Georgia On My Mind

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2008
France, Georgia, Germany, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

If I were blogging these days–which I am not–I would want to take up some old themes about the role of Georgia (along with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkey) in US-led efforts to circumvent Russia in the export of Caspian oil and natural gas to Western Europe and to Israel.  (Note recent reports that Israeli was involved in the initial Georgian military offensive into South Ossetia on August 8.)

After all, the US-Russian proxy war in Georgia is a perfect example of Great Power Rivalry.

But I’m not blogging these days.

But if I were, I might also note that the US has been coordinating closely with its man on the Seine, Nicolas Sarkozy.  Formally, the French president is being consulted as the key US interlocutor because France currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.  And yet, I wonder whether there isn’t something more to it.  Yes, Sarkozy is the most pro-American French leader since… well, since Gilbert de Lafayette.  But the flip side of the pull toward Sarkozy is the “problem” of Angela Merkel.  No, I am not talking about the back rub.  I’m talking about the relatively cozy relationship between the Germans and the Russians.

And where is Angela Merkel on the question of Georgia?  Ask Moscow.  Back in March, AFP reported:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled on Monday that she opposes granting NATO membership to former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia.

“A country should become a NATO member not only when its temporary political leadership is in favour but when a significant percentage of the population supports membership,” Merkel said in Berlin in reference to Ukraine and Georgia.

“Countries that are themselves entangled in regional conflicts, can in my opinion not become members,” she added after talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday during a visit by Merkel to Moscow that NATO was aiming to replace the United Nations and warned this raised the potential for conflict.

The White House is already signaling a willingness to engage Russia militarily in Georgia.  But it might prove quite awkward for Bush to have to “save Europe” from a future of Russian energy blackmail if Germany seems uninterested in being “saved.”

US and Iran: The Worst of Friends

Posted by Cutler on October 07, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Syria / 2 Comments

The winds of war are blowing toward Iran.

General Petraeus is reportedly stepping up accusations against Iran.

And there is plenty of speculation that the Israeli raid on Syria was a dress rehearsal for a military assault on Iran.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly seems like a man frantic to reduce Iranian isolation on the Arab street in an effort to undermine Arab support for anti-Iranian initiatives.  Most recently, Ahmadinejad reportedly accused Israel on Friday of using the Holocaust as a pretext for “genocide” against Palestinians.

And yet…

Hugh Naylor of the New York Times has filed a story under the headline “Syria Is Said to Be Strengthening Ties to Opponents of Iraq’s Government.”  It sounds simple enough: more US griping about Syria’s role as a “rogue” regime playing an “unhelpful” role in Iraq.

Buried within the article, however, Naylor delivers up his real news flash: Iran and the US appear to be allies in an uncoordinated effort to halt Syrian outreach to opponents of Iraq’s government.

In July, former Baathists opposed to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki scheduled a conference for insurgent groups — including two of the most prominent, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and Ansar al Sunna — at the Sahara Resort outside Damascus….

The July conference was canceled at the last minute, however, indicating the political perils of Syria’s developing strategy. It was called off by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, participants, diplomats and analysts said, primarily because of pressure from Iran.

Iran is Syria’s chief ally and a staunch supporter of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Damascus just days before the conference was to have taken place….

Syria is walking a fine line, forging an “enemy of my enemy” relationship with the Iraqi Baathists and insurgents while still maintaining an alliance with Tehran…

In an interview, a senior Defense Department official praised Damascus for canceling the opposition conference

I know Iran and the US want to want to hate each other.  But geopolitical strategy seems to be getting in the way.  The US and Iran are, to the apparent chagrin of all concerned, becoming the worst of friends.

Were it not for Naylor’s mention of the senior Defense Department official who praised the Syrian decision to cancel the conference, I could almost have imagined a way of explaining Iranian efforts as anti-American.

Consider, for example, Naylor’s account of the relation between Baathist factionalism and Syrian political intervention:

Thabet Salem, a Syrian political commentator, said Syria was also exploiting a rift between two former Iraqi Baath Party leaders, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former vice president under Mr. Hussein, and Muhammad Younis al-Ahmed, who is believed to be living in Syria…

Younis al-Ahmed is trying to go under the umbrella of the Syrians as a way to unite the Baathists,” Mr. Salem said. “And the Syrians quietly support him…

Some Syrians speculated that he wanted to take a more conciliatory stance with the Iraqi government and the United States. His rival, Mr. Douri, who is suspected of having stronger ties with insurgent groups, rejected the conference.

According to that scenario, Syria could be accused of trying to placate the US by sponsoring “conciliatory” Baathists factions while Iran’s attack on the Syrian initiative could be viewed as a gesture of solidarity in support of “irreconcilable” Iraqi insurgents linked to Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

This would presumably be the interpretation championed by figures like Michael Ledeen who insist that the Iranian regime has allied itself with (and provided arms to) radical Sunni Arab insurgents.

What, then, to make of the alleged Defense Department praise for the cancelation of the conference?  Wouldn’t that tend to undermine the Ledeen scenario?

And there is one other element of Naylor’s report that might give one pause:

“Douri deeply distrusts working with the Syrians because he distrusts the Iranians, who are strong allies with Syria,” Mr. Salem said.

If Naylor’s source, Thabet Salem, has his story right, then there are considerable tensions between the Iranian regime and Iraqi Baathist insurgents like Douri.

Perhaps Iran supports the Sunni Arab Baathists as an insurgency in Iraq insofar as such support prevents the US from establishing control over Iraq.

If so, that support may only go so far.

Will Iran favor the restoration of Sunni Arab political control over Iraq?

Will Iran support (reportedly) anti-Iranian Baathists like Douri?

If Naylor has his story right, the answer is: No.

Iran and the US are both backing the Maliki government in Iraq.  Neither appear willing to dump Maliki in exchange for a Sunni Arab Baathist coup.

In this regard, Peter Galbraith may not be wholly incorrect in his recent assertion about US-Iranian relations:

[I]importantly, the most pro-Iranian Shi’ite political party is the one least hostile to the United States.

In the battle now under way… the United States and Iran are on the same side….

Iran does not oppose Iraq’s new political order. In fact, it is the chief beneficiary of the US-induced changes in Iraq since 2003.

Shia Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

You think you lost your love,
When I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of…

–She Loves You, The Beatles, 1963

Iraq is, finally, going the way that many had wanted to see years ago, before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s and General John Abizaid’s counter-insurgency negligence and the Sunni onslaught against the Shi’a nearly drove us and the Iraqis over the cliff. Iraq is far from being a lost cause…

Are We Winning the “War on Terror”?, Reuel Marc Gerecht, 2007

With the singular exception of Elliott Abrams at NSC and John Hannah in Cheney’s office, all the major Right Zionists have now departed from service within the Bush administration.  Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Wurmser, etc.

You would think they would all be demoralized.  And maybe they do feel marginalized and ostracized in Washington.

But they seem increasingly satisfied with a vicarious victory in Iraq.

Although some Right Zionists participate in the happy talk about how the sun will come out, tomorrow, that isn’t the basis of the satisfaction.  Instead, Right Zionists are feeling like their effort to transform Iraq from a country ruled by Sunni Arabs into a Shiite-dominated country is winning the day.

The goal is not new.  Gerecht, for example, has consistently championed Shiite power in Iraq.

But for a while there, Right Zionists were convinced that Right Arabists were winning all the political battles, in Washington and Baghdad.  It looked as if Washington was going to abandon the Shia of Iraq and that a Right Arabist triumph in Washington would terminate Shiite power in Iraq.

Now there is every reason to believe that they feel they have lost much of the war for Washington but have won (in absentia) the war for a Shiite Iraq.

If some Right Zionists had reservations about Shiite power (i.e., the anti-Americanism of Moqtada al-Sadr), these appear to be dissipating.

Gerecht was, undoubtedly, the first to “choose Sadr” when confronted with the choice between Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency.

But, as Gerecht pointed out in his most recent essay, he is not alone.  There is also the British essayist, Bartle Bull, who has rehabilitated the “Mission Accomplished” claim and has learned to love Moqtada al-Sadr.

And then there is Fouad Ajami, who has nothing but praise for the Shiite-led Maliki government and who seems unimpressed by the Sunni-led “Anbar Awakening.”

An Iraqi in the know, unsentimental about his country’s ways, sought to play down the cult of Abu Reisha. American soldiers, he said, won the war for the Anbar, but it was better to put an Iraq kafiyyah than an American helmet on the victory. He dismissed Abu Reisha. He was useful, he said, but should not be romanticized. “No doubt he was shooting at Americans not so long ago, but the tide has turned, and Abu Reisha knew how to reach an accommodation with the real order of power. The truth is that the Sunnis launched this war four years ago, and have been defeated. The tribes never win wars, they only join the winners”…

Four months ago, I had seen the Sunni despondency, their recognition of the tragedy that had befallen them in Baghdad. That despondency had deepened in the intervening period. No Arab cavalry had ridden to their rescue, no brigades had turned up from the Arabian Peninsula or from Jordan, and the Egyptians were far away. Reality in Iraq had not waited on the Arabs. The Sunnis of Iraq must now fully grasp that they are on their own. They had relied on the dictatorship, and on the Baath, and these are now gone; there had, of course, been that brief bet on al Qaeda and on the Arab regimes, and it had come to naught…

And there are other Right Zionists, some more obscure than others, who welcome Shiite power and retain a deep hostility toward Sunni Arab Iraq.

Consider, for example, the case of Gal Luft–executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS)–who recently co-authored an essay, “The Great Divide: Sunnis, Shi’ites and the West.”

[A]t least some elements in the Bush Administration seem to be leaning toward [Sunni Arab political dominance]. Increasingly disenchanted with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and intent on containing Iran, they have begun to speak of a new strategic alignment in the Middle East, arraying “moderate” Sunni allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf states against the Shi’ite “extremists” of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.

Evidence for this shift in thinking lies in Washington’s rising regard for Saudi Arabia. Just five years after September 11, an attack perpetrated in large part by Saudi nationals, the US appears to be outsourcing parts of its Middle East policy to the House of Saud, bolstering the kingdom’s military capabilities and, according to reports, involving itself in clandestine operations with radical Saudi proxies who loathe America but happen to hate the Shi’ites even more. As Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the New Yorker, “At a time when America’s standing in the Middle East is extremely low, the Saudis are actually embracing us. We should count our blessings.”

But these “blessings” are themselves decidedly mixed, as the Bush White House itself has long recognised…

An alignment with supposed Sunni “moderates” is, in short, a huge gamble. Essentially it would perpetuate, or resurrect, the same Sunni order that has been responsible over the course of several generations for most of the Middle East’s pathologies. It is under the Sunni dispensation, after all, that the Arab world has lagged in every dimension of human development, from political and cultural freedom to economic growth, while simultaneously giving birth to a virulent Islamic radicalism.

The Shiite-led government in Iraq is flexing its muscles in relation to Washington on a host of issues including the courting of Sunni Arab insurgents, Blackwater and arms for the Shiite-dominated Iraqi police.

Might signs of Shiite stridency and autonomy shake the Right Zionist faith in their local Shiite surrogates?

Right Zionists would not be excited to see Iraq turn toward China.  But they might not mind observing the ways in which independent Shiite power in Iraq “focuses the mind” of the Right Arabists who preside in Washington.

David Wurmser: A Very Medieval Sort of Guy

Posted by Cutler on October 04, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Having departed from the Cheney administration, David Wurmser recently sat for an interview with Toby Harnden, US Editor of the The Daily Telegraph.  Harnden has offered up three different venues for his Wurmser profile: a backgrounder, a news article, and a blog post.

For those who have been tracking Wurmser for a while, there aren’t many big surprises here.  But there are some familiar themes that certainly put to rest any notion that Wurmser is engaging in any serious self-criticism.

1. From Dual Containment to Dual Rollback: Iraq and Iran (backgrounder)

“Had we not gone to war, we would probably by now be dealing with a nuclear Iraq, a heavily chemical Iraq, and moreover an Iraq that governed the imagination of all the region.

We would be sitting here agonising over whether we need to align with Iran which is going nuclear against an Iraq which is going nuclear or with Iraq against Iran. And that is a strategic defeat for us either way.”

For a discussion of Wurmser’s vision of “dual rollback,” see my ZNet essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

2. Regime change in Iran (and Syria), if possible; military action, if necessary (blog):

First off, he does not believe it is feasible for the US to launch unilateral military strikes or an invasion as part of pre-emptive war on Iran. When I asked him if the US should initiate regime change in Damascus and Syria, he replied: “As far as non-violent means goes, yes. But it would be very difficult for the United States to initiate kinetic action without provocation.

Those non-violent means would include “radio, meetings, encouragement of dissidents, support” as well as a “clear policy that we will not traffic with this regime, we don’t accept the legitimacy of this regime and that we do support the Iranian people who oppose the regime“.

He summarised: “Hand them a series humiliating strategic defeats externally and work to undermine them internally. I don’t think the regime has the wherewithal to absorb such massive assaults”…

“If you do this now and you do this effectively and you do it aggressively and decisively you will not have to go to war with Iran….If we fail to do that in the near future then we’re going to face a much larger war and we will then have to think seriously about going directly into Iran.”

One of the ways of administering an external defeat to Iran, he said, would be to force regime change in Syria by America responding to a crisis… His theory is that Iran’s weakness would be exposed because it would be shown as impotent to protect Syria.

And from Harnden’s news article:

Limited strikes against Iranian nuclear targets would be useless, Mr Wurmser said. “Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians.

“If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don’t shoot a bear if you’re not going to kill it.”

For splits, within the “Neocon” world, on the relative merits of regime change and military action, see my blog post, “Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

3. US-British Rivalry in Iraq (news article):

Mr Wurmser… was highly critical of British forces in southern Iraq. “Being in Basra, the British had a major role to play and they didn’t really play it very well.

“Under British presence, the Iranians extended their power considerably. British troops are still there but Iraqis see them as dead men walking…. everybody’s looking towards who is the real power that fills the vacuum and that then translates into an Iranian-American confrontation in that area.”

British withdrawal, he said, could be a plus for the US. “It frees our hand to deal aggressively with their [Iran’s] structures. Once we have responsibility for that area, we’ll have to do what we need to do and that could well mean troops on the ground.”

For more on the notion of US-British rivalry, see my blog post, “Kicking the British Poodle in Basra.”

4. The US Occupation of Iraq (blog)

“Did we make mistakes?” Wurmser asked. “I wouldn’t have done the war that way. I think a lot of us would’ve wished that we would’ve recognised a government in exile ahead of time, gone in, minimal occupation, minor time period, quickly turned over power to an Iraqi government once and for all, and left with a fairly powerful over-the-shadow horizon.”

For more on rifts between “Boots on the Ground” advocates of a maximal occupation and “Nixon doctrine” partisans who favor minimal occupation and maximum reliance on local surrogates, see my blog post, “The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq.”

Beyond all that, there are some rare snaps of Wurmser and some quirky details about the man and his work:

His desk in Room 298 of the Old Executive Office Building, where he worked for four years as Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser, was seen as a centre of a grand conspiracy in which Mr Wurmser and other neoconservatives sought to subvert US policy….

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in his new office barely 200 yards away in an anonymous block that overlooks the White House, Mr Wurmser shrugged when asked about the neonconservative label that has become the premier term of abuse in Washington.

“There’s nothing ‘neo’ about me,” he quipped. “I’m a very medieval sort of guy.”

Not even a self-proclaimed “Renaissance” man.  Medieval….

The UAW and General Motors: Union News & the Business Press

Posted by Cutler on September 30, 2007
Labor / 1 Comment

Members of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) will soon be encouraged by the union leadership to ratify a settlement reached with General Motors.

Will the membership ratify the contract?

That may depend on what they are hearing about the deal.  There are two distinct accounts out there and they offer up profoundly different lessons for the membership.

One version of the settlement comes from the UAW, the mainstream media, and pro-labor academics.  It celebrates the settlement as an enormous victory for the UAW and the American labor movement.  Who wouldn’t vote Yes?

The other version of the settlement comes from the business press.  If the membership were to get wind of the business press perspective, they would likely vote NO.

The Official Union Story

Union officials, led by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and the UAW Vice President of the General Motors Department Cal Rapson, are doing its best to sell the deal to its membership.

As I noted in my book, “Labor’s Time: Shorter Hours, the UAW, and the Struggle for American Unionism,” Walter Reuther built an “administration caucus” that consolidated control of the UAW in the 1940s and 1950s.  That caucus remains firmly in control of the International Executive Board of the union and retains the loyalty of most local union presidents.

Hence the unanimous endorsement of the GM settlement by official delegates to the National Bargaining Council in Detroit.

Within the UAW, discussion will be limited to the monologue selling job of the top leadership.  At the local level, union officials from the administration caucus haven’t exactly promoted or invited deep debate about the issues.

Consider Flint UAW Local 659 in the heart of the General Motors empire.

Historians of the UAW will recall that Local 659 and its feisty newspaper, “The Searchlight,” played a prominent role in the cantankerous internal factionalism of the early UAW.

Today, the official website of Local 659 makes a mockery of that tenacious legacy.

The most recent on-line version of “The Searchlight” features an article on the annual Local 659 Walleye fishing Tournament–held in July–but makes no mention of the subsequent contract negotiations.

The website link to “retiree” issues (a centerpiece of the UAW-GM contract negotiations) comes up blank.

Bill King, shop committee chairman of the powerful Flint Metal Center unit, promotes his role as the elected chair the UAW/GM Top Negotiating Committee.  But his discussion of the contract is limited to a warning about the dangers of unauthorized chatter:

There is plenty of rhetoric and speculation in the media about this set of negotiations. Take this news with a grain of salt, as it is only opinions of people who will not be bargaining the contracts. Unless the information comes from a direct quote or a report from your union leadership, it is only an outside view.

The UAW selling job has received some welcome “outside views” from academics and the mainstream media.

Consider, for example, a September 30 article from the Detroit Free Press entitled, “Improved Prognosis: GM-UAW Agreement Begins New Era for Organized Labor.”

Labor unions, derided as dying organizations, saw in the UAW’s pending takeover of General Motors Corp.’s retiree health care burden a new mission and perhaps a new recruiting tool.

“It shows the labor movement is willing to stand up for the members, stand up for the retirees and take some risks,” said Glenn Feldman, director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham….

Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor and globalization issues, described the deal as a landmark moment for the American economy, as defining for this era as the wealth-sharing contracts won by the UAW in the 1950s were for an earlier generation.

“Overall, what these negotiations sought to forge is a social contract for the 21st Century — a more competitive General Motors, translating into middle-class jobs,” he said. “In the context of the pressure of globalization and the stumbling of the domestic industry, that’s not a small feat. That proves a relevance for unions under these circumstances, rather than a hint of their demise.”

The Business Press: Reading “Against the Grain”

Factionalism and dissident organizing is not entirely dead within the UAW.

Several groups have mobilized internet campaigns (see “Future of the Union,” the Center for Labor Renewal, and “Soldiers of Solidarity,” to name a few) to establish more lively debate about the UAW settlement with General Motors.

The “Soldiers of Solidarity” website includes what appears to be a link to a PDF file of the actual settlement between the UAW and GM.  You can’t find that on the Local 659 website.  But it makes for interesting reading.

The most “dangerous” sign about the dissident internet campaigns is not that they are reading and quoting Marx but that they are reading and quoting the business press.  The “Soldiers of Solidarity” homepage currently features a quote from JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel:

While the devil will be in the detail, our first reaction is that GM captured a much broader set of concessions than we previously anticipated.

Is the business press an “objective” source on labor relations?  No.

It is unabashedly and transparently pro-business.  But that transparent bias is precisely what makes it potentially more interesting and more reliable than mainstream media accounts.  Business press bias means that union victories are often disparaged while union defeats are celebrated.

To read “against the grain” of business press bias requires only that one reverse the terms: expressions of fear, disappointment, and rage in the pages of the business press are best interpreted as signs union strength.  Expressions of euphoria and/or indifference in the business press can signal union weakness and a raw deal for workers.

So, what is the business press saying about the UAW-GM deal?  Are the signs of fear and trembling at a labor movement is willing to stand up for the members, stand up for the retirees and take some risks?

Hardly.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was delighted with the terms of the settlement.

This week’s deal between General Motors and the United Auto Workers is being hailed as a new era for Detroit, and for once that advertising may be justified. The UAW in particular made historic concessions that show a new awareness of global competition.

The most extraordinary review comes from my favorite business press source, the Financial Times.

FT Associate Editor John Gapper is well pleased with the outcome, but offers a devastating portrait of the UAW in his essay, “Reality Intrudes at General Motors.”  It is worth quoting at length:

“[T]here was something about the United Auto Workers’ short-lived strike this week that felt fake…. [T]he strike was hard to take seriously. It seemed more like role play than a genuine threat, something the UAW’s leaders had to do to show their members they were not a pushover rather than a fight they thought they could win. So, after two days, they came back, having accepted watered-down contracts…”

[The UAW] is now allowing GM to buy out thousands more contracts and hire workers at lower rates… [T]he Jobs Bank [a “scheme” in which GM gave “workers who were laid off full pay for years at a time”]… is already considerably diminished and this deal will weaken it further…

The financial risks usually imposed on employers by the health insurance system will instead be borne by the union…

[I]f the role of a union is to advance the interests of working people by negotiating steady improvements in pay and conditions, the UAW did a bad job this week…  [The UAW effort] was distinctly pusillanimous.”

Needless to say, Gapper considers all of this “preferable” to the alternative of a fighting union.  But that is precisely the point.

As for the much-touted “VEBA” agreement to which Gapper alludes, in which the union has agreed to bear the “financial risks” of the health insurance for retirees, the business press offers some insights that might be of interest to UAW members trying to judge the deal on offer from the UAW.

In an essay entitled “A New Era for U.S. Auto Makers?,” Thomas G. Dolan–editorial page editor at the financial weekly, Barron’s–seems to think UAW members are in for a rude awakening:

If ratified, the new contract with GM hands the union “responsibility” for GM’s $51 billion present-value liability for retirees’ health care. GM gets to buy back its promises for something like $35 billion in cash, stock and bonds (in proportions and timing so far unspecified), to be invested in a trust called a Voluntary Employee Benefit Agreement. The VEBA pays the benefits from principal and investment income for as long as it can — UAW President Ron Gettelfinger made the absurd claim that it will last 80 years.

Don’t ask what happens if the VEBA isn’t viable. GM isn’t telling. Neither is the union. We expect the liabilities will grow faster than the assets.

Dolan predicts UAW retirees may “pay more than they think” once the VEBA runs out of money.

Which Side Are You On?

For some, there is nothing more blasphemous than to criticize a labor union.  Is not reliance on the perspective of the business press–rather than the official union press release–not telltale sign of an anti-union ideologue?

Perhaps.

But it is one thing to absorb the bias of the business press (i.e., Harley Shaiken’s notion that “a more competitive General Motors”–guaranteed through a two-tier wage system and a wage freeze–somehow translates into “middle-class jobs” and a “social contract for the 21st century”).  It is quite another to read the business press, but to do so against the grain of its bias.

There is also a difference between criticizing a union for doing a bad job and hoping it does a bad job (i.e., being anti-union).

The union leadership wants its membership to rely exclusively on  “a direct quote or a report from your union leadership” and to eschew any “outside view.”

Insofar as the membership can be shielded from any “outside view,” the contract will be ratified.

If, however, the membership finds its way to the on-line business press… then all bets are off.

Where’s Wurmser?

Posted by Cutler on September 19, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

First it was the Washington Post that announced the advent of a new round of “dissent” within the Bush administration. In a previous post, I suggested that this report may have been somewhat overdrawn.

More recently, Helene Cooper at the New York Times discerned “Signs of Split on Iran Policy” within the administration.

The language in Mr. Bush’s [September 13] speech reflected an intense and continuing struggle between factions within his administration over how aggressively to confront Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been arguing for a continuation of a diplomatic approach, while officials in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office have advocated a much tougher view. They seek to isolate and contain Iran, and to include greater consideration of a military strike.

Mr. Bush’s language indicated that the debate, at least for now, might have tilted toward Mr. Cheney….

Allies of Mr. Cheney continue to say publicly that the United States should include a change in Iran’s leadership as a viable policy option, and have argued, privately, that the United States should encourage Israel to consider a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Cooper doesn’t name the “allies of Mr. Cheney” who speak publicly about regime change.

Is she talking about folks outside the administration like Norma Podhoretz and Michael Ledeen?

[It matters which one… The “neoconservatives” are split on Iran. Ledeen is primarily interested in regime change; Podhoretz makes the case for military strikes.]

Or is she thinking of Cheney’s house intellectuals, like his chief Middle East adviser David Wurmser?

For a while, it looked like Cheney was preparing to concede defeat in the factional battles with Rice.

First came reports that he signed off on bilateral talks between the US and Iran.

Then came rumors in late July that Wurmser was on his way out. Specifically, Robert Dreyfuss spread the word: “Wurmser will leave the office of the vice president (OVP) in August.”

Deep into September and I have yet to see a report that Wurmser is out.

Steven Clemons predicts Bush won’t attack Iran. But he doesn’t think Wurmser & Co. are necessarily down for the count:

Bush does not plan to escalate toward a direct military conflict with Iran, at least not now — and probably not later. The costs are too high, and there are still many options to be tried before the worst of all options is put back on the table. As it stands today, he wants that “third option,” even if Cheney doesn’t. Bush’s war-prone team failed him on Iraq, and this time he’ll be more reserved, more cautious. That is why a classic buildup to war with Iran, one in which the decision to bomb has already been made, is not something we should be worried about today…

What we should worry about, however, is the continued effort by the neocons to shore up their sagging influence….

We should also worry about the kind of scenario David Wurmser floated, meaning an engineered provocation. An “accidental war” would escalate quickly and “end run,” as Wurmser put it, the president’s diplomatic, intelligence and military decision-making apparatus. It would most likely be triggered by one or both of the two people who would see their political fortunes rise through a new conflict — Cheney and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That kind of war is much more probable and very much worth worrying about.

I’ll buy that for a dollar.

[Update: Eli Lake at the New York Sun reports that Wurmser has, in fact, left the administration.]

Hunt for Iraqi Oil

Posted by Cutler on September 17, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

At first blush, the announcement of a deal between the Hunt Oil Company and the Kurdistan Regional Government seemed easy to dismiss.

Other small, independent companies like the “tiny” Norwegian oil firm DNO had made similar moves to skirt the central government in Baghdad and court the Kurds.

In the past, such deals have drawn fire from the Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani and the Hunt deal was no exception.  Shahristani lost no time declaring the Hunt deal “illegal.”

Shahristani’s resistance to autonomous Kurdish oil development also seemed to mirror Bush administration policy.

As I noted in a previous post, Bush himself seemed to rule out Kurdish autonomy back in October 2006.

And the Wall Street Journal (subscription required; third party link) reported that the State Department put cold water on the idea of signing side deals with the Kurds (Neil King Jr., “Hunt Oil, Iraqi Kurds Defend Deal Despite U.S. Concern,” September 11, 2007, A17).

A senior State Department official said the move had taken the U.S. government by surprise. Earlier this year, the official said, the State Department sat down with major U.S. oil companies “to say that it was not a good idea to cut oil deals with the Kurdish regional government.”

The official said that the message “was basically informal” and that the Bush administration had no leverage to block such deals.

And Condoleezza Rice didn’t exactly endorse the deal.

And yet…

If Bush wanted to find “leverage to block” such a deal, he might have found it, in this instance, in the person of his good buddy, Ray L. Hunt.

In his New York Times column, Paul Krugman was quick to point out the depth of the relationship between Hunt and Bush:

Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Mr. Bush. More than that, Mr. Hunt is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body.

Some commentators have expressed surprise at the fact that a businessman with very close ties to the White House is undermining U.S. policy.

Hunt is also reportedly the key force that initiated negotiations to house the Bush administration library at Southern Methodist University.

The Hunt-Bush relationship certainly makes it more difficult to dismiss the Hunt Oil foray into Kurdistan.

Krugman reaches for the big interpretation:

By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad’s disapproval, he’s essentially betting that the Iraqi government — which hasn’t met a single one of the major benchmarks Mr. Bush laid out in January — won’t get its act together. Indeed, he’s effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.

The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration — maybe even Mr. Bush himself — know this, too.

That would put “partition” question back in play.

I am not so sure.

Does Bush have ties to Hunt?  Sure.  But is Hunt the best Bush can do?  He and Cheney don’t have ties to Big Oil?  Of course they do.  If the “smart money” is on the break-up of Iraq, where are the deals between the oil majors and the Kurdish Regional Government?

I think there is a different game being played here.

The central point of the Hunt affair is not to do the deal with the Kurds but to use the threat of such a deal to leverage concessions from political players in Baghdad who are holding up passage of the national hydrocarbons law.  I first made this argument back in an October 2006 post:

I tend to think that the function of the partition chatter has little to do with real options on the table and much more to do with ongoing negotiations over the Iraqi hydrocarbons law that will govern relations with the oil industry.

The US is firmly committed to centralized national control over the development of new oil fields. In this, they have the support of Sunni Arab political forces along with nationalist Shiite forces in Southern Iraq, including those loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.

The threat of partition, however, is being used to pressure these Sunni and Shiite forces to embrace particular oil policies that will be very unpopular with Iraqi nationalists, even as they are sought after by international oil majors.

The oil majors and the US are pressing for generous contract terms for foreign oil investment and use the threat of extremely generous regional contract terms on offer in the Kurdish north to extract similar concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

The Associated Press reports, Hunt’s deal with the Kurds would be a “production-sharing contract,” offering the same kind of “generous” terms that the oil majors want from the hydrocarbons law.

The Maliki cabinet agreed in February to sign on in support of the hydrocarbons law.

But Maliki apparently doesn’t yet have the parliamentary votes necessary to move the legislation through parliament.  The latest reports suggest ongoing wrangling.

The Hunt deal isn’t a vote of no confidence in Maliki.  It is a shot across the bow to those who are stalling on the hydrocarbons law but who also fear Kurdish autonomy.

In other words, the Hunt deal is meant to leverage parliamentary votes from the Sadrists and/or the Sunnis.

Both favor centralized control and Sadr is a fierce critic of Kurdish autonomy.

Nevertheless, the Sadrists and the Sunnis have balked at various provisions of the hydrocarbons law, including the idea of production-sharing contracts.

Notwithstanding the specter of the Hunt deal, the Sadrists are, thus far, pushing back.

Perhaps they understand two crucial points:

1) Bush is trying to use his friend Hunt–and the Kurds–to leverage concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

2) Bush is bluffing.

Ironically, it may actually help the White House in these negotiations for Sadrists and Sunnis in Baghdad to think Bush is all about cronyism and corruption–as if he might be just crazy enough to break up Iraq in order to help a friend make a fast buck.  Is that really a hard sell?

We’ll see whether anyone in Iraq buys the story.

Fallon His Sword

Posted by Cutler on September 10, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / 3 Comments

The Washington Post rolled out a big headline about new fissures within the Bush administration: “Among Top Officials, ‘Surge’ Has Sparked Dissent, Infighting.”

Echoes of the early days, perhaps, when Right Arabists like Scowcroft, Baker, and Powell battled Cheney, Rumsfeld and their Right Zionist allies for control of Bush administration foreign policy.

But for those who focus on the significance of factionalism, rifts, schisms, splits, rivalry and fissures the echoes turn out to be rather faint.

Most of the article–with a byline that appears to include the entire WaPo staff–provides a broad review of Iraq policy in the second Bush term.

One portion of the article does explain the headline and presents relatively weak evidence of a new “clash” that would ostensibly pit CENTCOM commander Admiral William J. Fallon, the Joint Chiefs, and Defense Secretary Gates against a small number of “surge” enthusiasts that include Bush, presidential counselor and PR guru Ed Gillespie and, presumably, General Petraeus.

[A] clash over the U.S. venture in Iraq… has been building since Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Middle East operations, sent a rear admiral to Baghdad this summer to gather information. Soon afterward, officials said, Fallon began developing plans to redefine the U.S. mission and radically draw down troops.

One of those plans, according to a Centcom officer, involved slashing U.S. combat forces in Iraq by three-quarters by 2010. In an interview, Fallon disputed that description but declined to offer details. Nonetheless, his efforts offended Petraeus’s team, which saw them as unwelcome intrusion on their own long-term planning. The profoundly different views of the U.S. role in Iraq only exacerbated the schism between the two men.

“Bad relations?” said a senior civilian official with a laugh. “That’s the understatement of the century. . . . If you think Armageddon was a riot, that’s one way of looking at it”…

[R]ather than heed calls for withdrawal, [Bush] opted for a final gambit to eke out victory, overruling some of his commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ushering in a new team led by Fallon, Petraeus, Crocker and a new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates….

As Petraeus settled into his new command, he decided to press for 8,000 additional support troops beyond the 21,500 combat forces the president had committed. Just a week earlier, Gates had told Congress that only 2,000 or 3,000 more might be needed. As he reviewed a briefing sheet in preparation for more testimony, Gates was annoyed to see a larger request buried on the page. He fumed that “this is going to make us look like idiots,” said a defense official. But Gates got Petraeus the troops….

Fallon, who took command of Centcom in March, worried that Iraq was undermining the military’s ability to confront other threats, such as Iran. “When he took over, the reality hit him that he had to deal with Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and a whole bunch of other stuff besides Iraq,” said a top military officer.

Fallon was also derisive of Iraqi leaders’ intentions and competence, and dubious about the surge. “He’s been saying from Day One, ‘This isn’t working,’ ” said a senior administration official. And Fallon signaled his departure from Bush by ordering subordinates to avoid the term “long war” — a phrase the president used to describe the fight against terrorism.

To Bush aides, Gates did not seem fully on board with the president’s strategy, either. As a member of the congressionally chartered Iraq Study Group before his selection to head the Pentagon, Gates embraced proposals to scale back the U.S. presence in Iraq. Now that he was in the Cabinet, he kept his own counsel.

But he consulted regularly with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, a noted critic of the Iraq war; told Army audiences privately that a troop decrease was inevitable; and tried to avoid Sunday talk shows during the fight over the war spending bill to preserve relations with lawmakers, according to administration sources. “With Fallon, it’s pretty much in your face,” said a senior official. “Gates is quieter.”

A Pentagon official said Gates is “very concerned about all of our energy” being devoted to Iraq…

Petraeus was doing his part in Baghdad, hosting dozens of lawmakers and military scholars for PowerPoint presentations on why the Bush strategy had made gains….

Bush made a surprise visit to Anbar where he met with Maliki and the others to congratulate them, then met with the sheiks to highlight the success of the U.S.-tribal coalition.

The trip energized Bush and his team. Even Gates said he was more optimistic than he has been since taking office. While the secretary had been “cagey” in the past, a senior defense official said, “he’s come to the conclusion that what Petraeus is doing is actually more effective than what he thought.”

But the trip did not end the debate. Fallon has made the case that Petraeus’s recommendations should consider the political reality in Washington and lay out a guide to troop withdrawals, while Petraeus has resisted that, beyond a possible token pullout of a brigade early next year, according to military officials. The Joint Chiefs have been sympathetic to Fallon’s view.

In an interview Friday, Fallon said he and Petraeus have reached accommodation about tomorrow’s testimony. “The most important thing is I’m very happy with what Dave has recommended,” he said. As for the earlier discussions, he begged off. “It’s too politically charged right now.”

What does all that amount to?

Probably not much.  Critics should not take much comfort in the idea that they have allies “on the inside.”

Are there some elements of the military brass who favor a “radical” drawn down of troops?  Maybe.  And it is possible that Fallon has been “captured” by this crowd.  But it wasn’t long ago that critics were thinking of Fallon as an administration stooge.

Back in March 2007, Craig Unger wrote in Vanity Fair:

[The idea of a surge] was sharply at odds with the consensus forged by the top brass in Iraq. Iraq commander General George Casey and General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command (CentCom), had argued that sending additional troops to Iraq would be counterproductive. (Later they both reversed course.)…

Soon, it would be announced that Casey and Abizaid were being replaced with more amenable officers: Lieutenant General David Petraeus and Admiral William J. Fallon, respectively. The escalation was on.

Maybe Fallon has proven less “amenable,” after all.

There have been other reports in the past that would lead critics to invest considerable hope in Fallon.

Gareth Porter filed one such report:

Fallon… [sent] a strongly-worded message to the Defence Department in mid-February opposing any further U.S. naval buildup in the Persian Gulf as unwarranted.

“He asked why another aircraft carrier was needed in the Gulf and insisted there was no military requirement for it,” says the source, who obtained the gist of Fallon’s message from a Pentagon official who had read it.

Fallon’s refusal to support a further naval buildup in the Gulf reflected his firm opposition to an attack on Iran and an apparent readiness to put his career on the line to prevent it. A source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch”.

Asked how he could be sure, the source says, Fallon replied, “You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.” Fallon said that he was not alone, according to the source, adding, “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.”

Be that as it may, the “dissent” reported by the Washington Post seems pretty weak.

Gates is portrayed as being something less than “fully on board,” but he is also depicted as delivering the troops and coming around to a more “optimistic” view of the surge.  Hardly the stuff of factional sabotage.

And Fallon is hardly channeling Cindy Sheehan.

Indeed, he seems pretty pleased about the surge.  Consider an excerpt from his recent remarks to the Commonwealth Club of California:

Adm. William Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, said his trips to Iraq have convinced him momentum has shifted away from the insurgents.

“In the less than six months I’ve been in this job, I have seen a substantial change and it gives me some significant optimism that this place may just work out the way we had envisioned, or some had envisioned, when the tasks were undertaken,” Fallon said in remarks to the Commonwealth Club of California, a public affairs forum.

“What’s going on now in the security business in Iraq is that things are substantially improved,” he said. “By almost any measure, any statistical analysis of what’s happened in the last few months, there’s been an improvement.”

And, as I noted in a previous post, Fallon hardly counts himself among those leading the charge against the Maliki government.  Indeed, if his own account of his conversations with Saudi King Abdullah are credible, Fallon basically told the Saudis to go to hell.

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Fallon said the king told him “several times” during their April 1 discussion that U.S. policies “had not been correct in his view.”

“He also told me that he had severe misgivings about the Maliki government and the reasons for that,” Fallon added. “He felt, in his words, that there was a ’significant linkage to Iran.’ He was concerned about Iranian influence on the Maliki government and he also made several references to his unhappiness, uneasiness with Maliki and the background from which he came.”

In a message that U.S. officials said will be underscored by Cheney, Fallon said he urged the king to show some support for the Iraqi leadership even if he does not like Maliki, because it is “unrealistic” to expect a change in the Baghdad government.

“We’re not going to be the puppeteers here,” Fallon told the Senate committee…

Just to review, then: Fallon is pleased with the surge and has been resisting Sunni Arab pressure for an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq.

With dissent like that, who needs unity?

Right Zionist Complexities

Posted by Cutler on September 08, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

As I argued in my ZNet essay “Beyond Incompetence,” the decisions to disband the Iraqi army and dissolve the Baathist state in Iraq were part of a larger project of transforming the balance of power in Iraq and the Middle East.

Lots of recent attention has focused on assigning blame for the decision.  Paul Bremer has worked hard on several occasions to shift the focus away from himself, most recently in the pages of the New York Times (here and here).

The search is on for more convincing explanations.  Fred Kaplan points a finger at Cheney and Chalabi.

I have argued that it makes sense to ponder the role of David Wurmser.

Juan Cole weighs in with another name: Cheney’s national security advisor, John Hannah.

I’d add a… leg to this stool, which is John Hannah and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the AIPAC think tank. Hannah, the former deputy head of WINEP, was one of two officials authorized to receive “intelligence” from Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress. That elements of the Likud Party in Israel to whom Hannah is close, and which had come to have special influence in WINEP, wanted the Iraqi army dissolved is just as plausible as the other elements of Kaplan’s canny theory of the thing.

I totally agree with Cole that it is “plausible” that Hannah favored radical de-Baathification of the Iraqi military state.

But more is required than simply suggesting that Hannah “is close” to “elements of the Likud Party in Israel.”

Cole is certainly correct to think of Cheney’s staff as a field office of the Likud.  No need to hesitate there.

But there are clear signs that Hannah didn’t always favor de-Baathification.

At some point Hannah changed his mind.  And it was during his role as deputy head of the pro-Israel Washington Institute that he initially opposed de-Baathification.

Consider, for example, a Washington Times Andrew Borowiec article from February 28, 1991 entitled “Sparing Future Turmoil for Iraq is U.S. Goal.”

The lead quote in the article belongs to Hannah:

Most analysts here believe that the victorious coalition should not allow Iraq to fragment and that Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party should be allowed to stay in power. But few see Iraq as capable of exercising significant influence in the Gulf for a long time.

“After years of continuing influence, there is no obvious substitute for Ba’ath,” said John Hannah of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The key figure at WINEP back in 1991 was its director Martin Indyk, not Hannah.

In the same article, Indyk warned against an end to the war that would be “messy, with a collapse of central authority.”

All of this might say more about WINEP and Indyk than it does about Hannah and Likud policies.

Hannah and Indyk were not alone in their fear of a collapse of the Baathist state.

Patrick Clawson–now at WINEP but back in 1991 at the Foreign Policy Research Institute–offered a similar line to Johanna Neuman at USA Today (“Iran, Syria May Covet Iraqi Land,” January 18, 1991).

”It’s a very terrifying question to consider what happens if we cause the disintegration of Iraq,” says Patrick Clawson, strategist for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

But at roughly the same time as Hannah, Indyk, and Clawson were warning agains the destruction of the Baath, Richard Perle and others were already pondering alternatives.

In a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed (“The War to Oust Saddam Has Yet to Begin,” March 29, 1991), Perle wrote:

The principal aim should be to stop the massacre [of Shiite and Kurdish rebels], first for humanitarian, then for political reasons – to encourage a political solution to the rebellion that might yield sufficient autonomy for the Kurds and Shi’ites…

The U.S. administration evidently believes that the dismemberment of Iraq is not in the Western interest. But neither is it in the interest of the West for Saddam Hussein to consolidate his hold over clearly defined dissident areas….

Sharing intelligence and communications devices with the rebels and possibly supplying them with the Stinger and anti-tank missiles that were so effective in the hands of the Afghan resistance should be considered.

At one time, there appear to have been complex disagreements within the “Israel Lobby.”

There is a good bet that some of that complexity remains and that views sometimes change and evolve as the historical context changes.

Michael Ledeen’s changing views on US policy toward Iran constitute another such puzzle.

No answers, here.  Just questions.

Is this about factional splits within the Israel Lobby?

Or changing historical circumstances?

Or both?

 

The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on September 07, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 1 Comment

Is there any point waiting for “something dramatic” to happen on the political front in Iraq?

Maybe there is no political front.  Maybe there is simply the security front–a blunt attempt to project US imperial military power into the heart of the Persian Gulf.

The old “Project for a New American Century” crowd associated with William Kristol and John McCain are the folks most clearly associated with the blunt attempt to project US military power.  And, to be sure, the entire “surge” is the brainchild of this crowd, especially the Kagan family–the brothers Frederick and Robert Kagan the women to whom they are married, Kimberly Kagan and Victoria Nulan.

These are also the figures whose “vision”–Iraq as merely one random example in the long list of adventures sponsored by the military industrial complex–provides the central focus of one of the early Iraq documentaries, “Why We Fight.”

For the “boots” crowd, victory in Iraq is all about the projection of US military power in the Middle East.  Germany and Japan are the models, not because the US embraced “nation building” and “democratization” but because there are still US boots on the ground in both countries.

This “boots on the ground” crowd, it must be noted, positioned themselves as dissidents and critics under the Rumsfeld regime.  They were eager for the invasion of Iraq and admired the “300 Spartans” that Rumsfeld sent to do the job but–as in the final scene of the movie “300”–they pressed for many thousands more.  “Yet they stare now across the plane at 10,000 Spartans commanding 30,000 free Greeks.”

In January 2007, former New Republic editor Peter Beinart speculated that war fatigue was leading the administration to abandon the ambitious “Bush Doctrine.”

And so the Bush Administration has begun cribbing from a very different doctrine: Richard Nixon’s. The Nixon Doctrine is the foreign policy equivalent of outsourcing… No longer would Americans man the front lines… In the Persian Gulf, we would build up Iran to check Soviet expansion. America would no longer be a global cop; it would be a global benefactor, quartermaster and coach–helping allies contain communism on their own.

Beinart is a card-carrying member of the “boots” crowd.  In 2005, he signed a Project for a New American Century letter demanding an expansion of US ground troops.

In his Time essay, Beinart warns:

[I]n the longer term, America will pay dearly for its inability to lead. The return of the Nixon Doctrine is one of the hidden costs of the war in Iraq…. [In the future] U.S. policymakers will be able to scan the globe anew, with more time and resources at their command. Then the U.S. can abandon the Nixon Doctrine once and for all.

If Beinart’s political loyalties are clear, his sketch of the timeline of Bush administration policy in Iraq is utterly confused.

The Bush administration went into Iraq cribbing from the Nixon Doctrine.  They went in “light” with only enough forces to be the “benefactor, quartermaster and coach” of a local political allies–the Iraqi Shia–who were to act as the proxy for US power.

Only with the January 2007 surge–as the Bush administration was retreating from the Cheney/Rumsfeld adaptation of the Nixon Doctrine–did the “boots” crowd come in from the cold.

If Beinart’s terms are correct, his timeline is inverted.

According to the “Goldilocks” scenario sketched by Frederick Kagan in his recent article, “The Gettysburg of This War,” the surge (and the “turn” in Anbar) doesn’t really require or imply any meaningful change in the political balance of power in Iraq.

If the Anbaris had thereupon asked for the creation of a local, autonomous or semi-autonomous security force that would be a de facto tribal militia, there would have been cause for concern about their intentions. But they did not….

The Anbari police will naturally stay in their areas, but they will not have the technical or tactical ability to project force outside of Anbar — they cannot become an effective Sunni “coup force.” Anbaris joining the Iraqi army, on the other hand, are joining a heavily Shia institution that they will not readily be able to seize control of and turn against the Shia government. In other words, the turn in Anbar is dramatically reducing the ability of the Anbaris to fight the Shia, and committing them ever more completely to the success of Iraq as a whole….

Anbar’s leaders are now more reasonable and probably more committed to the political success of Iraq than the Sunni parties in the Council of Representatives. Those parties were chosen at a time when most Iraqi Sunnis really did reject the notion of accepting a lesser role in Iraq, and many Sunni parliamentarians have continued to press for a maximalist version of Sunni aims….

The Maliki government is unquestionably twitchy about working with many of the Sunni grassroots movements, and with good reason. A lot of the new Sunni volunteers for the ISF were insurgents, and Iraq’s Shia, still traumatized by four years of Sunni attacks, are naturally nervous about taking former insurgents into their security forces…

The Sunni, of course, don’t trust the Maliki government any more than it trusts them, and herein lies a key point for American strategy. Right now, American forces are serving as the “honest broker,” the bridge between Sunni and Shia. Both sides trust us more or less, and are willing to work with us; neither trusts the other completely….

Young Anbaris, who feel defeated by the Americans and the Shia in their quest to regain control of Iraq, need a way to regain honor in Iraqi society… Joining the Iraqi army does accomplish that goal — it gives them an honored place not just in Anbari, but in Iraqi society….

Fear of Shia genocide has been a powerful force behind Sunni rejectionism. Local Sunni security forces help alleviate that fear. Fear of Sunni revanchism has been a strong motivation for Shia intransigence. Incorporating Sunni into the ISF mitigates that fear….

Kagan appears convinced that the “Anbar awakening” represents a retreat from the “maximalist version of Sunni aims,” including the “quest to regain control of Iraq.”

The “key point for American strategy” is that American forces can stay in Iraq–presumably at the invitation of Sunni and Shia–insofar as they serve as an “honest broker” and a bridge between Sunni and Shia.

Stripping the U.S. effort of the forces needed to continue this strategy, as some in Washington and elsewhere are demanding, will most likely destroy the progress already made and lay the groundwork for collapse in Iraq and the destabilization of the region.

As Kagan has written elsewhere, there is no middle way between withdrawal and ongoing military occupation.

Figures like Kagan and Beinart surely think of themselves as battling war fatigue within the general public.  Inside the administration, however, they may also still be battling ongoing commitments to the Nixon Doctrine.

There are still plenty of analysts who think that the “key point” for American strategy in Iraq is to “pick a winner” in the political outsourcing game.

A recent New York Times editorial asserted:

The problem is not Mr. Maliki’s narrow-mindedness or incompetence. He is the logical product of the system the United States created, one that deliberately empowered the long-persecuted Shiite majority and deliberately marginalized the long-dominant Sunni Arab minority.

For all the pressure on the Maliki government, are there any signs that indicate Vice President Cheney is unhappy with the deliberate decision to empower the Shiite majority?

Hardly.

And, for that matter, there are many analysts and partisans who reject Kagan’s depiction of Sunni compliance and who reject the wisdom of Shiite continuing rule in Iraq.

Juan Cole recently posted a commentary by Gerald Helman that appears to be at odds with Kagan’s notion of a Sunni retreat from “maximalist” demands.

[T]he Sunnis can offer the US to fight the radical al Qaeda types in their midst, a truce in their armed resistance to the US army, and undying opposition to the “Persians.” In exchange, they receive weapons, training and “reconstruction teams.” But it is the arms and training that count, to be used now against radical Islamist elements, but later to help recover the status and power they lost when Saddam was overthrown

“Bottom-up,” while suggesting something snappy and positive, instead will further confirm Shiite fear of Sunni purposes and reinforce the continuing suspicion that the Shiites will again be abandoned by the US. Wittingly or otherwise, the US reinforces that suspicion through active speculation on changing the leadership or even the nature of Iraq’s government.

Right Arabists like Anthony Zinni continue to complain about “democracy” in Iraq and regret the termination of the status quo in Iraq:

“Contrary to what our president said, containment did work leading up to this. We contained Saddam for over a decade, his military atrophied, he had no WMD, and we were doing it on the cheap,” [General Zinni] said….

For all the enthusiasm shown by Iraqis, [General Zinni] dismissed post-invasion elections as “purple finger” democracy that skipped the vital first steps of establishing a sound government structure, viable political parties and preparing the public for full democracy.

“It’s ridiculous. Our objective should have been reasonable representative government,” he said.

And there is still plenty of chatter that the “frustration” with Maliki will morph into an extra-parliamentary coup.

Liz Sly at the Chicago Tribune reports on new life within the old “Allawi coup” camp.

“There’s been a definite change in tone from Washington, and the momentum and drive to support Allawi will increase,” said Jaafar al-Taie, a political analyst involved in the new coalition’s campaign. “It’s not only that Maliki must go, but that the whole system must go.”

