Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has cut the legs out from under John McCain by basically endorsing Sen. Barack Obama's troop-withdrawal plan.
Just when McCain had Obama on the defensive over the Democrat's plan to surrender after we've won in Iraq, Maliki has made McCain look the naïf for opposing a timetable for withdrawal.
Unless McCain changes his approach, he's lost the use of this issue. He can't come out for staying in Iraq longer than the government we support wants.
The Republican needs to shift the debate to Iraq's future. Neither Obama's belaboring of his previous opposition to the war nor McCain's attacking the Democrat's opposition to the surge is relevant - both lines are history lessons best left in the classroom. What voters want to know is: What now?
McCain needs to hammer at one basic theme: that Obama's pullout plan will lead to a third Iraq war. The Democrat wants to keep substantial numbers of troops next door, to go back into Iraq if necessary. McCain should stress that a premature withdrawal will lead to a collapse - losing the hard-won stability in Iraq, opening the door to an Iranian takeover and al Qaeda revival, and potentially forcing a new US invasion.
Obama isn't a peace candidate, McCain can say - just an advocate of a deferred war. Just as the first President George Bush left the ingredients in place for a second war when he failed to depose Saddam Hussein in 1991, so Obama will fail to finish the job and invite yet another war if he abandons Iraq before our gains have been consolidated.
With Ralph Nader running on a strict antiwar platform, Obama is vulnerable on the left. If he seems to falter on a withdrawal from Iraq, or leave the door open to re-entry, McCain's attacks can drive liberals away from the Democrat.
It's literally true that if McCain is elected, there will be fewer US deaths in Iraq than there will be if Obama prevails. By pulling out only when it's safe to do so, McCain would finish the job and allow a peaceful transition to a stable democratic government. If we pull out too fast - and then have to go back in - the casualties will be many times those we now face.