Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bush trip and Hadley's memo

President Bush's meeting with Iraqi prime minister Maliki has been postponed 12 hours. At this point there's no really reliable news as to why, but rumor is that Maliki is peeved that a Nov. 8 memo from Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that is not all that flattering about Maliki was leaked to the New York Times.

If you want the reasonably full story on the memo, please click on this link fairly soon. In a couple of days the NYT will make you pay for the story.

As reported, the memo is hardly an unvarnished putdown or in fact much of anything that deserves to be classified Secret. It's a reasonably candid report on a trip to Iraq by Hadley and some NSC staff that included a face-to-face with Maliki. It expresses doubt as to whether Maliki can really control the chaos that Iraq has become, but practically anyone who was paying attention had those doubts. Money quote:

"His intentions seem good when he talks to Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hieraarchy and force positive change. But 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."

Whenever the meeting does take place, the key question the leaders should confront honestly (if either is capable of that even in private) is whether there's a solid chance that a shift in strategy or the addition of a few more U.S. troops (many more seems unrealistic unless they start moving them from Europe or Okinawa) will lead to substantial improvement in six months or a year. If not, it's time to begin the American withdrawal, crow that we got rid of Saddam and put Iraq in the hands of Iraqis, and approach the next crisis/opportunity with a little more humility about the American capacity to set things right in other parts of the world through the magic of the military.

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