According to Allawi’s published program, the parliamentarians would not only appoint a new government but also suspend the new constitution, declare a state of emergency and make the restoration of security its priority….

Allawi signed a $300,000 contract with the Washington lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffiths and Rogers to represent his interests, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Web site Iraqslogger.com and confirmed by Allawi on CNN. The head of the firm’s international relations department is Robert Blackwill, a longtime adviser to Bush who served as his special envoy to Iraq.

“Even when Bush tried to modify what he said, he did not go so far,” said Izzat Shabandar, a strategist with the Allawi bloc. “We know that Bush from inside would like to replace Maliki, but he did not say it clearly. He chose to say it in a diplomatic way”…

[T]he parliamentary math doesn’t add up in favor of the Allawi bloc….

“The Americans finally will support us because they don’t have another solution,” [Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq] said, sipping tea and chain-smoking in the coffee shop at one of Amman’s top hotels as a steady stream of Iraqi exiles and members of parliament wandered in and out. “If all these things don’t work out, it is the people who will make a coup. They will rise up, and there will be a coup all over Iraq.”

On the basis of his relations with Condoleezza Rice, Robert Blackwill pulled off the first major Right Arabist “coup” in the Bush administration when he took the helm of the so-called “Iraq Stabilization Group.”

His effort to install Allawi as the “benign autocrat” of Iraq faltered at the start of the second Bush term when the administration went ahead with a year of Shiite-dominated elections, over the objections of leading Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft.

Can Blackwill’s latest lobbying campaign help deliver a coup that would “bring back the Baath“?

For the “boots” camp, the primary condition for any political reconciliation is a retreat from demands for US withdrawal.

But Right Zionists and Right Arabists faithful to the Nixon Doctrine are playing a different game: they are trying to identify a loyal ally that would allow the US to withdraw with honor–and a compliant imperial proxy.

The Right Arabists have always sought reconciliation with the old imperial proxy: the Sunni minority.

There was some cynical strategic logic to the imperial utilization of a minority population.

That logic led the Belgians, for example, to rely on the minority Tutsi population to govern Rwanda.  Gerard Prunier explains:

[T]he Belgians considered the [majority] Hutus to be more inferior… It was plainly a rationalization for being stingy, because by using the Tutsi, you spent less on local administration, that was all. It was easier to use them when they were locals, you didn’t pay them as much as whites and they would do the job. And since they were caught between you as a white administrator and their local chattel, they were at your beck and call.

Indeed, it is precisely the absence of such a dynamic in the context of Shiite majority rule in Iraq that leads astute observers like Gilbert Achcar to predict that the liberation of Shiite political power in Iraq would ultimately represent “one of the most important blunders ever committed by an administration abroad from the standpoint of U.S. imperial interests.”

Be that as it may, one might ask whether at the regional level in the Middle East the Shia of Islam and the Persians of Iran do not represent a relatively marginalized minority within the context of Sunni Arab hegemony.

Zionists like David Ben-Gurion used to call this the “Doctrine of the Periphery.”

I couldn’t begin to comment on the imperial, strategic viability of that Doctrine from the standpoint of U.S. imperial interests.

I do continue to wonder, however, at the role of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and his ally, Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani.

Are these guys Persian?

Or Tutsi?

Blog Slowdown

Posted by Cutler on August 26, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Note: Posting to Prof Cutler’s Blog will likely be sporadic, at best, until Labor Day.

Learning to Love Tehran?

Posted by Cutler on August 26, 2007
Iran, Russia, Turkey / No Comments

When I’m not musing on the news, I’m waiting for it.

In this instance, I’m waiting for Cheney to embrace the Iranian regime.

In a recent post, I suggested that a Russia hawk like Cheney could easily learn to love the Iranians:

From Cheney’s perspective, it might even be argued (as he did during the 1990s), that Iran–as a Caspian regional power–would do well to align itself not with Russia or China, but with the United States.

The sub-headline of a recent article in The Economist helps make the point.  The article is entitled, “Too energetic a friendship – Turkey and Iran: An attempt to bypass Russia annoys the United States.”

An attempt to bypass Russia annoys the United States.  Huh?

Only folks Cheney used to decry as “sanctions happy” local politicians beholden to the Israel lobby would forfeit a shot to bypass Russia in the quest to deliver Caspian energy to Europe.

As The Economist explains, this is the “paradox” of US policy toward Iran.

Cocking a snook at America seems an odd way to launch a second term in office for a government eager to prove its pro-Western credentials. Yet that is what Turkey’s mildly Islamist Justice and Development party (AK) appears to be doing, just weeks after its landslide victory in the July 22nd parliamentary election.

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dispatched his energy minister, Hilmi Guler, to Iran last week where he concluded a raft of deals. They include the establishment of a joint company to carry up to 35 billion cubic metres of Iranian natural gas via Turkey to Europe, and the construction of three thermal power plants by Turkish companies in Iran.

America swiftly complained. “If you ask our opinion, do we think it’s the right moment to be making investments in the Iranian oil and gas sector, no we don’t,” sniffed a State Department spokesman.

Mr Erdogan’s critics have seized on his dealings with Iran as proof that he is trying to steer Turkey away from the West. In fact, they have just the opposite aim…

EU countries import half their energy, with around a fifth of their oil and gas coming from Russia’s state monopoly, Gazprom….

Russia’s use of its energy riches to flex its muscles on the world stage is one reason why America is lobbying so hard for the creation of an east-west energy corridor—a network of oil and gas pipelines running from former Soviet Central Asia and Azerbaijan via Turkey, and on to European markets…

Turkey has turned to Iran, according to Necdet Pamir, a veteran Turkish energy analyst. Iranian gas would not only help to fill the Nabucco pipeline, another mooted conduit from the Middle East or Central Asia, bypassing Russia, but would also reduce Turkey’s own dependence on Russian supplies: over half of Turkey’s natural-gas demand is met by Gazprom….

The paradox for America is that Iran is the only country other than Iraq that can truly undermine Russia’s [energy] supremacy,” observes Mr Pamir.

Funny, the Russians seem to understand this and are allegedly quite concerned about the Iranian-Turkish pipeline deal.

So, what prevents Cheney from reverting to his old position in favor of doing business with Iran, especially after Putin’s recent Caspian coup?

One possible answer: the power of the Israel lobby, especially in a Congress controlled by Democrats.

Or maybe his Right Zionist allies–very hawkish on the incumbent Iranian regime, at least for now–will revert to their old position in favor of an anti-Arab tilt toward the revolutionary Iranian regime.

For now, I’m just waiting for news of that shoe to drop.

Unless it is the bomb that is going to drop.

Cheney’s Quagmire Video: Getting Beyond ‘Gotcha!”

Posted by Cutler on August 17, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

The “Old” Dick Cheney is getting some new attention, thanks in large measure to the web-based circulation of the so-called C-SPAN “quagmire” video.

Mary Ann Akers–aka “The Sleuth”, at washingtonpost.com–provides an excellent report on the origins of this great “YouTube” brushfire.

Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times blog “Screen” is surely correct that this is a tele-technological moment: the video circulates with far greater fanfare than a text-only transcript would have.

Indeed, there is no real news in the fact that Cheney was very critical of the idea of occupying Baghdad. One can find an on-line, full-text transcript with a very similar Cheney quote from a PBS Frontline series “The Gulf War,” featuring excellent oral history interviews with many key players.

Here is an excerpt from Cheney’s Frontline interview: (you are welcome to circulate the text, but I wouldn’t expect a brushfire…)

There was a feeling too, there was an important consideration, call it political if you want, but there’s only so much you can ask young Americans to do…

I was not an enthusiast about getting US forces and going into Iraq. We were there in the southern part of Iraq to the extent we needed to be there to defeat his forces and to get him out of Kuwait but the idea of going into Baghdad for example or trying to topple the regime wasn’t anything I was enthusiastic about. I felt there was a real danger here that you would get bogged down in a long drawn out conflict, that this was a dangerous difficult part of the world, if you recall we were all worried about the possibility of Iraq coming apart, the Iranians restarting the conflict that they’d had in the eight year bloody war with the Iranians and the Iraqis over eastern Iraq. We had concerns about the Kurds in the north, the Turks get very nervous every time we start to talk about an independent Kurdistan

Now you can say well you should have gone to Baghdad and gotten Saddam, I don’t think so I think if we had done that we would have been bogged down there for a very long period of time with the real possibility we might not have succeeded…

I think if Saddam wasn’t there that his successor probably wouldn’t be notably friendlier to the United States than he is. I also look at that part of the world as of vital interest to the United States for the next hundred years it’s going to be the world’s supply of oil. We’ve got a lot of friends in the region. We’re always going to have to be involved there. Maybe it’s part of our national character, you know we like to have these problems nice and neatly wrapped up, put a ribbon around it. You deploy a force, you win the war and the problem goes away and it doesn’t work that way in the Middle East it never has and isn’t likely to in my lifetime.

We are always going to have to be involved there and Saddam is just one more irritant but there’s a long list of irritants in that part of the world and for us to have done what would have been necessary to get rid of him–certainly a very large force for a long time into Iraq to run him to ground and then you’ve got to worry about what comes after. And you then have to accept the responsibility for what happens in Iraq, accept more responsibility for what happens in the region. It would have been an all US operation, I don’t think any of our allies would have been with us, maybe Britain, but nobody else. And you’re going to take a lot more American casualties if you’re gonna go muck around in Iraq for weeks on end trying to run Saddam Hussein to ground and capture Baghdad and so forth and I don’t think it would have been worth it.

Of course, the pleasure that motivates all the excitement over this kind of material derives from the game of Gotcha!

And, insofar as I have argued against over reliance on the charge of “incompetence” as the explanation for US policy in Iraq, it is satisfying to have evidence that, at some level, Cheney knew what he was getting into when the US decided to topple Saddam.

Indeed, the Frontline transcript makes him sound just like his old Right Arabist friends George Bush Sr., Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, and Colin Powell. There is the concern for the supply of oil, but also confidence in and deference to our (Saudi) “friends in the region.” There is Powell’s “pottery barn” rule–“you then have to accept responsibility for what happens in Iraq.” And there is even the concern about unilateralism (“maybe Britain, but nobody else”).

As I noted in a previous post, however, there seems to be far more concern with exposing Cheney’s hypocrisy than with explaining the shift in his position.

Juan Cole took a shot at a quick and dirty explanation when he posted the “quagmire video”:

Cheney’s years in Dallas hanging around with Big Oil CEO’s appear to have made him question his earlier conviction that it was best to leave Saddam Hussein in power.

This explanation is probably intended as a cheap shot, but it begs a few questions. Did Scowcroft, Baker, and Powell spend insufficient time “in Dallas hanging around with Big Oil CEO’s”? Is that why the retained their earlier conviction that it was best to leave Saddam in power?

I have speculated on the possible role that oil politics played in Cheney’s change of “heart,” but I think it is a bit misleading to assume that Cheney’s time in the oil industry made him hawkish on Iraq.

Cheney’s McGovern moment–the C-SPAN “quagmire video”–was shot during his tenure as a fellow at the “Neocon” American Enterprise Institute. So, if one were to follow the logic of Cole’s point, it appear that Big Oil favored the invasion of Iraq over the objections of the anti-war Neocons.

Not quite.

Indeed, during his time in Texas, Cheney was not above taking pot shots at the “Israel Lobby” for being hawkish on Iraq and Iran.

Isn’t that what he was doing in an 1996 interview with Petroleum Finance Week when he criticized “sanctions sought by domestic politicians to please local constituencies [that] will hurt U.S. business growth overseas….

That was Cheney as Big Oil attacking the Israel Lobby hawks.

One could even argue that it was only after Cheney the oil executive became vice president and was handed an enormous defeat at the hands of the Israel Lobby in Congress (pre-9/11) that he aligned himself with Right Zionists.

Although I have offered what are essentially pre-9/11 and post-9/11 explanations for the timing of Cheney’s shift, I think the entire question–urgent as it is for understanding where US policy has been and where it is going–remains murky.

And, I fear, it will remain so until critics move beyond the impoverished politics of Gotcha!

Iran and Great Power Politics

Posted by Cutler on August 15, 2007
China, Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Iran is, by most accounts, riding high these days, with unprecedented influence within Afghanistan and Iraq and powerful Mediterranean proxy forces like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Who am I to disagree?

Nevertheless, a few small news stories shed a slightly different light on the Iranian strategic position.

For example, an August 11, 2007 report from BBC Monitoring of Al-Sharqiyah Television suggests the limits of Iranian influence in Iraq, if not also Russia:

“Diplomatic sources in Moscow said that the Iranian Government played a mediatory role in the visit of Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al- Shahrastani to Moscow. Sources close to the Iranian Embassy in the Russian capital added that Iran asked Al-Shahrastani to agree on Russia’s demands to re-negotiate the investment of some southern oil wells based on a memorandum of understanding signed by the former Iraqi regime with a number of big Russian oil firms in the early 1990s. The sources went to say the Iranian step seeks to secure Moscow’s support for its nuclear programme.”

As I noted in a previous post, Shahrastani appears to have resisted Russian pressure for re-negotiation on the West Qurna fields–Iranian “mediation” notwithstanding.

What does it say about Iranian influence in Iraq if the Iranian regime cannot “deliver” Iraq for Russia?

And, can this outcome bode well for Iranian attempts to renew Moscow’s support for its nuclear programme?

Even as the US attempts to use financial pressure to isolate the Iranian regime, there are signs that Iran may be having some difficulty lining up Great Power allies.

The Washington Post reports:

The key obstacle to stronger international pressure against Tehran has been China, Iran’s largest trading partner. After the Iranian government refused to comply with two U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with its nuclear program, Beijing balked at a U.S. proposal for a resolution that would have sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.

China’s actions reverse a cycle during which Russia was the most reluctant among the veto-wielding members of the Security Council. “China used to hide behind Russia, but Russia is now hiding behind China,” said a U.S. official familiar with negotiations.

Be that as it may, there are also limits to China’s willingness to shelter the Iranian regime.

The Financial Times reports on China’s potential reluctance to back Iranian efforts to get a seat at the Shanghai Co-operation Organization:

Russia that is pushing the latest efforts to give the [Shanghai Co-operation Organisation] more muscle. Moscow is expected to lobby this week for Iran’s inclusion, which would deepen the rift with the US over Washington’s plan to site missile interceptors in central Europe.

While Russia is at odds with the US, Nato and the European Union on a range of issues, China regards the recently sealed US nuclear pact with India with deep suspicion and could see that as justification to allow Iran’s entry…

Some analysts, however, believe China would block any proposal to allow Iran to join the SCO. “Admitting Iran would further strain already tense Chinese-US relations and would not advance China’s main priority in the SCO, which is to manage relations with its western neighbours,” says Martha Brill Olcott, a central Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for Inter-national Peace.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Iranian strategic leverage in the Middle East, the Gulf, and Central Asia.

But there are limits.

From Cheney’s perspective, it might even be argued (as he did during the 1990s), that Iran–as a Caspian regional power–would do well to align itself not with Russia or China, but with the United States.

That seems difficult to imagine, given all the tough talk between the US and Iran.  But stranger things have happened.

Cheney, Putin, and the Battle for Iraqi Oil

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Russia / 1 Comment

Vice President Cheney allegedly continues to beat the drum for war with Iran.  The McClatchy Washington Bureau reported as much last week:

Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iran run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy.

The Bush administration has launched what appears to be a coordinated campaign to pin more of Iraq’s security troubles on Iran.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq, said Shiite militiamen had launched 73 percent of the attacks that had killed or wounded American troops in July. U.S. officials think that majority Shiite Iran is providing militiamen with EFPs, which pierce armored vehicles and explode once inside.

Cheney and Odierno appear to be particularly close allies.  Cheney, in his recent interview with Larry King, singled out Odierno for his service:

General Petraeus is a very impressive officer… I don’t want to put the whole burden on him… there are a lot of people working at it, too. General Ray Odierno, who is his number two, a superb officer. A man who spent about 28 months in Iraq himself so far, whose son served and lost an arm, who is dedicated — is just as dedicated as Dave Petraeus is to the success of this enterprise.

Perhaps all this anti-Iranian talk risks undermining the Bush administration’s relationship with Shiite-led political figures in Iraq.

But the White House appears to be working hard to maintain the image of a distinction between the Maliki government and the Iranian regime–even if neither Maliki nor the Iranians appear to put much stock in the distinction.  Al Jazeera reports:

When asked whether he thought al-Maliki shared his views on Iran, Bush said: “So the first thing I looked for was commitment against the extremists.

“The second thing is ‘does he [al-Maliki] understand with some extremist groups there’s connections with Iran’, and he does. And I’m confident…

“Now, is he trying to get Iran to play a more constructive role? I presume he is. But that doesn’t – what my question is – well, my message to him is, is that when we catch you playing a non-constructive role there will be a price to pay.”

The White House later clarified with Al Jazeera that Bush was referring to Iran when talking about a price to pay.

All of which goes to the central question: is Cheney secretly horrified by the Maliki government?  Is there anything to the old assertion from the Economist that Cheney was “said to favour an alternative Shia leader as prime minister”?

Or does Cheney share the enthusiasm for the Shiite-led Maliki government expressed by Right Zionists like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht?

If there is any reason to believe that the latter is true, it might have something to do with the politics of Iraqi oil.

However closely–and provisionally–aligned Cheney may be to Right Zionists, his most consistent enduring commitments center on Great Power rivalry with Russia.

This has significant implications for US-Russian relations in Europe–i.e., Kosovo, missile shields, etc.–and the Caspian–i.e., Turkmenistan, Georgia, etc.

But it also may help clarify Cheney’s enthusiasm for the Sistani-backed regime in Iraq.

If the US invasion of Iraq was motivated, in part, by the desire to prevent Russia from winning access to Iraqi oil after the collapse of UN sanctions, then Cheney is being well served by his Shiite friends in Iraq.

I first made that argument in an April 2007 post entitled, “The US-Russian War in Iraq” in which I suggested that the details of the draft hydrocarbons law tended to leave Russian-backed companies–especially Lukoil–out in the cold.

Last week, Sistani-backed oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani confirmed Russian fears.

In meetings with Shahristani, Russia sought to use the promise of debt relief to win better terms for Lukoil.  According to Kommersant, that plan to make debt relief conditional appears to have crumbled:

It was Iraq’s Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani that announced yesterday the results of his Moscow meeting with Russia’s Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko. According to al-Shahristani, Russia confirmed it would fully execute Paris Club’s decision to write off the debt of Iraq and today’s concern is ensuring some technical procedures. Writing off is conditioned to nothing…

Paris Club raised the issue of writing off $140 billion from Iraq after the U.S. invasion of 2003. Russia pressed for conditioning its pardon to reviving the West Kurna-2 agreement but wasn’t backed up by other creditors. So, the agreement of 2004 spells out writing off 80 percent of amount due to Paris Club nations….

The agreement on Iraq’s debt will be inked till this year-end, Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak announced not long ago. Hussein al-Shahristani was expected to deliberate on the terms of the deal in Moscow, but the minister arrived with no authority given to the effect. As a result, Russia was forced to confirm adherence to Paris Club commitments without additional conditions.

As noted in some press reports, Shahristani had a few nice words to say about Lukoil:

“Lukoil has done much in Iraq, has experience of working in our country, possesses vast data about Iraqi oil deposits. These temporary advantages raise the company’s chances for winning free and transparent oil tenders,” the minister said.

But this sweet talk tended to obscure the real issue of control over the enormous West Qurna fields.  The oil industry journal, Platts, explains:

Shahristani, who spoke at a press conference in Moscow, said Iraqi
oilfields currently in operation, including West Qurna, would fall under the
control of the national oil company.

“For the discovered fields where there are no risks involved…we do not
see any necessity for foreign companies to take control. We think the Iraqi
national oil company can do it with the cooperation with other oil firms,” he
said.

“All the discovered and producing fields will be assigned to the national
oil company, this includes West Qurna,” Shahristani said. “It is up to the
Iraqi national oil company to decide how it can develop that field.”

In other words, the West Qurna field will be under the political control of the national oil company under a Shiite-led, US-backed administration.

The Saddam-era deal had promised Lukoil commercial control.  RIA Novosti reports:

“Assigning oil fields to the National Oil Company means that the company will have the right to choose foreign companies under contract terms,” Hussain al-Shahristani told a news conference in Moscow….

Under the [Saddam-era] West Qurna deal, LUKoil held 68.5% and Iraq’s SOMO organization 25%.

In other words, Russia can forget about control.

As for the new fields, Shahristani has not ruled out the “necessity for foreign companies to take control.”

Could Cheney have found a better ally in Iraq?

Now, if he can deliver on his promise to get the oil legislation passed in September, Cheney should be able to sleep soundly…

Even as he allegedly dreams of war with Iran.

Anbar Fire Sale?

Posted by Cutler on August 09, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In a previous post, I asked, “What Price Anbar?”

Yesterday, Greg Jaffe at the Wall Street Journal (subscription required… at least until Murdoch gets hold of it) provided unexpectedly precise answers:

To understand how the U.S. managed to bring relative calm to Iraq’s unruly Anbar province, it helps to pay a visit to Sheik Hamid Heiss’s private compound.

On a recent morning, a 25-year-old Marine Corps lieutenant from Ohio stacked $97,259 in cash in neat piles on Sheik Heiss’s gilded tea table. The money paid for food for the sheik’s tribe and for two school renovation projects on which the sheik himself is the lead contractor. Even the marble-floored meeting hall where the cash was handed over reflects recent U.S. largesse: The Marines paid Sheik Heiss and his family $127,175 to build it on his private compound.

Such payments have encouraged local leaders in this vast desert expanse to help the U.S. oust al Qaeda extremists and restore a large measure of stability and security…

“These guys do everything with money,” says Lt. Col. John Reeve, who is the second-in-command of the 6,000-Marine regiment in the area. “Every deal goes to the sheik. He then trickles the money down to reward sub-tribes who cooperate and punish those who don’t.”

Be that as it may, there are inevitably conflicting reports about the political cost of the US-Sunni alliance in Anbar.

Jaffe’s Sheik Heiss is blunt about his political agenda:

[S]ome city leaders and prominent sheiks in Anbar have also already begun to talk about the next fight — against the Shiite militias in Baghdad. “If the Americans give us orders and money we will get rid” of the militias, says Ramadi’s Sheik Heiss. “We will have a new government — run by Sunnis — that will be fair to all.”

The eclipse of Shiite political dominance and the restoration of Sunni rule would be a rather more significant price than the marble floor for the Heiss family compound.

Of course, Sheik Heiss does not appear to be insisting on Sunni rule.  At best, one might say he seems eager for Sunni political dominance.

In a Washington Post article that tries to name a price for Sunni cooperation in Anbar, Ann Scott Tyson finds even less of a strident swagger among “former” Sunni insurgent figures.

The Sunni insurgent leader… explained to a U.S. sergeant visiting his safe house why he’d stopped attacking Americans.

“Finally, we decided to cooperate with American forces and kick al-Qaeda out and have our own country,” said the tough-talking, confident 21-year-old, giving only his nom de guerre, Abu Lwat. Then he offered another motive: “In the future, we want to have someone in the government,” he said, holding his cigarette with a hand missing one finger.

Abu Lwat is one of a growing number of Sunni fighters working with U.S. forces in what American officers call a last-ditch effort to gain power and legitimacy under Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government. The tentative cooperation between the fighters and American forces is driven as much by political aspirations as by a rejection of the brutal methods of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, U.S. officers and onetime insurgents said….

“This is much less about al-Qaeda overstepping than about them [Sunnis] realizing that they’ve lost,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, a planner for the U.S. military command in Baghdad. As a result, Sunni groups are now “desperately trying to cut deals with us,” he said. “This is all about the Sunnis’ ‘rightful’ place to rule” in a future Iraqi government, he said.

That story tends to confirm earlier proclamations by Right Zionist figures like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht that a dirty war fought by Shiite militias had essentially broken the back of the Sunni insurgency.

Tyson quotes US military officers–like Col. Rick Welch, head of reconciliation for the U.S. military command in the capital, who appear relatively confident that Sunni political aspirations can be contained.  But Tyson’s former insurgent doesn’t seem entirely ready to subordinate himself to either the Maliki government or the US occupation.

“Some of the insurgent leaders may have a political agenda and want to run for office at some point,” said Welch, who has helped negotiate with Sunni insurgent groups including the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Army of Truth and the Islamic Army.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is “worried that the Sunni tribes may be using mechanisms to build their strength and power eventually to challenge this government. This is a risk for all of us,” Welch said….

Sitting cross-legged in the dim abandoned house, Abu Lwat said he seeks a new government in Iraq. “We don’t want to be like the people who sit in the Green Zone and take orders from Bush,” he said, referring to the American president. “We want to free people and fix their problems.”

It is probably too early to discern the final price of peace in Anbar.

The outcome will depend, in part, on the political aspirations of the Sunni forces with which the US has aligned itself, to say nothing of neighboring Arab regimes who are similarly uncomfortable with Shiite rule in Iraq.

But the outcome will also depend on the play of forces in Washington.

Will the US ask Sheik Heiss and his allies to wage war against Iraqi Shiites and, perhaps, Iran as well?

My hunch is that Cheney, for one, has not yet lost faith in the Maliki government and continues to be committed to the construction of an enduring US-Shiite alliance in Iraq.

What Price Anbar?

Posted by Cutler on August 07, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In a speech at the 84th National Convention of the Marine Corps League, Vice President Cheney affirmed his support for the “Anbar Model” in Iraq.

The main battle in Iraq today is against al Qaeda…

Our military estimates that 80 to 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda-sponsored terrorists…

[T]here is unmistakable progress inside Iraq. More locals are getting into the fight. More good intelligence information is coming in. And in al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the turnaround in recent months has been extraordinary. Late last year, some critics were saying that al-Anbar was lost to the terrorists. But the United States Marine Corps had another idea. They went into al-Anbar and did careful, painstaking work to confront the killers and to build confidence in the general population. Today, with the help of local Sunni sheiks, we have driven al Qaeda from the seat of power in al-Anbar. And we’re now trying to achieve the same results in other parts of Iraq.

As I have suggested in a previous post, all these sweet little lies about the primacy of al-Qaeda within the Iraqi insurgency are best understood as a coded confession that the US has retreated from its confrontation with the larger Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.

Perhaps, as Michael Schwartz argues, this represents a major victory for the insurgency:

We should be clear that this a major setback for the U.S. plans, made necessary by the miserable failure of the surge. The basic agreement is that the U.S. will turn over the fight in these communities to these new recruited “former” insurgents. Or, put another way, instead of U.S. troops trying to pacify these neighborhoods, they will let these local residents police their own communities. But, keep in mind, these local residents are nothing more than the militiamen/insurgents who have been fighting the U.S. So right away, we see that this is a retreat by the U.S. from these cities and neighborhoods…

In other words, this is a huge victory for the insurgents, who have mainly been fighting to get the US out of their communities for the entire war.

Or maybe the US has simply coopted the “soft underbelly” of the resistance (see comment by Alison) even as the “true” resistance fights on and continues to draw the fire of the US military.

Doesn’t the difference here turn on a crucial question: what price Anbar?

There are a range of possible answers:

Schwartz argues for an insurgent victory because he thinks the US got nothing for its “cooptation” effort:

What is the U.S. asking in return? For the expulsion of the jihadists (who organize carbombings and other terrorist acts against civilians) from these communities. This is pretty easy for many of these insurgent groups to agree to, since so many of them hate the jihadists, both because the don’t approve of attacking Iraqi civilians and because the jihadi try to impose their particular form of their fundamentalism on the host communities.

Nevertheless, he seems to think the US will subsequently try to win back control of Anbar and will abrogate the alliance.

If, however, the US were to abide by the terms of the alliance, it would seem to follow that the insurgent victory would be complete. After all, according to Schwartz, they have been fighting for nothing more than local community control and policing power (“fighting to get the US out of their communities”).

Implicitly, Schwartz seems to suggest that the Sunni insurgency never wanted–and presumably will not win–the restoration of its pre-invasion national political dominance.

In other words, the Sunni insurgency will not demand that the US dump the Shiite-led Maliki government as a condition of alliance.

In a previous post, I suggested that the “Anbar Model” represented a slow-moving anti-Shiite coup in Iraq.

I still think that is a plausible scenario.

But maybe Cheney loves the “Anbar Model” precisely because the US pays no price at the level of national politics.

Perhaps Cheney sees in Anbar a victory because the “tribal figures” at the center of the alliance have abandoned the demand for the restoration of Sunni Arab national political dominance.

The “Anbar” allies simply represent the reconcilable (“soft underbelly”) of the resistance that has conceded the triumph of the Right Zionist plan to deliver Iraq into the hands of the Shiite majority.

If so, then it is little wonder to find that some leading Sunni political figures smell a rat in the Anbar Model. According to the Washington Post, January 27, 2007:

Saleh al-Mutlak, parliamentary leader of the secular Sunni party known as the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, described the confederation of Sunni sheiks as a “very dangerous movement” that is assuming official powers in the absence of a functioning government. “They wanted political cover from our front, but we said no,” he said. “We don’t mind that they fight al-Qaeda, but any movement should be official, and not tribal….”

Cheney gets to co-opt the Sunni Arab insurgency without abandoning the Shiite-led government that is, among other things, doing Cheney’s bidding on the oil front.

Hence, Cheney’s ability to affirm both the Anbar Model and Shiite rule in Iraq. As he told the Marine Corps League:

We are there because, having removed Saddam Hussein, we promised not to allow another brutal dictator to rise in his place.

So much for “Saddamism Without Saddam.”

Cheney and Sistani, Sitting in a Tree

Posted by Cutler on August 03, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The headline of Sudarsan Raghavan’s article in today’s Washington Post–“Maliki’s Impact Blunted By Own Party’s Fears: Hussein-Era Secrecy Persists, Analysts Say“–certainly suggests a smear campaign against Maliki.

For the idea that Maliki’s government can be equated with the “Hussein-Era,” Raghavan relies on a “political analyst,” Wamidh Nadhmi.

“Many people see some similarities between Maliki and the late Saddam, except he’s much weaker than Saddam Hussein,” Nadhmi said. “People feel he’s in power because he’s backed by American tanks. Others say the Dawa party is not popular enough to win elections on their own.”

Similarities between Maliki and the late Saddam?

Well, I guess Nadhmi would know.  As the Washington Post reported in a December 2005 profile of the professor, Nadhmi was a close associate of Saddam and played the role of the official house critic from his perch at Baghdad University during the Hussein era.

[H]e endured… admittedly odd protection under Saddam Hussein that allowed him to speak out at the height of the Baath Party’s tyranny…

Raghavan identifies Nadhmi merely as an “analyst,” but–as an April 2005 Washington Post article noted–the professor is also a leader of a political party, the “Arab Nationalist Trend,” that boycotted the 2005 elections and opposed the Shiite-led government’s aggressive purge of Iraq’s Baathist security forces.

Needless to say, Nadhmi hardly stands out for his current criticism of Maliki.  As the Associated Press recently reported, Maliki faces a revolt–led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari–from within his own Dawa party.

According to the Washington Post, Maliki and his allies also fear that they face powerful enemies within the US.

Haider al-Abadi, an influential Dawa legislator… said rumors of a governmental collapse are being spread by “some enemies within the U.S. establishment.”

“Some special intelligence units,” he explained, his voice lowering during an interview at a coffee shop in the U.S.-protected Green Zone. “They have their own plan. That’s what frightens us. People want to wreck the whole thing…

Of course, as William Burroughs suggested, sometimes paranoia means having all the facts.

The very fact of Raghavan’s smear article should be enough to confirm Abadi’s suspicions.  But there are plenty of other signs that the Shiite-led government has powerful enemies in Washington and Iraq.

But Maliki still has some very powerful friends.

First among them, according to the Associated Press report, appears to be Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The former prime minister also has approached Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, proposing a “national salvation” government to replace the al-Maliki coalition. The Iranian-born al-Sistani refused to endorse the proposal, [officials in his office and the political party he leads] said.

Maliki (and Sistani) have adoring fans within Right Zionist circles among folks like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

And then there is Vice President Cheney.

I’m not confident that I know where Cheney stands on the particulars of some major issues regarding the balance of power in Iraq.

For example, Cheney has celebrated the so-called “Anbar Model” that aligns US forces with Sunni nationalist insurgents.  Many in the Maliki government see that as something like a slow-moving anti-Shiite coup.

And yet…

Insofar as Cheney has his eye on the control of Iraqi oil, then he may have no better friend in Iraq than the Sistani-backed oil minister, Hussain Shahristani.

Shahristani–a champion of aggressive de-Baathification–has done his best to shepherd US-backed oil legislation through the Iraqi political process amidst considerable opposition and he has shown himself to be a friend to foreign oil and a foe of organized oil workers.

And, in his recent CNN interview with Larry King, Cheney hardly seems like a strident critic of Shiite empowerment in Iraq.  Indeed, he appears to put great stock in the 2005 elections that solidified Shiite political control–against the advice of Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft–and he appears to go out of his way to defend the current Shiite government and parliament.

Here are some suggestive excerpts from King’s Cheney interview:

KING: OK, let’s go back. On this program, May of 2005, you said the Iraqi insurgency was in the last throes.

CHENEY: Right.

KING: Why were you wrong?

CHENEY: I think my estimate at the time — and it was wrong, it turned out to be incorrect — was the fact that we were in the midst of holding three elections in Iraq — electing an interim government, then ratifying a constitution and then electing a permanent government.

That they had had significant success. We had rounded up Saddam Hussein. I thought there were a series of these milestones that would, in fact, undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point….

CHENEY: When you think about what’s been accomplished in, what, about four years now since we originally launched in there, they have, in fact, held three national elections and written a constitution….

KING: Does it bother you that the Iraqi parliament is taking August off?

CHENEY: Well, it’s better than…

KING: While our men are over there?

CHENEY: Yes. It’s better than taking…

KING: And women…

CHENEY: …two months off, which was their original plan. Our Congress, of course, takes the month of August off to go back home. So I don’t think we can say that they shouldn’t go home at all. But, obviously, we’re eager to have them complete their work.

And they have, in fact, passed about 60 pieces of legislation this year. They have been fairly productive. Now there are major issues yet to be addressed and be resolved that they are still working on. But they did — I made it clear, for example, when I was there in May, that we didn’t appreciate the notion that they were going take a big part of the summer off. And they did cut that in half.

Maybe Cheney’s attempt to tout accomplishments in Iraq–all his happy talk–is nothing more than evidence that he is in a state of denial or the he aims to deceive the public about his own enormous sense of disappointment and frustration.

Either seems plausible.

But isn’t it also plausible that Cheney–like his friends Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht, and his long-distance ally Sistani–is not unhappy with the Maliki government, in particular, or Shiite political dominance in Iraq, more generally?

Even as David Wurmser and other Cheney allies depart the scene, Cheney remains unmoved and untouchable.

Cheney… and his ace in the whole, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Indyk of Arabia

Posted by Cutler on August 01, 2007
Dem Zionists, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Martin Indyk wants to save the Arabs.

Inkyk–the Australian-born protégé of indicted AIPAC official Steven Rosen, former US Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, and current director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy–has welcomed signs that the Bush administration is looking to forge a US-Israeli-Arab front to challenge Iran.

Hence the recent cheerleading for Bush’s anti-Shiite tilt in Iraq from Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, Indyk’s Brookings brothers.

Indyk is even more blunt in a recent Op-Ed published in The Age (Australia), entitled “Securing the Arab World.”

By insisting on elections and reinforcing the power of a Shiite Government in Iraq, the US has exacerbated Sunni-Shiite conflict…

For some time Sunni Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan had been warning that a Shiite arc was spreading its influence across the region….

They found it unacceptable that a Shiite-dominated, historically Persian Iran should blatantly interfere with Arab Iraq, Arab Lebanon and Arab Palestine and attempt to become the arbiter of Arab interests….

Given these Arab concerns, the Shiite rise presents the US and Israel with a measure of opportunity. The only way Sunni Arab leaders can counter Iran’s bid for regional dominance is by securing US and Israeli actions….

Presumably, then, Indyk is well pleased by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s efforts to use the promise of US military aid to construct an Arab-Israeli, anti-Iranian regional bloc.

The conventional wisdom appears to be that Arab leaders will welcome this strategic alignment.  An Associated Press report suggests the formation of the anti-Iranian bloc is a slam dunk.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia for a rare joint lobbying effort…

The Cabinet secretaries also will try to solidify what the U.S. sees as a bulwark of generally moderate Arab states against an increasingly ambitious and unpredictable Iran.

Unity against Iran is not a hard sell….

While the Saudis may not actually go so far as to refuse the US military aid, I’m not sure the Saudis are sold on the Iran plan.

Saudi King Abdullah has not yet embraced the Bush administration’s talking points on Iran, Lebanon, or Palestine.

Indeed, a case could be made that Secretary of State Rice–and Zionists like Martin Indyk–are dreaming of (and promoting military aid to…) a different Saudi King than the one who currently occupies the throne.

Saudi King Abdullah has refused to cooperate with the US in any of its major proxy wars against Iran.  Instead, the King has consistently favored dialogue over confrontation with Iran.

Saudi Resistance in Lebanon

In Lebanon, Abdullah did everything he could to kill the anti-Iranian Cedar Revolution and to foster unity between Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Saudi-backed Siniora government.

Saudi Resistance in Palestine

King Abdullah’s “Mecca Agreement” fostered unity within the Palestinian Authority between Iranian-backed Hamas and the Saudi-backed Abbas government, even as the Bush administration encouraged Abbas to launch a proxy war against Iran in Gaza.

When Hamas defeated Fatah in the Gaza proxy war, the US pressed for Fatah and Abbas to completely isolate Hamas.

There are important indications, however, that King Abdullah continues to resist US efforts to isolate Hamas.

The US may have Egyptian support for the anti-Iranian effort, but a rift might have developed between the Saudis and the Egyptians in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas victory in Gaza.

In late June, the Associated Press reported on the split:

Egypt and Saudi Arabia may not be seeing eye-to-eye over how to deal with the inter-Palestinian rivalry — with Cairo feeling its traditional leading mediator role has been sidelined by Riyadh’s growing influence.

In March, Saudi Arabia — not Egypt — managed to bring Hamas and Fatah leaders to Mecca for a reconciliation agreement. Since then, relations between the two nations have been cool, with Egyptian state-owned media recently reported that Saudi Arabia was undermining Cairo’s position.

In early July, Reuters affirmed the Saudi position:

[Israeli] officials said some Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, opposed U.S.-supported efforts to isolate Hamas following its defeat of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group in Gaza last month…

In remarks to Reuters in Riyadh, Saudi political commentator Adel al-Harbi, an editor at the semi-official al-Riyadh daily… said King Abdullah was trying “to get the Palestinian factions to come together in a unity government” again, due to his objections to the political split between Gaza and the West Bank, where Fatah holds sway.

“Saudi Arabia is against the idea of two authorities, one in Gaza and one in Ramallah … that’s not Saudi Arabia’s policy,” Harbi said.

Even as Abbas wraps himself in the security of US and Israeli support he has been snubbed by Saudi King.  Moreover, Abdullah has pressed–against the objections of the PLO–for an Arab League commission to investigate the events leading to the showdown in Gaza.

Saudi Resistance in Iraq

As I suggested in a previous post, there are signs that within the Saudi royal family, King Abdullah represents a position that is relatively soft on Iran but hard on Iraqi Shiite rule.

It would not be surprising, then, if Secretary of State Rice receives something of a lukewarm response to her request that Arab leaders rally around the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq.

Dreaming of a Crown Prince?

Martin Indyk may fancy himself the next Lawrence of Arabia, but Saudi King Abdullah seems unwilling to play the role of the cooperative Hashemite, Faisal bin Hussein.

Is the US really throwing massive amounts of military aid toward a leader who seems so resistant to the American agenda in the Middle East?

Perhaps Indyk and the Bush administration are merely naive about Abdullah.

Or maybe all that US military aid is meant to strengthen a specific element of the Saudi kingdom, the defense establishment headed by Crown Prince Sultan and the National Security Council, heading by Sultan’s son, Prince Bandar.

Is it possible that Indyk and the Bush administration are already dreaming of the next Saudi King should something untoward happen to King Abdullah?

Zionists and the Saudi Arms Deal

Posted by Cutler on July 31, 2007
Dem Zionists, Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

The US arms deal with Saudi Arabia–first floated publicly in April 2007–is back in the news.

As I noted in an earlier post, the issue of US military aid to Saudi Arabia has traditionally been one of the best ways of distinguishing between Right Zionists, who have historically opposed such aid (as they did during the “AWACS” affair at the start of the Reagan administration) and pro-Saudi Right Arabists who see the aid as crucial, not only for enhancing the US-Saudi alliance but for containing regional Iranian influence.

During the Reagan years, the Israeli government and Right Zionists in the US waged a relentless (losing) battle to thwart military aid to the Saudis.

Today, the Labor-Kadima coalition behind the Olmert government in Israel looks set to give a green light to such aid (in part, no doubt, because Israel will receive its own significant boost in military aid).

Right Zionists appear more skeptical, refusing to endorse Secretary of State Rice’s argument that the primacy of the Iranian threat necessitates a united front with the Saudis.

Recalling a time when the Bush administration appeared to be distancing itself from the Saudi regime, the Jerusalem Post offered up an editorial entitled, “Bush In Retreat.”

The striking thing about the Saudi side of this deal is that it seems to reflect a Bush administration that is not just winding down, but winding backward. Was it not Bush who taught us, as a White House fact sheet put it: “For a half century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability… On 9/11, we realized that years of pursuing stability to promote peace left us with neither. Instead, the lack of freedom made the Middle East an incubator for terrorism. The pre-9/11 status quo was dangerous and unacceptable.”…

Iran is the enemy, but this does not mean that Saudi Arabia is a friend…

It his hard to escape the impression that we are witnessing the return of a “realist” US foreign policy that Bush spent the last six years working to discredit and displace. If Iran is the center of the axis of evil, then Saudi Arabia is the center of the axis of “realism” and the pre-9/11 worship of “stability” as the strategy for safeguarding Western interests.

A New York Sun editorial–entitled, “A Saudi Strategy“–goes even further, demanding a direct confrontation with the Saudis and even recalls the old idea of grabbing the oil-rich Shiite-populated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

Reading over the weekend of the latest contretemps involving the Saudis — whether to sell them $20 billion worth of weapons — we found ourselves retrieving Max Singer’s celebrated op-ed piece calling for independence for the Eastern Province. The piece, one of the most remarked upon we’ve ever run, appeared in the April 26, 2002, number of The New York Sun and advanced a radical proposition….

Mr. Singer argued… for splitting the Eastern Province from the rest of today’s Saudi Arabia — with our help.

Now that is a policy to sink one’s teeth into…

Yet today a weakened government in Israel is acquiescing in such an arms transfer on the grounds that we need to arm the Saudis for a fight with Iran…

[O]ur own view is that the Saudis are more a part of the problem than the solution…

The better strategic line is to support a sustained effort at defeating our enemies in Iraq, work to support democratic, pro-American elements in Iran, and dismantle the Saudi tyranny. Splitting the Eastern Province from the rest of today’s Saudi Arabia would, as a strategic matter, accomplish several aims. Those living there, the liberal open-minded merchant communities who have worked with Americans for decades as well as the oppressed Shiites would welcome a liberation and support it. Among other things, an independent Eastern province could curtain the corruption of the Al Sauds, and it would defund the Wahabi movement.

Within the Bush administration, Right Zionist figures like Cheney Middle East adviser David Wurmser also once endorsed the plan to “liberate” the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.  But Wurmser is, apparently, on his way out and most of the public grumbling about the Saudi plan comes from Dem Zionists in Congress like Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler.

The White House may have circulated the idea (first, in a New York Times Op-Ed by Zalmay Khalilzad and then picked up by New York Times writer Helene Cooper) that it was frustrated with the Saudis.  But this was little more than a somewhat desperate bid to leverage some cooperation from Saudi King Abdullah–on Iraq and Iran–in exchange for the military aid package.

The New York Sun is skeptical of the Saudi deal, in part because it has reluctantly concluded that “neither America nor Israel appears prepared to lead… a fight [against Iran].”

Be that as it may, there are at least some figures within the US military brass who appear to be itching for a fight with Iran.

And it is this eagerness that helps explain why Dem Zionists like Martin Indyk and his Brookings Boys, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, have recently embraced the current strategy in Iraq.

In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “A War We Just Might Win,” O’Hanlon and Pollack endorse anti-Iranian energy behind the so-called “Anbar Model.”

Forget the old Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Time for a new war and a new enemy.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

That “popular animus” appears to run deep among ex-Baathists and the Sunni Arab national insurgency.

As I argued in two recent posts (here and here), the real meaning of all the chatter about al-Qaeda in Iraq is that the Bush administration has retreated from its war against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.

But before declaring “peace in our time,” it is essential to note the payoff of such a strategy for Zionists like Martin Indyk: confrontation with Iran.

The “pure form” of this strategy continues to flow forth from the mouth of Major General Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division and the Multi-National Division-Center.

On July 29, 2007, Maj. Gen. Lynch appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” and, in answer to caller questions, Lynch told some “sweet little lies” to completely erase the entire history of the US war with the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency (beginning at 39:52 of the broadcast).

CALLER: The references lately have been so escalated to al-Qaeda in Iraq… What is the percentage of fighters in Iraq who are affiliated with al-qaeda?

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH: That’s a great question. As I say, I’ve got three pods/parts of enemy over here… I’ve got Sunni extremists all of which–or at least the majority of which are associated with al-Qaeda–I’ve got Shia extremists, and I’ve got Iranian influence that’s feeding the Shia extremists.

To answer your specific question, I’d say that 70% of the enemy that I fight on a daily basis is either al-Qaeda or associated with al-Qaeda

CALLER: Where are the insurgents coming from? Next, what is the source of the weapons?…

MAJ. GEN. LYNCH: I’m losing soldiers to Explosively Formed Penetrators… EFP/IEDs and they are coming from Iran. Last two weeks, one of my major operating bases had 50 rockets lined up against it. Luckily we found in advance and took out… All were clearly marked with Iranian markings. I’m finding munitions all the time in my battle space from Iran. I’ve got indications of training being conducted in Iran for terrorism that is taking place in my battle space. So when you ask where the insurgents are coming from, where they are getting there munitions from… in my area, its coming from Iran.

It may be the case that 70% of the enemy Lynch fights on a daily basis is al-Qaeda.  That speaks less to the size of al-Qaeda, relative to the larger Sunni Arab nationalist resistance, than it does to the honest truth that Lynch isn’t fighting the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency much any more.

But if Lynch has made common cause with the Sunni insurgency responsible for the vast majority of US casualties in Iraq, he is also clearly beating the drums for war with Iran.

Farewell to Wurmser

Posted by Cutler on July 27, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Robert Dreyfuss says David Wurmser is on his way out.  (Not for the first time, I am obliged to tip my hat to Bernhard at Moon of Alabama for calling to my attention to something crucial that I missed).

Wurmser–Cheney’s top Middle East advisor and author of a blueprint for de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment in Iraq–is one of only two significant Right Zionists who continue to serve in a key Bush administration post.  If Wurmser leaves, Elliott Abrams will be “the last man standing.”  There are plenty of other hawks (not least the vice president), but no major Right Zionist hawks who Meyrav Wurmser would consider part of what she calls “the family.”

The Dreyfuss story is certainly plausible, although I note that the blog post is a little vague about sources.

According to multiple sources, Wurmser will leave the office of the vice president (OVP) in August…

Wurmser’s departure is not totally a surprise. “He’s been looking for a way out for a year,” said a conservative friend of Wurmser’s…

Dreyfuss also appears to have original quotes from  Meyrav Wurmser in response to the Helene Cooper New York Times story that helped put David Wurmser in the public crosshairs.  Dreyfuss doesn’t say anything about the source of the quotes, but they seem to be exclusive:

Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute and David’s wife, ridiculed the stories from Clemons and the Times. “They are all categorically wrong, and there not one thing in those articles that is correct.”

Meyrav seemed to be hinting at her husband’s imminent departure in December 2006 when she predicted that, along with John Bolton’s departure from the UN, “there are others who are about to leave.”

Ironically, my most recent post–written after Dreyfuss posted his report but before I saw it–mentioned Wurmser’s departure as a potential harbinger of a new, decisive, Right Arabist direction for US policy in Iraq.

I sincerely doubt that we have heard the last of factionalism regarding the future of Iraq.

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns…

If Wurmser is on his way out, can it be taken as a sign that Cheney has now abandoned his erstwhile Right Zionist allies and returned to the (very hawkish corner of) Right Arabist fold?

Does it mark the end of administration factionalism?

Maybe.

But I was probably way off the mark when I said that “we have heard the last” of such factionalism.

Why?  Because Meyrav Wurmser has explicitly warned that once “the family” was out of the administration, they would not hesitate to speak out against the administration that–from their perspective–betrayed them.

We expressed ideas, but the policy in Iraq was taken out of neocon hands very quickly….

The State Department opposed the neocons’ stances… There was a lot of frustration over the years in the administration because we didn’t feel we were succeeding.

Now Bolton left (the UN – Y.B.) and there are others who are about to leave. This administration is in its twilight days. Everyone is now looking for work, looking to make money… We all feel beaten after the past five years… We miss the peace and quiet and writing books…

When you enter the administration you have to keep your mouth shut. Now many will resume their writing… Now, from the outside, they will be able to convey all the criticism they kept inside.

Maybe they’ll give Wurmser a medal of freedom–the primary currency of hush money for this administration, unless you are facing jail time–on his way out the door.

One note on the substance of US policy going forward:

In the same comment to this blog that alerted me to the Dreyfuss post, Bernhard (“b”) predicts a new direction for US policy in the Gulf.

[A] strategic decision against the Sunni’s and Saudi Arabia and pro-Iran…

This would be a surprising development, indeed.

Right Zionists like Wurmser, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, are the leading advocates for a pro-Shiite tilt combined with unrelenting war against both Arab nationalism and Sunni Arab religious radicalism.

Wouldn’t it be strange if the Bush administration finally made a truly decisive move in this direction at the very moment that the key architects of such a strategic shift departed the scene?

Cheney might seek warmer relations with the Iranian regime, but when he last advocated such an orientation, he did so as a “pragmatic” oil industry executive–and a Russia hawk determined to win Iran away from Russian influence in the Caspian.  Neither of these positions would demand a “decision against the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia…”

Right Arabists are nothing if not loyal to the US-Saudi alliance.  Some seek to contain Iranian power within a more or less formal regional security framework.  Others can only be described as extremely hawkish on Iran.

