From Sam Parker in Foreign Policy, an essay entitled “The New Nuri Al-Maliki‘:
The circumstances surrounding Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s visit to Washington this week could not be more different from the last time he was in town. In July 2006, Maliki was largely unknown, both in Iraq and in the West, and lacked a constituency. Today, he is the dominant force in Iraqi politics, has consolidated much of the emerging Iraqi state into his own hands, and has won a measure of democratic legitimacy after January’s provincial elections. In 2006, with Iraq on the verge of state failure, it was Maliki’s indecisiveness that troubled Washington. Today, with his country emerging as a sovereign power, his assertiveness is what’s worrying.
Shouldn’t we be fully embracing his assertiveness? Especially if we’re actually leaving in 2011. This kind of American handwringing is why I’ve always questioned our commiment to an actual zero troop withdrawal. It’s going to be hard for us to ever really let go–it’s the nature of empire, to want to hold onto our foreign possesions, whether it makes sense anymore or not. (And, as Parker points out, after 2011, there is still a good chance the Iraqis will want some kind of U.S. military presence there.)
Jumping to the end of the piece:
This week, Maliki will meet a president whose support for a democratic Iraq is genuine, but not guaranteed. U.S. officials are annoyed at what they regard as Maliki’s overconfidence, demonstrated in particular by his celebratory handling of the recent withdrawal and the strict implementation of new rules restraining U.S. forces. Obama and his administration want a strong alliance with Iraq, but also a more balanced one that involves responsibilities and obligations on both sides. For the new president, Iraq is important for U.S. interests but not critical, and he casts a more skeptical eye on the benefits the United States receives in return for its massive support. The burden is on Maliki to make his case that both he and the U.S.-Iraq relationship more generally are still worth the America’ time and trouble.
Parker makes some fascinating points, and lays out questions that aren’t getting much attention. Obama inherited Bush’s de facto Iraq policy. But Obama never bought into the delusionally muscular democracy promoting ideas of the Bush years. Yet in Iraq he’s now defined our future relationship with the country as a successful democratic partnership(and his plan for Afghanistan also seems to be founded in democracy promotion, albeit with somewhat lower expectations.)
So how does our future relationship with Iraq fit into Obama’s strategic foreign policy vision? What is our strategic vision, anyway? And what does it say, as the piece points out, that a country where we still have 130,000 troops deployed barely cracks the top three of the president’s national security priorities?