Right Arabists

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?

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?

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!

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mr. Negroponte, I Presume

Posted by Cutler on February 28, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Syria / No Comments

It may be time to abandon all talk of “the Bush administration.”  What we have in Washington are two Bush administrations at war with each other.

There is, of course, the Cheney administration, spoiling for a fight with Iran and sweet on the Shiites of Iraq.

Then there is the other administration.  Call it the “establishment” Right Arabist” of the administration.  That is the one that yesterday resurrected the Baker-Hamilton Report and announced plans to support diplomatic discussions with Iran and Syria.

The last time the Bush administration “blinked” on Iran in June 2006, Right Zionists like Richard Perle blamed Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice.

It detracts little from Rice’s influence in the administration to suggest that the “establishment” wing of the administration also received some reinforcement with the formal arrival–also yesterday–of John Negroponte as Deputy Secretary of State, Rice’s number two at Foggy Bottom.

The North Korea deal that so unsettled John Bolton was probably the first sign of a new “establishment” offensive.  Now comes Iran.

The Right Zionists have not yet weighed in about the news of the diplomatic initiative with Iran and Syria, but it won’t be long before the battle is joined.

Still, all is not lost for the Right Zionists.  There is, of course, still Cheney and his wing of the administration.

And–surprise!–things are looking up in the Senate where Dem Zionists are reliably hawkish on Iran and Syria.

Just for kicks, check out Michael Ledeen’s effusive praise for Democrat Senator Carl Levin:

Carl Levin, NeoCon [Michael Ledeen]

Read it twice, I had to. But Carl Levin has endorsed my longstanding proposal to go after terrorist training camps and weapons assembly facilities in Syria and Iran.

Carl Levin, you say?

Yeah, Carl Levin, the newly minted neocon from Michigan. My kinda guy. Just read it and cheer. It’s from hearings yesterday:

SEN CARL LEVIN (D-MI): “Now, in terms of the weapons coming in from Syria, those weapons that you’ve described as coming in from Syria and perhaps other Sunni neighbors are killing our troops. Do we have a plan to address the Syrian weapon source — of killings of our troops?”

JOHN MCCONNELL, Director of National Intelligence: “Sir, I know the military is working that border area to close it down from not only weapons but also jihadists coming in —”

LEVIN: “It’s more than just — we’re trying to close down the Iranian border area too. The problem is that these weapons are coming from a state which is — doesn’t recognize Israel either, just like Iran doesn’t. We’ve got to try to stop weapons coming into Iraq from any source that are killing our troops. I agree with the comments about trying to stop them coming in from Iran, I think we have to try stop them that are going to the Sunni insurgents as well as to the Shia. I was just wondering, does the military have a plan to, if necessary, to go into Syria to go to the source of any weapons coming from Syria? That are going to Sunni insurgents? That are killing our troops? … I think we ought to take action on all fronts including Syria and any other source of weapons coming in, obviously Iran is the focus – but it shouldn’t be the sole focus.”

(Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 02/27/07)

A House Divided

Posted by Cutler on January 30, 2007
Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

James Baker’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee promises to once again bring into focus the ongoing significance of US foreign policy factionalism, both in relation to Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, etc.

That factionalism appears to have divided many long-time friends of the House of Saud.  The House of Saud continues to show similar signs of stress although it is far from clear how much the Saudi fissures are developing autonomously and how much they are being cultivated by US factions.  I suppose there is also a scenario that would have US factionalism cultivated by the Saudis, although I do not find this particularly plausible.

I would continue to code the Baker faction of Right Arabists as allied with Saudi King Abdullah, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, the recently recalled Saudi Ambassador to the US.  This Baker/Faisal faction continues to try to mediate strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Right Arabists at the New America Foundation, including Flynt Leverett and Steven Clemons appear very closely aligned with the faction.

The Iran hawks are represented by the Cheney coalition of Right Arabists and Right Zionists and appear allied with Prince Bandar and his father, Saudi Defense Minister and Crown Prince, Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.

A recent newspaper interview with Saudi King Abdullah prompted some strikingly different interpretations.  The Financial Times suggested that the King had issued a stark warning to Iran.  But “Badger”–the Arab press translator over at Missing Links–offered up a very different interpretation that emphasized reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Badger notes that his interpretation is actively contested by Mamoun Fandy.  Badger describes Fandy as a “Saudi bigshot,” a columnist for Asharq al-Awsat, and a former senior fellow at the James A Baker III Institute of Public Policy.  [Are there other “former” Baker Institute Fellows who side with Cheney on Iran?  Or does Fandy’s link to the Baker crowd imply that Baker is not quite so dovish on Iran after all?  Or is Fandy simply interpreting but not endorsing the King’s remarks?]

Badger doesn’t say much in his post about the larger factional context, but I think it emerges from his discussion of the Fandy article.  Badger writes/translates/paraphrases:

Fandy says the king’s whole point in talking about an “unsatisfactory situation” in the Middle East was to warn Iran: First against underestimating the danger it is facing from the United States; and second against the consequences of its continued involvement in Palestine…

It was on account of the seriousness of the situation, Fandy says, that the king sent Prince Bandar to Tehran for talks. Bandar is the person that is used when a tough message has to be presented bluntly and unvarnished. He is like Cheney in that respect, Fandy explains…

[T]he king referred in the interview to “nests” or “dens”–Fandy doesn’t quote the exact interview remarks here–but Fandy says this is a reference to “cancerous colonies” broadcasting on internet sites of unknown origin deceptive and lying reports about Arab affairs, and more than that, they have penetrated Arab news (outlets) “including the official ones” with the aim of upsetting regional stability, and making it appear that any Arab effort to stand up to Iran is merely a case of doing America’s bidding.

It is possible that Fandy’s remark about penetration of Arab news outlets “including the official ones” is tantamount to an admission that the Fandy hard-line position isn’t the only position, even within the sphere of Saudi officialdom.

Indeed, Fandy’s position is almost certainly not the only position within Saudi officialdom.  Hence the signs of factional strife, with Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and more hanging in the balance.

Divided From This Moment

Posted by Cutler on January 26, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The easiest time to be an Iraq war critic is when the US has faced both Sunni and a Shiite uprisings, as it did in April 2004. At such times it appears that the US has precious few Iraqi allies–apart from collaborating Kurds.

At the same time, there are at least two very different and potentially incompatible positions from which to hit the Bush administration during such periods.

Some critics, including Right Arabists of the Baker/Scowcroft variety, want the US to try to coopt the Sunni insurgency and help restore Sunni Arab rule in Iraq, even if by extra-constitutional means (i.e., a coup by Sunni opposition forces in Jordan).

Other critics, including Right Zionists of the David Wurmser/Reuel Marc Gerecht variety, want the US to do the opposite: to crush the Sunni insurgency in order to woo Shiites–including those loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr–and use popular democracy to tilt the balance of power in Iraq toward Shiite political dominance.

After inaugurating the war along Right Zionist lines in early 2003, the Bush administration has essentially waffled between these two alternatives ever since.

At one point in late December 2006, it appeared that the Bush administration was going to move decisively one way or the other.

Bush’s January 10, 2006 was a “flop,” however because it appeared to stick with the muddle in the middle, sticking with Zalmay Khalilzad’s “national reconciliation” project, along with a troop surge. As a result, critics of all stripes are having a field day because after all the deliberations and debate, the Bush administration appears to be “staying the course.”

Here is the strange part: there seem to be signs that the Bush administration is actually changing course with an increasingly dramatic tilt toward the Iraqi Shia–the so-called “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Doctrine.”

But they seem quite reluctant to say so. Why? Why is it that the Bush administration has never come clean about its tilt toward the Shia?

Of course, the simple reason is that they don’t want to “confess” to such a plan because some very powerful forces oppose a tilt toward the Shia.

Do they think folks like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft won’t notice if the policy is never declared? Do they think Sunni Arabs in Iraq won’t notice? Do they think King Abdullah of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, or Egyptian President Mubarak won’t notice? Do they think Americans would notice (or care?) about such things? I don’t get it.

Here are some signs of the (unstated) tilt toward the Iraqi Shia:

US counter-insurgency efforts in Baghdad are, thus far, focusing on Sunni insurgents. The Haifa Street operations that I mentioned in an earlier post have continued.

US relations with Muqtada al-Sadr appear to be improving as the UK and US forces actively court political leaders in Sadr City and appear ready to coopt the Shia militia as part of a security plan to protect Shiites from sectarian attacks.

Iraqi Sunni politicians have taken notice and the spirit of “national reconciliation” in the Iraqi parliament is being seriously challenged. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Iraq’s Shiite prime minister exchanged heated words with a Sunni Arab lawmaker over the country’s new security plan, leading parliament to temporarily suspend a raucous debate and Iraqi television to halt its coverage…

The parliamentary clash took place as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki presented his arguments in favor of the U.S.-backed security plan he called a “strategy to impose the law.” The plan would leave no havens for militants, regardless of religious or political affiliations, he told lawmakers.

