When news that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had endorsed a 16-month timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, the right wing fell over itself to claim Maliki hadn’t meant what he said. Leading the charge was neoconservative writer Max Boot, who declared Monday that Maliki “is not really trying to push U.S. troops out by mid-2010.” Rather, Boot dismissively claimed, “he is playing politics — Iraqi politics.”
Today, in a Washington Post op-ed, Boot insists that the U.S. shouldn’t listen to Maliki, because his statements were “ambiguous.” Besides, Boot claims, no one in Iraq wants the American forces to leave:
Of course, if the Iraqi government tells us to leave, we will have to leave. But, the prime minister’s ambiguous comments notwithstanding, the Iraqi government is saying no such thing, because most Iraqis realize that the gains of the surge are fragile and could be undone by a too-rapid departure of U.S. forces.
In fact, there was nothing “ambiguous” about Maliki’s statement. Though the U.S. military tried to claim Maliki had been “mistranslated,” a New York Times review of the quotation made it clear Maliki was specifically endorsing the person who “wants to exit in a quicker way.” In fact, on Monday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh stated — in English and on camera — that the government wanted a withdrawal by 2010.
Considering Boot argues that Maliki is “playing politics,” he should recognize that the Iraqi people — along with the govenrment — also favor withdrawal, and have for years:
March 2008: Just four percent of Iraqis said they had “a great deal of confidence” in U.S. occupation forces, compared to 46 percent who said they had no confidence at all. 72 percent strongly or somewhat oppose the presence of Coalition forces in Iraq.
September 2007: Nearly three-quarters of Baghdad residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling. 71 percent wanted the Iraqi government to ask the U.S. to leave within a year.
January 2006: “Asked what they would like the newly elected Iraqi government to ask the US-led forces to do, 70% of Iraqis favor setting a timeline for the withdrawal of US forces.”
Boot’s insistence that neither the Iraqi government nor the Iraqi people really want the U.S. to leave is another example of conservatives claiming to know more about what Iraqis want than Iraqis do. The Corner’s John Derbyshire seemed to sum up this perspective when he wrote yesterday that the U.S. should think about Iraq “with regard only to U.S. interests,” and that if Maliki “doesn’t like that, he can go to hell.”