A few sketchy thoughts. At the risk of stating the obvious, Maliki has every reason to believe that Obama will be the next president. If I were him, I would actively and forcefully intervene on Obama’s behalf — as he has. Why? McCain is stuck with Maliki: Maliki is the immovable object. A President McCain is committed to achieving a stable outcome in Iraq, and that will depend on close cooperation with Baghdad. Moreover, McCain’s political coalition is broadly comfortable with U.S. involvement in Iraq at a somewhat reduced rate of casualties. Obama’s coalition, in contrast, contains a large, vocal segment that adamantly supports rapid withdrawal. They believe that Obama won’t sell them out on the issue.
But if you believe that Colin Kahl is carefully signaling foreign policy elites, and I do, the debate between McCain and Obama over Iraq is increasingly about 80,000 vs. 50,000, not 180,000 vs. 0. Given that Maliki has to demonstrate his nationalist bona fides, an Obama victory is a better-than-acceptable outcome from his perspective. And by building trust with the Obama camp, he can restrain any impulse on Obama’s part to push for rapid withdrawal. We have every reason to believe that the partisan temperature of the Iraq debate will sharply decrease if Obama wins. Assuming Obama doesn’t win a landslide — he won’t — Democrats will be disciplined, including the MoveOn Democrats Chris Hayes profiled. Why? Because they want to win, and they’ll be more exercised by the Kulturkampf that an Obama victory will likely set off.
Briefly, my guess is that a McCain victory will see a very active effort to accommodate Democrats. But not just Democratic moderates — look to Schwarzenegger for a preview. That won’t defang the Democrats, and I’m not even sure it’s wise. But McCain will be very keen to build as much support as possible for his Iraq strategy, even if it involves a series of Nixon-to-China moves elsewhere in the world. Note that Obama and the Bush White House are now on the same page with regards to Iran.
By the way: what’s happening in the Golan Heights? Is it possible that Bush’s bull-in-china-shop act will leave Obama or McCain with a weirdly favorable geopolitical climate. (I say, tentatively, yes.) Ross has feared that Bush will be remembered as a pretty decent president simply because time heals all wounds. I have to say, I feel like post-2006 Bush has been a different animal. Not that anyone is America, apart from a doughty 25 percent of the voting public, can stand the man.
Of course, the Iran situation is totally unknowable: all of this goes out the window if there is an Israeli strike. An Israeli strike that precedes Obama’s inauguration will probably lead to an entrenched U.S. presence in Iraq and a dramatic renewal of high-intensity conflict there. Wow. That would be really, really horrible. I hope I’m wrong.