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McCain camp responds to Maliki's withdrawal timetable quote

July 19, 2008 |  5:42 pm

John McCain's Republican presidential campaign was forced to respond this afternoon to initial press reports that in an interview with a German magazine Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki had essentially endorsed theRepublican presidential nominee to be Senator John McCain on one of his numerous visits to Iraq 16-month Iraq pullout timetable of Democrat Barack Obama.

Not that Maliki is inserting himself into American politics, you understand.

It was all part of what seemed a rapidly shifting scene in foreign affairs in recent days. Basically, on Friday White House officials said President Bush and Maliki had talked by secure videophone the previous day and agreed on "a general time line for meeting aspirational goals."

Our collegial blogger James Gerstenzang over at the soaring new Countdown to Crawford blog has that full story here. But generally....

...the translation from that intentionally inarticulate English is that after long refusing to set a pullout date for U.S. troops because they claimed it would signal a surrender date that Al Qaeda forces could simply wait for, Bush administration officials are now using the surge's progress to talk vaguely about when more U.S. troops can leave.

They may also have known what was coming today: publication in Der Spiegel magazine of an interview with Maliki in which he refers to Obama's oft-cited, once-fudged and then re-stated 16-month timetable to begin upon the freshman senator's inauguration.

The Iraqi prime minister is quoted as saying, "That, we think, would be the right timeframe for withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes." He then adds naively: "Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement."

Again, Countdown has that full story here.

The political fear for the McCain camp is that in its energetic focus on the Obama political field trip and the 16-month timetable, the media and voters will miss another similarity, Maliki's reference to taking into account actual military conditions on the ground.

That's a crucial difference between Obama, who emphasized the immediate withdrawal part to his party's left during the primary process, and McCain, who's stressed pulling out based on the military situation and commander's counsel.

Randy Scheunemann--left--director of foreign policy and national security for presumptive Republican nominee Senator John McCain of Arizona confer on a flight departing from Reagan National Airport May 2008

So this afternoon the McCain campaign called attention to a new video documenting the shifts in Obama's Iraq withdrawal position and issued a statement by foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann that said in full:

"The difference between John McCain and Barack Obama is that Barack Obama advocates an unconditional withdrawal that ignores the facts on the ground and the advice of our top military commanders. John McCain believes withdrawal must be based on conditions on the ground. 

"Prime Minister Maliki has repeatedly affirmed the same view, and did so again today. Timing is not as important as whether we leave with victory and honor, which is of no apparent concern to Barack Obama.

"The fundamental truth remains that Senator McCain was right about the surge and Senator Obama was wrong. We would not be in the position to discuss a responsible withdrawal today if Sen. Obama's (anti-surge) views had prevailed."

The next likely opportunities for news now are two television appearances Sunday morning, Obama on CBS' "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on CNN's "Late Edition" with the Wolfman.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo credit: AP; Jeff Chiu / AP.

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