Nuri al-Maliki, Time’s up?

1101550404_400 "US President George W Bush has withheld support for embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying Iraqi voters could decide to replace him.

"There’s a certain level of frustration with the leadership in general," Mr Bush said today, after two senior US senators suggested Iraq’s parliament remove Mr Maliki’s government if it fails to make progress on national reconciliation.

While Mr Bush acknowledges the Baghdad government is failing to live up to expectations, he plans to issue a stark warning in a speech tomorrow that an early US withdrawal from Iraq could have traumatic consequences similar to the Vietnam War’s bloody aftermath. The Australian


"In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation, torture, or execution. In Vietnam, former American allies, government workers, intellectuals, and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. "  The Australian


I thought we had learned not to push our "friends" this way.  Ngo Dinh Diem’s placid face and white suits should haunt us.  We connived at his removal and no subsequent government achieved real legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese (or us).

What the clever people in this administration seem to "miss" is that there is no one in Iraq who will do any better at stabilizing the country than Maliki.

We re-made the government on the basis of individual rights and interests but the Iraqis don’t function that way.  They think of themselves as members of groups, just like the bonzes who burned themselves on the streets of Saigon so long ago.

Maliki knows that his real job is to ensure that the Shia Arabs will be the "overdogs."  In his mind he is the defender of Shia rights in Iraq.  Someone else would merely be the defender of some other group.  There are a few, like Allawi, who think of themselves PRIMARILY as Iraqi, but we saw how well he did at election time.  What a disappointment that must have been.

We keep "screwing up" in places like Vietnam and Iraq because we (as a people) do not accept the relevance of history and cultural difference.  We insists on believing  people are all pretty much the same and that they will behave as we think we would behave.  Nonsense.  We and another set of peoples have paid the price for that cultural blindness once again.

"Swapping" Maliki for someone else would be pointless.  The groups will not share power and wealth amicably.  In their minds that is simply arming and equipping one’s enemies.

We are doing the right thing now in Anbar and Diyala.  In those places we are balancing real forces not constitutional fantasies.  Let us get on with that process and start working toward real accommodation with the neighboring states.  pl,25197,22288051-15084,00.html

Oh, by the way.  US forces had been completely out of VN for two years when the NVA attacked in violation of the cease-fire and over-ran the country.  pl

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33 Responses to Nuri al-Maliki, Time’s up?

  1. Ah mate, you know I find this particular formulation slightly off, while agreeing largely with your point: We insists on believing people are all pretty much the same and that they will behave as we think we would behave. Something about the expression implies people are not largely alike.
    I rather think they are, in fact human nature is quite dependable if one takes a low enough view of it; but those key perceptual points about interpreting, eh voila, very much alike, but wearing rather different glasses to perceive the same facts.
    Well, perhaps playing at words here, but strikes me the core point oft lost in these kinds of conversations is the “they” do indeed respond to incentives, merely the incentives have to be structured to actual tastes and preferences, not by looking at one’s own tastes and preferences in a mirror.
    The other quibble that comes to mind is re Iraqiness. I think the key for Iraq is not X% of Iraqis feel more Shia or Sunni than Iraqi (or Kurdi than Iraqi), but that those who are making the calculations on that basis are willing and able to tip the scales in such a way that decisions flow their way – they’re more committed and more of them are more ruthless. It’s easy enough to reconcile how some op polls show %s rising say they feel more Iraqi or how in the early days of the civil war majorities were against sectarianism, but …. boom.
    True stats, I am sure, but the leverage and incentives for the hard men with guns outweighed and outweighs that of the Average Mohammed or Ali.

  2. J says:

    with the neocons steering our nation’s ship of state, how can we not make the same mistakes over and over again? there is the neocon view and there is the neocon view. all other viewpoints are sidelined by the neocons.
    the neocons are trying to mold their view of the mideast in pnac’s image.

