Many have noted that Maliki's preference for Obama's Iraq plan has put the Bush/McCain tag team in the untenable position of appearing to support the Democratic position on Iraq, or of attempting to throw Maliki under the bus, or of creating a preposterous middle ground between "time horizons" and "timetables." The bobbing, weaving and dancing on Iraq that the GOP is having to do in the wake of this news leaves many Republican strategists rightly believing that, to sum it up, "they're fucked."
What has gone less noticed, however, is the fundamental reason why they're fucked. It's not so much that Republicans have no consistent message, or that Iraqi leaders now publicly agree with Obama and the Democratic Party.
I have long argued that the best way to skewer Republicans on Iraq was to stop using the language of "war" and to begin using the language of "occupation." That's because in a "war" there is the possibility of "victory" and "defeat", and the measure of success in war taking more enemy lives than sustaining losses, and/or seizing territory and resources from the enemy; in an occupation, however, the only two possible endgames are annexation or withdrawal.
It has been a challenge getting even progressives to adopt this rhetorical footing: there is the uncomfortable association of the word "occupation" with the Israel/Palestine situation, and the sense especially from anti-war advocates that ceasing to call a bloody conflict like Iraq a "war" would reduce the stigma of the word "war". But in the end, it didn't even matter too much; our presence in Iraq has been such a nightmarish clusterfuck that a majority of the American people have clearly rejected it by any name. Still, there are many who actually believe that the "surge has worked", while many others who would like us to leave Iraq still believe that Democrats just want to "see America lose."
Fortunately, Maliki's stance means that the McBush campaign has seen fit to do our dirty framing work for us. Remember the key quote from the anonymous senior McCain official:
"His domestic politics require him to be for us getting out," said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The military says 'conditions based' and Maliki said 'conditions based' yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders."
Think for a second what that means. So long as Iraq's supposedly sovereign leaders lent their support for continued American presence in the region, America's de facto occupation of Iraq could maintain the facade of legitimacy as a reconstruction and stabilization mission--regardless of the obvious fact, supported by polls, that the Iraqi people don't want us there. But when even Iraq's leaders say they want us gone, the Administration can no longer argue that their presence in Iraq is a reconstruction mission to help Iraq.
No, we're listening to our military--not to Iraq. We're not helping them--we're
protecting enriching ourselves at their expense (of course, only Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil are getting the riches, but that's another story.) We're occupying their country against their will.
Even the Bush Administration's openly risible move toward agreeing to a "time horizon" doesn't help them swing the reconstruction/occupation rhetorical seesaw. By setting a "time horizon" as distinct from a supposedly firmer "timetable", they at best only allow themselves the possibility of adding further Friedman Units to America's occupational presence. There is, in short, no way out of the rhetorical trap for them on Iraq.
This is why the New York Times' rejection of McCain's op-ed is so telling and so crucial: this huge rhetorical shift allows even the traditional media to begin to openly call into question the very meaning of "victory" in Iraq--because we have now experienced a sea-change from the language of "war" to that of "occupation."
And that is why the Republicans are really, really fucked on Iraq. The framing dam has broken, and floodwaters are beginning to let loose.
I thought I would never see the day.