By Patrick Appel
Maliki here -- and for the past couple of weeks more broadly -- is addressing himself to the most fundamental "facts on the ground" in Iraq of all, the gross unpopularity of the American military presence. Under those circumstances, only real desperation (such as the terrible situation prevailing in 2006) makes it make sense for Maliki to uncritically endorse an open-ended presence.
To really understand the importance of Maliki's , comments you need to consider their opposite. Imagine if Maliki had walked in front of the cameras and said, "at this stage, a timetable for withdrawal is unrealistic, and we hope our American friends will not bow to domestic political pressures and be hasty in leaving Iraq just as the country improves." It would be a transformative moment in this election. John McCain would talk of nothing else. The cable shows would talk of nothing else. Magazines would run thousands of covers about "Obama's Iraq Problem." Obama would probably lose the race.
You'll recall that just a couple of weeks ago Maliki's call for a withdrawal timetable was dismissed by the White House as a "transcription error."