Don't Carpool with Nouri Al-?Maliki
As he heads for the office these days, Nouri al-Maliki should bid his family especially tender farewells. If the patterns of U.S. foreign policy are any guide, the Iraqi prime minister is a very poor insurance risk.
On Monday, Aug. 20, a leading Democratic senator, Carl Levin of Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, returned from a weekend outing to Iraq and declared publicly that Iraq's parliament should remove al-Maliki from power. "The Maliki government is nonfunctional," Levin declared, "and cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders."
The next day, Hillary Rodham Clinton, front-runner of Democrats seeking the nomination of their party for the presidency, went before the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and reiterated her senate colleague's call. She said that al-Maliki should be replaced by a "less divisive and more unifying figure."
The final grim news for al-Maliki came on Wednesday when President Bush affirmed confidence in the prime minister, declaring him to be a fine fellow.
Levin, Clinton and Bush all simultaneously declared that they believe the briefings of the United States military commanders in Iraq. They exult that the "surge," advocated and presided over by Gen. David Petraeus last winter, is now working. Baghdad is more secure. Casualties are down. The sectarian groupings in Iraq have been checked. Nation-building can proceed.
None of these chirpy bulletins has anything to do with the actual situation on the ground in Iraq, where the extremely hot summer months have seen a regular annual drop in activities by Iraq's resistance groups. Even so, car bombings in Baghdad in July were 5 percent higher than before the "surge" began, and there has been a corresponding rise in civilian casualties from explosions. Meanwhile, there are graphic reports of the extreme exhaustion of U.S. troops, forced into multiple tours and extended time on active duty because of the overall shortage in manpower and equipment.
Nor can any silver lining be detected in the larger political military picture, in terms of erosion of the Shi'a majority coalition, seriously reducing the power of Moqtada al-Sadr, or denting the Sunni resistance.
But here on the home front, Levin, Clinton and other leading Democrats are determined not to be wrong-footed by White House attacks accusing them of stabbing America's fighting men and women in the back by questioning the surge's supposed success.
In a rhetorical counter-move, the Democrats emphasize the failure of Bush's man, al-Maliki, to resolve Iraq's political divisions at equal speed. Amid their rather hollow assertions of confidence in al-Maliki, Bush and the Republicans recognize that al-Maliki is expendable and can be forced out, just as his predecessor was ditched.
Here's where al-Maliki should take a look at a dark episode in Vietnam not long before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. A few weeks earlier in that same month, a coup, code-named Operation Bravo Two, pushed by U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and the CIA, and executed by South Vietnamese officers, led swiftly to the murder of South Vietnam's president, Ngo Dinh Diem and Diem's brother.
Just as is happening today in Iraq the White House had concluded that their chosen man Diem had become an inconvenience to a political schedule that demanded "progress," a feinted reduction in U.S. troops pending the 1964 campaign year. Hence the coup and consequent demise of the bothersome Diem and his brother. Friendly witnesses claim that the Kennedys were deeply shocked at news of the murders. If so, it was akin to the shock of Henry II after the assassination of Thomas Becket. The killing of Diem committed the United States more deeply than ever to bloodstained years of "nation-building."
In the end, the Americans withdrew because they were defeated militarily and politically by the Vietnamese.†
Such is the history al-Maliki can meditate each day. Better not carpool with the guy.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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