For a long time now, McCain has been arguing that a "timetable" would lead to "defeat" in Iraq and "a victory for Al Qaeda." Then on Friday, he told Wolf Blitzer that 16 months sounded like "a pretty good timetable," seemingly taking Obama's position on the subject. Then he told George Stephanopoulos that he never used the word "timetable," when in fact he had.

When he isn't arguing that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki doesn't know what he's talking about, McCain is trying to reframe the argument over withdrawal in Iraq by stating that Obama's timetable is somehow inflexible and not based on conditions in Iraq, and as far as CNN is concerned, it seems to be working.

Sen. John McCain could support a 16-month timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, he told CNN's Larry King Monday night.

But the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said he would only do that if military chiefs deemed the "conditions on the ground" safe enough.

Speaking from Bakersfield, California, the Arizona senator said he would not stick to a "hard and firm date" suggested by Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

So despite months of statements like "What happens is dictated by conditions on the ground and what the commanders say," McCain wants you to believe that his support for a timetable is prudent because it takes into account "conditions on the ground," while Obama's doesn't. This is all the more ironic given the fact that McCain has spent the couple of weeks accusing Obama of taking positions on Iraq based on "political expediency". (What then, is McCain's sudden embrace of a policy he once described as "defeat"?) Of course, give the fact that nothing that comes out of McCain's mouth can be interpreted as official policy, it's not really clear where McCain stands.

What is clear is that despite depicting Obama as naive and irresponsible on foreign policy, he has now been forced by political and empirical realities to adopt Obama's positions, at least nominally, on the two most pressing foreign policy issues of the day. That's not "good fortune," that's a matter of superior judgment. McCain shouldn't be allowed to avoid these facts by dishonestly reframing the debate.

--A. Serwer

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