Lindsey Graham May Back Maliki Alternative

Lindsey Graham May Back Maliki Alternative Photo Senator Lindsey Graham is threatening to back someone else if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn’t get things turned around in the next few weeks, The Hill‘s Roxana Tiron reports.

Graham said he is disappointed with the political reconciliation efforts in Iraq and is considering influencing alternatives to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government if the country does not make strides toward that goal.

“If his government has not delivered meaningful political reconciliation by the end of the year, given the success of the surge and better security, I will consider [Maliki’s] government a failure,” Graham told The Hill. “And then we look for other horses to support. It would be foolhardy to continue to throw money at a group of people who have had an opportunity to produce and have not,” he said. He added that he is “not going to sit on the side” if the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions fail to implement reconciliation measures that could bring the country together.

Graham, who is up for reelection in 2008 and will likely face a primary challenge from the right, has been in discussions with the White House about his possible move, said a source familiar with Graham’s plan. “They are familiar with his line of thinking,” said the source. “The White House has its own problems with the Maliki government.”

No doubt. The problem, however, is that Maliki gained power as a result of democratic processes that we helped institute. Wouldn’t this move give lie to the notion that the Iraqi government has sovereignty?

There are practical problems as well.

“If I were a Republican close to Bush, Maliki would infuriate me,” said Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert and associate professor at George Washington University. “That may be where Graham is coming from, [as a strong supporter of the surge]. “The problem is that we have very little leverage over Maliki because everybody knows that the troop commitment is going to go down, and that Bush will not go towards a real withdrawal,” said Lynch, who also writes the Abu Aardvark blog. Lynch said he believes the “real purpose” of Graham’s possible legislation is to give Republicans some cover to say that they “are doing something without changing the core of Bush’s Iraq strategy.”

But Stephen Biddle, a senior defense policy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has just returned from a trip to Iraq, said that Graham’s plan would have been better suited to the spring rather than now, as circumstances are changing rapidly. “At the moment … we are getting reconciliation from the bottom up without coercive leverage on Maliki,” said Biddle. “The rapid spread of [the] bottom-up [local reconciliation] approach combined with some apparent Iraqi recalculations on how long the U.S. is staying in Iraq has set up a situation in which the Iraqi government is increasingly interested in experimenting with reconciliation to see if it will work.” If the U.S. withdraws support for Maliki, Biddle said, any “experimentation with reconciliation we have now may be set back by at least six months.”

While Maliki may well be the wrong horse, it’s far from clear that there are better options.

Lynch is quite right: Our leverage is incredibly limited given that it’s clear we are desperate to wash our hands of the Iraqi mess. That doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence. Moreover, anyone who came to power through the strong backing of U.S. political leaders would thereby be at an incredible disadvantage domestically and in no position to lead the tough reconciliation process.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve Plunk says:

    Just what we need, every member of congress setting their own foreign policy. For gosh sakes he needs to work within the system if he doesn’t like what’s going on.

    It is not wise to send mixed messages like this. I expect Graham is like most senators and is greatly enamored with himself.

  2. Eneils Bailey says:

    I can’t wait for someone to run against him in the Republican primary for Senator in 2008. I did not vote for him in the Republican Primary in 2002 and will not vote for him in the Republican primary of 2008, if he has opposition.
    The man got his training under John McCain. As both would say: I want to wake up in the morning and read nice articles about myself in the WaPo or NYT. I want to straddle the fence, until the splinters are in my ass.
    John McCain, one of the bravest and most honorable Americans in my lifetime. Lindsey Graham is a man of honor and dedication to his family unsurpassed in by no politician in Washington.
    I would absolutely vote for neither in a Republican primary.
    Just disagree with them politically, and think we can do better.
    But, if it comes to it in a general election, Graham against a democrat, and McCain against a democrat, I would pull their levers.
    Fighting within the party does not lead to party desertion, only trying to correct from within.

  3. Bruce Moomaw says:

    This further bolsters my suspicion that 2008 will be a landmark year for connoisseurs of black humor. (And for connoisseurs of Tom Lehrer. Remember “They’ve got to be protected/ All their rights respected /Till somebody we like can get elected”?)

  4. John425 says:

    Even as a Republican voter, I am disgusted with Graham and several others. They have been inside the Beltway too long and are so narcissistic they think that Americans hang onto their every word.

    His conservative primary opponent will get a few dollars from this Northwesterner.