[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
I have two questions for George W. Bush and John McCain: Is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supporting a surrender date? And does this make him a Defeato-Shiite?
You see, yesterday, al-Maliki said that his government wants a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops to be a part of the military agreement now being discussed between Iraq and the United States. "The goal is to end the presence (of foreign troops)," al-Maliki said.
Since taking control of the Congress after the 2006 elections, the Democrats have repeatedly tried to add timetables for withdrawal to Iraq funding bills, only to be rebuffed by Republicans and the administration at every turn. It has become a standard GOP talking point to accuse Democrats of surrendering, or giving a surrender date to the enemy, or some other nonsense like that, if they don't just lay down and let Bush continue with his seemingly endless war propping up an Iraqi government that has shown more interest in preserving its power and lining its pockets than working for political reconciliation and self-governing (As Arianna Huffington's blog today discusses). (For example, in 2007, Dana Perino, in a White House press briefing, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is "in denial that a surrender date he thinks is a good idea. (sic) It is not a good idea. It is defeat.") The White House even started calling Democrats "Defeatocrats."
So if setting timetables was wrong the last two years, what can the administration say now that the head of the Iraqi government is insisting on knowing when American troops are leaving his country? Well, not much apparently, since, so far, the White House has not responded to al-Maliki's declaration.
This turn of events just goes to show how far down the rabbit hole the Bush administration and McCain are on Iraq. They keep telling us that the troops need to stay there until we "win." (Whatever that means ... I thought we "won" when we defeated the Iraqi Republican Guard and ousted Saddam Hussein? Isn't that what the "Mission Accomplished" banner was all about?) McCain is fine with the American military being in Iraq for 100 years (video here), and he thinks that it is "not too important" when U.S. troops leave Iraq.
But if American forces are in Iraq to support the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government wants a plan for the departure of U.S. troops, then what?
I'll tell you what: It means it is game over. Once the U.N. mandate runs out at the end of the year, legal justification for leaving troops in Iraq has to come from al-Maliki. Without the support of the Iraqi government, no American -- not Bush, McCain or anyone else -- can justify U.S. forces in Iraq.
And al-Maliki's position is not as soft on this issue as the administration and McCain may argue. Bush has been trying to negotiate a formal status of forces agreement for a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq (one that would make it harder for Bush's successor to withdraw U.S. troops from the country), but al-Maliki told Arab diplomats that he is seeking a short-term interim memorandum instead. A short-term agreement does not provide the same roadblocks to a withdrawal that a more formal status of forces agreement would, something, presumably, Bush would not be happy about.
Today, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, made an even more definitive statement of his country's demand for timetables in any agreement: "Our stance in the negotiations underway with the American side will be strong ... We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq."
If nothing else, al-Maliki's remarks should serve as a wake-up call to Americans, especially during a presidential election year. Bush and McCain have been quick for the last eight years to tell us how things would go in Iraq, and they have been wrong at nearly every turn. They told us victory in Iraq would be easy and we would be greeted as liberators. (You can watch McCain say it here and here.) Things didn't work out that way. Now Bush and McCain tell us that there will be disaster if the U.S. removes its forces. Why should we believe them?
And now with al-Maliki making his intentions clear that a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals is important and the "goal is to end the presence" of foreign troops, where does it leave the Bush-McCain plans for Iraq? How can you rail against plans to bring home American personnel when the Iraqi government is in favor of making those same preparations?
This issue is not the only problem Bush and McCain face on Iraq, with several other factors pointing to the need of the U.S. military to decrease (or eliminate) its presence in the country. The war in Iraq has stretched the American military beyond its limits, leaving the United States vulnerable and making sustaining troop levels in Iraq impossible (according to Congressional testimony by generals, a press release by Republican Senator Richard Lugar and statements by former secretary of state Colin Powell). A June 23 report released by the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) accused the administration of having no plan for a post-surge Iraq and laid out the lack of political reconciliation and other issues with the Iraqi government. And on July 2, Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Taliban has gained strength in Afghanistan, but that the U.S. does not have enough military personnel in the country to address the new threat because of the commitment of resources to the war in Iraq.
There is ample evidence that the United States has to do something about its troop commitment in Iraq. And al-Maliki's demand for a timetable for the exit of U.S. troops from his country is the nail in the coffin for the Bush-McCain policy.
Al-Maliki may be a surrender date supporter and a Defeato-Shiite (in the eyes of Bush and McCain), but it's his country, after all. The question is whether Bush and McCain are willing to listen. Or, more importantly, if the American voters are paying attention. If they are, it doesn't bode well for McCain in November.