By MARC McDONALD
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is starting to become a real pain in the ass for the Bush White House. Instead of being a good little client state puppet, he keeps shooting his mouth off, asking for a timetable for the U.S. military to leave his shattered nation.
If Al-Maliki is smart, he really needs to start watching his back. His days are clearly numbered.
In order to realize this, you don't have to put on a tin foil hat. All you have to do is look at America's own sordid history in dealing with foreign heads of state who don't stick to the script. Time and time again, they wind up deposed or dead.
Take Saddam Hussein, for example. For decades, he was a U.S. ally in the Middle East. We armed him and funded him and even helped him ruthlessly purge his opponents in Iraq. It was only when he stopped following the script from Washington that he became an enemy of the U.S.
But Saddam is hardly alone among heads of state who ran afoul of U.S. policy over the years (and wound up dead or deposed as a result).
In fact, the CIA has been running around the world deposing foreign heads of state for decades, (including such democratically elected leaders as Iran's Mohammed Mosaddeq and Guatemala's Jacobo Arbenz Guzman).
Now, Al-Maliki is latest leader to run afoul of U.S. policy. In the latest controversy, he has expressed approval of Barack Obama's plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq within 16 months of next January. He made the remarks in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel.
This latest stunning development has the NeoCons reeling. In a desperate attempt to spin the story to their advantage, the NeoCons have been claiming that Al-Maliki's words were mistranslated or misinterpreted.
Much to the NeoCons' dismay, however, Der Spiegel has stood by its story. As Juan Cole points out, Der Spiegel still has the audio recording of the interview and what's more, it turns out that the translator involved works for al-Maliki, not for Der Spiegel.
Thus, the last fig leaf that the NeoCons could hide behind has been removed. The whole incident has become an enormous embarrassment for Bush and his allies.
There can no longer be any doubt: Al-Maliki now clearly wants a firm timetable for getting U.S. troops out of his nation and he even explicitly supports Obama's plan.
It's clear that Al-Maliki has turned into a big, big problem for Bush and the NeoCons.
Unfortunately for Al-Maliki, he lives in the most dangerous nation on earth: a country where bloody shootouts and bombings occur on a daily basis. What's worse is that he has increasingly turned into a thorn in the side of the NeoCons who fiercely reject any timetables for withdrawal.
Like I said, Al-Maliki had better start watching his back. His days are clearly numbered.