Saturday, July 19, 2008

Anatomy of a news story - the Maliki interview

By Libby

I'm posting this for the archives, even though I'm sure you already heard about Maliki's interview with Der Spiegel where he made these remarks.
"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes." [...]

Asked if he supported Obama's ideas more than those of John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, Maliki said he did not want to recommend who people should vote for.

"Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems."
But the really explosive quote is getting less attention.
"So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias."
Not the narrative they had in mind at 1600 Penn Ave.
The White House said on Friday President George W. Bush and Maliki had agreed that a security deal under negotiation should set a "time horizon" for meeting "aspirational goals" for reducing U.S. forces in Iraq.
Shook them up so badly there that some unfortunate staffer ended up sending out an internal notice about the article to the media by mistake.

Doesn't do much for McCain's pitch either. The unnamed sources in the campaigns were quick to respond.
"His domestic politics require him to be for us getting out," said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The military says 'conditions based' and Maliki said 'conditions based' yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders."

An Obama official, also speaking on background, asks:

"So given that al-Maliki said today that it’s time for an official timetable and that Obama “is right when he talks about 16 months,” will McCain honor that commitment and call for withdrawal or change his position that we should leave Iraq if asked?"
Meanwhile, it didn't take long for the White House to walk Maliki back. He's already said he was misinterpreted, but come on. That's a whole lot of statement to misconstrue. As Kevin said, everybody is going to know that Maliki was forced into a retraction.

Of course, on the plus side for McCain, the interview dominated the cycle and took some of the spotlight off Obama's visit in Afghanistan. Come to think of it, that could explain why the White House pumped it up this morning. Maybe that mistaken email wasn't a mistake after all.

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