In Defense Of Paying Attention To Maliki’s Post-2011 Troop Comments
Forgive me for getting a bit self-indulgent here, but I feel like I should reply to Juan Cole’s post saying Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s remarks yesterday that he’s open to a post-2011 U.S. troop presence is “not a story.” Since I was the one who elicited Maliki’s response, perhaps I’m being parochial when I say I disagree, but I, uh, disagree.
Juan — who, to be clear, doesn’t call me out or reference my stuff — suggests that Maliki’s comments may be blown out of proportion:
The headlines this admission generated in US news sources about ‘US troops may stay’ are a little puzzling to me, and seem actually sensational. What al-Maliki explicitly said was that Iraq may ask for a handful of trainers to stay. He is not saying that the US military will be rolling tanks in Iraqi cities in 2012.
I’ll trust you guys to tell me if I’m being sensational, and I didn’t think I was. I would say, though, that Maliki didn’t “explicitly” say he was open to a “handful of trainers.” He said, “if Iraqi forces required further training and further support, we shall examine this at that time [after 2011] based on the needs of Iraq.” Now, my read is similar to Juan’s, meaning that Maliki certainly didn’t say that he’d be open to U.S. combat forces in Iraq after 2011.
But this was (a) the first time Maliki publicly acknowledged any post-2011 U.S. troop presence and (b) he didn’t specify the size of that presence, and because (c) training/advisory missions can also be nebulous and open-ended, it struck me that I should report that story, and report it in the way that I did. I did not write and I (hopefully) didn’t imply that Maliki was opening the door to an endless occupation, because that certainly wasn’t what he said, but there’s sufficient and sufficiently-meaningful middle ground between All Troops Out and All Troops In that makes his comments worth reporting. Additionally, Maliki’s comments are likely to prompt responses from other politicians in Iraq, particularly ahead of January’s election. So, respectfully, I don’t see this as a nonstory.