Until this week, American voters were about evenly split over Obama's withdrawal plan, with 50 percent supporting his pullout timetable and 49 percent supporting McCain's position that "events should dictate when the troops are withdrawn," according to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll.
But Maliki has given Obama's 2010 timeline some additional credibility, forcing McCain on Monday to once again remind voters of his rival's poor judgment on Iraq since day one.
The reason security has dramatically improved in Iraq, giving rise to Maliki's call for a speedier U.S. withdrawal, is the military surge McCain pushed -- but that Obama opposed and flatly predicted would fail.
"This is the same strategy that he voted against, railed against. He was completely wrong about the surge. It is succeeding, and we are winning," McCain said.
At the same time, the Arizona Republican appeared to embrace the emerging consensus for withdrawal sometime within Obama's two-year framework. "I think they could be largely withdrawn" in that time, but added, "it has to be based on conditions on the ground."
McCain's strategy, which he has pursued since clinching the nomination, is to bore in on Obama's woeful inexperience in national-security policy. McCain has been to Iraq and Afghanistan many times, and has met and talked frequently with U.S. military leaders, including the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the surge. Until Monday, Obama had never talked with Petraeus one-on-one.
It is more than a little pathetic to hear nightly network news reporters talking about Obama's overseas trip in terms of his gaining needed national-security experience and foreign-policy credentials. As if a few days abroad can miraculously give anyone the experience to be commander in chief in a time of war.
The irony is that the much-improved situation Obama observed in Iraq and the lessons he learned in a few hours of briefings from Petraeus were the result of a war strategy the junior senator has repeatedly rejected and ridiculed throughout his campaign. Bush approved the surge, but it has McCain's name written all over it.
That strategy came out of numerous trips to the war zones, constant nagging to change a war policy that wasn't working, and a heroic lifetime of military service.
McCain's message this week, partially blunted by the withdrawal debate, is that Obama lacks the judgment and experience to think strategically in a time of war. One does not get that kind of experience in a quickie photo-op tour of the battlefield.