In some ways, amid the internecine bloodletting, torture, spiking American casualties, death-dealing confusion, general mayhem, and especially the recent coup rumors that Robert Dreyfuss has been taking the lead in reporting, here's all you really need to know about the Iraqi "government" of Nouri al-Maliki. When the Prime Minister wanted to check on whether he was going to hang onto his position or be overthrown, he didn't go to parliament or to the Iraqi people, he checked in with the President of the United States. What he needed, it turned out, was George Bush's vote of confidence.
Here's the exchange as White House Press spokesman Tony Snow described it:
"Q So he [Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki] is concerned about talk of a timetable for withdrawal, or any specific –
"MR. SNOW: It's not -- no, no, no, it's not a timetable for withdrawal. The way it was portrayed is, we're giving them two months, or we'll go for somebody else. This was a timetable for his government, not for withdrawal. So thank you for positing that.
"Q Tony, is this stuff that came out of the [Senator John] Warner visit or –
"MR. SNOW: No, I think it's -- the answer is I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it refers to the report that said -- that there was a rumor that there were going to be attempts to replace him if certain things didn't happen in two months. And the President said the rumors are not true; we support you.
"Q The President initiated the call?
"MR. SNOW: Yes.
"Q So what was the level of concern that caused the President to pick up the phone?
"MR. SNOW: It's not a level of concern. Here you have the central front in the war on terror, which the President has been talking about, and he's made it clear that he wants to consult with the Prime Minister regularly."
Try, for a second, to imagine the situation in reverse. The American president, fearing a coup d'etat or some other move to throw him out of office, turns to the prime minister of Iraq to discover whether his job is still safe, whether he still has "support."
Of course, that's a ludicrous thought, but it highlights the ongoing inability of the Bush administration to set up an Iraqi government that might have legitimacy and meet its desires as well. Instead, what you have, practically speaking, is the worst of both worlds: a government that lacks legitimacy and is incapable, not to say unwilling, to meet the needs of the President and his advisors. In such a situation, a vote of confidence from one man may end up looking like the kiss of death to another.