Out of Patience

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; 8:04 AM

President Bush says he's frustrated with Nouri al-Maliki.

Guess what, so am I.

I'm frustrated with the utter paralysis of the Iraqi government while our troops fight and die.

I'm frustrated with the complete and utter failure to compromise while Sunnis and Shiites keep killing each other, and sometimes Americans.

I'm frustrated by a government that takes the month of August off while our forces risk their lives to keep the country from falling apart.

It's frustrating, all right.

Carl Levin and John Warner come back from Iraq and say that Maliki must go, and the president says he's frustrated by the leader he has bet his Iraq strategy on. But the question, as always, is, what is he prepared to do about it? That was the linchpin of the whole benchmarks debate: If the Baghdad government fails to deliver, is there any penalty?

Not that there are any easy options at this point. What if the problem is not Maliki but the ethnic and political pressures that prevent him from moving forward one inch? Remember, it took five months of maneuvering to put this government together. If Maliki resigned today, how long would it take to put together a new coalition? And is there reason to believe a new coalition would achieve better results?

"Hours after President Bush acknowledged 'a certain level of frustration with the leadership' in Iraq," says the New York Times, "the White House said today that Mr. Bush would declare the struggle there as vital as earlier American campaigns in Asia and would once again call for perseverance . . .

"The excerpts were made available after Mr. Bush, for at least the third time this summer, declined to offer an endorsement of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man he once called 'the right guy for Iraq.' . . .

"Mr. Bush's comments earlier today acknowledging frustration with the Iraqi leadership came on the same day that Mr. Crocker called political progress "extremely disappointing" and one day after Senators Carl Levin and John Warner suggested parliament replace Mr. Maliki.

Mr. Bush seemed to beat back against that suggestion, saying in Montebello, Quebec, that it should be 'up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians.' Yet the answer also represented a new, if subtle, level of pessimism from Mr. Bush about Mr. Maliki with its implicit suggestion that Mr. Maliki could be ousted by the Iraqis themselves."

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