Bush and Maliki: A Summit of Lame Ducks

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An Iraqi Army soldier watches during a joint night patrol with U.S. troops in Baghdad.

There's a reason why Iraqis aren't holding their breath over the Amman summit: Viewed from Baghdad, both George Bush and Nuri al-Maliki are lame ducks. As he winds down his second term, the American president is burdened with a hostile Senate and Congress — not to mention mounting public dissatisfaction with his performance. The Iraqi Prime Minister is less than six months into his first term, and already he faces the same problems.

A Loss of Support

AUDIO: Maliki heads to the Jordan summit in a compromised position. The Iraqi Prime Ministerís troubles lie with his allies, not his enemies. TIME's Bobby Ghosh reports.

As a result, whatever deal the two men agree in Jordan — they have a dinner meeting Wednesday and a breakfast confab Thursday — it's unlikely that either man has the political clout back home to make it stick.

In the lead-up to the summit, Bush has struck an aggressive pose, insisting U.S. troops will remain in Iraq until the mission is accomplished, and denying that the country is in the throes of a civil war. But he faces mounting calls from Democrats — and not a few Republicans — to bring the troops home. And, academic debates aside, most Iraqis have known for months that they are in the middle of a civil war. Now major American news organizations have started to use that term, to the Administration's helpless chagrin.

It's a war Al-Maliki has done virtually nothing to try and stop — and he has frequently obstructed U.S. military efforts to do so. The Iraqi Prime Minister arrived in Jordan a thoroughly weakened and discredited figure: Over the weekend, he endured the ignominy of having his convoy booed and pelted with stones by his fellow Shi'ites in Sadr City, where he had gone to pay condolences after a series of car bombs killed over 215 people on Thanksgiving Day. As al-Maliki left Baghdad, the Iraqi capital was wracked by continuing violence, and his key political allies were threatening to boycott parliament over his decision to meet with Bush.

Already unpopular with Sunnis — who view him as a Shi'ite partisan — he has also lost what little credibility he had with his cosectarians. As a result, his writ doesn't run very far outside of the artificial bubble of Baghdad's Green Zone.

The final straw for al-Maliki may be the fact that the guarantors of his power — the Bush administration — have lost confidence in him. Reports on Wednesday say National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told Bush in a classified memo that the Iraqi Prime Minister was isolated, out of touch with reality and unable to affect the course of events.

"He impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so," Hadley said, according to an extract of the memo published by the New York Times. "But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into actions."

Hadley said al-Maliki receives "skewed" information from his advisers about the world outside the Green Zone. And for all his claims to represent all Iraqis, regardless of sect and ethnicity, the Prime Minister has been unwilling to halt a Shi'ite campaign to consolidate power.

For months now, al-Maliki has promised to deal with the sectarian violence with ďan iron fistĒ — that's his expression. He will undoubtedly make similar promises in the course of his visit to Jordan. But Iraqis have learned from bitter experience that their lame duck leader does little more than quack.