How many administration officials does it take to trash Nouri al-Maliki?
As the New York Times' Michael Gordon writes today, the White House has "sought to avoid public criticism of Mr. Maliki." That's right, but only to the degree that "public criticism" means "criticism that comes from someone who allows his name to be used."
As we noted earlier today, Gordon has obtained a Nov. 8 memo in which National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley declares the Iraqi prime minister to be either ignorant, deceitful or just incapable of doing what it takes to get his country under control. It's part and parcel of the Bush administration's latest spin on Iraq -- it's all their fault! -- and it doesn't sound like Gordon had to work particularly hard to get the memo or to confirm that it was legitimate. An "administration official" made the document available to him, "aides to President Bush" spun the memo, and "two senior administration officials" talked about the memo on the condition that they not be quoted by name because they didn't want to be seen as, you know, talking about the memo.
How ridiculous is the game? Wonkette has the transcript of a press briefing by Tony Snow and Dan Bartlett -- a briefing in which Snow says he can't talk about the memo "on the record" just before the tight-lipped speakers formerly known as Snow and Bartlett became loquacious "senior administration officials" who will tell you anything you want to know about the Hadley memo so long as you don't use their names in the process.
"We'll play around with this," one of the "senior administration officials" says. "If we can keep stuff on the record to the best of the ability, we will, but there are going to be some areas where we can't." Later, one of the "senior administration officials" insists that all the talk about the memo is "on background," and a reporter is reduced to directing questions to "the senior administration official on the left."
"Your left or our left?" one of the "senior administration officials" asks.
We're sure it all makes Maliki feel so much better about his plight. You wouldn't want to be publicly embarrassed, after all, by people who do such a good job of publicly embarrassing themselves.