“Some say this plan targets Sunnis or Shiites. The fact is this plan targets all who stand in the way of the law,” Maliki said.

Sheik Abdel Nasser Janabi, a Sunni Arab cleric and legislator from a region south of Baghdad notorious as the “triangle of death,” responded by protesting a major sweep by U.S. and Iraqi troops Wednesday through Haifa Street, a Sunni neighborhood near the Green Zone that is dominated by anti-government militants. Sporadic blasts continued Thursday in the area where more than 30 gunmen have been killed in fierce fighting, Iraqi officials said.

Janabi demanded that security forces lift their cordon around the area, insisting to loud protests from the Shiite-dominated chamber that “there are no terrorists in Haifa Street.”

“Aren’t there terrorists in Sadr City or Shula?” he said, referring to two Shiite militia strongholds.

Janabi accused Maliki’s administration of purging Sunni Arabs from the government, arresting pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia and imposing politically motivated death sentences, a possible reference to the execution last month of former President Saddam Hussein.

“We cannot trust this premiership,” Janabi said, as the shouting escalated around him.

Maliki retorted, “All I could tell our brother the sheik is that he will trust in this premiership once we present his file and hold him accountable for it.” As Shiite legislators loudly applauded, he said, “One hundred fifty kidnapped individuals in his area — why doesn’t he talk about that?”

Mahmoud Mashadani, parliament speaker and a Sunni, interrupted the exchange, chiding Maliki for making “unacceptable” accusations and adding with heavy sarcasm that “the security plan will be very successful because you people are divided from this moment.”

Has the US now “picked a winner” in Iraq’s civil war? Is it prepared to ally itself fully with Iraqi Shiites?

If so, listen for more howls of protest from Right Arabists. And smug smiles from Right Zionists.

Cheney: White Hawk Down?

Posted by Cutler on January 05, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Bush’s personnel shuffles provide some interesting clues about new power dynamics in Washington, but I think it remains too early to predict a clear, uncontested direction for US foreign policy.

Cheney Defeat: Negroponte is Not Eric Edelman

Negroponte is taking the deputy job at Foggy Bottom.  One precarious but potentially interesting way to understand the meaning of the Negroponte shift is to ask who didn’t get the deputy job.  Back in 2004, Al Kamen at the Washington Post spread the rumor that Cheney wanted to put his National Security deputy Eric Edelman in the number two slot:

The latest name du jour for deputy secretary of state is Eric S. Edelman, now ambassador to Turkey, who is seen as someone — perhaps the only one on the planet — who can comfortably straddle all the relevant political worlds. He’s a career foreign service officer, a former ambassador to Finland who also worked for then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz and for Clinton Ambassador-at-Large Strobe Talbott.

But he also worked for Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney from 1990 to 1993 and for Vice President Cheney from 2001 to 2003 and with Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice frequently when he represented Cheney at top-level meetings.  Edelman was sworn in to his current job by, of course, Cheney.

Helene Cooper at the New York Times suggests that Cheney has wanted to get Edelman a spot at State since Rice’s arrival.

Vice President Dick Cheney wanted her to appoint his former deputy national security adviser, Eric S. Edelman, as her political director; she balked and instead chose R. Nicholas Burns, a friend who had worked for her at the security council during the administration of the first President Bush.

No dice.  Rest assured, Edelman found a home at the Pentagon where he replaced Douglas Feith as the number three civilian.  Gates has made no move to dump Edelman.

Edelman’s “failure” to get the nod from Rice surely seems to mark a loss for Cheney.

Cheney Defeat: Khalilzad is Not Victoria Nulan

News reports suggest that Zalmay Khalilzad will replace John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations.

Al Kamen’s rumor mill had spread the word that Victoria Nuland was a leading candidate for that post.

At the United Nations, where there is no U.S. ambassador, idle chatterers are talking about Victoria Nuland, now ambassador to NATO, as a possible choice to succeed John R. Bolton. Nuland, who is a career Foreign Service officer and is married to Robert Kagan, a contributor to the Washington Post op-ed page, was top foreign policy adviser to Vice President Cheney and before that an aide to Clinton confidante Strobe Talbott when he was deputy secretary of state. Well, the bases can’t get more covered than that.

If Kamen’s idle chatter means anything, then the Khalilzad appointment might also be coded as a loss for Cheney.

Cheney Defeat: Ryan Crocker is Not… A Neocon

Word of Khalilzad’s move out of Iraq has been rumored for some time, as has his replacement by Ryan Crocker.

When Crocker was appointed to the Coalition Provisional Authority back in 2002, the Middle East Economic Digest (”Revealed–The Seven Men Who Will Run Iraq,” June 6, 2003) described Crocker as “A career US foreign service official and Arabist.”

Right Zionist Michael Rubin had this to say about Crocker in May 2004:

Of the first 18 senior advisers deployed to Baghdad, none were from the Defense Department; perhaps half were State Department bureau of Near Eastern affairs ambassadors or policy-planning staff members…
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker became both Garner and Bremer’s governance director. He handpicked the political team, staffing it almost exclusively with career Near Eastern Affairs diplomats and members of the Policy Planning Staff.

Back in 2003, Crocker had been rumored to be the leading candidate to serve as US Ambassador to Iraq. This brought howls of protest from Right Zionists. In an article entitled “State Department Giving Baghdad to House of Saud?,” Joel Mowbray had nothing kind to say about Crocker:

State is already placing—or attempting to place—pro-Saudi individuals in important positions in a post-Saddam Iraq:… State’s top pick for ambassador to the post-Saddam Iraq is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker… Crocker will undoubtedly run into opposition from the White House, where the President’s vision of a democratic Iraq is diametrically opposed to Crocker’s view of the Arab world.

There are no public signs of tension between Crocker and Cheney, nor does it seem that Cheney allies ever publicly floated an alternative.  Nevertheless, it is probably worth noting: Crocker is no friend of Cheney’s Neocons.

Neocons: Did Petraeus Betray Us?

Lieutenant General David Petraeus has been tapped to serve as the top US commander in Iraq.

Petraeus is going to be very popular with lots of folks, but not Neocons and counterinsurgency hawks.

Right Zionist Michael Rubin has concerns about Petraeus:

Petraeus is highly-respected and media-savvy. However, his record is uncertain. While it is be important to win the support of the local population, it is also important to differentiate between what the local population wants, and what the squeaky wheels demand. Empowering extremists is not a good strategy. By reintegrating Islamists and Baathists into sensitive positions in Mosul, Petraeus bought short-term stability to his area of operation at the expense of long-term security. He also championed outreach to Syria, at one point bragging to a visiting delegation about the increase of cross-border trade. Such trust backfired. That said, his work getting the Iraqi army training program off-the-ground was impressive.

Ralph Peters at the New York Post offers up some similar criticism.

Regaining control of Baghdad – after we threw it away – will require the defiant use of force. Negotiations won’t do it. Cultural awareness isn’t going to turn this situation around (we need to stop pandering to our enemies and defeat them, thanks). We insist it’s all about politics and try to placate everybody, while terrorists, insurgents and militias slaughter the innocent in the name of their god and their tribe…

In my contacts with Petraeus, we’ve sometimes agreed and sometimes argued. But we diverged profoundly on one point: The counterinsurgency doctrine produced under his direction remains far too mired in failed 20th-century models. Winning hearts and minds sounds great, but it’s useless when those hearts and minds turn up dead the next morning.

Cheney Down for the Count?

So, if all of this “personnel politics” runs against the grain of Cheney’s agenda, does that mean the Vice President has lost control of the ship of state?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Cheney vs Baker in the House of Saud

Posted by Cutler on December 23, 2006
Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Since November 30, 2006, I’ve been writing posts about a split among Right Arabists regarding Iran.

[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.

Now, all of this is big news. Saudi factionalism has become headline news with major stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The split is about Iran, to be sure. But it is also about Saudi succession.

In a December 13 post, I speculated on the battle lines and got it wrong.

Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?

And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?

Answer: No.

Cheney and the Sudairi Seven

Bandar is Cheney’s man (and vice versa). The rest of the Right Arabist establishment has lined up behind King Abdullah and the Faisal brothers, Turki (until recently Saudi Ambassador to the US) and Saud (currently Saudi Foreign Minister).

Cheney isn’t simply backing Bandar. Bandar–the son of Saudi Crown Prince Defense Minister Sultan–represents the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah.

