Friday, December 01, 2006

What did Bush tell Maliki? Take your pick

Let's try an experiment bringing together the Washington and the Arab press coverage (with some shorthand to help keep things straight) to see what probably went down in Amman.

Reports in Azzaman and Al-Hayat on Wednesday referred to what you could call a Sunni wish-list that Bush reportedly planned to present to Maliki together with his "final deadline" threat. For instance, both papers referred to a demand, not only for attacking the mostly Shiite militias, but also for hiring of many former Saddam-regime officers in law-enforcement, in addition to ending the De-Baathification program and a full amnesty. This is the "Sunni wish-list, or else" hypothesis.

Today Al-Hayat merely says Bush gave Maliki a final deadline, but goes no farther than to say this included a requirement for combating the militia, in exchange for which Bush will give Maliki more military authority to do so. There isn't any reference to any of the pro-Sunni points that were reported on Wednesday. This is the "try harder, or else" hypothesis, more or less a neutral position.

Today in the Washington Post, there is an article that describes a debate between two positions on this question in Washington. First, there is the so-called Sunni-outreach, promoted by US ambassador Khalilzad, who is said to have drawn up a long list of measures that would serve to encourage Sunni groups to join the political process. This list, to all appearances, includes a lot of the measures in the Arab-press "Sunni wish-list or else" position: Amnesty, oil-revenue sharing, and so on. So we might rename the "Sunni wish-list, or else" position the "Khalilzad list, or else" position.

Against this, the WaPo piece says, has been a State Dept initiative promoted by Philip Zelikow that said the US should desist from the "Sunni outreach" approach because it risks backfiring, alienating the Shiite majority, without appealing greatly to the Sunnis. We could call this the "Zelikow position".

This gives us three positions: "Khalilzad, or else"; "Zelikow"; and a neutral or say-nothing position that just says "try harder, or else". The "Zelikow" position is sometimes referred to by the plugged-in-Washington people as a "tilt to the Shiites". (See an article by Laura Rozen from November 16). That would give us a "Sunni-Khalilzad", "Shiite-Zelikow", and a "neutral" policy line-up. Okay so far?

Now: back in the real world, we know that Zelikow announced his resignation on Monday November 27, just ahead of the Wednesday Amman Bush-Maliki meeting. And we know that one clear result of the Amman meetings was to outline a very clear US-Sunni alliance as far as the region as a whole is concerned: see the Al-Hayat and Al-Quds al-Arabi coverage today noted in the prior post here. But in spite of the implications of the Zelikow resignation, and of the regional US-Sunni alliance, and in blissful ignorance of the Wednesday Arab-language coverage from Baghdad and Amman, the plugged-in-Washington crowd, represented in this instance by Robin Wright of WaPo, says the Washington debate is now whether or not to endorse the Zelikow position and tilt to the Shiites.

What can we make of it?


Blogger JHM said...

Back in the phony world, what of Mr. Stephen Hadley's position? He hasn't resigned, as far as I know, so where does his ingenious scheme to bribe all the Green Zone politicians to be "moderates" fit in?

If the Saudis and the Kuwaitis are supposed to provide the slush fund, though, and therefore they would get to call the tune of this moderation, maybe its only a subdepartment of "Khalilzad or else"?

6:33 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Good point, I think you're getting warm! To put it another way, "Khalilzad or else" is itself a subdepartment of "traditional covert ops" which is why you're not seeing a lot of reporting about it in the New York Times. Duh...

11:17 AM  

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