Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Maliki's Barry Bet

Maliki's Bet

Editorial of The New York Sun | July 22, 2008

It's usually a bad idea for one democratic country to meddle in another democratic country's election. But the boost Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq just gave to Senator Obama in the American campaign has to be one of the most stunning pieces of political nerve in memory.

It could have been a disastrous visit by the Democrat to Baghdad. Mr. Maliki could have left his meeting with Mr. Obama and said, "If America does what Mr. Obama wants and announces to our enemies when it will leave Iraq, Al Qaeda will regain the ground it has lost here, my country will backslide into genocidal chaos, the Iranians will gain more influence here, and the oil supply risks being shut off, taking the gasoline price in America to $10 a gallon. I told Mr. Obama that and he told me that if he is elected, America is going to abandon Iraq anyway, no matter what happens, because the peace and security of Iraq isn't worth the life of one more American soldier, and because the war in Iraq is costing money that he wants to spend on health care and highways for Americans."

RELATED: Maliki Bets That Obama Will Prevail.

But it wasn't. The Iraqi premier said nothing of the sort. Instead Mr. Maliki essentially endorsed Mr. Obama's withdrawal timeline, defanging the attacks the McCain campaign has been directing for months at Mr. Obama's plan for a retreat. Mr. Maliki, as our Eli Lake reports today at page one, is calculating that Mr. Obama will win, and wants to be in his good grace. Some results may already be bearing fruit; in an interview with ABC News, Mr. Obama rejected what he called a false choice, "a rigid timeline of such and such a date, come hell or high water," suggesting that the withdrawal would be subject to conditions and events on the ground.

The great irony, of course, is that if Mr. Obama had his way and the Iraq War had never been fought, there wouldn't be a democratically elected prime minister in Iraq for Mr. Obama to negotiate with. Mr. Obama wouldn't be visiting there as a presidential candidate, same as he isn't going to Iran or Syria. There would be a Saddam Hussein in power interesting in killing the American president, not winning his friendship. And if the surge that Mr. Obama so opposed had not been successful, Mr. Maliki would not have the security situation to contemplate a withdrawal timeline for American troops. He would be worried about his own personal safety.

On both the war and the surge, Senator McCain was right, and Mr. Obama was wrong. That those two decisions provide a context for the elected premier of a free Iraq to lend Mr. Obama a hand in a presidential contest — well, it is far too early to predict the outcome of the American election, but let us just say that if Mr. Maliki is placing a bet on Mr. Obama, he is also placing one on Mr. McCain, which is that in the event the Republican is elected, he will place principle and the national interest over politics and petty vindictiveness. For our part we see the emergence of an Iraq making its own choices in these matters rather than having them dictated by the American ambassador or American generals as yet another sign of victory in the Battle of Iraq. The Iraqis want America as their friends whether Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain is president. For all the talk by critics of how the Iraq War supposedly alienated America from the world, here is an administration in Baghdad maneuvering for a friend in the White House.

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