What a day.
It started with an article in a top-flight German publication about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki agreeing with Barack Obama on a 16-month U.S. troop withdrawal timetable.
Then came a Reuters story taking careful note of the story appearing in Der Spiegel.
Then came an accidental blast e-mail from the Bush White House sending the Reuters piece on Maliki-Obama to all reporters on the main White House distribution list.
Then the White House said it shouldn't have sent the Reuters story around, but acknowledging it could do nothing to undo the damage -- or so we all thought.
Then came the Obama reaction to Maliki.
Then came John McCain's reaction to Obama reacting to Maliki.
Then came an EXPLANATION from Maliki's spokesman about what the prime minister actually meant.
What The Bourbon Room tries to do is let its readers view as much of the campaign back-and-forth as possible to judge for yourself who has the upper hand and which argument you find most persuasive. Today, this is a rich, rich field because you can see this massive tug-of-war over semantics (as if Friday's linguistic spelunking through "timetables" and "time horizons" wasn't enough) over what Maliki said about Obama's timeline, what the two U.S. presidential campaigns thought he said, and, finally, what Maliki's spokesman tried to say Maliki said.
It's a treasure trove of political communication, reaction, counter-reaction and clarification. Trapped in the crossfire was the poor White House staffer who meant to send the Reuters story about Maliki and Obama to senior staff but instead sent it the real world (or at least to reporters who say they inhabit the real world).
HERE IS THE DER SPIEGEL STORY:
Der Speigel: Iraq Leader Maliki Supports Obama's Withdrawal Plans
In an interview with SPIEGEL, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Barack Obama "is right when he talks about 16 months." It is time, he said, for an official timetable.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports US presidential candidate Barack Obama's plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. When asked in and interview with SPIEGEL when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, Maliki responded "as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned." He then continued: "US presidential candidate Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months."
Maliki was careful to back away from outright support for Obama. "Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business," he said. But then, apparently referring to Republican candidate John McCain's more open-ended Iraq policy, Maliki said: "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."
Iraq, Maliki went on to say, "would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations." He also emphasized though that the security agreement between the two countries should only "remain in effect in the short term."
The comments by the Iraqi leader come as Obama embarks on a trip to both Afghanistan and Iraq as well as to Europe. Obama was in Afghanistan on Saturday to, as he said prior to his trip, "see what the situation on the ground is . and thank our troops for the heroic work that they've been doing." The exact itinerary of the candidate's trip has not been made public out of security concerns, but it is widely expected that he will arrive in Iraq on Sunday to meet with Maliki.
Maliki has long shown impatience with the open-ended presence of US troops in Iraq. In his conversation with SPIEGEL, he was once again candid about his frustration over the Bush administration's hesitancy about agreeing to a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. But he did say he was optimistic that such a schedule would be drawn up before Bush leaves the White House next January -- a confidence that appeared justified following Friday's joint announcement in Baghdad and Washington that Bush has now, for the first time, spoken of "a general time horizon" for moving US troops out of Iraq.
"So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat," Maliki told SPIEGEL. "But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias."
He also bemoaned the fact that Baghdad has little control over the US troops in Iraq. "It is a fundamental problem for us that it should not be possible, in my country, to prosecute offences or crimes committed by US soldiers against our population," Maliki said.
HERE IS THE REUTERS STORY:
Iraqi PM backs Obama troop exit plan - magazine
BERLIN, July 19 (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a German magazine he supported prospective U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's proposal that U.S. troops should leave Iraq within 16 months.
In an interview with Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Maliki said he wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.
"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."
It is the first time he has backed the withdrawal timetable put forward by Obama, who is visiting Afghanistan and us set to go to Iraq as part of a tour of Europe and the Middle East.
Obama has called for a shift away from a "single-minded" focus on Iraq and wants to pull out troops within 16 months, instead adding U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan.
Asked if he supported Obama's ideas more than those of John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, Maliki said he did not want to recommend who people should vote for.
"Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems."
