For four years the Bush administration ignored calls by John McCain, Joe Lieberman (and me) to change strategy in Iraq, fire Rumsfeld, quit pretending things were going well, and put more troops in place.
Four years. And then the Democrats won the mid-terms. Suddenly Rummy was ejected from a window of the E-ring and Bush at long last responded to the insistent sound of shouts and cries and dire warnings from patriotic war critics.
For two years the Maliki government hemmed and hawed, stalled and dithered. He flatly ignored the so-called benchmarks. And then, it began to look like there was a real chance that the next President of the United States really would begin a US withdrawal as soon as he/she had finished taking the oath.
And suddenly, Maliki began to take action to establish control over his own country.
Bush wasted time and money and lives until the mid-terms. Maliki wasted time and money and lives until the Democrats looked set to take the White House.
People seldom do hard things until they are forced by circumstances to do so. So long as Bush had a free hand, he lacked the motivation to deal with Rumsfeld. It was “stay-the-course” until Nancy Pelosi took over, and then, suddenly, it was Petraeus time.
So long as Maliki had an open-ended commitment from the US to hold his hand forever and ever, he dicked around and did nothing.
The funny thing is, this is a classically conservative view of human nature. Conservative (used to) understand that self-interest — survival — is the prime motivator. Conservatives (used to) understand that welfare encourages dependency. Bush needed an electoral baseball bat to the head before he would McCain up. And Maliki needed an Obama bomb before he would take on Sadr.
So, tell me now, with all we know: why is McCain’s open-ended offer to babysit the Iraqis for all eternity a better idea than Barack’s threat to take our Humvees and go home? Handholding failed. Threats worked.
Let’s keep up the threats. Who knows what else the Iraqi government might accomplish if we stop coddling them.