Cheney’s top Middle East aide, David Wurmser is crystal clear about his preferences within the House of Saud, not to mention his vision for Iraq and Iran. From an article while he was still at the American Enterprise Institute:

To begin to unravel this murky business, it is necessary to go back to the mid-1990s, when a succession struggle was beginning in Saudi Arabia. This struggle pits the octogenarian king, Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz, and his full brothers in the Sudairi branch of the family (especially the defense minister, Prince Sultan) against their half-brother, Crown Prince Abdallah. King Fahd and the Sudairis favor close ties to the United States, while Crown Prince Abdallah prefers Syria and is generally more enamored of pan-Islamic and pan-Arab ideas…

In August, King Fahd fired his director of intelligence, Prince Turki al Faisal… Since the mid-1990s, Turki had anchored the Abdallah faction, and under his leadership Saudi intelligence had become difficult to distinguish from al Qaeda….

More recently, Turki bin Faisal’s full brother, Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal, unleashed his diplomats to write shrill and caustic attacks on the United States, such as the article a few weeks ago by Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in London, Ghazi al Qusaibi, calling President Bush mentally unstable.

The Baker Boys and King Abdullah

Meanwhile, the rest of the Baker Big Oil crowd backs Abdullah, favors dialogue with Iran, etc.

One sign the Baker fidelity to Abdullah came in the case of former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. According to reports (“Saudis Have Had Enough of US Ambassador,” UPI, September 25, 2003):

The U.S. capital is starting to buzz with questions about the early retirement of U.S. Ambassador to Riyadh Robert Jordan, apparently demanded by the Saudis. Jordan, a partner in the Baker, Botts law firm in Texas (as in former Secretary of State James Baker), is an honorary member of the Bush clan and his premature departure is a shock. The State Department has yet to confirm it, though Jordan has told friends that he’s heading back to Texas. His offense was to state too publicly — at private Saudi dinner parties — Washington’s preference for Crown Prince Abdullah to succeed the ailing King Fahd. This supposedly offended Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Jordan also annoyed other Saudis by insisting that any American wife of a Saudi citizen should get embassy or consulate help in marriage disputes and child custody cases.

Add to this the fact that Chas Freeman took swipes at Prince Bandar in 2005, and you can begin to see the outlines of a major split in Washington and Riyadh.

Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says Bandar “has basically been AWOL for years” but had been kept at his post because of “inertia at the top” of the Saudi royal family…

And then there is Flynt Leverett‘s 2005 celebration of the arrival of Prince Turki in Washington.

Which Way for the White House?

This split explains quite a bit about the US factional dynamics of the entire war in Iraq.

No wonder the White House Iraq Policy Review is delayed. Bush and Condoleezza Rice have to pick sides. They are both in way over the heads.

The obvious question: can Cheney and the Sudairi Seven triumph over Baker and King Abdullah?

Put differently, can Bush choose Baker and break his ties to Cheney? Or is Cheney too powerful to isolate?

The stakes could not possibly be any higher. The fate of US relations with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia–and Russia–likely hang in the balance.

Flynt Sets a Fire

Posted by Cutler on December 19, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Flynt Leverett’s views on US policy toward Iran are making news.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett–both former NSC staff member in the Bush administration–co-authored a New York Times Op-Ed calling for a “Grand Bargain” with Iran.  According to the Washington Post, the CIA–under pressure from the White House–“ordered two sections concerning U.S. dealings with Iran in his article to be heavily redacted.”

As the Post reports, “As a former CIA official, Leverett is required to submit his writings for pre-publication review.”  The controversy concerns White House pressure on the CIA, especially since the agency had already approved publication of a longer version of the article, “Dealing with Tehran: Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options toward Iran,” written for the Century Foundation.

Previous reports suggested that Flynt Leverett was essentially “purged” from the NSC as part of a factional battle with Elliott Abrams–a key Right Zionist in the Bush administration.

Leverett’s subsequent attacks on the Neocons transformed this establishment Right Arabist into a darling of the anti-war Left.  The latest White House move against Leverett only enhances his “street cred.”

What does Leverett’s Century Foundation propose for US-Iran relations?  What got him into trouble with the White House?  And who are his key opponents?

Leverett’s Grand Bargain

Leverett is as clear as any Right Arabist that, from his perspective, the Iranian regime is waiting for one basic concession from the US as the price for cooperation on the nuclear issue, Iraq, etc.: a security guarantee.

Tehran will require, among other things, a security guarantee from Washington—effectively a commitment that the United States will not use force to change the borders or form of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran—bolstered by the prospect of a lifting of U.S. unilateral sanctions and normalization of bilateral relations.

According to Leverett, the Iranians are holding out for this all-important US guarantee.

[I]t is interesting to note an important difference between the incentives package presented to Iran by the Europeans in August 2005 and the package presented to Tehran by the P-5 and Germany in June 2006…

[T]he August 2005 package contained a number of prospective commitments amounting to an effective security guarantee for the Islamic Republic; because these prospective commitments came only from Europe, they were strategically meaningless from an Iranian perspective.

By contrast, the June 2006 package, which was endorsed by the Bush administration, contained no prospective security guarantees.

I have no independent evaluation of Leverett’s interpretation of Iran’s priorities, but Leverett himself seems to suggest that the Iranians would be fools to exchange anything for such a guarantee.  His own report quite confidently asserts that the US has no ability to “use force to change the borders or form of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

[C]oercive approaches to containing the threat of Iranian nuclearization are not likely to work…

Numerous analyses have raised serious doubts that U.S. military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would delay significantly its nuclear development, because of profound uncertainty about the reliability and comprehensiveness of target selection, the possibility that “unknown” facilities are at least as close to producing weapons-grade fissile material as “known” facilities, and the prospect that Tehran could reconstitute its nuclear program relatively rapidly.  At the same time, U.S. military action against Iran almost certainly would have profoundly negative consequences for a range of other U.S. interests.

There also is no reasonable basis for believing that the United States could bring about regime change in Iran, either by “decapitating” the Islamic Republic’s leadership in the course of military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or by supporting Iranian opposition groups under the cover of “democracy promotion.” More significantly, it is highly uncertain that regime change could be effected on a strategically meaningful timetable for dealing with the nuclear threat.

Is Leverett hoping that the Iranians are unable read his own report?

Leverett’s Revelations

Notwithstanding his own doubts about the seriousness of US threats, Leverett is actually quite clear about the specific fears that seem to animate Iranian concerns for a security guarantee.  And it is here that Leverett seems to have publicized some things that got him in hot water with the White House.

Since early 2006, Leverett has been speaking publicly about US efforts to establish back channel negotiations with the Iranians after 9/11.  In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled “The Gulf Between Us,” Leverett said these diplomatic efforts were disrupted by Bush’s “axis of evil” speech.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan. But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an “axis of evil,” thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.

In his Century Foundation report, however, Leverett concedes that the State of the Union speech was not, in fact, the deal breaker:

Iranian representatives missed the next monthly meeting with U.S. diplomats in protest [at the axis of evil speech], but—in a telling indication of Tehran’s seriousness about exploring a diplomatic opening to the United States—resumed participation in the discussions the following month.

The bilateral channel on Afghanistan continued for another year, until the eve of the Iraq war, but it became clear the Bush administration was not interested in a broader, strategic dialogue with Iran. Indeed, the administration terminated the channel in May 2003, on the basis of unproven and never pursued allegations of the involvement of Iran-based al Qaeda figures in the May 12, 2003, bomb attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

This claim is followed up by a crucial footnote:

The possibility of al Qaeda figures finding refuge in Iran was an issue that administration hardliners regularly used to undermine expanded tactical cooperation between Tehran and Washington. In the course of the U.S.-Iranian dialogue over Afghanistan, U.S. officials exhorted their Iranian counterparts to take steps to prevent al Qaeda and Taliban operatives from seeking sanctuary in Iran. In response, Iran deployed additional security forces to its border with Afghanistan and took several hundred fugitives into custody; the identities of these individuals were documented to the United Nations. In 2002, a number of these individuals, of Afghan origin, were repatriated to the new, post-Taliban Afghan government; others, of Saudi origin, were repatriated to Saudi Arabia. In the same year, a group of senior al Qaeda figures managed to find their way from Afghanistan into Iran, most likely via longstanding smuggling and human trafficking routes into Iran’s Baluchistan province.

In response to U.S. concerns, Tehran eventually took these individuals into custody and, in the spring of 2003, offered to exchange them for a small group of senior commanders among the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) cadres in Iraq. Even though the MEK has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State, the administration refused to consider any such exchange.

In other words, the deal breaker was neither Bush’s axis of evil speech nor Iranian links to al Qaeda.  The deal breaker, according to Leverett’s account, was the US refusal to turn over MEK cadres in Iraq.

I have written about the MEK in previous posts (here and, more recently, here).

Leverett’s central allegation is that the US drew a line in the sand by refusing to remove the MEK “threat” to the security of the Iranian regime.  White House fears, notwithstanding, this story has long been part of the public chatter.  David Ignatius wrote a column about the whole affair, citing Flynt Leverett, back on July 9, 2004.

