The measure of the man

Bush declares Nouri al-Maliki "the right guy for Iraq."


Tim Grieve
November 30, 2006 7:34PM (UTC)

In his leaked pre-trip memo on Iraq, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley seemed to warn George W. Bush away from making the sort of "I looked the man in the eye" assessments about Nouri al-Maliki that he once made about Vladimir Putin. Maliki's intentions "seem good when he talks with Americans," Hadley wrote to Bush. "But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Did Bush heed Hadley's warning? You be the judge:

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Reporter: When you were in Baghdad six months ago, you expressed the same kind of confidence in the prime minister and his government that you've expressed today. Yet there have been repeated rounds of disappointments when it comes to the prime minister's Baghdad security plan, with his plans for reconciliation. I'm wondering, if anything, if you've had any doubts over the last six months about the strength of his government, about the prime minister's own abilities. And what gives you such confidence today to think that he can achieve what he hasn't done over the last six months?

Bush: Well, as you mentioned, he's been in power for six months, and I've been able to watch a leader emerge. The first thing that gives me confidence is that he wants responsibility. A sign of leadership is for somebody to say, "I want to be able to have the tools necessary to protect my people." One of his frustrations with me is that he believes we've been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people. And today we had a meeting that will accelerate the capacity for the prime minister to do the hard work necessary to help stop this violence. No question it's a violent society right now. He knows that better than anybody. He was explaining to me that occasionally the house in which he lives gets shelled by terrorists who are trying to frighten him.

And so the second point I make to you is that I appreciate his courage. You can't lead unless you have courage. And he's got courage, and he's shown courage over the last six months. Thirdly, he has expressed a deep desire to unify his country. You hear all kinds of rumors about the politics inside of Iraq. I'm talking to the man face-to-face, and he says that he understands that a unified government, a pluralistic society, is important for success. And he's making hard decisions to achieve that.

No question it's been tough. It would have been a lot easier had people not tried to destabilize the young democracy. His job would have been more simple had there not been terrorists trying to create sectarian violence.

Now, I want everybody to remember that it was Mr. Zarqawi of al-Qaida who said, let us bomb Shia in order to create the conditions necessary for sectarian violence. The Samarra bombing started off this new phase of violence. The prime minister comes in about halfway through that phase in order to -- he'd been selected and now he's dealing with a serious situation on the ground. And what I appreciate is his attitude. As opposed to saying, "America, you go solve the problem," we have a prime minister who's saying, "Stop holding me back, I want to solve the problem."

And the meeting today was to accelerate his capacity to do so. It's not easy for a military to evolve from ground zero, and I appreciate our forces, and I appreciate General Casey, who have worked very hard to train the Iraqis so they become a capable fighting force, as well as a unifying element for Iraq. But it's one thing to put people in uniform, and another thing to have clear command structure, or the capacity to move troops from point A to point B, or the capacity to make sure that the troop carrier from point A to point B has got the necessary air in its tires or oil in its engine. In other words, this is a sophisticated operation to get a unifying army stood up.

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And one of the reasons I appreciate the prime minister is that he, on the one hand, sees that it's a sophisticated operation to get a military up from zero but, on the other hand, is frustrated by the pace. And the reason why he's frustrated is because he wants to show the people who elected him that he is willing to take the hard tasks on necessary to provide security for the Iraqi people, such as hunting down those who are killing the innocent. And the reason I came today to be able to sit down with him is to hear the joint plans developed between the Iraqi government, the sovereign government of Iraq, and our government, to make sure that we accelerate the transfer of capacity to the prime minister. And I know he's looking forward to more capacity being transferred so he can do his job.

Anyway, he's the right guy for Iraq, and we're going to help him, and it's in our interest to help him, for the sake of peace.


Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

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George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room




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