Who is left within the administration who would or could overcome the significant influence of the traditional Right Arabist establishment and revolutionize the strategic orientation of US policy in the Gulf?

The Right Zionists were those revolutionaries.  If Dreyfuss is correct about Wurmser’s departure, it would appear that the eclipse of the Right Zionists (in this administration, at least, if not in Congress or a future administration) is near complete.

Perhaps Elliott Abrams will try to use the administration’s upcoming Middle East conference to marginalize the Saudis.

Robert Satloff at the pro-Israel Washington Institute recently suggested as much.

In a fascinating passage outlining the terms of reference for the international meeting that the president said he will convene in autumn 2007, the president said he would invite “representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.” While one assumes Bush would not call an international meeting merely to replicate the sort of modest neighborhood gatherings Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak periodically hosts in Sharm al-Sheikh, the only Arab countries that meet those terms today are Egypt and Jordan.

Was Bush sending a message to Saudi Arabia that its moment in the regional diplomatic sun, which reached its zenith with the abortive Mecca accords, had reached an end and that Washington would now only consider Saudi contribution positive if Riyadh meets these benchmarks? So far, White House spokesmen say no, there is no special message directed at Saudi Arabia in this passage. But reporters will be wise to revisit this language when invitations to the “international meeting” are delivered later this year.

So noted.

But there are plenty of other signs that even with regard to Israeli-Palestinian issues, the President may be drifting toward David Welch, the key Right Arabist with whom Abrams shares the Middle East portfolio.

Israel and the United States are also signaling willingness to discuss an issue Palestinians believe has long been neglected: settlement expansion.

“Unauthorized outposts should be removed and settlement expansion ended,” Bush said in his speech, his strongest call in years to contain settlements.

“This was a deliberate choice of words,” David Welch, the top State Department official dealing with the Middle East, said afterward.

With Wurmser out, any major anti-Saudi effort undertaken by Abrams at this late date will be a very lonely battle.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Bush’s Retreat

Posted by Cutler on July 25, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The White House has been shining a particularly bright spotlight on al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The theme took center stage yesterday in President Bush’s speech at the Charleston Air Force Base.

Some say that Iraq is not part of the broader war on terror. They complain when I say that the al Qaeda terrorists we face in Iraq are part of the same enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001. They claim that the organization called al Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon, that it’s independent of Osama bin Laden and that it’s not interested in attacking America….

Foreign terrorists also account for most of the suicide bombings in Iraq. Our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaida terrorists….

True.  And 100% of all smokers die.

But only a small fraction of US casualties in Iraq are caused by al-Qaeda suicide attacks.

Democrats in the Senate appeared eager to respond to the President’s sweet little lie.

Here is John Kerry on Bush’s speech:

[A]l-Qaeda is not the principal killer of American forces in Iraq. Those forces are dying because of IEDS, because of insurgents….

But Kerry never came close to criticizing Bush for retreating from the initial US war against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Neither did Kerry commend Bush for that dramatic retreat.

Instead, Kerry pretends nothing about Bush administration policy in Iraq has changed.

So I think that for all of us, today was a continuation of more of the same.

Kerry offered a misleading critique that alleged Bush was “staying the course” when the reality is that Bush has flip-flopped quite dramatically.

Kerry suggests that all the al-Qaeda chatter is intended to buttress the case for staying the course.

The President is trying to scare the American people into believing that al-Qaeda is the rationale for continuing the war in Iraq.

It seems far more likely, as I suggested in a recent post, that the al-Qaeda chatter functioned as a face-saving measure to mask his extraordinary retreat.

Behind all the talk of al-Qaeda is hidden an apology: we are waving the white flag in our battle against the nationalist Sunni insurgency.  We were wrong to target them as an enemy.  We are sorry.  The Baathists are our allies, just Dad said at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

This is a complete reversal.  No more “stay the course.”

In order to save face, however, Bush will not declare defeat at the hands of the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Instead, the new emphasis on al-Qaeda in Iraq serves as the basis for a bait and switch: we have a new (smaller) enemy in Iraq.  Not the former regime of Saddam Hussein but al-Qaeda.  And, thankfully, the Sunni Arab “former regime elements” are prepared to be our allies in the fight against Osama’s Iraqi friends.

It is Bush’s casual, everyman, down-home way of saying that all those US soldiers who died fighting against the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency died in vane.  Oops.  Sorry.

But, that said, we must now finish this war with a fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Kerry has no substantive critique because Bush appears to have already–implicitly–conceded failure in the battle against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Both Kerry and Bush appear now to be focused on a narrowed, common rationale:  chase al-Qaeda.

The President is putting forward a false rationale to the American people for the continuation of this war. The fact remains, unchanged, that the only way the Iraqis are going to stand up is if we make clear to them that we are going to be withdrawing our troops over a period of time — with the exception of those necessary to chase al-Qaeda, those necessary to complete the training, and those necessary to protect American forces. That is the real rationale for which we ought to be staying, not because of al-Qaeda.

And yet… all of this assumes that Bush has decided to embrace the old Right Arabist vision of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.

I have argued that there is no Decider.  So I’m skeptical that the famously factionalized Bush administration is now pulling in the same direction.

Here are some reasons for skepticism regarding the idea that the White House has now embraced a new, “decisive” policy in Iraq.

First, Bush has thus far resisted considerable pressure to dump the Shiite-led Maliki government.

Indeed, a July 25, 2007 New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg and Alissa J. Rubin highlights the intensity of Bush’s investment in the Maliki government.

Second, the US continues to flirt with some kind of pro-Shiite tilt that would include a strategic alliance with Iran.  Juan Cole picks up on a line from the Daily Telegraph coverage of Ryan Crocker’s meeting with the Iranians and correctly notes that this would run enrage the Saudis, if not the entire Arab League.  Here is Cole:

[I]n my view the money graf in this Telegraph report is this one:

“The two countries did agree to form a security committee, with Iraq, to focus on containing Sunni insurgents. The committee would concentrate on the threat from groups such as al-Qa’eda in Iraq, officials said, but not those[Shiite] militia groups the US accuses Iran of funding and training.”

If the US is allying with Iran against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda, this is a very major development… (My guess is that 98% of American troops killed in Iraq have been killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas). If the report is true and has legs, it will send Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal ballistic. The Sunni Arab states do not like “al-Qaeda” in Iraq, but they are much more afraid of Iran than of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are fighting against US military occupation.

Third, one might expect more howls of protest from the “last of the Right Zionists” if the administration was really, truly, and decisively betraying the idea of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

Of course, there have been some howls of protest about the so-called “Anbar Model” from Iraqi Shiites close to the Maliki government.

As yet, I have not seen a critique of Bush’s “betrayal” from Maliki’s most ardent defenders in the US, including Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Nor, to my knowledge, has Cheney–who retains the services of his pivotal Right Zionist “strategist,” David Wurmser–been publicly touting the “Anbar Model.”  Maybe I missed it.

But there have been recent reports of ongoing factionalism in the administration–primarily in relation to Iran policy–and I sincerely doubt that we have heard the last of factionalism regarding the future of Iraq.

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns or is fired and/or when Ajami and Gerecht cry foul or concede defeat.

Until then, I expect more muddle.

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on July 20, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 4 Comments

I don’t write much about Neocons or neo-conservatism.

The term covers too much ground and risks becoming just another world for everything bad.

I have always preferred to discuss Right Zionists–the folks who championed the most fateful decisions undertaken after the US invasion of Iraq: disbanding the Iraqi army, de-Baathification, and the “year of elections” in 2005.

These are the audacious policies that sought to terminate Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq and herald a new balance of power in the Persian Gulf.

But the old “Neocon” banner also included folks I call Unipolarists–figures like William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Frederick Kagan, Niall Ferguson, and Max Boot, whose defining feature has never been a particular brand of Zionism (although none could be considered hostile to Israel!) but a generic brand of American Imperialism that seeks, above all, to project US power around the world and to thwart the power of Great Power rivals.

One short-hand way of understanding the difference: most Right Zionists backed Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries while most Unipolarists backed John McCain.

The adoption of the current “surge” strategy marks a victory for the “McCain Doctrine” within the Bush administration.

A “Neocon” Split

The distinction between the Unipolarists and the Right Zionists is becoming increasingly important as the two camps have split on internal Iraqi politics.

It must be getting a little tense over at the American Enterprise Institute, home to leading voices (for example, Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht and Unipolarist Frederick Kagan) from both warring camps.

Right Zionists: Stick with Maliki

The Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht and Fouad Ajami continue to support the original idea of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

As I suggested in several earlier posts (here, here, and here), Right Zionists tend to be quite pleased with the Maliki government, favor aggressive counter-insurgency against the ex-Baathist and nationalist Sunni insurgency, and give Moqtada al-Sadr some credit for playing a positive–if “dirty”–role on the ground in Iraq.

In short, Right Zionists support a “Shiite Option” or so-called “80 Percent Solution” in Iraq.

Unipolarists: Dump Maliki

Unipolarists may have given lip service to those ideas.

No longer.

In terms of the internal politics of Iraq, Unipolarists have now firmly aligned themselves with Right Arabists who favor the restoration of Sunni Arab power in Iraq.

Charles Krauthammer is explicit about this in his most recent Washington Post column, “The 20 Percent Solution.”

Ever since the December 2005 Iraqi elections, the United States has been waiting for the central government in Baghdad to pass grand national accords on oil, federalism and de-Baathification to unify and pacify the country. The Maliki government has proved too sectarian, too weak and perhaps too disposed to Iranian interests to rise to the task…

For an interminable 18 months we waited for the 80 percent solution…

The Petraeus-Crocker plan is the 20 percent solution: peel the Sunnis away from the insurgency by giving them the security and weaponry to fight the new common enemy — al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Maliki & Co. are afraid we are arming Sunnis for the civil war to come. On the other hand, we might be creating a rough balance of forces that would act as a deterrent to all-out civil war and encourage a relatively peaceful accommodation.

In either case, that will be Iraq’s problem after we leave. For now, our problem is al-Qaeda on the Sunni side and the extremist militias on the Shiite side.

Sweet Little Lies

Krauthammer’s embrace of the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency should, in may ways, be cause for celebration among those who have long criticized the Bush administration for forging a US-Shiite alliance.

But Krauthammer’s essay requires two little lies.

Cleansing” the 80 Percent Solution

First, it requires a small modification of the real basis of the original 80 percent solution.  Krauthammer writes:

For an interminable 18 months we waited for the 80 percent solution — for Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-Kurdish coalition to reach out to the Sunnis.

The Right Zionists who still support the 80 percent solution have been far more realistic about the fact that the 80 percent solution implied picking a winner in the Iraqi civil war.

Here is Gerecht on the 80 percent solution:

The Sunni insurgency will likely cease when the Sunnis, who have been addicted to power and the perception of the Shiites as a God-ordained underclass, know in their hearts that they cannot win against the Shiites, that continued fighting will only make their situation worse. Thanks in part to the ferocity of vengeful Shiite militias, we are getting there.

Here is Ajami:

In retrospect, the defining moment for Mr. Maliki had been those early hours of Dec. 30, when Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows…

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad…

Whole mixed districts in the city–Rasafa, Karkh–have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts…

No one knows with any precision the sectarian composition of today’s Baghdad, but there are estimates that the Sunnis may now account for 15% of the city’s population. Behind closed doors, Sunni leaders speak of the great calamity that befell their community. They admit to a great disappointment in the Arab states that fed the flames but could never alter the contest on the ground in Iraq. No Arab cavalry had ridden, or was ever going to ride, to the rescue of the Sunnis of Iraq…

Now the ground has shifted, and among the Sunnis there is a widespread sentiment of disinheritance and loss.

The Mahdi Army, more precisely the underclass of Sadr City, had won the fight for Baghdad.

Some folks might be tempted to call all this ethnic cleansing.

Mind you, both Gerecht and Ajami approve of the outcome.

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

Krauthammer’s second little lie is one that is also at the center of Bush’s latest talking points: our top enemy in Iraq is al-Qaeda.

Many Bush administration critics were probably yelling at their television sets during President Bush’s recent press conference when he once again made the “9/11-Iraq connection” and made it seem like al-Qaeda was our one true enemy in Iraq.

The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to security here at home.

I know, it is crazy.

But critics of the Right Zionist “Shiite Option” in Iraq should understand that this is Bush’s way of conceding your point: we were wrong (or even crazy) to target the Sunni Baathist political and military establishment in Iraq.

Not to worry!

Behind all the talk of al-Qaeda is hidden an apology: we are waving the white flag in our battle against the nationalist Sunni insurgency.  We were wrong to target them as an enemy.  We are sorry.  The Baathists are our allies, just Dad said at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

This is a complete reversal.  No more “stay the course.”

In order to save face, however, Bush will not declare defeat at the hands of the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Instead, the new emphasis on al-Qaeda in Iraq serves as the basis for a bait and switch: we have a new (smaller) enemy in Iraq.  Not the former regime of Saddam Hussein but al-Qaeda.  And, thankfully, the Sunni Arab “former regime elements” are prepared to be our allies in the fight against Osama’s Iraqi friends.

It is Bush’s casual, everyman, down-home way of saying that all those US soldiers who died fighting against the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency died in vane.  Oops.  Sorry.

But, that said, we must now finish this war with a fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Oh… and maybe those crazy, uppity Shiites…  We might have to fight them, too.

And their friends in Iran.

Thankfully, there is a link between Iran and al-Qaeda.  So, it should be a seamless operation.

Crude Politics in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on July 18, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Right Arabist Republican Senators like Richard Lugar have their own reasons for opposing the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq.

But inside the Bush administration, frustration centers on one crude benchmark: the inability of the Maliki government to win parliamentary passage of the hydrocarbons framework law.

Here is Bush on Maliki at the president’s recent press conference:

QUESTION: Mr. President, in Jordan in November you stood by Prime Minister Maliki and said, “He’s the right guy for Iraq”… [C] an you tell the American people that you still believe he’s the right guy for Iraq?

BUSH: I believe that he understands that… they need to get law passed, I firmly believe that… And, yes, I’ve got confidence in them. But I also understand how difficult it is. I’m not making any excuses, but it is hard. It’s hard work for them to get law passed.

Kind of funny language–“get law passed.”  Why not “get laws passed”?  Maybe only one law matters.  Bush could say “get the hydrocarbons framework law passed,” but I guess that would be too obvious.

After all, this isn’t a war for oil…

Anyway, it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at what, precisely, is holding up the hydrocarbons framework law.

The key to the dispute involves Kurdish demands for control over new oil field development contracts.  Kurdish demands for regional autonomy face opposition from an array of nationalist forces–Shiite and Sunni Arab–who favor centralized control of new field development.

In late December 2006, the Kurdish Globe reported on a deal that would allow a mix of regional autonomy and central control:

Oil has been a major issue dividing Kurdish and Iraqi authorities in post-war Iraq. KRG says it is constitutionally allowed to drill for oil in areas under its control, but Iraqi oil officials have threatened that KRG’s oil deals will not be “valid.”

“Most of the oil wells are in southern Iraq, and the oil law allows KRG to talk with companies and make deals for oil production,” [Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan] Barzani said…

According to preliminary agreements between the KRG and federal authorities, a representative from the Baghdad government will attend talks between the KRG and oil firms. Once the KRG reaches a deal with a company to drill for oil in Kurdistan, the contract will be sent to Baghdad for assessment and approval by an Iraqi government committee. The contract will then be returned to the KRG and it will have 60 days to sign it

“There needs to be some criteria according to which the (oil) contracts are investigated so as to know if there is any corruption in the deals or to what extent the company will implement its obligations,” Barzani said.

On the basis of this agreement, the Iraqi Cabinet backed the hydrocarbons framework law in February 2007.

Kurds grumbled about the terms, but agreed to the plan and the prospects of parliamentary passage looked promising.

In late June 2007, however, the “Shura” Consultative Council intervened, proposing some changes to the bill that would have centralized control over new field development.

Dow Jones reported:

The highest Iraqi government jurisdiction body has rejected some clauses of the controversial draft oil and gas law and urged the Cabinet to amend these provisions, according to a recent letter sent by the body, the State Shuraa Council, to the Cabinet and seen by Dow Jones Newswires Thursday.

“The Council sees that the powers of signing oil and gas contracts (with international companies) should be confined to the federal government because regions and governorates haven’t enough experience to do so,” the letter said…

The council, which consists of top Iraqi judges… also said that the rate of government royalty set by the draft law which is 12.5% regardless of the quantity, quality and type of the produced hydrocarbon is less than the normal rate set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries which is 16%….

The law is stuck in negotiations, mostly over a vaguely worded constitution that each side interprets differently. Kurds, in the north, want strong regional say in how the oil is developed. Sunnis and most Shiites want strong central control over the oil.

Maliki’s energy adviser, Thamir Ghadban, then offered the Shura-amended draft to the Kurds for consideration.

The Kurds promptly rejected the changes.

“Some of the proposed amendments made to the draft oil and gas law by the State Shura (Advisory) Council are substantial and we think they reduce powers assigned to the Kurdistan Regional Government by the Iraqi (federal) constitution,” the oil minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government, Ashti Hawrami, told Iraqi lawmakers and officials meeting in the northern city of Erbil…

Others were even more strident:

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, said in remarks published Monday that a draft oil and gas law agreed on with the central government in Baghdad had been amended by an advisory committee, the Shura Council.

“We are concerned that the agreed drafts have been bogged down in an obscure committee in Baghdad – called the Shura (Advisory) Council – which has made unauthorized material changes to the agreed drafts, apparently in consultation with unnamed oil ministry officials in Baghdad,” Barzani said.

“This is not acceptable. It is a delaying tactic that must be swept aside. The agreed drafts must be reinstated and put to the Parliament,” Barzani added.

Can the Kurds block parliamentary passage of the bill?

Perhaps.

But it might also be worth keeping an eye on the parliamentary forces of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Thus far, Sadrists have rejected the bill, ostensibly because it would open the door to controversial “production sharing agreements.”

“The most serious problem with the law is the production-sharing agreements, which we categorically reject,” Nassar al-Rubaie, the spokesman for Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, said….

Speaking for the 32-member bloc that is currently boycotting parliament, Rubaie insisted the movement would only approve the law with an amendment to ban oil contracts with “companies whose governments are occupying Iraq”.

This kind of talk will surely be taken as a sign that the Sadrists are willing to resist an oil grab by US and British oil majors.

But the Sadrists are also fierce opponents of Kurdish regional autonomy.

An article by Samuel Ciszuk from Global Insight Daily Analysis (“Sadrists Join Chorus Against Iraqi Oil Law,” July 6, 2007) suggests that Maliki will have to flip either the Sadrists or the Kurds in order to win passage of the bill.

The government will need to get one of those two groups back on its side to pass the law and, given their diametrically differing interests—the Kurds want private investments and a curtailed Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), while the Sadrists want a strong nationalised oil industry—one of them may be in a position to extricate far-reaching concessions.

Place your bets.

But before you lay your money down, know that the Sadrist political bloc has now ended its parliamentary boycott.

Perhaps they will learn to love the Shura-amended draft of the hydrocarbons law, if only because it curbs Kurdish power in Kirkuk.

There Is No Decider

Posted by Cutler on July 16, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

The great problem with the Bush administration in Iraq is not that the “decider” is motivated by a singular, narrow, myopic ideology.

No, the real crisis is that there is no decider at all; nobody to resolve the internal factional fighting that plague the administration and its entire military misadventure in Iraq.

If there is one central reason why the war in Iraq has lasted longer than World War II, it is because the United States has moved on two distinct and mutually contradictory tracks for four years.

I do not mean to downplay the difficulty of fighting a guerilla war against the determined resistance of a popular insurgency.  After all, the war in Vietnam lasted more than eight years.

But one of the two mutually contradictory tracks of US policy in Iraq has been to not fight a guerilla war against the Sunni Arab insurgency.

Right Arabists in Washington never wanted to topple the ruling Sunni Arab minority and they have been fighting to restore Sunni Arab political and military dominance since Paul Bremer’s 2003 de-Baathification orders.

Today, the Right Arabist track of US policy moves rapidly toward military reconciliation with the Sunni Arab insurgency.

In his most recent press conference, President Bush welcomed progress made along this track as an affirmation of “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

Right Arabists always favored this line of policy–toppling Saddam but without undermining Sunni Arab political and military dominance–and can plausibly argue that there never would have been a Sunni Arab insurgency if George W. Bush had remained true to the Right Arabist aspirations of his father’s administration: Saddamism without Saddam.

New York Times reporter Richard A. Oppel, Jr. offers a profile of the military reconciliation between US forces and the Sunni Arab insurgency–“Mistrust as Iraqi Troops Encounter New U.S. Allies“–and suggests that some American soldiers think of this reconciliation as a ticket home.

First Lt. Tom Cherepko said: “We fully understand that maybe a few months ago they were attacking us. We don’t trust them, but we’ll work with them. That’s my way of not having to come back for a third rotation, getting them to stand up for themselves.”

And yet, George W. Bush has always also pursued another very different–indeed, contradictory–track that emphasizes the “young democracy” of Shiite majority rule in Iraq.

It is this track that originally sparked the Sunni Arab insurgency and–as one Sunni militant explained to the Washington Post–continues to inflame the insurgency.

Over the course of a 90-minute interview, a leader of an armed Sunni group in western Baghdad described his hatred for Iran and the current Iraqi government…

Abu Sarhan, as the 37-year-old insurgent wished to be known, said Iraq’s Sunnis are deep into an entrenched and irresolvable civil war against Iranian-backed Shiites. He said the premise of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy — deploying thousands of soldiers in small outposts in violent neighborhoods — only inflames the insurgency and prompts attacks against the Americans…

Abu Sarhan said that the leading Shiite parties in the government, including the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, along with the Supreme Council and prominent Shiite militias, are beholden to Iran. The Iranians appeared to be of such grave concern to him not just because of the bloody history of war between the two countries, but also because of Iran’s perceived intolerance toward Sunnis in general. He said his long-term political goal was to recapture the prominence that Sunnis had enjoyed under Hussein’s government.

“The problem is that the Americans have a relationship with the slaves: Dawa, Badr Organization, the Mahdi Army are slaves to Iran,” he said.

The Financial Times suggests that today there is almost as much anti-Maliki sentiment within the US political establishment as there is among Sunni Arab insurgents like Abu Sarhan.

“I don’t think there’s any debate in the Senate about disappointment with the Iraqi government. It’s pretty uniform,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, told CNN.

Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht, however, argue that victory in Iraq requires strengthening the US alliance with Iraqi Shiites and suggests that nothing has slowed progress in Iraq so much as the US reluctance to finish what it started.

Critics of the surge often underscore the absence of a clearly defined post-surge political strategy. Echoing Rumsfeld and Abizaid, these critics believe that only a “political solution”–that is, Shiite and Kurdish concessions to the once-dominant Sunni minority–can solve Iraq’s trauma. The Bush administration has largely been in agreement with this view, following a strategy since 2004 of trying to placate the Sunnis.

It hasn’t worked. In all probability, it could not. Certainly an approach that centers on de-de-Baathification is destined to fail since the vast majority of Iraq’s Shiites, and probably Kurds, too, oppose any deal that would allow the Sunni Baathist elite back into government. And de-de-Baathification is not about letting Sunni Arab teachers, engineers, and nurses back into the government job market. It’s about the Baathist Sunni elite getting the power and prestige of senior positions, especially in the military and security services. If we really want Iraq to succeed in the long term, we will stop pushing this idea. Onetime totalitarian societies that more thoroughly purge despotic party members have done much better than those that allow the old guard to stay on (think Russia). Grand Ayatollah Sistani is right about this; the State Department and the CIA are wrong.

The Sunni insurgency will likely cease when the Sunnis, who have been addicted to power and the perception of the Shiites as a God-ordained underclass, know in their hearts that they cannot win against the Shiites, that continued fighting will only make their situation worse. Thanks in part to the ferocity of vengeful Shiite militias, we are getting there.

To date, the Bush administration continues to support the Shiite-led government in Iraq, even as it also pursues military reconciliation with the enemies of that government.

Republican Senators–led by Richard Lugar–have pressed Bush to dump the Maliki government.  The White House appears to have rejected this idea–at least for now.

But suppose the “Decider” did actually settle on full reconciliation with the Sunni insurgency.  Wouldn’t soldiers like First Lt. Tom Cherepko avoid a third rotation?

Only if Iraqi Shiites relinquish power without a fight.

US military reconciliation with the Sunni insurgency could easily lead to confrontation with Iraqi Shiite power.

Richard Oppel’s New York Times article hints at the ways in which the contradictions of US policy might create new problems in Iraq.

Abu Azzam says the 2,300 men in his movement include members of fierce Sunni groups like the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army that have fought the American occupation. Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja.

A few miles away, in the town of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers also have the support of the American military. But they have a different ambition, some American commanders here say: doing everything they can to undermine Abu Azzam’s men…

If General Nassir’s unit, the Muthanna Brigade, is any indication, the outlook is not promising, said Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, a 41-year-old California native who has spent the past months cultivating his relationship with Abu Azzam…

About a month ago, the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area…

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said.

Not yet.

But there are clearly elements of the US military and the Sunni Arab insurgency who favor the US-Sunni alliance and fear the Shia of Iraq and Iran.  Oppel reports:

Colonel Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,” he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of [Shiite] Iraqi soldiers.”

Pinkerton’s Sunni Arab ally agrees:

The Americans will someday leave, [Abu Azzam] said, and the far bigger threat is a permanent Iranian occupation. He fears the Muthanna Brigade is a harbinger of that, because he says it is infiltrated by Iranian-sympathizing militiamen who abuse Sunnis.

Will the Decider ever embrace a decisive policy in Iraq?

Maybe the Bush administration will join with the Sunni insurgency and launch a direct confrontation with the Shia of Iraq (against the advice of Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht.)

Or maybe the Bush administration will break with the “Anbar Model,” adopt the “Shiite Option,” and launch a direct confrontation with the Sunni insurgency.

Or maybe President Bush doesn’t understand what it means to decide.

In the meanwhile, soldiers like First Lt. Tom Cherepko of Elizabeth Township Pennsylvania stand in the crosshairs of the Bush administration’s contradictory policies.

The Limits of Grassroots Reconciliation In Iraq

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Notwithstanding some rumbling among Republican critics of Bush administration policy about the failure of the surge, plenty of folks on the Right now share Bush’s enthusiasm for the surge-linked “Anbar Model.”

In his July 12, 2007 White House press conference, Bush referred to this as “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

In a recent post, I suggested that politically, the Anbar Model was accomplishing much that “top-down” political reconciliation had failed to achieve.

Charles Krauthammer makes a similar point in his most recent Washington Post column.

A year ago, it appeared that the only way to win back the Sunnis and neutralize the extremists was with great national compacts about oil and power sharing. But Anbar has unexpectedly shown that even without these constitutional settlements, the insurgency can be neutralized and al-Qaeda defeated at the local and provincial levels…

In some ways, the so-called “grassroots” reconciliation is a substitute for “top down” reconciliation.

Note well, the reconciliation is between US forces and the Sunnis, not between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis.  Indeed, the Shiite-led Iraqi government has expressed grave concern about the drift Bush’s “bottom up” reconciliation.

Between Krauthammer, the White House and Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate there is no real disagreement on the issue of “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

The disagreement centers on the Maliki government and its commitment to “top-down” reconciliation.  Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate want Bush to dump Maliki because he and his governing coalition continue to resist efforts to hand power to the Sunni Arab minority.

The Washington Post quotes Haider al-Ebaidi, a Shiite politician from Maliki’s Dawa party:

Ebaidi said many Shiites view reconciling with former Baathists as “rewarding those people who have been responsible for torturing and killing”…

“The moment they push these things through,” he said, “they will divide the government more.”

It is far from certain that Bush will, in fact, abandon Maliki.

But it is also unclear whether Senate Republicans think there is a viable parliamentary alternative to Maliki.

We may find out this weekend.

Earlier in July, CBS News reported that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (sometimes transliterated as Tariq al-Hashemi) was assembling the votes for a parliamentary no-confidence vote to topple the Maliki government.

CBS News has learned that on July 15, [senior Iraqi leaders] plan to ask for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki…

The no-confidence vote will be requested by the largest block of Sunni politicians, who are part of a broad political alliance called the Iraq Project. What they want is a new government run by ministers who are appointed for their expertise, not their party loyalty.

[The CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote had the support of Vice President Cheney, an claim recently echoed in the Economist.  Even the most ardent US supporters of such a no-confidence vote remain skeptical that Cheney would support the move.]

Juan Cole does some nose counting and seems to doubt Hashimi will be able to get the votes:

There are three Sunni Arab parties in the 275-member parliament. The largest, with 44 seats, is the Iraqi Accord Front. The National Dialogue Front of Salih al-Mutlak has 11 seats. The small Liberation and Reconciliation Party has 3 seats (its founder, Mishaan al-Jibouri has had to flee the country because a warrant was issued for his arrest last fall). According to the Iraqi constitution, any 50 members of parliament can call a vote of no confidence, so the Sunni Arab parties can certainly initiate the process.

They would need 138 seats to unseat al-Maliki, however, and it is not clear that they would have them. The 58 Kurdish deputies will vote for al-Maliki, and he would only need 80 Shiite votes to win the vote. Even with the defection from his alliance of 32 Sadrist MPs and 15 from the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), al-Maliki probably still has 80 Shiite MPs behind him (before the defections he had about 130 in his United Iraqi Alliance, so the defections should have left him with 88). It is also not clear that the Sadrist and Islamic Virtue MPs will actually vote with Sunni fundamentalist parties to unseat a Shiite prime minister.

Maliki retains the confidence of his key ally, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.

But the CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote was merely “the first step” to bringing down the government.

Other steps would presumably require “extra-parliamentary” action.

In other words, Hashimi and his political allies might abandon the “political process” altogether and launch the long-awaited anti-Shiite coup that would finally silence Maliki’s Right Arabist critics (even as it might unleash the fury of Iraqi Shiites).

At present, there is nothing in the news that would suggest the White House has given up on the Maliki government or the Iraqi parliamentary process.

Until he does, however, there will be no political reconciliation between Bush and his Right Arabist critics.

Is That a Lugar in Your Pocket?

Posted by Cutler on July 12, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

Are Republicans in the US Senate going to force the Bush administration to “change course” in Iraq?

Maybe.

But as I suggested in a recent post, the change of course is going to be primarily political, not military.  It will not mean US withdrawal from Iraq.

If Senator Richard Lugar and Company have any influence at all, it will be to press the Bush administration to dump the present Shiite-led government of the “young democracy” of Iraq in exchange for a coup under the auspices of an ex-Baathist, Sunni Arab “national salvation” government–aka “Saddamism without Saddam.”

The “failures” of the Maliki government, rather than the failures of the military “surge,” are the primary targets of Lugar’s attacks.

It is not difficult to image that it was the future of the Iraqi government not the future of the surge that topped the agenda when Lugar met for negotiations with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Did Lugar get some commitments from Hadley that the White House would dump Maliki?

Unclear.

But it is worth noting that Lugar refused to support Senate defense appropriation amendments that press for US withdrawal.

At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reports that Senator Lugar will join Senator John Warner in offering an amendment of their own to the defense spending bill.

If Lugar’s big speech of June 25 is any guide, a Lugar-Warner amendment will be heavy on rhetoric about the urgency of a “change of course” in Iraq, very light on troop withdrawal and very strident in its demand for a political change in Iraq.

If Lugar gets his way, Bush is going to have to abandon his talk about supporting the “young democracy” of Iraq.

Remembering Cheney

Posted by Cutler on July 10, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Cheney’s critics are busy sculpting the contours of a narrative that will, they hope, guide popular perceptions of the vice president’s legacy.

According to the prevailing wisdom, the issue at the center of the storm appears to be Executive Power, specifically Cheney’s attempt to buttress the power of the executive branch relative to the legislature and the judiciary.

The production of this narrative about forms of power may be accurate and important, but it may also function to obscure some significant substantive issues at the heart of the Cheney administration–not least, US foreign policy in the Middle East.

On July 9, 2007, the New York Times published an Op-Ed penned by Sean Wilentz–“Mr. Cheney’s Minority Report“–that reminded readers that Cheney was already focused on the defense of “executive prerogatives” during the Iran-Contra investigations of the Reagan era.

Mr. Cheney the congressman believed that Congress had usurped executive prerogatives. He saw the Iran-contra investigation not as an effort to get to the bottom of possible abuses of power but as a power play by Congressional Democrats to seize duties and responsibilities that constitutionally belonged to the president.

At the conclusion of the hearings, a dissenting minority report codified these views. The report’s chief author was a former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael J. Malbin, who was chosen by Mr. Cheney as a member of the committee’s minority staff. Another member of the minority’s legal staff, David S. Addington, is now the vice president’s chief of staff…

The Reagan administration, according to the report, had erred by failing to offer a stronger, principled defense of what Mr. Cheney and others considered its full constitutional powers…

The report made a point of invoking the framers. It cited snippets from the Federalist Papers — like Alexander Hamilton’s remarks endorsing “energy in the executive” — in order to argue that the president’s long-acknowledged prerogatives had only recently been usurped by a reckless Democratic Congress.

Above all, the report made the case for presidential primacy over foreign relations. It cited as precedent the Supreme Court’s 1936 ruling in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation, which referred to the “exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations.”

Wilentz is, of course, correct to suggest that the Cheney’s “minority report” concerned itself with issues of constitutional authority.  And Cheney is undoubtedly committed to enhancing the power of the presidency.

But Cheney’s legacy cannot be reduced to his views on presidential authority.

There is also the substance of US foreign policy.

It’s about the war, stupid!

The war in Iraq.  De-Baathification and the advent of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.  The potential military intervention in Iran.  The extraordinary attempt to remake the balance of power in the Gulf and the larger Middle East.

And the escalation of Great Power rivalry between the US and Russia.

Cheney’s legacy is not (only) about the accumulation of formal power; it is about the exercise of power in extraordinary geopolitical strategic ventures.

Wilensky doesn’t mention it, but the minority report on Iran-Contra, for example, also weighed in on the substance of foreign policy, including US relations with Israel and Iran.

The potential geopolitical importance of Iran for the United States would be obvious to anyone who looks at a map. Despite Iran’s importance, the United States was taken by surprise when the Shah fell in 1979, because it had not developed an adequate human intelligence capability there. Our hearings have established that essentially nothing had been done to cure this failure by the mid-1980’s. Then, the United States was approached by Israel in 1985 with a proposal that the United States acquiesce in some minor Israeli arms sales to Iran. This proposal came at a time when the United States was already considering the advisability of such sales. For long term, strategic reasons, the United States had to improve relationships with at least some of the currently important factions in Iran….

The Iran initiative involved two governments that had sharp differences between them. There were also very sharp internal divisions in both Iran and the United States about how to begin narrowing the differences between the two countries. In such a situation, the margin between narrow failure and success can seem much wider after the fact than it does during the discussions. While the initial contacts developed by Israel and used by the United States do not appear likely to have led to a long-term relationship, we cannot rule out the possibility that negotiations with the Second Channel might have turned out differently. At this stage, we never will know what might have been.

This report appears to suggest that Cheney was once interesting in improving relationships with factions of the incumbent Iranian regime–a position that he continued to defend during the 1990s.

Cheney certainly appears to have changed his mind about US relations with Iran, as he did about US relations with Iraq and, perhaps, Saudi Arabia.

Did Cheney do everything in his power to enhance presidential authority, to say nothing of his own personal power?  Absolutely.

But Cheney also took the US into a war with Iraq that folks like Al Gore now call “an utter disaster, this was the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States.”

You wouldn’t even know that the US ever went to war with Iraq to judge from the recent Washington Post four-part series, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”

The Post series makes almost no mention of Iraq!

Part 1” of the series–a backgrounder on Cheney–says only this about Iraq:

A shooting accident in Texas, and increasing gaps between his rhetoric and events in Iraq, have exposed him to ridicule and approval ratings in the teens.

The other 3 parts say less about Iraq.

Like Part 2 of the series–“Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power“–takes up the same constitutional themes about the formal rights of executive privilege emphasized by Wilentz in his New York Times Op-Ed.

Part 1 of the Post series promises to a substantive look at particular policies, but the examples are drawn from domestic affairs:

Cheney has served as gatekeeper for Supreme Court nominees, referee of Cabinet turf disputes, arbiter of budget appeals, editor of tax proposals and regulator in chief of water flows in his native West.

Indeed, these are the issues that dominate the discussion of policy in Part 3 and Part 4.

The Post offers supplements that include a profile of “key players” identified as a “Cast of Characters.”

Lots of Cheney aides are profiled–including his top legal adviser David S. Addington and former domestic policy adviser Cesar Conda.

No mention is made of any of Cheney’s top foreign policy advisers.  On foreign policy, the Post never gets beyond Brian V. McCormack, a young man who once served as Cheney’s “personal aide” and progressed to assignments in the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq and then on the White House staff.

There is no mention of the current Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, John P. Hannah.  [Profile here; In a report from the early 1990s when Hannah served as Deputy Director of Research under Martin Indyk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hannah was identified as “specializing in Soviet Policy in the Middle East.” (“Restoring the Balance: U.S. Strategy and the Gulf Crisis: An Initial Report of The Washington Institute’s Strategic Study Group,” 1991, p.44)]

And, more to the point, there is no mention of David Wurmser, Cheney’s top Middle East adviser.

Have you not met the Wurmsers?

You really should.

David Wurmser (formerly of the American Enterprise Institute) is married to Meyrav Wurmser (of the Hudson Institute).  Both wrote Ph.D. Dissertations during the 1990s.

Here is a small taste that give a sense of their interests:

David Wurmser, “The Evolution of Israeli Grand Strategy, Strategy and Tactics and the Confluence with Classic Democratic Philosophy” (Johns Hopkins University, 1990).

Meyrav Wurmser, “Ideas and Foreign Policy: The Case of the Israeli Likud Party” (George Washington University, 1998).

My hunch is that Cheney isn’t primarily interested in the Wurmser family for their ideas about the US constitution and executive privilege.

For all of Cheney’s influence as the water czar from Wyoming, the vice president’s legacy cannot be fully understood in terms of either domestic policy or formal constitutional rights issues.

The most enduring contours of Cheney’s legacy may well reside in the Middle East.

But you wouldn’t know it from recent, premature efforts to “remember” Cheney.

Beyond the Surge: The Right Arabist Case Against Maliki

Posted by Cutler on July 09, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 1 Comment

For much of the foreign policy establishment in Washington, the “military front” has never really been the central battlefield in Iraq.  Instead, the paramount issue has always been the “political front”–the composition of political power within Iraq and the regional balance of power in the Gulf.

As I have previously argued, the “political front” is dominated by a split in Washington between Right Arabists who see Sunni Arab rule in Iraq and the key to the policing of US imperial interests in the Gulf and Right Zionists who see Iraqi Shiite power as the key to a strategic re-alignment that envisions an alliance between the US, Israel, Iraq, and [a politically reconstructed] Iran.

[On the political “reconstruction” of what he calls “Eternal Iran“, Right Zionist Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute has recently suggested, “The real danger isn’t Iran’s bomb, however, but the regime that would wield it.]

As I have previously noted (here and here), Right Zionists are quite committed to the Shiite government in Iraq.  They see in Iraqi Shiites a more or less adequate proxy for US power.

By contrast, Right Arabists have never stopped lamenting the end of Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq.

Both of these two camps, however, focus on the centrality of political proxies for US power.

Meanwhile, the “surge” tends to look a little different.

The key figures behind the idea of the “surge” are figures best described as “Unipolarists” who tend to be far less focused on indirect rule through political proxies because they are much more committed–unapologetically so–to the widespread, direct application of US military force (aka “hard Wilsonianism” or, more simply, “imperialism“).

The leading Unipolarists include key architects of the “surge,” William Kristol and Frederick Kagan.

And here is a key to understanding the politics of the surge: the Bush administration has not traditionally been dominated by Unipolarists (hence all the Unipolarist attacks on Rumsfeld) and the Unipolarists, in turn, have always been closer to John McCain than to George W. Bush.

Frederick Kagan’s latest missive from his perch at the American Enterprise Institute speaks to the centrality of military power in the 2007 “surge” and marks some differences that make the Unipolarist faith in military power distinct from the quest for “political proxies” that animates both Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

A number of clear lessons drawn from these operations have informed the current strategy. First, political progress by itself will not reduce the violence. From May 2003 through mid-2006, the Bush administration and the military command focused on political progress as the key. The transfer of sovereignty in mid-2004, the election of a Transitional National Assembly in January 2005, the approval of a new constitution by referendum in October 2005, and the election of a fresh National Assembly in December 2005… throughout this period, American armed forces tried to stay in the background, keeping their “footprint” minimal and pushing the nascent Iraqi Security Forces into the lead….

Political progress and political solutions are essential to ultimate success in counterinsurgency, but they must often be complemented by major military operations sustained over a long time.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that when he does consider the “political front” Kagan appears to be much closer to the Right Arabist position than some of his colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute, especially Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Gerecht favors ruthless counter-insurgency efforts targeting the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency, even as he warns against a frontal assault on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Kagan’s “Anbar Model,” by contrast, seeks to woo the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency while reserving US firepower for al-Qaeda and Sadrists forces.  From Kagan’s latest defense of the “surge” names its targets quite carefully:

The new strategy for Iraq has entered its second phase. Now that all of the additional combat forces have arrived in theater, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno have begun Operation Phantom Thunder, a vast and complex effort to disrupt al Qaeda and Shiite militia bases all around Baghdad in advance of the major clear-and-hold operations that will follow. The deployment of forces and preparations for this operation have gone better than expected, and Phantom Thunder is so far proceeding very well.

No mention of targeting the ex-Baathis Sunni insurgency.  No mystery why.  Kagan considers them his new best friends.

As the new strategy of 2007 took hold, U.S. forces found that they could even negotiate and work with some of their most determined former foes in the Sunni Arab insurgency–groups like the Baathist 1920s Brigades that once focused on killing Americans and now are increasingly working with Americans to kill al Qaeda fighters. Coalition operations in Anbar, which looked hopeless for years, have accomplished extraordinary successes that are deepening and spreading.

Kagan’s surge has seemingly come under attack from within the Republican Party, allegedly prompting soul-searching and debate at the White House.

Much of this turmoil appears linked to the late June “defection” of Senator Richard Lugar.

Lugar takes some shots at the military surge.  But he has hardly become an advocate of US withdrawal.

Instead, a closer look at the Senate speech that prompted all the buzz about Republican defections suggests that Lugar’s central focus was on the political front, specifically his dissatisfaction with the Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki.

The speech is a classic Right Arabist manifesto–hawkish on Iran, soft on Sunni Arab regimes and highly critical of Shiite rule in Iraq.

I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East… But seizing these opportunities will require the President to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq… It will also require members of Congress to be receptive to overtures by the President to construct a new policy outside the binary choice of surge versus withdrawal…

We should attempt to preserve initiatives that have shown promise, such as engaging Sunni groups that are disaffected with the extreme tactics and agenda of Al Qaeda in Iraq. But three factors – the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process — are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame….

The Shia-led government is going out of its way to bottle up money budgeted for Sunni provinces… food rations are not being delivered to Sunni towns. Iraqi leaders have resisted de-Baathification reform, the conclusion of an oil law, and effective measures to prevent oil smuggling and other corrupt practices…

[W]e are continuing to pour our treasure and manpower into the narrow and uncertain pursuit of creating a stable, democratic, pluralist society in Iraq. This pursuit has been the focal point of the Bush Administration’s Middle East policy. Unfortunately, this objective is not one on which our future in the region can rest, especially when far more important goals related to Middle East security are languishing. I am not suggesting that what happens in Iraq is not important, but the Bush Administration must avoid becoming so quixotic in its attempt to achieve its optimum forecasts for Iraq that it misses other opportunities to protect our vital interests in the Middle East…

[W]e have an interest in preventing Iranian domination of the region. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni government opened up opportunities for Iran to seek much greater influence in Iraq and in the broader Middle East.  An aggressive Iran would pose serious challenges for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab governments. Iran is pressing a broad agenda in the Middle East with uncertain consequences for weapons proliferation, terrorism, the security of Israel, and other U.S. interests. Any course we adopt should consider how it would impact the regional influence of Iran….

In my judgment, the current surge strategy is not an effective means of protecting these interests. Its prospects for success are too dependent on the actions of others who do not share our agenda…

A total withdrawal from Iraq also fails to meet our security interests. Such a withdrawal would compound the risks of a wider regional conflict stimulated by Sunni-Shia tensions…

Most regional governments are extremely wary of U.S. abandonment of the Middle East. Moderate states are concerned by Iran’s aggressiveness and by the possibility of sectarian conflict beyond Iraq’s borders. They recognize that the United States is an indispensable counterweight to Iran and a source of stability. The United States should continue to organize regional players – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf States, and others – behind a program of containing Iran’s disruptive agenda in the region.

Such a re-alignment has relevance for stabilizing Iraq…

The United States should make clear to our Arab friends that they have a role in promoting reconciliation within Iraq, preventing oil price spikes, splitting Syria from Iran, and demonstrating a more united front against terrorism.

Lugar is a good Republican and he knows that the surge in US casualties will be costly for his party:

Some will argue that political timelines should always be subordinated to military necessity, but that is unrealistic in a democracy. Many political observers contend that voter dissatisfaction in 2006 with Administration policies in Iraq was the major factor in producing new Democratic Party majorities in both Houses of Congress. Domestic politics routinely intrude on diplomatic and military decisions. The key is to manage these intrusions so that we avoid actions that are not in our national interest….

[D]omestic pressure for withdrawal will continue to be intense. A course change should happen now.

But the primary emphasis of any “course change” is not military, but political: the end of the road for the Maliki government and Shiite political dominance.

Will the Bush administration turn against Maliki?

To some extent, that probably depends on his ability to move the hydrocarbon “framework” legislation through parliament.

In the current political context, however, the Sunni political establishment has made a stand against “foreign” control of Iraqi oil.

A member of Iraq’s parliamentary energy committee quit on Saturday in protest over a draft oil law…

Usama al-Nujeyfi told a small news conference that the proposal would cede too much control to global companies and “ruin the country’s future”. He vowed to work to defeat the draft in parliament.

“I announce my resignation and distance myself from delivering this draft before this parliament and I will carry out my obligation to repeal it inside parliament with all fellow nationalists,” al-Nujeyfi said….

[A]l-Nujeyfi, a Sunni member of the Iraq National List, headed by secular politician and former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, said the proposal would cede too much to foreign firms eager to rebuild Iraq’s oil industry.

“I call on my lawmaker brothers and sisters to confront this law which will ruin the country’s future and will be in the interest of large global companies at the expense of Iraqis,” he said.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, Right Arabists will successfully convince the White House to dump Maliki and install ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi as a new Iraqi “strongman.”

I tend to doubt it.

But if Sunni opposition to the hydrocarbon law continues much longer, it may prove very awkward when the US subsequently demands that Allawi impose legislation that his allies once decried as a measure designed “in the interest of large global companies at the expense of Iraqis.”

Who Let Hamas Out?

Posted by Cutler on June 22, 2007
Egypt, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Prof Cutler’s Blog will return on July 9th.

As I depart, the news on my mind involves US policy toward Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood

In a recent post, I argued that Right Zionists would shed no tears for the collapse of Fatah in Gaza, but I also suggested that they had no political “vision” for post-Fatah Gaza; only a military “vision” of an endless siege.

Such a siege had already begun by Wednesday, June 20, 2007.

But that same day, two news items appeared that caught me be surprise because they seemed to suggest that someone–but who?–actually did have a “vision” for Gaza under Hamas.

The first item was the simultaneous New York Times and Washington Post Op-Eds by Ahmed Yousef arguing for engagement with Hamas.

There are few surprises in the texts.  The surprise was the simultaneous, dual publication, especially in the context of the second news item, a story by Eli Lake in the Right Zionist New York Sun, entitled “Bush Weighs Reaching Out To ‘Brothers.’

The Bush administration is quietly weighing the prospect of reaching out to the party that founded modern political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still in its early stages and below the radar, the current American deliberations and diplomacy with the organization, known in Arabic as Ikhwan, take on new significance in light of Hamas’s successful coup in Gaza last week. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is widely reported to have helped create Hamas in 1982.

Lake’s story echoes an earlier Newsweek report by Michael Isikoff And Mark Hosenball.

Set aside, for the moment, the likelihood of such an overture to Hamas in Gaza and and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Who would promote such an idea within the Bush administration?

More to the point, if Right Zionists shed no tears for the collapse of Fatah in Gaza, would they embrace Hamas, the enemy of their enemy?

And doesn’t this question, in turn, demand a re-examination of the play of forces within the Bush administration behind the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election that brought Hamas to power within the Palestinian Authority?

Most of those promoting the idea of engaging Hamas are hardly Right Zionists.

These include figures like Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center and co-author of the Foreign Affairs essay, “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood”

Or Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Figures like Zeyno Baran, much closer to the Right Zionist world, tend to be critical of Leiken and Co.

But there is one figure who is very close to the Right Zionist “family” who supported the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections that ultimately brought Hamas to power.

That figure is Reuel Marc Gerecht.  Here is Gerecht on NPR, January 28, 2006:

ELLIOT: Mr. Gerecht, you’ve actually said that it’s a good think that Hamas came into power this week. Can you explain?

Mr. GERECHT: Yeah, I think it was, the result of that is, one, it was easily expected and two, you should not be discouraged by it. With Fatah in power you’re going to have no evolution. You’re going to have the continued radicalization of the Palestinian society. With Hamas now being the principal political party in the Palestinian territories, you actually have the chance for internal evolution. The issue is not the peace process. The issue is whether Palestinian politics, Palestinian ethics, start to evolve…

I think they will. But I think we have to expect–and there were some in the Bush administration who I think were naïve about this, that democratization moves forward in the Muslim Middle East it is going to increase anti-Americanism. That’s fine. That is part of the healing process. That’s part of the evolution.

And here is Gerecht at a Pew Forum event from all the way back in May 2005:

There are going to be problems with this evolution to a more democratic society. And again, I think this could happen a lot quicker than people realize. One of the things we’re going to have to realize that’s going to happen is that anti-Americanism is probably going to skyrocket. If you think anti-Americanism now is at a high watermark, just wait. When democracy takes hold, it’s just going to rip. So is anti-Zionism, so is anti-Semitism. All of these things for a variety of different reasons are going to accelerate. Don’t panic. It’s actually good. It’s the fever that will break the disease. You have to let it go.

This is something like the Zen of Right Zionism, I suppose.

There are plenty of skeptics.  David Brooks, for example, responded to Gerecht in a July 2006 New York Times column entitled, “The Fever is Winning.”

What remains totally unclear is whether or not Cheney has caught the fever.

