Sunday, July 20, 2008

As the world turns

Ali Dabbagh's statement "correcting" or amending the gist of what Maliki had to say in his Spiegel interview, isn't available on the Iraqi government website, and I haven't seen the full text in Arabic anywhere else either (below is a link to RadioSawa's summary and excerpts). NYT said they obtained their (garbled) English version courtesy of the CentCom press office. What Dabbagh's correcting statement said emerges a little more clearly from this summary report by the US-owned earlier today (Sunday July 20):
[Dabbagh said] Maliki emphasized the existence of an Iraqi view, which is based on the reality of the security needs of Iraq, "[where] positive developments in the security situation and improvements witnessed by Iraqi cities have put the matter of American withdrawal within horizons and time-schedules that are in accord with them [meaning in accord with these positive developments and improvements]". And [this Iraqi view puts the matter of American withdrawal] in the light of the continuation of the positive security developments on the ground, which have come about within the strategic cooperation plan that was laid down by Maliki and president George Bush.
Clearly, there are two concepts: There are the "horizons and time schedules"; and there are the "developments and improvements on the ground." The horizons and time schedules are "within," and "in accord with" the "developments and improvements". Moreover, the horizons and time-schedules are "in the light of" the continuation of these developments and improvements.

So you can talk about the one, or you can talk about the other. The "time-schedules" are for talking about in the context of the Iraqi elections; the "developments and improvements" are for talking about with the Americans behind closed doors. What happened with the Spiegel interview is that the Iraqi-election rhetoric spilled over dangerously into the American electoral campaign, so it was necessary to flash the "developments and improvements" theme in order to counter that. But at the same time the Maliki administration wants to continue harping on the "time-schedules" theme for public consumption in Iraq.

So it was nicely done when you think about it. CentCom provides the NYT with a "developments and improvements" spiel from Dabbagh that is just clear enough to negate the "Maliki supports Obama" theme, but garbled enough so that it doesn't get picked up as a big "no- absolute-time-schedules" news story that could have leaked back into the Iraqi election campaign.

As for the netroots excitement yesterday ("devastating impact!"; "Maliki's game-changer!"), perhaps the less said the better.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'excitement" badger is that they think Maliki went off the reservation and that his "spokesman" in a statement released from CENTCOM[!?] walked it back.

Your cynicism and the netroots' differ in that you're assuming competence -of what sort I can't quite grasp- and Yglesias et al are assuming the opposite.

In this case I go with them.

8:48 AM  
Blogger JoshSN said...

I think even television coverage (please don't blame _me_ that TV producers don't read your website, or that they don't speak Arabic) of Maliki's words hinted at a connection between Maliki's words and the position of the Democrats.

Devastating? Game-Changing? If the internet proves anything, it is there isn't a shortage of hyperbole. There might even be so much that it swallows the whole world! Too bad there is no irony.

9:32 AM  
Blogger badger said...

anon: The issue isn't competence. The issue is keeping the two themes ("withdrawal-schedule"; "security improvements") from getting tangled up and interfering with each other. I'd say it looks as if the "walk-back" succeeded in keeping the "Maliki supports 16-month deadline" story from taking over the US news-cycle, which I guess was its purpose. I quoted from the Dabbagh statement to indicate that there continues to be this parallel coexistence of the two themes. The "devastating!", "game-changing!" people have convinced themselves that the real Maliki now stands for only one of those two themes, that of a fixed timetable.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, you assume grand conspiracy, others assume mere conspiracy and grand stupidity.
Maliki isn't a manipulator, he's a nervous, unreliable puppet. He's a weakling. But he spoke out of turn.

"I'd say it looks as if the "walk-back" succeeded in keeping the "Maliki supports 16-month deadline" story from taking over the US news-cycle..."

So far, yes. Which is why the people who know it's important are pissed, and why they are still pushing the original story. Spiegel is sticking to theirs.,1518,566914,00.html.

The "walkback" is being mocked by liberal american nationalists. Thinking this a good thing is not the same as supporting the ideology of liberal american nationalism.

11:04 AM  
Blogger badger said...

These "people who know it's important", anonymous, do they think Maliki really meant it and will be saying it again and again, or do they think this was a one-time thing, a piece of red meat that happened to fall off the shelf, almost into the waiting jaws of the Obama campaign but it was snatched away at the last minute (the walk-back). Sounds like you're saying it is the latter, so this group of people is pissed and it's good they're pissed. The meat was good, and it still is good. Fine. There's nothing wrong with the Spiegel story. And if it is as important a piece of meat as they say it is, then it is indeed a shame the thing didn't take off.

