Monday, July 21, 2008

Obama, McCain and The Der Spiegel

I figured I would wait until the full media narratives set in and the Sunday morning talk shows had finished up before commenting on the Malaki statement essentially endorsing Obama and his plan to get out of Iraq.

First, The Der Spiegel (the same magazine that battled East Germany during the the division of Germany) ran this article where Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki seemed to endorse Obama's plan for withdrawal.

Here is some of the transcript.

SPIEGEL: How short-term? Are you hoping for a new agreement before the end of the Bush administration?

Maliki: So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias. The American lead negotiators realize this now, and that's why I expect to see an agreement taking shape even before the end of President Bush's term in office. With these negotiations, we will start the whole thing over again, on a clearer, better basis, because the first proposals were unacceptable to us.

SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?

Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.

This was said and was accepted as truth for hours and hours and all the major US news outlets carried the story on their front page. Then, in a bizarre change of events, there was a claim that Malaki was misquoted and did not say any of that. What? The "correction" was submitted by an Iraqi official, however, when you look at where that "official" released this "correction", the story becomes a little trickier and a lot more deceptive.

"Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, who the Times calls a spokesman for the Iraqi government, has released a statement saying that Prime Minister Maliki's statement was "misunderstood and mistranslated" and "not conveyed accurately regarding the vision of Senator Barack Obama, U.S. presidential candidate, on the time frame for U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq." But as the Times notes al Dabbagh did not specify what had been mistranslated. Another interesting detail, noted by the Times. al-Dabbagh's statement was released by CentCom. I do not know how often Iraqi government statements are released by CentCom."

So, US Central Command is issuing official Iraqi government statements now? Bush tried to plant this seed and discredit the magazine, but they are standing firm. Here is their complete statement.

In the interview, Maliki expressed support of Obama's plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. "That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of changes."

Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying "who they choose as their president is the Americans' business." But he then went on to say: "But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited."

A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki's office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh's statement "did not address a specific error." CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, "how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? The Atlantic Monthly was astonished by "how little effort was made" to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.

SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.

Maliki's comments immediately hit the headlines of US papers and Web sites across the country, partly the result of a White House employee inadvertently sending out a news alert to its full media distribution list. The White House said it was an error and that it was meant to be sent internally only."

We can assume that since they have the entire transcript, they also have audio or maybe even a video of the interview. I would love to see the "Iraqi spokesman" clean that up. I can't believe that the White House made the Iraqi "clarification" come through its own military command (Central Command). Are they getting this brash that they can not even try to be subtle anymore?

This denial has forced Der Spiegel to release their full interview and now they're going to have every big news organization in the world hiring translators to check and see whether or not Der Spiegel was sloppy or the administration was lying... and judging from the CentCom's non-denial denial, it's easy to see who's going to come out the winner on this one. If there was any chance there was a mistake in the translation, the CentCom statement would have been a LOT less garbled and would have cited specific instances of misquote. But they didn't and that's because they knew they couldn't find anything.

I'm seriously shocked by how poorly the Bush administration is handling this. All they've done is made this into a MUCH bigger story than it would have been otherwise and set themselves up to look like lying fools...AGAIN.

Do not be fooled. This is a huge blow to McCain, Bush and the Iraqi governments susceptibility to Washington pressure and one that will be hard to spin. All Obama has to do is stick to the original narrative and refuse to back down. Expect the GOP to smear Germany and call the Der Spiegel communist or socialist or something else that fires up their base and the MSM.