Al-Malaki was allowed to twist slowly, slowly in the wind for only a few hours. Bush folksily declared him "the right guy for Iraq" -- like this was just another whirlwind campaign appearance for a member of congress whose seat was in jeopardy -- shortly after someone in his administration leaked a Nov. 8 memo from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley that questioned al-Malaki's commitment, honesty or competence (your pick).
I hope one of the US exports to Iraq these days are episodes of "The Sopranos," because this sure looks like the diplomatic equivalent of a serious warning from a White House. If the new posture is, "We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way," there might be an end in sight.
It may mean nothing since Bush is not known for necessarily picking his words carefully, but one could infer from his "my pal Nuri" remarks that the offshoring of responsibility is accelerating:
"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," the president said during a joint news conference with Mr. Maliki, referring to the panel's reports that are expected next week. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there." (emphasis added)Bush has said both of these things, but they are twinned, and in a highly relevant context. I can't take the comment as a DOA pronouncement with that kind of wiggle room.
If preemptive criticism of the ISG report is valid, that it is intended to do nothing more than provide cover to politicians trapped in webs of their own creation, then perhaps a something-for-everyone approach is just what we need.
How better to give the administration the chance to check and raise than to omit -- ahem, defer to a higher authority -- talk a performance schedule? According to the New York Times report, the ISG will be tough enough on the White House for ignoring meaningful diplomacy. No need to rap both sets of knuckles.
If both Congress and the White House decide to conclude that the ISG recommendations don't go far enough that might provide some common ground. The trick will be to not tree the administration. But it is hard to imagine it being consigned to the dustbin of history.
Sticks and Carrots.