Awakenings in the upcoming provincial elections, and in the medium term to continue training and advising Iraqi security forces), the fact is that a majority of Iraqis has long opposed the U.S. presence in their country. As Adam Blickstein notes, this is itself a rather significant “fact on the ground” that McCain and other war supporters have consistently ignored as they seek to implement their vision for Iraq’s future, but not one that Iraq’s government can afford to.

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