A Cynical View Of GWB's Comments On The Maliki Govt. genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

Bush And Maliki

It seems that many observers were surprised by the President's remarks on the Maliki government. In his comments, the President indicated that the progress of the Maliki government was insufficient. He also signaled he would accept the replacement of the embattled leader if it were the will of the Iraqi people.

I'll offer my own cynical take on the President's comments after providing the following excerpts.

MONTEBELLO, Canada, Aug. 21 -- President Bush pointedly declined Tuesday to offer a public endorsement of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, expressing his disappointment at the lack of political progress in Iraq and saying that widespread popular frustration could lead Iraqis to replace their government.

"The fundamental question is: Will the government respond to the demands of the people?" Bush said. Stopping short of directly endorsing Maliki, as he has on several previous occasions, Bush continued, "If the government doesn't respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government."

White House aides said later that Bush's comments did not mean he was withdrawing support from Maliki but were simply a statement of reality -- that Iraqis were growing frustrated and that under the country's new democratic system, the people could decide to replace the current government with a more capable one. But the president's tough words -- together with similar strong statements from the top U.S. diplomat in Baghdad -- suggested that the administration's patience with the current leadership is wearing thin.

"There's not a strong sense anywhere, really, of the central government being present and active in making conditions in Iraq better," Crocker said at a news briefing three weeks before he and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, are scheduled to present a progress report to Congress. "They've got to do more of that."

I view the statement of the President to be a strategic calculation in anticipation of General Petraeus' report on the troop surge which is scheduled to be delivered by mid-September. Here's the equation. September is going to be a critical month in determining the future of Iraq.

The Iraqi government is scheduled to reconvene in early September and will likely face a challenge to the Maliki government as well as growing U.S. demands to reach some long expected political resolutions. Simultaneously, the Bush administration has committed to provide Congress with a progress report on the troop surge.

Let's suppose that the Petraeus report will indicate some progress but will also suggest that the troop presence cannot be maintained in the long term...meaning that the Iraqi government must forge some agreements which will quickly begin to lessen the sectarian conflict that is undermining the military progress.

Let's also suppose that the Bush administration is doubtful that Maliki can withstand the coming onslaught and they believe he is likely to be removed from office. All indications suggest that such an outcome would likely come sooner than later...very possibly in September.

Now putting two and two together, the worst possible scenario for the Bush administration would be to find itself still strongly supporting the Maliki government while also receiving a report from Petraeus stating that military progress has been achieved but also that it will be for naught if the Maliki government can't forge a functional government.

In order for the Bush administration to have any hope that Congress (especially the many Republicans who have hinted they are ready to jump ship) will afford the President more time to succeed in Iraq, it must not find itself having touted a surge that was nullified by the political meltdown of the Maliki government.

Further, if the Maliki government is destined to fail, the Bush administration cannot be seen as being blind-sided by the event; it must distance itself now and be prepared to handle the probability of a new government as an orderly transition and a matter of fact rather than as an unforeseen crisis with uncertain ramifications. Such an event must be portrayed in a favorable light even if it is difficult to predict that reality or to plan for such an eventuality.

The bottom line is that the Bush administration cannot allow the Petraeus report to be issued in the midst of a government collapse for which it hasn't prepared Congress and the American people. I believe it is safe to assume that the Petraeus report is going to be more positive than negative...and that will happen one way or another.

For the Bush strategy to have any hope of proceeding, the Petraeus report has to be accompanied by some semblance of political progress...even if that will inevitably be the installation of a new government. A fully supported Maliki government on the precipice of collapse would be a disaster for the President. At least a new government would allow the Bush administration to spin it as part and parcel of demonstrable progress. It would also allow the Bush administration to contend that the long-standing political logjam had been broken...and that could be coupled with a positive military report to form the rationale for a continuation of the existing strategy.

The bottom line is that the Bush administration knows full well that September is a make or break moment. As such, distancing itself from the Maliki government is required. To do otherwise is far too risky. It also allows Bush to find common ground with those in Congress who are calling for the ouster of the Maliki government...a move that would serve to neutralize the use of such demands as the reason to halt the ongoing U.S. involvement. In the end, September must be spun as a success or Congress will begin the process of forcing an end to the occupation.

Those opposed to the war need to be mindful of the stakes and the various strategies or they will find themselves outfoxed and moving into October with little to show for their efforts. Bush's brain may be departing soon but the President's detractors would be foolish to underestimate the determination of this President and his fellow neocons to complete their intended mission. Look for the President to pull out all of the stops.

Tagged as: General David Petraeus, George W. Bush, Iraq, Neocons, Nouri al-Maliki

Daniel DiRito | August 21, 2007 | 9:38 PM
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