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:

    We made the same mistakes before the neocons were in charge. pl

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    At some basic level of needs, I would agree with you.
    At the level of political interaction I would not. pl

  5. jonst says:

    Here (maybe) is what getting rid of Maliki will buy them. It will allow them to come to the Congress/Nation and say “well…look, all agree that the military situation has gotten better since the Surge. (see Hillary, Obama, Levin, New York Times Op Ed article—the Brookings one, not the GI’s one–.) Ok, we all agree on that! (that this is patent nonsense is beside the point because no one in DC seems to want to challenge it, because to challenge it is to challenge the so called man himself, General Petraus. ‘So, ok, we all agree the surge is working’! But we also must admit the political side has seen no movement forward. But folks…that was Maliki’s fault and we (cough cough)that is, the Iraqis just got rid of him. Can’t we agree to give the new guy (whomever) some breathing space, for goodness sake?’ Bingo…they buy another 6 months or so. By that time it should be time to attack Iran….with elements of the Iraqi ‘govt’ SUPPORTING, of all things, the attack.

  6. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “At some basic level of needs, I would agree with you.”
    Good ole Maslow. The Air Force loved that guy.
    We hanged the one guy who had held Iraq together. My prediction is that either a new Saddam will emerge or Iraq will splinter.
    Either one will happen whether we stay or go.

  7. Montag says:

    “The groups will not share power and wealth amicably. In their minds that is simply arming and equipping one’s enemies.”
    Sounds like the neocon foreign policy–don’t neutralize your enemy, destroy him!
    I seem to remember reading somewhere that there was an unofficial decoration given out to Americans in South Vietnam when you had experienced more than one South Vietnamese coup d’ etat. Since not all of these were successful I think they established the threshhold at 1.5 coups. The Diem Coup had opened up a real Pandora’s Box.

  8. Will says:

    what really pissed off Dumbya was Maliki exploring oil pipelines to Syria and Iran. That pushed off (the erstwhile Vietnam service dodger AWOL Air National Guardsman) over the edge.
    The factors in the fall of S. Vietnam were 1) the Arab Oil embargo which delivered the oil shock to Vietnam’s fragile economy, 2) Yes, the psychological effect of Congress cutting off Arms, and 3) Thieu’s incredibly bad tactical decisions which ultimately led to a rout and a stampede.

  9. john in the boro says:

    Friendship meets politics. Bush is in a race against time. He bought a year with the surge on the basis of providing political space with security. Well, the political space was provided to no apparent avail. So, it looks like death from a bus for Maliki. Friendship meets the hard political reality of Bush’s legacy. Despite his reputation for loyalty, Bush has periodically cast off “friends” when politically prudent. Casting off Maliki has the potential of rendering partially or wholly moot the anticipated Patreaus-Crocker-White House progress report. A political crisis in Iraq may be just what Bush needs to buy another year.
    Pat writes: “We keep “screwing up” in places like Vietnam and Iraq because we (as a people) do not accept the relevance of history and cultural difference. We insists on believing people are all pretty much the same and that they will behave as we think we would behave. Nonsense. We and another set of peoples have paid the price for that cultural blindness once again.”
    I too think the formulation may be a bit off but for a slightly different reason than that of the Lounsbury. IMO the fallacy is not that we project what we would do onto others on the basis of some universal principle, but that we insist that they will behave as we ought to behave. We seem to impose our “ought to” on others’ reality without acknowledging or, perhaps, even collectively being aware that our “ought to” does not obtain for us either. The myth/gift of American exceptionalism keeps giving.

  10. Jose says:

    “”We re-made the government on the basis of individual rights and interests but the Iraqis don’t function that way. They think of themselves as members of groups, just like the bonzes who burned themselves on the streets of Saigon so long ago.”
    Simple break the country into three separate states and live with the consequences.
    The Neo-cons should have calculated the risk factors before the invasion.
    The longer we stay there, the worse it will be for us, for the Iraqi’s and for the Middle East.

