Maliki's Spin

[ Posted Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 – 15:18 UTC ]

One can't help but wonder if President Bush is thinking to himself: "It wasn't supposed to be like this." Now, there's a whole passel of issues which might make him feel this way, but in particular I'm talking about his negotiations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki over the United States' continuing troop presence in Iraq. Because it is increasingly looking like Bush is simply not going to get what he wanted. But since what he wanted was to tie the hands of the incoming president, this is actually a good thing.

I've been following the saga of these negotiations for almost a year now, and written about them on many occasions. Bush's basic plan was to agree with Maliki that the United Nations mandate for American forces in Iraq would end on December 31, 2008. Neither country wanted another extension of this mandate. So, Bush reasoned, he would get a bilateral agreement from Maliki for the American troops to stay, and Maliki would agree to pretty much whatever Bush proposed.

It didn't work out this way. Maliki, with domestic political pressures of his own, decided that the more he stood up to Bush, the more his own public supported him. So he began leaking the details of Bush's demands to the press. This caused some major backpedaling from Bush, and Maliki was able to almost immediately gain solid advantages in the negotiations. Maliki can read a calendar, and he knows when our elections are. Time is on his side, and he knows it.

Maliki reportedly changed his whole negotiation team a few weeks back, but it seems the new team leaks as badly as the old team did. Say what you want about Maliki, but he certainly has learned the value of media manipulation to get what he wants.

But while there are continued leaks which threaten that the Iraqis are about ready to throw up their hands and just get another U.N. mandate extension, there were a few specific leaks which need to be pointed out.

The first caused an explosion of righteous anger within the right wing world: Obama was telling the Iraqis to delay the agreement! Obama was undercutting Bush!

While I refuse to link to the article which started this fulminating, I will instead link to ABC News, who completely debunked this argument:

Earlier this week, the campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., seized upon a column in the New York Post that described Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as having urged Iraqi leaders in a private meeting to delay coming to an agreement with the Bush administration on the status of U.S. troops.

"Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a drawdown of the American military presence," Post columnist Amir Taheri wrote, quoting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who told the Post that Obama, during his meeting with Iraqi leaders in July, "asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the U.S. elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington."

The charge -- that Obama asked the Iraqis to delay signing off on a "Status of Forces Agreement," thus delaying U.S. troop withdrawal and interfering in U.S. foreign policy -- has been picked up on the Internet, talk radio and by Republicans, including the McCain campaign, which seized on the story as possible evidence of duplicity.

The Obama campaign said that the Post report consisted of "outright distortions."

The article goes on to quote just about everyone who attended the meeting -- including several prominent Republicans -- who all backed up Obama's version of what was said. Even Bush's White House backs up Obama's version of the story:

Two officials of the Bush administration say that if Obama had done what the Post story asserted –- which they believe to be untrue -– Crocker and embassy officials attending the meeting would have ensured that the Bush administration heard about it immediately. If such an incident occurred in front of officials of the Bush administration, it would have constituted a foreign policy breach and would have been front-page huge news; it would not have leaked out two months later in an op-ed column.

Whether this was an unauthorized leak in the first place from a freelancer on Maliki's team, or whether Maliki was behind this leak remains to be seen. Then there was this explosive Maliki quote, reported today by Think Progress, which seems to suggest that the American presidential elections are overtly influencing Bush in the negotiations. Maliki is talking about the final date for American troops (all troops, not just combat troops), one of the key sticking points in the negotiations a few months ago:

Actually, the final date was really the end of 2010 and the period between the end of 2010 and the end of 2011 was for withdrawing the remaining troops from all of Iraq, but they [Bush's team] asked for a change [in date] due to political circumstances related to the [U.S.] domestic situation so it will not be said to the end of 2010 followed by one year for withdrawal but the end of 2011 as a final date.

And then there was this final leak, which has yet to be picked up by any American news source. In the state-run Iraqi al-Sabah newspaper, Prime Minister Maliki is quoted saying:

"If the security agreement was not signed by the end of the year, it would lead to a critical political situation and would be embarrassing to both Baghdad and Washington. The U.S. negotiators requested 10 to 14 days to respond to our demands and the time is over now and the American negotiators have not responded yet. If they meet our demand, the deal will be signed and would be sent to the parliament for approval, but if they refuse our demands, it could lead to new negotiations."

Maliki has so far been far more adept at negotiating this agreement on the world media's stage, and has subsequently won almost every concession he has demanded. Bush has had to back off time and time again. Only Maliki knows what he is trying to accomplish with the current round of leaks. He may even be playing both sides of America's political divide against themselves -- a masterful trick for someone who is supposed to be some sort of American puppet.

Maliki is proving to be nobody's puppet, and nobody's fool. He is obviously betting that Barack Obama is going to be America's next president, but he may at the same time be hedging this bet as well.

One thing is certain, though -- every day that goes by without an agreement makes such an agreement less and less likely to ever appear under George W. Bush's administration. Which, like I said, is probably a good thing in the end.


-- Chris Weigant


One Comment on “Maliki's Spin”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    The targeted leak that includes disinformation is a very powerful tool. Maliki seems to have grasp the concept and is using it to great effect. The GOP is also very good at this but at least the Obama Campaign is calling them on this one. I would prefer though that they would call a lie a lie. I am tired of everyone trying to find new ways to say someone is lying.


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