The “Anbar Model”: A Slow Moving Coup in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on June 18, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

The essential “finding” of Joshua Partlow’s Washington Post article, “U.S. Strategy on Sunnis Questioned,” is that Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish political figures are not stupid.

That is, they understand that the so-called “Anbar Model” is a slow-motion, pro-Baathist coup.

Shiite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations on Sunday about the new U.S. military strategy of partnering with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“They are trusting terrorists,” said Ali al-Adeeb, a prominent Shiite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. “They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein.”…

Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs and direct assistance from U.S. soldiers….

One senior Iraqi government official described the American military policy of partnering with local Sunni groups as “nonsense.”

“Every three months they have a new strategy. This is not only a distracting way to conduct policy, it is creating insecurity for all. I don’t think these strategies have been thought through deeply. It is all about convenience,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“In reality, they are forcing the Iraqi government and the Shia and the Kurds to reconcile with the Saddamists,” the official added.

The U.S. military focus on al-Qaeda is, at least in part, a way of deflecting attention away from the fact that most attacks on US forces are from the Sunni nationalist insurgency, not al-Qaeda.

General Petraeus chose his words carefully in his most recent interview with FoxNews.

Al Qaeda is the face of what is happening on the extremist Sunni side.

They are carrying out the bulk of the sensational attacks, the suicide car bomb attacks, suicide vest attacks and so forth.

The anonymous “senior Iraqi government official” cited by Partlow is correct to suggest that Washington has a “new strategy” every three months, except that the competing strategies are actually simultaneous, not sequential.

There is a “Shiite Option” strategy and there is the “Anbar Model” strategy of the anti-Shiite coup.

So intense are the disagreements in Washington that the American Enterprise Institute is home to some of the most ardent ideological defenders of each strategy.

The leading advocate for Shiite political dominance in Iraq continues to be AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht.

At the same time, AEI’s Frederick Kagan is one of the leading defenders of the so-called “Anbar Model.”

It must be kind of awkward around the AEI water cooler these days.

Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

Posted by Cutler on June 16, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Helene Cooper of the New York Times has a front-page article–“Iran Strategy Stirs Debate at White House“–that is, essentially, a reprint of her June 1, 2007 article, “U.S. Not Pushing for Attack on Iran, Rice Says.”

After writing in relatively vague terms about “the few remaining hawks inside the administration, especially those in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” Cooper finally comes around to naming names.  Once again, Cooper fingers Right Zionist David Wurmser as the “hawk” inside Dick Cheney’s office.

Readers of this blog need no introduction to David Wurmser.

Why the reprint?  Cooper says she spoke to folks from both sides of the factional debate, but my sense is that Wurmser’s opponents in the administration are trying to use Cooper’s publicity machine to pressure Cheney to dump Wurmser.  Most of the references are to positions adopted by hawks “in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” rather than to Cheney himself.

Cooper says the “hawks” are “pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.”  But the big “hawk” she gets on the record–John Bolton (who Meyrav Wurmser considers part of the Right Zionist “family“)–mentions two hawkish options for US policy toward Iran:

[C]onservatives inside the administration have continued in private to press for a tougher line, making arguments that their allies outside government are voicing publicly. “Regime change or the use of force are the only available options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability, if they want it,” said John R. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Cooper doesn’t stop to note Bolton’s talk of regime change.  Instead, she references a Commentary essay by Norman Podhoretz, “The Case for Bombing Iran.”

As I have previously noted, Neoconservatives are actually split between those, like Podhoretz, who favor military action and those, like Michael Ledeen, who are primarily interested in regime change.

Here is Podhoretz on the split:

[A]s it happens, there is a split among neoconservatives on the desirability of military action against Iran. For reasons of their own, some–including Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute… [oppose] such a course…

In his article on “The Case for Bombing Iran,” Podhoretz attacks Ledeen (this time leaving off his name):

Those who advocate this course tell us that the “mullocracy” is very unpopular, especially with young people, who make up a majority of Iran’s population. They tell us that these young people would like nothing better than to get rid of the oppressive and repressive and corrupt regime under which they now live and to replace it with a democratic system. And they tell us, finally, that if Iran were so transformed, we would have nothing to fear from it even if it were to acquire nuclear weapons.

Once upon a time, under the influence of Bernard Lewis and others I respect, I too subscribed to this school of thought. But after three years and more of waiting for the insurrection they assured us back then was on the verge of erupting, I have lost confidence in their prediction.

Where do the remaining Bush administration Right Zionists stand (or fall) on this question?

As I have previously noted, it is tempting (if risky) to interpret Podhoretz as a proxy for the voice of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.

But does Podhoretz also represent the views of Wurmser?

How to find Wurmser’s views on the question when he has not spoken publicly since he handed his “Middle East” baton at the American Enterprise Institute to Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Does Gerecht represent a possible proxy for Wurmser’s voice?  Gerecht himself has tried to square the circle by suggesting that the bombing of Iran might help foment regime change:

It’s much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic’s loss to America–and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory–would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching… It’s likely that an American attack on the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us.

But he also seems to have lost some confidence in the imminent collapse of the regime:

[I]t is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians–which is the Bush administration’s current game plan–isn’t likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn’t the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

David Wurmser is married to Meyrav Wurmser and it is tempting (if risky) to take her voice as a proxy for his.

Meyrav Wurmser is certainly feeling hawkish about Iran and Syria.  But she appears to be somewhat skeptical about a narrow approach based on “military toughness.”

Syria and Iran now seek to further derail Western ambitions. They are escalating their offensive….

Syria and Iran see an opportunity they cannot pass up: The United States has no answer to the worsening situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Evincing perplexity and weakness, not consistently willing to confront its enemies, the United States entered direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, naively hoping that the purveyors of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon would willingly help resolve those problems….

As Israel’s war in Lebanon demonstrated, military toughness alone does not meet the growing Syrian/Iranian challenge. Instead of seeing all the problems in the Middle East solely as localized conflicts, we must understand their regional context. Only then can we devise a broad strategic vision to confront these threats. Toughness is necessary, but it will remain ineffective without a purpose and a plan.

Is that a call for a policy of regime change, beyond “military toughness”?

Unclear.

What is clear is that David Wurmser’s 1999 manifesto, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, is essentially one long “plan” for using Shiite power in Iraq to achieve regime change in Iran.

Here is an extended excerpt from my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” that lays out the heart of Wurmser’s 1999 position as it relates to “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.

“U.S. policy makers have long presumed that the majority Shi’ite population of Iraq would serve as Iran’s fifth column there; but would it?” (TA, p.72). Wurmser thinks not. Instead, he argues that “Iraqi Shi’ites, if liberated from [Saddam’s] tyranny, can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution” (TA, p.74). More specifically, Wurmser claims that “Shi’ite Islam is plagued by fissures, none of which has been carefully examined, let alone exploited, by the opponents of Iran’s Islamic republic” (TA, p.74, emphasis added). The idea of exploiting fissures is entirely consistent with realist theories of power balancing.

Wurmser argues that at the theological core of the Iranian revolution is “a concept promoted by Ayatollah Khomeini, the wilayat al-faqih — the rule of the jurisprudent” that served as “the bulldozer with which Khomeini razed the barrier between the clerics and the politicians” (TA, p.74). For Wurmser, the central strategic fissure within Shiite Islam is between those who favor Khomeini’s vision and those who reject the rule of the jurisprudent. “The concept of wilayat al-faqih is rejected by most Shi’ite clerics outside Iran (and probably many of those within Iran, too)… The current leading ayatollah of Iraq, Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani, has reaffirmed [this rejection], much to the chagrin of the Iranian government” (TA, p.75)…

The core of the Regional Rollback… is Iran. For Wurmser, so-called “realists” have always been correct to emphasize the link between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites, but they have misunderstood the potential nature of the link. If realists have traditionally feared Iranian influence in Iraq, Wurmser argues that the more likely scenario is Iraqi influence in Iran. The demise of traditional Sunni rule over the Iraqi Shiites “could potentially trigger a reversal” of fortune for the Iranian regime.

“Liberating the Shi’ite centers in Najaf and Karbala, with their clerics who reject the wilayat al-faqih, could allow Iraqi Shi’ites to challenge and perhaps fatally derail the Iranian revolution. For the first time in half a century, Iraq has the chance to replace Iran as the center of Shi’ite thought, thus resuming its historic place, with its tradition of clerical quiescence and of challenge to Sunni absolutism… A free Iraqi Shi’ite community would be a nightmare for the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran” (TA, p.78-79).

For Wurmser, the liberation of Najaf and Karbala would promote and empower potential US allies in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s strategy foresees US military intervention against the Sunni minority in Iraq, not primarily as a springboard for further military intervention in Iran, but as the Iraqi detonator for a populist, Shiite-led rebellion against rival clerics in Iran. Neo-conservative support for the political ascendance of Shiite Iraq is not about the principle of democracy. Nor are neo-conservatives blind to the ways in which regime change in Iraq might transform the relationship between Iraq and Iran. Neo-conservatives who favor de-Baathification in Iraq might seem like blundering fools who would unwittingly hand Iraq to Iranian clerics. Wumser’s scheme, however, is to hand Iran to Iraqi clerics, especially the followers of Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani. For Wurmser, the road to Tehran begins in Najaf.

Does Wurmser still believe, with Ledeen, that the road to Tehran begins in Najaf?

Or, has Wurmser–like Podhoretz–“lost confidence” in his old plan for regime change?

And where is Cheney himself in all this?

Note well: Cheney was not always considered part of the Right Zionist “family.”

Right Zionists and the Collapse of Fatah

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2007
Israel, Palestinian Authority, Right Zionists / No Comments

In some respects, the American-sponsored “Dayton Plan”–named for US security coordinator Lt.-Gen Keith Dayton–to foment factional fighting within the Palestinian “unity government,” bolster the forces of Fatah, and challenge the dominance of Hamas in Gaza seemed like the work of Right Zionist hawks in the Bush administration (i.e., Elliott Abrams at the NSC and David Wurmser in the OVP).

After all, the Hamas-Fatah “unity government” was the work of Saudi King Abdullah and it made sense to think that an assault on Abdullah’s mediation efforts would bear the finger prints of the Cheney-Bandar-Right Zionist axis.

But as that plan crumbles–with signs of White House “acquiescence“–it becomes increasingly clear that the Dayton Plan to bolster Fatah may have simply marked the most “hawkish” and cynical last gasp of the old Oslo crowd.

If so, then there will be some Right Zionist “rejectionists” who mourn neither the failure of the Palestinian “unity government” nor the US effort to destroy that unity by bolstering Fatah.

Perhaps the strongest indication of this scenario is that the collapse of Fatah in Gaza has led to all kinds of speculation that it marks the end of a two-state solution.

Consider, for example, the Los Angeles Times article by Ken Ellingwood, “Palestinian Statehood Hopes in Peril.”

The deadly factional fighting in the Gaza Strip between the militant Hamas movement and Fatah could doom the long-held Palestinian vision of uniting Gaza and the West Bank into a single independent state….

The violence has dimmed hopes that Palestinians and Israelis might someday reach an agreement for side-by-side nations…

The political crisis has propelled a debate among Palestinian intellectuals over whether Palestinians might be better served by dumping the trappings of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, which created the enfeebled Palestinian Authority….

“One cannot exclude such a possibility: that this is the end of the two-state solution,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a fellow at Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Jerusalem.

So, for Right Zionist “rejectionists,” what comes after Oslo?

Right Zionist rejectionists do have a post-Oslo vision for the West Bank.  The cornerstone of that vision is the idea of Palestinian confederation with Jordan.

The Israeli Labor Party-Oslo crowd and their American allies are aware of this vision and reject it.

The great defender of the failed “Dayton Plan” was an Oslo figure, Dennis Ross.  In a June 4, 2007  Washington Post Op-Ed–“The Specter of Hamastan“–Ross championed the Dayton Plan and took aim at the idea of West Bank confederation with Jordan.

The defense of the Dayton Plan is quite clear:

If Fatah does have a plan for bolstering its forces in Gaza, it is worth supporting it by coordinating with the Israelis and Egyptians — not to produce a bloodbath in Gaza but to deter Hamas from seeking to impose itself there.

Ross also offers a more cryptic attack on a rival proposal:

Among some I heard an interesting proposal: Let’s make the West Bank work…

Let’s create understandings with Jordan and Israel for at least economic confederation and security…

Sounds good in theory, but I doubt it would work. No matter how sensible confederation between the Palestinian state and Jordan might be, at least economically, a failed state in Gaza would be a constant source of instability…

Moreover, while West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have much that divides them, they still have a common identity as Palestinians; the creation of a Palestinian state without Gaza would be an endless source of grievance and irredentism.

Ross doesn’t name any names, but this idea of “confederation with Jordan” belongs to the very same Right Zionist rejectionists who will now quietly celebrate the death of Oslo.

Meyrav Wurmser–who just happens to be married to Cheney’s top Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–is one key proponent of this position, as articulated in her July 2006 New York Sun Op-Ed, “Paradigm Shift” in which she also attacked key “Oslo” assumptions.

Assumption…: Abu Mazen is a better, more moderate a partner than Hamas…

But… Abu Mazen is not only hopelessly weak and ineffective; he also is covering for the mergence of a new Palestinian consensus around positions closer to Hamas’ than ever before. In this situation, the international community gains little from supporting Abu Mazen; he is no partner for peace…

Assumption…: Only independent Palestinian statehood will provide a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process…

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Israeli Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu offered a similar vision of a post-Oslo scenario:

Some kind of federated or confederated effort between Jordan and the Palestinians might introduce that function of security and peace.

Ken Ellingwood’s Los Angeles Times article acknowledges that there are supporters of such a scenario, but he doesn’t name names and he thinks it marginal.

Another idea that has circulated is an old one: reconnecting the West Bank to Jordan, somehow, and putting Gaza back into Egypt’s hands. But this scenario is a long shot.

The chances of this “long shot” becoming an active initiative would be far greater with the collapse of the Olmert government and the election of Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.

In the notion of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan, Right Zionists have a vision (little word from Jordan on any of this, of course).

The horrifying part is that Right Zionists have almost nothing to say about Gaza.

Is there a vision for Gaza?

It seems not.

There is plenty of alarm about Gaza.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Meyrav Wurmser expresses deep concerns about Gaza:

Now Hamas is threatening to escalate hostilities by attacking Israel’s main electric grid in Ashkelon. The significance of this–as well as of the Palestinian civil war and Hamas’s capture of Gaza–is that Hamas, and by extension Iran, has launched a real push to take over the Palestinian areas, just as the violence in Lebanon represents Syria’s attempt to retake that country.

Similarly, Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, is reported to have recently suggested that Washington abandon all Oslo pretensions.

Washington should go one step further and announce it is no longer working to set up the conditions for Palestinian independence.

“The conditions don’t exist,” Bryen said. “This is a huge emergency.”

But what does this “huge emergency” imply for Gaza?

Silence.

There is no plan for Gaza.

Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles Times offers up a chilling conclusion via Gidi Grinstein, a former aide to Ehud Barak:

Israeli analyst Gidi Grinstein told Israel Radio. “The Gaza entity will be regarded as an enemy entity and be treated accordingly…

The US Loses its Civil War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2007
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Palestinian Authority / 1 Comment

Back in April, amidst growing tension and factional fighting in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, I pointed out that the US was, indirectly, a party to the conflict insofar as the Bush administration was providing support to Fatah security forces.

At that time, Haaretz reported (available via the Daily Times of Pakistan) on disagreements over US and Israeli support for Fatah.  The disagreement ostensibly concerned differing assessments of the strength of Fatah relative to Hamas.

The Americans believe that strengthening Abbas loyalists and deploying them in friction points along the north of the strip and Philadelphi route in Rafah will eventually improve the security situation.

Western officials who studied the battle near the Karni crossing last Tuesday concluded, contrary to the IDF’s assessment, that Abbas’ forces had performed well despite their losses and had succeeded in warding off a larger Hamas force. They found that Hamas had not won a decisive victory in the battles in the Strip and urged taking steps to strengthen the pro-Abbas forces…

[Israeli] Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh is the main advocate for helping to strengthen the Abbas loyalists

The IDF believes that Hamas has a considerable advantage over Fatah in the confrontation with Fatah in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas men are trained, equipped and more resolved than their Fatah counterparts, even if the latter outnumber them in weapons,” an IDF source said.

Ephraim Sneh was earlier quoted in the Washington Post, defending Israeli support for Fatah:

“The idea is to change the balance, which has been in favor of Hamas and against Fatah. With these well-trained forces, it will help right that imbalance.”

Now, Sneh appears to be have suffered a double loss.

Within the Israeli Labor Party, Sneh is closely aligned with the outgoing Defense Minister and party leader, Amir Peretz.  In the most recent Labor Party primary, Peretz backed Ami Ayalon who subsequently lost the bid for party leadership to Ehud Barak.

Will Ehud Barak endorse Sneh’s dangerous game?

Sneh’s strategy appears to be crumbling.  Hamas appears to be winning decisive victories against Sneh’s Fatah allies.

In fighting today, Hamas continued its near-complete armed takeover of the Gaza Strip and seized the southern town of Rafah, according to witnesses and security officials allied with the rival Fatah faction.

In Gaza City, two out of four key Fatah-controlled security compounds have fallen to Hamas…

Earlier, Mr Abbas ordered his best troops to strike back at Hamas Islamists as they tightened their grip on Gaza.

The decision by Mr Abbas, who is backed by the west, to commit the presidential guard came as Hamas said it captured the Gaza City security compound. Until now the US-financed presidential guard has been told to maintain a defensive posture against what appear to be coordinated attacks by Hamas.

Hamas’s seizure of the base would deal a severe blow to Fatah and Mr Abbas…

The Council on Foreign Relations, among others, is already describing the emergence of “Hamastan.”

Having helped trigger the confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, Washington is now hoping its go-to-guy in Egypt, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman can persuade Hamas to stand down, even as victory appears imminent.  Good luck with that.

As I have previously suggested, the US has tried to exploit civil war in Gaza as part of a proxy war between the US and Iran.

It is for this reason that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has suggested that the fall of Gaza to Hamas would have “regional implications.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that Cairo is allegedly pointing fingers at Iran.

According to the report, Cairo blamed external elements with igniting the fighting, hinting that Iran was behind the escalation in Gaza…

In an interview with the London based Al-Hayat , senior Fatah official Samir Mashharawi was more explicit in his claims that both Syria and Iran were behind Hamas’ attempted coup. In the interview, cited by Israel Radio, Mashharawi claimed that the two countries had transferred millions of Dollars to Hamas, and that the Islamic group was using the money against the Palestinians people in trying to establish a “Hamas state” in the Gaza Strip.

Is Iran rising to the challenge?  Perhaps.  Hamas certainly is.  But it was the US-backed Fatah forces who were first deployed into “friction points” to try to escalate tensions in Gaza.

That is looking increasingly like a major blunder.

In the battle between Sneh and the IDF, the defense establishment looks like the winner:

The defense establishment is to hold meetings next week in an effort to prepare recommendations for a new policy in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of what seems to a Hamas conquest of the area.

The general assessment in the Israel Defense Forces is that there is a new reality in the Strip and that Hamas has defeated Fatah in the battle for power.

Israeli political sources said Wednesday that the Hamas takeover requires that Israel reexamine its ties with the Gaza Strip, and whether it will continue its economic ties, the infrastructure links – providing of fuel and electricity from Israel.

Sneh’s US-backed plan to use Fatah forces against Hamas may have been a cynical and naive gambit, but the IDF is unlikely to adopt a softer line.

Barak may want to prop up Olmert’s government.  But a Hamas victory in Gaza will surely bolster the position of Israeli hawks, not least Likud leader Benjamin Netanhahu.

If so, then the proxy war in Gaza may quickly become a far more explosive regional civil war in the Middle East.

One Crude Benchmark

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In October 2006, former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad introduced American “benchmarks” for measuring the success of the Iraqi government.

Some of those benchmarks drew inspiration from the Right Arabist critique of the pro-Shiite tilt in US policy, especially Khalilzad’s demands for “reform” of the de-Baathification process (i.e., re-Baathification) and for new provincial elections to reverse the consequences of the Sunni Arab boycott.

Two benchmarks related directly to oil: passage of the US-backed “hydrocarbons law” and constitutional reform related a promised referendum on Kurdish control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Today, it looks increasingly likely that the Shiite-led government in Iraq will do the Bush administration’s bidding on the oil front, but not those measures designed to reverse Shiite political dominance.

A New York Times article by Damien Cave prepares readers for this outcome:

[M]any Iraqi and American officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year…

[T]he oil law appears the most likely, officials said.

Notwithstanding some grumbling from abroad, I suspect the oil law will, indeed, pass the Iraqi parliament.  This is clearly the one “benchmark” that matters to the entire Bush administration.  It has the strong support of the Sistani-backed Shiite oil minister, Hussein Shahristani.

Indeed, I think the path toward passage of the oil law was likely cleared a bit with the recent removal of the Iraqi parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

At the same time, re-Baathification looks like a dead letter.

Cave’s New York Times article suggests that Iraqi Shiites have rejected Khalilzad’s re-Baathifying “Reconciliation and Accountability Law.”

[A]n aide to the reclusive cleric [Sistani] confirmed that there was “a general feeling of rejection” about the proposal.

Since then, the original draft has gone nowhere…

Iraqi officials said they were working on a compromise law… primarily a softer alternative…

It remains unclear how much support the proposal could attract. Mr. Falluji, the Sunni lawmaker, said the prime minister did not fully support reconciliation with former Baathists — a suspicion also harbored by some American officials.

In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Prime Minister Maliki gives only lukewarm lip service in support of re-Baathification:

From the outset, I committed myself to the principle of reconciliation, pledged myself to its success. I was determined to review and amend many provisions and laws passed in the aftermath of the fall of the old regime, among them the law governing de-Baathification. I aimed to find the proper balance between those who opposed the decrees on de-Baathification and others who had been victims of the Baath Party. This has not been easy, but we have stuck to that difficult task.

Provincial elections in places like Babil would undermine Shiite political dominance and look increasingly unlikely.

There is no constitutional change required for a Kirkuk referendum and the US has refused to say much about whether or not it is willing to buck a broad range of Turks, Sunni Arabs, and Sadrist Shiite Arabs in order to go ahead with the referendum.  I tend to think the US will pressure the Kurds to drop the idea of a referendum.

According to Cave’s report, the Iraqi Shiite government is far from committed to swift constitutional reform.

“We have not committed to doing it by September,” [Sheik Humam Hamoudi, one of three committee chairmen and a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council] said. “Maybe the American Congress has made such a commitment, but we have not.”

The real question, at this point, is not where the Iraqi Shiite government stands, but where the Bush administration stands in relation to Khalilzad’s original benchmarks.

Most Western political officials in Iraq and Washington publicly refuse to discuss a Plan B… Many have turned their attention toward risky local alliances with insurgents or former insurgents who say they will fight Al Qaeda.

Is the Bush administration still playing from the Right Arabist playbook, hoping for restoration of Sunni Arab political power?  Or has the administration “signed on” with the Right Zionist “Shiite Option” in Iraq?

It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Maliki seems to think he has some significant enemies, but they are “mediated” through regional tensions.  His Op-Ed makes clear that Maliki thinks himself pulled between Iran and the Arab League, even as he tries to appear neutral:

Our conflict, it should be emphasized time and again, has been fueled by regional powers that have reached into our affairs…

We have reached out to those among our neighbors who are worried about the success and example of our democratic experiment, and to others who seem interested in enhancing their regional influence…

Our message has been the same to one and all: We will not permit Iraq to be a battleground for other powers. In the contests and ambitions swirling around Iraq, we are neutral and dedicated to our country’s right to prosperity and a new life…

Maliki’s reference to those “worried about… our democratic experiment” is clearly to the Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.  His reference to those “interested in enhancing their regional influence” is clearly about Iran.

In Washington, Right Arabists remain resistant to the “democratic experiment” in Iraq; Right Zionists are ultimately committed toward the enhanced “regional influence” of [a reconstructed] Iran.

The question, now as always, is the battle between Right Arabists and Right Zionists in Washington.

Babel: Washington’s Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on June 11, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Right Zionists like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht have learned to love the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq, but the US military brass on the ground in Iraq seems to feel very differently.

Consider, for example, Major General Rick Lynch–commander of the Third Infantry Division responsible, according to a Reuters profile, for three of five extra brigades deployed as part of a four-month-old Baghdad security plan.

On Sunday, June 10, 2007, Maj. Gen. Lynch seems to have had a wide-ranging discussion with reporters.  While there are no signs yet of a full transcript of the briefing, his comments seem to inform several major articles in the news.

The Los Angeles Times report by Tina Susman and Garrett Therolf suggests that Lynch does not share the confidence in Maliki expressed by Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht.

More than security, Lynch said, he was concerned about the Iraqi national government, citing its failure to hold provincial elections to ensure fair representation for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in different areas of the country.

Lynch said that in one province he commands, Babil, it was common for national government officials to order provincial forces to free detainees because of political or sectarian loyalties. After one recent operation, 42 detainees were ordered freed on direction of the national government, Lynch said.

Indeed, Susman and Therolf report that Maj. Gen. Lynch is at the cutting edge of the effort to cultivate alliances with Sunni Arab forces, even over the objections of Maliki’s Shiite government.

[T]he U.S. military is planning to establish “provisional police forces” that would arm men affiliated with Sunni tribal sheiks and militant groups who are willing to assist American forces, Lynch told journalists. He said that U.S. generals were trying to persuade the Iraqi government to support the plan, but that the American military was determined to pursue it, even without government backing.

And, yet, it appears that some of Lynch’s own preferred allies in Babil have their own “sectarian loyalties.”  A FOXNews story attributed to the Associated Press quotes Lynch:

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch… spoke at length about U.S. efforts to draw Sunnis into the security forces.

“There are tribal sheiks out there who say ‘Hey, just allow me to be the local security force. I don’t care what you call me. … You can call me whatever you want. Just give me the right training and equipment and I’ll secure my area.’ And that’s the direction we’re moving out there,” the Third Infantry Division commander said.

In a meeting with reporters, Lynch said contacts with the Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the insurgency, were a matter of pragmatism.

They say: ‘We hate you because you are an occupier, but we hate Al Qaeda worse and we hate the Persians (Iranians) even worse‘ … you can’t ignore that whole population,” Lynch said.

[These must surely be the same “Persians” currently meeting with the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, Mowaffaq Al Rubaie.]

The colorful Maj. Gen. Lynch is also one of the key military figures cited today’s front-page New York Times article–“U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies“–about US efforts to expand the so-called “Anbar Model” to areas like Babil (even as the Washington Post reports that the “Anbar Model” may be in some trouble in Anbar).

An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?”

Despite such views, General Lynch said, the Americans believed that Sunni groups offering to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces met a basic condition for re-establishing stability in insurgent-hit areas: they had roots in the areas where they operated, and thus held out the prospect of building security from the ground up. He cited areas in Babil Province where there were “no security forces, zero, zilch,” and added: “When you’ve got people who say, ‘I want to protect my neighbors,’ we ought to jump like a duck on a june bug.”

For Maj. Gen. Lynch, however, the “security” effort is linked to the larger political context in Babil where the officer appears eager to transform the political dynamic.

The top diplomat on the US state department “Provincial Reconstruction Team” in the Babil province is Dr. Charles Hunter.  In a March 30, 2007 briefing, Hunter described the contours of political control on Babil:

DR. HUNTER: Well, Hilla is the capital of Babil province, of course, which is a mixed province. The Sunnis are concentrated in the north…

QUESTION: And what is the Iraqi political make up in the province and in the city?

DR. HUNTER: Well, the provincial council, which is composed of 41 members, currently has no Shia — excuse me, no Sunni — member of it. The Sunni there boycotted the elections in 2005. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, dominates that council and most of the other provincial-level positions, the mayorships and so on….

Accordin to Reuters, Maj. Gen. Lynch doesn’t have much confidence in the SCIRI crowd that is running Babil.

He said of the three tiers which comprise the U.S. strategy in Iraq, governance issues worried him more than security matters and transition work towards handing control back to Iraqi institutions.

“I am concerned about the capacity of government,” Lynch told reporters on Sunday.

“As I deal with the government at a provincial level, I have a concern about whether or not that government is truly a representative government that respects the human rights of all the Iraqis in that province,” he said.

Are these the same provincial government officials who met with President Bush in July 2005?

And/or are these the same provincial government officials discussed in an official province-by-province snapshot of Iraq produced by US officials in April 2006?

Babil Province, an important strategic area abutting Baghdad, also has “strong Iranian influence apparent within council,” the report says.

Maj. Gen. Lynch appears very eager for the Maliki government to move forward on one of the major “benchmarks” set forth by the US: provincial elections.

Iraq’s parliament last month chose an election commission, seen as a big step towards calling local polls, but Washington is still pressing for a date for the elections before parliament rises for its summer break.

Lynch said U.S. commanders believed the elections were crucial if Iraq was to have a truly representative government in which decisions were not made along sectarian lines. Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005.

“That has to happen. We’ll facilitate an election, but the government of Iraq has to schedule those elections,” Lynch said.

You do have leaders in very high positions who are making sectarian-based decisions, no doubt about it. I see indications of sectarian decisions and not Iraqi decisions.”

I don’t mean to go way out on a limb here, but I do not think Major General Lynch is a big fan of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

Perhaps it was with figures like Maj. Gen. Lynch in mind that Fouad Ajami spoke hopefully of Prime Minister Maliki:

Mr. Maliki will not do America’s bidding, and we should be grateful for his displays of independence…

The New York Times article on Lynch and his “Anbar Model” for Babil province offers up some words of caution:

[C]ritics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war… The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.

It may be tempting to imagine a unified–if deeply cynical–American strategy to arm both sides in an Iraqi civil war.

There continue to be signs, however, that such a scenario might develop less on the basis of a unified master plan so much as an ongoing civil war in Washington–between Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht who favor Iraqi Shiite rule and Right Arabists, like Maj. Gen. Lynch who appear to favor the restoration of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.

The Playbook for Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on June 07, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud…

But does the Left have to choose sides in the internal politics of Iraq?

Robert Dreyfuss seems to think so.

In his latest missive at The American Prospect, he argues (again) that withdrawal demands re-Baathification in Iraq and fierce resistance to Iran.

Last February, Representative Jim McDermott of Washington organized an extraordinary Capitol Hill event. By teleconference, McDermott brought five Iraqi members of the 275-member parliament together with a dozen or so members of Congress to discuss the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations. All five Iraqi parliamentarians called for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, along with urgent steps to help end the civil war, restore Iraq’s old army, accommodate the dissolved Baath party, and rebuild the shattered economy…

Two weeks ago, I spent several hours with Mohammed al-Daini, a member of the parliament, who was visiting Washington. “The Maliki government is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said…

“When you weaken Iran’s influence in Iraq, it will also weaken Maliki’s government.” Daini told me. “The Maliki government is using Iranian intelligence to get rid of its opponents.” Indeed, many Iraqi leaders, especially the Sunni Arabs, were alarmed by the May 25 U.S.-Iran talks, fearing an American deal with Iran to carve up Iraq. Following the U.S.-Iran meeting, the Baath party of Iraq — which plays a key role in support of the armed resistance — warned that the United States and Iran are determined to eliminate Iraq’s “Arab identity,” adding: “The U.S.-Iranian alliance is the number one enemy of Iraq and of the Arab nation.”

In the end, if and when the United States reconciles itself to a withdrawal from Iraq, the path to stability will be found in a nationalist government constituting most or all of the emerging “national salvation” coalition. It’s possible that the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy can come to that understanding on their own.

(Note to White House: somebody should tell Cheney about “the U.S.-Iranian alliance.”  He and his staff appear to be off message.  Also, let Cheney know that so-called “realists”–not his “Neocon” allies–now control U.S. foreign policy.)

As I have suggested previously, Dreyfuss takes his cues from the Right Arabist playbook written by his friend James Akins.

Assume for the moment that Dreyfuss is actually motivated by a desire to see the swift withdrawal of US troops from Iraq (leaving aside the fact that Dreyfuss was a committed Iran hawk long before there were US troops in Iraq).

It is far from obvious that Right Arabists, focused as they have always been on the “path to stability” in Iraq, are the most likely allies in the battle to bring US troops home from Iraq.

I have previously argued that the opposite might even be true: Right Zionists committed to Shiite political dominance in Iraq might be more inclined to “allow” US withdrawal than Right Arabists who have always known that restoration of the old Sunni Arab political elite would require ongoing and expanded military occupation.

The same point was made (for different reasons) by Dan Senor, former spokesman for Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Realists on Iraq.”

it has often been said that the president got into Iraq because he disregarded advice from the true regional experts: foreign-policy “realists” who put together the Gulf War I coalition and counseled President George H.W. Bush against regime change; “moderate” Sunni Arab Governments; and the U.S. intelligence community.

But what if today these groups were actually advising against an American withdrawal?…

Consider Brent Scowcroft, dean of the Realist School, who openly opposed the war from the outset and was a lead skeptic of the president’s democracy-building agenda. In a recent Financial Times interview, he succinctly summed up the implication of withdrawal: “The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution.”

And here is retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Centcom Commander and a vociferous critic of the what he sees as the administration’s naive and one-sided policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East: “When we are in Iraq we are in many ways containing the violence. If we back off we give it more room to breathe, and it may metastasize in some way and become a regional problem. We don’t have to be there at the same force level, but it is a five- to seven-year process to get any reasonable stability in Iraq.”

A number of Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors also opposed the war as well as the U.S. push for liberalizing the region’s authoritarian governments. Yet they now backchannel the same two priorities to Washington: Do not let Iran acquire nukes, and do not withdraw from Iraq…

It would be one thing if only the architects of the Bush policy and their die-hard supporters opposed withdrawal. But four separate groups of knowledgeable critics–three of whom opposed going into Iraq–now describe the possible costs of withdrawal as very high.

If the Realists, neighboring Arab regimes, our intelligence community and some of the most knowledgeable reporters all say such a course could be disastrous, on what basis are the withdrawal advocates taking their position?

Senor’s final question should be addressed directly to Robert Dreyfuss.

The answer, however, has more to do with the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement than with taking sides in an intramural imperialist battle between Right Zionists and Right Arabists over the preferred mix of proxy forces able to police US imperial interests in the Middle East.

Cold Wars Are Not What They Used To Be (They Never Were)

Posted by Cutler on June 06, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

Thank heavens the President of the United States relates on “a first-name basis” with the President of Russia.

Watching Bush discuss US relations with Russia, one almost gets the sense that the President of the United States is convinced that personal “friendship” will prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from appreciating the growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Here is Bush in Prague on Tuesday:

“My message will be, Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — that you shouldn’t fear a missile defense system,” Mr. Bush said during a morning appearance with the leaders of the Czech Republic at Prague Castle, high on a hill overlooking the city.

And Bush in Germany on Wednesday:

“I will continue to work with President Putin — Vladimir Putin — to explain to him that this (the missile shield) is not aimed at him,” Bush said.

Asked if the meeting with Putin would be tense, Bush said: “I’ll work to see to it, that it’s not (tense).”

Perhaps personal chemistry between “Condi and Sergey” will work similar wonders.

Does all this chummy warmth have any political meaning?  Maybe amidst all the talk of a new “Cold War,” there are pro-Russia forces pressing the President to tone down the hawkish rhetoric.  According to the Financial Times, the Russia hawks at the Jamestown Foundation seem worried:

But Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, a security think-tank, noted Mr Bush’s invitation to Mr Putin to become the first foreign leader to visit Mr Bush in the family home in Maine in early July. US policy was not hardening, Mr Howard said. “It is just the opposite…”

The “family home” in Maine belongs to Bush Sr.–long criticized by Russia hawks like Frank Gaffney for being soft on Russia.

But the Financial Times also reports on fears among self-proclaimed Russia “realists” that Russia hawks are gaining ground inside the Bush administration:

Dimitri Simes, president of Washington’s Nixon Center think-tank… noted the “hardline” speech on Russia given last week by David Kramer, a State Department official.

Mr Simes said the departure of Thomas Graham as senior Russia director in the national security council in February had led to a lack of “realistic thinking” in policy. “There is no alternative voice in the administration now,” Mr Simes said, describing the more dominant role played by “hawks” Daniel Fried and Mr Kramer in the department.

In truth, the “new” Cold War began even as the “old” Cold War was ending.  The only difference today is the increasingly harsh tone of the rhetoric.

On Wednesday, Bush insisted, “The Cold War is over.  It ended.”

In a way, he is right.  Soviet Communism is dead… so the Cold War must be over.

Some folks–like Stephen Cohen, a writer for the Nation and partner of its publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel–seem to think the “new” Cold War was always about Communism and, indeed, still about Communism.

Alluding to that myopia on the part of people who had sought the destruction of the Soviet state, a Moscow philosopher later remarked bitterly, “They were aiming at Communism but hitting Russia.”

Similarly, Cohen seems dismayed that during the post-Cold War era, “US policy has fostered the belief that the American cold war was never really aimed at Soviet Communism but always at Russia.”

The advent of a “new” Cold War should foster the belief–a crucial revisionist project–that for many elements of the foreign policy establishment, the “old” Cold War was never really about Soviet Communism so much as Russian empire.

Perhaps the “crisis” of the Soviet Union was not so much the Soviet part but the “Union” that allowed Russia to win control of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, etc.

Stephen Cohen’s view of the Cold War is, in some sense, overly ideological.

But even the “ideologues” have long recognized (even as they regretted) that much of the Cold War was about the old fashioned power politics of the Great Game rather than ideology.

Norman Podhoretz, in his 1999 Commentary essay, “Strange Bedfellows,” expressed the disappointment of ideological true believers:

Of course, Kissinger and Nixon were themselves strong anti-Communists as well as devotees and practitioners of Realpolitik. Yet it was realism that won out over anti-Communism in the most spectacular example of their efforts (in Kissinger’s words) to “seize the initiative and control the diplomatic process.” This was the opening to China. From the realist perspective, it was a great triumph, driving a wedge between the two major Com munist powers; even many hardline anti-Com munists, to whom an alliance with Communist China against the Soviet Union was analogous to the one we had made with the Soviet Union in fighting Hitler, applauded it as a masterstroke.

But other hard-liners, I among them, saw matters differently…

In the American policy of holding the line against any further expansion of Soviet power, no one, up until that moment, could easily distinguish between ideology and power politics…

However, in allying itself with Communist China (even if, for diplomatic reasons, the word “alliance” was never used), the United States was in effect announcing that the enemy in the cold war was not Communism but Russia. This being the case, the methods of Realpolitik were best suited to dealing with it. Those of us who disagreed-who, in other words, saw the cold war as a struggle against Communism, not against Russia as such-feared that the new turn of events would confuse public opinion about the true nature of the enemy, and that the willingness of the American people to go on supporting the struggle would thereby be undermined. For we had no doubt that this willingness had always been based-as our own was-on a moral and ideological opposition to Communism rather than to Russia as a nation.

Today, Russia hawks like Anne Applebaum at the American Enterprise Institute try to muster some of that “moral and ideological opposition.”  But it rings hollow and they seem to know it:

Last week, I found myself in Dom Knigi, the very largest of all the very large Moscow bookstores, staring at the history section.

Spread out over an entire wall were books of a sort I’ve never seen in such quantities during 10 years of visits: endless glorifications of Soviet fighter pilots, Soviet war heroes, even Stalin himself. Stalin: the Author of the Great Victory was one title; others had cover illustrations featuring red stars, or hammers and sickles.

I don’t think this new publishing trend heralds a new period of Stalinism, or not exactly. But it does illustrate a growing Russian fascination–encouraged and manipulated by the Kremlin–with Russia’s imperial past.

Cold Wars are not what they used to be.  Indeed, they never were.

George Shultz: Eminence Grise?

Posted by Cutler on June 05, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Is Cheney all alone out there?

Back in April, Bob Schieffer referenced Cheney’s alleged “isolation” in an interview with the vice president on Face the Nation.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Reid, who you mentioned earlier, the Democratic leader, said that he thought that President Bush had become more isolated over Iraq than Richard Nixon was during Watergate. You were around during those days.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I was.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think that’s true?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I do not. I think that’s a ridiculous notion.

SCHIEFFER: It’s a ridiculous notion?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Yes.

SCHIEFFER: Do you feel you have become more isolated?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I don’t think so. I spend as much time as I can, get out and–and do other things, be it home in Wyoming or, yesterday, I managed to go shopping with my daughter for birthday presents for granddaughters. But I, you know, I obviously spend most of my time on the job.

Of course, Schieffer did not follow up to press Cheney on whether he felt politically isolated.

In a January 2007 Newsweek interview, however, Cheney did allude to the distance between himself and the “Baker/Scowcroft” wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment:

Richard Wolffe: [There has been] criticism from Scowcroft about not knowing you anymore—people have got quite personal, people you worked with before. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t have some reaction.

CHENEY: Well, I’m vice president and they’re not.

The real question is whether Cheney has any allies within the larger foreign policy establishment.

One has to go all the way back to the start of the campaign to elect George W. Bush to recall that there was once another major figure from the foreign policy establishment behind the throne of George W. Bush: George P. Shultz.

When the Bush “campaign” unveiled its foreign policy team to the public in February 1999, Cheney was considered a key adviser.  The other major player was George Shultz.

Mr. Bush… consults with two unofficial senior advisers, Richard B. Cheney, President Bush’s secretary of defense, and George P. Shultz, Mr. Reagan’s secretary of state.

Jim Lobe has suggested that Shultz is “an eminence grise of the Bush administration” and the Wall Street Journal named Shultz as the “Father of the Bush doctrine.”  And yet, he never joined the administration and he has avoided much of the scrutiny and criticism associated with Bush foreign policy.

As honorary co-chair of the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger, Shultz has supported the most hawkish administration positions on the framing of the “war on terror” and Iraq, providing justifications for the war before and after the invasion.

Bob Woodward made news by reporting that Cheney frequently consults with Kissinger.  But Kissinger and Shultz appear to speak with one voice in defense of the administration’s political goals in Iraq.

The most urgent question, going forward, is how Shultz positions himself on Iran.

Shultz hasn’t said much publicly about Iran.

The place to watch on Iran policy may not only be the American Enterprise Institute but the “Iran Democracy Project” at Shultz’s Hoover Institution.

Looking at Hoover Institution chatter about Iran, one finds something less than a full-throated endorsement of military intervention.

Indeed, one finds support for containment, diplomacy, and “a principled long-term quest for
peaceful regime change
.”

Does this less-than-fully hawkish outlook on Iran shed some light on forces guiding the current course of US policy?

If Cheney is as hawkish on Iran as he is rumored to be, then he may be feeling more isolated than ever.

Wurmser: Outed or Ousted?

Posted by Cutler on June 04, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a post last week, I suggested that David Wurmser was the likely “Cheney aide” rumored by Steven Clemons to be circulating word that Cheney did not support Secretary of State Rice’s diplomatic overtures to Iran.

On Friday, Helene Cooper of the New York Times–who wrote an entire article about Wurmser in December 2006 without ever using his name–finally put a name into the game: David Wurmser.

A senior Bush administration official separately denied that there was a deep divide between Rice and Cheney on Iran.

But, the official said, “the vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff.”

In interviews, people who have spoken with Cheney’s staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the report. Some said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders were made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now Cheney’s principal deputy assistant for national security affairs.

The anonymous “senior Bush administration official” quoted by Cooper certainly seems to have been trying to create some sunlight between Cheney and Wurmser by suggesting that Wurmser doesn’t necessarily speak for the vice president.

Jim Lobe–whose unflinching and relentless reporting on the waxing and waning of neo-conservative influence in Washington is now available in blog form at LobeLog–suggests that Wurmser may be on the way out.

[I]f Wurmser is forced out in the coming days, it will both further isolate and weaken the remaining key neo-cons – notably, Elliott Abrams at the NSC, and John Hannah, Cheney’s national security adviser — and confirm that the vice president himself has been badly wounded. If he isn’t forced out, then the persistence of Cheney’s influence on Bush will be confirmed, and the possibility of an attack on Iran will increase. This is a critical moment.

Meyrav Wurmser seemed to talking about her husband, David, when she suggested in December 2006 that, along with John Bolton, “there are others who are about to leave.”

The departure of Wurmser would be very significant.  I have argued that Wurmser’s 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally, provided the blue print not only for toppling Saddam Hussein but for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraq Shiites under the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Nevertheless, I think it may be wishful thinking to imagine that Cheney is “badly wounded.”  Even if Wurmser is ousted, this could mark a reversal of course by Cheney rather than a reversal of fortune.

As I argued in a previous post, Cheney has not always been a reliable ally to Right Zionists like Wurmser.  And there may be reason to suspect Cheney sometimes thinks of Iran in terms of his “Central Asia” portfolio rather than his “Middle East” portfolio.

Cheney: Beyond Hypocrisy

Posted by Cutler on May 30, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

In many respects, the factional battle lines that have formed around the US invasion of Iraq have been pretty stark and predictable.  In my ZNET essay on foreign policy factionalism, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” I suggested that the US invasion of Iraq tended to split the foreign policy establishment into two camps: Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

One of the central puzzles, from that day to this, has been locating Vice President Cheney on that spectrum.

Of course, Cheney has been very clearly aligned with Right Zionists for some time now and he continues to surround himself with Right Zionist advisers like David Wurmser.

But Cheney was not always perceived as a “sure thing” for Right Zionists.   Cheney was not always thought of as allied with Right Zionists.  Among other things,  the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia.

Back in the 1990s Cheney did not seem to be above taking pot shots at the Israel lobby and its zeal for US sanctions against Iran.

Nick Snow interviewed Cheney for Petroleum Finance Week at a 1996 Energy Conference and filed the following report:

Halliburton Co. Chairman Richard B. Cheney sees many opportunities worldwide for U.S. oil and gas producers, drilling contractors and service and supply companies. But he’s also concerned that sanctions sought by domestic politicians to please local constituencies will hurt U.S. business growth overseas…

But he also considers sanctions the greatest threat to Halliburton and other U.S. companies pursuing opportunities overseas. “We seem to be sanction-happy as a government. The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments,” he observed during his conference presentation.

If anything, Cheney was probably considered a Right Arabist eager to do business with the Saudis and willing to find a modus operandi for doing deals with the Iranians.

Something changed.  Cheney closely aligned himself with Right Zionists.

Commentators who note the change often seem to focus primarily on Cheney’s hypocrisy.  Be that as it may, there are important questions to be asked about what triggered Cheney’s change of “heart.”

I have tried to offer up some explanations, including one that focused on post-9/11 tensions between Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

More recently, I have also found reason to suspect that at least some of Cheney’s shift might have begun before September 11th.  According to this account, Cheney was handed a huge defeat by the Israel Lobby in early 2001.  Unable to beat them, he joined them.

Those who do not attend to the factors the triggered Cheney’s change are least likely to anticipate the possibility that other factors might cause Cheney to change course again.

In several recent posts last week (here, here, here, and here) I pondered the possibility that Cheney might “come to terms” with the Iranian regime.

Needless to say, these are merely speculations.

Even as Cheney “allowed” the US-Iranian meeting in Iraq, there are signs that he is far from committed to this track.

Apart from Cheney’s own strident, anti-Iranian bluster during his recent visit to the Gulf, there are also rumors that he and his Right Zionist allies are telling friends to discount all the “diplomatic” talk.

In early May, the Jewish Daily Forward reported such a rumor:

Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.

Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.

Was Abrams speaking truth to the “Jewish Republicans” or was he trying to manage their potential discontent?  Hard to say.

More recently, Steven Clemons has offered up alleged details of a similar “reassurance” campaign among Right Zionist allies:

Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously…

There are many other components of the complex game plan that this Cheney official has been kicking around Washington. The official has offered this commentary to senior staff at AEI and in lunch and dinner gatherings which were to be considered strictly off-the-record, but there can be little doubt that the official actually hopes that hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives share this information and then rally to this point of view…

Is there any reason to doubt that the “senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team” who has been “meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute” is either John Hannah or David Wurmser?

As Juan Cole has suggested, Steven Clemons is “very well connected in Washington,” especially among Right Arabists.  I’m in no position to discount the rumor.  I do think it is peculiar that, according to Clemons, there is “little doubt” that the “Cheney official” hoped “hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives would share this information.”  So far, only Clemons appears to be sharing the “information.”

In a more general sense, I think it is unwise to assume that Cheney will remain forever faithful to his Right Zionist allies.  He has bigger fish to fry.

Specifically, Caspian Sea fish.

I have no doubt Cheney would gladly discard his Right Zionist allies if he thought the incumbent Iranian regime could become a useful foil to Russian geopolitical aspirations.

Kicking the British Poodle in Basra

Posted by Cutler on May 29, 2007
britain, Iraq / 2 Comments

Israeli strategic studies scholar Amikam Nachmani has long argued that the US consistently and forcefully–if quietly–undermined and marginalized British imperial control around the world.

Is this pattern also evident in Iraq today?  Is the US quietly working to undermine the British political position in Iraq?

Are the US and the UK on opposing sides in the relatively low-intensity “Shiite civil war” in Basra?

According to Reuters, British forces issued a press release on Friday, May 25, 2007 announcing that a Sadrist “militia leader” in Basra was killed in a “precision strike” on his car.

A later British report qualified the official story of the event:

[British military spokesman] Major David Gell said Abu Qader [“the leader of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Basra”] and at least one aide were shot shortly after leaving Sadr’s offices in the centre of the city, the hub of Iraq’s main oilfields. He said the operation was authorised by the Iraqi government…

“During the arrest operation the targeted individual was killed … after he resisted arrest,” he said.

According to the Guardian, the British were pretty unhappy with Abu Qader (also sometimes identified as Abu Qadir or Wissam al-Waili):

The British army yesterday said Mr Qader was a “known key criminal leader who was believed to have been involved in criminal activity such as weapons trafficking, theft and assassinations”. “He was also suspected of intimidation against local security forces and local civilians in Basra and planning and participating in attacks against MNF [multinational forces].” It described him as a “prominent member of the militant arm of Jaish al-Mahdi in the Basra area”. “The citizens of Basra are far safer now that the criminal leader is off the streets.”

Nevertheless, Abu Qader also had some well-positioned defenders.  The Guardian reports:

[T]he Iraqi military intelligence officer in Basra told the Guardian Mr Qader was known for instilling restraint in his men, and said his absence could unleash new violence on the city. “He was a very good person, serious and was working very hard to stabilise Basra,” the officer said. “He used to restrain his men from going into clashes against other militias. He was a nationalist who had no connections to Iran. There will be repercussions as his men will accuse Fadhila [a rival Shia faction] and they will try to avenge his death.”