I have no independent evaluation of the so-called “threat” posed by the MEK, but I note with some interest that Leverett’s own account unintentional emphasizes the fact that both the Iranians and “hardliners” in the US seem to think the threat is a serious and valuable bargaining chip.

Who is Hitting Flynt Leverett?

Are Flynt Leverett’s White House antagonists folks who continue to hope that the MEK can provide useful leverage for dealing with the Iranian regime?

If so, it certainly matters who is trying to hit him.

According to Leverett’s Century Foundation report, Cheney provides the core of the opposition:

A… camp, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his most important advisers, is strongly opposed to anything resembling a grand bargain and favors a more coercive approach to Iran policy.

This isn’t really surprising.

But more recently Leverett has named others when talking about White House attempts to silence him.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

Speaking to reporters Monday, Leverett speculated that senior NSC officials, such as deputy national security advisors Elliott Abrams or Meghan L. O’Sullivan, had authorized their subordinates to intervene.

Mention of Elliott Abrams is no surprise.  No love lost there.  But Meghan L. O’Sullivan is no Right Zionist.  She comes to the White House via Richard Haass and the Council on Foreign Relations.  Herself a target of Right Zionists, she has solid Right Arabist credentials.

All of which only adds to my suspicion that the “new factionalism” in the White House only marginal concerns the demoralized Right Zionists.

After all, the chief support for the MEK comes not from Right Zionists but from Right Arabists including James Akins–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Cheney, Baker, and the House of Saud

Posted by Cutler on December 13, 2006
Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In a November 30, 2006 post, I suggested the following:

[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.

Today’s New York Times article by Helene Cooper–“Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq“–seems to suggest that the Saudi split may indeed be part of the story.

Along the way, Cooper sheds light on a number of significant developments regarding US-Saudi relations.

Cooper reports:

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who told his staff on Monday that he was resigning his post, recently fired Nawaf Obaid, a consultant who wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post two weeks ago contending that “one of the first consequences” of an American pullout of Iraq would “be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”

Mr. Obaid also suggested that Saudi Arabia could cut world oil prices in half by raising its production, a move that he said “would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high oil prices.” The Saudi government disavowed Mr. Obaid’s column, and Prince Turki canceled his contract.

But Arab diplomats said Tuesday that Mr. Obaid’s column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to an American pullout from Iraq.

And, Cooper also makes news by reporting new details on the substance of Cheney’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah in late November:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

Abdullah is opposed to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran. That idea was floated by James Baker. So what ever happened to James Baker’s famous intimacy with the Saudi Royal family?

One answer is that a Cheney-Baker split reflects a split in the house of Saud:

In Riyadh, there was a sense of disarray over Prince Turki’s resignation that was difficult to hide. A former adviser to the royal family said that Prince Turki had submitted his resignation several months ago but that it was refused. Rumors had circulated ever since that Prince Turki intended to resign, as talk of a possible government shake-up grew.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister and Prince Turki’s brother, has been in poor health for some time. He is described as eager to resign, with his wife’s health failing, too, just as the United States has been prodding Saudi Arabia to take a more active role in Iraq and with Iran.

The former adviser said Prince Turki’s resignation came amid a growing rivalry between the ambassador and Prince Bandar, who is now Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser. Prince Bandar, well known in Washington for his access to the White House, has vied to become the next foreign minister.

“This is a very high-level problem; this is about Turki, the king and Bandar,” said the former adviser to the royal family. “Let’s say the men don’t have a lot of professional admiration for each other.”

Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?

And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?

Or has Cheney decided that the Bandar/Bush branch of the Saudi Royal family–the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah–has lost the battle for control of Saudi Arabia?

Was Cheney’s trip to Riyadh was a farewell visit? Did Cheney tell King Abdullah that he was backing the Shiite Option in Iraq?

The last time Prince Turki resigned abruptly was on September 4, 2001, exactly one week before the September 11 attacks. Mark your calendars.

The Fog of Factional War

Posted by Cutler on December 11, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

The New York Times is scrambling to make sense of the failed Realist coup that was supposed to accompany the publication of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group report.

One early Times effort pitted Condoleezza Rice as the leader of the anti-Baker faction.

More recently, the Times tries out a few other approaches in an article entitled, “Report on Iraq Exposes a Divide within the G.O.P.

One approach emphasizes the role of domestic Republican politics and cites a Wesleyan colleague, Douglas Foyle:

No matter what positions they take today, all Republicans would prefer that the 2008 elections not be fought on the battleground of Iraq, said Douglas Foyle, professor of government at Wesleyan University.

“They don’t want the 2008 presidential and Congressional campaign to be about staying the course,” Professor Foyle said. “That’s where the calculus of Bush and the Republicans diverge very quickly. Everyone is thinking about the next election, and Bush doesn’t have one.”

Other voices in the article also alleged that the Baker Report is supposed to function as cover for “cut and run” Republicans:

Bill Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard and a leading advocate of the decision to invade Iraq, said: “In the real world, the Baker report is now the vehicle for those Republicans who want to extricate themselves from Iraq…”

But Kristol knows that the conflict is not simply about the audacity of a lame duck and the cautiousness of those “thinking about the next election.”  As Kristol suggests, the emphasis on domestic politics only goes so far in explaining the split within the Republican party.  After all, says Kristol, one of the most prominent “rejectionists” is also the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2008, John McCain:

“McCain is articulating the strategy for victory in Iraq. Bush will have to choose, and the Republican Party will have to choose, in the very near future between Baker and McCain.”

The Times authors also seem to discard the electoral politics explanation that pits lame duck hawks against pandering doves:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, rejected the major recommendations of the group because they did not present a formula for victory. Mr. McCain, hoping to claim the Republican mantle on national security issues, has staked out a muscular position on Iraq, calling for an immediate increase in American forces to try to bring order to Baghdad and crush the insurgency.

This leads to the second approach adopted by the New York Times article, one that emphasizes the role of ideological factionalism:

A document that many in Washington had hoped would pave the way for a bipartisan compromise on Iraq instead drew sharp condemnation from the right, with hawks saying it was a wasted effort that advocated a shameful American retreat.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described the report as a “strategic muddle,” Richard Perle called it “absurd,” Rush Limbaugh labeled it “stupid,” and The New York Post portrayed the leaders of the group, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic member of Congress, as “surrender monkeys”…

The choice Mr. Kristol is describing reflects a longstanding Republican schism over policy and culture between ideological neoconservatives and so-called realists. Through most of the Bush administration, the neoconservatives’ idea of using American military power to advance democracy around the world prevailed, pushed along by Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld.

Of course, it is true that the so-called Neoconservatives–aka Right Zionists–have been howling about the Baker Report.

The problem with this explanation of the new factionalism, however, is that most of the actual so-called “ideological neoconservatives”–including Richard Perle–were long ago purged from the administration (if not Congress) and Right Arabists occupy key posts in the White House, the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass.

So, if the Right Zionists are pleased to observe some White House “push back” against Baker, they are cheering from the side-lines, largely in absentia.

Perhaps the only meaningful exceptions–now that Bolton is gone–are Elliottt Abrams and a Right Zionist named David Wurmser.  The key to Wurmser’s protected status, if there is any, is that he works in the Office of the Vice President.

But Cheney himself doesn’t exactly fit the profile of an “ideological neoconservative”–least of all on the basis of the skewed definition offered up by the Times (“using military power to advance democracy around the world”).  Just check out Cheney in Kazakhstan to appreciate the gap.  Cheney is hardly a promoter of democracy for its own sake; not quite a “true believer.”  And, historically at least, not a particularly reliable Right Zionist.

Cheney is the leader of the rejectionist faction.  But to what end?

The new factionalism is only indirectly about the Gulf, although it is about energy politics.  The key split increasingly looks like a battle between competing approaches to Russia, with Iran, Iraq, and Israel hanging in the balance.

A Realist Manifesto

Posted by Cutler on December 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

The Iraq Study Group Report has been released. I’m not at all convinced that it represents the advent of a Realist (Right Arabist) coup in Washington, as initially predicted. There seems to be plenty of “push back” against it from some quarters within the Bush administration.

Even if none of it fails to become official policy, the Report does represent what Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Thomas Ricks call “The Realist Manifesto” and so deserves to be read and archived for what it reveals about Right Arabist positions on US policy in the Gulf.

There are a few key sections that represent key consitutive elements of Right Arabist views on the proper domestic contours of Iraqi politics. There is no “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Solution” in this report.

National reconciliation is essential to reduce further violence and maintain the unity of Iraq.

U.S. forces can help provide stability for a time to enable Iraqi leaders to negotiate political solutions, but they cannot stop the violence—or even contain it—if there is no underlying political agreement among Iraqis about the future of their country.

