John McCain once again “jokes” about his desire to kill Iranians. This time, the joke is a little bit more of a real joke, but the targets of his lust for killing foreigners are clearly ordinary Iranian civilians. If a major Iranian political leader were to repeatedly joke about bombing the United States and killing Americans, you can just imagine the shit-storm about how Iran isn’t a normal country with normal interests, that it’s run by irrational fanatics, appeasement won’t work, etc.
Being an American who primarily comments on US politics and public policy I have, over the years, primarily concentrated on the logic for the United States of America to setting a timeline for withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. But with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki talking up the timetable option it’s worth considering that it has a solid logic from an Iraqi point of view.
The Iraqi government, it seems clear, would like some continued support from US combat forces. And the United States, for good reason, doesn’t want its forces running around Iraq engaged in combat while being subject to Iraqi law rather than the Uniform Code of Military Justice. At the same time, the Iraqi government wants to be the government of a real sovereign country which is incompatible with a foreign army running around the country engaged in active combat and not subject to Iraqi law. One easy way to thread the needle of continued US combat engagement in Iraq while maintaining a meaningful sense of Iraqi sovereignty is to make the US presence temporary in a definitive way. Which is to say — setting a timetable for withdrawal. That should buy the United States an added degree of public support within which to conduct some additional operations and leave the best possible situation behind.
Yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki raised the possibility that a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces would be part of a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement. During an official visit to Abu Dhabi, Maliki told Arab ambassadors “Today, we are looking at the necessity of terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty”:
One of the two basic topics is either to have a memorandum of understanding for the departure of forces or a memorandum of understanding to set a timetable for the presence of the forces, so that we know (their presence) will end in a specific time.
Later, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel tried to downplay the significance of Maliki’s comments. While acknowledging that any agreement would have “some understanding of time-frames,” Stanzel insisted that “these are not talks on a hard date for a withdrawal.”
Today, speaking with reporters in the Iraqi seminary city of Najaf after a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie essentially responded that, yes, these are talks on a hard date for withdrawal:
There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless these bases are under Iraqi control…We would not accept any memorandum of understanding with [the U.S.] side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops’ withdrawal from Iraq.
The fact that Rubaie made these remarks immediately after having met with Iraq’s senior ayatollah indicates that that they reflect Sistani’s views, or at the very least have his support. Though Sistani has been circumspect in his political involvement, over the past five years he has weighed in on on issues considered to be of specific import to the well-being of Iraq’s Shia community. That he may have done so now would indicate his belief that a firm timetable for American withdrawal is an important condition for Iraqi political progress.
Followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who form a powerful Iraqi Shia constituency, have for years demanded a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. By adopting this condition, Maliki may effectively be co-opting one of the Sadrists’ biggest issues.
President Bush has a choice to make here: Cling to his fantasy of “enduring bases” across Iraq, or respect the overwhelming Iraqi political consensus in favor of a U.S. timetable, and commit to an eventual U.S. withdrawal.
Just an additional word on John McCain’s preposterous plan to balance the budget in part through the savings accrued by his mystery scheme for “victory” in Iraq. When you’re talking about budgetary savings, you need to be talking compared to some baseline. So in this case while it’s true that securing some undefined victory through undefined methods at an unknown future date would be cheaper than continuing precisely as is forever, that this “endless war” scenario doesn’t exist in any of the standard budget projections.
There aren’t, in short, any real savings to be achieved here — only a large question mark as to how much additional deficit spending will take place. McCain, despite a certain amount of flim-flam last week to the contrary, is still the candidate who’ll spend more in Iraq over a longer period of time than will the alternative candidate for the presidency.
It’s worth avoiding nuclear proliferation in Iran because, in general, the continued spread of nuclear weapons poses serious risks for the world. But that’s a far cry from saying that Iran is, as such, any kind of serious military threat.
In case you’re wondering why the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything it’s because member states have ponied up very few of the personnel, equipment, and money that they promised.