When you’re a lame duck president, some of the time even tame prime ministers you installed in office can’t resist the temptation to thumb their nose at you. Take Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for instance. He knows perfectly well that one thing that’s guaranteed to give George Bush conniptions is talk about a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. And so he went ahead and publicly suggested that the new security pact that we are currently negotiating with them should include a timetable for withdrawal:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has for the first time suggested establishing a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a step that the Bush administration has long opposed.
Maliki floated the idea on Monday during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, where he spoke with Arab ambassadors about a security pact being negotiated to determine the future role of U.S. troops in Iraq. The agreement would replace a U.N. mandate authorizing the presence of the troops, which is set to expire Dec. 31.
Maliki said that Iraq has proposed a short-term memorandum of understanding with the United States instead of trying to forge a longer term pact on an issue that has spawned opposition across Iraq’s political divides.
“The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal,” Maliki said, according to a statement released Monday by his office that did not specify how long a period a memorandum would cover. “In all cases, the basis for any agreement will be respect for the full sovereignty of Iraq.”
The Bush administration, predictably, reacted by trying to deny that Maliki had even said what he said. Here’s State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:
Well, thatâ€™s really the part â€“ the point at which I would seek greater clarification in terms of remarks. Iâ€™ve seen the same press reports that you have. But I havenâ€™t yet had an opportunity to get greater clarity as to exactly to what Mr. Maliki was referring or if, in fact, thatâ€™s an accurate reporting of what he said.
The trouble, dear Sean, is that it’s not just Reuters and AP that’s reporting that Maliki said what you’re trying to suggest he may not have said. It’s also Voice of America. Isn’t that, like, “the official external radio and television broadcasting service of the United States federal government“?
But there’s denial, and then there’s denial. Even if you can’t deny that he said it, you can still deny the … shall we call it a request? Here’s Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman starting down that road:
“But timelines tend to be artificial in nature,” he said. “In a situation where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq, I would just tell you, it’s usually best to look at these things based on conditions on the ground.”
George Bush may have famously said:
We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. … Itâ€™s their governmentâ€™s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.
But that was then. Now, if the Iraqi government starts talking about wanting us to leave, it’s a whole different ball game. If they say, leave, we first pretend that that haven’t really said it. And we then find all kinds of reasons why they are really not the best judge of when we should leave. But we will, of course, be sure to let them know when the time is ripe. They are, after all, a sovereign nation. And we are great respecters of sovereignty. Especially in the time of Bush.