There is a Karl Rovian rote to the attempted undermining of a growing Barack Obama-Nouri al-Maliki entente on getting American troops out of Iraq in the next two years.
Any withdrawal of troops "must be based on conditions on the ground," John McCain insisted yesterday as he stood next to George W. Bush's father, a living reminder that getting the US into an Iraq quagmire was not the only post-9/11 option.
McCain campaign surrogates are parroting the line that their candidate also wants to get us out, but not on a timetable or time line or time horizon, but only "as conditions permit," thereby branding any scheduled withdrawal as rash and dangerous.
On the PBS News Hour, adviser Max Boot contends "that any reductions in combat forces have to be based on conditions on the ground, not on rigid timetables imposed in advance" and that McCain and Maliki "agree that we can only have these major withdrawals of American troops if conditions on the ground permit. But that's something that Senator Barack Obama does not agree with. He wants to reduce U.S. troops, no matter what conditions on the ground are. And nobody can predict what Iraq will look like two years from now."
But exactly what does that mean? Are "conditions" to be taken as an end to all the murderous actions of bitter-ender al Qaeda insurgents or out-of-control fringe Moqtada al-Sadr militias?
Do "conditions" mean the suppression of all squabbling among sectarian factions in the Iraqi parliament and a binding agreement on hot-button issues such as sharing oil revenues?
Or are "conditions" a generic cover for the McCain campaign to make Obama look irresponsible for proposing any orderly exit from Iraq?
In all fairness, the Republican candidate is no longer pushing for an American presence in Iraq for a hundred years. Apparently, his time line is keeping the option open to scare American voters until after the November balloting is over.