  11. Ronald says:

    Another aspect of Bush’s “Vietnamization” of the political debate is the invocation stab-in-the-back motif that is so popular on the right. (I.e. that beginning withdrawal now would be snatching defeat from victory.)
    Will the notion that we could have won the Viet Nam war if we had just stuck around longer survive the light of day? After all, the POTUS is now saying it.

  12. There is no difference. Politics, basic needs. It’s all about taste, perception of payoff. Culture merely structures perception and reaction, and of course interacts.
    Negotiating a deal (the long term equity type), negotiating politics. Not very different in many respects, above all when emotional issues come up.

  13. Michael says:

    If only the US knew how difficult it would be BEFORE they invaded. Pie in the sky dreaming I suppose, because no one had any idea how difficult it would be.

  14. Binh says:

    The logic of Bush’s argument leads me to ask: so Bush would have stayed in Vietnam if he were President?
    To the Colonel: of course they can’t admit no one else could do a better job than Maliki, that would mean (gasp!) admitting defeat!

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Lounsbury and JB
    My response is in the article I have re-posted. pl

  16. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I would bet you a month’s pay that we are going top find a way to dump him.
    The bet expression is an old army thing. pl

  17. J says:

    al-malaki’s patience seems to fast approaching the edge, today al-malaki saying that the iraq govt. has more on its plate than bowing and scraping before d.c.’s political theater.
    addressing a conference in syria, al-maliki responded: “no one has the right to place timetables on the iraq government. it was elected by its people. … we care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere,” al-maliki said.
    bush and congress keep pushing iraq farther towards the russian and chinese camps. guess they’ll never learn how to win enemies and drive away friends (tongue-n-cheek).

  18. john in the boro says:

    Pat, your “What Iraq Tells Us About Ourselves” captures the master narrative quite well. As for my earlier observation, your article rolls the “would” and “ought” together nicely. Thus, the universal principle is us.

  19. Ah, but, I think you have missed my observation or mistaken it for something different than it is, I don’t disagree or only on nuance with your note in the FP mag (perhaps slightly with respect to the identity issue – of course I am well aware however of the Saying What the Foreigner Wants to Hear Syndrome (a la our dear Mr Friedman whose columns have long amused me for their gullibility and parroting nature as I know many of the same people in region…), but take a somewhat different view of the dynamic identity in Iraq. Which is to say, I see the muddled middle as having been if we rewind to 2000, on the route to Iraqiness. But the forces committed to that were not such to overcome the tribal forces. Now in 2007, hard men with guns, and rally round the secure points is the name of the game).
    I don’t disagree American FP is based on a very funny notion that everyone wants to be American down to the last Polo shirt (and not only wants, should be).
    My observation was perhaps merely playing with words as to be different than yours, but perhaps nevertheless, plus fine.

  20. W. Patrick Lang says:

    One of the penalties paid for publication is the attention of editors to text that they do not always understand. There are several annoying instances of that in the FP piece. For example, “enlightenment” rater than “The Enlightenment.” pl

  21. Ellen1910 says:

    We insists on believing people are all pretty much the same and that they will behave as we think we would behave. Nonsense.
    Shouldn’t the “and” be “and/or”? It is not the idea that people are much the same (pace culturalists) that is nuts. What’s nuts is believing that people similarly situated will act differently.
    There’s no reason to believe that Americans placed in Iraqi circumstances would act any differently than the Iraqis are acting. It’s our magical thinking — our childish belief in our exceptionalism — that dooms us.

