President George Bush and other members of his administration have sent a clear message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — give us tangible results or you’re on your way out.
With the reports on the military “surge” due in September, Bush himself is under pressure to prove to the American people that this latest strategy is worth the enormous cost.
It comes against the backdrop of a Republican revolt, enormous gains made by the Democrats in the Congress and Senate during the last elections and a president with some of the lowest ratings seen in American history.
The bulk of these problems are being blamed on Iraq.
Bush is running short of time and has very little political capital to draw on. He has expressed concern, that while the “surge” is designed to give the Iraqi government time to address the problem of secterian violence, this is not being used effectively by al-Maliki.
Instead, as is contended, al-Maliki is proving divisive with inter alia Sunni ministers resigning or failing to attend meetings.
While the president is not saying that America will remove the PM, their confirmation that the Iraqi voters will do so and that there is “no blank cheque”, must be cause for grave concern within the coalition government.
Al-Maliki hit back by declaring that the government was elected by the people, would not be held to timetables nor be paying attention to these “discourteous statements”. He said that Iraq could find other friends.
Ominously, this coming after al-Maliki was returning from a visit to Syria.
Al-Maliki also blamed the American election campaign for many of these comments.
While this is the first time that the American president has openly expressed concerns about his Iraqi counterpart, it must be seen in the following context:
The Times of London, in reference to portions of a speech which have been leaked, say that the president will be drawing parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. This may prove to be a grave miscalculation. Americans do not want to be reminded of their least finest hour, particularly at this time.
While expectations are that this may well happen in September, it will leave little time before the US ambassador and military report back to the American people.
What we also need to factor in is that there is no clear candidate to replace al-Maliki.
The drums are beating more out of concerns emanating from the US, primarily the elections, than over issues in Iraq.
I don’t believe that the Americans are seriously considering trying to replace al-Maliki, but are rather firing warning shots accross his bow.
In this they would need to tread very carefully: al-Maliki has been elected and cannot force the pace without appearing to be an American puppet, which is the kiss of death.
The BBC in addition have reported on the Iraqi rumour mill, which says that Sunni countries are ganging up to replace al-Maliki with one of their own. Hardly likely to quell violence in this majority Shia stronghold. Particularly after their treatment at the hands of Saddam, their last Sunni leader.
While everything in Iraq remains in the melting pot, Bush should go back to the Vietnam War for a lesson far more important than the one he is trying to extract: have a little patience, it speeds things up.
Following the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, American public opinion was of the view that if the boys came home yesterday, it wasn’t soon enough.
In reality the American military, as the dust settled after Tet, realised that their enemy was a spent force. General Giap, years later, confirmed that had the Americans gone on the offensive after Tet he would have had nothing left with which to stop them. He had gambled everything on this throw of the dice.
In the wild panic in Vietnam and the US, fuelled by the media, American forces disintegrated where a calculated approach had victory written all over it. Nobody would listen to the calm heads when political expedience demanded that politicians scream “run”.
If Bush, having invaded Iraq based upon a less than convincing premise, now withdraws or undermines al-Maliki, for all the wrong reasons, it will create a political vacuum.
Something will fill that vacuum.
Don’t bet against a full-blown civil war in Iraq, which later spills over into other parts of the region.