As someone who was a fairly early critic of Maliki, I have to say that I have never had any confidence in his government as an effective U.S. ally, much less as a reliable quisling government.  Even so, I have to acknowledge that Maliki was never going to achieve the things that Washington expected him to achieve, because the interests of his government and ours never really coincided.  What was the incentive for an old Shi’ite fundamentalist Da’wa hand to engage in “political reconciliation”?  Exploiting sectarian differences and maximising majoritarian power naturally serve the particular interests of Maliki’s own party and his coalition far better.  This is not, however, something that derives from Maliki’s own flaws.  If not Maliki, Iraq would have someone from the Terrorist Group Formerly Known As SCIRI or another Da’wa politician, which means that any future ministry would be just as sectarian and “beholden to religious and sectarian leaders,” if not more.  As Prof. Cole confirms, a SIIC (formerly SCIRI) prime minister would be even more closely tied to Tehran and even more under Tehran’s control, since his party is still quite clearly an Iranian proxy as it has been for decades. 

Prof. Cole is correct that the sudden disdain for Maliki inside the Capitol is a function of both our warped political debate on the war and our pols’ ignorance about Iraq.  Democratic critics of Maliki would almost have to hope that no one pays any attention to them, since “success” in forcing Maliki out would not bring the war to an end any sooner.  The strange thing is that Democratic critics of Maliki don’t seem to grasp that installing yet another ineffectual or unduly sectarian prime minister in Iraq would simply prolong our involvement in the war that much more.  It would give Mr. Bush the advantage of being able to call for patience as the “new Iraqi government” tries to work out the various thorny problems of legislation.  If we recognised instead that Maliki was probably the best that could be hoped for, and everyone is coming to the conclusion that his government is a hopeless case, we could begin making the necessary preparations for getting out of Iraq that much sooner.  This absurd dance of arguing over which Shi’ite should be allowed to fail to govern Iraq is a waste of precious time, and each day of dithering by alleged Congressional opponents of the war is another day when Americans are dying in Iraq for no good reason.