But on that assumption, this has nothing to do with Iraq; it's just a random debating point that fell off the shelf, via what you call Maliki "speaking out of turn". Iraq is where the Prime Minister relies on the occupation army for support against his rivals and at the same time, for popular political survival he has to appear to be getting ready to throw them out.

You're in trouble when you can't distinguish between debating points and reality, or you think it doesn't matter. It's what gets you into the area the philosopher Harry Frankfort was talking about in this book

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Plank" @ TNR

"The fact that Iraq's prime Minister has endorsed, by name, Barack Obama's plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from his country in 16 months is a huge, huge deal. Most commentary has focused on the political repercussions -- as a GOP strategist succinctly put it to Marc Ambinder, "We're fucked" -- and that certainly seems to be the case. How can John McCain paint Obama's plan as wildly naive or irresponsible when the Iraqi government favors it too?

The Bush administration and the McCain campaign have replied by suggesting that Maliki doesn't really want an American withdrawal, he's just saying it for domestic political purposes. Maybe so. But that just underscores the point. If Maliki has to publicly favor American withdrawal, this shows that the Iraqi polity is not going to stand for an extended occupation. President Bush may not have been sincere either when he came out for a prescription drug benefit and campaign finance reform, but he signed those measures because he had to. That's the nature of democracy. If Iraq is going to be a democracy, then we're not going to stay there forever. So the bigger story, beyond the presidential ramifications, is that we know how the Iraq occupation is going to end.

Meanwhile, the paucity of coverage of these remarks is inexplicable. The big newspapers have given this story a paragraph at most. Unbelievably, The Page gave this headline to Maliki's walkback: "Maliki Clarifies Seemingly Pro-Obama Remarks."

Seemingly? It was a direct endorsement of the idea. And, for that matter, Clarifies? There was no attempt to clarify, only to muddy the waters to minimize the embarassment to President Bush and his allies."

Like Harry Frankfurt, Bob Somerby, Noam Chomsky, and rationbalists in general, you've got absolutely no understanding of politics. None. You're a good reporter of fact/s that others don't have access to. And you seem immune to anything resembling American exceptionalism (I doubt you're a US native) But your frustration pushes you towards the Manichaean.

Here's more from WaPo

"The statement by an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling his remarks in Der Spiegel "misinterpreted and mistranslated" followed a call to the prime minister's office from U.S. government officials in Iraq."

Fans of Harry Frankfurt's book are divided equally those who think that people are stupid and should be governed with the help of philosopher kings and those who think the people are good and true but are corrupted by evil-evil-bad-bad men. Neither of those are very sophisticated arguments, either against democracy, or for it.

"But on that assumption, this has nothing to do with Iraq;"
It has to do with the perceptions of the American electorate, who control the occupation.
Maliki said some words. It doesn't matter why he said them only that he did so. Ending the occupation is the goal. Intellectual seriousness is irrelevant.

4:28 PM  
Blogger badger said...

You have the last word.

--Badger, fair and balanced

4:50 PM  
Blogger Cugel said...

This does have "devastating" Political impact in America, not because Maliki was saying anything new or remarkable.

What he said was consistent with his negotiating position vis a vis the SOFA as you yourself have reported, Badger.

But the American people have NO IDEA that the Iraqis really, really, want us out of there. They don't know anything about what's going on in Iraq because the news media isn't reporting it.

No-one has a clue that the Iraqi government is trying to negotiate a complete turnover of the Green Zone to Iraqi forces, followed by U.S withdrawal to the country-side in 2008 and a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, even in the context of a 1 year security agreement.

They American press isn't reporting any of this, so the American people think that Iraqis want us there to "support them."

Being told bluntly by the Iraqi government to leave is a wake up call.

They can walk it back all they want, but the reality is this is going to support Obama's position, and hurt McCain because it makes people question how much the Iraqis really want us there.

What's coming clear from this controversy, is that regardless of "timetable" or "time horizon", however you put it, the American occupation is going to come to an end.

Obama supports this, McCain and Bush oppose it. Now, who do you think will be hurt by this?

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Maliki "retraction" was not so much about subtle propaganda points, as the simple fact that someone in the White House pressed the wrong button, and distributed the Maliki interview to the entire enormous White House external mailing list, instead of the internal list, which was what was intended. As a result, the WH ended up giving Maliki's statements much wider publicity, when they actually wanted to keep the interview quiet.

I am not convinced that the "retraction" ever actually happened. It is only reported from US sources, as you yourself show.

The White House has been increasingly putting words into the mouth of Maliki, saying he wants this, and he wants that, statements frequently at variance with what we know he has really said (often thanks to your translations, Badger). These WH releases are published by the MSM as real statements from Maliki, but they are not. Is this not another case?

3:20 AM  

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