The “precision strike” against Abu Qader is best understood as part of a larger effort by the British and the local Fadhila party (the so-called “Virtue Party) to bolster their position ahead of a planned British withdrawal.

In February 2007, Reuters reported:

In London, Blair told parliament Britain would reduce its troop levels by 1,600 over coming months, but said its soldiers would stay in Iraq into 2008 as long as they were wanted. Britain currently has 7,100 troops in Iraq.

Since late last year British troops have been conducting a major security sweep called Operation Sinbad aimed at purging the police of militia infiltration…

The Sadrists are believed to have infiltrated the security forces in the city and are often at odds with a pro-British governor from the rival Shi’ite Fadhila party.

As part of Operation Sinbad, British forces cleared Basra’s serious crimes unit on Dec. 25 and blew up the building with explosives after intelligence had suggested “rogue” officers were about to execute prisoners. The governor backed the move but the police chief was outraged.

The Guardian also suggests that the British are closely aligned with the Fadhila party and its governor, Mohammed al-Waeli:

Nasaif Jassem, a city councillor for the Fadhila party that controls the governorship and the oil industry in Basra, was critical of Iranian interference. Fadhila, widely seen as backed by the British, split from the main Shia alliance in Baghdad…

Meanwhile, all of the key US-backed Shiite political forces are united in trying to oust the Fadhila-backed provincial governor of Basra.  The Associated Press reports:

Two-thirds of the members of the Basra provincial council signed a statement Saturday declaring they have no confidence in the governor of the oil-rich province and asked parliament to remove him, a local official said…

Twenty-seven council members, or two-thirds, signed the statement and sent it to the parliamentary committee on provincial affairs, the official said…

The document was signed by the members of the Basra Islamic List, an alliance of Shiite parties opposed to Fadhila, and eight members of the Center Bloc.

The Basra Islamic List includes the Sadrist Movement of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Badr Organization, the Master of All Martyrs Movement and Hezbollah. The List holds 19 of the 41 provincial council seats, while Fadhila has 12.

Doesn’t this suggest that the US and the UK are backing opposing sides in the “Shiite civil war” for control of southern Iraq?

And, insofar as British forces are widely viewed as being chased out of Basra, is it too much to suggest that the US is “gently” showing the British the door?

Petro-Leverage

Posted by Cutler on May 25, 2007
Iran, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked about Arab-Iranian tensions in the Gulf:

FT: Does the fear many Arab regimes feel for Iran create a strategic opportunity for Israel?

BN: Categorically yes.

So, how much fear do Arab regimes feel for Iran?

It probably depends on the regime.  But I would argue that Saudi King Abdullah is not playing Netanyahu’s game.

The clearest sign of Saudi support to the Iranian regime is the current price of oil.

As I noted in a January 2007 post, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland reported that the Bush administration was seeking to use oil as a weapon to leverage concessions from Iran:

The campaign received a big boost last week when it became clear that Saudi Arabia is finally worried enough about Iran to use oil as a weapon against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saudi oil minister Ali Nuaimi publicly opposed Iranian calls for production cuts by the OPEC cartel to halt a decline that has taken crude oil from $78 a barrel in July to just above $50 a barrel last week.

The Saudis have enough reserve production capacity to swing OPEC prices up and down at will. Their relatively small population gives them a flexibility in postponing revenue gains that populous Iran lacks. Nuaimi’s pronouncement, although cast as a technical matter that had nothing to do with politics, seemed to give teeth to recent warnings issued in private by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, that the kingdom will now respond to Iranian hostility with its own confrontational tactics.

That was way back in January.  Today, the price of crude is back up to new highs.

Some of that is a “geopolitical premium” paid because of rising tensions between the US and Iran.  But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the price hike is also a consequence of OPEC–especially Saudi–policy.

Two years ago when gasoline prices in the U.S. surged to the then-lofty level of $2 a gallon, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries sprang into action, seeking to provide relief by pledging to boost oil production.

Now, with gasoline topping an average of $3.20 a gallon nationwide, OPEC officials say they see no reason to open the oil spigot wider.

The Journal article emphasizes OPEC jealously over the profits of American oil refiners.  I suspect there is something more geopolitical in the Saudi refusal to flood the markets with crude.

An Associated Press report suggests that Iran is one of the key beneficiaries of current OPEC policy:

Consistently high oil prices over the past few years have left Iran awash in petroleum money.

The current price of oil is Saudi King Abdullah’s gift to the Iranian regime.

Petro-leverage, under the circumstances, only go so far.

There are only two other forms of leverage: floating leverage (USS John C. Stennis) and political leverage (the threat of a so-called “velvet revolution”).

After that, there is only US accommodation and an alliance with the incumbent regime.

John Bolton made headlines recently by suggesting that the US “attack” Iran.

Here is the “money quote” from Bolton:

Mr Bolton said: “It’s been conclusively proven Iran is not going to be talked out of its nuclear programme. So to stop them from doing it, we have to massively increase the pressure.

“If we can’t get enough other countries to come along with us to do that, then we’ve got to go with regime change by bolstering opposition groups and the like, because that’s the circumstance most likely for an Iranian government to decide that it’s safer not to pursue nuclear weapons than to continue to do so. And if all else fails, if the choice is between a nuclear-capable Iran and the use of force, then I think we need to look at the use of force.”

Most of the attention has focused on Bolton’s support for the “use of force.”  But the real story may be the way Bolton talks about “regime change.”  He talks about “bolstering opposition groups and the like” but then doesn’t even seem able to convince himself that the end game of “regime change” is actually in the cards.

Instead, Bolton appears to suggest that the threat of regime change would convince “an Iranian government to decide that it’s safer not to pursue nuclear weapons.”

Is that “an” (eternal) Iranian government that would make that decision?  Or is it the (incumbent) Iranian government?

Cheney may have already decided that it is the (incumbent) Iranian government.

Confrontation with Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 24, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran / No Comments

The news is awash in stories about rising tensions between the US and Iran.  Reuters reports on US naval maneuvers in the Gulf and accompanying jitters in the oil market.

So, maybe the US is heading for a military confrontation with Iran.

I doubt it.  Here is Israeli Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the subject in an interview with the Financial Times:

[Y]ou can reserve the military option, preferably by the US, which has the means to do so. But that should be a last resort, because it is far too complicated.

Maybe the US is leading the way toward a “velvet revolution” in Iran.

I doubt it.  Those who most wish it were so discount the possibility.  Here is Right Zionist Michael Ledeen on recent reports that the White House authorized the CIA to undertake covert operations to undermine the Iranian regime:

[I]t’s a typical CIA product: the opposite of a serious program. You don’t need a secret disinformation operation; instead, we need an effective, public, information effort, including a VOA Farsi Service that entertains criticis of the mullahs more than their apologists, and administration spokesthings who talk about the grisly repression of the Iranian people carried out by the regime. Above all, four little words “we support regime change” would be a great way to start. And those words should come from the White House or Foggy Bottom. So far, we’ve got the secretary of state saying she doesn’t want regime change, just “better behavior” from the mullahs….

[T]his sort of leak invariably comes from people trying to kill the program. My guess is that CIA doesn’t want to do ANYTHING mean to the mullahs, and so they are trying to sabotage their own silly program.

The nuclear issue is in the news, but the nuke story is only a proxy for a larger geo-political story.  As hawks on both sides recognize, nobody really cares about the nukes, as such.

Not surprisingly, an Iranian official recently asserted as much:

Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) for International Affairs Javad Vaeedi [said], “Iran’s access to nuclear technology is not the problem of the US or the West. Iran’s attaining a geostrategic position is their problem.”

More surprising, at least on the surface, is that Right Zionists like Michael Rubin over at the American Enterprise Institute tend to agree that the real issue is the current geostrategic orientation of the regime.  A nuclear Iran allied with Israel and the United States might continue to be a concern for Arab regimes (as the Iranian nuclear program was under the Shah).  But it would be far less threatening for a figure like Rubin:

A democratic Iran might not abandon its nuclear program, but neither would it sponsor anti-American terrorism, undercut the Middle East peace process or deny Israel’s right to exist. Democratization, therefore, can take the edge off the Iranian threat.

All of which goes to saying that the real question on the table right now is whether the US can “flip” Iran and change its geostrategic orientation.

All through the 1980s, Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen thought this was urgent work.

During the 1990s, Cheney clearly favored an opening with Iran, in part to enhance US leverage in its Great Power rivalry with Russia.

Are we seeing a return to that older Cheney?

If so, will his Right Zionist allies follow his lead?  Or will they accuse him of “selling out Israel” by cutting a deal with an “unreconstructed” anti-Zionist regime in Iran?

US-Iranian Make-Up Sex

Posted by Cutler on May 23, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Does anybody remember what Kissinger and the Chinese were saying about each other right before Nixon arrived in China?

[This is not a rhetorical question.  I have no idea, but would appreciate some guidance.]

I’m trying to figure out if there is any precedence for the current dance between Iran and the US in which two parties appear to rattle sabers all the way up to the moment they embrace as the oldest of friends.

Robin Wright captures the nutty spirit of the moment in her Washington Post article, “Tehran Detains 4th Iranian American Before Talks.

Is the idea here that the intensity of the “make-up sex” improves with the bitterness of the prior strife?

Or, are the key players playing to domestic factional politics, trying to distract their own hardliners and rejectionists even as they lurch toward mutual embrace?

Consider, for example, the Associated Press report that accompanied Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing of the US-Iranian dialogue:

Iran’s supreme leader gave his backing Wednesday to U.S.-Iran talks about Iraq’s security. But he took a tough line, insisting the meeting will deal only with fixing American policies in Iraq, not changing Iran’s.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s harsh tone appeared aimed at quieting criticism by hard-liners over the planned meeting in Baghdad with the United States

Khamenei said Iran agreed to the “face-to-face negotiation” to “remind the U.S. of its responsibilities and duties regarding security” and “give them an ultimatum.” He did not specify what the ultimatum was.

“The talks will only be about the responsibilities of the occupiers in Iraq,” he said during a speech to a group of clerics in Mashhad city, about 620 miles northeast of Tehran, according to state-run television.

As I noted in a previous post, some “anonymous” American officials in Baghdad and Washington have adopted an equally hawkish posture ahead of talks with Iran.  [Update: Also, there continue to be rumors that the White House has authorized covert action to destabilize the Iranian regime.]

Vice President Cheney and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appear to be drawing from the same play book.  [It makes sense; they both appear to be “supreme leader” even though neither is actually president.]  Cheney has given his blessing to the US-Iranian talks, even as he recently did some very serious saber rattling from the deck of the USS John C. Stennis.

Nevertheless, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker seems to be tasked with preparing the ground for what he has called “a whole new era” in the Gulf.

[The Iranians] have an extensive relationship with Iraq, but pretty clearly, from our perspective, not all aspects of it are helpful and some of them are positively dangerous. I mean, their support for militias, their involvement in the development and transfer of EFPs that are killing our forces, these are not good things, not from a U.S. point of view and not from an Iraqi point of view. But that’s why I made the point I did about the, kind of the difference we see between the articulation of Iran’s policy interests and goals, which again track pretty closely with ours, and then what they’re actually doing on the ground. It would be a very good thing if they brought their actions more into alignment with their words.

We have no problem with a close relationship between Iran and Iraq. What we do have a problem with is Iranian behavior in Iraq that is again counter to what we want to see, what the Iraqi government and people want to see and indeed counter to some of their own stated interests. That’s what we want to see change. But you know, Iran and Iraq —Iraq’s longest border is with Iran. They’re neighbors forever, for better or for worse; for a very long time it’s been for worse. No country has suffered more, with the exception of Iraq itself, from Saddam’s regime than the Iranians. There is an opportunity here for them, I think, to move into a whole new era in a relationship with a stable, secure, democratic Iraq that threatens none of its neighbors, including Iran. But, you know, to get there they need to start doing some more constructive things than they have.

Jim Hoagland’s recent column in the Washington Post noted the persistence of rumors that the US would seek to restore Sunni Baathist by supporting a coup against the Shiite government in Iraq.

Washington [would take serious risks] by strong-arming the admittedly faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki out of office and replacing Maliki with a U.S.-anointed Iraqi savior.

Arab allies are urging such a course on Bush and would not object to U.S. military action against Iran. There is growing concern in Baghdad that Washington is developing a “Plan B” that involves both hitting Iran and ousting Maliki…

Some in Iran–including Mohammad Javad Larijani, brother of Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani–reportedly share similar concerns about US intentions.

Perhaps this helps explain the “leak” of a classified US plan by Crocker and David Petraeus that affirms US support for Prime Minister Maliki.

Ann Scott Tyson reports in the Washington Post:

The classified plan, scheduled to be finished by May 31, is a joint effort between Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American general in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. More than half a dozen people with knowledge of the plan discussed its contents…

The plan is… designed to shore up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though some U.S. commanders regard him as beholden to narrow sectarian interests….

“Maliki is the chosen vehicle; he’s the one-trick pony,” Dodge said in an interview from London. “Everyone recognizes that the success or failure [of U.S. policy] would be delivered through the office of the prime minister” and there is no discussion in Baghdad of removing him, he said.

Message to Iran: the US is sticking with the “Shiite Option” in Iraq.

Cheney’s Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Is the US preparing the way for a decisive pro-Shiite alliance with both the Iraqi Shiites and the incumbent Iranian regime?  Or is it preparing the way for a confrontation with Iran?

By some accounts, Iraqi Shiites are currently facilitating a diplomatic opening between the US and Iran.

Stratfor offers the following interpretation of recent events:

Iraq’s most senior Shiite politician, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, was in Iran on May 21 to undergo medical treatment after being rushed to the United States for testing a few days earlier. But it is unlikely that his trip is actually health-related; rather, al-Hakim flew to Iran from the United States to deliver the U.S. response to Tehran’s proposed framework for negotiations at the first direct public U.S.-Iranian meeting over Iraq, to be held in Baghdad on May 28….

When Iran relayed its terms for the talks, it did so by having an Iranian official hand-deliver the proposal to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker; this took place during a three-minute meeting on the sidelines of the May 4 international conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A version of that report was also leaked to a Saudi paper in an attempt to placate the Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia) that are wary of any U.S.-Iranian accommodation on Iraq. Because of the sensitive nature of U.S.-Iranian communications, the Bush administration chose to use al-Hakim as a conduit for transmitting its response.

The US-Iranian dialogue is, as noted by Stratfor, “sensitive” because Sunni Arab forces are wary of a US “tilt” toward a Shia Gulf.

Indeed, Sunni Arab suspicions seem to grow more pronounced with each passing day.

IraqSlogger has translated a recent interview with Saleh al-Mutlak, previously celebrated by Secretary of State Rice for taking positions that represented “considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership.”

Mutlak seems to fear the US and Iran are already de facto allies in Iraq:

In general, US policy towards Iran is vague, and unclear, and there are those who believe that the controversy is agreed upon, and is not a real controversy.

And in the result that the goals that Iran seeks in Iraq, they are the same goals that America seeks. Iran wants a weak Iraq, and fragmented to a certain extent, and this is an American goal. And whether there is coordination on this matter or not, they are walking on the same path and (towards the same) goal.

At the same time, Mutlak is critical of Sunni Arab neighbors for abandoning Sunni Arab Iraq to Iranian political dominance.

Unfortunately, the Arab countries, and at the forefront of them the neighboring countries are remiss with regards to Iraq, as they, at least have even not moved to stop the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

All of this suggests that the US is, indeed, tilting toward a Shia Gulf.

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the Bush administration is united in its policies toward Iran.

According to a report by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian, some US officials–all anonymous–are still speaking in very hawkish terms about Iran and its role in Iraq.

“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”

So, who are the remaining Iran hawks?

Right Zionists like Richard Perle remain quite hawkish about Iran and are very hostile toward dialogue with the Iranian regime, but do they have friends in the administration calling the shots on Iraq and Iran?

Cheney is the most likely ally, but he appears to be supporting the diplomatic discussions with Iran.

He recently explained his position to reporters:

QUESTION: Is it possible to both have a hard line on Iran, as you did on the aircraft carrier, and talk with them about Iraq? But are you still both going in different directions?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: They’re separate issues. The President made clear the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors — focused on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.

Not exactly the warmest words of greeting, but neither is it a critique of the diplomatic opening.

Moreover, Robin Wright at the Washington Post suggests that Cheney has been instrumental in facilitating the “medical care” for al-Hakim that has taken him to the US and Iran.

Vice President Cheney played a role in arranging for Hakim to see U.S. military doctors in Baghdad, who made the original diagnosis, and for the current medical treatment in Houston, the sources said.

If Cheney is facilitating dialogue between the US and Iran, then who is busy screaming about Iran to Simon Tisdall at the Guardian?

There are, of course, Right Arabist Iran hawks from the worlds of diplomacy (i.e., James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee) and within the military brass (i.e., Zinni and others).

Steven Clemons suggests that “Bush is allowing Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice to play good cop, bad cop with the Iranians.”

So, which cop is bluffing?

Is this the start of a “beautiful relationship” between the US and Iran?  Or is this the prelude to a policy of regime change?

Either way, my bet is that Cheney doesn’t leave office without trying to go beyond containment.

A Regional Civil War in the Middle East?

Posted by Cutler on May 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

It is proving increasingly difficult to interpret US policy in the Middle East by listening to the fears of its presumed targets.  Why?  Because all the Sunni and Shiite regimes in the region now seem to think they are being targeted by the US.

And, given that the paramount US goal in the invasion of Iraq was to achieve a dual rollback of “wayward” Sunni and Shiite regimes, one might even say that all the panic is justified.

Sunni Arab Fear of a US Tilt toward the Shia?

On the one hand, Sunni political elites are quite understandably upset by signs of an Iraq-based, US-inaugurated “Shiite tilt” in the regional balance of power.

Indeed, one might suggest that pronounced Sunni howls of protest over the weekend provide the best evidence yet that the US moved decisively toward a “Shiite Option” in Iraq.

Consider, for example, signs of increasing frustration and defiance on the part of Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq Al Hashemi.

According to an Associated Press report, Hashemi is very concerned about the upcoming talks between the US and Iran:

Iraq’s Sunni vice president spoke out Sunday against the upcoming U.S.-Iran talks on the situation in his country, saying the dialogue was “damaging to Iraq’s sovereignty.”…

“It’s not good to encourage anybody to talk on behalf of the Iraqi people on their internal and national affairs,” al-Hashemi told reporters on the last day of an international conference held by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

Al-Hashemi said he would have preferred that the subject of Iraq’s stability was “tackled by Iraqis themselves.”

“This is really damaging to Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said.

And, yet, for all his alleged concern for Iraq’s sovereignty as a general principle, Hashemi seems most concerned about one neighbor in particular–Iran.

Gulf News reports that Hashemi “lashed out” at Iran:

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, lashed out at Iran at the conference.

“We say stop your interference in our internal affairs, stop settling scores on our soil, stop being part of covert plans to destabilize Iraq, and sit down with us to settle our differences, resolve outstanding issues and talk about economic cooperation,” he said.

Indeed, in an effort to thwart a US-Iranian tilt in Iraq, Hashemi seems willing to drop all the pretenses about Iraqi sovereignty and invite a regional takeover of Iraq.  The Jordan Times reports:

Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi stressed that the security of Iraq is becoming the security of the region and it is trying to convince its neighbours that “the situation in Iraq is going to spill over sooner or later.”

He asked for help from Iraq’s neighbours to reconcile internal differences before moving on to resolve external conflicts.

“We are not asking anyone to come and make decisions for us. All that we need is to stop people who are capitalising on our human tragedy; if this is beyond the capacity of the US then let the United Nations and our neighbours take over,” the Iraqi vice president said.

Finally, Hashemi is also reportedly resisting passage of the US-backed hydrocarbons bill introduced by Iraq’s Shiite Oil Minister, Hussain al-Shahristani.  The Associated Press reports:

Iraq’s vice president said Sunday he opposes a draft law that is key to the future of his country’s lucrative oil sector, saying it gives too many concessions to foreign oil companies.

“We disagree with the production sharing agreement,” Tariq al-Hashemi told reporters on the sideline of an international conference hosted by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

“We want foreign oil companies, and we have to lure them into Iraq to learn from their expertise and acquire their technology, but we shouldn’t give them big privileges,” al-Hashemi said.

As the Jordan Times reports, Hashemi’s fears and frustrations were echoed by Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib:

“We have to end proxy wars, we don’t want any party to use Iraq as a fighting ground for capital gains,” Foreign Affairs Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib said at the session, entitled “Iraq the regional security dimension.”

He added, however, that the Kingdom first wants to see Iraq achieve political reconciliation internally and the revival of Iraqi nationalism.

“When there is a national feeling of weakness it opens the door for other affiliations to emerge at the expense of our collective security in the region,” he said.

An Associated Press report puts Khatib’s concerns in the context of the regional balance of power:

Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib… turned a cold shoulder to… Iranian delegates.

“There are serious flaws in the regional order and some countries are interfering in the affairs of Arab countries,” al-Khatib said Sunday, referring to Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.

“We need to see deeds on the ground and respect for Iraq’s territorial integrity,” he said…

Iranian Fear of an Arab-Israeli-American Coalition against Iran?

Even as the Arabs continue to fear US plans for the formation of a “Shia Gulf,” the Iranian regime appears to fear Arab support for US and Israeli efforts to topple the Iranian regime.

The Financial Times reports:

Shia Iran meanwhile suspects its Sunni Arab neighbours, all allies of the US, of working to undermine it.

In response, Iran is trying to enhance its credibility with the “Arab street” in order to undermine the legitimacy of any anti-Iranian Arab initiative.  The FT makes the point:

Seeking the support of ordinary Arabs and Muslims with anti-Israeli slogans has been a cornerstone of Iran’s foreign policy under President Mahmoud Ahmadi- Nejad. But the strategy has infuriated Arab governments, and intensified suspicions of Tehran’s intentions at a time when its influence in the region has grown.

Evidence of such a strategy was on display at the World Economic Forum where Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki took aim at Saudi King Abdullah’s Palestinian “peace initiative.”  The Associated Press reports:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the [Saudi] plan would flounder…

“We had some 130 plans in the past 30 years, but none of them were realized because of the approach of the other side (Israel),” Mottaki said during a panel discussion. “Besides, we do not see any chance for the success of the Arab peace initiative because it fails to address fateful issues, like the capital of a Palestinian state and the right of return for some 5 million refugees.”

Former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Turki al-Faisal scolded Iran, however, saying that the predominantly Persian country had little to do with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

“It’s an Arab issue and should be resolved within the Arab fold,” he said.

Cheney’s Middle East

Prince Turki al-Faisal and Saudi King Abdullah can hardly be viewed as Cheney’s likely or willing collaborators in his efforts to assemble an anti-Iranian coalition in the Gulf.  It is, therefore, quite an accomplishment for the Iranian Foreign Minister to provoked the wrath of Prince Turki.

Perhaps the real “accomplishment” should be credited to Cheney himself.

After all, it was Cheney’s “rejectionists” in Gaza who detonated the current round of fighting that pits Iranian-backed Hamas forces against Fatah forces traditionally backed by Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

And it is Cheney and his Right Zionist allies who have been working overtime to reconstruct the balance of power in the Middle East with the help of a regional civil war.

An Iraqi Shiite “Readjustment”?

Posted by Cutler on May 18, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Something is brewing in the world of US-Shiite relations, but I confess that the contours of any shift remain very murky.

As noted in my previous post, there has been increased chatter about tensions between Iraqi Shiites and the Iranian regime.  Reuters reported:

Iraq’s biggest Shi’ite party on Saturday pledged its allegiance to the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a move that would distance it from Shi’ite Iran where it was formed.

Party officials told Reuters on Friday… the party had been close to Sistani for some time, but a two-day conference on Baghdad that ended on Friday had formalized relations with the influential cleric.

“We cherish the great role played by the religious establishment headed by Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali al-Sistani … in preserving the unity of Iraq and the blood of Iraqis and in helping them building a political system based on the constitution and law,” said Rida Jawad al-Takki, a senior group member, who read out the party’s decisions to reporters…

Officials said the party, which was formed in Iran in the 1980s to oppose Saddam, had previously taken its guidance from the religious establishment of Welayat al Faqih, led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

Anne Barnard of the Boston Globe followed up with additional talk of popular Iranian Shiite support for Sistani.

At the governmental level, the US has been urging and predicting such an Iraqi Shiite shift for some time.  In January 2007 press briefing, Zalmay Khalilzad described a “readjustment” underway among Iraqi Shiites:

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think the Iraqis are going through a readjustment process – and by Iraqis I mean different political forces. There is no problem in terms of understanding between us and the Prime Minister. In the past, before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, a number of groups opposed to the regime operated from outside Iraq and they developed relations with some of the institutions and organizations of the neighboring states that supported them, and those are almost invariably security institutions. But now Iraqi is in a different place. It is a state that some of those people who were opposed are now in the government and there cannot be and there should not be relations with security institutions of neighboring states that work against the interests of this new Iraq; that attack Coalition forces, Iraqis, undermine the stability of Iraq.

Right Zionists celebrated news that such a “readjustment” might have led to a rift between Iraqi Shiite politicians and the Iranian regime.  FrontPage predicted the US was “Turning the Corner in Iraq“:

[B]ad news for Iran is the seismic shift of Iraq’s largest political party away from Iran…

In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi’a faith….

And yet, the signs do not all run in the same direction.

First, the FrontPage writer, Steve Schippert proposes that some sober “caution” is in order:

While it is difficult to understate the significance of the monumental shift within Iraq, it should also be recognized that the decision to transform the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq into simply the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council was not arrived at with unanimity.  Nor was it arrived at without heated debate.  As well, many of the SCIRI party’s elected government officials have ties and allegiances to Iran that are unlikely to simply evaporate overnight.

The factional lines within SCIRI/SIIC are not clear, but IraqSlogger cast doubt on the entire story of an Iraqi Shiite shift:

The media bureau of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, formerly SCIRI, issued a statement late Saturday correcting what it described as “dubious remarks attributed to senior SCIRI officials” and “inaccurate analysis” made by media outlets, referring to reports that the party would distance itself from neighboring Iran.

It can be difficult for any leader to deal with organizational factionalism, but SCIRI/SIIC leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim seems to be taking it all very hard.

The Associated Press is reporting that al-Hakim is suddenly on his way to the US:

The leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite political party has left for the United States for medical checkups after complaining of exhaustion and high blood pressure, two officials said Friday.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim flew to the United States on Wednesday, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official, who works at al-Hakim’s office, declined to give further details. But a senior member of the Shiite leader’s party, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, said al-Hakim was suffering from fatigue and high blood pressure.

Maybe he will also use his time in the US to “clarify” the position of his party, in light of the current confusion and the prospect of factional divisions.

And, finally, there is the question of the alleged rivalry between Sistani, on the one hand, and Khameini and the incumbent Iranian regime, on the other.

According to recent reports, Sistani has welcomed upcoming talks between the US and the Iranian regime:

Planned talks between the United States and Iran in Baghdad are “the first promising step for free and direct bilateral talks” between the two adversaries, a cleric close to Iraqi Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said on Friday.

In his Friday sermon in a Najaf mosque, Shia Imam Sadr Eddin al- Qabanji expressed hope that the Iranian-US talks would lead to peace between the US and Iran…

Right Zionists love Sistani.  But not all Right Zionists seem to share Sistani’s enthusiasm for US-Iranian diplomacy.

Richard Perle, in particular, seems pretty bitter about the prospect of US talks with Iran:

Richard Perle offered a withering assessment of the president’s impotence at a meeting of the Hudson Institute in New York, saying American foreign policy is being applied by an out-of-control State Department….

“We have already seen a change in policy towards Iran,” he said. “It is now firmly back in the hands of the Department of State.”

Ultimately, Right Zionists are committed to the restoration of the old US-Israeli-Iranian strategic alliance.  The question is whether that could ever mean peace with the incumbent Iranian regime or only peace with “eternal Iran.”

Perhaps al-Hakim will be discussing that very question during his visit to the United States.

Dreyfuss: Learning to Love the Neocons?

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq / 1 Comment

The Left has lots of ways of talking about what is “wrong” with the Iraq war.  Some are likely to endure more than others.

There are claims, for example, that the invasion was morally wrong (an oil grab, an imperialist imposition, etc.).

There are also claims that that the invasion was strategically wrong (the Neocons were incompetent, naive, ideological).

Debate among those who make arguments about strategic calculations turn on a few major issues.

The Sunni Insurgency:

Neocons arguably failed to anticipate the Sunni insurgency.

Cheney conceded that point back in June 2006.

Q Do you think that you underestimated the insurgency’s strength?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think so.

Of course, Cheney has taken heat for adding, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered.”   Rumsfeld, too, suggested that nobody anticipated the insurgency’s strength.  This is nonsense.  Cheney and Rumsfeld chose to discount the threat of the insurgency.

One might even predict that the greater “wrong” here is not strategic butmoral.”

What if Cheney and Rumsfeld did anticipate a Sunni insurgency but thought that the US could “win dirty” by allowing Shiites and Kurds to “cleanse” Iraq of Sunni resistance?

Remember Rumsfeld:

Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.

Wasn’t Rumsfeld already talking about winning dirty?  His Right Zionist allies were always prepared to win dirty.  Remeber Reuel Marc Gerecht: “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?

Indeed, Right Zionists (Fouad Ajami and Gerecht) are feeling optimistic today precisely because they think the US has already started to win dirty.

Handing Iraq to Iran:

Other critics have suggested that the Neocon incompetence handed Iraq to Iran.

The leading “Left” critic on this score has been long-time Iran hawk, Robert Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss has frequently “exposed” the “Secrets of the US-Shiite Alliance” and lamented the disastrous creation of “Iran’s Iraq.”  He has also penned vicious attacks on Iraq’s leading Shiite political figures, denounced “Bush’s Shiite Gang in Iraq“:

So the question is: when will [we] hear the Bush administration’s top officials start calling the Shiite fundamentalist regime in Baghdad “Islamofascists”? So far, they’s applied that term only to the Iraqi resistance, tarring the Sunni-led insurgency by painting them as led by Al Qaeda-style terrorists, when in fact that they are mostly Iraqi nationalists, Baathists, and ex-military men. Their main grievance is that the United States is handing Iraq over to Iran. I’d say they’re right.

Now, however, he seems to be changing his tune.  The change does not appear to be based on a reconsideration of the morality of playing the “Devil’s Game” so much as a reconsideration of the strategic viability of the same Neocon strategy I discussed in my article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

The Dreyfuss reversal is a blog post entitled, “Iraq’s Influence in Iran.”

Before the war in 2003, the neocons’ fervent hope was that Najaf, the Iraqi holy city, would rise to eclipse Qom, the Iranian clerical center, helping to undermine the rule of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Since then, Iran’s influence in Iraq has appeared far greater than vice versa. But a Boston Globe article suggests that the effects are being felt both ways….

This is interesting, and deserves further investigation. Certainly, Iraq and Iran influence each other, and in many ways. So far, it seems, Iran’s influence in Iraq is greater than the other way around, although the possibility of clerical opposition to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is growing. Some of that, at least, could be tied to Iraqi ayatollahs, including Sistani, in concert with dissident Iranian clerics such as Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who challenged the political theory of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Dreyfuss has penned articles attacking Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen not only on the basis that they were morally suspect but also on the basis that they simply had no idea what they were talking about.  Now, Dreyfuss finds the consequences of Ledeen’s war in Iraq “interesting.”

That is a step toward acknowledging that when dealing with Right Zionists, we are in a realm “beyond incompetence.”

As I have previously discussed, there are critics (Swopa at Needlenose) who have been utterly dismissive of the notion of tension between Najaf and Qom.

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true. Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Juan Cole’s interpretation of this issue has always left me confused.  On the one hand, Cole wrote a July 2005 article in Salon entitled, “The Iraq War is Over, And the Winner Is… Iran.”

On the other hand, I have also previously noted that Cole’s adamant insistence (in agreement with Right Zionist strategists) that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is not close to the regime in Iran.  Indeed, when Professor Cole listed his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005, number five was as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

Am I alone in being amazed that four years after the US invasion of Iraq there has never been a full airing of this issue, even among Left critics of the war?

If, as Dreyfuss suggests, there might prove to be something “interesting” about the strategic consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, then Left “critics” might at some point contemplate abandoning their posts as armchair imperial strategists and find a different anti-imperialist basis for opposing the US war in Iraq.

Putin’s Caspian Coup, Cheney’s Iran Plan

In a major coup, Russian President Putin has clinched a deal to export Central Asian gas via Russia’s preferred overland route and has almost certainly dealt a fatal blow to Vice President Cheney’s vision of a submerged Trans-Caspian pipeline that would bypass Russia.

Putin claimed his Great Game prize at a weekend meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Kazakhstan Presdient Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Cheney had personally courted Kazakh President Nazarbayev in a bid to win support for the Trans-Caspian pipeline.  And the US had made similar overtures to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov after the sudden death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in December 2006.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev had been slated to attend an energy summit of ex-Soviet bloc leaders meeting in Poland to discuss pipeline projects designed to bypass Russia.

Instead of bypassing Russia, Nazarbayev bypassed Cheney.

This is an enormous victory for Putin in the increasingly intense Great Power rivalry between Russia and the United States.

Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov, seemingly eager to forestall an inevitable US-led smear campaign against his authoritarian regime, has held out hope that the Russian pipeline agreement does not preclude alternatives, including the Trans-Caspian pipeline:

Turkmen ambassador to Austria Esen Aydogdyev told the Viennese daily Der Standard that ‘Turkmenistan has enough gas to export it in all directions; the project involving a trans-Caspian pipeline remains an option. The West doesn’t need to have any worries.’

Austrian oil and gas company OMV AG plays a leading role in the consortium currently planning the Nabucco natural gas pipeline and recently confirmed its commitment to the project.

Nevertheless, officials in the US and Russia appear to read the situation differently.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, clearly gloating, suggested that Cheney’s pipeline is now dead:

“In my view, technological, legal, and environmental risks that are involved in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project make it impossible to find an investor for it, unless it is viewed as a purely political project and unless it does not matter what this pipe will pump,” Khristenko told journalists in Turkmenbashi on Saturday.

Khristenko’s American counterpart, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, appears to view the outcome as a significant setback for US efforts to help break European dependence on Russia.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday that a deal to pipe gas from Turkmenistan to customers in the West via Russia was bad for Europe.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of an International Energy Agency meeting here, Bodman said: “It would not be good for Europe. It concentrates more natural gas to one supplier.”

Implications for Iran

Putin’s Caspian delight may have significant implications for US policy toward Iran.  Cheney had been hoping to use the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, along with the Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipelines, to bypass Iran and Russia.  The gas would eventually flow to Europe through the NABUCCO pipeline.

Now, Cheney will arguably be forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils.”

From the perspective of Great Power politics, there is no question: Cheney will try to reconstruct an alliance with Iran.

The only question now may be how Cheney will rebuild ties between the US and Iran: diplomacy or regime change.  For the vice president, mere “containment” of Iran is no longer an option.  Cheney will not be likely leave office without an alliance with Iran.

One challenge, among several, is to pry Iran away from Russia.

Several weeks before the news of Putin’s Caspian coup, Nikolas K. Gvosdev–a self-proclaimed Washington “realist”–published an article in the National Interest entitled, “The Other Iran Timetable.”

Gvosdev argued that Europe needed Iranian gas for the NABUCCO pipeline:

[T]here is only so much time before Europeans will decide that Iran, which has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, is a critical part of ensuring their energy security. So far, the United States has been largely successful in convincing Europeans to delay proposed investments in Iran’s natural gas sector and has expressed strong disapproval of plans to connect Iran to the so-called NABUCCO pipeline (designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey to Europe).

But NABUCCO has limits. Many Europeans are skeptical that there is enough Caspian gas to really make a difference for their consumption… In the end, I was told, for NABUCCO to make sense, it will have to include gas from Iran.

This means that sooner or later Europe’s ability to give Washington support on isolating Iran will give way to its own needs for energy….

[W]as this is a case of advising, “Whatever you do, do it quickly”—meaning that if the United States were to pursue forcible regime change the preference would be to do it sooner?… [B]y 2011 or 2013, large-scale European investment in Iran will begin no matter whether it is still the Islamic Republic or some other form of government…

Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen were once champions of engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed after 1991.

During the middle of the 1990s, Cheney was himself a leading petro-realist, advocating direct engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed by July 2001.

Will Cheney and the Russia hawks go wobbly on Iran now that the US appears to have lost Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?

Will Right Zionists revert to their earlier support for an opening with Iran?  Or is Russia the “lesser of two evils” for Right Zionists, especially in light of Israeli interests in Turkmenistan and Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas?

Or, will Cheney and Right Zionists constitute a united front toward regime change in Iran?

Cheney: Delivering Justice to the Enemies of Freedom

Posted by Cutler on May 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Robin Wright’s May 11, 2007 Washington Post report ahead of Cheney’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia was entitled “Cheney to Try to Ease Saudi Concerns.”

I don’t know what Cheney was trying to do, but there are no indications in Wright’s article that Cheney is prepared to do anything much about “Saudi Concerns” regarding Iraq.

Saudi Concerns about Iraq

Wright characterizes Saudi concerns:

The oil-rich kingdom, which has taken an increasingly tough position on Iraq, believes Maliki has proven a weak leader during his first year in power and is too tied to Iran and pro-Iranian Shiite parties to bring about real reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunni minority, Arab sources said…

The king has balked at recent U.S. overtures to do more to help Iraq politically, beyond pledges of debt relief and financial aid, and has explored support for alternative leadership, including former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, U.S. and Arab officials said.

The Saudis have been increasingly concerned about reports that Maliki’s government favors Shiite officials in government ministries and Shiite commanders in the Iraqi military — at the expense of qualified Sunnis whose inclusion would help foster reconciliation, Arab officials said…

The U.S. Central Command chief, Adm. William J. Fallon, and the State Department’s Iraq coordinator, David M. Satterfield, were both rebuffed in appeals to the king during trips to Riyadh last month. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Fallon said the king told him “several times” during their April 1 discussion that U.S. policies “had not been correct in his view.”

“He also told me that he had severe misgivings about the Maliki government and the reasons for that,” Fallon added. “He felt, in his words, that there was a ‘significant linkage to Iran.’ He was concerned about Iranian influence on the Maliki government and he also made several references to his unhappiness, uneasiness with Maliki and the background from which he came.”

[An Associated Press article on Cheney’s meeting with Abdullah reports that the king asked after George Bush Sr, as if to drive home the point that the alliance between the House of Saud and the House of Bush was secured by the senior Bush when he allowed Saddam to crush the Shiite rebellion in Iraq after Operation Desert Storm.]

Cheney: Assuaging Saudi Concerns?

Wright reports on Cheney’s planned effort to “ease” Saudi concerns:

Assuaging Saudi concerns is the primary reason for the vice president’s trip — and even a key reason he went to Baghdad this week, U.S. and Arab officials say. During his stop in Riyadh on Saturday, Cheney wants to be able to tell the Sunni world’s most powerful monarch that the Bush administration is leaning hard on the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to implement long-delayed political steps to help end the Sunni insurgency, U.S. officials said….

But the real point here, as Wright reports, is that Cheney continues to resist, so far, the real Saudi demand: bring back Iyad Allawi (a secular “Shiite,” but an ex-Baathist sometimes referred to as Saddam without a Mustache) and to restore Sunni political supremacy in Iraq:

In a message that U.S. officials said will be underscored by Cheney, Fallon said he urged the king to show some support for the Iraqi leadership even if he does not like Maliki, because it is “unrealistic” to expect a change in the Baghdad government.

“We’re not going to be the puppeteers here,” Fallon told the Senate committee…

The vice president will make the case that Maliki was elected and that Allawi, or any other leader, would not be more effective with the current situation in Iraq, U.S. officials said…

U.S. officials are already skeptical that the visit will produce a significant breakthrough, beyond underscoring common interests in regional stability.

Fallon is quite clear: the US is committed to the Shiite Option in Iraq.  There will be no rollback of the 2005 elections.  The US will not back Sunni puppets (these words may haunt Fallon if the US does ever resort to authoritarian rule under Allawi).

This only confirms my sense that Cheney has signed on to the initial Right Zionist plan to use Shiite majority rule in Iraq to challenge Sunni supremacy in the Gulf.

Cheney on Iran

If Cheney wanted to ease Saudi concerns about Iraq, he knows what to do: install Allawi as Iraq’s “benign autocrat.”

But Cheney didn’t go to Saudi Arabia to ease concerns about Iraq.  If anything, he went to try to provoke Saudi concerns about Iran (and, perhaps, to ease concerns that Maliki represented a “significant linkage to Iran”).

The Saudis were always destined to oppose “Act I” of the Right Zionist plan for “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.  But Cheney appears to still be hoping to enlist Saudi support for “Act II” of the dual rollback plan which targets the Iranian regime.

Indeed, Robin Wright’s article from May 12, 2007 makes the point: “In Gulf, Cheney Pointedly Warns Iran.”

“Throughout the region our country has interests to protect and commitments to honor,” Cheney told Navy staff aboard the USS John C. Stennis. “With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We’ll keep the sea lanes open. We’ll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We’ll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We’ll continue bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”

That last line seemed new to me.  Cheney has been talking about Iran in terms of “strategic threats” for a long time.  But is that last line a reference to domestic Iranian politics and the prospect of regime change from within?  Let it sink in… “bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”  Who are “those who suffer”?  Who are the “enemies of freedom”?  In a paragraph about Iran?

There are at least two ways of thinking about whether that line has any significance: reaction among those who yearn for regime change in Iran and those who fear it most.

Thus far, Cheney’s “freedom” line on Iran has elicited no discernable excited from the Right Zionists most enthusiastic about regime change.  That tends to make me think I may be reading too much into the line.  We’ll see… (keep me posted if you spot anything).

Within Iran, however, there seems to be heightened concern that the US is, indeed, supporting some kind of populist “velvet revolution” in Iran.  The Financial Times explains:

Iranians with close ties to Washington said the Bush administration’s decision to allocate special funding to support pro-democracy activities in Iran – while keeping the identities of recipients secret – had been a mistake that has led to a witch-hunt.

Indeed, the Iranians appear to have nabbed a major Iranian-American “witch,” Haleh Esfandiari.

The Associate Press explains the case:

[T]he hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan accused Haleh Esfandiari of spying for the U.S. and Israel and for attempting to launch a democratic revolution in the country….

“She has been one of the main elements of Mossad in driving a velvet revolution strategy in Iran, the paper wrote. She formed two networks, including Iranian activists, in the U.S and Dubai for toppling down [the Islamic government]”.

Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, denied the newspaper’s allegations.

“It is a false and hollow accusation that Haleh Esfandiari is one of the ‘principle instruments’ of Israel, or a Mossad spy service, in advancing the strategy of a ‘velvet revolution’ in Iran. It is a lie that Haleh Esfandiari had ‘undercover assignments’ or that she was one of the ‘media spies’ in Iran. She had no part in setting up a ‘communications network’ between Dubai and America,” Bakhash said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

It would be rather remarkable if Shaul Bakhash or Esfandiari constituted the “principle instruments” of those advancing the strategy of a “velvet revolution” in Iran.  More likely, the Iranians are simply rounding up the “usual suspects.”

Omid Memarian over at “Iranian Prospect” has some details from Iranian press reports:

Reja News, a super conservative website which has been active over the past few days in attacks against Hossein Moussavian, a senior Iranian diplomat recently arrested in Tehran, published a report in which Haleh Esfandiari was named the Zionists’ agent in Iran…

The report then describes Dr. Esfandiari’s activities in Ayandegan Newspaper, saying: “She is an effective member of the pre-Revolution Zionist Lobby in the Pahlavi court, who along with her husband founded the Zionist Ayandegan Newspaper in Tehran. The interesting point is that Haleh Esfandiari remained in Iran for a time after the Revolution, but with the ban on Ayandegan Newspaper, she fled Iran in August of 1979 for Israel.”

Reja News which withholds its source continues: “It is said that she was the architect of AIPAC’s conference two years ago, which met under the slogan of ‘Now Is The Time to Stop Iran,’ suggesting a review of all avenues to confront Iran’s nuclear programs. This conference’s motto, ‘Iran, the Point of Understanding Between US and Israel,’ tried to review ways for coordinating Israel and US efforts to apply pressure on Islamic Republic of Iran. George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Cinton, John Bolton, Ihud Ulmert and Amir Perez were some of the speakers in this conference. It is said that the decision of war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah was reached in this conference.”

Esfandiari did participate in an AIPAC policy conference back in 2004 where she joined Philo Dibble on a panel entitled, “Revolution From Within: Can the Iranian People Reclaim the Republic?”  Maybe somebody who was there could say how Esfandiari (and Dibble) answered the question.

As for Shaul Bakhash, I have previously noted that as a member of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce on Iran (co-chaired by Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski), Bakhash formally dissented from the main conclusions of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce Report , “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Bakhash appeared to be speaking, like Cheney, about bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.

I wish to stress that support for dialogue and diplomatic and economic relations between Iran and the United States does not imply acquiescence in the violation by the Iranian government of the civil rights and liberties of its own citizens. Some Iranians understandably fear that relations with the United States will reinforce the status quo and therefore regime durability in Iran. In fact, any study of Iranian history over the last century and more suggests that interaction with the outside world greatly accelerates, rather than hinders, the pace of internal political change. I believe enmeshing Iran with the international community, expanding trade, and improving economic opportunity and the conditions for the growth of the middle class will strengthen, not weaken, the democratic forces in Iran.

Are the Iranians right to be nervous about a “velvet revolution”?

I’ll believe that the US has adopted a policy of populist regime change when I see the accompanying Right Zionist jubilation.

Who’s Afraid of the Shiite Wolf?

Posted by Cutler on May 11, 2007
Iraq / 3 Comments

The Sadrist MPs within the Iraqi Government are circulation legislation calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.  Sort of.

Not surprisingly, some anti-war critics are quick to hail it as “a hugely significant development.”

Juan Cole puts the breathless chatter about the withdrawal petition in some helpful context.

The Washington Post story by Joshua Partlow leads with a quote from a Sadrist MP that hardly seems like an audacious call to arms:

“We haven’t asked for the immediate withdrawal of multinational forces; we asked that we should build our security forces and make them qualified, and at that point there would be a withdrawal,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a member of parliament allied with the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters drafted the bill. “But no one can accept the occupation of his country.”

Am I the only one who thinks the Sadrist seem pretty tame?  Does Moqtada al-Sadr really give Cheney nightmares?

On the contrary, Right Zionists seem pretty pleased with their Shiite allies these days.  As I noted in a previous post, Reuel Marc Gerecht over at the American Enterprise Institute has been expecting Iraqi demands for US withdrawal and does not seem particularly fazed by them:

As a Shiite-led democracy grows, the calls for an American withdrawal will increase. Which is fine. Iraqi nationalism is vibrant among the Shiites, especially those who are religious. And democracy in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, is unlikely to be particularly affectionate toward the United States. Iraqi democracy is much more likely to free American soldiers to go home than is chaos in Mesopotamia.

So, that must mean that everyone is now on the same page about US withdrawal, right?

Nope.

The folks who brought us this war–and intentionally brought Shiites to power in Iraq–have done what they wanted to do in Iraq.  They have opened Pandora’s Box and are now prepared to watch as Iraqi Shiite power change the balance of power in the region.

But there are some folks in Washington who remain quite worried about US withdrawal.

Who are they?

Surprise!  They include some of the most high-profile critics of that war–Right Arabist figures like General Anthony Zinni.  Why?  Not a sudden lack of moral courage.  The issue is geopolitical, not moral.  Zinni and the Right Arabists need US forces to stay in order to help close Pandora’s Box and contain Shiite regional power.

Zinni spoke about US military withdrawal during a recent appearance on CNN:

BLITZER: All right. So now the U.S. is there. What do you do now?…

ZINNI: Well, first of all, it’s the right man. Dave Petraeus is exceptional, and I think our ambassador there, Ryan Crocker, another exceptional individual. We have the right people on the ground.

I think what we haven’t done, though, is we haven’t talked about the broader strategic — or strategy that we need for the region. We need to reconstruct a collective security arrangement that’s been destroyed in the region. We need to think through how we would establish a containment strategy, setting the conditions for what our troops would do, what they wouldn’t do in here. Even if this current strategy works, either way we’re going to fall back in to some containment, but it’s foolish to believe we’re going to leave.

BLITZER: What would happen if, as a lot of Democrats want right now, by the end of next March, early April, combat forces are out of Iraq?

ZINNI: Well what can happen, this could become a base for extremists. We could have the sectarian violence spill over into the region. Iranian influence could grow, and their hegemonic designs could create a situation that’s worse.

BLITZER: So, what you’re saying, as bad as the situation is right now, there’s plenty of opportunity for it to get a whole lot worse?

ZINNI: Absolutely. Anyone that knows this region knows that.

BLITZER: So, realistically, general — and you’ve spent a long time studying that part of the world, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf area — how long do you believe U.S. combat forces are going have to be deployed to Iraq, at least for the time being? How long do you envisage they’ll going to be stuck there?

ZINNI: Well, I think you’re going to see a presence. Now, I can see that presence may be moving down, but I think for five to seven years you’re going to see a presence.

Now, much of that may be less on the combat troops, more on the advisers, security assistance down the road. Some of it will be troops in the adjoining countries where we have allies to help contain it. And look at the broader strategic requirements in the region.

Right Zionists are now and have always been sweet on the Shiites and hostile toward Sunni Arab regional domination.

Right Arabists are now and have always been sweet on Sunni Arab regional hegemony and totally hostile to Shiite power.

The US is in trouble in Iraq for a thousand reasons, but one of those reasons is that the US foreign policy establishment has been and continues to be working toward entirely different, mutually exclusive goals in Iraq.

It would be difficult, to be sure, to fight a war with one hand tied behind your back.  It has to quite a bit more difficult, if not impossible, to fight a war with one hand battling the other hand.

Cheney Was Not Moved

Posted by Cutler on May 09, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

The Associated Press offers this account of Cheney’s visit to Iraq:

Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that Iraq remains a dangerous place, a point underscored by a thunderous explosion that rattled windows in the U.S. Embassy where he spent most of the day.

Cheney spoke less than an hour after an explosion could be heard in the U.S. Embassy where he spent most of the day. Windows rattled and reporters covering the vice president were briefly moved to a more secure area.

Said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride: “His meeting was not disturbed and he was not moved.”

McBride was presumably commenting on the vice president’s whereabouts rather than his mood.

Cheney was undoubtedly in Iraq to move rather than be moved.  A transcript from Cheney’s press briefing certainly gives the impression that the vice president pressed the Iraqis to make progress on Khalilzad’s old “benchmarks.”

