Normally, I respect Carl Levin. But I just don't get this at all:
"Declaring the government of Iraq "non-functional," the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that Iraq's parliament should oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they are unable to forge a political compromise with rival factions in a matter of days.
"I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said after a three-day trip to Iraq and Jordan. (...)
Levin's comments to reporters followed the release of a joint statement with the second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), which was pessimistic about Iraq's political future. The statement referred to a round of recent meetings between Maliki, who is backed by President Bush, and Iraqi political leaders as "the last chance for this government to solve the Iraqi political crisis."
Maliki, a Shiite, has been trying to hold a summit with rival Sunni political leaders and ethnic Kurdish officials to reach a compromise on several contentious issues, including a formula to distribute the country's oil revenue and a law aimed at allowing some former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to hold government jobs. The meeting, which was scheduled to start last week, has been repeatedly delayed.
Should those talks fail in the next few days, Warner and Levin said, "the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Iraqi people need to judge the Government of Iraq's record and determine what actions should be taken -- consistent with the Iraqi Constitution -- to form a true unity government to meet those responsibilities.""
I think that Levin is absolutely right that the Iraqi government is not working. But this does not begin to imply that the Iraqis would be well advised to oust Maliki, let alone that we should be advising them to oust him. That would follow if Maliki were the reason the Iraqi government was dysfunctional (or: a significant part of the reason.) Suppose, for instance, that most members of the Iraqi parliament were ready to compromise with one another. Deals were ready to be struck, compromises were in hand, but alas! Nouri al-Maliki stood in their way, using his power as Prime Minister to block them all. In that case, it might be a good thing if he were replaced.
On the other hand, suppose the reason the Iraqi government is not functioning is that its various members are not prepared to come to terms with one another and try to resolve the outstanding issues that divide them. Maybe they believe that a civil war is imminent, and that they should concentrate on being in the best position to win it once it starts rather than trying to prevent it; or maybe they are just incapable of putting aside their sectarian and ethnic differences and working for the good of the country. In that case, there would be no reason at all to suppose that replacing Maliki would solve anything. He might or might not be the best person for the job, but that wouldn't really matter: if no one could make the Iraqi government functional, then the particular characteristics of Nouri al-Maliki are beside the point.
Unfortunately, I don't see a single indication that Maliki himself is the problem. As Eric Martin says:
"Maliki - like Jaafari - is not an aberration or an outlier. He is not a loose cannon, rogue element or unorthodox figure. Nuri al-Maliki is a predictable, unremarkable product of the sectarian, communal mindset that dominates Iraqi political life. He is not acting against the wishes of his colleagues, but in furtherance of them. I'd love to hear what Senator Levin has in mind in terms of parliamentary coalitions that would elect this new, less sectarian prime minister.(...)
If you call on an Iraqi parliament comprised of the same elements to replace Maliki, it is unlikely that the replacement prime minister will be any less "sectarian" or more unifying. If a prime minister attempted to rule in such a manner, he would be promptly sacked. By his very electors."
If Eric and I are right, then the Prime Minister could be replaced twenty times over and it wouldn't make the slightest difference. What it would do is cause months of delay while the new Prime Minister tried to put together his government. And if Maliki were replaced at the request of the United States, we would ensure that his replacement would fail: no one likes to be ruled by someone they regard as a puppet.
I don't normally think of Carl Levin as someone given to wishful thinking, but I don't know what else to call the idea that replacing Maliki will somehow save the day, or even make enough of a positive difference to begin to make up for the months spent forming a new government.