07/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is McCain Poised To 'Refine His Position' On Iraq?

[UPDATED, below.]

Don't look now, national political media, but it looks like Senator John McCain is about to flip-flop "refine his position" on Iraq troop withdrawal!

As you may have heard, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came out of the Independence Day holiday weekend feeling every bit as inspired as our own founders, publicly offering the suggestion that it was time for King George and his occupying forces to take it on the arches:

The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal...In all cases, the basis for any agreement will be respect for the full sovereignty of Iraq.

Of course, as popular as withdrawal is with mainstream America, one might wonder if the current administration might just seize the opportunity, declare victory, and speed the withdrawal of troops, a move that would vastly enhance President Bush's legacy of malapropisms and lengthy vacations. It seems however, that the administration is content on pretending that al-Maliki never said what he said. As State Department spokeman Sean McCormick puts it:

Well, that's really the part - the point at which I would seek greater clarification in terms of remarks. I've seen the same press reports that you have. But I haven't yet had an opportunity to get greater clarity as to exactly to what Mr. Maliki was referring or if, in fact, that's an accurate reporting of what he said.

But! How would a potential John McCain White House address al-Maliki's request for a withdrawal timetable? As it turns out Adam Blickstein at Democracy Arsenal (h/t: Ackerman) has a long memory and a key quote from McCain:

...at the Council of Foreign Relations, the John McCain of 2004 gave us a pretty clear answer:

Question: "What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?"

McCain's Answer: "Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because -- if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."

Well, it would appear that scenario has evolved! We look forward to Straight Talky McCain and His Principles to get right down to the task of "refining his position."

UPDATE: In response to al-Maliki talking up the need for an end to the U.S. occupation, McCain's foreign policy advisor said: "Senator McCain has always said that conditions on the ground -- including the security threats posed by extremists and terrorists, and the ability of Iraqi forces to meet those threats -- would be key determinants in U.S. force levels,"

In asserting that the "key determinant in U.S. force levels" would be tied to "conditions on the ground," it can now be argued that McCain has shifted in the direction of Senator Barack Obama's position on Iraq.

Also, on today's Morning Joe, McCain blithely begged off responding to al-Maliki by saying, "Prime Minister Maliki is a politician." Uhm, sure. And he's the leader of a sovereign Iraq, right?