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. You said you were impressed by the responses that you heard from Prime Minister Maliki and his colleagues. Did they offer any specific commitments, particularly time commitments, in moving forward on some of the specific measures that you and other American officials have talked about; namely, hydrocarbon law, de-Baathification, provincial elections and constitutional reform?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe that Prime Minister Maliki plans an address to the parliament this week on many of these issues – [cough] excuse me – and, of course, it’s a political process that depends upon action by their legislative body. And but as I say, I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I’d seen previously.

Is Cheney unhappy with Maliki?  Did Cheney threaten to dump Maliki, casting an eye toward “Saddam without a Mustache“?

I have my doubts.  As I have previously noted (here and here), some of Cheney’s would-be Right Zionist allies have recently declared themselves quite satisfied with Maliki.

Nevertheless, as the Washington Post recently suggested, there are allegedly at least three outstanding “political” issues:

Re-Baathification: Khalilzad pushed very hard for re-Baathification.  Does Cheney care?  Not if his thinking in any way matches that of Reuel Marc Gerecht at the American Enterprise Institute.

Oil: Yes, I think Cheney wants to hydrocarbon law passed.  But here the primary obstacle may not be Maliki so much as Kurdish resistance to the bill’s centralization of control.

Constitutional Reform:  The most contentious issues here seem to involve Kurdish regional autonomy and Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution which includes provisions for a referendum on control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.  Here again, Kurds represent the major source of resistance to constitutional revisions.  Sadrists and Sunnis stand united in opposition to Article 140 and Kurdish control of Kirkuk.

All of which suggests that if anyone in Iraq is pressing for the parliament to take a vacation, the Kurds would be the most likely slackers.

Where Have You Gone, George Tenet?

Posted by Cutler on May 08, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

George Tenet’s biggest Iraq “mistake” was arguably not that he stayed around too long but that he didn’t stay around long enough.

I know, I know.  Tenet is being roundly criticized for, among other things, his failure to resign in protest when he saw “ideology” driving the US invasion of Iraq.

If, however, you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with General Anthony Zinni when he tells CNN that the Neocons “didn’t think through what the aftermath would bring. They made some bad decisions on the move. Again, we all know that disbanding the army, debaathification… brought about all the problems we see now…”

If you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with “Leftists” like Robert Dreyfuss that the US should have stuck with the Baathists…

If you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with Council on Foreign Relations figures like Ray Takeyh who have a very clear idea of a “Plan B”: “Benign Autocracy is the Answer for Iraq“…

If you are that kind of anti-war critic, then Tenet didn’t stay around long enough.

Tenet’s job was to install a “benign autocracy” under the appointed leadership of long-time CIA favorite, ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.

Tenet did so in late May 2004.  Tenet then resigned almost immediately.  Mission accomplished, Right Arabist style.

The problem, however, is that after the November 2004 election, the Bush administration went ahead with a year of elections–over the objections of figures outside the administration, like Brent Scowcroft–that handed power to Iraqi Shiites and left Allawi in the dust.

Tenet wasn’t there to preserve Allawi’s “Saddamism without Saddam.”

If you are that kind of anti-war critic, then Tenet quit too soon.

Cheney’s Man on the Seine?

Posted by Cutler on May 07, 2007
France, Great Power Rivalry, Turkey / No Comments

Is French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy Bush’s lapdog?  Cheney’s man on the Seine?  A Right Zionist in Paris?

In the context of great power rivalry, Sarkozy says he favors the US over Russia.  When he made the comment in mid-April 2007, RIA Novosti took notice:

“If you want to know which one is closer to me – the U.S. or Russia, which we saw in action in Chechnya – I will say the U.S.,” the candidate said…

“I tell great powers, including the U.S., that they are mistaken because they have not signed the Kyoto Protocol and that they are wrong in Iraq. But we have common values, such as democracy,” Sarkozy said.

Setting aside perfidious talk about “common values” regarding democracy, Sarkozy and Cheney may yet find at least enough common ground upon which to lay gas pipelines, specifically the so-called NABUCCO pipeline.

The Moscow Times says “Russia Faces Rougher Ride After French Vote” and notes that Sarkozy–like his defeated opponent–favors NABUCCO.

Sarkozy… support[s] the participation of state-owned Gaz de France’s participation in the Nabucco pipeline, which would reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas.

In a mid-April debate among the three top contenders for the French presidency, Sarkozy was the most outspoken in his support for NABUCCO.  Reuters reported:

The [three candidates] all expressed support for the Nabucco pipeline project, due to ship Caspian natural gas from Turkey to Austria, reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

Sarkozy went further, saying he was prepared to accelerate the project, led by Austrian oil firm OMV.

But Sarkozy is going to have to do a bit of backtracking from the campaign if he is going find a place for France along the NABUCCO pipeline.

Sarkozy’s relatively pro-American stance was decidedly not a “populist” way to distinguish himself from fellow “Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)” Gaullists, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac.

Instead, Sarkozy established his populist foreign policy bona fides by bashing Turkey and the idea of Turkish membership in the EU.

There will have to be some fence mending with Turkey–especially among the fiercely the nationalist military leaders that forced Turkey’s Islamic-backed foreign minister Abdullah Gul to withdraw his Presidential candidacy–if Sarkozy is going to restore plans for Gaz de France to join the NABUCCO consortium.

NABUCCO is a Turkish dream for transporting Caspian Sea gas.  It is strongly supported by the US and the EU:

If it is built and made functional by 2012 as intended, Nabucco can provide an estimated 15 percent of EU demand. The Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan pipeline was translated into reality from a dream. But what are the chances at this stage for the Nabucco Pipeline Project? The idea was conceived in 2002, within the EU’s Common Energy Security policy. It will start from Georgia’s border with Turkey, then run a 3300 kilometer stretch crossing Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, ending in Austria… Five energy companies have already signed up to build the pipeline, namely BOTAS from Turkey, Bulgargas, Transgaz from Romania and Mol of Hungary.

BOTAS Turkish state-owned pipeline company, has led the opposition to Gaz de France participation.

If Sarkozy is going to position France as a core member of an anti-Russian bloc in the EU, look for him to become decidedly more “pragmatic” in relations with Turkey.

Reading the Map Correctly in Israel

Posted by Cutler on May 04, 2007
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria / No Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is under pressure for his execution of the so-called “Second Lebanese War.”  Tens of thousands of protestors rallied in Israel, calling for Olmert to resign.

The protests are politically “vague” about the substance of the critique of Olmert, but insofar as Netanyahu and his Right Zionist allies are highly critical of Olmert’s execution of the war, the protests may bolster the case against Olmert.

Back in 2006, I wrote several posts describing Right Zionist dismay (here and here) with Olmert’s “cautious” execution of the battle in Lebanon.

The most “candid” Right Zionist critique of Olmert, however, comes from Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute who–along with her husband, David Wurmser–is part of the “family” of Right Zionists allied with Cheney.  In an extraordinary December 2006 interview, Meyrav Wurmser was very explicit about Right Zionist frustration with Olmert:

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Hizbullah defeated Israel in the war. This is the first war Israel lost,” Dr. Wurmser declares…

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Is this a popular stance in the [US] administration, that Israel lost the war?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Yes, there is no doubt. It’s not something one can argue about it. There is a lot of anger at Israel.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: What caused the anger?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “I know this will annoy many of your readers… But the anger is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians. Instead of Israel fighting against Hizbullah, many parts of the American administration believe that Israel should have fought against the real enemy, which is Syria and not Hizbullah.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the administration expect Israel to attack Syria?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “They hoped Israel would do it. You cannot come to another country and order it to launch a war, but there was hope, and more than hope, that Israel would do the right thing. It would have served both the American and Israeli interests.

The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space… They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its strategic and important ally should be hit.”

“It is difficult for Iran to export its Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran, that it would have weakened it and changes the strategic map in the Middle East.

“The final outcome is that Israel did not do it. It fought the wrong war and lost. Instead of a strategic war that would serve Israel’s objectives, as well as the US objectives in Iraq. If Syria had been defeated, the rebellion in Iraq would have ended”…

“No one would have stopped you. It was an American interest. They would have applauded you. Think why you received so much time and space to operate. Rice was in the region and Israel embarrassed her with Qana, and still Israel got more time. Why aren’t they reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Now, is this Likudnik critique of Olmert shared by organizers of the anti-Olmert rallies?

No.

It is instructive to note that the rally has been attacked from both the Israeli  “Left” and “far-Right.”  If the far-Right is to be believed, the rally is–like the rebellion by Olmert’s own Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni–part of a centrist effort to get Olmert out as Prime Minister, but to salvage the Kadima-led coalition government and preempt calls for new elections.

Why?  Because new elections could well result in the election of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.

If Cheney is going to have another pass at war against Syria this summer, then the clock is ticking for snap elections.

The Israeli Labor party will be under pressure to quit the Kadima-led government, but it appears to be scrambling to find a way to forestall demands for a fresh election any time soon.  This may become increasingly difficult, however, if Olmert survives in office until late May when Labor party primaries may force the leadership to split with Kadima.  The Economist explains:

Though the Labour primary is an internal vote among party members, from whom Mr Peretz has more support than among the public, most bets are on Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and army chief of staff, or Ami Ayalon, an ex-admiral and domestic intelligence chief. Mr Ayalon has already said he will pull Labour out of the coalition if he wins, almost certainly forcing an election. If, on the other hand, Mr Barak gets in, his dilemma will be whether to stay on as defence minister and share the flak with Mr Olmert, or risk an election race against the right-wing Likud party.

Cheney has a (Right Zionist) plan for the Middle East.  Act II of that plan was supposed to begin last summer.  It failed.

If Netanyahu is restored to office, Cheney may find himself with allies “reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

Needless to say, the clock is ticking.

Or, from the perspective of Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen, “Faster, please.”

Kirkuk: Too Many American Friends?

Posted by Cutler on May 03, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

Geopolitical chess is a complicated affair.

Sometimes there are too many enemies: circumstances demand that one enemy is prioritized and “lesser” evils are often reconstituted as the enemy of my enemy, i.e., my (provisional) friend.

The US-Soviet alliance against Germany in World War II is the canonical case.  Similarly, I have noted that Cheney, for example, may at some point feel obligated to choose between antipathy toward Iran and Russia.

Sometimes, however, there are too many friends: circumstances demand that one friend is prioritized and the “lesser” friend is sacrificed at the altar of the paramount friendship.

In the current moment, the US appears to have “too many friends” in Northern Iraq: Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are both considered “strategic allies.”  Both parties, for example, are pressing the United States to pick a side in their battle for control of the city of Kirkuk and its vast oil resources.

David Ignatius made the point in a recent Washington Post column:

The Bush administration has tried to finesse the problem, hoping to keep two friends happy: The Kurds have been America’s most reliable partner in Iraq, while the Turks are a crucial ally in the region. But in recent weeks, this strategy has been breaking down.

There are at least two contentious issues: the idea of a “referendum” to determine the political fate of Kirkuk and the degree of “regional autonomy” in the new hydrocarbons law.

Turkey opposes Kurdish autonomy (i.e., favors the “integrity” of the centralized Iraqi state) and consequently opposes both the referendum and regional control of oil.

If push comes to shove, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt has threatened to intervene militarily in Kurdish-dominated Northern Iraq.

On the related referendum and the oil questions, one might imagine that the US would tend to squeeze the Kurds, not the Turks.

Where is the dilemma?

Ignatius identifies one key Kurdish asset: “U.S. hopes for long-term military bases in Kurdistan.”

Be that as it may, Turkey is, among things, absolutely central to US efforts to thwart Russian monopolistic control of energy pipelines.

One key Bush administration “diplomat” on this front is Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.  Bryza leads the fight against Russian energy giant, Gazprom.

In a February 2007 roundtable with Turkish journalists, Bryza explained the nature of the US-Turkey strategic energy relationship in relation to Russia and the Caspian:

So on energy security… [one thing] we did that was really substantial was our partnership in Caspian energy which obviously meant Bakhu-Tblisi-Ceyhan which many people thought would never happen, and meant the South Caucasus gas pipeline which is about to open.

Today what we want to do is build on those pipelines, expand the corridor that currently exists for natural gas and make it a major one, a big one, a transit route that will help Europe diversify its gas supply so that it doesn’t feel so much monopoly pressure from one direction. Our goal is not to have a confrontation with GazProm, but our goal is to increase competition, healthy commercial competition which in the long run is good for everybody, including for GazProm itself, by the way. The key to making all that work is helping the Azerbaijani Government work with investors to expand gas production in Azerbaijan as quickly as possible to make sure gas is available to fill the pipelines that will go from Turkey to Greece and Italy, as well as [the Nabucco] pipeline from Turkey to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria.

In that same interview, Bryza was cagey but still relatively clear about US policy on the Kirkuk referendum:

Question: Are you saying that if you allow the Kirkuk Referendum to go ahead, you’re going to put your signature to divide the country into three, at least, different countries or nations, whatever you name it. So do you agree with the Turkish vision in that?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: When the referendum in Kirkuk would take place is not determined, right?

Question: It is determined in the Constitution. It will happen before the end of this year.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: Or will it? Who knows if it will. Will it actually? I don’t know if it will.

Question: What does the U.S. think about Turkey’s position on it? Do you agree with the Turkish assessment on Kirkuk? If the referendum goes ahead it is going to be leveraged to divide the country or the Kurds.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: The way I would answer that is to say that our goal, as President Bush just said, is to maintain a unified Iraq. Anything you hear to the contrary, any pundits or political speculation, whether they be people in power or out of power, to the contrary, is false. Our policy is to support a unified Iraq. We understand how sensitive, how dangerous the situation in Kirkuk is.

The Governments of the United States and Turkey and Iraq, and Baghdad, I mean, share a common vision when it comes to Kirkuk in terms of not wanting that situation to lead to the breakup of Iraq, right? And wanting there to be a way to resolve the difficult property questions and demographic issues that are what’s really fueling the political fire in Kirkuk.

So on timing, et cetera, I don’t have anything else to say. And if you really want to get down into the details of that, please talk to our Iraq policy people. But in general I can say we do share the Turkish society and government’s vision that if Kirkuk is not managed properly it can become a terrible problem that works against our shared goal of maintaining a unified Iraq. That’s our goal. We’ve got to do that.

Did Cheney give a more straightforward promise to Turkish Gen. Yaşar Büyükanit when the two leaders met in February?  I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

When Turkey came to Bryza for support on the hydrocarbons law, Bryza offered up what appeared to be a vague response:

“One: We completely understand why Turkey is uncomfortable,” said Bryza. “Two: we unequivocally favor Iraq’s territorial integrity, which President [George W.] Bush reiterated in his recent speech on Iraq. Three: the hydrocarbon law was not written by us but by a sovereign state that is Iraq.”

The “third” leg of that answer is, presumably, meant to deflect criticism.  But given the massive US involvement in drafting that law, Bryza’s answer seems intended as a way to call attention provisions of the law that favor the Turkish position.

And, undoubtedly, this helps explain recent news, first announced by Al Jazeera and now reiterated by the New York Times, that the Kurds are balking at the terms of the new law.

Ed Wong of the New York Times has actually been reporting on Kurdish discontent for some time.

Shiites and Turkey are united on the centralization provisions of the hydrocarbons law.

If the US is going to squeeze the Kurds on this one, then Sunni political forces constitute a crucial swing vote.

Edward Wong and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times report that Sunni Arab parliamentarians look set to stand with the Kurds:

Contributing a further layer of complication, a Sunni Arab legislator said Wednesday evening that the main Sunni Arab bloc, which has 44 legislative seats, objected to any discussion of the law in Parliament at this time. “Acceleration in presenting it is inappropriate since the security condition is not encouraging,” said the legislator, Saleem Abdullah. He said Sunni Arabs were also worried that the law would give foreign companies too large a role in the country’s oil industry. Sunni Arab political leaders supported cabinet approval of the draft law, but appear ambivalent now.

This is, shall we say, a very strategic ambivalence…

Biden’s War

Posted by Cutler on May 01, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Happy May Day! I’ll be brief because this is labor’s day for reinvigorating the cultural battle for less work.

Senator Joseph Biden made an April 29, 2007 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Set aside, for the moment, Biden’s assertions about the future (“all of us have been arguing… in both parties, that you’re going to have to leave forces behind in Iraq”).

Biden’s most interesting comments concern the past. Biden’s explanation and justification for the invasion gets to some of the “truth” behind the lies:

[W]e were talking then about whether or not we could keep the pressure of the international community on Iraq to stay in the box we had them in. And remember, you had the French and others say the reason all those children were dying in Iraq, the reason why hospitals didn’t have equipment is because of what we, the United States, were doing, imposing on Iraq these sanctions. And that was the battle. The battle was do we lift these sanctions or do we in fact increase the sanctions? And everyone at the time was talking about—from the secretary of state to even the president—that this was to demonstrate to the world the president of the United States had the full faith and credit of the United States Congress behind him to put pressure on the rest of the world to say, “Hey, look, you lift the sanctions, you’re—we’re going to be on our own here. Don’t lift the sanctions. Get the inspectors back in.” That was the context of the debate, to be fair about it…

MR. RUSSERT: But you said Saddam was a threat. He had to be…

SEN. BIDEN: He was a threat.

MR. RUSSERT: In what way?

SEN. BIDEN: The threat he presented was that, if Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon—not by building it, by purchasing it. I also believed he was a threat in that he was—every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of—after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating. Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t. The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not. And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening. They were pulling away. They were saying, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe we should lift the no-fly zone. Maybe we should lift the sanctions.” That was the context.

In light of recent controversies over George Tenet’s new book, At the Center of the Storm, and his sense of the origins of the invasion plan, it might be worth noting that Biden’s justification for the invasion is not very different from the one offered, on the eve of the invasion, by Right Zionist Richard Perle over at the Project for a New American Century:

“Let’s be candid about it. France has found a way of dealing with Saddam Hussein that simply wouldn’t work for the United States because it entails a degree of cooperation that is not acceptable for us. The commercial relationship between France and Saddam’s regime is on hold owing to the sanctions but I think it’s clear that the moment the sanctions are removed there is a pipeline of contracts that would be promulgated and they’re important for France. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, they’re important for France. It’s my understanding that the Total contract with Saddam is worth $40 billion to $60 billion…. So there are commercial interests and for those people who accuse the United States in being interested in oil in this matter, I submit to you that our interest in oil is in purchasing it on the world market. That could best be accomplished by lifting the sanctions, hardly by going to war against Saddam Hussein. The French interest in the promulgation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious.

“But there’s a second French attitude that I think we have to come to grips with and understand and that is the desire on the part of France to build the European Union as a counterweight to the United States. Counterweight is the term most frequently employed by the French, by Chris Patten in Brussels and by others. For a long time the United States and France have been allies. Good allies. Vital to each other’s security at many times in our history and never in the period in which we were allies who supported one another did either of us think of describing the other as a counterweight. A relationship that can be described by the term counterweight is not a relationship of alliance”…

“Well, I don’t think we have the luxury of changing priorities from one day to the next. There was a review of Iraq policy underway on September 11th and the administration hadn’t decided at that point what to do, but one thing was very clear: the consensus behind the sanctions which had become the central element of western United Nations strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein was crumbling. France and Russia had already indicated they were opposed to continuing the sanctions. The French wanted to weaken the sanctions regime. The so-called smart sanctions policy of the United States was really a response to the eroding support for those sanctions and it was very clear that if something wasn’t done that Saddam was going to emerge the survivor who had outlasted the United Nations….So it was urgent to deal with Iraq, and we set on a course of dealing with Iraq.

The specific “crisis” that generated the US invasion of Iraq was the collapse of the sanctions regime, understood in terms of Great Power Rivalry, was “not acceptable to us.”

All that remains, it would seem, is to understand the contours of US policy after the invasion, i.e., the geopolitical rationale for de-Baathification (rather than, say, “grabbing” Iraq but maintaining Baathist rule).

Cheney is the Iraq War Czar

Posted by Cutler on April 30, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are signs that 2007 may be shaping up to be one of those audacious, off-election-cycle Bush administration years in the tradition of 2003 (invasion and de-Baathification of Iraq) and 2005 (successive pro-Shiite elections in Iraq).

The governing Shiite coalition in Iraq is growing increasingly strident.  According to the Washington Post and the New York Times, Iraqi Shiites appear to be stalling parliamentary passage of the Right Arabist “benchmarks” (re-Baathification, constitutional revisions, provincial elections) generated by former American Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

Shiites are backing centralization of Iraq’s oil industry, reflected in the draft of the hydrocarbons law, but this is less a concession to Sunni Arab sentiment than a significant blow to Kurdish demands for autonomy.

(Turkey is obviously in a huff about the Kurdish autonomy and tensions are high with the US, but Maliki’s Shiite coalition and Turkey’s strident generals can surely find common ground in opposition to Kurdish control of Kirkuk.  Didn’t Cheney say as much to Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen.Yaşar Büyükanit when the two met in February?).

Maliki is even moving against some of the Sunni security forces, including some of those favored by fiercely anti-Sadrist Right Arabist elements of the US military brass.

It is surely no coincidence that Right Zionists in Washington are warming to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Maliki (see my posts here and here) just as Maliki has been snubbed by Saudi King Abdullah.

At the same time, the US-Saudi relationship looks increasingly tense.  A New York Times profile of Prince Bandar ran under the strange headline, “A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush is Sounding Off-Key.”

The figure who undoubtedly sounds “off-key” to Cheney is Saudi King Abdullah.

The Times profile on Bandar painted an accurate picture of an “Ambassador” who no longer speaks for his country.

Prince Bandar… may no longer be able to serve as an unerring beacon of Saudi intent.

“The problem is that Bandar has been pursuing a policy that was music to the ears of the Bush administration, but was not what King Abdullah had in mind at all,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel who is now head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Of course it is ultimately the king — and not the prince — who makes the final call on policy.

In any ordinary country, it would go without saying that the King, not the Ambassador, makes policy.  But Bandar is not merely a civil servant.

Instead, he is a son of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at a time when the future of Saudi royal succession remains a matter of considerable speculation.

If National Security Council Adviser Stephen Hadley is having trouble finding someone willing to serve as Iraq War Czar the reason is not difficult to discern: Vice President Cheney already has the job.

Is Rice Really Nice?

Posted by Cutler on April 26, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Russia / 1 Comment

In a recent post on Cheney, Iran, and the whole “British hostage” affair, I asked whether Cheney might not have sabotaged an Iranian-American quid pro quo that would have involved the release, by the United States, of the “Irbil Five”–Iranians held by the US in Iraq.

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release. But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them. At least not yet…

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

That was April 11th.

Yesterday, Michael Ledeen offered up some gossip that appears to confirm these suspicions, beginning with Ledeen’s discussion of a news story by Robin Wright in the Washington Post:

[A] story written… by one of Secretary Rice’s favorite journalists, Robin Wright of the Washington Post… said:

After intense internal debate, the Bush administration has decided to hold on to five Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents (sic) captured in Iraq, overruling a State Department recommendation to release them, according to U.S. officials.

I’ve been told that “intense internal debate” is exactly right–it was one of the most contentious debates in quite a while. Wright reports that Vice President Cheney led the charge against Rice’s position, and I am told that Secretary of Defense Gates was equally adamant. This is reinforced by a statement by General Petraeus, to the effect that we intended to keep them and keep interrogating them as long as we had food and they had things to say. Moreover, I am told that the intensity of the debate was due to the fact that Rice was not merely recommending the release of the Iranians, but had informed the mullahs that we would release them.

On the Iranian front, then, it certainly looks like Cheney and Gates leading the hawkish faction with Rice working to open diplomatic avenues.

The mystery here is Rice.  In an April 22, 2006 analysis, the Financial Times (subscription required) suggested that Rice was looking increasingly “realist” in her positions.

To judge from Ledeen’s anger (and Perle’s earlier accusations), one could imagine that Rice is something less than a Neocon “true believer.”

And yet…

The record is uneven, even on Iran.  On the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon?  Rice looks pretty hawkish.

And then there is Rice on Russia.  On missile systems in Europe, Rice doesn’t appear particularly dovish.

Perhaps there is an underlying logic to all this, but it escapes me.

A Proxy War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on April 25, 2007
Iran, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

The Financial Times is reporting that the “military wing” of Hamas has declared an end to a five-month-old ceasefire with Israel.

Be that as it may, however, the “news” of the day is best understood as the collapse of the Saudi-backed ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah.

Battles within the Palestinian Authority look increasingly like proxy wars between Vice President Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

If King Abdullah’s “Mecca Agreement” aimed to pressure Fatah to end its attacks on Hamas and develop new power-sharing mechanisms in cooperation with the Hamas-led government, the White House has been working overtime to undermine King Abdullah’s efforts.

US efforts have centered on bolstering the power of Fatah’s Gaza strongman, Muhammad Dahlan.  During the factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas in late 2006 and early 2007, Hamas accused Dahlan of conspiring to undermine the Hamas government.

“Dahlan is leading a group of Fatah members who are trying to topple the Hamas government on orders from the Israelis and Americans,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “The American-Zionist scheme is aimed at eliminating the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance groups and forcing the Palestinians to make political concessions.”

If King Abdullah pulled the rug out from under Dahlan’s efforts, the US wasted little time moving to bolster Fatah’s forces.  According to Reuters, that effort has been led by White House envoy Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton.

With Iranian help, Hamas forces are expanding fast and getting more sophisticated weapons and training than those under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s control, according to the U.S. security coordinator.

U.S. Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton said Hamas’s growing military strength, if left unchecked, would erode Abbas’s already limited ability to enforce any ceasefire in the Gaza Strip…

Sources familiar with the Bush administration’s deliberations said a revised spending plan would be submitted… [providing] aid to Abbas’s presidential guard…

In his first act after swearing in the new government, Abbas appointed Hamas’s long-time foe, Mohammad Dahlan, as national security adviser, angering the Islamist movement.

[I]n fierce fighting before Abbas agreed to join the unity government, Hamas’s Executive Force and armed wing were beating their Fatah rivals, Dayton said, according to two sources familiar with his comments.

By the end of March, the Bush administration finalized the details of the US funding plan.

The United States plans to provide $59 million to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential guard and support his new national security adviser, a long-time foe of Hamas…

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the money for Abbas and security adviser Mohammad Dahlan was meant to fuel divisions among Palestinians and undercut the unity government formed by the ruling Hamas Islamists and Abbas’s Fatah faction.

The White House got its cash and Abbas took the bait.  On April 12, 2006 Reuters reported:

Forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are getting newer bases at home and more advanced training abroad for an expanded security role that could put them on a collision course with militants…

Western and Palestinian officials said Abbas’s goal was to create a Palestinian “gendarmerie,” a force trained in military tactics that operates in civilian areas and is capable of carrying out police duties, restoring law and order, and enforcing any existing and future agreements with Israel.

In addition to basic training conducted at facilities in the West Bank city of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, about 500 men loyal to Abbas’s Fatah faction recently crossed from Gaza into Egypt for more advanced instruction in police tactics, Western security officials said.

Hundreds of members of Abbas’s presidential guard will take similar courses in the coming months at a facility in Jordan as part of a $59.4 million U.S. security program that received a green light from Congress this week….

Palestinian sources say Dahlan was personally coordinating the training programs and seeking additional assistance.

The Mecca Accord now looks set to crumble as the “compromise” technocrat chosen as Interior Minister has complained about at Dahlan’s growing influence.

A struggle to control Palestinian security forces escalated on Monday when the obscure bureaucrat named by rival factions as a compromise choice of interior minister submitted his resignation after just six weeks.

Hani al-Qawasmi was persuaded to stay on in the job by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and attended the weekly cabinet meeting.

But the day’s turbulence put a spotlight on deep differences within the unity government that Haniyeh’s Hamas Islamists and the secular Fatah movement…

In his role as interior minister, Qawasmi was supposed to oversee the security services. But President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah appointed Mohammad Dahlan, one of Hamas’s main rivals, to serve as national security adviser…

A government official said the dispute with Qawasmi centered on the role of internal security chief Rashid Abu Shbak, an Abbas loyalist who has assumed effective control over the security forces within the Interior Ministry.

Some Palestinian analysts saw the growing clout of Abu Shbak and Abbas’s appointment of Dahlan as national security adviser as a bid to sideline Qawasmi and minimize his control over the security services, which are mostly loyal to Fatah.

For those keeping score in the running battle between Saudi King Abdullah and Vice President Cheney, the “Mecca Accord” should have been coded as a “surprise” victory for Abdullah.

The White House has been quietly at work on several fronts to reverse this victory.

Code the coming clashes between Fatah and Hamas as a victory for Cheney.

Right Zionists and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on April 24, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / No Comments

Why don’t Right Zionists favor US withdrawal from Iraq?

This may seem like a silly question: for many Neocons, US withdrawal from Iraq automatically equals defeat.

To be sure, there is a crowd–call them the “Unipolarists” most closely identified with William Kristol and John McCain–for whom Iraq is and has always been about US boots on the ground and the direct projection of US imperial power. When the US invaded Iraq, these Neocons joined many Right Arabists like Colin Powell and Anthony Zinni in favoring a direct, formal US Occupation of Iraq.

Right Zionists are by no means hostile to the projection of US power.

However, as I argued in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence,” Right Zionists also have a particular vision of the future of Iraq that seems lost on those critics who see US policy toward Iraq as guided by little more than the generic appetite of the military industrial complex.

The core of the Right Zionist vision for Iraq is the substitution of Iraqi Shiite majority rule in place of traditional authoritarian rule by Iraq’s Sunni minority.

It is easy enough to figure out why Right Arabists want the US to stay in Iraq: American force is required to close Pandora’s Box, reverse Shiite empowerment, and restore Sunni Arab minority military rule.

So, here is the mystery:

Why wouldn’t a Right Zionist like Reuel Marc Gerecht–perhaps the leading US proponent of Iraqi Shiite majority rule, with the possible exception of Vice President Cheney’s Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–support US withdrawal?

After all, Gerecht–like Fouad Ajami–seems pretty confident that Iraqi Shiites are prepared to spill Sunni Arab blood in order to finish off the Sunni insurgency.

Gerecht has painted a picture of Iraq after US withdrawal. It is not pretty. But it would be very surprising if Gerecht–who once asked, “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?“–tried to ground his argument for US troops in Iraq on the basis of humanitarianism.

For Gerecht, the chief reason to stay in Iraq is neither to repress Iraqi Shiites nor protect Iraqi Sunnis but to contain Iranian influence in Iraq.

If the US does not ally itself with Iraqi Shiites in a regional war against radical Sunni Arabs, Iraqi Shiites will have no choice but to seek security in the arms of Iranian radicals. Here is Gerecht, from January, on withdrawal.

[A]n American withdrawal would provoke a take-no-prisoners civil war between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs, which could easily reach genocidal intensity…

[T]he Sunni Arab population of Baghdad is going to get pulverized…

Once the Shia become both badly bloodied and victorious, raw nationalist and religious passions will grow. A horrific fight with the Sunni Arabs will inevitably draw in support from the ferociously anti-Shiite Sunni religious establishments in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and on the Shiite side from Iran…

Imagine Iraqi Shiites, battle-hardened in a vicious war with Iraq’s Arab Sunnis, spiritually and operationally linking up with a revitalized and aggressive clerical dictatorship in Iran…

Hence, the need for US troops and Gerecht’s support for the current “surge”:

A strong, aggressive American military presence in Iraq can probably halt the radicalization of the Shiite community.

That was January 2007.

In his most recent missive, Gerecht appears to suggest that if the “surge” goes his way, he would welcome Iraqi Shiite demands for US withdrawal.

The key, for Gerecht, is that the US must abandon its attempts to appease the Sunni minority.

Critics of the surge often underscore the absence of a clearly defined post-surge political strategy. Echoing Rumsfeld and Abizaid, these critics believe that only a “political solution”–that is, Shiite and Kurdish concessions to the once-dominant Sunni minority–can solve Iraq’s trauma. The Bush administration has largely been in agreement with this view, following a strategy since 2004 of trying to placate the Sunnis.

It hasn’t worked. In all probability, it could not. Certainly an approach that centers on de-de-Baathification is destined to fail since the vast majority of Iraq’s Shiites, and probably Kurds, too, oppose any deal that would allow the Sunni Baathist elite back into government. And de-de-Baathification is not about letting Sunni Arab teachers, engineers, and nurses back into the government job market. It’s about the Baathist Sunni elite getting the power and prestige of senior positions, especially in the military and security services. If we really want Iraq to succeed in the long term, we will stop pushing this idea. Onetime totalitarian societies that more thoroughly purge despotic party members have done much better than those that allow the old guard to stay on (think Russia). Grand Ayatollah Sistani is right about this; the State Department and the CIA are wrong.

The Sunni insurgency will likely cease when the Sunnis, who have been addicted to power and the perception of the Shiites as a God-ordained underclass, know in their hearts that they cannot win against the Shiites, that continued fighting will only make their situation worse. Thanks in part to the ferocity of vengeful Shiite militias, we are getting there.

Gerecht does not support talk of immediate withdrawal:

[T]he surge deserves to be supported. This is not the time for talk of timetables for withdrawal–much less talk of a war that is lost. It isn’t inconsistent to scorch Bush for his failures–and still to argue that the American blood we will spill in Iraq in the surge is worth the possibility of success.

But there is also this surprising little nugget:

As a Shiite-led democracy grows, the calls for an American withdrawal will increase. Which is fine. Iraqi nationalism is vibrant among the Shiites, especially those who are religious. And democracy in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, is unlikely to be particularly affectionate toward the United States. Iraqi democracy is much more likely to free American soldiers to go home than is chaos in Mesopotamia.

Gerecht may be playing partisan games, rejecting talk of timetables for withdrawal while giving a nod toward withdrawal at some point over the horizon. But which position features the political pandering and which features the ideology of a Right Zionist?

Is Gerecht blowing smoke when he describes as “fine” increasing Iraqi Shiite calls for American withdrawal?

Or is this the rebirth of Right Zionist optimism that “we are getting there,” courtesy of vengeful Shiite militias and the hope of a reinvigorated US counter-insurgency campaign?

[W]ith Petraeus, Maliki, and Sistani in charge, things may work out…

Gerecht remains cautious about the road ahead:

American and Iraqi forces in Baghdad will have to figure out a way to diminish significantly the number and lethality of Sunni suicide bombers. Given the topography of Baghdad, the possible routes of attack against the capital’s Shiite denizens, and the common traits of Iraq’s Arabs, this will be difficult. If we and the Iraqis cannot do this, then the radicalization of the Shiites will continue, and it will be only a question of time before the Shiite community collectively decides that the Sunnis as a group are beyond the pale, and a countrywide war of religious cleansing will become likely… In the next few months, of course, things could go to hell. One suicide bomber killing the right Shiite VIPs could threaten all.

Each day brings news that all that could go to hell probably will.

Nevertheless, when coupled with Fouad Ajami’s recent optimism, Gerecht’s latest missive appears to mark something of a Right Zionist trend in the making.

It may not point to the direction of events in Iraq or even Washington. But it does clarify the stakes, for Right Zionists, of ongoing battles in and around Iraq.

Right Zionist optimism may tell us little about the chances for US success in Iraq but more about some Right Zionist definitions of success.

Iran-Contra, Redux?

Posted by Cutler on April 23, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Washington wants to sell weapons to the Saudis.  Watch Right Zionists squirm.

We’ve been here before.

In the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Right Arabists like Reagan administration Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger responded by bolstering US relations with Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  The goal was both to reassure the Saudis that the US would not retreat from the Gulf and to help the Saudis and Iraq defend the Gulf against Iranian influence.

Today, as the US is bogged down in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and, according to Gates, the State Department) wants to send the same message, allegedly offering to sell Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs to the Saudis.

Part of the story centers on Washington’s efforts to construct and maintain a broad coalition against Iran.

But Gates appears also to feel the need to “reassure” the Saudis of US support, more generally, if only to keep Riyadh out of the hands of Moscow.

Gates explained:

Q Mr. Secretary, could we go back for a moment to your visit here in Israel? (I thought ?) you (were discussing ?) your concerns about future U.S. arms exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. And were you able to reach any kind of understanding on — (inaudible) — any Israeli fears that there may be?

SEC. GATES: We did talk about that. And I talked about the — first of all, I made it clear that it’s a State Department program, not a Defense Department program. But that I thought that, look, we need to look at the circumstances in terms of the overall strategic environment and in terms of the concerns of other neighbors (more over ?) Iran, perhaps, than Israel, and that they needed to take into consideration the overall strategic environment and how that has changed. So I made it pretty clear that there are alternatives for their neighbors in terms of sophisticated weapons, and that needed to be taken (into consideration ?) as well.

Q Could you just expand on that a little bit? You say there are alternatives?

SEC. GATES: Well, I’m confident the Russians would be very happy to sell weapons in the region.

Gates may simply be playing the Russian card to snow the Israelis, but Gates may be something of a Russia hawk and Putin’s historic February visit to Saudi Arabia might have raised alarm bells at the Pentagon (as it certainly did for Ariel Cohen over at the Heritage Foundation).

Iran-Contra, Redux?

Back in the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s tilt toward Saudi Arabia created a serious dilemma for Right Zionists (aka, Neocons) feared stronger ties between the US and Saudi Arabia at least as much as they feared the revolutionary regime in Iran.

Today, leading Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen present themselves as supremely hawkish on Iran, ruling out any diplomatic settlement with Iran, etc.

And Ledeen, in particular, likes to talk about how the Iranians declared war on the United States in 1979 and have been waging that war ever since:

The Ayatollah Khomeini branded the U.S. “The Great Satan” in 1979, and Iranians and Iranian proxies have been killing Americans and American friends and allies ever since…

Be that as it may, Ledeen and Co. have not always favored confrontation with Iran.  The reason is quite simple: Right Zionists consider the Arab Gulf to be a permanent enemy of Israel while they consider “eternal Iran” an essential ally.

Indeed, Ledeen and the Right Zionists were the architects of the plan to reach out to Iran during the Reagan administration (the so-called Iran-Contra affair) and Ledeen’s diplomatic drum beat continued until after the Gulf War.

In a previous post, I have recalled some of Ledeen’s earlier, more “diplomatic” positions:

Some “Right Zionist history” may help make the point: way back on July 19, 1988, Michael Ledeen–famous for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair–published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Let’s Talk With Iran Now” (I couldn’t find an on-line copy. Link anyone?). Here are some excerpts of his position at that time:

The United States, which should have been exploring improved relations with Iran before… should now seize the opportunity to do so. To wait might suggest to even pro-Western Iranians that a refusal to seek better relations is based on an anti-Iran animus rather than objections to specific Iranian actions.

Those Iranians who have been calling for better relations with the West have clearly been gathering strength… Among the advocates of such improved relations are two leading candidates to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani and the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri

Yet there has been no sense of urgency among our top policymakers to design and conduct a policy toward Iran–in part because our top officials, traumatized by the Iran-contra scandal and the hearings and investigatiosn that followed, were determined to to be caught dealing with the Iranians…

Yet past mistakes should not prevent the Administration from pursuing the clear chance for a potential breakthrough in one of the more strategically sensitive areas of the world.

Same theme, again, in a February 1, 1991 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Iran–Back in the Game,” as the US waged war against Iraq.

Iran is once again a player in the Great Game, even to the point of being able to contemplate territorial acquisitions of its own once Iraq has been defeated…

Iran will be seated at the table when the new Middle Eastern order is designed at war’s end, and it will not be easy for the U.S. to know how to deal with it. For there is no country in the world that American diplomats have shunned so totally, indeed avoided so compulsively, as Iran. We have done so primarily for political reasons; ever since the Iran-Contra affair, no American leader has wished to be caught talking to an Iranian, even though many recognized the many sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran.

It would have been wiser to have dealt with the Iranians earlier, but we now have little choice in the matter. Our contacts will surely increase, and President Rafsanjani and company will likely sit at the postwar negotiating table, thereby producing the great historical irony that Saddam Hussein, the conqueror of Persia, will have forced us to resume sensible relations with a reemerging Iran.

The immediate political question today is whether the Israeli government will mobilize Congressional opposition to the recent proposal to sell arms to the Saudis.  This may depend, in part, on the balance of forces between Right Zionists in the US and the ruling Kadima party in Israel.

But equally important in the long term may be whether and under what circumstances Ledeen, or some of his Right Zionist allies, might break ranks with the proposed Saudi-Israeli, anti-Iranian coalition and discover “sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran” and move to thwart their “real” enemy, King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia.

If such an abrupt reversal is in the cards, it may be helpful to understand why Ledeen reversed himself after 1991.

What made Ledeen move from diplomacy to regime change?  What would it take for him to move back?

This is not a rhetorical question.  I don’t know and it seems important.

Ledeen could tell us, but he may be too busy covering the tracks of his previous preference for “diplomacy” and pretending to have been fighting the Iranians “ever since” the revolution of 1979.

Birthday Blogging

Posted by Cutler on April 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

“Cutler’s Blog” is one year old today.

The first post examined the “decision” of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside amidst considerable pressure from Washington.

By some measures, it looks like the political process hasn’t changed much in a year.

One year ago, Bush administration Right Arabists were busy trying to curb Shiite power and woo the Sunni minority back into the political process.

This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered that same message to Baghdad.  The Washington Post reports:

Gates on Friday called the Baghdad security plan “a strategy for buying time for progress toward justice and reconciliation.”

He urged Iraq’s parliament to pass legislation on provincial elections, the exploitation of the country’s vast oil resources, the status of former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein and other issues before the lawmakers recess this summer. “These measures will not fix all of the problems in Iraq, but they will manifest the will of the entire government of Iraq to be a government for all the people of Iraq in the future,” he said.

In April 2006, however, the US managed to oust Jaafari only to settle for his deputy, Prime Minister Maliki.

One year later, Maliki–like Jaafari–retains some independence from the Washington’s Right Arabists.

Asked how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had responded, Gates said Maliki had reminded him that the parliament is independent, suggesting he could make no assurances on the legislation.

Hasan Suneid, a lawmaker and adviser to Maliki, said the Iraqi government would like to see both the oil legislation and de-Baathification proposal pass, but at their own pace. “These demands are already Iraqi demands,” he said. “The most important thing is to achieve discussion of these plans. Time is irrelevant.”

The “independence” of the Shiite political establishment should not be exaggerated, but neither should it be viewed as an unmitigated disaster for Washington’s political establishment.

The beleaguered Right Zionists (i.e., Neocons) have little left to show for themselves in Washington (save for David Wurmser and John Hannah in Cheney’s office and Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, and perhaps a smattering of lesser figures).

But unlike Washington’s Right Arabists, some Right Zionists–most recently, Fouad Ajami–are quite pleased by signs of Shiite power and Shiite independence from Right Arabist Washington.

What I cannot figure out, one year later, is how this story ends.

Will “facts on the ground” in Baghdad force Right Arabist Washington to come to terms with Shiite power in Iraq?  Or will Right Arabist Washington lose patience with Iraqi Shiites and force an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

I would not have predicted that the current political “muddle” could have gone on as long as it has.

At one point in the last year, it looked as though James Baker’s Right Arabists were preparing for a clean sweep in Washington.

It didn’t happen.

And then there were signs that 2007 might tilt dramatically toward Shiite power in Iraq and Right Zionist influence in Washington, courtesy of Vice President Cheney.

Nothing quite so dramatic has yet unfolded in 2007.

The political meaning of the surge remains highly ambiguous and the additional US forces will not be in place until June.

If Shiite power in Iraq is linked to regime change in Iran–the original Right Zionist plan for “Dual Rollback”–then there are few signs such a plan has any legs in Washington (to say nothing of its chances in Tehran).

As I noted in a recent post, Right Zionists like Richard Perle feel utterly betrayed by US policy toward Iran.  Here is Perle:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Perle has any friends in high places, they are now as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.

The Washington Times reported this week that some Democrats are trying to “out hawk” the Bush administration on Iran:

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, criticized the administration for not taking action under the Iran Sanctions Act.

That law requires imposing sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in one year in Iran’s energy sector.

Mr. Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs terrorism, nonproliferation and trade subcommittee, included a list of foreign companies that have invested millions or more than $1 billion in Iranian energy.

Although the administration may say the deals may not go through or the full extent of the investments will not be realized, “it strains credulity to say that no single $20 million investment has occurred in Iran in the past decade driving any calendar year,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is that the State Department refuses to find evidence of the investments that would trigger the act because they do not want to find evidence of such investments.”

But even Dem Zionists seem to be split on how to proceed.  California Congressman Tom Lantos–traditionally a great friend of Israel–reaching out to Russia, Syria, and even Iran.

So, the muddle continues.

And so does “Cutler’s Blog.”

From Russia (To Israel) With Love

Posted by Cutler on April 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

One of the central assumptions behind discussions of the domestic political influence within the US of the “Israel Lobby” is that the power must be grounded in domestic lobbying because there is no coherent strategic rationale that justifies the “special relationship” between the US and Israeli.

One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests… Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’…

Without minimizing the importance of domestic politics, there may be more to say about the strategic significance of Israel.

Consider the role of oil.

In a region that is home to enormous oil reserves, why favor a country that has almost no energy of its own?

Because much of the geopolitics of oil is about oil transport.

Consider, for example, an October 2006 report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Israel has one main operational oil pipeline, known as the “Trans-Israel Pipeline” or the “Tipline,” built in 1968 to ship Iranian oil from the southern Red Sea port of Eilat to the northern Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, as a gateway to Europe. The pipeline went into disuse after relations with Iran soured in 1979. The 152-mile pipeline has a reported current capacity of 1-1.2 million bbl/d (having been expanded from 400,000 bbl/d) and 18 million barrels of storage capacity….

During 2003, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) modified the pipeline to reverse flows on the 42-inch line, to facilitate Russian Caspian petroleum exports to Far East. In October 2003, it was first reported that Swiss trader Glencore would ship 1.2 million barrels of Kazakh CPC Blend crude and 600,000 barrels of sour Russian Urals through the line as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which can accommodate only smaller, “Suezmax” tankers. In July 2006, Israel also signed and agreement with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) to import and transport Azeri Light Crude through the pipeline.

That brief EIA narrative raises a whole host of interesting questions.

Who, for example, might harbor the dream of restoring the original direction of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline as an Iranian-Israeli route that reaches Europe but bypasses Arab oil?

Who dreams of bypassing the Suez canal?

Who dreams of oil, loaded onto VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) in the Red Sea for shipment to markets in Asia?

Note, too, the possibility that the Israeli pipeline route might get tangled up in the Great Power rivalry between the United States and Russia.

After all, the Azerbaijan oil that flows through the BTC pipeline is specifically designed to bypass Russian influence in the transportation of Caspian Sea oil.

But Russia is making its own play for the Israeli route, also via Turkey.

Black Sea ministers… faced conflicts over competing pipeline projects, such as Russia’s plans to expand its Blue Stream gas pipeline through Turkey to Israel and possibly Europe, which would rival the planned [US-backed] Nabucco pipeline.

One might even imagine Israel being wooed by Russia and the US.

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.


Want to Play a (Great) Game?

Posted by Cutler on April 16, 2007
Russia / 2 Comments

Somebody in Washington wants to play hardball with Russia.

If the Russian Duma is to be believed, the US is fanning the flames of internal dissent.  The Moscow Times reports:

Duma deputies unanimously approved a resolution expressing concern over “growing and unprecedented attempts” by the United States to interfere in internal issues.

“Under the guise of helping to conduct free and fair elections for the State Duma in December 2007 and of the president of the Russian Federation in March 2008, U.S. taxpayers’ money is being used to fund numerous training courses, surveys, seminars and other events that propagandize … and distort the situation,” the resolution said…

The Duma resolution, which mentions the U.S. report, also accuses U.S. officials of participating in events organized by “openly extremist forces” — an apparent reference to the attendance of several U.S. officials at a Moscow conference held by The Other Russia last year. Among The Other Russia’s organizers is the unregistered National Bolshevik Party, which prosecutors call extremist.

The Duma also called on the president, the Cabinet and the Prosecutor General’s Office to boost enforcement of the 2006 law that bans NGOs from participating in political activities and establishes strong bureaucratic control over their finances, particularly over foreign grants.

So, who is spoiling for a fight with Russia?

In a March 22, 2007 Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, Dimitri K. Simes points a finger:

[There is an] influential group of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists inside and outside the Bush administration [for whom] compromise is unacceptable. For them, foreign policy is a morality play; the Russians are the bad guys and should be taught a lesson…

In terms of “liberal interventionists,” Simes doesn’t name names.  Maybe he has in mind Katrina vanden Heuvel–publisher of The Nation–and her husband, NYU Professor Stephen F. Cohen who might identify themselves as decidedly anti-Putin.

Regarding the “neoconservatives,” I am even less sure if the label fits.

As I noted in a recent post, some strident supporters of Israel–including House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos–have recently “gone wobbly” on Russia.

If Lantos is prepared to ease the way for the lifting of Jackson-Vanik trade sanctions and help shepherd Russia into the WTO, others in Washington are not yet on board.

Mosnews has noted signs of a split in Washington:

U.S. Trade Representatives Susan Schwab said that Moscow was making only “slow progress” for entry into the 150-member world trade body.

“We would like to see Russia a full fledged member of the World Trade Organization and hope that Russia will undertake the commitments and responsibilities, the obligations that come with being a WTO member,” she said, quoted by the AFP…

Schwab also said the US Congress was not prepared to revoke Cold War-era legislation intended to pressure Soviet authorities over emigration restrictions…

As MosNews has reported, several U.S. officials including Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and Congressman Tom Lantos, have spoken in favor of lifting the amendment as soon as possible.

Schwab, however, seems to have a different idea. “The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is, is the WTO ready to let Russia in and the answer is, ’not yet,’” she said.

What is Schwab’s beef with Russia?  It may be more narrowly “commercial” than geo-strategic.

Nevertheless, there are Russia hawks in Washington and Cheney is arguably the ringleader.  But it is not obvious that Right Zionists constitute the core of his anti-Putin coalition precisely because Right Zionists might be tempted to “go wobbly” on Russia in exchange for cooperation in containing Iran.

But, as Dimitri K. Simes points out, there are Russia hawks in this administration.  Simes identifies one key figure: Dan Fried, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.

Consider, for example, his recent Congressional testimony on US relations with Turkey:

On energy security, the United States has offered strong support to help realize the Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan oil pipeline, working with Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan and with companies to establish a public-private partnership that has resulted in one the most complex and successful pipeline projects of all time. A companion natural gas pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum, a pipeline, is about to begin delivering Azerbaijani natural gas to Georgia and Turkey.

Over the next decade, we hope a trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Kazakhstan and even Turkmenistan will connect with this BTE pipeline. We have also just launched trilateral discussions with Ankara and Baghdad on developing gas production in northern Iraq.

