Tuesday, June 13, 2006
It's a big day for the White House. The Wall Street Journal just hit me with another news alert, this time announcing that George W. Bush travelled to Iraq today "amid extraordinary secrecy" to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.
Amid extraordinary secrecy, President Bush traveled to Iraq for an unannounced five-hour trip designed to boost the government of new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki as it begins a last-ditch push to stabilize the country enough to allow for the beginnings of a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
The visit was Mr. Bush's first visit to Iraq since November 2003, and it came at a rare moment of administration optimism about Iraq. White House officials have been heralding the killing of insurgent leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and the completion of Mr. Maliki's government after months of political haggling as signs that the country may be turning a corner. The administration is hoping that signs of political and security progress in Iraq can stem the continued slide in U.S. public support for the Iraq war, which a majority of the American public now sees as a mistake.
This was a good decision in that it reinforces the legitimacy of the government of Iraq at a crucial moment. It is also very much in keeping with the President's view that personal relationships matter. It was the first time that he had met Prime Minister Maliki, their previous contact all having been over the telephone. Since Maliki is one of the most important people in the world to American foreign policy right now, the President did what he needed to do to build a relationship with the guy.
The security was extraordinary, and it reveals something about the true American view of the government of Iraq:
After a working dinner with cabinet officials and aides like National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, the president excused himself at approximately 7:45 p.m. by saying that he was "losing altitude" and wanted to go to bed to read a bit before falling asleep, Mr. Bartlett said. The meeting adjourned around 8 p.m. but the president had by that point already quietly left for Andrews Air Force Base. Mr. Bartlett declined to specify how the president snuck away without the other officials noticing his absence, but said that the helicopter Mr. Bush flew to Andrews was not the green and white helicopter normally used as Marine One.
"Our cabinet is not completely aware," he said. "They all expected him to show up at breakfast with the ambassador of Iraq."
The Iraqi government was similarly kept in the dark, Mr. Bartlett said. Mr. Maliki and senior members of his new cabinet had been asked to gather in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Tuesday morning for a secure video teleconference with Mr. Bush and his war cabinet at Camp David. Neither Mr. Maliki nor any members of his government were told in advance that Mr. Bush was instead planning to visit Baghdad in person, Mr. Bartlett said.
The President of the United States is always welcome to drop by my house uninvited, but it is traditional to inform the local head of state when he visits another country. He didn't, notwithstanding the impact that would have on Maliki's tenuous status, because we were worried it would leak to the wrong people. We really don't know who we can and cannot trust over there, do we? That is not surprising, but we need to bear it in mind.
Associated Press coverage here, and WaPo here.
I think you are correct, TH.
I did not see the coverage of The Visit (having to work for a living and all). A friend was telling me at lunch today that he thought the PM looked rather put out - not only did the President drop in unannounced at a rather tenuous time for the PM, but then the President took center stage and put the PM off to the side during the press briefing (of course as Leader Of The Free World he has to, if only to maintain appearances - and I am actually being serious when I say that).
It might have been better to just stay home and resist the temptation to try to keep up with the Blairs.
Of course, having catapulted poor Maliki from an MP in a conflicted third world country to a Head of State who warrants a surprise personal visit from the US President just to say "hi, we'd like to help you" might have shaken him up a little. It's been an interesting week for the guy.