Picking your friends, in peace and in wartime
August 25, 2007
I can hear the words in my head of some long-ago received advice: Choose your friends wisely.
I also remember an addition to this advice from someone I met in college, that good friends can make you rich, but bad friends can make you dead.
I thought about this as I read the words of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who, during a visit to Syria last week, expressed how he was upset with criticism coming from President George W. Bush and others in the U.S., and said that he could “find friends elsewhere.”
This follows his comments last month that American troops could leave “anytime they want.”
Indeed. We pour a trillion dollars and 160,000+ troops into his country, get rid of Saddam Hussein and make him prime minister, and this is the thanks we get?
Al-Maliki certainly doesn’t talk like your usual puppet president. In fact, in a contest between him and Bush on who needs whom more, I’m not sure we could pick a winner.
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Who are al-Maliki’s friends? Last week he was busy making friends with Syria, which is no friend of the U.S. Among other things, they were negotiating a plan to reopen an oil pipeline to Syria, which could bring much-needed revenues to Damascus.
Al-Maliki is also collecting a lot of frequent-flyer miles visiting Iran, a founding member of Bush’s Axis of Evil, a country the administration accuses of making bombs that kill U.S. troops.
What do you think al-Maliki and the Iranians are talking about? Soccer? No, probably about how Iran can help al-Maliki once the American forces outlive their usefulness to him.
And let’s not forget that al-Maliki wouldn’t be prime minister without the support of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who has several times called for attacks on U.S. forces, and his Mahdi Army has killed Americans.
If you judge a person by the company he keeps, al-Maliki should be ranking somewhere on Bush’s hit list of leaders in line for regime change. But no, al-Maliki is a “good man,” according to Bush.
Have we learned nothing from history about these “good” men, the one-night stands of American foreign policy?
Isn’t this how we got into this mess in the first place, jumping into bed with Saddam when he was fighting the Iranians?
Al-Maliki’s government has shown little interest in pursing the policies that could heal the troubles of that country and bring the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together in peace, and help the U.S. extract itself from this conflict. The Shiite majority likes democracy, especially the whole majority rules part. What they don’t get is that democracy isn’t winner take all. The majority can’t just ignore the demands of the minority, unless one wants a civil war.
Without some kind of reconciliation, Bush can’t claim victory. Even if al-Maliki wanted to make concessions to the Sunnis, his Shiite backers would toss him out.
So al-Maliki plays both ends against each other. He makes nice with Iran and Syria, his “friends elsewhere” that can give support if and when the U.S. decides to leave. And he keeps stringing Bush along, telling him he is working on helping his friend, but he rarely delivers.
The problem really isn’t al-Maliki. Anyone in his position would probably be doing the same thing, because the situation in Iraq is so intractable that it makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict look simple by comparison.
There seems to be a willful ignorance among war supporters that the government we are fighting to prop up will somehow be friendly to long-term U.S. interests.
And that’s only if the government can survive. There was this dim hope that the “surge” could stop the violence, and the parties could sit down and talk instead of killing each other. But the violence hasn’t stopped, and it certainly hasn’t slowed enough to allow for any meaningful reconciliation, which is one of the findings of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate.
But none of that will matter. Bush, he just can’t quit al-Maliki, or Iraq.
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