Conventional Wisdom is that Iraqi government statements about a time horizon for our withdrawal from Iraq is a big plus for Obama and a big negative for McCain. It might be true, but it does not have to be that way. Since the McCain campaign is seemingly unable to get out of their own way, I offer this simple three step plan for McCain to retake the political initiative on Iraq.

First, the campaign should realize that Maliki has served up on a silver platter a perfect opportunity for McCain to undercut Obama’s support among independent voters. Whether McCain chooses to partake of this opportunity is another matter altogether.

Maliki and the Iraqi government are behaving like the independent sovereign government we hoped they would become and are clearly stating they are ready for us to leave. McCain can take advantage of this by following this simple 3 step process:

Step 1– McCain must strongly embrace the Iraqi government position on American withdrawal. I don’t mean grudging acknowledgment. I mean a big bear hug embrace. This does not mean any change of position for McCain. All he has to do is say exactly, word for word, what he said in 2004:

Question: “What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?”
McCain: “Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it’s obvious that we would have to leave because — if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we’ve been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don’t see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.”

Step 2 – McCain should continue to point out that if the Iraq government is ready for us to leave, to a large degree it means that the surge worked. McCain can and has and should continue to state that he was right and Obama was wrong on the surge strategy and pound that point over and over. He can legitimately say that it was his aggressive support for the surge strategy that created the path out of the quagmire. He can even use this construct from his rejected NYT Op-Ed piece:

“Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted…”
Then add this one sentence:
The success of the surge in creating room for political progress in now undeniable – even for Senator Obama. The elected Iraqi Government has stated that they are ready to stand on their own. My friends, our job in Iraq is done. We have victory.

Step 3 – After embracing the Iraqi government 2010 timeframe, McCain should leave himself the exact same wiggle room that Obama uses – by holding out the possibility that the pace of the draw-down can and will be “refined” by evolving conditions on the ground.

This would do so many good things for McCain’s campaign. It would render moot Obama’s single strongest issue against McCain. It puts McCain on the same side as the majority of American voters. It creates space between McCain and Bush. It makes it easy for independents, moderates, and libertarians to vote for McCain on the basis of maintaining the checks and balances of divided government.

Finally, this is just the right thing to do and the way for McCain to finally get on the right side of history. Our military leadership want a draw down in Iraq, because we need to rebuild our forces and reinforce Afghanistan. The majority of Americans think it was a mistake and want out, because we cannot afford to maintain this level of military presence in Iraq. And now the Iraqi government want us out by the end of 2010, because they want their country back. It is inevitable that we will be mostly out of a combat role in Iraq in this 2010 timeframe.

Maliki’s comments reinforce that there is no practical difference on what our military posture will look like in Iraq by the end of 2010 regardless of who is elected president. With that realization Obama loses his biggest advantage in November, and we can potentially avoid the disaster of single party Democratic government with expanded and potentially filibuster proof Democratic majorities.

Many independent voters find the prospect of the largest concentration of single party power since FDR to be disquieting – to say the least. I am among them. There is ample reason to be concerned about what might emerge out of the very real possibility of a 100 vote Democratic party majority in the House of Representatives, a 60-40 filibuster-proof Democratic Party plurality in the Senate, all “led” by a 95% toe-the-party-line voting record Barack Obama as President.

Net net. As an independent voter I get my cake and eat it too. I can vote to limit the concentration of single party power in Washington, and get also get a quicker or at least an equivalent draw down in Iraq by supporting McCain. It’s all good.

Will McCain start moving more aggressively in this direction? I don’t know. But he should. After all, It is exactly what this administration said we wanted all along…

When the Iraqis stand up, we stand down.

The Iraqi government is standing up.

Time to stand down.

X-posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall

Politics Advice for the McCain Campaign