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Former Bush Aide: Maliki’s Withdrawal Comments ‘A Game-Changer’

Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports Dan Bartlett, former Bush administration communications director, said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s apparent endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama’s 16-month timeline for American withdrawal from Iraq was "incredibly damaging" to Sen. John McCain:

Former Bush White House communications director and counselor Dan Bartlett yesterday offered a strikingly candid assessment of what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s support for Barack Obama’s troop withdrawal plan means for the campaign.

“Time will tell, but the al-Maliki comments about a timetable is very close to a game-changing event," Bartlett told my colleague Daniel Libit in an interview. "That was incredibly damaging [to McCain], because it neutralized one of [Obama’s] biggest liabilities."

McCain has frequently denounced Obama’s timeline, saying the Illinois senator "does not understand the consequences of failure in Iraq." This week, McCain has repeatedly said Obama "would rather lose a war than a campaign." What McCain hasn’t explained is why turning over control of Iraq’s security to the sovereign Iraqi government — at the request of the Iraqi government — should be construed as "failure." McCain has locked himself into his opposition to a timeline, with little leeway for augmentation without drawing charges of flip-flopping. However, during his speech today in Denver to the American G.I. Forum, a Latino veterans’ group, he left the door open for the possibility of troop withdrawals next year. From the prepared remarks:

"I said that the surge has succeeded, and it has. That is why the additional surge brigades are almost all home. I said we can win, and we will. I’m confident we will be able to reduce our forces in Iraq next year, and our forces will be out of regular combat operations and dramatically reduced in number during the term of the next President. We have fought the worst battles, survived the toughest threats, and the hardest part of this war is behind us. But it is not over yet. And we have come too far, sacrificed too much, to risk everything we have gained and all we could yet gain because the politics of the hour make defeat the more convenient position."

Now that the Bush administration has endorsed a "time horizon" — and even Republicans acknowledge recent events have appeared to swing the issue in favor of his Democratic opponent, McCain suddenly finds himself in a weak position on the war in Iraq — once considered his strongest selling point. The success of the surge — a constant McCain campaign talking point — might turn out to have a negative impact on McCain’s presidential prospects.

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