The reaction this week to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s remarks at the White House the other day is interesting and revealing. His comments have newscasters and politicos in knots, so it might be worthwhile to see what he said. In answer to a question on his position on Hezbollah, al-Maliki responded:
PRIME MINISTER MALIKI: Thank you. Here, actually we’re talking about the suffering of a people in a country. And we are not in the process of reviewing one issue or another, or any government position. The important thing here is what we are trying to do is to stop the killing and the destruction, and then we leave the room and the way for the international and diplomatic efforts and international organization to play the role to be there.
We are not here facing a situation only in Lebanon, but would be facing a variety of issues in different countries. I’m talking here about the approach that should be used in order to stop this process of promoting hatred, that has to be superior decisions coming from above in order to protect these experiments, particularly the democratic experiments that should be protected by those who are trying to oppose it.
Overall, a balanced position, refusing to take sides – settle things down and get the international community involved to protect the citizenry. Do not throw out the baby (Lebanon) with the bathwater.
Of course, that’s the problem – he didn’t take sides, or specifically, he didn’t take our side. And why wouldn’t he do that, I wonder? Well, if you’re Howard Dean, or any of the hordes of conservative bloggers echoing his remarks today, it’s because he’s an anti-Semite, of course. Let me first say that I absolutely hate this racist strawman that gets trotted out anytime someone says something against Israel. Does not supporting the current Conservative government in Canada make me anti-Caucasian?
Of course calling someone names is the easiest thing in the world to do, although it rarely results in anything positive afterwards. (Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, is an expert on rarely reaping positive benefits. He won’t in ’08, either.) The fact of the matter is that Maliki is in a very delicate political situation at home that also plays into remarks he makes on the subject. The Arab world, including Iraq, is being bombarded by images of dying civilians in Lebanon right now, and if Maliki was to publicly condem Hezbollah it would be seen as giving comfort to Israel.
A Shi’a, Maliki has to play to the Shi’a majority in Iraq if he has any hope at all of creating stability; even then, his chances aren’t really good. In order to do so, at the very least, he can’t be seen to be condoning what is being done to fellow Arabs in southern Lebanon right now. Note that he did not come out and say that he backed Hezbollah, he merely played a political line up the middle of the argument so that he can save his own skin, indeed save American skin in Iraq: he is the last American hope of keeping Iraq from spinning fully into civil war, if it’s not already there. There are no more baskets left in Iraq for the only remaining American egg: a vaguely western(ish) democracy. Whether he has a snowball’s chance in hell is an open question, but he has no choice.
Does he back Hezbollah? I don’t know. If he does, it can’t be because he’s got a lot of idle time on his hands and a lot of power outside of the Green Zone to exert. No, this statement, or non-statement really, is all about Maliki’s domestic political situation.
Just like Howard Dean’s.