Barack Obama based his editorial on Iraq in large part on the assertion by Nouri al-Maliki wants timetables for American withdrawal. Unfortunately, as the BBC notes, Maliki didn’t actually say that — although the fault really does not lie with Obama. In fact, the Maliki government doesn’t want date-certain withdrawal dates, and may not want a withdrawal at all:
The prime minister was widely quoted as saying that in the negotiations with the Americans on a Status of Forces Agreement to regulate the US troop presence from next year, “the direction is towards either a memorandum of understanding on their evacuation, or a memorandum of understanding on a timetable for their withdrawal”.
That was the version of Mr Maliki’s remarks put out in writing by his office in Baghdad.
It was widely circulated by the news media, and caught much attention, including that of Mr Obama.
There is only one problem. It is not what Mr Maliki actually said. … What he actually said was: “The direction is towards either a memorandum of understanding on their evacuation, or a memorandum of understanding on programming their presence.”
Maliki’s own office misquoted him, and the press picked it up and broadcast it around the world. However, the Iraqi government has tried to clarify it for at least a day now. Their national-security adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, emphasized that the Iraqi government wants broad, general “timeline horizons” — and that the withdrawal of American combat troops should be contingent on the readiness of Iraqi Army units that would take their place.
Hmmm … now where have we heard that before? Oh, that’s right — from John McCain.
The BBC concludes its report:
Iraqi leaders will no doubt continue to make ambiguous statements. And US presidential contenders will no doubt continue to construe them to their own advantage. But when Mr Obama visits Baghdad, as he is expected to later this month, he is unlikely to find that the Iraqi government is quite as set on demanding deadlines for US withdrawal as he would like to think.
I suspect that Obama will find much in Iraq that he hasn’t known before announcing his policies, including how dependent Iraq remains on its American partner for stability, security, and logistics in the short- to mid-term. Maybe he should have waited to talk to Maliki first before jumping on a misreported statement to write his op-ed, a point that Lindsey Graham more or less made on the conference call today.