Maliki Was Misunderstood Twice?

Maliki Was Misunderstood Twice?


On two separate occasions, two different interpreters have taken what the Iraqi Prime Minister has said so far out of context that it basically meant the opposite?


“U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months,” he said in an interview with Der Spiegel that was released Saturday.

“That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes,” he said.

But a spokesman for al-Maliki said his remarks “were misunderstood, mistranslated and not conveyed accurately.”

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the possibility of troop withdrawal was based on the continuance of security improvements, echoing statements that the White House made Friday after a meeting between al-Maliki and U.S. President Bush.

I didn’t necessarily buy the previous backtracking after his first statement about withdrawal in the early part of July, but it was at least plausible. This time around, not a chance. Maliki said way too much for it to be taken out of context.

Politco’s Ben Smith puts it as such…

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.

Also, Der Spiegel has a transcript. Again…this is the conversation…

SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?

Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned. U.S. 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.

SPIEGEL: Is this an endorsement for the US presidential election in November? Does Obama, who has no military background, ultimately have a better understanding of Iraq than war hero John McCain?

Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that’s where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.

How does one misinterpret or mistranslate that? He explicitly called out Barack Obama and the idea of 16 months. There’s no wiggle room.

  • Tully

    He denied what Der Speigel is claiming during the interview itself, in response to a direct follow-up question. Der Speigel refers to “supports Obama’s PLAN” as “their own vversion” of his remakrs–meaning they editorialized it.

    Had it been reported as “Maliki prefers the Obama timeline to an indeterminate one, if circumstances continue to warrant,” this would not even be news. We’d all like it to be over. But Maliki himself delineated the withdrawal conditions during the interview–stability of central Iraq, sufficient ability on the part of the Iraqi security forces, complete squashing of AQ in Iraq, and full economic recovery underway.

    This month another province came under full Iraqi provincial control. Anbar (!) is scheduled to be next, in a few weeks.

  • Tully

    Bullshit to the update–there’s enormous wiggle room. He did NOT specifically call out Obama’s PLAN as being endorsed or supported. He likes 16 months IF circumstances permit. Obama’s plan is to commence immediate withdrawal regardless. Maliki most specifically did NOT support or endorse “Obama’s Plan,” whih is the specific claim made by the Obamites and the press.

    But, of course, you will see what you wish to see, regardless of Maliki’s own disclaimer.

  • M

    That’s not calling out Obama’s plan. It was hardly a formal request.

    Obama has committed to a partial withdrawal — to removing “combat troops” — not to closing the bases/turning them over to Iraqis and to doing a full withdrawal. What percentage of the soldiers were “combat troops” was never defined.

    Bush managed to successfully claim that “major combat operations” were complete a while back — and since he can define that term any way he wants, it’s pretty hard for him to be wrong. Obama has never said that he would end the occupation, simply that he would reduce its scope by some undefined amount.

    That being said, I would guess that McCain is less likely to do even that.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    Obama may be the luckiest candidate for president ever. Now that the war is essentially over and the Iraqis can handle themselves, Barack Obama can call for a timetable, as if it is the same situation that existed in 2005-2006. And because the word “timetable” is being used, or translated or whatever, people like Justin willfully delude themselves into thinking the Iraqi government has always been against American military presence, and supported a timetable for withdrawal all along.

    Its like when Paul Krugman in 2001 predicted there would be a recession because of Bush’s tax cuts. Then he predicted the same in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Finally there was something resembling a recession and Mr. Krugman said, “see, I told you so!”

  • mw

    I don’t think this works in Obama’s favor, I thinkit works against him. At least for a certain percentage of the independent/moderate/libertarian swing vote, of which I consider myself a member.

    For voters in that category there is reason to fear the potential concentration of power that we are facing in 2009 with a potential 100 vote Democratic party majority in the House of Representatives, a 60-40 filibuster-proof Democratic Party plurality in the Senate, and a partisan toe-the-line 95% Democratic Party voting record Obama as President. Nevertheless I might be willing to take that enormous risk and vote for Obama on the basis of the overriding issue of getting us out of the Iraq quagmire.

    However, as it stands right now, with Maliki wanting us out, there is no meaningful difference between Obama and McCain on the timeframes we will exit Iraq. Yes. there is a difference between the two historically. Obama was right and McCain was wrong about going in in 2002/3. Arguably, McCain was right and Obama was wrong about the surge. But looking forward? No practical difference.

    In fact, the gating factor in how fast we can draw down our military posture in Iraq, will probably be the political obstruction raised by the right in Congress and in the country. McCain will be more effective than Obama in restraining the objections from the right, therefore it is entirely reasonable to suppose we can draw down faster with a McCain Presidency than with Obama. I get my cake and eat it too. I can limit the concentration of single party power in Washington, and get also get a quicker or at least equivalent draw down in Iraq by supporting McCain. Win-Win.

  • david

    mw, if you think McCain will withdraw troops just because Iraq wants us out, you are delusional.

  • michael reynolds

    Maliki just threw McCain under the Humvee. The “mistranslation” dodge is utter nonsense.