  22. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “What’s nuts is believing that people similarly situated will act differently.”
    This begins to sound like a “nature vs. nurture” argument and therefore essentially political.
    Sign me up for nuts. In my experince there is a wide variation in behavior tn similar circumstance and it can often be attributed to culture.
    For example, most Americans faced with the current political situation in Iraq would seek compromise and effective deal making as solution. That is not the Middle Eastern way.
    Check my CV before you reply that I am merely ignorant. pl

  23. Binh says:

    I don’t doubt that the Bush crew will throw Maliki under the bus Diem-style when it suits them. I’m just not sure that that moment has arrived yet.
    There were rumours of a coup that would put Allawi back in power a few months back but I think the Crocker and Co. nixed the idea when they began to consider what might happen if they ditched Maliki (and Dawa/SIIC) for Allawi who has no social base or political party with any weight. I’ve heard that they were toying with bringing back Jabouri as well, but he’s politically identitical to Maliki (they’re both Dawa).
    It seems to me the biggest contradiction of American policy in the region is the anti-Iran/anti-Shia moves (re-arming the Saudis, etc) which have not extended into Iraq i.e. toppling the Shia government in favor of a Sunni/Kurd set up. Instead the U.S. is doing all it can to counter Iran’s influence except mess with the pro-Iranian government it set up in Iraq. Very strange.

  24. jamzo says:

    no one likes losing
    bringing an end to military conflicts is an enormous undertaking
    nixon did not want to admit to being a president who lost a war
    for him ending the vietnam war was possible
    if it could be done in the right way
    January 23, 1973
    “Good evening. I have asked for this radio and television time tonight for the purpose of announcing that we today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.”
    This is the text of President Nixon’s radio and television broadcast announcing the initialing of the Paris ‘Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam’.
    i am not schooled in arab or islamic history or culture but it seems to me
    a huge obstacle to “restoring peace and ending the war in iraq” is sunni acceptance of shia power”
    one important thing sadam
    provided the middle east was asserting sunni dominance over the shia in iraq
    with sadam gone. shia gain power in iraq, and now shia dominate politics in two countries iran and iraq
    this seems to be a hard thing for sunnis to accept
    it also seems like a hard thing for the bush administration to accept
    is it the bush administration capable of
    exerting the political leadership needed to reach some kind of accommodation to the shia power reality?
    is it progress in the israeli-palestinian conflict linked to this as well?

  25. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “For example, most Americans faced with the current political situation in Iraq would seek compromise and effective deal making as solution. That is not the Middle Eastern way.
    In my late teens, a girl much, much smarter than me explained how ideas don’t always translate between languages. So people who speak another language sometimes cannot even understand ideas and concepts we take for granted. My simple brain hurt at the thought of this.
    Is the Arabic word for “compromise” an exact translation, or does it have some negative connotation? Any other thoughts in this context on whether or not Western ideas have accurate counterparts in Arabic?
    The view on compromise here in the States fluctuates drastically.

  26. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Who’d a thunk it???
    Latest Report

  27. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    “A lobbying firm with close connections to the Bush administration is aiding the efforts of an opposition leader in Iraq who is seeking Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ouster.
    The revelation that lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, whose president is a former US envoy to Iraq, is supporting former interim prime minister Ayad Alllawi, was first reported by IraqSlogger…..
    BGR’s president, Robert Blackwill, was presidential envoy for Iraq in 2004. Amid speculation that President Bush would support Maliki’s replacement, the administration has stressed its continued support of Iraq’s prime minister.
    Along with Blackwill, BGR counts among its ranks several other Bush allies and former administration officials. ThinkProgress reports, “Philip Zelikow, a former Counselor to Condoleezza Rice, serves as a senior adviser to the firm. Lanny Griffith, chief executive officer, is a Bush Ranger having raised at least $200,000 for Bush in the 2004 presidential election. And Ed Rogers, chairman and founder of the firm, has been a reliable political ally for the Bush White House.”

  28. Homer says:

    Binh: I don’t doubt that the Bush crew will throw Maliki under the bus Diem-style when it suits them.
    Can you adduce any evidence at all that proves that al-Maliki is and has actually been on the US’ bus?
    Do you have any legislative measures in mind that have been passed and clearly show that the al-Maliki is in fact on the US’ bus?
    In the twenty (plus) years prior to the deposing and hanging of Saddam Hussein, al-Maliki was publically `riding around in Iranian and Syrian buses, but despite that do you think that just because GWB inadvertently caused the reins of power to be thrust into his hands al-Maliki is going to stick daggers in the backs of his former hosts in Iran and Syria?
    Judging by the total lack of progress (purely an American POV!!) in re to the re-integrating Baathists, hydro-carbon law, etc. I think it has been pretty obvious that al-Maliki has never been on the bus and that he is more than willing to kill the US with a death of a thousand cuts.
    OT: Has the Iraqi Parliament ever stated support for the right for Israel to exist?

  29. Ellen1910 says:

    Check my CV . . . . W. Patrick Lang
    And a truly romantic CV it is!
    Were Americans to experience the breakdown of societal controls experienced by Iraqis, they wouldn’t be debating, negotiating, or compromising. They’d be seeking justice, familial and personal.
    I have no doubt that in such a situation were my family harmed my brothers who now stand like sheep in airport lines would join the first “criminal” gang that offered them revenge and justice — and I’d be egging them on.
    No need to go all romantic on them honor-lovin’ furriners — or all cultcrit either. We’re all chimpanzees and our foreign policy would be more insightful if before we took a decision, we asked our inner chimpanzees how they’d react to what we had in mind for them.
    But that requires the exercise of imagination — something in short supply, everywhere.

  30. TR Stone says:

    I think all of these comments assume a rationality of thought that does not exist in many of those now presently in government.
    Ideology trumps history! At least for those born after 1960, and heard and believed the “stab-in-back” rational for Vietnam/Korea,(i.e. gwb’s latest rant).
    I had an opportunity to work with an experienced foreign service employee (old school), who told me during the Afgan/Soviet dust up, that “YOU CAN NOT REASON WITH A CRAZY PERSON”.
    With those thoughts ringing in my ears and viewing the current situation, I am not sure who is the “crazy person” is in our current predicament”?
    Any suggestions!

  31. Martin K says:

    Sir, one could argue the point that one of the main reasons for the current situation is that the Bush admin adopted a quite Middle Eastern cultural way of thinking after 9/11. Instead of treating it as a police job, instigating a rational set of responses to a criminal act (with the invasion of Afghanistan as a practical necessity), the admin went off on its War on Terror tangent and turned it into a ideological spiel. The crusade-rhetoric of the first years was very strong, and this has seemed to me as a european very wrong and unpragmatic. Regarding Iraq, that is to me an anomaly, it doesnt appear that the admin. had any idea of the complexity of the land at all.

  32. I think all of these comments assume a rationality of thought that does not exist in many of those now presently in government.
    Baring some cases of real insanity, hand waving about insanity is merely excuse making.
    The rational calculations may be based on assumptions and value ordering that you may find distasteful or not in your value order, but that is not the same as irrationality.
    As for the culture argument, it does seem there is some hair splitting going on.
    I believe the colonel is right to observe that culture structures respones differently – at the same time of course his critic Ellen supra is correct in part in observing that under similar stresses of similar magnitude, American (or UK or French) culture might break down; or perhaps I would observe would evidently eventually break down into family and tribe, although how long it might take is debatable.
    Regardless, it is easy sitting in a nice safe place (or even having been under dangerous conditions, but with the reality of fairly safe fall-backs) to make certain assumptions about risk, reward and actions to take. Not having fall-back, well that often fundamentally changes calculations.
    One can quibble on about how deep run the fundamentals, but that is philosophy. The core observation is assumptions about what is the rational calculation based on American experience are not well founded.

  33. Re Martin K’s comment, a “Middle Eastern cultural way of thinking’?
    I’m sure as a continental Euro, you can rewind a mere few years to European ways of thinking that involved ideology and crusades. Indeed, if I divine your grammar correctly, your native nation engaged in one against certain neighbours.

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