Congratulations, Barack Obama. The Maliki government just won the Iraq debate for you, and possibly the election. From today’s Washington Post:

Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in Baghdad on Wednesday that a U.S. pullout could be completed in several years. "It can be 2011 or 2012," he said. "We don’t have a specific date in mind, but we need to agree on the principle of setting a deadline."

And that’s how Obama ends the Iraq debate on his terms. He says, again and again, that the Iraqis themselves want his policy in place. Rather than negotiate a permanent presence as Bush and McCain want the line can go, I will immediately begin pulling combat brigades out and immediately enter into negotiations on the "specific date" that Mr. Dabbagh says can be flexible and responsive to conditions on the ground. That’s wise, firstly; principled, secondly; and reflective of where the political mood of both the U.S. and Iraq (well, the Iraqi elite at least) is. In short, it’s a winning argument.

The Iraqi government is telling us to leave. Not Moqtada. Not the Sunni insurgency. Not even the Sunni political opposition. Maliki. The man Bush trusts.

Even better is this: if John McCain endorses the timetable, then he’s the biggest flip-flopper of all time. In fact, Obama should challenge McCain to endorse it. If he accepts, he’s a flip-flopper; if he declines, he’s an imperialist. There’s no downside here.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman