In a revealing, but somewhat unnerving, opinion piece in the Washington Post, Ali Khedery, tries to explain "Why we stuck with Maliki, and lost Iraq." An Iraqi-American, Khedery says he worked closely as a special assistant to American ambassadors and other officials in Baghdad during 2003-2010. He claims to have befriended "Abu Isra," better known to us as Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki, and urged U.S. officials to back him as premier in 2006. By 2010, however, he concluded that Maliki was almost as bad as Saddam Hussein and then and now urged U.S. officials to support someone else to lead Iraq.
His story of Maliki's descent into sectarian brutality and authoritarianism is consistent with what other observers have reported -- and justification for his "Maliki must go" recommendation. What is more puzzling, however, is his claim that U.S. policy "lost" Iraq. He blames the Bush administration's "desperation" for agreeing to "a bad deal" in 2008 and the Obama administration for sticking with Maliki in 2010.
Khedery cites meetings to which he was privy where he and others argued against Maliki but failed to persuade their superiors. He argues that Iranian officials dictated the makeup of Maliki's government. If that is true -- and it's plausible because of Iran's material and religious leverage over Iraq -- then how could the United States have succeeded in dictating alternative leadership?
It's morally unsettling to think that we should be trying to pick Iraqi leaders when we have claimed to fight a war to give them those choices. But it's intellectually wrong to think that U.S. power could have somehow prevailed where Maliki's background and Iran's influence coalesced.
I agree that Maliki is a deeply flawed leader, that a unity government would be nice, that it would be helpful to prevent the jihadists from forming a brutal Islamic caliphate, that Iran needs to be contained. I just doubt that any American moves could guarantee all of those results, and so we should recalculate.