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Tilting at Windmills

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July 10, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

MALIKI AND THE TIMETABLE....Is Nouri al-Maliki's demand for a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq just a negotiating ploy? Juan Cole presents a few tidbits to suggest that he's actually quite serious about it:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the chances that a Status of Forces Agreement will be concluded between Baghdad and Washington have declined substantially....Iraqi politicians have told al-Hayat that the request for a timetable came as a result of pressure from Iraqi Shiite clerical leaders who insisted on an affirmation of the principle of national sovereignty in any agreement signed with Washington.

....AFP points out that the demand for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops is also a campaign pledge for al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in the upcoming provincial elections. In many provinces, the US troop presence is unpopular.

Salah al-Ubaidi of the Sadr Movement told al-Hayat that the Iraqi government is responding to pressure from the Shiite clerical authorities and from the people. He said he doubted that al-Maliki would actually implement his promise to secure a withdrawal timetable.

I remain relatively agnostic on this issue since I don't read Arabic and don't have any special insight into Iraqi political intrigue, but if this account (and others) are correct we have four reasons to think Maliki might not be kidding:

  • There's substantial public pressure on Maliki to set a timetable for withdrawal.

  • "Iraqi Shiite clerical leaders" = Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is also insisting on....something. However, it's reasonably likely that "affirmation of the principle of national sovereignty" = concrete timetable of some kind.

  • Maliki has made a withdrawal timetable a campaign pledge.

  • The head of the Sadrists, who are responsible for much of the public pressure on Maliki, is essentially taunting him here, suggesting that Maliki talks big but will never stand up to the Americans and get a written promise of withdrawal.

As always, treat this as gossip, the Middle East equivalent of whether Madonna is really getting a divorce. Still, while it might all be kabuki for the rubes, recent events are starting to suggest that the pressure on Maliki to insist on a concrete withdrawal timetable is genuinely intense. This could get interesting.

Kevin Drum 12:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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Comments

Watching the FISA debate and voting, it would appear that the US Congress is Kabuki for the rubes.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Thanks for the update Kevin.

Posted by: mirror on July 10, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I found it very telling that when John McCain was asked about this yesterday, he pooh-poohed it as misreporting because he had met with the Iraqi leaders (some weeks ago), and as apparently an example of how wrong the speculation was, said "they said we wouldn't have a status of forces agreement, either."

I did a double-take, and went to check to see if I had somehow missed the news. Nope, they haven't reached a status of forces agreement, either.

When was his last briefing? April? Are any of the press going to ask him a follow-up question when he makes statements like this?

Posted by: Ducktape on July 10, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The negotiation of troop withdrawals will continue until the Iraqis are certain they can stand on their own. I would estimate that time as about the end of McCain's first term. Kevin, I suggest you read some books about Arab culture and the Shame-Honor system that rules their lives. Cole should know this but is blinded by his partisanship. Or else, he knows he would lose his left wing support if he started to tell the truth.

Posted by: Mike K on July 10, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead since our little neocon field trip began, millions more displaced, and people really wonder if the guy's bluffing when he gets up to show us the door? Are we supposed to pretend that it's some kind of well-kept secret that neither the clerics nor the Iraqi people themselves have even the slightest interest in living their lives in the shadow of any kind of US military presence? It's not like we have to strain our imaginations to come up with some idea of just how much Iraqis hate living under a Western occupation. I'd say that the only kabuki going on is being performed by the folks suggesting there's any ambiguity about what Maliki *really* means.

Posted by: junebug on July 10, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

They do not want to be "out time tabled" by the American politicians. Part of the 'time table' gap between Western and Middle Eastern cultures.

Seriously, sort of, this is a contest for Iraqi constituents to prove they are as good as the West, hence the emphasis on sovereignty issues.

Driven by Iran, mainly, Iran acting as a Persian proxy, using balance of power politics to protect itself from deranged Arabs.

