Thursday, July 10, 2008

Do it Dunkirk-style

Last week, I rubbed a war-happy Republican friend the wrong way by casting John McCain along the lines of the famous verse from Lord of the Rings:

One man to rule them all, One man to find them,
One man to bring them all and in forever war bind them.

But it seems like my anti-war friends were having a bad week too. In a major softening of stance quite approaching a flip-flop, Barrack Obama "refined" his position on withdrawal from Iraq and offered that he is willing to consider going slow on his promised 16-month timeframe for military withdrawal. Ostensibly, Obama wants to make sure that the troops are safe and wants plenty of inputs from commanders on the ground before withdrawing.

Those following congressional debates on war funding in the past year will remember that whenever Democrats have tried to to tighten Congress' fists with regard to the war, Republicans have eagerly piled on to them, accusing them of endangering the safety of troops by holding back money for equipment and supplies. I have always found it to be a seriously flawed argument - keep funding the war because our troops are there; thus, the troops' presence in Iraq itself becomes the raison d'etre for their continued presence there. That Obama should also choose to pick up the safety of troops line is tragic.

Andrew Sullivan writes in The Times that by moving to center ground on many issues, "slowly and subtly, Obama is wiping out every reason to vote for McCain". Actually, for voters who think like me, Obama's slow and subtle movements (say, on war and public funding) are wiping out every reason to vote for Obama himself.

In a related development this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki indicated that he would like to see a timetable for withdrawal before signing any agreement regarding the status of US forces after the UN mandate ends at the end of this year. There are many theories about why Maliki said what he did, the most prevalent being that it is just good old political noise to please the electorate. Whatever the reason might be, it certainly takes a good bit of resolve and balls to come out like this. I mean, imagine yourself in Maliki's shoes - you are running a fractionalized and violent state with little sovereign leverage of its own, your power and existence is totally based on the backing of some outsiders, these outsiders are ready to turn a blind eye to corruption and cronyism in your ranks as long as you toe their general line, and finally, your personal wealth and patronage is now unimaginably immense and secure thanks to the outsiders. Why would you want a timetable?

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