Undiplomatic Banner
21st July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:00 am

Will McCain Stick to His Plan?


No, not Iraq.  I’m talking more short-term.

News reports last week said that McCain planned to focus on domestic issues while Obama was on his trip overseas:

As Sen. Barack Obama takes a highly publicized trip abroad over the next week, Sen. John McCain plans to highlight his commitment to the nation’s domestic challenges in stops across the country….

“John McCain will be talking directly to home-town Americans about gas prices, job growth and the economy,” campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said Friday. “Of course, we expect there’ll be an implicit contrast between John McCain’s record and an Obama campaign trip designed to compensate for a slim foreign policy record and built around his own political ambitions.”

Well they got a contrast, all right, but not exactly the one they wanted:

  • The White House announced Saturday that the United States and Iraq had come to agreement on a “time horizon” for the departure of American troops from Iraq.  Yes, The Condi and others continue to argue that it’s not a timeline, but it sure looks like one.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al Maliki said in an interview with Der Spiegel that he thought Obama’s withdrawal plan was just about right.  Yes, his spokesperson later issued a non-retraction retraction, but the general consensus in the punditsphere is that Maliki, intentionally or not, kneecapped both the White House and the McCain campaign.
  • While McCain himself remained silent, his foreign policy team spokespeople spent the weekend trying to explain away the Maliki remark by attacking Obama’s position rather than that of the Iraqi Prime Minister.
  • And just a few minutes ago, Maliki’s spokesperson retracted the retraction.  From the AP:  “Iraq’s government spokesman is hopeful that U.S. combat forces could be out of the country by 2010.  Ali al-Dabbagh made the comments following a meeting in Baghdad on Monday between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama….  The timeframe is similar to Obama’s proposal to pull back combat troops within 16 months.”

Oy vey.  Talk about having a bad day.

So, I think the big — and so far unasked — question for this week is, will McCain stick to his plan to talk about the economy while his Iraq policy — the linchpin of his campaign — implodes?

This is largely a tactical question — what to talk about at any given time — but sometimes tactical decisions can turn into strategic blunders (just ask Michael Dukakis about the tank photo-op).

McCain doesn’t really have any good options here:

  • If he remains silent, the press and perhaps even the public could conclude that Maliki got it right and Obama’s plan is better.  Instead of stories about Obama’s foreign policy inexperience, he’ll start seeing stories about Obama’s better judgment on Iraq, Afghanistan, and other key issues.
  • If he starts to attack Obama while he’s in Iraq meeting with American troops and the Iraqi government, he would look churlish and petty for violating the unwritten rule that you don’t attack an opponent while he is overseas.
  • If he attacks Maliki, he will invite questions about his earlier statements in support of Maliki, and draw renewed attention to his 2004 statement that we will get out if the Iraqis ask us to do so.

So what would you do?  This is going to be interesting to watch.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 21st, 2008 at 11:00 am and is filed under foreign policy, politics. It is tagged under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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