There was a strange moment today when White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe was talking to reporters about the gloomy news from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Johndroe stonewalled on the NIE, but then a reporter asked his reaction to news that Republican lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers -- led by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour -- is representing former Iraq Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who'd like to take his old job back from beleaguered Nouri al-Maliki. Here's the exchange:
Q Gordon, can I ask -- a Republican lobbying firm, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, has now signed on as a client to former Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi, and they're promoting him as a potential alternative to Maliki. They're starting to lobby members of Congress and their staff, saying Maliki is basically not the answer. Is the White House concerned about allies, Republican lobbyists, allies of the White House lobbying against Maliki, essentially? And is the White House at all involved in this -- publicly saying you support Maliki -- privately, are you giving any sort of a wink and nod to Allawi that he could be an alternative?
JOHNDROE: To your second part, no. Decisions about the Iraqi government are going to be made by the Iraqis in Iraq. This is an elected government right now. If former Prime Minister Allawi is interested in become Prime Minister again, that would be an issue that he would need to take up with the Iraqi people, probably best taken up in Baghdad rather than Washington, D.C. So I just --
Q But if the President keeps saying that Maliki is the answer and he thinks he's got the best chance of political reconciliation, why would Republican lobbyists want to undermine what the President is saying publicly?
JOHNDROE: Maybe it's a really good contract.
I'm sure it's a really good contract. But that isn't necessarily the end of questions about whether the White House would like to see Allawi return. Viewed as friendlier to U.S. interests than Maliki, Allawi might be best remembered for personally handcuffing suspected terrorists and shooting them in 2004. Iraqi democracy wasn't good to Allawi, whose leadership didn't survive elections. But the CIA-connected leader is a right-wing favorite. We'll see how Barbour's lobbying effort fares in the weeks to come.