Friday, March 28, 2008

Feign in Vain

Ilan Goldenberg passes along this rather significant claim appearing in today's Washington Post without any caveat or indication that it might not be entirely truthful:

Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials.

At the very least, this contention should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism (not to single out Ilan - whose work I have enjoyed immensely - as I have seen this statement repeated uncritically as fact in numerous blogospheric/media outlets).

First of all, as Laura Rozen pointed out, the Independent published a story back on the 20th quoting Iraqi generals discussing the imminence of an assault on Basra that would target Sadr's militia. The story itself was published days before the assault began, and who knows when the quotes were generated.

Perhaps Iraqi generals felt free to discuss these top secret plans with reporters from the Independent but not Bush administration officials? And were confident that the Bush folks wouldn't read the news....OK, maybe that last point isn't completely persuasive, but you get the point.

Second, the anti-Sadr operations took place roughly a week after Cheney flew to the region for, amongst other things, a face to face with ISCI's leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. I'm sure they had other, more important things to discuss. That warranted Cheney coming in person. Like, say, a hunting trip they were planning for August?

Third, it should be noted that the Bush administration has an interest in downplaying its role in this affair for a number of reasons: if the Bush team is seen as pulling the strings, it would taint the operation itself by association, weaken Maliki and his allies in the eyes of Iraqis, and incur the full wrath of Sadr (though I imagine he has a pretty good idea of who is adversaries are).

Further, if the operation is a disaster, the Bush team can shrug its collective shoulders and tut-tut the lovably incompetent Maliki and his disfunctional Iraqi army that is obviously in need of coddling. If the operation succeeds, then the Bush team can applaud the Maliki government's performance, praise the Iraqi armed forces and use these events as evidence of the success of the Surge - thus silencing those clamoring for withdrawal.

Given that, I'd just as soon not take self-serving statements by anonymous Bush administration officials at face value. Especially when the veracity of those statements is called into question by the available evidence. Call it a learned response.

[PS: It is also entirely possible that the adminstration official quoted in the article was telling the she/he knew it. There has been a perculiar pattern of secrecy within the Bush administration (not just vis-a-vis outsiders) such that the Secretary of State might be pursuing some policy without telling the Secretary of Defense or Vice President, and vice versa (with the POTUS included on a need to know basis - which is rarer than it should be).

Rumsfeld and Cheney used to do this all the time to Rice and Powell, and eventually the latter two returned the favor on a few occasions as well. It's the preferred method of a party looking to avoid pushback from within. A similar dynamic could be in play here.]

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