Juan Cole: Hillary develops Foot in Mouth Disease on Dumping al-Maliki





[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com/.]

PM Nuri al-Maliki responded to Senator Carl Levin's (D-Michigan) call for him to be unseated, and Bush's failure to support him on Tuesday by unwisely getting hot under the collar and saying he can find other friends in the world to support his endeavor. I predicted that Levin's unwise and inappropriate comment (in a conference call with Tel Aviv!-- Americans have no clue about Middle Eastern politics) would elicit an angry response. Levin managed to make it look as though he were ordered by the Israeli government to see al-Maliki gotten rid of because he was making economic deals with Syria (thus strengthening the latter). I underline that such an interpretation is unfounded, but that is how many in the region see it. Levin is usually sure-footed and careful on Middle East issues, including especially Iraq, so I can't understand why he wants to appoint himself secretary of state all of a sudden.

The serial episodes of unwisdom are lengthening and feeding on one another. Now Hillary Clinton has urgedthat al-Maliki be unseated.

But as Farah Stockman of the Boston Globe and Damien Cave of the NYT point out, it may not be easy for parliament to dump al-Maliki. And, Senator Clinton should be more careful about this sort of thing. Here's a scenario: al-Maliki survives and is PM in January 2009, and Hillary is inaugurated as US president. She now has to deal with him in arranging for an orderly withdrawal of US troops. She needs him, depends on his sway with Shiite militias to have them avoid harassing our troops on their way through the Shiite south to Kuwait. And he should put himself out to help her at that point. . . why?

Of course, al-Maliki's survival is a little unlikely (see above), but it is not out of the bounds of the possible and wisdom would dictate taking that possibility into account.

Presidential candidates should not box themselves in on foreign policy issues by making categorical statements of this sort. Hillary Clinton has to stop talking like a junior senator and start thinking like a president if she wants to succeed abroad.




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