This so-called Southern Corridor can change Eurasia’s strategic map by offering Europe its best hope for large volumes of natural gas supplies that will allow diversification away from a deepening European reliance on Gazprom.

Daniel Fried makes one thing clear: the Great Game is alive and well.

Perhaps it is no accident, then, that one of the leading figures in the recent Russian Dissent is a champion of the “Great Game,” chess master, Garry Kasparov.

One Happy Neocon

Posted by Cutler on April 13, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Looking for a happy Neocon in Washington?

You are unlikely to find one at the World Bank, where former US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz is under pressure to resign.

Instead, the happiest Neocon in Washington appears to be long-time Wolfowitz associate Fouad Ajami.

Like Senator John McCain, Ajami is just back from Iraq and has been all over the media sharing his new-found optimism about Iraq.

It wasn’t always thus.  Having offered up glowing predictions on the eve of the US invasion, Ajami seemed to concede failure in May 2004 with a New York Times Op-Ed that declared “The Dream is Dead.”

Let’s face it: Iraq is not going to be America’s showcase in the Arab-Muslim world… If some of the war’s planners had thought that Iraq would be an ideal base for American primacy in the Persian Gulf, a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world, that notion has clearly been set aside.

We are strangers in Iraq, and we didn’t know the place. We had struggled against radical Shiism in Iran and Lebanon in recent decades, but we expected a fairly secular society in Iraq (I myself wrote in that vein at the time). Yet it turned out that the radical faith — among the Sunnis as well as the Shiites — rose to fill the void left by the collapse of the old despotism.

More recently, however, Ajami has been publishing relatively upbeat Wall Street Journal Op-Ed essays, including his April 11, 2007 piece “Iraq in the Balance,” expressing “cautious optimism” about Iraq.

Traveling “in the company of the Shia politician Ahmed Chalabi” and armed protection, Ajami toured Baghdad.

[T]he sense of deliverance, and the hopes invested in this new security plan, are palpable…

The essay was published before a recent bombing of the Iraqi Parliament killed several Iraqi MPs and prompted the US to concede that even the Green Zone is not safe.  And it comes before the word that the US will extend the tours of those serving in Iraq.

Ultimately, however, Ajami’s optimism is not grounded in a naive hope of swift US military success in Iraq (although Ajami can certainly sling that hash with the best of those accused of reading from a White House script).

Instead, Ajami’s optimism appears to be grounded in a far more cold-hearted (if still potentially incorrect) calculation: Shiite vengeance has done what the US refused to do–break the back of the Sunni insurgency.

In other words, Iraq is (or has been) in the throes of a sectarian civil war, but in the words of Charles Krauthammer, Iraq is “A Civil War We Can Still Win.”

What some might call “ethnic cleansing” in Baghdad, Ajami calls victory:

In retrospect, the defining moment for Mr. Maliki had been those early hours of Dec. 30, when Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows…

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad. The great flight from Baghdad to Jordan, to Syria, to other Arab destinations, has been the flight of Baghdad’s Sunni middle-class. It is they who had the means of escape, and the savings.

Whole mixed districts in the city–Rasafa, Karkh–have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts. This was the tragic logic of the campaign of terror waged by the Baathists and the jihadists against the Shia; this was what played out in the terrible year that followed the attack on the Askariya shrine of Samarra in February 2006. Possessed of an old notion of their own dominion, and of Shia passivity and quiescence, the Sunni Arabs waged a war they were destined to lose.

No one knows with any precision the sectarian composition of today’s Baghdad, but there are estimates that the Sunnis may now account for 15% of the city’s population. Behind closed doors, Sunni leaders speak of the great calamity that befell their community. They admit to a great disappointment in the Arab states that fed the flames but could never alter the contest on the ground in Iraq. No Arab cavalry had ridden, or was ever going to ride, to the rescue of the Sunnis of Iraq…

Now the ground has shifted, and among the Sunnis there is a widespread sentiment of disinheritance and loss.

The Mahdi Army, more precisely the underclass of Sadr City, had won the fight for Baghdad.

In other words, the Chalabi-Ajami Right Zionist crew that put its faith in the Iraqi Shia have not been disappointed by the decision.

The disappointment has been in Washington.  And if Ajami continues to fear anything, it is the Bush administration:

The Americans have given birth to this new Shia primacy, but there lingers a fear, in the inner circles of the Shia coalition, that the Americans have in mind a Sunni-based army, of the Pakistani and Turkish mold, that would upend the democratic, majoritarian bases of power on which Shia primacy rests. They are keenly aware, these new Shia men of power in Baghdad, that the Pax Americana in the region is based on an alliance of long standing with the Sunni regimes. They are under no illusions about their own access to Washington when compared with that of Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and the smaller principalities of the Persian Gulf. This suspicion is in the nature of things; it is the way of once marginal men who had come into an unexpected triumph.

In truth, it is not only the Arab order of power that remains ill at ease with the rise of the Shia of Iraq. The (Shia) genie that came out of the bottle was not fully to America’s liking. Indeed, the U.S. strategy in Iraq had tried to sidestep the history that America itself had given birth to. There had been the disastrous regency of Paul Bremer. It had been followed by the attempt to create a national security state under Ayad Allawi. Then there had come the strategy of the American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, that aimed to bring the Sunni leadership into the political process and wean them away from the terror and the insurgency.

Mr. Khalilzad had become, in his own sense of himself, something of a High Commissioner in Iraq, and his strategy had ended in failure; the Sunni leaders never broke with the insurgency. Their sobriety of late has been a function of the defeat their cause has suffered on the ground; all the inducements had not worked.

We are now in a new, and fourth, phase of this American presence. We should not try to “cheat” in the region, conceal what we had done, or apologize for it, by floating an Arab-Israeli peace process to the liking of the “Sunni street.”…

For our part, we can’t give full credence to the Sunni representations of things. We can cushion the Sunni defeat but can’t reverse it. Our soldiers have not waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against Sunni extremists to fall for the fear of some imagined “Shia crescent” peddled by Sunni rulers and preachers.

The Neocons began to lose control of US policy in Iraq as early as September 2003.  They have never been completely eclipsed in Washington, least of all in the Office of the Vice President.

Ultimately, the “(Shia) genie” in Iraq remains the ace in the hole for Right Zionists.

Students of the Sunni insurgency might well argue that Ajami is blowing smoke when he says that the Mahdi Army has won the fight for Baghdad.  At one level, Ajami is simply repeated the old hope that he is witnessing the “last throes” of the Sunni insurgency.  There is good reason for skepticism.

No matter.  The significance of the Ajami text is not in the adequacy of its predictions about Baghdad but in the content and direction of its political investments.

Ajami has produced an “unflinching” Right Zionist defense of the 80 Percent Solution.

Does Washington support the 80 Percent Solution?

Ajami is not sure.  In his January 2007 Op-Ed “The American Iraq,” he expressed cautious optimism about Washington:

[I]n recent months our faith in democracy’s possibilities in Iraq has appeared to erode, and this unnerves the Shia political class… [T]here was that brief moment when it seemed as though the “realists” of the James Baker variety were in the midst of a restoration. The Shia (and the Kurds) needed no deep literacy in strategic matters to read the mind of Mr. Baker. His brand of realism was anathema to people who tell their history in metaphors of justice and betrayal. He was a known entity in Iraq; he had been the steward of American foreign policy when America walked away, in 1991, from the Kurdish and Shia rebellions it had called for. The political class in Baghdad couldn’t have known that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would die on the vine, and that President Bush would pay these recommendations scant attention. The American position was not transparent, and there were in the air rumors of retrenchment, and thus legitimate Iraqi fears that the American presence in Baghdad could be bartered away in some accommodation with the powers in Iraq’s neighborhood.

These fears were to be allayed, but not put to rest, by the military “surge” that President Bush announced in recent days. More than a military endeavor, the surge can be seen as a declaration by the president that deliverance would be sought in Baghdad, and not in deals with the rogues (Syria and Iran) or with the Sunni Arab states. Prime Minister Maliki and the coalition that sustains his government could not know for certain if this was the proverbial “extra mile” before casting them adrift, or the sure promise that this president would stay with them for the remainder of his time in office.

Ajami–like Maliki–might still have his doubts about President Bush.  But if push comes to shove between Bush and Maliki, Ajami’s commitments are crystal clear:

Mr. Maliki will not do America’s bidding, and we should be grateful for his displays of independence.

Iranian Quid Pro Quo?

Posted by Cutler on April 11, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Let’s revisit the old question of Cheney–his influence and his agenda.

There has been speculation, most recently in early March, that Cheney might be losing his influence in the White House.

At least some folks in Washington think that may be so much wishful thinking.

Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks report in the Washington Post that someone in the White House is looking to find a powerful successor to Meghan O’Sullivan, the Richard Haass protégé who has been the lead White House staffer responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Gen. John J. “Jack” Sheehan was one of those invited to consider the White House “war czar” position and his public response to that invitation speaks directly to the question of Cheney’s influence.  The Post quotes Sheehan:

“The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going,” said retired Marine Gen. John J. “Jack” Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. “So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, ‘No, thanks,’ ” he said….

In the course of the discussions, Sheehan said, he called around to get a better feel for the administration landscape.

There’s the residue of the Cheney view — ‘We’re going to win, al-Qaeda’s there’ — that justifies anything we did,” he said. “And then there’s the pragmatist view — how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence.” Sheehan said he wrote a note March 27 declining interest.

And then there is Cheney and US relations with Iran.

On the one hand, Iran hawks like John Bolton have criticized the UK–and the US–for handing Iranian hardliners a victory in the recent “hostage” affair.  Writing in the Financial Times, Bolton declares:

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, an improbable Easter bunny, scored a political victory, both in Iran and internationally, by his “gift” of the return of Britain’s 15 hostages. Against all odds, Iran emerged with a win-win from the crisis: winning by its provocation in seizing the hostages in the first place and winning again by its unilateral decision to release them….

Tony Blair, the prime minister, said he was “not negotiating but not confronting either”… [W]hat does “not negotiating but not confronting” actually mean? Unnamed British diplomats briefed the press that they had engaged in “discussions” but not negotiations. One can only await with interest to learn what that distinction without a difference implies…. the US was silent, at Britain’s behest.

The Captain Ahabs of British and US diplomacy, obsessed by their search for Iranian “moderates”, those great white whales, are proclaiming yet another “moderate” victory in this outcome…

Indisputably the winners in Iran were the hardliners.

When Bolton proposes that there might, as yet, be more “to learn” about the nature of the discussions between the British and Iran he is referring to the widely circulating rumor that there was a quid pro quo involved in the hostage release.

Specifically, there has been speculation linking the capture and release of the British “hostages” to the capture of several Iranian “hostages”–the so-called Irbil Five–in Iraq.

On the Left, Patrick Cockburn suggested that the Iranians seized the British in retaliation for the American capture of the Iranians.

During the “negotiations,” an Iranian diplomat held in Iraq was released, feeding speculation of dealmaking.

The Iranians hinted at a deal after the British were released:

Tehran has called on London to respond to its release of 15 UK naval personnel with a gesture of good will, indicating it wants Britain’s help to free five Iranians held in Iraq and ease concerns about its nuclear programme.

“We played our part and we showed our good will,” Rasoul Movahedian, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, told the Financial Times, in his first interview since the crisis began. “Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way.”

There has been speculation that Tehran’s decision to free the 15 was linked to the fate of the Iranians held by the US since January.

This sparked fear among Iran hawks on the Right that the Bush administration had agreed to the link in a scandalous quid pro quo.

Eli Lake at the New York Sun reported, “America May Free Iranians Taken in Iraq” and the editorial page decried signs of a deal.

Where is Cheney?

In an interview with ABC News Radio, Cheney was asked about a quid pro quo:

Q Do you think there was any quid pro quo for their release?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don’t know.

Q Do you think there should have been?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t think there should have been…

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release.  But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them.  At least not yet.  And, according to the Financial Times the Iranians are pissed.

Iran’s frustration has been gradually building over the lack of progress in releasing five Iranians seized by US forces from Tehran’s consular building in Arbil, northern Iraq, on January 11. The case has become for Iran a disturbing sign of hostile US intentions, both over Tehran’s role in Iraq and its nuclear programme…

“We are not responsible for [the detained Iranians],” one Iraqi source said. “The realpolitik of today’s Iraq is different and [the Iranians] know it for sure.”…

Iran’s hopes for the release of the “Arbil Five” blossomed last week both with the freeing of Jalal Sharafi, a senior Iranian diplomat, two months after he was kidnapped in Baghdad apparently by Iraqi special forces, and with Iran’s release of 15 British sailors and marines detained since March 23.

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

In addition to questions of influence, there remains the issue of Cheney’s goals regarding Iran.

I note with interest that some of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies continue to be very frustrated by US policy toward Iran.  Right Zionists have always thought of populist regime change as the top priority in Iran.  But Cheney’s potential influence appears to offer little hope to Right Zionists that US policy is moving decisively in this direction.

In a recent interview, Richard Perle seems nearly inconsolable:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Cheney is preparing the way for a “political strategy” of populist regime change in Iran, he appears to be keeping it from some of his best friends.

Sadr’s Iraqi Nationalism

Posted by Cutler on April 09, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Some news headlines are suggesting that Moqtada al-Sadr, who has called his followers out into the streets for mass demonstrations, is now calling for “violence” against the US.  Others suggest a more ambiguous call to “fight” the US.

So, is this the long-awaited renewal of a clash between Sadr and the US?

Maybe, but I seriously doubt it.

The Sadrist demonstrations in Iraq are more likely an attempt by the Mahdi Army leadership to deflect criticism from within its own ranks.

The call for the demonstrations was made following Sunni attacks on Shiite neighborhoods at the end of March.

Sadr’s refusal to endorse a violent response to the sectarian bloodletting can easily be interpreted by his own ranks as a refusal to retaliate against the Sunni sources of violence.

To cover his flank, Sadr must try to shift the focus from a sectarian axis to a nationalist axis.

This is no easy task, but it helps explain the decidedly nationalist flavor of the theater promoted by Sadr in late March:

Al-Sadr’s statement calling for a demonstration was read aloud by a senior member of al-Sadr’s movement, Sheikh Suhail al-Iqabi, on Friday in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood and elsewhere in Iraq…

“Hoist Iraqi flags atop homes, apartment buildings and government departments to show the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, and that you reject the presence of American flags and those of other nations occupying our beloved Iraq.”

All of this underscores one of the difficulties of the US-Sadrist embrace.

Assume, for the moment, that Sadr would prefer to have his own forces “go to ground” and allow the US “surge” in Baghdad those Sunni forces that attack Shiite slums.

Such a move puts Sadr at the mercy of the US and its ability to protect his own ranks.

The late March attacks on Sadr city demonstrated to Sadr’s own ranks the risks of depending on US forces for security.

Sadr doesn’t have many good options.  He can unleash a sectarian thirst for vengeance within his own ranks or he can rely on the Americans for security against Sunni terror, even as he tries to reach out across the sectarian divide to (ultimately) form a united front against US occupation.

Ironically, the call for April 9 anti-American nationalist demonstrations may represent the clearest sign yet that Sadr is still placing his bet on the hope of security provided by the US.  

One way to underscore the difficulty of Sadr’s position is to simply consider the extraordinarily long odds of that bet.

The US has, thus far, been hard pressed to protect Shiites from Sunni terror.  And there appear to be limits to the Sunni appetite for a united front with Shiites so long as the Shia are seen to have inherited Iraq, courtesy of the US occupation.

Sadr’s best chance for Sunni-Shiite unity is to foment an Arab backlash against Kurdish efforts to make a grab for Kirkuk.

Perhaps this is the political unconscious of the Iraqi nationalism on display, courtesy of Sadr.

Bong Hits for Sanjaya

Posted by Cutler on April 06, 2007
Sacrifice / 2 Comments

A confession: in all the time since American Idol premiered in June 2002, I have not managed to watch more than one or two episodes.  Looking back now, I wish I had it all to do over again.  (Redemption awaits, courtesy of the “Netflix” Queue.)

Nevertheless, it appears that at least 30 million viewers have been battling a culture war in and through American Idol and the results look fascinating.

As usual, issues of work and sex figure prominently.

One clear sign of a good culture war is the advent of moral panic among Conservatives.

Enter our would-be President Fred Thompson, currently at the American Enterprise Institute, and his missive, “Real American Idols“:

Somehow, I know that Paris Hilton may have violated her parole. I’m not sure how it happened, but I even know a little about Britney Spears’s hairdo, divorce, and trip to rehab. These bits of cultural trivia, I really wish I hadn’t digested.

What I’m not going to do now is scold editors for spending more time on Anna Nicole Smith and Lindsay Lohan than the details of our federal budget. To begin with, it would have about as much impact as it would for me to tell some pop starlet, who has more money than I ever will, to put on some decent clothes and behave herself.

I do think, though, that we should be worried when our children are shown over and over again that people who are rich and famous, and are presented as “idols,” get even more rich and famous due to behaviors that would be rightly deemed tragedies in most families. So, instead of telling our news sources what not to publish, maybe I could make a few suggestions for additional programming.

Thompson goes on to profile several “role models” from the world of women’s college basketball:

There are young women who are succeeding because of all the old virtues that we want our children to learn and emulate…

[The ] did what had to be done to win this year–drilling and working out hard in the off season when other teams were taking it easy…

[T]hese women… have shown the discipline, sacrifice, and desire that anyone can and should aspire too. For the sake of our daughters, they ought to get at least a fraction of the coverage our media gives embarrassing, dysfunctional celebrities.

Set aside, for the moment, the moral panic about the rich “pop starlet” not only refuses to “put on some decent clothes and behave herself” but who–heaven forbid–shaved her head, which can only mean that Spears is insane.

The celebrity of the day is clearly American Idol‘s Sanjaya Malakar.

Eugene Robinson provides the basic contours of the phenomenon in his Washington Post column, “Sanjaya: The Axis of ‘Idol‘”:

Sanjaya Malakar is an abysmally untalented contestant who not only survives elimination week after week but actually seems to become more popular. He is the worst singer among the finalists, by far. His voice is weak… [and he] dances as if he has restless leg syndrome.

But Sanjaya (he has earned single-name fame) is undeniably cute. And he has a world-class head of hair, which he styles a different way each week — the apotheosis, thus far, was an indescribable “faux-hawk.” Wielding his lush locks and his charismatic smile like weapons of mass destruction, Sanjaya has conquered television’s biggest show…

The show’s official “expert panel” has weighed in heavily against Sanjaya, but to no avail.  Judge Simon Cowell has even threatened to walk away from the show if Sanjaya wins.

Sanjaya has had help in conquering the show.  The authority of the show’s judges has been “sabotaged” by an independent campaign, led by “Vote for the Worst” and adopted by Howard Stern.

“We’re corrupting the entire thing,” Mr. Stern said on his Sirius Satellite Radio show Thursday, the day after Mr. Malakar secured a place in the top nine finalists. “All of us are routing ‘American Idol.’ It’s so great. The No. 1 show in television and it’s getting ruined.”…

Mr. Malakar, who at 17 looks like a 1970s pop star of the David Cassidy/Bobby Sherman/Andy Gibb variety, had been among the lowest two or three vote-getters in the first weeks of the season. But after Dave Della Terza, the founder of a Web site called votefortheworst.com, first appeared on Mr. Stern’s radio show on March 20, Mr. Malakar has not been among the lowest vote-getters.

Of course, Stern matters and he has his own corporate heft.  But a case can be made–and has been made–that in this instance Stern is a lagging indicator, not a leading indicator.

So, at one level, the Sanjaya crisis represents a kind of “disintermediation” phenomenon where monopolistic or oligopolistic institutions (like Fox and its panel of expert judges) give way to unruly markets (like Fox’s own voting system and the chattering blogosphere).

This is how social movement happens now.  The social moves, not through the sweat equity of “collective action” but through turbulent markets.

American Idol producer Ken Warwick insists that everything is under control and discounts the significance of the virus that has swept the nation and infected his show.

Stern exudes the pleasure of a hacker and this is surely part of the story, as it was in the case of the recent “unauthorized” ad against Hillary Clinton.

But there is something else at stake, as well.

It’s about pleasure and the work ethic.

Here is how “Vote For the Worst” explains itself:

Why do we do it? During the initial auditions, the producers of Idol only let certain people through. Many good people are turned away and many bad singers are kept around…

Now why do the producers do this? It’s simple: American Idol is not about singing at all, it’s about making good reality TV and enjoying the cheesy, guilty pleasure of watching bad singing. We agree that a fish out of water is entertaining, and we want to acknowledge this fact by encouraging people help the amusing antagonists stick around. VFTW sees keeping these contestants around as a golden opportunity to make a more entertaining show.

There is in all of this a “guilty pleasure” in some standard reality TV cruelty.  The difference between VFTW and Fox may only be that Fox disavows that pleasure.  VFTW explains:

Because they don’t like our site, Fox has called us “hateful” and “mean spirited”. Doesn’t it seem a tad hypocritical to say that when the show has weeks devoted to making fun of bad auditions?…

How can the producers let Simon mock some of the contestants but then let us be called “vicious” when a campaign exists to help those very contestants? We don’t hate the people we vote for, we actually love them!

In the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche’s birds of prey describe their relationship with lambs:

We don’t dislike them at all, these good little lambs; we even love them; nothing is more tasty than a tender lamb.”

Some of the moral panic about Sanjaya is clearly about gender and sexual ambiguity.

Once upon a time the king of pop attempted to turn himself into the princess of Motown, Diana Ross – and he had the hair to prove it.

But Michael Jackson is a light-weight compared to the new king of the Hair Don’ts – the tragically tressed “Amerian Idol” finalist Sanjaya Malakar…

Half the world is asking… why he’s changing his hairstyle more often than Britney Spears….

The first shock to our systems was when Sanjaya showed up for auditions tressed in a full-out Farrah. How did he even find a hairdresser who still knows how to feather?…

Last week, he appeared with Jennifer Aniston’s hair strangely attached to his head. But it wasn’t until he sang for, yes, Diana Ross this week that we went into full toxic shock. Instead of copying her hairdo he showed up as Sally Struthers!

The moral panic that surrounds the survival of Sanjaya is also appears to be about wounded attachment to the “slave morality” of the work ethic and the ideology of the meritocratic rat race.

TV critic Susan Young cites one reader who makes the case:

[The attitude of ‘Vote for the Worst’] has outraged viewers, such as column reader Midge, who wrote to ask if it was true that Stern had asked his listeners to vote for Sanjaya.

“This singing competition is becoming a farce and is grossly unfair to the talented people who are working very hard and deserve to be recognized for their talent,” Midge writes.

“One might even want to think about going back two weeks and starting from there. Perhaps the judging should be like ‘Dancing with the Stars’ where the judges count as 50 percent of the vote.”

Reinstate loyal respect for authority and render hard work and sacrifice the source of all value?

I prefer not to.

The US-Russian War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on April 04, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Was the US invasion of Iraq was an opening salvo in a US-Russian war?

According to such a scenario, the “crisis” that led some in the Bush administration to press for an invasion of Iraq was not WMDs, a terror threat, domestic repression of Shiites and Kurds, etc.  The crisis came when Saddam began to slip out of his “sanctions” cage by shacking up in 1997 with Russian oil giant, Lukoil, for an agreement for the development of the giant West Qurna field.

So, have those most concerned to keep Iraq from Russia managed to do so?

Not yet.

Lukoil–and its American partner, ConocoPhillips, which owns a minority share in Lukoil–are still eager to try to get back in the game.

An April 2 Reuters report details a campaign by Lukoil and the Russian foreign ministry to insure that Lukoil doesn’t get shut out:

Russia’s top oil producer LUKOIL… signed a partnership deal with the foreign ministry on Monday and said it counted on its support as it prepares for talks to revive a giant oil deal in Iraq.

LUKOIL and the ministry said in a statement that the deal, the first of its kind in Russia, aims to support LUKOIL’s projects abroad, defend the firm’s interests by diplomatic means and facilitate the firm’s meetings abroad…

“Our company is entering new regions, including politically unstable regions. We will especially need support of the ministry in Iraq,” Interfax news agency quoted LUKOIL chief executive Vagit Alekperov as saying at a signing ceremony which was closed to reporters from foreign media organisations.

Nevertheless, Lukoil may have reason to worry that the proposed Iraqi oil legislation will leave the Russians out in the cold.

Much of the chatter in the US has been about the “scandal” of proposed “production sharing agreements” in the hydrocarbons law.  These are said to offer up the prospect of a massive money grab by the Oil Majors by coming very close to “privatizing” Iraqi oil.

That gets folks in the US all excited about the ways in which the US invasion of Iraq was all about the spread of neo-liberal market ideology.

When the so-called “Left” thinks about these issues, it misses the Great Power battle and sees only a struggle between the forces of statist justice and market greed.  Christian Parenti, for example, deserves props for noticing that the new Iraqi oil law is not all about privatization.  He even mentions that the Lukoil deal will be restructured.  But he appears to be comforted rather than alarmed by the implications:

Nor does the proposed oil law simply serve Iraq up on a plate to the oil giants. One London-based oil analyst who expected a more decentralized and free-market law called it “bloody confused.” On key questions of foreign investment and regional decentralization versus centralized control, the law is vague but not all bad

The draft law will leave ownership of the oil in state hands….

Indeed, the new law does not mention PSAs and it stipulates that firms will have to negotiate on a field-by-field basis.

The law will restructure the oil industry in other important ways: It will appoint a Federal Oil and Gas Council led by the prime minister to oversee all future contracts as well as review existing deals. Those agreements include the five contracts signed by the Kurdish Regional Government and six outstanding PSAs signed between Saddam Hussein and a mix of companies–most notably Lukoil of Russia, Total of France, the China National Petroleum Corporation and Italy’s Eni.

A single state-owned Iraqi National Oil Company will be reconstituted under central government control.

So close.  And, yet, so far.

The “scandal” may not be American market ideology in Iraq.  The real scandal may be the US move to nationalize some key elements of the Iraqi oil industry in an effort to thwart Russian (and French) ambitions.

Platts Oilgram News offered up this analysis of the Iraqi hydrocarbons law (Faleh al-Khayat, “New Iraqi oil law to open upstream sector; Gives powers to rejuvenated national company,” March 6, 2007):

The final draft of Iraq’s long-awaited oil and gas law opens up the country’s prized upstream sector to private, local and foreign investors for the first time since the 1970s, but appears to give more powers to a revived national oil company to manage current producing fields and giant undeveloped discoveries.

Platts has obtained the final draft of the law in Arabic, dated February 15 and approved by the Council of Ministers February 26, along with annexes classifying the oil fields and blocks to be opened up…

The law, now awaiting approval by parliament, re-establishes the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), which was disbanded in 1987…

INOC will operate Iraq’s producing fields, numbering 27, and, significantly, the partially developed fields of Majnoon, Halfaya, Nahr BinUma, Suba and Luhais, Tuba, and the whole of the giant West Qurna field. The ousted regime of Saddam Husssein had given France’s Total the right to negotiate exclusively a production sharing contract for the giant fields of Majnoon and Nahr Bin Umar. Saddam’s government also signed in 1997 an agreement with a Lukoil-led consortium to develop the West Qurna field, but the agreement was later terminated.

The inclusion of these fields under INOC’s direct responsibility would exclude foreign companies from any production sharing role and limit them to service or management contracts.

All of which amounts to saying that the Russians may get back into Iraq via the West Qurna field, but it will have to operate under the terms of the national oil company under the political control of the Iraqi government.  The same goes for France which would lose its “production sharing contract” agreed with Saddam Hussein’s government.

Some of the Russian press seems to agree that the terms of Iraqi hydrocarbons law are designed to hurt Russian interests.  Kommersant published a story, “Lukoil to Be Stripped Off A Field In Iraq“:

Russia’s oil blockbuster, LUKOIL, could be stripped off a field in Iraq, lentar.ru reported. The government of that country has presented to parliament a bill implying revision of crude oil agreements concluded in time of Saddam Hussein.

If passed, the bill advocated by today’s government of Iraq will hit two companies of Russia. One of them is LUKOIL that is developing the West Qurna-2 field, the second is Stroitransgaz that has a geological exploration contract for the fourth block of the West Desert, Vremia Novostei reported.

Under the bill that lobbies the U.S. interests, 51 fields and 65 exploration blocks will be split into four categories. The first one will include 27 fields that are currently developed, while the second category will specify the fields with proven reserves located near the fields of the first category. The remaining fields will form the third category and the forth category will be represented by exploration blocks.

Predictably, the fields of the first two categories, including West Qurna-2, will pass under control of the national oil company of Iraq that is being created now.

If the US invasion of Iraq was part of a Great Power battle with Russia, then the key decision on the Iraqi hydrocarbons law may have been to renationalize those Iraqi oil fields that were set to fall into the hands of Russia and France.

Sistani’s Smack Down

Posted by Cutler on April 02, 2007
Iraq / 2 Comments

Shiite Cleric Opposes Return of Baathists in Iraq

It could be a whole new ball game, friends.

The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq has rejected an American-backed proposal to allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to government service, an aide to the cleric said today…

“The office of Grand Ayatollah Sistani is deeply concerned about the new law,” the aide said…

The comments from the ayatollah’s office came a day after Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite and head of the de-Baathification commission, met with the cleric in Najaf. Mr. Chalabi has opposed any serious attempt to roll back the purging of former Baathists from government. After the meeting on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi said at a news conference that Ayatollah Sistani was aware of the law and had told Mr. Chalabi that it “would not be the final one and there would be other drafts.”

Some critics of the Bush administration will celebrate Sistani’s smack down. Here is the thing to remember: among those “critics” will be most of the Neo-cons/Right Zionists who championed de-Baathification in the first place.

Every time the Right Zionists look like they are down for the count in Washington, Sistani gives them a new lease on life in Baghdad.

It happened in 2004 when he demanded elections, overruling the Scowcroft crowd of Right Arabists in Washington that warned against elections, pressed for re-Baathification, and championed ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.

David Wurmser, Gerecht, Perle, and others (Cheney!?) put their faith in Sistani. Can he be said to have disappointed them?

Right Zionists have had their disappointments (and plenty of enemies, to be sure!), but almost all of the disappointments have originated in Washington.  In Iraq, Right Zionists have enemies (i.e., the entire Sunni insurgency, elements of a Sadrist Shiite insurgency, etc.), but few disappointments.

The first “Cutler’s Blog” reader to link to a Right Zionist celebrating Sistani’s proclamation wins…

Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab political elite is already in full revolt. More from the New York Times:

News of the rejection today drew harsh criticism from Sunni Arab leaders.

“In my opinion, our country is now one led by the clerics, and the new political process in Iraq is made to allow those clerics and religious parties to govern Iraq,” said Salim Abdullah, a legislator from the main Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament. “The Iraqis will feel the consequences of that.”

“The Iraqi government is using wilayat al-faqih,” he said, angrily invoking the term that refers to the style of clerical governance popularized by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.

Officials from the secular party of Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, also expressed profound disappointment. Mr. Allawi said in an interview last month that the religious Shiites were using the de-Baathification process to unjustly purge members of his party from public office. Mr. Allawi, a Shiite who is a former Baathist, has said that the Sunni-led insurgency will continue as long as former members of the Baath Party are shut out of significant positions in the government.

Ibrahim al-Janabi, a legislator and senior aide to Mr. Allawi, said today that the lobbying of Ayatollah Sistani by Shiites like Mr. Chalabi “is the weapon of losers.”

I do not envy poor Ryan Crocker, the newly arrived Arabist US ambassador to Iraq. He was all set to inherit Zalmay Khalilzad’s re-Baathification policy. Now, he may inherit the wind.

[Update: Reuters reports that a Beirut-based “spokesman” for Sistani has cast doubt on the veracity of Sistani’s rejection of the de-Baathification bill:

“What some news agencies said quoting who they described as an aide to Sayyed Sistani about his position on the de-Baathification Law was not true,” Hamed al-Khafaf, who is based in Beirut, said in a statement…

“We are surprised by attempts trying to get (the Shi’ite clerical establishment) involved in a case which is the speciality of constitutional organisations,” Khafaf said, without saying what Sistani’s position was on the law.

Ed Wong’s New York Times article quoted “an aide” and reported on “comments from the ayatollah’s office,” but offered no names.  Maybe the whole affair was nothing more than a Chalabi-inspired fabrication.  We’ll see.]

Rice’s Second Track?

Posted by Cutler on April 02, 2007
Iran, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently flew to the Middle East.  In terms of “diplomacy,” however, Rice appears to have been phoning it in.

“My approach has been, I admit, careful. It’s been step-by-step. I’ve not been willing to try for the big bang,” Rice said after her meetings Sunday. “To take the time to talk to the parties on the basis of the same questions and the same issues is well worth the time . . . and I won’t promise you that I won’t have to do that again before we can even move the process even further forward.”

If there is not going to be a “diplomatic” big bang, this may not preclude a different kind of “big bang” in the region.

As Dick Durata of “Blog Simple” noted in a comment to my recent post on Saudi factionalism, Rice’s visit to the Middle East also included a meeting “Prince Bandar and the heads of Jordanian and Egyptian security.”

I had missed that tidbit.  But the confab did catch the attention of several others.

As Rami G. Khouri points out in his Daily Star column, “When Arab Security Chiefs Conduct Foreign Policy,” Rice’s visit to the Middle East operated on two relatively distinct tracks.

Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit.

Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies?…

Rice’s meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications…

Rice’s latest visit to the region included her quest for “moderate Sunni Arabs” who would join the United States and Israel in their face-off against Iran and its Arab allies, alongside her meeting to foster bonding between the US State Department and Arab security establishments.

To say that this meeting went without much publicity is an understatement.  Intelligence Online covered the meeting.  The resulting report appears plausible, but I cannot speak to the validity of the details:

Rice was accompanied on the occasion by CIA director Michael Hayden. Among those in attendance were the heads of the foreign intelligence agencies of Egypt (general Omar Suleiman), Jordan (Mohamed Dahabi) and Saudi Arabia (prince Moqrin bin Abdulaziz) as well as the bosses of the Saudi and United Arab Emirates national security councils, prince Bandar bin Sultan and sheikh Hazaa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

According to Arab diplomatic sources in Amman, the first issue on the agenda concerned relations between Hamas and Syria and Iran. The head of Jordanian intelligence talked of several recent attempts to sneak arms of Iranian origin into Jordan…

[One] theme of the meeting was the danger that Iran posed to the region. The CIA underscored the need to track down Iranian networks operating out of the United Arab Emirates, and particularly out of Dubai, and the other Gulf countries. Hayden also demanded that a special eye be kept on Shi’ite minorities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He also similarly claimed that efforts to limit the flow of Saudi extremists into Iraq left much to be desired. It was agreed that Arab intelligence agencies ought to focus their attention on Iranian military activities in Syria and Lebanon.

Isn’t it possible that these are “Cheney’s Arabs” and Arabists?  The ones who are most eager and willing to join the US and Israel in a challenge to Iranian power?

Bandar is the most obvious name on the list, given the speculations about his direct links to Cheney.

And even as Saudi King Abdullah has been forging links between Abbas and Hamas in Mecca, Jordan’s director of General Intelligence, Mohammed Dahabi, has been ringing alarm bells about Hamas.

CIA director Michael Hayden doesn’t always read as a Cheney guy.  But it was hard to miss his effort to establish his credentials as an Iran hawk when he testified before Congress in November 2006:

In Congressional testimony this month, General Hayden said he was initially skeptical of reports of Iran’s role but changed his mind after reviewing intelligence reports.

“I’ll admit personally,” he said at one point in the hearing, “that I have come late to this conclusion, but I have all the zeal of a convert as to the ill effect that the Iranians are having on the situation in Iraq.”

I do not know that it all adds up to a second track intended to subvert Saudi King Abdullah.  But I wouldn’t bet against the idea.

Trouble with Abdullah

Posted by Cutler on March 30, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In several recent posts (here, here, and here), I have been speculating about growing tensions between King Abdullah and the Bush administration.  At times, I thought I was going pretty far out on a limb.  Turns out… not very far at all.

King Abdullah made big news at the Arab Summit meeting in Riyadh this week with a blast at US policy in Iraq.

“In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war,” Abdullah said.

The King’s remark was also, implicitly, a swipe at the US-backed, Shiite-led Iraqi government.  Needless to say, this did not escape the attention of Iraqi officials:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshayr Zebari on Thursday rejected remarks by Saudi Arabia that the US occupation of Iraq was illegal.

“We don’t think there is an illegal occupation because these forces are present and working according to international resolutions, and are accepted by a representative elected Iraqi government,” Zebari said on the sidelines of the Arab summit being held in Riyadh.

At issue, among other things, is the legitimacy of the new balance of power in Iraq that swept the Sunni Arab minority from power.

Arab League foreign ministers at a side meeting of the summit adopted a resolution that seeks to redress the perceived imbalance in the Iraqi security services and the political establishment.

Again, Iraqi government officials seemed miffed.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, called the League’s decision to call for changes in the Iraqi constitution that would tend to favor Sunni Muslims an “Arab diktat.”

All of this appears to fit well with the idea–suggested in an earlier post–that Abdullah represents a position that is relatively soft on Iran but hard on Iraqi Shiite rule.

It looks like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knows that Abdullah, if not the entire “Faisal” branch of the Saudi royal family, are all but lost to the US.

In an article on the Arab Summit, Helene Cooper of the New York Times doesn’t make any mention of factionalism within the Saudi royal family, but does report that Rice bypassed Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal, turning instead to Adel al-Jubeir, a figure traditionally thought to be closer to Prince Bandar.

“We were a little surprised to see those remarks,” R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told a Senate hearing, referring to the statement by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the opening of an Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday. “We disagree with them.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, who was traveling to Riyadh, an administration official said.

The official said the State Department had resisted going straight to Ms. Rice’s counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, so as to try to lower the temperature of the rhetoric. He said Ms. Rice planned to question Mr. Jubeir about the Saudi monarch’s remarks.

Cooper seems to be overlooking some of the factionalism that runs through all of this.  Consider, for example, Cooper’s depiction of King Abdullah’s relations with Cheney:

In fact, King Abdullah has warned American officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Last fall, as a growing chorus in Washington advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with a diplomatic outreach to the largely Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the leader of the Sunni Arab world, argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred.

Mention of the “warning” about backing Iraqi Sunnis almost certainly refers to a now-famous Washington Post Op-Ed piece by Nawaf Obaid, “Stepping Into Iraq.”

In a previous post on Nawaf Obaid (and again, here), however, I argued that Obaid was almost certainly not representing King Abdullah or his faction within the Saudi royal family.  Indeed, I think a strong case could be made that Obaid was speaking for Prince Bandar, if not Bandar’s father, Saudi Defense Minister Crown Prince Sultan.

If I am correct about the nature of the factional split, the Bandar crowd represents something like the opposite of the Abdullah position: they are hawkish on Iran and potentially reconciled to the prospect of Sistani-led Shiite rule in Iraq.  They are Cheney’s Saudis.

All of which means that at least some in the US may not only be increasingly uncomfortable with Saudi King Abdullah but may also have strong preferences for Crown Prince Sultan.

To borrow a map of Saudi factionalism from Cheney’s Middle East guru, David Wurmser, Crown Prince Sultan allegedly represents something like the “King Fahd” branch of the Saudi family.  Meanwhile, King Abdullah and his allies–Foreign Minister Faisal and former Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki–appear to represent something like the “Faisal” branch of the family.

According to Wurmser, all the trouble stems from the “Faisal” branch of the family.

In the 1970s, there was a previous Saudi King from the “Faisal” branch.  In 1975, he was assassinated, under murky circumstances, by a nephew recently returned from the United States.

A Saudi Snub

Posted by Cutler on March 28, 2007
Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In a prior post, I described indications of increased tension between Saudi King Abdullah and the Bush administration.

Jim Hoagland’s most recent Washington Post column–“Bush’s Royal Trouble“–tends to support such an interpretation.  Hoagland reports on what appears to be a significant Saudi snub.

According to Hoagland’s account, the Saudis may still be split between those, like Prince Bandar, who championed a Cheney-backed “break-their-bones realignment” in the Middle East and those who supported “traditional caution” in regional diplomacy.  But King Abdullah appears to have shifted the balance away from Bandar and Cheney’s realignment:

President Bush enjoys hosting formal state dinners about as much as having a root canal. Or proposing tax increases. So his decision to schedule a mid-April White House gala for Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah signified the president’s high regard for an Arab monarch who is also a Bush family friend.

Now the White House ponders what Abdullah’s sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner signifies. Nothing good…

Abdullah’s reluctance to be seen socializing at the White House this spring reflects two related dynamics: a scampering back by the Saudis to their traditional caution in trying to balance regional forces, and their displeasure with negative U.S. reaction to their decision to return to co-opting or placating foes.

Abdullah gave a warm welcome to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Riyadh in early March, not long after the Saudis pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into accepting a political accord that entrenches Hamas in an unwieldy coalition government with Abbas’s Fatah movement.

“The Saudis surprised us by going that far,” explained one White House official in a comment that reached — and irritated — Saudi officials….

A few months ago, Bandar was championing the confrontational “realignment” approach in Saudi family councils: Iran’s power would be broken, the Syrians would have to give up hegemonic designs on Lebanon, etc., etc….

Part of the royal family was unhappy with [Prince] Bandar’s earlier break-their-bones realignment rhetoric. Abdullah would not want to come to Washington to front for a divided family. He may need more time to patch things.

Among other things, Hoagland’s view appears to lend support to an argument I made in a previous post that Saudi pressure for a political accord between Hamas and Fatah was not supported by the White House, least of all Cheney & Co.

How does Cheney react to Saudi defiance?  It can’t be pretty.

The last time Cheney was confronted with a major breakdown in relations with Saudi Arabia, he launched a war in Iraq.  What will it be this time?

Oh, right… I forgot.

Iran.

Wither Cheney’s Saudis?

Posted by Cutler on March 26, 2007
Iran, Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Saudi King Abdullah does not appear to be cooperating with Vice President Cheney’s plans for the kingdom.

At least, that is what it looks like to those who track what didn’t happen last week. The Saudi monarch announced that there would be no changes in the Saudi cabinet.

Is “no news” good news?

Not for Cheney & Co.

In January 2007 there was considerable speculation that a major cabinet shuffle was in the works:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is considering a major Cabinet reshuffle soon, the first since he ascended to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, diplomats and Saudi media said Monday.

The reshuffle may include key posts such as Foreign Minister, which has been held by Prince Saud al-Faisal for more than 30 years, and the influential Oil Minister, they said….

Saudis who have intimate knowledge of the discussions regarding the possible reshuffle said al-Faisal, who has had health problems, might be replaced by Crown Prince Sultan’s son Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to Washington and current secretary of the National Security Council…

The news of the reshuffle comes a month after the resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal as Saudi ambassador to the United States. His resignation, after just 15 months as ambassador to Washington, sparked speculations about a power rift within the royal family.

If Bandar is, as has been suggested, “Cheney’s Saudi” then King Abdullah has once again defied the American Vice President.

But the King’s refusal to name Bandar Foreign Minister might only represent the tip of the iceberg.  The re-appointment of the Saudi oil minister, Ali Naimi, may also represent a significant snub.

Back on April 26, 2003, the Economist ran a story (“Regime change for OPEC? – Ali Naimi and the problems facing OPEC”) that seemed to suggest that ExxonMobil had been actively pressing for Naimi’s resignation.

[W]ithin Saudi Arabia… well-sourced rumours this week suggested that Mr Naimi is about to be forced out of office…

So, why might the Saudis even think of firing Mr Naimi, who has been their oil minister since 1995? The most plausible explanation is that he has lost a power struggle over the role of foreign investment. For years, a faction led by the foreign minister has been pushing to open up the country’s natural gas and power sectors to foreign money. Even though this would certainly not involve the full privatisation of Saudi oil into foreign hands, Mr Naimi saw this proposal as an attack on his beloved Aramco and fought it tooth and nail.

He may have lost this battle soon after Saddam lost his. It seems that Exxon Mobil’s formidable boss, Lee Raymond, who has long had a testy relationship with Mr Naimi, recently complained via back-door channels to the powers in the House of Saud about the oil minister’s obstructionism on the gas deals – suggesting that investment dollars might flow instead to newly liberated Iraq. If the rumours are indeed true, this prospect appears to have worried the Saudi royals enough for them to move against Mr Naimi.

I have argued that the Saudi “foreign investment” story referenced by the Economist may help explain some of the tension between Cheney and King Abdullah.

Naimi has also presided over the Saudi-backed OPEC oil price hikes of recent years, even as Cheney’s Saudis allegedly want to flood the oil market as part of a campaign to undermine the Iranian regime.

That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, at least for now.  Prepare to pay at the pump.  Abdullah is King.

Abdullah’s Chance and His Critics

Posted by Cutler on March 23, 2007
Arab League, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Saudi King Abdullah is making news with a proposal to revive his 2002 “peace plan” at an Arab League summit set to begin Riyadh on March 28.

In Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column, “Abdullah’s Chance,” he wonders aloud whether Saudi Arabia is becoming “the new Egypt.”

Friedman is understandably delighted by the news.  After all, Friedman had a hand in the 2002 peace plan.  At a minimum, he broke the story in his 2002 column, “An Intriguing Signal From the Saudi Crown Prince.”  But, as Friedman immodestly suggested in a radio interview on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR program, “On Point,” he deserves even more credit:

“I’m the guy who, you know, came up with the Abdullah peace plan in an interview with the King of Saudi Arabia” (19:40).

As the initiative comes back into focus, it might be worth situating the place of this scheme within the context of ongoing factional battles in Washington, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

The Abdullah peace plan is properly understood as a diplomatic centerpiece for an “axis” that includes James Baker’s “Right Arabists” in Washington, the “Faisal” faction in Riyadh, and the center-right Kadima crowd in Tel Aviv.

Likely critics of such a plan might include a “rejectionist” axis, led by Vice President Cheney and his “Right Zionist” allies in Washington, the old “Fahd” faction–including Prince Bandar–in Riyadh, and the Likud party in Tel Aviv.

As Eli Lake reports in the Right Zionist New York Sun, Likudniks are already speaking out:

While that appears to be the view of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, other players within the government have been critical of Mr. Olmert’s seeming embrace of the Saudi initiative. In an interview yesterday with the Arutz Sheva news service, a leading Likud member of the Knesset, Yuval Steinitz, attacked the prime minister. “When you mention the other side’s plan and add ‘all is open for negotiation,’ it means that you are not going to stand firm on defensible borders in the Golan Heights or in Judea and Samaria,” he said.

A former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Dore Gold, said: “Those who believe that redividing Jerusalem by advancing the Saudi plan will lower the flames of radical Islamic rage have absolutely no idea of what they are dealing with. Any proposal to give the Hamas government the hope of taking over Jerusalem will shoot up jihadism in the region by giving new hope to Al Qaeda affiliates that Jerusalem is within their grasp.”

The factional “shoe” has yet to drop in Washington.  But it will.  For all the talk of “departing hawks,” Secretary of State Rice is not out of the factional woods just yet.

No word yet from Riyadh, but maybe it would be useful to recall a little-noticed source of vehement dissent that arose when the “Abdullah plan” was first aired back in 2002.

Remember that famous Saudi “hawk”–Nawaf Obaidi–who made news with a Washington Post essay that threatened dramatic Saudi action to thwart Iranian regional ambitions?  In a recent post, I speculated that there might be reasons to link Obaidi to the Bandar crowd.

If so, then it might make sense to recall an extraordinary earlier Op-Ed by Nawaf Obaidi–”
The Israeli Flag in Riyadh?“–published in the Washington Post on March 2, 2002.

Considering the hushed tones of Saudi factionalism, this essay reads like a sweeping broadside against the man who would soon become King!

Will there be an Israeli Embassy next door to the Saudi royal court? Not any time soon.

The recent announcement by Crown Prince Abdullah that Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 borders… reveals the courage and vision of the Saudi leader.  However, to assume that the Saudi crown prince can dictate such an important policy is to gravely misunderstand the situation on the ground. In the Saudi kingdom, consensus is the coin of the realm, and in this case, consensus is going to be extremely difficult to come by.

Saudi Arabia has never been a one-man show, although pundits and policymakers in the West often paint it as a monolithic state. Through nearly a century of existence, leadership has been exercised by balancing the various centers of power in the kingdom: the senior Saudi princes, religious leaders and the public. No one institution has the authority to implement a policy as important as recognizing Israel…

Even if Crown Prince Abdullah is able to gain the support of a majority of the senior leadership of the royal family, opposition among the religious establishment and on the street is deep-seated and adamant. Since the announcement, reaction in the kingdom has wavered between astonishment and dismay…

Disgruntled religious extremists have a history of violence in the kingdom, and their ranks will only grow if the leadership is seen as abandoning long-held Saudi values. Thus, the royal family will be extremely careful about adopting any policy that widens the gap between themselves and their people…

For this reason, it is worth considering the wisdom of the manner in which this proposal was presented… Announcing it over dinner, without any details and to a journalist who is a longtime Saudi critic, only undermined any chance for broad-based Saudi and Arab consensus.

There are lots of flattering words thrown in along the way, but this certainly reads like a shot across the bow.

Does this mean that a possible Obaidi-Bandar faction in Riyadh is actually more hostile to Israel than the Abdullah faction?  No.  Absolutely not.

But it does mean that such a faction likely remains mistrustful of Adbullah’s “one-man show” and that they–along with their rejectionist allies in Washington and Tel Aviv–have a very different vision of the roadmap to a “new” Middle East.

Cheney and Iran

Posted by Cutler on March 21, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

What is the relationship between Cheney and Iran?

In a March 20, 2007 New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof describes the VP as “Iran’s Operative in the White House.”

Is Dick Cheney an Iranian mole?

Consider that the Bush administration’s first major military intervention was to overthrow Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, Iran’s bitter foe to the east. Then the administration toppled Iran’s even worse enemy to the west, the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

You really think that’s just a coincidence? That of all 193 nations in the world, we just happen to topple the two neighboring regimes that Iran despises?

Moreover, consider how our invasion of Iraq went down. The U.S. dismantled Iraq’s army, broke the Baath Party and helped install a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. If Iran’s ayatollahs had written the script, they couldn’t have done better — so maybe they did write the script …

We fought Iraq, and Iran won. And that’s just another coincidence?

Kristof, it seems, is joking.

O.K., O.K. Of course, all this is absurd. Mr. Cheney isn’t an Iranian mole…

Mr. Cheney harmed American interests not out of malice but out of ineptitude. I concede that they honestly wanted the best for America, but we still ended up getting the worst.

