Last week the German publication Der Spiegel published an interview with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in which he approved of Barack Obama’s 16-month timeline for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. This put the Bush Administration and John McCain in a tough spot, of course: Both have consistently noted that Iraq is a sovereign nation and that if they want us to leave, why of course we’ll leave. But McCain opposes a timeline, and calls Obama “naive” for supporting the idea.
Now, over the weekend the Bush Administration began claiming that Maliki did not back Barack Obama’s timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. But like almost every statement that oozes from this wound in the body politic, these claims are lies. This from a New York Times article published this morning:
“Unfortunately, Der Spiegel was not accurate,” Mr. Dabbagh said Sunday by telephone. [This is Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Maliki government, which over the weekend had come under intense U.S. Embassy pressure to back off of Maliki’s statement. Why? To make the Bush/McCain opposition to a timeline look less like a unilateral super-power decision, of course.] “I have the recording of the voice of Mr. Maliki. We even listened to the translation.”
But the interpreter for the interview works for Mr. Maliki’s office, not the magazine. And in an audio recording of Mr. Maliki’s interview that Der Spiegel provided to The New York Times, Mr. Maliki seemed to state a clear affinity for Mr. Obama’s position, bringing it up on his own in an answer to a general question on troop presence.
The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki’s comments by The Times: “Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.”
He continued: “Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.”
In other words, Obama’s intentions are in line with the government of the sovereign nation of Iraq. McCain can only argue that—er, uh—Iraq is really not all that sovereign after all, and we know better because—er, uh—they’re novices at this democracy thing, and in the end there is that delicate question so succinctly noted by the French poet Jacques Prévert (translated here by Lawrence Ferlinghetti) in what could be taken for a description of John McCain:
THE DISCOURSE ON PEACE
Near the end of an extremely important discourse
the great man of state stumbling
on a beautiful hollow phrase
falls over it
and undone with gaping mouth
shows his teeth
and the dental decay of his peaceful reasoning
exposes the nerve of war
the delicate question of money
All of this should bring home to us the place that poetry can and should hold in public discourse. Unlike the language of politics—language as distorted by power, that is—the language of poetry aims to articulate truth. A poem can take sides, but when taking sides conflicts with the primary aim (when, for example, taking sides leads a poet as great as Neruda to write paeans to Stalin), the poem will fail miserably to deliver the news we need to hear.