Posted by: Matt on July 10, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Mike K: Your comments are irrelevant at best. Besides, for armchair sociologists and anthropologists who always invoke "shame-honor systems," whether in the Arab world, Japan, or whatever, as being something totally beyond American ken, that's bullshit.

We have a shame-honor system here, too. Now, it may play by different rules, and have different rewards and punishments than in Iraq or Japan, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent.

Fact is that, per Aristotle, man (generic) is a cultural animal, or animal of civilization (the "political animal" traditional translation is horribly wrong today), ergo, man everywhere is susceptible to cultural pressures.

And, per evolutionary psychology, honor and shame are pretty much universal.

So, Mike, take your armchair and set it out by the nearest Dumpster.

Mirror: Many people think the Kabuki is a new show, though, and it never is. (See Obama, Barack.)

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 10, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Mike K wrote: The negotiation of troop withdrawals will continue until the Iraqis are certain they can stand on their own. I would estimate that time as about the end of McCain's first term.

In other words, the fifth of never.

But if Maliki realizes he has more to lose politically from the presence than the absence of US troops, it'll be amusing to see the heads of the dishonest wingnuts who pretend that Iraq is a sovereign nation with a legitimate government explode.

Posted by: Gregory on July 10, 2008 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hopefully Maliki's party has a better follow-through on their "Ending the Occupation" campaign promise than the Democrats have, in the event they win the election.

Posted by: Doug T on July 10, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

If the U.S. and the Iraqi governments suddenly agree to a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces, that defuses one of Obama's biggest talking points and "get out the vote" motivators for the November election. If I were Bush, I would agree to a timetable right now, and the shorter it is, the more effectively it disarms the Democrats on the whole Iraqi War issue.

Of course, after the November election there would be nothing to prevent the Iraqi government from relaxing its pressure on the U.S. to honor the timetable for withdrawal. Hell, they could even ask the U.S. to stay longer, once a Republican is safely elected to the White House.

Posted by: Robert on July 10, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I'm interested in commenters' opinions about a couple of questions:

Can Bush ever agree to a timetable after claiming that our enemies would just wait us out? Or does it make a difference if the timetable was Iraq's idea?

If Bush does sign on to a timetable for withdrawal, and Obama implements it, and then things in Iraq go to hell, would the right wing attack Obama for "losing Iraq"?

Posted by: BarryG on July 10, 2008 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Mike K: Your comments are irrelevant at best. Besides, for armchair sociologists and anthropologists who always invoke "shame-honor systems," whether in the Arab world, Japan, or whatever, as being something totally beyond American ken, that's bullshit."

Ignorance is bliss. I didn't say it's beyond American ken. I said it's worth reading about. You, of course, are an expert. Funny how lefties think obscenity makes them sound tough, isn't it ?

Posted by: Mike K on July 10, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

As usual, Kevin Drum drops to the middle and doesn't apply any moral principles.

Wow! Look back 2 years and Iraq interest on this blog then. No wonder the news has lost interest. The Demo blog has lost interest. There's no critical application.

This is HUGE! They actually declared they want us to leave, and the Bush-McCain project has declared to stay.

Oil wealth probably underlines this, and there are ethnic advantages right now, but there is no US ability to control anything in IRAQ.

After 6 years that is more than suprising.


Posted by: notthere on July 11, 2008 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

O.K.

So you deleted both my duplicated comments,?

Very nice!

Posted by: notthere on July 11, 2008 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Funny how lefties think obscenity makes them sound tough, isn't it ?

Funny how righties think having a permanent hard-on for war makes them sound tough, isn't it?

Posted by: Gregory on July 11, 2008 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

What?!? Madonna's getting a divorce??

Posted by: Monty on July 11, 2008 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

"four reasons to think Maliki might not be kidding"

#5:We snuffed his nephew last month during a raid gone awry in Kerbala. It's personal, it's not just business...

Posted by: jollyroger on July 11, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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