The Iraqi government must send a clear signal to Sunnis that there is a place for them in national life. The government needs to act now, to give a signal of hope. Unless Sunnis believe they can get a fair deal in Iraq through the political process, there is no prospect that the insurgency will end.

To strike this fair deal, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people must address several issues that are critical to the success of national reconciliation and thus to the future of Iraq.

Steps for Iraq to Take on Behalf of National Reconciliation

RECOMMENDATION 26: Constitution review. Review of the constitution is essential to national reconciliation and should be pursued on an urgent basis. The United Nations has expertise in this field, and should play a role in this process.

RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.

The report provides some detailed discussion of oil politics in Iraqi “national reconciliation.” As I indicated in a previous post, Right Arabists favor Iraqi unity and centralized control over new oil field development.

Here is a section entitled, “The Politics of Oil,” that lays out the specific political link between sectarian tensions and the domestic battle for future control of Iraqi oil.

The politics of oil has the potential to further damage the country’s already fragile efforts to create a unified central government.

The Iraqi Constitution leaves the door open for regions to take the lead in developing new oil resources. Article 108 states that “oil and gas are the ownership of all the peoples of Iraq in all the regions and governorates,” while Article 109 tasks the federal government with “the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields.”

This language has led to contention over what constitutes a “new” or an “existing” resource, a question that has profound ramifications for the ultimate control of future oil revenue. Senior members of Iraq’s oil industry argue that a national oil company could reduce political tensions by centralizing revenues and reducing regional or local claims to a percentage of the revenue derived from production.

However, regional leaders are suspicious and resist this proposal, affirming the rights of local communities to have direct access to the inflow of oil revenue. Kurdish leaders have been particularly aggressive in asserting independent control of their oil assets, signing and implementing investment deals with foreign oil companies in northern Iraq. Shia politicians are also reported to be negotiating oil investment contracts with foreign companies.

On this issue, the Iraq Study Group has taken a clear stand:

RECOMMENDATION 28: Oil revenue sharing. Oil revenues should accrue to the central government and be shared on the basis of population. No formula that gives control over revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is compatible with national reconciliation.

Headlines about the Report tend to be focused on the call for international diplomacy. But all of this international efforts are, in essence, geared toward achieving the domestic “reconciliation” goals articulated above. Because these goals are meant to curb Shiite and Kurdish ambitions, relative to the Sunni population, the international diplomatic proposals have already met with considerable opposition from Shiite and Kurdish political leaders, even as they have been welcomed by Sunnis and ex-Baathists.

In many respects, this manifesto could have been written before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is nothing particularly new about the Right Arabist line adopted in the Report. The “news” would have been that this line was now uncontested official policy.

On that front, it was–at best–a slow news day.

Act II, Scene 2

Posted by Cutler on November 28, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

If Baker fails in his effort to push the Bush administration toward direct talks with Iran, then we will know that Cheney is still driving this ship.

Some evidence in this regard:

Time magazine:

Vice President Cheney, among others in the White House, is prepared to fight the recommendation about Iran and Syria. “He’s against engagement with Iran and Syria, and he’s very serious about waging policy battles when he disagrees,” one official said.

And Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker:

The main Middle East expert on the Vice-President’s staff is David Wurmser, a neoconservative who was a strident advocate for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Like many in Washington, Wurmser “believes that, so far, there’s been no price tag on Iran for its nuclear efforts and for its continuing agitation and intervention inside Iraq,” the consultant said. But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney’s office “want to end the regime,” the consultant said. “They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran.”

I have written at length about Wurmser in my ZNet article “Beyond Incompetence.”

Nevertheless, given Cheney’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia I think the more useful ZNet essay for this moment may be “The Devil Wears Persian,” in which I describe the July 2006 Israeli military action in Lebanon as “Act II” of the Bush revolution.

If so, then we may be in fore Act II, Scene 2.  Scene 1 didn’t exactly play out according to Right Zionist plans, although as I noted at the time (here and here) they were quick to blame the failures on the Olmert government.

Since that time, Olmert has changed the composition of his government, adding Avigdor Lieberman–leader of the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party and formerly an aide to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu–to his coalition and handing responsibility for Iran policy to the hardliner.

Now comes the New York Times headline that Hezbollah has been training the Shiite Sadrist Mahdi Army in Iraq.

Hold on to your hats, folks.

Arabists Arrive

Posted by Cutler on November 27, 2006
Right Arabists / No Comments

There are a bunch of signs that the Bush administration might be getting ready to roll out a set of new Right Arabist Middle East initiatives.

1. Cheney in Saudi Arabia, explaining the new deal and asking for help. In exchange, the US is returning to the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track.

2. The key Right Arabist “asset” in Egypt–Mubarak’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman–is back in action, preparing the way for movement on the Palestinian front.

[Hamas political leader Khaled] Meshal arrived in Cairo late Thursday for talks with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, on the prisoner exchange and unity government

His visit was planned for the end of last October, but was postponed for unknown reasons. Arab media outlets speculated that Meshal’s arrival in Cairo signals that Hamas is ready to negotiate on the issue of [kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit’s release, with Egypt brokering a potential deal.

Suleiman’s efforts have resulted in a surprise ceasefire in Gaza. No sign yet of a unity government as Fatah allegedly makes a bid to reclaim the Interior Ministry.

3. C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, is also back in the game. Welch has been pretty quiet since his last effort to coordinate Egyptian mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. That effort went up in smoke with the July 2006 Israeli military campaign in Lebanon.

Welch is praying that the “rejectionists” in Israel and Syria will not undermine him this time. Slim chance. Elliott Abrams is presumably supposed to keep Israeli rejectionists in line. And Syria has already spoken on the issue with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.

Here is Welch’s prayer:

“We’re not making any direct accusations, but let me say that the trends and the record seem to be very clear,” C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said in an interview Wednesday with al-Arabiya Television. “The implication that Syria may be involved is, of course, a very heavy one, but the burden of responsibility that Syria bears not to interfere in the situation in Lebanon could not be more important than at this moment.”

4. Bush on his way to a meeting in Jordan with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. In advance of the meeting, Jordanian King Abdullah has this to say:

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” [Jordanian King] Abdullah said he remained hopeful a summit he will host this week in Amman with President George W. Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will somehow lower the sectarian violence that threatens to push Iraq into all-out civil war.

We hope there will be something dramatic. The challenges, obviously, in front of both of them are immense,” the king said.

Can it be a coincidence that the meeting will take place in Jordan, where some of the obvious potential leaders of a would-be “dramatic” anti-Shiite coup are in waiting? As warnings go, this one to Maliki is hardly subtle.

Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on November 26, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Uncategorized / No Comments

In a June 2006 post, I argued that some Right Arabists are quite hawkish toward Iran.  I also noted that some Right Zionists are quite wary of the motivations and methods of Right Arabists who support regime change in Iran.

The primary Right Arabist venue for regime change in Iraq is the Mujaheddin-e Khalq [MEK, but sometimes called MKO; also the People’s Mojahedin of Iran; also National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)] with support from the Iran Policy Committee.

Just to connect the dots: MEK has support within Iraq, but not from the favorite clients of the Right Zionists.  Instead, the biggest fans of the MEK are ex-Baathists.

No surprise here, since the MEK was very close with the old Baathist regime.

But a recent MEK press release makes the link quite explicit:

NCRI – A meeting initiated by the U.S. Congressmen Bob Filner (D-CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Ed Towns (D-NY) took place during a three-day symposium on Iran and Iraq at the U.S. Congress.

The purpose of this meeting was to examine the negative consequences of the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq and to determine how to support the Iranian opposition – the People’s Mojahedin – based in Ashraf City, Iraq, as the main impediment to the expansion of fundamentalism in this country.

In her message, Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, called on Congress to take the initiative for a firm policy towards Tehran’s regime and to expel it from Iraq.

Dr Saleh Mutlaq, Chairman of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, made a speech by telephone from Iraq, denouncing the mullahs’ efforts to prevent the establishment of a democratic, independent government in Iraq. He also announced his support for the People’s Mojahedin and paid tribute to their actions

Dick Armey, former republican House Majority Leader and chairman of the think-tank FreedomWorks, introduced his 250-page report about Iran, the foreign policy challenges, the solutions and the democratic opposition, in which he collected the positions of American political and legal experts….

Its introduction underlines, as many in the United States and in the world believe, that a regime change in Iran is feasible by supporting the democratic organizations of this country, notably the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

Consequently, following detailed research, the report urges the removal of the PMOI and the National Council of Resistance of Iran from the US State Department terrorism list in order to make this change possible in Iran.

When Right Arabists court ex-Baathists in Iraq, Saleh Mutlaq (also, Saleh Mutlak) is one of the key go to guys.

If the cry is “bring back the Baath,” does this not also imply regime change in Iran?