Maliki, who is due to visit Germany this week, has suggested a timetable should be set for a U.S. withdrawal but U.S. officials have been more cautious, despite an improving security situation.
The White House said on Friday President George W. Bush and Maliki had agreed that a security deal under negotiation should set a "time horizon" for meeting "aspirational goals" for reducing U.S. forces in Iraq.
"The Americans have found it difficult to agree on a concrete timetable for the exit because it seems like an admission of defeat to them. But it isn't," Maliki told Der Spiegel.
Some five years after the U.S.-led invasion, there are still some 146,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Jon Boyle)
HERE IS THE WHITE HOUSE REACTION TO THE DER SPIEGEL PIECE:
WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN SCOTT STANZEL ON THE DER SPEIGEL STORY ABOUT IRAQI PM MALIKI SUPPORTING OBAMA'S IRAQ WITHDRAWAL PLANS:
"Our government has been in touch with the Prime Minister Maliki's office. In the interview, the Prime Minister made clear that any decision will be based on continuing positive developments - as he and the president both did in their joint statement yesterday. It is our shared view that should the recent security gains continue, we will be able to meet our joint aspirational time horizons. It is because of the President's bold surge strategy that we've been able to achieve the gains we're seeing today - be it security, economic or political progress (evidenced today by the Sunni block coming back into the government)."
Stanzel went on to say that yesterday's statement on President Bush's Thursday conversation with Maliki is the best indicator of where the administration is with discussions about jointly making continued progress in Iraq.
HERE IS THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN'S RESPONSE TO DER SPIEGEL:
Obama Campaign Senior National Security Advisor, Dr. Susan Rice, in response to Prime Minister Maliki's support for Senator Obama's Iraq plan.
"Senator Obama welcomes Prime Minister Maliki's support for a 16 month timeline for the redeployment of U.S combat brigades. This presents an important opportunity to transition to Iraqi responsibility, while restoring our military and increasing our commitment to finish the fight in Afghanistan."
HERE IS THE McCAIN CAMPAIGN REACTION FROM SENIOR FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER RANDY SCHEUNEMANN:
"The difference between John McCain and Barack Obama is that Barack Obama advocates an unconditional withdrawal that ignores the facts on the ground and the advice of our top military commanders. John McCain believes withdrawal must be based on conditions on the ground. Prime Minister Maliki has repeatedly affirmed the same view, and did so again today. Timing is not as important as whether we leave with victory and honor, which is of no apparent concern to Barack Obama. The fundamental truth remains that Senator McCain was right about the surge and Senator Obama was wrong. We would not be in the position to discuss a responsible withdrawal today if Senator Obama's views had prevailed."
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, HERE IS THE OFFICIAL CLARIFYING STATEMENT FROM MALIKI'S SPOKESMAN ABOUT THE PRIME MINISTER MEANT TO TELL DER SPIEGEL:
Mr. Maliki's statements to the German magazine Der Spiegel
have been misunderstood
The official spokesman for the Iraqi government, Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh,
announced that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed that his
statements to the German magazine Der Spiegel have been misunderstood
and mistranslated and was not conveyed accurately regarding the vision
of Senator Barack Obama, U.S. presidential candidate, on the timeframe
for U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq.
Al-Dabbagh explained that Mr. al-Maliki confirmed the existence of an
Iraqi vision stems from the reality with regard to Iraq security needs,
as the positive developments of the security situation and the
improvement witnessed in Iraqi cities makes the subject of U.S. forces'
withdrawal within prospects, horizons and timetables agreed upon and in
the light of the continuing positive developments on the ground, and
security that came within the Strategic Plan for Cooperation which was
laid and developed by Mr. Maliki and President George Bush. The Iraqi
government appreciates and values the efforts of all the friends who
continue to support and supporting Iraqi security forces.
Al-Dabbagh underscored that the statements made by the head of the
ministerial council (Prime Minister al-Maliki) or any of the members of
the Iraqi government should not be understood as support to any U.S.
End of the statement
Now, dear readers, let me know if you're all briefed up and see things clearly.