Week in Review: Maliki, Warner

The week's news included tension between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Bush administration and a call for troop withdrawals from influential Republican Sen. John Warner.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Tensions this week between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Bush administration after a new intelligence report expresses little confidence in Mr. Maliki's government, and an influential Republican senator calls for the start of troop withdrawals.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr is back with us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And we are still several weeks away from General Petraeus' September report on progress in Iraq. But Senator John Warner of Virginia recommended that President Bush start bringing home troops in time for Christmas. Five thousand was the number expressed.

Senator Warner said this would send the Iraqi government a message. Does it send a message to President Bush?

SCHORR: Well, everything does is. It's just another stinger that he has to feel if you could feel the stingers. What Warner is obviously doing is trying to save the Republican Party. That is to say, they've got to demonstrate that it isn't just Democrats who want to bring the forces home, but Republicans have their plans, a more modest plans, more sober plans. And so he comes out with the idea of bringing home 5,000 by Christmas.

It may not be - remember that it was just a month or two ago that in the Senate he, with Senator Lugar, offered another idea which was that the president should seek a new authorization from the Congress and that they should submit contingency plans, which include bringing home troops. So it's Republicans trying to save the Republican Party.

SIMON: President Bush almost seemed to share some of the exasperation with the Maliki government in a speech on Tuesday. But the next day in his speech to veterans, he had clarified the remarks and said, no. That the prime minister is, I believe, he called him a good man with a difficult job.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: What do you make of the back and forth?

SCHORR: He's playing to two audiences. He has to show Americans that he's not just standing there that he brings a lot of pressure on the Maliki government. He also has to show Maliki that he's not going to jump on down the drain. And so depending whom he's speaking to on any given day, it is Maliki's - great Maliki is terrible.

SIMON: In that same speech to veterans, President Bush compared Iraq to Vietnam, but not as a quagmire but as a caution. He said that the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam had caused a great deal of civilian suffering. He invoked memories of the boat people and the genocide in Cambodia. And he cautioned against repeating the same scenario in Iraq.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Are there risks in the president comparing Iraq to Vietnam, which heretofore, I think, mostly only the opponents of the war have done.

SCHORR: I think it's simply bizarre for George Bush, who never went to Vietnam, to become a leading expert on Vietnam now, how it should have been and how it should not have been. I don't know how far he wants to carry that analogy. Let's remind the country that President Kennedy supported a coup to oust Ngo Dinh Diem at the time to get the kind of government he wanted. I'm not sure how far Vietnam goes today.

SIMON: We should note, too, that President Bush did go to Vietnam but as president. I believe he's the first U.S. president to visit to Vietnam.

SCHORR: True, very true.

SIMON: So where do you see all this is going?

SCHORR: Where I see it all going, I think, that what we're beginning to see an almost inexorable march towards partition of Iraq. More than a million people, 1.1 million people have been moved from one place to another in Iraq but they cannot live. The Sunnis can't live with the Shiites and vice-versa. And that's probably the reason why Maliki can't form a government. You know, there's basically such a hatred that at some point as has happened in the past, they say, we're going to separate them. And well, then I having said this, if it doesn't happen, but I have a strange sense that they are marching towards partition.

SIMON: The latest U.S. Intelligence Estimate was released this week, also critical of the Maliki government on the issue of being able to close the sectarian divide. But it did highlight some successes since the start of the troop surge, specifically the lower number of attacks against civilians. Is there going to be more than one way to read that report?

SCHORR: Well, there are at least two ways. There were two newspaper headlines. There was the New York Times who has carried the big headline, "U.S. Intelligence Offers Grim View Of Iraqi Leaders." However, the headline in the Washington Times, a more conservative paper, said the U.S. sees stability growing in Iraq.

And that - while an exaggeration of the two points of view, but if you look at it and try to bore it down to just a sentence or so, it comes out this way: There's been some improvement in the military side. There's been some improvement in security. There's been no improvement on the political side, no improvement whatsoever in assembling a unified government.

SIMON: I want to throw over this last question because I want to alert our audience to something that's coming. You have a birthday coming up this week, coming up.

SCHORR: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: Oh, that.

SIMON: Now, and let me put you on the spot because on those very few, I assure you, occasions when we get an e-mail from someone who criticizes anything you've said or your performance on air, they frequently say something like, I hate to criticize a man who must be 75.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But - so will you spill the beans as to what number this is?

SCHORR: For the press, everything is open. I'll be 91.

SIMON: Yeah. We thank you for your transparency.

SCHORR: And see you any time.

SIMON: See you back here for many years to come. Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Thank you.

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