Bashar and Baker

Posted by Cutler on November 23, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Syria / No Comments

It would seem that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel–a leading figure from the Lebanese “Cedar Revolution” and a member of a very prominent Maronite Christian family–has undermined James Baker’s plans for engagement with the Syrian regime less likely, at least for now.

The very fact that Baker–along with Tony Blair and some political elites in Israel–were pressing for a dialogue with the Syrian regime makes it all the more surprising that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have chosen this moment to flaunt his capacity for political violence.

There are two related ways of understanding how events might have moved toward a Syrian attack on Gemayel and his alllies in the so-called “March 14” movement.

First, even as Baker and Co. were pressing for engagement with Syria, Right Zionists and US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, were pressing for a tribunal to hear evidence against those allegedly involved in the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In a September 1, 2006 Washington Post column, for example, Charles Krauthammer had this to say about US relations with Syria.

We should be especially aggressive at the United Nations in pursuing the investigation of Syria for the murder of Rafiq Hariri…

And John Bolton was, indeed, aggressive–even as the Russians and Syrians tried to delay an agreement on a the formation of an international tribunal while Syria’s allies pressed for enhanced political power in Lebanon.  According to a November 8, 2006 report in the New York Sun:

The United Nations is pushing for the tribunal to be organized as quickly as possible, even before the completion of the U.N. investigation into the February 2005 Hariri assassination, a U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told The New York Sun yesterday.

“We’ve got a number of changes we want, but we’re very concerned to move quickly to set up the tribunal,” the American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said yesterday. “We think that’s very important to do as a political signal.”

Presumably, this was not exactly the same “political signal” that James Baker was trying to send to Demascus.

But the Bolton v. Baker split is not the only factional angle to this story.

There may also be a similar split within the Syrian regime itself.

Speculate a bit: Bashar may not have a firm grip on power in Syria.

On the one hand, the US, France, and Saudi Arabia have already cultivated an alternative “government in waiting” prepared to step in at any moment.  This, along with the outreach of figures like James Baker and Tony Blair, make it very attractive for Bashar al-Assad to adopt a moderate approach to regional relations.

On the other hand, if an accord with the US means submitting to an international tribunal then Bashar may be either unable or unwilling to cross that bridge.

In a November 22, 2006 Daily Star editorial, Michael Young makes the point:

The tribunal is Syria’s Achilles heel. Even if a mid-level intelligence operative is accused, the centralized nature of the Syrian system is such that prosecutors will soon end up at the peak of the security apparatus, perhaps reaching into President Bashar Assad’s inner sanctum. The fight over the future of the Syrian regime is taking place now, and the only option Assad might be left with if the process goes through is to rid himself of essential pillars of support. This could be as damaging to him as being held personally responsible for ordering the Hariri hit.

Let’s be more clear: the pillar of support in question is Bashar al-Assad’s own family.

According to the Associated Press:

U.N. investigators had earlier implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005. Among those linked to the killing was Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and Assad’s brother-in-law.

Is Bashar al-Assad seeking to protect his brother-in-law Assaf Shawkat? Or, is Shawkat seeking to protect himself, without the knowledge or approval of the Syrian President?

If US officials believe that Bashar al-Assad is in a battle with Shawkat for control of Syria then Baker will find his way to Damascus, sooner or later.

If US officials believe that Bashar al-Assad has made his peace with Shawkat, then it would not be surprising to wake up to news of a coup in Syria one of these days.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Posted by Cutler on November 21, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

-Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler

All the “adults”–Kissinger, Baker, Brzezinski, Gates, Blair–are working from the same parenting handbook when approaching Bush administration policy toward the Gulf: use your words.

Not surprisingly, Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht is dubious. In the latest missive from his perch at AEI–“Bartering with Nothing“–Gerecht poses some questions about dialogue with Iran.

What can be traded and bargained? What in the world can the United States give the Islamic Republic… that they do not have already?…

Beyond seeing Saddam go down, the most significant gain for the ruling clergy has been the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiite community. The greatest mid- to long-term threat in post-Saddam Iraq to Iran’s ruling mullahs had been the possible triumph of the moderate Shia, led by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who carries on a political tradition that Iran’s leading cleric, Ali Khamenei, detests. Clerics always think about other clerics; Iran’s political priesthood has always worried first about clerical dissent and religious threats to its power. Iraq’s turmoil has been very good for Khamenei and Iraq’s politicized young clergy, who want to upset the traditional, moderate clergy in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf. The chaos in Iraq–the sectarian strife–has nearly neutered Sistani, who tried mightily to prevent the unleashing of Shiite revenge against the Sunni insurgency’s attacks on his flock.

Emphasize “nearly.” If you were the Iranian mullahs, you would want this radicalization of the Iraqi Shia to keep going… With violence, Sistani and the moderate clergy will continue to collapse and the Americans will bleed…

So what does the United States have to offer the Iranian clergy that might tempt them to compromise their interests in Iraq? Well, there is the bomb… [A] true realpolitician would threaten the regime’s most cherished plans–its nuclear program. Yet in the Gates-Brzezinski colloquy on Iran, Gates conceded a nuclear weapon to the clergy. This is an odd position to take before even trying to enter into “negotiations.”…

To enter into a conference–assuming the Syrians and the Iranians would deign to participate–from a position of weakness is to guarantee that you exit weaker than when you went in.

I add only one note to this analysis: it is shared by at least one prominent Right Arabist, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci.

In the 2004 Gates/Brzezinski report on Iran, Carlucci served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, but added a “dissenting view” in an appendix to the report. Carlucci sounds as sober about negotiations with Iran as Gerecht:

While I agree with the main thrust of the report I do not agree that the U.S.interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan may offer Iran new incentives to open a mutually beneficial dialogue. On the contrary, I believe Iran has few incentives for dialogue. They are convinced we intend to overthrow them, and they believe we are bogged down in Iraq and have lost what support we had in the Arab world. From their perspective, it is better to wait and let us stew in our own juice. Overtures on our part,under these circumstances, are likely to be interpreted as a sign of weakness and be rebuffed –Frank Carlucci

An interesting note of consensus between a leading Right Zionist and a leading Right Arabist.

Just to be clear, though: neither Carlucci nor Gerecht are likely to agree that it is time to fold ‘em, to walk away, or to run.

Gerecht, at least, has a suggestion:

If for some reason the president feels compelled to try to convene such a conference or bilateral talks with Syria or Iran on Iraq, he would do America’s diplomats a big favor by announcing first that 50,000 new troops are on their way to Mesopotamia and that we intend to slug this out until we win.

A Shiite Option?

Posted by Cutler on November 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “era of elections” in Iraq, which began in January 2005, may well be remembered as the time when the US was loosely aligned with Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

The Jaafari and Maliki governments (led by the Shiite “Dawa” party) that have ruled Iraq during the era of elections have been dependent on Sadrist political forces.

A change might be in the works. Not an anti-Shiite coup, exactly. But a move against Maliki and Sadr–led by SCIRI, Dawa’s major Shiite political party rival.

If so, such a simple government re-shuffle would potentially also represent an enormous change in US policy because SCIRI strongly supports the break up of Iraq into three highly autonomous zones each with independent control of oil resources.

[Joseph Biden–incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–is also a strong supporter of the break up of Iraq. Did the mid-term election results help generate a change in US policy relative to the idea of partition?]
Partition would mark the “end of Iraq” as an Arab nation and would dramatically tilt the regional balance of power away from a Sunni Arab Gulf and toward a Shia Gulf.

Right Zionist Charles Krauthammer advocates such an Iraqi government re-shuffle in a November 17, 2006 Washington Post column, “Why Iraq is Crumbling.”

Last month American soldiers captured a Mahdi Army death squad leader in Baghdad — only to be forced to turn him loose on order of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Two weeks ago, we were ordered, again by Maliki, to take down the barricades we had established around Sadr City in search of another notorious death squad leader and a missing American soldier.

This is no way to conduct a war. The Maliki government is a failure

Fortunately, however, the ruling Shiites do not have much internal cohesion. Just last month two of the major Shiite religious parties that underpin the Maliki government engaged in savage combat against each other in Amarah.

There is a glimmer of hope in this breakdown of the Shiite front. The unitary Shiite government having been proved such a failure, we should be encouraging the full breakup of the Shiite front in pursuit of a new coalition based on cross-sectarian alliances: the more moderate Shiite elements (secular and religious but excluding the poisonous Sadr), the Kurds and those Sunnis who recognize their minority status but are willing to accept an important, generously offered place at the table.

Such a coalition was almost created after the latest Iraqi elections. It needs to be attempted again.

The clashes in Amarah mentioned by Krauthammer were between two Shiite militias, Sadr’s Mahdi Army and SCIRI’s Badr Brigades.

