Did Maliki tell Bush to cool his heels?

A summit meeting postponed.

By Tim Grieve

Published November 29, 2006 6:47PM (EST)

George W. Bush said earlier this week that he was looking forward to talking with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and hearing his ideas for the way forward in Iraq. It looks like the president is going to have to wait a little longer.

Bush arrived in Jordan earlier today and was supposed to meet tonight with Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah II. High-level summit meetings like these are usually planned to a fare-thee-well, but the White House has just announced that tonight's meeting has been postponed. The ostensible reason? Abdullah and Maliki met with each other before Bush arrived in Amman, and Dan Bartlett said that meeting "negated" the need for the two of them to meet with Bush.

That makes sense only to the extent that an Abdullah-Maliki meeting is somehow equivalent to an Abdullah-Maliki-Bush meeting, which in turn makes sense only to the extent that Bush would have been irrelevant in the three-way meeting. We're guessing that no one at the White House really thinks of things that way. More plausible explanations: Maliki snubbed Bush either in retaliation for the seemingly orchestrated leak of Stephen Hadley's memo or in response to protests from Muqtada al-Sadr loyalists who have walked away from Maliki's government to show their displeasure over his meeting with Bush.

The White House says Bush still expects to have a "robust" discussion with Maliki on Thursday and that no one should read too much into tonight's cancellation. "Look, they were not going to be doing a full detail discussion in a trilateral setting about Iraq and the future of Iraq and the strategy anyway, that just wouldn't be appropriate," Bartlett told reporters in Amman. He said the "three-way" meeting was really going to be more of a "social" thing anyway.

Maybe that's right, but it's hard to escape the feeling that there's a bit of left-at-the-altar embarrassment here. And it's not the first bout of who-wears-the-pants humiliation for the White House this week. Dick Cheney made the trek to Saudi Arabia over the weekend to talk about Iraq. The White House portrayed the trip as a matter of reaching out to its Arab ally. In fact, the Washington Post reported earlier this week, the Saudis had "basically summoned" the American vice president out of concern for the damage the Iraq war is causing.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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