Obama's Op-Ed on Iraq - Premise Untrue, And a History Lesson

The story behind Obama's editorial (My Plan For Iraq

") just keeps on getting better and better. The candidate's premise for his op-ed is that Iraq's Prime Minister has asked for a solid timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from his country. That, Obama claims, mimics his own stance. However, Ed Morrissey (forever Captain Ed to us) over at Hot Air pointed out that the BBC, of all organizations, has come out and informed the public about a little faux pas about Iraq and withdrawal that the drive-by media committed regarding this alleged statement by Iraq's leader.

According to our British friends, last week's statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on his desire for US troop withdrawals, widely quoted and reported on by the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media, was mistranslated! So much for Obama's lede...

Here's what was reported last week, as recounted in yesterday's BBC article:

The prime minister was widely quoted as saying that in the negotiations with the Americans on a Status of Forces Agreement to regulate the US troop presence from next year, "the direction is towards either a memorandum of understanding on their evacuation, or a memorandum of understanding on a timetable for their withdrawal".

Here's Obama's opening paragraph in his op-ed yesterday (and I'm certain that it is going to be a large part of his speech on Iraq today):

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

But here's what the BBC is reporting as the real quote from al-Maliki:

In an audio recording of his remarks, heard by the BBC, the prime minister did not use the word "withdrawal".

What he actually said was: "The direction is towards either a memorandum of understanding on their evacuation, or a memorandum of understanding on programming their presence."

That translation mistake, which the BBC says occurred in the written copy of al-Maliki's statement that was handed out to reporters, is huge. Al-Maliki wasn't saying that the sole item left to decide was the pace of US withdrawals, he was merely staking out Iraq's negotiation parameters. Many articles were subsequently written, based on that mistaken translation, about how the Prime Minister's newfound desire to negotiate and come to an agreement on only the withdrawal of forces -- essentially a switch to Obama's position -- was going to help the Democratic candidate in the fall election. I think I even remember a poll conducted on how much it would help Obama, although I can't for the life of me remember where I saw it.

The BBC goes on to say that the Iraqi government knows that although their military is getting better fast, they aren't ready to handle the security situation on their own - and the Prime Minister knows it. Also, the BBC notes that the terrorists in Iraq are probably waiting for the United States to leave, so that they can launch more effective attacks in the country. 'Translated', that means that our combined forces have more than a few more targets to eliminate before a reasonable expectation of long-term security can be achieved. In other words, our work in Iraq isn't done yet.

Noting that Barack Obama is going to be visiting Iraq soon, the BBC helpfully closes their article with a message to Barack Obama and his traveling companions Senators Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed (both of whom also opposed the surge in Iraq, and have stated that there was/is no military solution to the situation over there):

But when Mr Obama visits Baghdad, as he is expected to later this month, he is unlikely to find that the Iraqi government is quite as set on demanding deadlines for US withdrawal as he would like to think.

The fact that it was the BBC who alerted us to this "translation mistake" leads me to believe that their article was preemptive - that the BBC was scared that if the mistake was noted elsewhere, they wouldn't be able to contain the damage. I think there's probably more to this story - perhaps someone in the Prime Minister's press office intended to send a different message than al-Maliki's, for the 'benefit' of Western audiences. As I don't speak or read Arabic, I can't follow up on my suspicions, but I hope someone else does.

While I can't wait to see, hear, and read the coming avalanche of corrections in the drive-by media that's undoubtedly going to be triggered by this translation revelation, I'm even more interested in Obama's. I wonder if he's going to mention it in his speech on Iraq today?

N.B.:  If you'd like to see Barack Obama's positioning on Iraq shattered even more, there are two great pieces from yesterday at The Weekly Standard's website. The first,  An Accelerated Withdrawal? by Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, reminds us that the recent headlines about the Bush Administration now pushing for an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq are not true. The Administration is following, in fact, the same timetable that General Petraeus told Congress about last September (complete with a slide show for the slower members of Congress and the media!) -- a timetable that is based solely upon security conditions on the ground. Two things to think about with this particular post. First, isn't it sad that the drive-by media can't even accurately recall what Petraeus told Congress just nine months ago? Second, isn't it amazing that all the way back in September of 2007, General Petraeus was confident enough in the turn-around in Iraq that was being brought about by the surge that he was willing to go out on a limb and publicly recommend such a plan?

The other piece, "The War We're In -- Obama's disturbing op-ed" by Thomas Donnelly, is also found at The Weekly Standard's website. Donnelly offers Obama a history lesson about Iraq and the surrounding region, something that the candidate sorely needs:

Obama needs to look at a map and a history book. Iraq long has been and today remains one of the two naturally dominant powers in the Persian Gulf region, home to the second-largest proven oil reserves on the planet and a front-line bulwark against revolutionary Iran. That's where this story began: with Saddam's Hussein's ambitions for hegemony and his long and bloody war with Iran. It was a pity, as Henry Kissinger famously quipped, that both sides in that conflict couldn't lose. But neither the United States nor the rest of the world could be oblivious to the outcome; the strategic stakes were too great.

Obama should also listen to Osama, who recognized "Baghdad as the capital of the caliphate" that he aspires to recreate. "The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation," he declared in 2004. "It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world's millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate." Bin Laden had a clear grasp of the inherent balance of power in the Islamic world; he would have preferred to rule in Baghdad than Kabul.

It doesn't appear that Iraq, either historically or contemporaneously, is as much of a "distraction" as Obama hopes it is.