The Atlantic recently published a long expose about how terrible Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is. It's not very good and frankly you can tell they've really missed the boat from their story's subhead, "How America empowered Nouri al-Maliki—and then failed to keep that power in check."
On a basic level that is correct. The US hasn't been able to control Iraqi politics. But the implied assumption in the subhead, and that runs throughout the piece, is that it was totally possible for the US to control Maliki or someone like him if we just did a few things a little differently. Personally I think it's interesting to think about what possible evidence could disprove analysis like this. Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a leader is picked who is destined to be a diaster. After he screws everything up you could always write this kind of piece saying "look at all the mistakes that were made!" And of course there would have been mistakes, what would a destined to fail but well run political regime look like?
Simply put when you set out to do something unreasonable or course terrible things happen along the way. It was always unreasonable to assume that the political reality in the Middle East was simply clay in the hands of the West, ready to be changed and molded as we see fit. The Bush Administration spent years trying to tear down the Palestinian Authority so something better, more American that is, would rise in it's place. Instead they got Hamas taking over Gaza. American presidents have pressured the Saudis to open their country to democratic reforms since the 70's, it hasn't worked. Name me one Middle Eastern country whose politics have been successfully controlled by Washington?
So yes Maliki was a terrible choice to lead a secular, democratic, liberal, and multicultural Iraq. But that doesn't mean there was some hypothetical better one out there that could have done it. How do you have a secular and multicultural democracy when most people vote for conservative Islamist parties that identify along sectarian lines? Indeed if eight years of occupation and a trillion dollars spent couldn't shape Iraqi politics they way we wanted, why would have Obama complaining to Maliki or "fewer missteps" have done any different.
This should be a pretty simple idea for most people to get, apparently they haven't learned that lesson yet at The Atlantic.