Lindsey Graham May Back Maliki Alternative
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.