Monday, July 21, 2008

Personal Aside: No Doubt About it Iraqi PM Boosts Obama.


There are several times in every presidential campaign when the Sleepy Eye of the electorate flutters open, forms a quick judgment and snaps shut. And there is little doubt that one of those times has just happened…when Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki said he backed a proposal by Barack Obama to withdraw U.S troops from Iraq within 16 months. It matters not that the Iraqi p. r. office issued a clarification. It was totally unreadable and thoroughly dubious. Obama can take this one to the bank and nothing that can be said further will alleviate the situation.

This doesn’t mean that John McCain who has rightly resisted a timetable can do nothing further in the debate. His argument is still golden—that if Obama’s wishes had their way, the Iraq war would be lost by now. But the Sleepy Eye doesn’t stay open long enough to figure things out—only sufficiently long to gain an impression. And the impression it has likely received has undone McCain substantially.

Why has al-Maliki done this to the protagonist of a debate that has stood by Iraq and by his courage indemnified with the perspicacity that a president has to have—in contrast to the weak, parsing, equivocating Obama? Put it down to Middle East cynicism. Al-Maliki understands that Obama is the likely victor in November—in fact the election is his to lose and that nothing McCain can do will eradicate that fact. Al-Maliki perceives correctly in my view that the only thing that can trip Obama is himself. So knowing that he has McCain on his side as a president, al-Maliki moved…shrewdly, devoid of principle…to button up the possibility of the other side. If the al-Maliki statement is credited with electing Obama, al-Maliki will have a chit with Obama and the U. S. to manage well in a withdrawal that, given the absence of carnage as occurred months earlier, al-Maliki will be the sole arbiter of his nation’s destiny again.

Ingratitude? Of course but this has happened many times in world history. The United States won its revolution with the aid of France. French financial aid and the ingenuity of General La Fayette were crucial. Yet in 1793 in the war between France on one side and Britain, Austria, Prussia, Sardinia and the Netherlands President George Washington sorely disappointed our old ally by proclaiming the United States to be “friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers”—in other words (although the word wasn’t used) neutral. Anger in France was such that its minister to the U.S. Edmond Genet tried to whip up pro-French support here in defiance of Washington and Washington demanded he be recalled.

The act of ingratitude was prudent for us, however, because it kept us out of a war we were not prepared to fight.

Are the two instances comparable? Well, yes, roughly. Looking at it from al-Maliki’s side, Obama should be wooed because if he became president, Iraq would need an ally. Iraq can afford to take McCain for granted because if he wins, he certainly won’t leave Iraq to its tender mercies. So you get it both ways. Machiavelli the amoral philosopher would be proud of al-Maliki.

As for us, we did not enter the Iraq War to win gratitude from the Iraqis…or even to dethrone a hideous tyrant like Saddam… but to secure a berth of stability in the Middle East which can contribute directly to the peace and freedom of the United States. If we had entered the war solely to dethrone Saddam it would have been a heedless and unnecessary waste of our soldiers’ lives. We should engage in wars for one reason only—to enhance the peace and freedom of the United States. For that reason…and it is a tough thing to say…we did not enter World War II to stop the Holocaust no matter how atrocious it was. We entered it to protect the peace and freedom of the United States and ending the Holocaust was an entirely salubrious byproduct.

Cold-hearted but that’s politics, folks. It’s a bad bump but not necessarily a fatal one for McCain. He will bounce back and if he gets in…knowing McCain’s reputation somewhat second-hand…I wouldn’t particularly like to be in al-Maliki’s shoes with a short-fused, bombastic president with a blood pressure level likely to go through the roof. There will be hellzapoppin and vengeance just short of paying al-Maliki back by torpedoing the democratic Iraq. But al-Maliki isn’t worried about that right now.

Later, perhaps…God willing…but not right now.

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