Monday, July 21, 2008

spinning what maliki wants

in case you've lost track of the maliki-endorsing-obama's-withdrawal-timetable kerfuffle, here's what happened:

over the weekend der spiegel published an interview with iraqi prime minister nouri al-maliki in which the magazine recounts as follows:
When asked in and interview with SPIEGEL when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, Maliki responded "as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned." He then continued: "US 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."
thereafter, centcom (i.e. the u.s. military's central command for the region) issued a statement from ali dabbagh denying that maliki endorsed obama's 16-month timetable.

some used that statement to claim that maliki had backed away from his prior remarks, but really maliki hadn't said anything at all. instead, the american military got one of maliki's spokespersons to claim that the comment was incorrect. note the statement didn't say how it was incorrect, or what an accurate translation would be. as ben smith said "It's almost a convention of politics that when a politician says he was misquoted, but doesn't detail the misquote or offer an alternative, he's really saying he wishes he hadn't said what he did, or that he needs to issue a pro-forma denial to please someone."

but then it gets a little more complicated. der spiegel stood by its account of the conversation. indeed, it had a recording of the entire interview in arabic. spiegel released an interview transcript and gave copies of the original recording to the new york times. although the times buried the revelation in the 16th paragraph of a long article on iraq, it did print it's own independent translation of the maliki statement:
"Obama's remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq....Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.
which makes it rather clear that the iraqi prime minister thinks that obama's plan is "suitable" for the situation in iraq. indeed, that last sentence looks like a pretty classic arabic turn of phrase. starting a sentence with "who wants" really means "he who wants" (or more colloquially "anyone who wants") what maliki seemed to be saying is whoever wants to remove foreign forces the quickest has the best assessment of the situation in iraq. that's not just an endorsement of obama's plan. it can also be read as saying that obama displays a better understanding of the situation in iraq by virtue of his plan to withdraw u.s. forces.

but it gets even better. remember ali dabbagh, that maliki spokesperson used by the u.s. military to claim that maliki's remarks were translated wrong? check out what he told AP:
Iraq's government spokesman is hopeful that U.S. combat forces could be out of the country by 2010.

Ali al-Dabbagh made the comments following a meeting in Baghdad on Monday between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, who arrived in Iraq earlier in the day.
under obama's plan, the 16 months starts in january 2009. count that out yourself and you'll find 2010 happens to be the year that the obama-ordered withdrawal would end. so even the spokesperson who denied the accuracy of maliki's endorsement is now stating that the prime minister endorses a plan that, at the very least, comes within a few months of it.