07/29/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Camp On Maliki: One Inartful Statement

The McCain campaign argued on Monday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's endorsement of Barack Obama's troop withdrawal plan was "one inartful statement," adding that should Obama actually take seriously Maliki's words it would be the height of political irresponsibility.

"One inartful statement from Prime Minister Maliki certainly does not change Iraq government policy," said McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann. "And certainly given the history of inartful statements from the Obama campaign, like Jerusalem remaining an undivided capital of Israel, or I'm going to campaign in 57 states, or Americans cling to guns and religion out of bitterness, etc... I certainly can't believe the Obama campaign will take a quote that has already been clarified out of context and try to hang their Iraq policy on it."

Citing news reports that Maliki had walked back his remarks, Scheunemann nevertheless seemed on the defensive. The Maliki interview with the German paper Der Speigel has been translated and reviewed by several different publications, all of which concluded that his endorsement of Obama's troop withdrawal plan was not, in fact, taken out of context but rather fairly explicit. Moreover, word spread Sunday night that Maliki only clarified his remark after White House urging. In addition, this was not the first time that the Iraqi prime minister had stated his preference for a date-driven reduction in U.S. troops. More than a week ago he argued that it had to be a prerequisite for a long-term deal between the two countries. Finally, as the McCain campaign's conference call commenced, word quickly spread that the Iraq's government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, had insisted in a separate interview that Maliki still backed a plan in which U.S. combat forces would leave Iraq by 2010.

Asked to respond to the weekend-saga -- as well as the inclusion of a time horizon for troop draw downs in negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq (a position that seems much closer to Obama's stance than McCain's) -- Scheunemann did his best to put lipstick on the pig.

"The Iraqi government made it clear there were apparently some translation problems in the quote, that that's not the position of the Prime Minister," he said. "That the prime minister believes and certainly the Iraqi government believes that withdrawal has to be based on conditions. I certainly think it would be rather interesting if the Obama campaign is going to rely on one statement form Prime Minister Maliki that has been clarified and made clear, is not authoritative in terms of his personal position or the position of the Iraqi government."