And the coalition that was “almost created” after the last Iraqi elections was the one that the US pushed at the time: a government run by SCIRI with Abdil al-Mahdi (also Adel Abdel Mahdi, Abdel Mahdi, or Adil Abdul Mahdi) as Prime Minister.

A February 19, 2006 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “The Shiite Choice,” seemed mystified by the US preference for al-Mahdi:

U.S. diplomats seemed to favor Mr. Mahdi for some reason. But unlike Sciri, Mr. Jaafari and his Dawa Party don’t seem dependent on Tehran and are unquestionably indigenous Iraqi patriots.

The Dawa Party–especially in alliance with Sadr–represented a vote of confidence in Iraqi nationalism. Mahdi and Sciri, by contrast, raises the specter of a tilt toward Tehran.

The Journal editorial also notes that Mahdi lost “the permanent nod by a single vote” within the council of the ruling Shiite alliance.

Krauthammer has now offered an unambiguous endorsement of a SCIRI-led Shiite government.

It would be an enormous surprise if the Bush administration actually embraced the idea.

Why? Because the “SCIRI Option” is, in essence, “Plan A” for Iraq, as originally outlined by the Neoconservatives.

With Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, out at the Pentagon and Robert Gates and the Baker Commission preparing for power, it would seem easy enough to dismiss Krauthammer’s call for a new government as revealing about the Neocons, but irrelevant for a Bush administration replete with Right Arabists.

But then comes a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed by Laura Rozen entitled “Unleash the Shiites?” (thanks b) that claims some support for this option within the Bush administration:

This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward…

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option…

[T]he strategy could drive Iraq’s Sunni tribes to align themselves more closely with Al Qaeda. And it seems certain to further alienate Iraq’s Sunni neighbors and erstwhile U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan — while strengthening Iran’s hand in Iraq.

Combine this speculation with the Monica Duffy Toft Washington Post Op-Ed on the “Shiite option,” discussed in a previous post, and one begins to reconsider the death of the Right Zionist plans for Iraq.

On the assumption that personnel is politics, Right Zionists have been quite demoralized by the appointment of Robert Gates.

If Right Zionists are losing influence in Washington, however, it is possible that their favored “proxies” in Baghdad will render the Right Zionists victors in absentia.

If so, then the recent victories began with the extraordinary Iraqi parliamentary vote which established the framework for the creation of a massive, autonomous Shiite region in the oil-rich south of Iraq.

During the session, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani — the parliament speaker, a Sunni Arab belonging to one of the boycotting parties — announced that quorum had been reached and called for a vote. He then left the chambers to join the walkout, handing over his duties to his Shiite deputy, Khaled al-Attiya.

Did al-Mashhadani defy the Right Arabist US Ambassador? If so, was he not implicitly doing the bidding of Right Zionists?

At the time, the vote was taken by some observers to represent a loss for the Bush administration.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

A frontal rebuke to Right Arabists, yes.

A frontal rebuke to Right Zionists? Maybe not.

[Add to this the following potentially huge news:

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani declared on state television late Thursday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most outspoken defenders of Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs after the U.S.-led invasion.

This would represent an extraordinary break with prior US attempts to court the Sunni minority.

Bolani’s roots are not with SCIRI, but they are with Shiites who favor regional autonomy and who have backed efforts to help the Badr Brigades win control away from rival militias in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

More signs of a reinvigorated SCIRI-led Shiite option?]

Our Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

When was the last time that competing US foreign policy factions backed different sides in a civil war? (Not a rhetorical question). What are the consequences?These questions are sparked by two somewhat obscure Op-Eds.

The more pominent of the two was published by Harvard’s Monica Duffy Toft in the Washington Post and entitled “Iraq is Gone. Now What?

Toft, whose website notes that her research is funded by the conservative Smith Richardson Foundation, argues that it is too late to hope for political reconciliation in Iraq. Civil war being what it is, it is now time to ask, “Which side are you on?” Which side within that civil war?

Some 3 1/2 years after the U.S. invasion, most scholars and policy analysts accept that Iraq is now in a civil war…

A negotiated settlement is what the United States has attempted to implement for the past two years in Iraq, and it is failing

Military victories, by contrast, historically result in the most stable outcomes.

[T]he United States is now faced with an awful choice: leave and allow events to run their course or lend its dwindling support to one or more of the emerging states.

If it supports the Kurds and Shiites — the two peoples most abused under Hussein, most betrayed by the United States since 1990 and, as a result, the two most worthy of our support on moral grounds — it risks alienating important regional allies: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. On the other hand, doing the right thing (supporting the Shiites) also means doing the most practical thing, which is ensuring a stable peace and establishing long-term prospects for democracy and economic development. As a bonus, it is possible that U.S. support of the Shiite majority might pay diplomatic dividends as regards Iran’s impending nuclearization.

If the United States supports the Sunnis, it will be in a position very close to its Vietnam experience: struggling to underwrite the survival of a militarily untenable, corrupt and formerly brutal minority regime with no hope of gaining broader legitimacy in the territory of the former Iraq.

Moreover, even if successful, supporting the Sunnis — in effect the incumbents in what was until recently a brutal dictatorship — will result in a much greater likelihood of future war and regional instability (not to mention authoritarianism), even with a formidable U.S. military presence (and the less-than-formidable U.S. presence has already become politically untenable in the United States).

I may be going out on an interpretive limb here, but I read Toft to be signing on in support of the Shiites in the Iraqi civil war. Yes?

I’m not sure how much Toft’s vote matters, but I find it interesting that she is picking sides.

On the flip side of the American civil war over Iraq is an Op-ed whose status seems a bit shakey. It is an essay entitled “Why We Must Embrace the Sunnis.” Allegedly authored by “Tim Greene” it first appeared on the website of “Global Politician.” It appears to have been withdrawn from the site, although the cache is available and it was picked up on third party sites before it disappeared from Global Politician.

Why track down such an obscure publication?

First, because the author, “Tim Greene,” is identified in the following way:

Tim Greene is Chief of the Anti-terrorism training section under the U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) at Camp Muwaqqar, Amman. Tim is currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.

A very interesting job. ICITAP is an interesting shop, to say the least.

Anyway, Tim Greene has written a rabidly anti-Shiite tract, even as he apparently sits in Jordan where some of the obvious potential leaders of a would-be anti-Shiite coup are in waiting.

It is evident – from this man on the ground – that the Shiites cannot govern, the militias are in revenge mode and will never be disarmed or disbanded by a Shiite leader, and they are spreading their chaos more and more throughout the country. Iran meanwhile is loving each and every minute of it and even supporting Shiites financially, with training and with weapons (helpfully smuggled across the border).

With this continued ruling of the country by Shiite parties and militias we will see the entire Middle East region destabilize more and more. In my opinion it is the beginning of an ethnic war… a holy war that has to be controlled now by whatever force and relationships are necessary to control it…

Shiite religious clerics, starting with the top Ayatollah Ali Khomeini of Iran and down to Ali Sistani, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim and Moqtada Al-Sadr could control the Shiite militias and death squads if they wanted to. All that has to happen is for Khomeini to order a cessation – ordering Sistani who will then hand the order down to Hakim and Sadr.
(The Shiites are after all extremely loyal to their religious clerics. Whatever they say is the truth, regardless of reality, fact or fiction.)

Alas, that order will never come, because they don’t want it to come. They will issue a fatwa (death order) and jihad (holy war) against the US and Coalition Forces and the Sunni ethnic population before they ever help us get control through Shiite religious ties.

So yes, the Shiites should expect the US and Coalition governments to shift their support and now is the time to do that. Although it will prove difficult to change positions, to take down the militias and get back peace and security in Iraq, the Sunnis are the group to lead us to the required balance for that “victory”, I am confident.

So, there you have it. A civil war. Or two civil wars: one in Iraq; one in Washington.

Which Side Are You On?

The Democrats and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on November 13, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

New York Times headline: “Democrats Push for Troop Cuts Within Months.” Reuters: “U.S. Democrats say will push for Iraq withdrawal

So, were the Republicans right all along? Do leading Democratics really want to “cut and run” after all?

Would that it were so.

The most prominent voice cited by the Times is that of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee. What is Levin actually saying?

“We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months,” Mr. Levin said in an appearance on the ABC News program “This Week.” In a telephone interview later, Mr. Levin added, “The point of this is to signal to the Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over and that they are going to have to solve their own problems.”

Levin’s approach is fundamentally tactical. There is no retreat here. Levin proposes to threaten the Iraqi government with US military withdrawal in order to maximize US political leverage in Iraq.

Set aside, for the moment, the bizarre spectacle of an occupying army threatening to withdrawal from a country in which the vast majority of the population allegedly favors a US withdrawal.

