Iraq, Obama

Will the Iraqi Government Destroy Half of McCain's Campaign?

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 10:53 AM EDT

John McCain and George W. Bush argue that maintaining high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq is essential for the security of Iraq, the region, the world, and, of course, the Untied States. But that does not seem to be the position of Baghdad.

In recent days, there has been a spate of news reports on the troubled negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government concerning the under-construction agreement that will govern the presence of U.S. troops and military bases in Iraq. The Washington Post reports on the front page:

Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.
"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"

See the disconnect? McCain and Bush insist that we have no choice but to keep a large number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But Iraqi pols allied with the government look at U.S. troops presence as something that is optional. If these Iraqis can have the Americans there on their own terms, it's fine. If not, their position is, bye-bye.

It's within the Iraqis' rights to set whatever terms they desire. Iraq supposedly is a sovereign nation. (This week, Maliki visited Iran.) But the Iraqis' approach to the negotiations undermine McCain and Bush's defense of the current policy. McCain says it's crucial that the United States remains in Iraq and wins the war. Iraqi leaders are indicating that it ain't so crucial that the U.S. troops stay. (This morning on a conference call with reporters arranged by the Barack Obama campaign, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig noted an "irony": the Iraqi parliament is deeply immersed in the negotiation of this agreement, yet the Bush White House refuses to involve directly Congress in the agreement.)

So what might happen to the McCain candidacy if the talks--which are supposed to lead to an agreement by the end of July--fail and Iraq gives Bush the boot? McCain won't have a war to promote any longer. And he won't be able to depict Barack Obama as a defeatist surrender-monkey who will yank out troops precipitously and endanger every single family in the United States. In other words, half of McCain's campaign will be gone. (On the Today Show this morning, McCain said that "General Petraeus is going to tell us" when U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Iraq. McCain seemed oblivious to this recent news and the possibility that Iraqis may tell the United States when to withdraw.)

If the talks do collapse, one possibility would be a year-long extension of the current U.N. mandate covering the U.S. troops presence in Iraq. That could keep the status quo in place. Yet if it comes to that, the signal from the Iraqi government will still be, we don't want you here in the way you want to be here. Such a development will not help the war-is-all candidate.