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Monday, July 21, 2008

The MSM Muddies the Water on Timelines

Today's political coverage is full of word that Barack Obama and Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki have come to an agreement over timelines for withdrawal. For instance, we have this.

It may not sway many voters, but on Friday, as Barack Obama embarked on an extended trip abroad intended in large part to relieve concerns about his commander in chief bona fides, the terms of debate on Iraq began a dramatic shift that appears to favor his candidacy.

President Bush, who’d been opposed to any timetable for removing American forces from Iraq, reached an agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to set a
“general time horizon” for a withdrawal.

“It’s a devastating blow to the McCain campaign — not just that Maliki moved to Obama’s position but that Bush did as well,” said Richard Holbrooke, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations for the Clinton administration.

...and this

Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama and the Iraqi government found agreement in Baghdad on Monday for a 2010 withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, a timeline that continues to face criticism from Republican Sen. John McCain.

As Obama laid eyes on the Iraq war for the first time in more than two years, he emerged from a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, calling it “very constructive.”

The trip follows Republican attempts to diminish Obama’s foreign policy experience and a challenge from McCain, who complained that Obama was wrong to plan for troop withdrawal without having visited since January 2006. McCain has visited Iraq eight times since the war began. The Arizona senator has said Obama’s foreign policy plans are naive and that he is untested.

The MSM can do this because the difference between what Maliki and Obama want is an important but small shade of gray. It is a shade that most of the media have no intentions of putting into context. While Maliki agreed to the 16 month timeline, he agreed to it only as long as the situation permits it. Here is the question and the response.

SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?

Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned. US presidential candidate Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months. Assuming that positive developments continue, this is about the same time period that corresponds to our wishes.

The small, but vital, difference is that Maliki wants to win, and Obama simply wants to leave. Maliki's timeline is based on the assumption that things will continue to improve as they have. In other words, Maliki's sixteen month horizon is a goal. For Obama, this is a hard and fast rule.

Yet, the media is treating this as though McCain is the odd man out. He isn't. What Bush and Maliki agreed upon is a time horizon that is based on conditions. Obama's timeline is set in stone. If, in fact, Obama's timeline is not set in stone, then his position is no different from McCain's.

Furthermore, the waters were muddied even more because the New York Times published an editorial by Barack Obama but refused to publish John McCain's response. Had they published McCain's response, here is what their readers would have found out about this so called timeline.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military’s readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops

Focusing on timelines is silly and inconsequential. All military plans are only good until they are actually started. No one knows if we will be able to leave in 16 months, 20 months, or 20 years until the military operation is executed. Anyone that purports to know is the military equivalent of a snake oil salesman. That's why John McCain refuses to be tied down to a timeline. Timelines are only good until they are implemented.

What the media continues to refuse to focus on is what McCain said later in his op ed.

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war—only of ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

It is here where Barack Obama stands in far cry from everyone else deeply involved with Iraq: Prime Minister Maliki, George Bush, General David Petraeus, and John McCain. Everyone else is looking for victory. Barack Obama is looking to simply end the war. While the media is fixated with Obama's agreement with Maliki on timelines, they are totally oblivious to the fantasy that Obama peddles. Unlike Obama's rhetoric, wars are NOT ended. They are either won or lost. If he continues to insist on merely ending this one, he is in effect trying to lose it. Rather than focusing on meaningless timelines that never materialize once they are put into place on the battlefield, the media ought to ask Barack Obama whether or not he plans on winning the war.

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