The NYTimes today:
Only a handful of Mr. Bush's closest aides knew about the six-hour visit before he departed from Washington on Monday night. Mr. Bush seemed intent on pressing home a message that American military commanders and embassy officials have been urging on the new government since it took office three weeks ago: after two previous Iraqi governments since Saddam Hussein became mired in incompetence and corruption, time is running out for Iraq's politicians to develop an effective government and a common front against the insurgents.
Time is running out for Iraq's politicians? Really? In what sense is that true? That if they don't get their stuff together we're leaving?
Mr. Bush also gave Mr. Maliki a renewed assurance that the United States would not abandon the new government as it struggles to curb the spiraling violence, rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure and put Iraqis back to work in a reviving economy.
"I also have a message to the Iraqi people: that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its commitment," he said, to wild cheers from the 300 American soldiers and civilians gathered in the palace hall.
Of course the U.S. can't "abandon" Iraq or refuse to help (i.e. finance) Iraq's eventual reconstruction. But this also casts doubt on the notion that "time is running out for Iraq's politicians" to get things together. If we're unconditionally committed to the country's reconstruction and well-being (as I believe we are and should be) then it isn't clear to me in what sense "time is running" out for this Iraqi government, or the next one, or the next one after that.
Maybe the "time is running out" theme refers to the anarchy and civil war the government's failure to "get things together" will result in, if those things aren't already present and occuring.
Either way, I don't see how "time is running out" on our mission in Iraq, even if "time is running out" for the administration's war architects and for troops on multiple tours of duty without a ready supply of draftees to back them up.
The other thing about this "secret" trip (note to the media: is there another kind?) is this weird stuff about "looking the Iraqi leader in the eye".
Seated beside Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, in a meeting that included American officials and 17 members of the Iraqi cabinet, Mr. Bush told the prime minister that he had come "to look you in the eye." He repeated the phrase later at the palace, when he told troops and other Americans he had come "to look at Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes and determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are."
Mr. Bush added, "
And I believe he is."
Is this what passes for project assessment and policy review in the White House? Look him in the eye? What if the president hadn't liked his "look" into Maliki's "eyes"? Would he order Maliki thrown out of the Green Zone to be devoured in the Other Iraq, like some sort of reverse Escape from New York flick, and then "decide" that yet another Prime Minister would need to be appointed?
Speaking of Snake Pliskin, doesn't this whole "fly into the Baghdad airport and then into the Green Zone with body armor" remind you of Escape from New York? The hoodlums, terrorists and malcontents are thrown into the city of New York--never to leave--while around the city lies the walls, the water barrier, and bomb-laden bridges designed to keep the bad people in. On the rare occasion when the prison has to be invaded, Commissioner Hauk flies in under the cover of darkness with a mini-army only to beat as fast a retreat as possible when their mission is "accomplished" or foiled?