I have no problem stipulating a lot of ineptitude in the Bush administration, starting at the top.  But I have also warned–in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–that the simplistic charge of ineptitude can lead one to underestimate opponents.  This is almost certainly the case when thinking about Cheney and geopolitical strategy.

So, without suggesting that there is any transparency about Cheney’s current thinking about Iran, it might be worth recalling that Cheney was not always an Iran hawk, especially when it came to thinking about Russia and the Caspian Sea.

Dick Cheney, chief executive officer of Dallas-based Halliburton Co. and former U.S. defense secretary, argued Wednesday the U.S. policy toward Iran hampers another American effort, to encourage Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the other countries in the Caspian region to act independently of Moscow.

Policies against Iran interfere with our policy of independence for the Caspian nations,” Cheney said. (“U.S. moves to foil Iran pipeline; Kazakhs seek loans for alternate routes,” The Houston Chronicle, November 20, 1997, p.2)

A lot has changed since then.  Among other things, Cheney’s potential overtures to Iran in 2000 were blocked by the Israel lobby in the US Congress.

But Cheney has certainly not lost his focus the urgency of “our policy of independence for the Caspian nations.”  Some of that has meant working mightily to construct energy pipelines that bypass Russia and Iran.  But some of it has also meant preparing the way–one way or another–for a new dawn in US-Iranian relations, all at the expense of Russian influence in the Caspian.

Indeed, according to Cheney’s own calendar, the time is coming near:

“I think we’d be better off if we in fact backed off those [Iran] sanctions . . . didn’t try to impose secondary boycotts on [Australian] companies like BHP trying to do business over there,” he told the Business Sunday program.

For several years BHP has been discussing a 2400km natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Iran to Turkey but has been reluctant to commit to the project for fear of US reprisals…

“I think the [hawkish] Iranian policy the US is following is also inappropriate, frankly,” he said.

“I think we ought to begin to work to rebuild those relationships with Iran . . . it may take 10 years but it’s important that we do that.”  (“BHP pipeline should not face US sanctions, says Cheney,” The Australian, April 20, 1998, p.35.)

It may take ten years.  Hmmm.  That gives him until April 20, 2008.  Mark your calendars.

Cheney and the Neocons

Posted by Cutler on March 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

If there is any daylight to be found between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies–and I’m not sure if there is–look to the Russia-Iran axis as the source of the split.

The alliance between Russia and Iran also provides a foundation for the alliance between Cheney and Right Zionists.

Insofar as a split develops between Russia and Iran, however, Right Zionists would likely to try to bring Russia into the anti-Iranian camp.  For Cheney and other Russia hawks, the temptation would be to bring Iran into the anti-Russian camp.

The possibility of such a split has become far more likely in recent days, as Russia has distanced itself from Iran’s nuclear program.

Public Enemy #1: Iran or Russia?

For the most part, Right Zionists join Cheney in his hawkish approach to Russia.  Richard Perle, for example, took the lead back in 2003 in demanding that Russia should be thrown out of the G8.  And Right Zionists are very well represented in campaigns that castigate Russia for its war in Chechnya.

But there are several countervailing tendencies that might make Right Zionists go “wobbly” on Russia.  One is Iran.

For Right Zionists, the Iran Question–as a threat and an opportunity–arguably trumps the Russia Question.

Can the same be said for Cheney?

Cheney’s approach to regional actors like Iran, Iraq, and much of Central Asia mirrors Teddy Roosevelt’s approach to Great Power rivalry a century ago: battles were fought in places like the Philippines, but the War was with another empire, i.e., Spain.

Cheney is focused on Great Power rivalries with China and Russia.  Iraq and Iran are pawns in the Great Game.

Right Zionists are, not surprisingly, focused on Israel and its neighborhood.  Russia and the US are, in effect, viewed as pawns in a Zionist game.  For much of its history, the Zionist movement has proven itself adept in courting Great Powers and making them compete for its loyalty.

So, what happens when hawks are forced to choose between Iran and Russia?  It depends on the hawk.

Zionists Go “Wobbly” on Russia

The most high profile sign of a major shift on Russia among Zionists in the US came in February when Congressman Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, visited Moscow and turned heads with a dramatic flip-flop on Russia.  As one media source suggested in reference to the Lantos visit, “the hitherto staunch critic of Russia” had now embarked on a path of “good will and appeasement to Russia” (Natalia Leshchenko, “U.S. Promises to Lift Trade Restrictions with Russia,” Global Insight Daily Analysis, 21 February 2007).

Even as Washington was reeling from Putin’s anti-American speech in Munich, Lantos found nothing but blue skies ahead for US-Russian relations.  A report from Kommersant tells the story of the Lantos conversion:

In 2003, Mr. Lantos set the tone for the discussions of the Yukos affair in the US, and at that time he was one of the authors of the congressional resolution that called on the US President to bar Russia from the G8. Thus far this year, Mr. Lantos has already at least twice confirmed his reputation as the “bad cop” when it comes to Russia, first by accusing Russia and China of throwing up “constant roadblocks” to the resolution of the Iranian nuclear question, and second by sending a letter to the State Department in which he called on the department to include the sentence “Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are political prisoners” in its annual human rights report.   In his letter, Mr. Lantos wrote that the former Yukos executives “are imprisoned not for any crime that they committed but for their political activities, which threatened Putin’s totalitarian regime.”

Tom Lantos arrived in Moscow soon after President Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich, which was followed by more harsh anti-American rhetoric from the Russian leadership that has caused many to comment on the threat of a return to Cold War-era relations between the two countries. However, his visit has not caused the scandal predicted by many observers. [State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev] Konstantin Kosachev, who spoke with his American colleague for more than an hour, told Kommersant that his impression of Mr. Lantos during their conversation was entirely positive… In reply to a question from Kommersant about whether they had discussed the Yukos affair, the problems of democracy, or other Russian domestic issues, Mr. Kosachev said that such questions had not come up. “He did not bring up those subjects, and so we didn’t either,” he explained, adding, “I liked Mr. Lantos’ attitude. He had a lot to say about how Russia and the US are on the same side of the barricade, and that the problem is that in many cases they have not yet arrived at mutual understanding when confronting threats and challenges that they both face.”

With his trip to Moscow, Mr. Lantos appears determined to shed the image of Russia’s “chief persecutor.” Yesterday he captured the interest of Russian journalists by promising that at his press conference today he will make “an important statement, one that will have historical significance for Russian-American relations.” Kommersant has learned that the surprise up his sleeve is thought to be a statement of America’s readiness to repeal the infamous Jackson-Vanick Amendment, which has hobbled trade relations between the two countries ever since it was introduced by Congress at the height of the Cold War. Thus, America’s “chief persecutor” of Russia may well become Russia’s “chief savior.”

A column in RIA Novosti described as “sensational” the announcement by Lantos that he would, indeed, support the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, thereby facilitating Russia’s WTO entry.  [The “Jackson” in the Jackson-Vanik amendment is Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the late Senator from Boeing/Washington, also mentor in the 1970s of two young Right Zionist staff aides, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz].

An Associated Press report included remarkable quotes from a Lantos press conference in Moscow:

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday he would call for the removal of Russia from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has restricted bilateral trade and remained a key irritant in relations between Moscow and Washington.

It’s time to put behind us this relic of the Cold War,” Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said at a news conference. “I will spare no effort to bring this about and I have every expectation that I will be successful.”

Moscow has long urged the United States to abolish the Jackson-Vanik amendment tying Russia’s trade status to whether it freely allows Jewish emigration…

In what appeared to be an attempt to strike a conciliatory note, Lantos said Putin’s [Munich] statement was a “fully understandable” attempt to demonstrate that his country, a former superpower, was resurgent after years of post-Soviet demise and stressed that Putin’s criticism should not stand in the way of the two countries’ cooperation.

The United States and Russia have far too many common interests and long-term goals,” Lantos said… “We certainly will not allow… [Putin’s Munich] speech to stand in the way of our very positive attitude towards Russia and our future cooperation.

What was the cost, for Putin, of all this “appeasement” from Lantos?

The answer appears to have arrived on February 19 while Lantos was in Moscow: Russia’s retreat from Iran’s nuclear program.

A source in Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom told Reuters it was obvious the timetable for the Bushehr plant needed to be “corrected” because Tehran had not made payments for the work for more than a month.

Moscow had been due to start nuclear fuel deliveries for the plant in March, ahead of the reactor’s planned September start. It was unclear how long the delay would be. Moscow has already pushed back completion several times, citing technical reasons…

Atomstroiexport, the Russian state company in charge of the Bushehr work, said existing U.N. sanctions against Iran were also contributing to the delays because of a trading ban on certain atomic equipment.

“There are certain obstacles affecting our work in Bushehr,” said spokeswoman Irina Yesipova. “Because of the embargo a number of third countries declined to supply equipment (to Iran). That’s why Russian producers have to provide all the equipment all of a sudden. It’s a tough situation.”

Right Zionists took note and suddenly began to elaborate the potential joys of diplomacy.  When the news broke, Cliff May had this to say over at the National Review Online:

If ever there was a time for skillful diplomacy, this is it. The focus should be on Russia. Whatever his faults (and they are many) Putin can be made to see that Russia’s future should not be as the junior, infidel partner to an aggressive, expansionist, radical Islamist, nuclear-armed Iran.

Russia Hawks Go Wobbly on Iran

Even as some Right Zionists were cooing over the prospect of a US-Russian axis against Iran, Russia hawks in the Bush administration–focused on Caspian Sea energy politics–were arguably going “wobbly” on Iran.

Consider, for example, the case of Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Within the Bush administration, Bryza is one of the figures responsible for finding ways to break Russia’s leverage as a supplier of natural gas to Europe and its monopoly control over energy routes out of the Caspian Sea.  Iran looms large as both a source of fuel and a potential route for natural gas from Turkmenistan.

Bryza’s recent interview with Turkish Daily News speaks volumes about his priorities when it comes to Russia and Iran:

[T]he planned Nabucco [pipeline] raises hopes for providing Europe with natural gas from Central Asia, not Russia. It is set to run through Turkey to Vienna via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. However there are concerns that the Azerbaijan gas fields are not yet suitable for extraction.

I don’t know if Nabucco needs a lot of help from America and Europe, but we are all for it,” said Bryza.

“Nabucco needs good, clear gas production from Azerbaijan. We believe that within five to 10 years this could be achieved and Azerbaijan could be producing enough gas”…

Asked whether the United States felt apprehensive about Russian state-owned Gazprom’s tactics, Bryza said that the United States stood for a free, competitive market.

“Gazprom is a monopoly,” he emphasized, “and monopolies behave as monopolies. We don’t like monopolies…

In recent statements President Putin raised the possibility of a Russia-Iran agreement on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) model. Bryza said it was hard to tell if these were empty threats, adding, “I think the Iranians have proved themselves to be difficult associates”…

“Although President Bush has said that no option is off the table, I don’t think a [U.S.] attack on Iran is likely. Our policy is to change the behavior of the Iranian government through diplomacy, not to change the regime,” stated Bryza.

That kind of talk is enough to drive Right Zionists–committed, as they remain, to popular insurrection and regime change in Iran–into fits of rage.

Is it also enough to allow some daylight between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies?

Hersh’s Redirection

Posted by Cutler on March 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In his most recent New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” Seymour Hersh tries to make some sense out of US efforts to build a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.  In some respects, the essay runs along the same lines as my own effort to trace the lines of such a redirection in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Hersh also gives a nod to the possibility that the “shift” may be championed by factions within the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel but this theme remains relatively underdeveloped and the refusal to take factionalism more seriously tends to trouble his narrative.

Hersh pins the US strategy on Cheney, Right Zionist Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad.  He sees John Negroponte as a critic and hedges on the role of Condoleezza Rice:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney…

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings…

[T]he echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State.

On Saudi factionalism, Hersh reiterates some of the themes that have been developed in previous posts (here, here, and here)–including the idea that Prince Bandar is the a figure of any such new alignment.  But Hersh hedges his bets on the depths of the Saudi schism:

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed…

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

I think the Turki-Bandar split runs deeper than a personality dispute.  The Turki faction is more dovish on Iran and more hawkish on Israel and, in a US context, the Turki faction is closer to Baker than Cheney.

There are some unruly problems that disrupt Hersh’s attempts to craft a coherent narrative.  Hersh takes up the Saudi-Israeli element of the redirection, but he can’t entirely square the circle:

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations…

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction… Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran…

[T]he Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

Isn’t it possible that the Saudi brokered deal at Mecca between Hamas and Fatah represented more of a triumph for one faction than another?  If the Mecca deal was part of a US initiative, it seems strange that the US was not only dissatisfied with the terms, as Hersh suggests, but was also reportedly caught by surprise by the deal.

There are certainly signs of renewed interest in some quarters for an Israeli-Saudi accord but to judge from the headlines, Prince Turki seems unlikely to emerge as a leading source of such enthusiasm.  Right Zionists are not exactly dancing in the streets.

Hersh’s article focuses well-deserved attention on Saudi involvement in Lebanon, although even here I think he understates the conflict between Bandar’s hawkish approach toward Hezbollah and the Turki faction’s quest for reconciliation in Lebanon.

The biggest question is what a new US-Saudi-Israeli strategic alignment would mean for Iraq.  Hersh’s whole analysis of the “redirection” begins with the question of Iraq:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy.

But Hersh is actually weakest in his attempt to link the “redirection” to the politics of Iraq.  As Hersh suggests, the US initially aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites and marginalized Iraqi Sunnis.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites….

Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

One peculiarity in this story: neoconservative ideologues appear, in Hersh’s telling, at the center of both the move toward Iraqi Shiites and a pro-Sunni redirection designed to counteract the “distress” the pro-Shiite tilt has caused.

Is the assumption that neoconservatives have been distressed by empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority?  I see no sign of that distress, in part because Right Zionists close to Cheney have always argued–and continue to argue–that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority could provide a pro-American balance to both Sunni extremists (including the Turki faction in Saudi Arabia!) and Shiite extremists in Iran.

One might expect that a pro-Saudi tilt in US policy would require rollback of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and the containment of Iran.  This might, in fact, reflect the goals of the Baker-Turki factions.

The restoration of Sunni Arab political power (through an anti-Shiite coup, etc.), however, is decidedly not on the agenda of “neo-conservative ideologues.”  Neither, it seems, is a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hersh knows that the signs of “redirection” in Iraq do not appear to include a retreat from Shiite power.

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

If Hersh knows why “the trends have been in the opposite direction” of those implicit in his sense of the redirection, he isn’t saying.

The Baker and the Turki faction are “irreconcilables” when it comes to Shiite power in Iraq, even as they seek to retain but contain the incumbent regime in Iran.  For this crowd, the “trends” in Iraq continue in the wrong direction.

Hersh, however, may be missing a key piece of the puzzle.  The faction behind the redirection–Cheney, his Right Zionist allies, and Bandar–are very hawkish about the Iranian regime but remain quite hopeful about relations with  Iraqi Shiites, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

The evidence for this is quite clear in the case of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies, if not in the case of Cheney himself.

On the Bandar front, the evidence remains murky.  There are, however, some tantalizing clues.

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

Recall that Obaid made headlines with a November 29, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping Into Iraq” that seemed to threaten Saudi action to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq.  Obaid was fired by Turki after the publication of the Op-Ed.

Does Nawaf Obaid represent Bandar’s views?  That remains a speculative proposition.  Nevertheless, Obaid did appear to suggest that his views had some base of support in Saudi Arabia, if not “the Saudi leadership”:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Is Bandar part of “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions”?  Is Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council a strategic position?

In any event, Obaid’s Op-Ed was actually a condensed version of a larger report–“Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective“–published in connection with his time as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Obaid’s report is long and complex and deserves to be read in full.  Nevertheless, the relevant point in the context of Saudi relations with Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is that the report is, as one might predict, extremely hawkish about the pernicious influence of Iran in Iraq.  The chief recommendations in the report concern preparing for a “worst case scenario” in which Saudi Arabia must aggressively “counter meddling by Iran.”

At the same time, the report includes a very important recommendation that was not part of Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed: “Extend a State Invitation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It is also important for the Saudi leadership to open a meaningful discussion with Grand Ayotollah Ali al- Sistani by extending an invitation to him to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an overture would send a strong positive message – both within the Kingdom and in the region at large – regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Shi’ite community. It would also demonstrate that the Kingdom recognizes Ayatollah al-Sistani’s authority and respects those who regard him as the leading Shi’ite Arab cleric. Ayatollah Sistani is not only the foremost religious figure for Iraqi Shi’ites, but his influence in Iraq’s political sphere is equally as important. An official state visit to Saudi Arabia would reassure the Iraqi Shi’ite community that the Saudi leadership fully acknowledges that they are critical to establishing stability in the country.

Prince Bandar meets David Wurmser.  Welcome to Cheney’s world.

It’s the Regime, Stupid

Posted by Cutler on March 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

US policy toward Iran is so much in the news, but the stakes for various players in Washington have rarely been less transparent.

So much of the focus has been framed as one of nuclear non-proliferation: how can the US stop Iran from acquiring nukes?

I would not be the first to note the haunting symmetry between the invocation of Iraqi WMDs and the urgency of a strident non-proliferation agenda ahead of the US invasion and the current focus on Iranian non-proliferation.

Iran hawks are quick to point out a key difference: Iran’s nuclear program is the real deal. For many liberal hawks, Iran becomes one more occasion to bash the Bush administration. Having cried wolf in Iraq, they risk making us complacent about the real threat of Iran.

My interest in the focus on Iranian nukes has more to do with a somewhat different link to the earlier focus on Iraqi WMDs. Both appear to represent a kind of bureaucratic compromise referenced by Paul Wolfowitz.

Indeed, as with Iraq, it would seem that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) have always had a very different set of priorities than other Iran hawks. Right Zionists do fear that the Iranian regime will acquire nukes. But their preferred solution–today as always–is regime change rather than nuclear non-proliferation.

One corollary: after regime change, the prospect of Iranian nukes in a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran are not perceived as a threat. As Michael Rubin has insisted, “democratization” in Iran can “take the edge off the Iranian threat.”

Indeed, for some Right Zionists and Iranian dissidents the administration’s emphasis on nukes is a source of considerable frustration.

All of which goes to say that Right Zionists are Iran hawks. But they do not aim to contain or defeat Iran, they aim to win Iran.

Michael Ledeen at AEI says as much in his latest missive in which he criticizes the Bush administration for “excessive timorousness with regard to Iran.” But then he comes to the point that distinguishes Right Zionists not only from the Bush administration’s halting diplomatic initiatives but also, perhaps, from Cheney’s own brand of bellicose hawkishness :

The proper strategy toward Iran is non-violent regime change, of the sort that was accomplished to the ruin of the Soviet Empire. Military attack against Iran would be a mistake, indeed it would constitute a tragic admission of the utter failure of the United States and her allies to conceive and conduct a serious Iran policy over the course of nearly three decades. Political support for the tens of millions of Iranians who detest their tyrannical leaders is both morally obligatory and strategically sound.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, also at AEI, is considerably less hostile to a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But like Ledeen, Gerecht is a strident advocate of regime change in Iran and has argued in the past that the former is quite compatible with the latter:

It’s much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic’s loss to America–and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory–would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching… It’s likely that an American attack on the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us.

For Gerecht, however, the real key to Iran has always been Iraq. He returns to this theme in his most recent essay, “The Myth of the Moderate Mullahs.” The title is arguably quite ironic: Gerecht seeks to dispel the myth of the moderate Iranian “mullahs” (especially Rafsanjani) but the argument ends with a celebration of moderate Iraqi “mullahs.”

The American presence in Iraq… gives Iraqi Shiites a non-Iranian option, particularly in the face of the Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shia.

If the United States can develop a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis, Iraq’s Shiite clergy may grow more independent and open in its internal debates about proper governance and its own role in an Iraqi democracy. Friendly and dependent Iraqi groups like SCIRI may fairly quickly become difficult for Tehran. Right now, SCIRI has no firm idea of what it is. It has had no test of its democratic commitment. It doesn’t really know what its relationship will be with Iraq’s moderate senior clergy in Najaf. This process of discovery for SCIRI, and for other Shiites in Iraq, may come with speed if the Sunni violence can be checked. This could go badly for Tehran.

This has always been the hope of Right Zionist support for the war in Iraq.

One way to gauge how much sway Right Zionists–and the AIPAC crowd meeting in Washington–continue to have in the Bush administration is to seek signs of the one thing Gerecht has always demanded: “a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis.”

Some argue that a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis is simply not possible. Gerecht doesn’t believe that. But he also thinks the US hasn’t even been trying to achieve that aim since September 2003. Instead, the emphasis has been on incorporation and reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunnis.

Gerecht hasn’t yet said whether he thinks the “surge” marks a departure from this policy. We’ll see. I’m not sure General Petraeus is in Gerecht’s corner on this one.

Meanwhile, it is far less difficult to discern how much sway the AIPAC crowd has with Dem Zionists.

Top U.S. House Democrats have frozen their attempt to limit President Bush’s authority to take military action against Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the leadership decided on Monday to back down from presenting a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats and other pro-Israel lawmakers had argued for the change in strategy.

So much for the Democrats.

Reconcilables & Irreconcilabes

Posted by Cutler on March 09, 2007
Arab League, Iran, Iraq / No Comments

In his first press briefing as Commander of the “Multi-National Force” in Iraq, General David Petraeus offered up what appeared to be a clear and sensible approach to the right mix of political cooptation and military muscle in Iraq:

In an endeavor like this one, the host nation and those who are assisting it obviously are trying to determine over time who are the irreconcilables and who are the reconcilables. And they’re on either end of the sectarian spectrum, of ethnic spectrums, political spectrums and so forth. And of course, what the government is trying to do, what those supporting the government are trying to do are to split the irreconcilables from the reconcilables and to make the reconcilables part of the solution rather than a continuing part of a problem, and then dealing with the irreconcilables differently. And that is certainly what the government of Iraq is doing and what those who are supporting the government of Iraq — what the coalition is also doing, in very, very early stages.

Part of the task, it appears, is to discern how many “reconcilables” there are in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. In response to a National Public Radio question about the role of the Madhi Army, Petraeus replied:

Well, you know, ultimately, that’s a question for — truly for the Iraqi government, for its authorities and certainly its security force leaders.

You know, many of our — of the coalition countries have a variety of auxiliary police or other functions. The challenge, of course, is that some of these organizations have participated in true excesses, and they have been responsible, some of them, some the extremist elements of them — and I think that the challenge has been to determine, you know, how do you incorporate those who want to serve a positive — in a positive way, and as neighborhood watches, let’s say, but unarmed in our own communities, but without turning into something much more than that?

Lest this kind of talk be perceived as part of a Shiite tilt in US policy toward Iraq, Petraeus also went out of his way to stress the importance of even-handed approach that would reach out to reconcilables of all kinds:

With respect, again, to the — you know, the idea of the reconcilables and the irreconcilables, this is something in which the Iraqi government obviously has the lead. It is something that they have sought to — in some cases, to reach out. And I think, again, that any student of history recognizes that there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq

A political resolution of various differences, of this legislation, of various senses that people do not have a stake in the success of the new Iraq, and so forth, that is crucial. That is what will determine in the long run the success of this effort. And again, that clearly has to include talking with and eventually reconciling differences with some of those who have felt that the new Iraq did not have a place for them, whereas I think, again, Prime Minister Maliki clearly believes that it does, and I think that his actions will demonstrate that, along with the other ministers.

All of this would surely be easier if reconcilables and irreconcilables wore name tags. But irreconcilables are not born, they are produced, forged in the heat of political battle. To what terms must would-be reconcilables reconcile themselves? What are the red lines that produce new irreconcilables?

It appears that this question will likely be answered in a regional, rather than a local, context.

To listen to the Arab League, for example, is to realize that some of the “irreconcilables” appear to be Sunni Arab regimes who continue to resist the terms on offer from the “new” Iraq created by the US and its Shiite allies in Iraq.

The Iraqi government… should redraft the constitution and rescind laws that give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds, Arab foreign ministers said in a statement Sunday.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also hinted that Arab governments may take their recommendations on stemming the violence in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council if the government’s efforts to end the crisis fail.

Sunday’s statement was the strongest sign yet from the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab governments in the Middle East that they blame the Iraqi government for the country’s sectarian strife…

In the statement, the ministers set forth several recommendations they want the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consider before they give their full support to a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq that is scheduled to start Saturday in Baghdad…

The ministers also called for revoking an Iraqi law that dismissed senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party from the government

In addition, they called on the Iraqi government to disband Shiite militias, end armed demonstrations and decide on a specific timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Moussa went a step further in his comments, suggesting the U.N. Security Council should demand the reforms suggested by the Arab ministers.

“In my opinion, the mechanism (for ending the strife) should be through the Security Council, without that there will no solution,” Moussa told reporters after Sunday’s meeting.

It seems to me that the message here is simple enough: the Arab League states could definitely be counted as reconcilables, at least once the UN Security Council intervenes in Iraq, redrafts the constitution, embraces re-Baathification, disarms the Shiites, and sends the US packing.

Oh, but wait. These conditions appear to have aroused some concern in Shiite quarters. Shocking, really. It is almost as if there is some risk that producing Sunni Arab reconcilables could simultaneously produce Shiite irreconcilables.

Iraq’s Shiite leaders expressed anger Thursday at criticism leveled against them by the top Arab League official, warning that such remarks could overshadow this weekend’s regional conference to ease the security crisis in Iraq…

In a statement Thursday, the United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shiite bloc in parliament, said Moussa’s comments amounted to “flagrant interference in Iraq’s internal affairs” and “ignored the march of the Iraqi people to build a free and democratic state.”

“At the same time we hope that the regional conference due to be held in Baghdad in March 10 will not be shadowed by such stands” and will not have a “negative impact” on efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis, the statement said.

During a press conference Thursday, the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, also denounced Moussa’s comments, saying they could provoke “sedition and disputes among Iraqi people.”

“We hope that the Arab League will not be part of any dispute or quarrel inside Iraq that might encourage some parties to take some Arab countries to their sides to accomplish their political desires,” al-Attiyah said…

[Moussa’s] comments have reinforced Shiite fears that Iraq’s Sunni neighbors will try to use the conference to pressure them into concessions to the Sunni minority that the Shiites would find unacceptable.

Wow. Petraeus made it sound so easy.

The Flip in the Flop

Posted by Cutler on March 08, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is a relief rally underway that is celebrating the overdue but still welcome maturation of a suddenly contrite Bush administration.

Consider, for example, the Washington Post column by David Ignatius entitled, “After the Rock, Diplomacy.”

The Bush administration… seems to be bending… This conversion is long overdue…

[T]he administration seems to be tacking back toward the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which Bush appeared to dismiss back in December. Bush’s top aides have concluded that they made a mistake in seeming to reject the Baker-Hamilton report and announcing their troop surge a month later as if it were an alternative. In the process, they set back hopes for a bipartisan policy on Iraq — something officials now regret…

The final areas in which the administration is rediscovering diplomacy are its dealings with China and Russia.

One can find this same theme developed in a Los Angeles Times news story by Paul Richter, “White House Foreign Policy Has Shifted.”

Beset by dangers abroad and rivals at home, the Bush administration has embarked on a broad adjustment of its foreign policy in hopes of using its final two years to improve a record now widely viewed as a failure.

Since January, an administration known for stubbornly holding to its positions has launched a new Mideast peace initiative and reopened diplomatic channels with North Korea, Syria and Iran. And as President Bush arrives today in Brazil, he brings a new approach to Latin America…

“There’s a little more than a year and a half before the election, and they recognize that they’re in a hole,” said James Dobbins, a former diplomat and Bush administration envoy now at Rand Corp. “They’re bowing to reality and abandoning prior positions…. They’re looking for a variety of ways to demonstrate that they’re still relevant and still have room for accomplishment.”

Not so fast.

I have two concerns about this relief rally.

First, because it tends to reinforce the false notion that the Bush administration has hitherto stubbornly held to its positions. As I have suggested in a previous post, the Bush administration put the flip in flip-flop. At this point it goes without saying that they also put the flop in flip-flop.

One question for future consideration: how much did the flip create the flop? In other words, how much of the instability in Iraq is a result of particular policies held to stubbornly and how much is a result of an inability to act effectively because there were no particular policies pursued consistently.

Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to retain Sunni Arab authoritarian rule in Iraq, replacing Saddam Hussein with an ex-Baathist. Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to immediately transfer sovereignty to the Shiite majority, and let unfettered “democracy” run its course. But these are now entirely hypothetical questions. The US did not consistently pursue either of these options and the result in Iraq is not something that can be said to have “worked.”

Second, the notion of the maturation of the Bush administration misses the central role of factional struggle in the flip-flopping of the administration. In other words, the issue is rarely one of administration officials who experience a change of heart. Rather, the pattern of policy change seems to reflect a change in the balance of power among competing factions within the administration.

Did the North Korean deal reflect a victory for a faction that is, among other things, dovish on China? You bet.

Did the Cheney faction have a change of heart? Give me a break.

The same goes for Russia, Iraq, Iran, and just about everything else.

Until the factionalism is no longer a factor, it would be extremely naive to consider any policy move made by this administration as decisive.

The battles continue. Nothing has been decided. There is no decider.

[UPDATE: Jim Hoagland’s column in today’s Washington Post–“What Has Happened to Dick Cheney?“–addresses the question of administration factionalism and comes to a strikingly different conclusion:

Is the vice president losing his influence…?

[With regard to the “VP’s… internal policy defeats”]… what goes up must come down.

Reports of a new defeat lie ahead for the hard line on Iran and Syria that is associated with Cheney’s office…

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice… is credited by administration sources with having told Bush in January that he should devote his final two years in office to seeking diplomatic agreements with North Korea and Iran and an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. That account emphasizes that Rice is not simply outflanking Cheney in intermittent internal policy battles but has won full agreement and support from the president on the strategic goals and methods she and her diplomats are pursuing.

This remains to be confirmed by events. But it is clear that Bush has always been much more the decision maker than the Cheney-as-puppeteer image conveyed.

The Libby trial revealed serious splits between Cheney and Bush’s political team…

However… Cheney will not resign over the president’s refusal to take his advice. The only force that could drive him to that dramatic step would be that unshakable sense of loyalty to Bush, who desperately now needs a vice president in stable physical, emotional and political health. That is the equation you want to be watching.

I’m not inclined to quibble with the idea that Bush and Rice are tight. Nor would I dispute that fact that at some key moments in some key meetings Bush actually makes some big decisions (say, for example, the decision to invade Iraq!). But I think Bush lacks the courage of his own convictions, if not the intellectual depth to anticipate the consequences of his decisions. He is in over his head. And this has allowed all factional players to sandbag, sabotage, and undermine the Oval Office when it has suited them.

At times, the Cheney crowd has had the President’s ear and the so-called “Realists” have functioned as a beltway insurgency. Today, it looks like the Cheney faction will be forced to play that role. But the battle lines have not been blurred, no factions have conceded defeat, and the window of the Office of the Vice President is not a particularly vulnerable battlefield position from which to take shots as a factional sniper or saboteur.

German Gas

Posted by Cutler on March 07, 2007
Germany, Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia / No Comments

So many enemies, so little time.

It cannot be easy to be Dick Cheney.  When your list of enemies gets long enough, you are inevitably asked to compromise and support the lesser evil.

For Cheney, the challenge is to keep both Iran and Russia in the crosshairs at the same time.

Take Germany, for example.

The German appetite for natural gas makes Russia and Iran attractive trading partners.

The Russian option is championed by Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream and has the active support of ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

As suggested by an article in Business Week, the former chancellor–now on the Gazprom payroll–retains influence within the Merkel administration.

The German ex-chancellor caused a furore at home when he took the lucrative Gazprom job in 2005 just weeks after brokering the pipeline deal at government level. Current chancellor Angela Merkel has backed the pipe, but has frostier relations with Russia’s Mr Putin, once described by Mr Schroeder as a “crystal-clear democrat”…

But the ex-chancellor also showed glimpses of the canny pragmatism that characterised his foreign policy while still in power and which continues to function inside the German government in the person of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – Mr Schroeder’s ex-cabinet chief.

The “canny pragmatism” mentioned above refers to Schroeder’s question, implicitly directed at Vice President Cheney:

Where are the alternatives to Russia?” Mr Schroeder asked in the context of soaring EU gas imports, mentioning Algeria, Libya, Qatar, Nigeria and international pariah Iran. “You have to think if this would be politically better than Russia. My view…is that as far as security and stability of supply goes, Russia is the best option.”

Schroeder’s reference to Iran is not merely an exercise in hypothetical speculation.  Spiegel Online reports that the German energy giant E.on is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas.  The Iranian initiative is depicted as a move to break German dependence on Russia.

German energy giant E.on has confirmed it is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas — although Germany is currently discussing further sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program with its allies.

Germany has for years been talking about diversifying its natural gas supplies to reduce over-reliance on Russia. But the solution currently being considered by German energy utility E.on may end up being just as controversial — the company wants to buy gas from Iran.

Berlin has become increasingly skeptical about the reliability of Russia as an energy supplier as Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas company in charge of most of Siberia’s vast reserves, has repeatedly flexed its muscles in price spats with Russia’s neighbors. But E.on’s interest in Iran comes just as the international community is discussing further sanctions on Tehran for its controversial nuclear program.

So, Vice President Cheney: Is Russia the lesser evil?  Or is Iran?

Cheney’s answer (like Clinton’s): BTC.

One can only hope that the gas arrives in time for the American Eagle to free the German Adler from the clutches of the Russian Bear and the Persian Lion.

What is Kazakhstan’s inner animal, anyway?  I don’t remember Borat ever having mentioned it…

Surge or Power Failure?

Posted by Cutler on March 07, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

In early February, as the US was preparing to inaugurate its “surge” in Baghdad, I asked some questions about the mission and goals of any such surge.

At that time, I asked:

Is the US trying to use American soldiers to protect Shiite and Sunni populations from each other in the name of National Reconciliation?

Good luck with that.

My skepticism about the likelihood of American soldiers being able to protect the Shiite population–if one could stipulate population protection as the major goal–was grounded in the fear that there would be days like these:

Suicide bombers… and gunmen firing out of passing cars, turned preparations for a Shiite Muslim religious celebration into a day of carnage on Tuesday. At least 109 Shiite pilgrims were killed and more than 200 wounded with the death toll continuing to rise.

The attacks demonstrated that Sunni militants could still inflict grave damage inside or outside the capital even as the American-backed Baghdad security plan entered its fourth week. The attacks immediately drew Shiite calls for reprisals.

The surge is focused on a Baghdad crackdown and these attacks occurred in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq.  But political consequences will almost certainly registered in Baghdad.  Indeed, if the surge was meant to protect Shiite populations, prevent Shiite reprisals in Baghdad, and achieve national reconciliation (an admittedly big if), then the success of a each major attack on Shiites marks the failure of the surge.

There are other ways of explaining the goals for the surge that are not defined in terms of population protection and do not involve national reconciliation–for example, the surge might ultimately aim more specifically to launch a big counter-insurgency push against the Sunni insurgency, an anti-Shiite coup, or a two-front war on Sunni and Shiite rejectionists.

But if the mission was to have US troops provide security for Iraqi Shiites… well…

Good luck with that.

Who Lost Germany?

Posted by Cutler on March 06, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / 3 Comments

The New York Times has published an article–“U.S. Moves to Soothe Growing Russian Resentment“–that appears to signal a shift in the Bush administration’s hawkish approach toward Russia.

Not a chance.

The report by Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper seems to suggest that after Putin’s speech in Munich, the Bush administration has been “shocked, shocked,” to find Moscow upset with Washington and they are now contrite. Indeed, Bush administration officials have launched a new “initiative” to calm bilateral tensions.

In the wake of criticism from President Vladimir V. Putin and his inner circle of political advisers and generals, there is a growing acknowledgment among officials in Washington that the United States has not responded as rapidly or eloquently as it might have to a widespread sense of grievance in Russia…

Senior administration officials said their initiative called for engaging Russian leaders in private discussions to illustrate that the United States was putting extra effort into nurturing the relationship and that Russia deserved a more thorough dialogue on American foreign policy and national security plans.

A senior administration official involved in developing the strategy said that under the program, “we’ll have more consultation and we’ll do it more extensively and more intensively, so that there is a good understanding of each other’s views.”

It strains credibility to suggest that anyone in Washington thinks the problem here is miscommunication.

But the report goes on to suggest that the substance of US policy toward Russia–all the well-communicated disagreements that constitute the crux of Russian animosity–will not change:

Administration officials have said they will stand their ground in defending the United States against the substance of the Russian critique. In particular, the officials say, Russian threats will not halt Washington’s plans to place elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, nor diminish Washington’s support of NATO expansion.

The notion that Putin’s objections can be met with responses that are simply more rapid or eloquent is implicitly insulting to the Kremlin. Can the Bush administration actually believe that this kind of talk–the new “strategy”–will actually appease Moscow?

No.

Rather, the real target of the “eloquence strategy” is Germany.

The stunning directness of Moscow’s recent public complaints is viewed as undermining United States-Russia relations. Equally worrisome to the administration is that the harsh tone of the Kremlin’s comments has greatly troubled European allies caught in between, especially in former Soviet client states in Eastern Europe that later joined NATO.

This is the real news story. The headline is that the Bush administration moves to soothe growing European anxiety.

The charm offensive, insofar as one can see evidence of it, is directed toward Europe, specifically what Rumsfeld called the “old” Europe.

The “problem” with the “old” Europe was supposed to have been solved with the triumph of German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. (I guess that was before the “back rub.”)

Merkel is “going wobbly” on Russia and it is to this development–not Putin’s anger–that has the Bush administration scrambling.

The Financial Times captures the political dynamic in its reporting:

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, added her voice to the heated international debate over the missile defence system by calling for Nato to be given responsibility for defusing concerns over the [US missile defence system planned for eastern Europe]…

“Nato is the best place for discussion of this issue,” she told the Financial Times in an interview, arguing that Washington should step up consultation with its western allies and Russia.

Her statement reflects concerns over increasing east-west tensions since Vladimir Putin, Russian president, delivered a speech in Munich sharply criticising US unilateralism, and the US formally asked Poland and the Czech Republic to host parts of the anti-missile system…

Mrs Merkel said that Nato should be the forum for greater consultation by Washington of both its western allies and Russia on the issue of missile defence. “It is better to have more discussion on this issue rather than less,” she said…

German officials said Berlin was concerned that while the defence system was not targeted at Russia, there was a danger its creation could mark a departure from the international trend since the early 1990s towards disarmament.

At an EU meeting yesterday, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, was more outspoken, calling the US plans “incomprehensible”.

“We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner,” he said.

Nevertheless, the US charm offensive toward Europe has ceded little or no ground on questions of substance.

In recent remarks to the Atlantic Council, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns–a Russia hawk and an architect of NATO expansion during the Clinton administration–was unrepentant. The speech is worth quoting at some length, for it gets to the heart of some of the key tensions:

[One] intra-European issue that is so much a part of our current agenda is what to do about Russia, how to relate to modern Russia, how to be a partner with Russia, but also how to protect NATO and the European Union and the states of Central Europe from whatever dangers may lurk in the future.

You’ve all seen the extraordinary — you’ve heard about or saw the extraordinary speech that President Putin gave at the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich two weeks ago. You’ve seen this unusually unwise and irresponsible statement by the Russian General Staff about targeting the Czech Republic and Poland because they have the temerity to negotiate with the United States a missile defense agreement.

Our response to that has been that we need to seek a balanced relationship with Russia. We need to take account of what is working in our relationship with Russia but also to be very clear about where we disagree with the Russian leadership — whether it’s on the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of the democrats in the Russian political spectrum; whether it’s on Russia’s attempts to, we think, be overbearing at times in their relations with their neighbors; or whether it’s the recent Russian reaction to our attempt to establish a modern missile defense system in Europe, not aimed at the Russians themselves, of course, but aimed at the threats that emanate from Iran and other countries to the south of Russia…

[T]he Russians and our government — perhaps other governments in Western Europe — are operating at cross-purposes.

We believe that Georgia should have a right to define its own future. We believe that Georgia should have the right to seek membership or association with international organizations like NATO in the future if that is what Georgia elects to do, and if Georgia, of course, at some point in its future history meets the requirements of NATO membership.

We believe that Moldova should be allowed to overcome the internal divisions that have held that nation back since the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

And we certainly believe that the three Baltic countries — Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania, now members of both the European Union but especially of NATO — have a right to live in peace and free of the harassment that is sometimes afflicted upon them by the Russian Federation.

We’re concerned about the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of those who stand up for democracy in Russia.

So I know that President Putin put a number of criticisms before the world audience about United States foreign policy. We have been equally clear about where we disagree with the Russian Federation, and that’s our responsibility to do that — to define a modern relationship in those terms, to be frank about what’s working and to thank the Russian Federation when we are able to achieve things together whether it’s on counter-terrorism or counter-proliferation, but to be equally frank that when there are challenges in the relationship we face those challenges, and we disagree with the Russians publicly when they do things that are profoundly not in our

Russia is going to have to understand that NATO will continue to exist. NATO will continue to grow. We will continue to add members to the NATO Alliance. And the strength of NATO will be based on our common will and our ability to project NATO as a force for peace and for stability as it certainly is in its Afghan mission. And Russia has to understand that NATO is not and has not been, for the history, for the many years since 1989, ’90 and ’91, directed at all against Russia, but is the one uniquely unifying force for peace and stability in Europe itself.

NATO enlargement… has brought so many positive benefits to the Europeans, as well as to the North Americans over the last 15 years that we think NATO’s vocation has to be strong in the future.

We have invited Russia into a NATO-Russia partnership five years ago in Italy. It has worked well at points, but it’s been sometime disappointing in a lack of a strategic engagement. That was apparent in the Russian reaction to our plan to establish a very small number of interceptors in Poland and at radar sites in the Czech Republic, to have some capacity to deter the looming missile threat from Iran and other states in the Middle East that all the European countries and the United States face.

To think that in this day and age a member of the Russian General Staff would threaten two NATO countries because they have the temerity to consider negotiating this agreement with us is really quite astounding. Secretary Rice said today when she was asked about this in Berlin, “It was profoundly unwise for that statement to be made, and we hope that the Russians will think twice about such statements in the future.”

Burns has offered up a relatively frank version of US policy toward Russia.

The “strategy” toward Germany, on the other hand, is to try to offer some political cover for a Chancellor who will find it increasingly difficult to defend US policy in the face of Russian pressure.

The question is no longer “who lost Russia?” That was settled long ago. The spark behind the New York Times article about a Bush administration “initiative” toward Russia is an attempt to forestall a more contemporary question: “Who lost Germany?”

Comments

Posted by Cutler on March 05, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

For the last couple of weeks, the “Comments” option has been turned off on the blog.  This was an glitch and I think the problem has been remedied. It was never my intent to cut off conversation. On the contrary, I welcome comments and discussion from all readers.

Do They Hate Each Other?

Posted by Cutler on March 05, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Among market watchers, the cover of Time magazine is sometimes viewed as a contrary indicator. By the time any trend reaches the cover, the moment has often passed.

So when Time recently ran a cover about Sunni-Shiite tensions–“Why They Hate Each Other“–my immediate reaction was to predict peace in our time.

Right on cue, Saudi King Abdullah hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a one day summit in Riyadh.

I’ve been writing about ways in which Sunni-Shiite tensions, apart from any self-generating internal logic they may have, also map onto factional fights between Right Zionists and Right Arabists in the US. The was the question at the heart of two ZNet essays, “Beyond Incompetence” and “The Devil Wears Persian.”

More recently, I have also argued that there may be signs that these same factional splits might also map onto some internal political turmoil within the House of Saud.

According to this scenario, Saudi King Abdullah represents a faction seeking to calm regional tensions and foster national reconciliation within the Palestinian Authority, in Lebanon, and, presumably, in Iraq.

Eli Lake of the Right Zionist New York Sun reports that US efforts to rally Sunni regimes against Iran may be facing some significant resistance.

Secretary of State Rice’s “Sunni strategy” is running into trouble.

Her idea was to bolster a ring of moderate Sunni Arab allies as a front-line defense against Iran’s regional ambitions. But the Sunnis don’t appear to be cooperating…

This weekend, Iran’s Holocaust-denying president was fêted by King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch who rules the linchpin Sunni state in Ms. Rice’s attempted anti- Iran alliance. Meanwhile, Iran’s Sunni proxy in Gaza, Hamas, is divvying up key posts with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party in a Palestinian unity government. The negotiations stem from a Saudi-brokered deal forged last month in Mecca, a pact that has worried Israeli leaders and some in Congress because it does not require Hamas explicitly to recognize Israel.

If the Saudis are split on the question of reconciliation with Iran, they are hiding it very well.

Speculation at The Washington Note had earlier focused on Prince Bandar as the figure most likely to back a more aggressive, Cheney-backed Saudi posture in the region.

Rihab Massoud [is]… a close aide of Prince Bandar who served as Charge d’Affaires in the Saudi Embassy in Washington during Bandar’s tenure and frequent absences and who — while formally a Foreign Ministry official — is now on leave to serve as Bandar’s “No. 2″ in his National Security Advisor office…

While reports of how far Bandar has gone in supporting Cheney’s desire for military action vary, insiders report that Bandar has “essentially assured” the Vice President that Saudi Arabia could be moved to accept and possibly support American military action against Iran. Another source reports… that Bandar himself strongly supports Cheney’s views of a military response to Iran.

This is the core of the deep divide between Prince Turki and Bandar — which is also a divide between Foreign Minister Saud and Bandar as well.

The tension is about Iran and how to contain Iran. While Bandar and Rihab Massoud allegedly have affirmed Cheney’s views and are perceived to be Bush administration sycophants, Turki was charting a more realist course for Saudi interests and advising the White House to develop more serious, constructive strategies toward the region…

Bandar’s role is also being celebrated in some Israeli quarters, although these reports depict Bandar as more dove than hawk:

The key figure in Middle Eastern diplomacy is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Arabian National Security Adviser. Bandar is the man behind the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government. He was also active in calming the rival parties in Lebanon, and has tried to mediate between Iran and the U.S. administration…

There are many indications that the prince, who served 22 years as Saudi ambassador to Washington, is behind the quiet slide his country is making toward Israel since the end of the second Lebanon war. In September, Bandar met with Olmert in Jordan. The secret meeting was made public in Israel later.

And yet…

The Cheney faction will not simply disappear.

Iraq may provide the key for Cheney’s revival of Sunni-Shiite tensions. The US appears to embrace a more pronounced tilt toward the Iraqi Shia. The Arab League is barely able to contain its hostility toward the Shiite government in Iraq.

The “crackdown” on Sadr city looks very careful. The US-backed “Shiite Option” in Iraq seems to have legs.

Iraq has always been the core of the US attempt to drive a wedge between the Persian Gulf and the Arab Gulf. It looks set to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Dance Madness

Posted by Cutler on March 02, 2007
Method / 3 Comments

I’m a big fan of using elite fear as an index of popular insurgency.

As a student of labor relations, for example, I have argued that the business press can often be the best source for labor news as long as you are willing and able to read against the grain of the bias. In other words, it demands that many employer fears and complaints be re-coded as signs of labor insurgency.

The method has been most fully elaborated in connection with the world of “subaltern studies” where colonial records become a rich source for reading anti-colonial insurgency.

Former students of mine may recall an essay called “Dance Madness”–a chapter in the Kathy Peiss book, Cheap Amusements, written largely in the spirit of subaltern studies.

Peiss uses old vice squad records and various reports by middle class reformers to study the moral panic that surrounded youth culture in urban dance halls of the early 20th century.

For the most part, Peiss manages to read all the evidence against the grain of the bias of the authors. Adult fears are invoked to celebrate youth culture. Middle-class fears shed light on an unruly urban working-class culture. Nativist fears about unassimilated immigrants become a celebration of unruly resistance.

But when it comes to gendered heterosexual relations–between young men and women at dance halls–Peiss refuses to read against the grain. As a feminist, critical of patriarchal patterns of compulsory heterosexual interactions, Peiss actually joins the middle class reformers and vice squad agents who condemn the predatory aims of young dance hall men. To reading against the grain of patriarchy, Peiss appears to read with the grain of middle class moral panic about predatory sexuality.

“Dance Madness” ends with a moralistic diatribe about how women were victimized by predatory men in these dance halls. No insurgency; just delinquency.

I do not necessarily doubt the elite descriptions of the young men at the dance halls. But these descriptions say absolutely nothing about any insurgency from below on the part of young women. All that remains is a paternalistic approach that aims to protect helpless young women.

The method of subaltern studies would require that any attempt to trace such an insurgency would demand that the “elite” sources in patriarchal patterns of compulsory heterosexual interaction would have to reflect the fears of the young men.

I’ve never quite had a good example of what this might mean or, more importantly, exactly what such a study might yield.

But I did just run across a phrase that made me think that such a project would surely yield a very different ending to the whole spirit of “Dance Madness.”

The phrase in question: “You Dance with The Guy That Brung Ya” (and variations on this theme).

A conservative named John Gizzi from the right-wing publication “Human Events” used the phrase in his remarks to the “Conservative Political Action Conference” meeting in Washington. Presumably, he was expressing a fear that the Republican Party was preparing to ditch the conservative wing of the party that was ostensibly responsible for shepherding in Bush’s 2004.

I’ve never given the phrase much thought, but apparently one etymologist, Barry Popik, has been doing enough thinking for all of us. He has posted an etymological profile of the phrase on his blog.

Suffice it to say, the phrase amounts to something of a “discursive institution” in the state of Texas and has been in wide circulation–in a host of different contexts–since the early part of the 20th century. A Molly Ivins book; a Shania Twain song. A famous football coach.

But genealogy of the phrase undoubtedly leads back to the old dance hall. And, from what I gather, the issue of “voice” is always patterned in the gendered way you might expect: this is a phrase used by men trying to rein in unruly female promiscuity.

All of this tends to seriously undermine the classic depiction of female sexuality as little more than a pale, prudent “reactive” response to an active and lusty male sexuality.

It seems like there was probably far more “Dance Madness” than Kathy Peiss suspected.

Methodologically, elite fear is a like a Texas gusher than never fails.

The Score

Posted by Cutler on March 02, 2007
Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

A little score keeping.  No surprises, but some helpful guideposts:

1. Rice’s Diplomatic Outreach to Iran: Right Zionists… very upset; Right Arabist establishment… quite delighted.

2. Cheney’s visit to Pakistan: definitely looking like a crackdown on the Taliban (about which I was initially skeptical).  There are some signs that Russia and the US are both competing for the loyalty of the so-called “Tajik clique” that currently “governs” Afghanistan.

3. A pro-Shiite Tilt in Iraq: more howls of protest from the pro-Sunni political elite.