President Bush Fails to Put Iraq’s Leaders on Notice

President Bush made a friendly phone call to Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday, “telling him to not believe ‘rumors’ (in spokesman Tony Snow’s words) that the U.S. had privately given him a two-month timetable to shape up.”

In fact, the “rumors” were comments on CNN by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad two weeks ago. Bush’s contradictory statement sent the wrong message — that the United States will continue giving a blank check to the Iraqi leadership no matter what it does or doesn’t do. In assuring that the United States does not seek to impose a timeline, President Bush also undercut the message that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to send to Iraq’s leaders in her trip there earlier this month: speed up the political process.

The timing of Bush’s call made its impact even worse. On the same day, Iraq’s leaders postponed a national reconciliation conference aimed at addressing the problems that are at the heart of Iraq’s violence, and USA Today published comments from Prime Minister Maliki saying he would not take steps to disarm militias anytime soon, even though these militias are a key part of Iraq’s security problem.

Bush’s message to Maliki also ignores the advice from U.S. leaders from across the ideological spectrum — including Rep. John Murtha, Sens. Jack Reed, John Warner, Chuck Hagel to former Secretaries of State James Baker and Colin Powell — that staying the course is not an option and Iraq’s leaders need to take responsibility.

The Bush administration clings to its open-ended commitment to Iraq, which is fostering a culture of dependency among Iraq’s leaders.

Instead, the United States needs to set a policy of Strategic Redeployment — including a peace conference to stop Iraq’s civil war and a phased redeployment of U.S. forces.

Brian Katulis and Peter Juul