The cycle of discord and strained reconciliation that has broken into the open between Iraq's Shiite-led government and the Bush administration has revealed how wide the gulf has become between what the United States expects from the Baghdad government and what it is able or willing to deliver.
Just in the past 10 days, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has rejected the notion of an American "timeline" for action on urgent Iraqi political issues; ordered American commanders to lift checkpoints they had set up around the Shiite district of Sadr City to hunt for a kidnapped American soldier and a fugitive Shiite death squad leader; blamed the Americans for the deteriorating security situation in Iraq; and demanded speeded-up Iraqi control of its own military.
The estrangement has developed despite the two governments' mutual dependency. The Maliki government needs the United States for the protection its 150,000 troops afford, and without which, most Iraqi politicians agree, the country would slide into full-blown civil war. For the Americans, success for the government that won a four-year term in January's elections seems central to any hope for an orderly American disengagement from Iraq.
Without doubt, there has been an element of political grandstanding by Mr. Maliki that reflects his need to rally support among fractious Shiite political partners and the restive masses they represent. With American pressures focusing on the need for political concessions to the minority Sunnis by the majority Shiites -- the principal victims of Saddam Hussein's repression, and, since his overthrow, the main targets for Sunni insurgent bombings -- the prime minister cannot afford to be seen to be at America’s beck and call.
The above is from John F. Burns' "For U.S. and Top Iraqi, Animosity Is Mutual" in this morning's New York Times. (It's marked "News Analysis.") A friend was mentioning this yesterday on the phone (and swearing that after the trial is over -- we don't cover that trial here -- Burns will be reclaiming his 'mantle') so yesterday evening this was a topic of discussion among everyone who dropped by.
Here's the consensus. The US election gives Nouri al-Maliki manuever room. Which he is using. Anyone who doubts that needs only remember that the slaughter of Falluja in November 2004 was on hold until after that year's election. This is the period where the US administration is at its weakest and the puppet government can step out a bit. al-Maliki's also quite aware of the rumors of his impending US overthrow. If that's attempted or happens, he needs the support of Iraqis. If he's hoping to have a strong resistance to an overthrow (or dreaming he can be reinstalled if overthrown -- he can't, this isn't Venezuela and he's not a popular figure like Hugo Chavez), he needs to demonstrate some sort of spine to inspire people to support him and he needs the backing of Muqtada al-Sadr. If he is replaced (by the US government) life (whether he flees Iraq or stays) won't be very easy due to the fact that he's consistently demonstrated his inclination to act whenever the US administration pulls his strings. Using the power he has during the brief time before the upcoming US election, he's called off the checkpoints in the Sadr City section of Baghdad and announced that would be happening before he met with the US officials. (Right before that meeting started.)
He's a puppet but the consensus is that he may forget that post-election or refuse to return to that role in which case he'll be out. He's not a popular figure within Iraq (he's devisive). So it's seen as a lose-lose situation for al-Maliki once the elections are over.
That was the consensus. Here's my two-cents worth (I may be overappraising the value), he's demonstrated he has no vision for Iraq. At a time when he actually has a bit of power, he's used it to make 'grand' statements (he and others in the puppet government) that not go against the wishes of most Iraqis (foreign troops on Iraqi soil for several years to come). (If you survived only due to living in the heavily fortified Green Zone, you wouldn't want foreign troops to leave either.) He's done nothing to improve the daily life except for those in Sadr City. (The checkpoints led to protests and the lifting of them was well received by the residents.) He could have forced the US administration's hand on reconstruction during this period. Electricity, water, he could have picked just one and used the weeks leading up to the elections to get the US administration to pull out the stops on one project. That would have had real effect. He didn't. He doesn't think big, he thinks of save-his-own-ass. That is the thought of a puppet, which is what he is, but it's not thinking of a leader. (Also reflected in his repeatedly missing the official deadline as well the unconstitutional extensioned deadlines he gave himself.)
His 'four-point' plan (most news consumers only heard about the first two steps) was a joke (and worse). Worse in terms of the curbs on the press. Joke in terms of all the praise he received for stealing an idea that not only did he not come up with, but that originated outside of his government as a result of the chaos and violence his leadership couldn't or wouldn't address. (Neighborhoods came up with the idea of security councils and put them into place.)
Mia notes Sharon Smith's "Those Damned Democrats" (CounterPunch):
Meanwhile, the sometimes-antiwar liberal Todd Gitlin anticipated a post-election "rebirth of liberalism" on the Guardian website, predicting that the Republican Party's misfortunes will allow "American liberals" to "dare lift their heads and contemplate long-unimagined possibilities."
A "revolution" without struggle?
To be sure, the Democrats are likely to benefit from mass discontent against the Bush administration. But if the Democratic Party does finally manage to eke out a Congressional majority from the scandal-ridden Bush regime, Democrats should not congratulate themselves prematurely. The Republican Party is imploding due to its own outrageous "stupidity" and "arrogance", as senior U.S. diplomat Alberto Fernandez recently described in an interview with Al-Jazeera television.
This election has been declared a referendum on the Iraq war. But no Democratic congressional leader has called for a fixed deadline for troop withdrawal. And the Democratic Party has refused to articulate a coherent alternative to the over-riding aims of the Bush administration, merely continuing its long-standing and calculated orientation to the swing-voting "center"-while disparaging its own antiwar voting base. This has resulted in continuing the rightward shift in mainstream U.S. politics rather than challenging it.
James M. Lindsay, a former national security official in the Clinton administration, justified Democrats' reluctance to call for withdrawal. "The problem is you also have to win the general election," he argued. "You don't need to appeal to people who have made up their mind and had a bumper sticker on the back of their car for the last four years."
Mia wasn't sure what to excerpt so she copied and pasted the entire article. I chose to start with ribbit-ribbit. Smith's worth reading in full.
There will be a second post. I'm just moving slowly this morning.
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john f. burns
john f. burns