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November 29, 2006

Why Leak the Maliki Government Memo?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I've been trolling the web looking for commentary on this question, which seems important.  But I haven't found any yet.  So I'm going to make some up.

The chief effects of the leak seem to be:

1.  Re-focusing attention on how weak and ineffective the Maliki government is.

2.  Further clarifying how detached the Administration is from reality (read the memo's "Steps Maliki Could Take" and, umm, weep.)  Telling a prime minister to change his personal staff so it "reflects the face of Iraq?"  Bring his "political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure" (that would be the strategy that brought him to power)??

3.  Giving Maliki additional reasons (if threats from Sadr weren't enough) to cancel today's dinner with President Bush, delivering the kind of stinging slap that Senator-elect Webb can only dream of.

4.  Reminding Americans that the self-effacing National Security Adviser is named Steve Hadley (who seemed like a smart, pragmatic moderate back in the Bush 1 days, when I was a young Congressional whippersnapper "monitoring" his arms control team --yes, Virginia, Republicans used to believe in arms control).

I'll rule out #3 and #4 as unintended consequences.  So either somebody thought this memo made brilliant points that the public needed to know, or that weren't being acted on fast enough, or (more likely?) someone wanted #1 and/or #2 to be forced on the Administration from the outside.

Remember how secrecy and loyalty seemed to be woven into the Bush team's DNA in 2001?  Calling in a reporter to show them a memo like this is a breathtaking breach of trust.  It makes me wonder whether the Administration is capable of acting effectively -- and calls into comprehensive doubt, I think, Marc Grinberg's hopes that this Administration can re-invent itself as a get-er-done realist. 

9 pm update:  Laura Rozen places the memo in the context of an on-the-quiet Iraq strategy review she says was held at very high levels over the Veterans' Day holiday, and particularly the "unleash the Shiites" debate.  Our own Mike Signer points me to MSNBC, which quotes CSIS's Jon Alterman suggesting that the memo is really a "memo to Maliki" designed to "steel his spine" and offering "his whole to-do list, plus his rewards if he does it."  On the other hand, one might read Dan Kervick's comment below and wonder whether the leak was intended to set the stage for the government's disintegration and Maliki's removal.  But then one might be reading not just too much Machiavellianism but too much competence into how things have been going lately.

Nov. 30 update:  the New York Daily News suggests that someone from the Cheney or Rumsfeld orbits might have leaked the memo in "payback" for the firing of Rumsfeld.  That seems too juvenile for this crowd, but then again...  Does the fact that someone suggested that to a reporter mean that embattled NSC types are looking for "payback" under every bed?


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It seems to me one of the points of the leak is humiliating Maliki, and driving a wedge between him and the various Shiite groups in the governing coalition. The memo makes Maliki look like a reasonably cooperative friend of the US who would like to assist US aims in Iraq, if he could manage it politically:

His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change.

Now, presumably, when Maliki talks to said Shiite hierarchy, he does not tell them he is trying to "stand up to them" and force change in a direction the Americans would regard as positive. Yet now these fixtures of the Shiite hierarchy will read that according to sensitive reporting - i.e. US spies and moles in the Iraqi government - this is indeed what Maliki tells the US he is trying to do. Miliki is now toast politically.

Another possible motivation for the leak: the end of the memo makes a case for more troops and more money, so it is conceivable that the point was to get the argument for the upcoming sales pitch out there before the public before hitting them up. The pitch involves several points that the administration can hardly make publicly, for diplomatic reasosns - so now they have made them semi-publicly.

It's almost like the Bush administration has decided to give the entire American public an official story, and then a second story "on background" - which is kind of weird.

Bush-Sadr Alliance?
Nov 29, 2006
Scott Sullivan - Persian Journal

Two facts stand out in the confusing flow of information from Iraq.

First, Muqtada al Sadr is the most powerful politician in Iraq and is in effect the acting Prime Minister of Iraq. The Maliki government is actually the Maliki-Sadr government. The pro-Iran Abdul Azziz al-Hakim has been sidelined, permanently.

Second the US's 147,000 troops will remain in Iraq until, in President Bush's words, "victory is assured." Now, either President Bush has lost touch with reality, or he finally has a plan.

Most likely, President Bush has a plan. The outlines of his plan would be to support Iraq's emerging anti-Iran alliance, led by the Sadrists and picking up support from Sunni militants, to be followed by anti-Iran Kurds.

Such a broad patriotic Iraqi coalition would make short work of the SCIRI and the Badr Brigade. Iranian forces would be dislodged from control of the streets as well as the Interior Ministry, which they have long dominated.

Moreover, Iraq would then be in position to block Iran's effort to create its own version of Hezbollah in Iraq. This would frustrate Iran's ability to play the Lebanon card at will with assurance, as Iran is presently doing.

Finally, the US-Sadr alliance would spell doom for Al-Qaeda�s prospects in Iraq. Al Qaeda, like Ian, wants to partition Iraq so that it can control one of Iraq's breakaway states, in this instance Al Anbar province.

I don't think its the NYT's job to withhold information, if they get their hands on an important memo - shouldn't they publish it as part of their journalistic duty? I doubt that NYT had motives other than getting the information out.

Our own Mike Signer points me to MSNBC, which quotes CSIS's Jon Alterman suggesting that the memo is really a "memo to Maliki" designed to "steel his spine" and offering "his whole to-do list, plus his rewards if he does it."

I agree with this as well. When I first posted on this topic at noon yesterday, in response to Ivo Daalder's post at TPM Cafe, I suggested that in addition to driving a wedge between Maliki and Shiite leaders, the memo provided Maliki with a script for his meeting with Bush. It instructed him about what he had to say publicly to help Bush sell requests for more money and troops to the American public.

Maybe that's one reason Maliki cancelled the meeting - so he would have time to go back to his room and study the script.

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Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so. Maliki pointed to incidents, such as the use of Iraqi forces in Shia Karbala, to demonstrate his even hand. Perhaps because he is frustrated over his limited ability to command Iraqi forces against terrorists and insurgents, Maliki has been trying to show strength by standing up to the coalition. Hence the public spats with us over benchmarks and the Sadr City roadblocks.
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There is nothing in the memo that suggests the Bush administration is interested in replacing Mr. Maliki as prime minister. But while Mr. Bush has stated that he has confidence in the Iraqi leader, the memo questions whether Mr. Maliki has the will and ability to establish a genuine unity government, saying the answer will emerge from actions he takes in the weeks and months ahead.

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