Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Bush Administration on Iraqi PM Maliki

The NY Times fills us in today on what the Bush administration really thinks of Iraiq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Here are selected quotes from the report mentioned in the article:

  • “His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,” the memo said of the Iraqi leader. “But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

  • “We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others,” the memo says. “Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq.”

  • “Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister’s office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq’s most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries — when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) killings — all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.”

Or as Paul Glastris at Political Animal amusingly surmises:

A wartime leader who speaks obvious untruths, surrounds himself with a narrow group of party ideologues who skew the information that gets to him, puts too few boots on the ground, fails to engage the international community, and may now be at the mercy of violent events beyond his control. George W. Bush? No, it’s Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, as described in a newly-leaked memo by NSC Director Stephen Hadley.

Snark aside, I think the report is actually a pretty fair and pretty accurate picture of the limits of al-Maliki's power and authority in Iraq (at least based on the NY Times summary of the report.) Unfortunately, such limitations do not bode well for any grand new solutions in Iraq that the Bush administration might like to impose:
The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps, it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing “monetary support to moderate groups,” and by sending thousands of additional American troops to Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is a current shortage of Iraqi forces.
If by "reconfigure" they mean diminish the influence of Sadr's bloc in parliament, they might be in for a bit of a struggle. Honestly, I can make no recommendations as to what the Bush administration can do to bolster Maliki, as that simply appears to be the inherent power structure at this time. Which leads one to wonder...does anybody even talk about Sistani even more?

However I did get to thinking that perhaps there is an opportunity to make one big pitcher of Middle East lemonade out of the Iraqi lemon:
The memo also lists steps the United States can take to strengthen Mr. Maliki’s position. They include efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia to use its influence with the Sunnis in Iraq and encourage them to turn away from the insurgency and to seek a political accommodation. Addressing Mr. Bush, the memo said one option was for the president to “direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action.” Although the memo did not offer specifics, this appeared to be an allusion to a more active American role in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Saudi Arabia would actually like to see some "U.S. action" in Iraq as well, but as this paragraph suggests, they might be willing to help us with our problem in Iraq if we're willing to step up to the plate on the Palestinian issue. Also, it's entirely possible that we could disentangle Syria from it's involvement in Iraq and with Hezbollah and from it's alliance of convenience with Iran. And while we're at it, we could solve the nuclear issue with Iran without having to bomb them by virtue of our common interest in the future of Iraq (though there is no guarantee the Iranians would be inclined to even listen to us on their nuclear program.) In fact, Iraq could be the answer to all the other problems of the Middle East...if you ignore the fact that it's disintigration into civil war would eclipse by far any progress we could make.

I say all that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but that's only because it is impossible to portray in words my bitter frustration with the Bush administration for a) never having sought to move on these issues in the past when we weren't bogged down in a nasty war in the Middle East and b) only now beginning to talk to other parties in the Middle East where it's almost certainly too late.

Update: The Bush-Maliki summit has been delayed.

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