    1) They were using Maliki’s translator.
    2) A new translation by the NYT of the voice recording backs Der Spiegel’s version.
    3) It’s clear from the context that Maliki deliberately injected Obama’s name. He was not responding to prompting.
    4) It’s clear from context that Maliki knew his statement would be interpreted as supporting Obama. His follow-up was a “No endorsement . . . but . . .” answer.
    5) If we are to believe the GOP’s narrative, McCain’s election is absolutely vital to Iraq’s survival, and Obama’s election would be disastrous. Is there any part of the interview that would lead a rational person to conclude that Maliki agrees with that narrative?

    Maliki wants us out sooner rather than later, more completely rather than less.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    I might be willing to take that enormous risk and vote for Obama on the basis of the overriding issue of getting us out of the Iraq quagmire…Arguably, McCain was right and Obama was wrong about the surge. But looking forward? No practical difference.

    If you are worried about an undivided government, then the fact that there is no practical difference on Iraq going forward should definitely push you in the direction of McCain.

    FYI, Iraq is not a quagmire anymore.

  • mw

    Yeah – I guess one of us is. And BTW, McCain said the same thing – If Iraq wants us out, they are a sovereign nation, we are out. It is really pretty simple. Now I understand David, if this does not jibe with your preconceived notions – I expect you like to believe meaningless campaign sloganeering like “McCain = Bush”, but the fact is, McCAin is not Bush. Sorry to burst your delusions.

    Our military leadership wants out, they need to rebuild. The majority of Americans want out, we cannot afford to maintain this level of military presence in Iraq. The Iraqi’s want us out by the end of 2010, they want their country back. Regardless of who is President, we will have a significantly reduced combat presence in in Iraq by the end of 2010. Done Deal. Obama will be forced by circumstances to withdraw slower than he has led his supporters to believe. MCain will be forced by political reality and Iraq leadership to withdraw faster than he has led his supporters to believe. There is no meaningful difference between them on what will really happen in Iraq for the next two years.

    Yup. Agree. That was my point. Since we are going to be out of Iraq on comparable timeframes regardless of who is President, the country is better off not handing the Democrats all the keys. The only way to avoid that, is to elect McCain as President.

  • Tully

    Gee, this is all sounding so familiar somehow…

    Der Speigel changed the text of their interview AFTER publication to better conform with their editorial pronouncement of Maliki’s “support” for Obama’s plan. To reiterate, the chatterhead claim was that Maliki was openly “supporting” and/or “endorsing” Obama’s plan in its entirety. That is clearly not the case at this point.

  • david

    mw, perhaps you need to check your own preconcieved notions. I voted for McCain in 2000. But now he is simply a lying shill for the GOP status quo. If you think that includes not handing billions of dollars to Haliburton and Blackwater you’ve been asleep the last 7 years. Everything McCain says now is a lie. I suppose you believe he’s going to balance the budget too, huh?

  • Justin Gardner

    Der Speigel changed the text of their interview AFTER publication to better conform with their editorial pronouncement of Maliki’s “support” for Obama’s plan.

    Huh? Where’s the proof that Der Speigel changed the text?

    Also, you’re linking to a story about a previous speech and ignoring this bit of info…

    Contacted by the BBC, the prime minister’s office had no explanation for the apparent contradiction. An official suggested the written version remained the authoritative one, although it is not what Mr Maliki said.

    The impression of a hardening Iraqi government line was reinforced the following day by comments from the National Security Adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie.

    He was quoted as saying that Iraq would not accept any agreement which did not specify a deadline for a full withdrawal of US troops.

    So thank you for confirming that what Maliki meant to say was “withdrawal” since the Iraqi government stuck by the written interpretation.

    Getting back to this time around…

    Maliki talked very specifically about 16 months and Obama. Also, he talked about how an “artificial prolonging” of the presence in Iraq is not a good idea. I don’t know what other proof you need.

  • mw

    “he is simply a lying shill for the GOP status quo… Everything McCain says now is a lie.” – David

    Uh, yeah. I can see that you are indeed an authority on partisan shills – as you clearly have deep intimate knowledge of the species. It is always amusing to see partisan shills hysterically pointing at other partisan shills.

    So you voted for McCain in 2000? Great. I voted for Kerry in 2004 and straight Dem in 2006, and I believe John McCain exactly as much as I believe Barack “I was for public campaign financing until I didn’t need it, I was against FISA telecom immunity until I was for it, I was for gun control until I was against it, and I will dictate withdrawal timeframes to the generals unless they tell me differently.” Obama.

    You see a liar, I see two ambitious pols who will say whatever they need to say to gullible supporters to be President. Tweedledum. Tweedledee. No difference.

    I don’t know that McCain will balance the budget. I do know the very best chance for that to happen is with a divided government like we had during the last six years of the Clinton administration.

    I also know with absolute 100% certainty that there is zero, nada, none, NFW, no how, no chance of balancing the budget with a 100 vote Democratic party majority in the House of Representatives, a 60-40 filibuster-proof Democratic Party plurality in the Senate, and a highly partisan toe-the-line 95% Democratic Party voting record Obama as President. That is a guarantee.