Another secret Iraq memo has leaked (big surprise), this time from NSA Stephen Hadley. The memo argues that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is failing to lead in Iraq. That conclusions is almost certainly accurate:
But in a classified November 8 memo following his October 30 trip to Baghdad, Hadley expressed serious doubts about whether al-Maliki had the capacity to control the sectarian violence in Iraq, and recommended steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader’s position, The New York Times reported in Wednesday editions.
“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,” the memo said.
It’s probably a little of all those things. The al-Maliki government has failed to restore order in the streets of Iraq, and now they’re paying the political price abroad and at home. The Iraqi people are justifiably frustrated with the situation and the continuing anarchy and carnage on the streets of Baghdad. In fairness to al-Maliki, the situation may be such that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to fix, but nothing excuses the lack of leadership in the Iraqi government.
The problem that the US faces is that we can’t get rid of al-Maliki without compromising our democratic mission in Iraq. It’s a Catch-22: al-Maliki’s presence is most assuredly hurting the development of a lasting democracy in Iraq, but removing a duly-elected leader will undoubtedly also damage the democratic process. American policy in Iraq, as it almost always has been, boils down to choosing the lesser of two evils.
In the end, al-Maliki has failed to do the job. He’s lost the confidence of the Iraqi people, and despite Bush’s promises that he stands behind al-Maliki, it’s probably inevitable that his government will fall. Now that the Sadrists have walked out, al-Maliki is almost assuredly in deep trouble politically. Supporting this sinking ship isn’t good policy, and the US should push for new leadership in Iraq — someone who can get control of the situation and stem the violence. The anarchy in Iraq threatens everything, and until it is stopped, further progress can be impossible. The least harmful situation involves seeing that al-Maliki either shapes up or gets out, and Bush should take tomorrow’s summit as an opportunity to let al-Maliki know what the stakes really are.