McCain and the Art of Speaking

Matt Yglesias scoffs at the positive spin McCain placed on the Iraq Status of Forces negotiations in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. Yglesias writes, “In what sense is Maliki declaring that the American proposals are an unacceptable infringement of Iraqi sovereignty a success?” But I think Yglesias has been outdone here by rare instance of rhetorical subtlety from the normally unsubtle McCain. This is what McCain actually said:

I know about those negotiations. They have been going on for a long period of time. They are achieving remarkable success. Malaki is becoming a very strong leader, much to the surprise of some, and very pleasant outcome of this.

So, McCain didn’t call the negotiations “a success.” He said they were “achieving remarkable success,” which he follows with a reference to the strengthening Maliki government. He amplifies this with the slyly misphrased apposition: “very pleasant outcome.” You may think me crazy for subjecting a McCainian utterance to this kind of quasi-Straussian scrutiny, but maybe it’s justifed. McCain seems to be answering the question with reference to the pending (or not) SOF agreement, but it seems clear, after a closer look, that the “remarkable success” he refers to isn’t the agreement itself but the negotiations’ unifying effect within Iraqi politics. It all hinges on the indefinite article, Yglesias inserts but McCain leaves off (thus drawing a link to the other missing “a”, in the “very pleasant outcome” phrase). I think, in the future, if this interview is any sign, we might have to grant McCain a little more credit. He’s not being “dishonest” or “dim-witted,” as Yglesias suggests. He’s being esoteric.