As the New York Times article makes clear, Levin is bluffing:

In the interview after his television appearance today, Mr. Levin said that any resolution about troop reductions in the next session of Congress would not include detailed benchmarks mandating how many troops should be withdrawn by specific dates.

And, now that the mid-term election campaigning is over, the White House is perfectly willing to acknowledge that Levin isn’t really saying anything they do not support.

The White House signaled a willingness to listen to the Democrats’ proposals, with Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, saying in two television appearances that the president was open to “fresh ideas” and a “fresh look.”…

“You know, we’re willing to talk about anything,” he said on “This Week.” “I don’t think we’re going to be receptive to the notion there’s a fixed timetable at which we automatically pull out, because that could be a true disaster for the Iraqi people. But what we’ve always been prepared to do, and remain prepared to do, is indeed what Senators Levin and Biden were talking about, is put pressure on the Iraqi government to take over themselves.”

What does Levin aim to accomplish with all this “pressure” on the Iraqi government?

The position was most clearly articulated in Levin’s June 19, 2006 “sense of the Congress” amendment regarding Iraq policy, the full text of which is available here.

Sectarian violence has surpassed the insurgency and terrorism as the main security threat in Iraq, increasing the prospects of a broader civil war which could draw in Iraq’s neighbors…

Iraq’s security forces are heavily infiltrated by sectarian militia…

The current open-ended commitment of United States forces in Iraq is… a deterrent to the Iraqis making the political compromises and personnel and resource commitments that are needed for the stability and security of Iraq…

[T]he Iraq Government should promptly and decisively disarm the militias and remove those members of the Iraqi security forces whose loyalty to the Iraq Government is in doubt…

As John McCain understands, there is a simpler way of saying all that.

Appearing on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” Mr. McCain said that “the present situation is unacceptable,”…

Emphasizing the importance of breaking the back of the Mahdi Army, the militia allied with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. McCain said the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, “has to understand that we need to put down Sadr, and we need to take care of the Mahdi Army, and we need to stop the sectarian violence that is on the increase in a non-acceptable level.”

Or, as McCain said last week: “al-Sadr has to be taken out.”

Thank heavens. The “moderates” have taken control in Washington.

Here is the blood thirsty war cry of Vice President Cheney from a pre-election, October 30, 2006 interview:

Q: …And I also want to ask you, in that same vain of American toughness in winning the war, this guy al Sadr is still out there. There’s been a warrant for his arrest for three years. His death squads, his militias, they’re killing rival Shias, they’re killing Sunnis. They tried to plot to take over the interior department in Baghdad. Why is he still on the loose? A lot of people say, why don’t we rub out al Sadr? Why don’t we take him into custody? That would be a sign of winning.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we’ve moved — obviously, we took the chief bad guy in Saddam Hussein, and he’s on trial now…

Q But al Sadr stays out there —

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well —

Q — capture.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: He is — obviously speaks for a significant number of Iraqis, has a strong following.

Is it me, or do the “moderates” seem a little trigger happy now that the election has passed?

Maybe that is because they aren’t really “moderate” about Iraq. They are simply bi-partisan in their radical approach to the war in Iraq.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Right Arabists to bring the troops home.  If they are going to try to put the Shiite “genie” back in the bottle with an anti-Shiite coup, they are going to have a lot of killing to do.
Here is a recent Brent Scowcroft interview from Turkey:

Question: You were opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Do you feel vindicated now that we see chaos there? How do you see the situation as it is today and what do you see for the future?

Scowcroft: No, I don’t have any feeling of satisfaction. Regardless of how we got there, we are there, and it is a difficult situation. Far more difficult than the administration expected. And it will be increasingly hard to stay in because it has become an unusually important issue in domestic U.S. politics. But I think we have to stay and try and manage the situation to get some kind of a resolution where we can have an Iraq that is relatively stable.

The Right Arabists will not withdraw from Iraq.

And, just for the record, they will not embrace Biden’s partition plan (no surprise here):

Question: The notion of dividing Iraq along Ottoman lines is being voiced by some in Washington. Do you think this idea will capture the imagination of the U.S. people who clearly want to see a way out of what is evidently a growing mess?…

Scowcroft: There are serious people that have advocated this. For me it is inconceivable.

It is depressing to acknowledge, but one possible scenario is that Rumsfeld was dumped to make way for someone willing to forget about “military transformation” and “force protection” and do the dirty deed that Rumsfeld refused to do: send more troops.

A pity that this has the look of a concession to “critics” who demanded nothing less.

Bush to Neocons: Game Over

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Uncategorized / 3 Comments

So, Rumsfeld is out. Robert Gates is in.

I have a few quick thoughts, just for starters.

On Gates

Notwithstanding some interesting and complicated questions about his relationship to the mysterious William Casey, CIA director during the Reagan Administration, Gates is mostly known as a “pure and simple” Right Arabist. (Of course, the same might once have been said about Rumsfeld and Cheney).

As a member of the Baker Iraq Study Group, Gates has already come under fire from Right Zionists like Michael Rubin for favoring engagement with–rather than regime change in–Iran.

[Update: for a sense of Gates on Iran, see his work as co-chair (with Zbigniew Brzezinski) of a Council on Foreign Relations task force, including a July 2004 report entitled “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Perhaps the best place to start reading is the section on “Additional and Dissenting Views” toward the end of the report.  If Gates is a “moderate” on Iran, it is because the report disappoints Iran hawks and doves.  A figure like Shaul Bakhash fears that the call for engagement may be perceived as a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.  For an old Chevron executive like Richard Matzke–always eager to do business with the Iranian regime–the report is overly alarmist in its depiction of the incumbent regime.]

When he was nominated by Bush Sr. to be Director of Central Intelligence in 1991, the Guardian had the following profile of him (Simon Tisdall, “The CIA’s New Chameleon,” May 16, 1991):

[H]is nomination is not without paradox, and certainly not without controversy. According to a former, senior CIA agent who maintains close links with the organisation, the selection has caused nothing short of “gloom” in the operations branch… “He is viewed by people as a bureaucratic back-stabber, a Casey man. He rose through the ranks by staying in Washington and playing games.”

His more public image is indeed that of the consummate Washington insider. After 25 years with the CIA and the National Security Council, Gates, now 47, rose to become deputy national security adviser, Gen Brent Scowcroft’s right-hand man

According to Washington sources, Gates owes much to Casey, who elevated him to deputy director in 1986. Subsequently he is said to have become the protege of General Scowcroft, who strongly supported his nomination.

In Iraq, Scowcroft and the Right Arabists are hardly sympathetic to the idea of Shiite rule. Does the Gates nomination mark a restoration for Right Arabist policies in Iraq? A harsh crackdown on Sadr? An anti-Shiite coup?

I was far from certain that Bush’s flirtation’s with James Baker’s Iraq Study Group were genuine. I would say that the Gates nomination tends to suggest that these overtures to the Right Arabists were genuine.

Game over for the Bush administration Neocons.

And Cheney?

So, where does all this leave Cheney? I can think of three different pathways for the Vice President in all this:

1, Cheney is about to resign. He will find a reason (health, etc.) and make way for a Vice President (McCain?) who will then use the next to years to prepare for a 2008 run for the White House.

2. Cheney continues to support the Right Zionist position in Iraq, Iran, etc. and will now function as an extremely powerful dissident, sniping at the President for betraying the “freedom agenda,” etc. I find this highly unlikely.

3. Cheney has returned to his former life as a Right Arabist. Rumsfeld was “allowed” to resign in order to pave the way for a decisive policy shift toward re-Baathification, “stability” in Iraq, a government of national salvation, etc. The former policies will forever be linked to Rumsfeld who will take the fall, providing cover for his “young” Padawan, Richard B. Cheney.

I think the third pathway is the one upon which we have now embarked.

On the Democrats

Prior to the election, I emphasized the likely continuities between Bush administration Right Zionist policies in Iraq and Dem Zionist inclinations.

If, however, the Bush administration is returning to the policies of the administration of George H.W. Bush, then Dem Zionists may actually play the role of a true “opposition” movement, much as they did when they battled Right Arabists at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

At this point, many on the Left will feel compelled to decide between backing the Bush administration and rediscovering their own affinities with the Right Zionists.

Better to stay clear of what remains an intra-imperialist factional battle.

Bring the troops home. Now.

Be Afraid

Posted by Cutler on November 05, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 4 Comments

Some important dynamics of the war in Iraq have been influenced, if not driven, by Washington politics. The mid-term elections and the coming Democratic victories will mark another turning point.

But do not expect cut and run. The next two years are likely to mark a major intensification of the war in Iraq and a renewal of the Neocon project.

Here is a time line that helps explain why:

2002 Midterms: Prior to the 2002 mid-term elections, the Bush administration sends lots of mixed signals about policy in the Middle East and alienates Right Zionists with Cheney’s tour of the Arab world.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2002 elections out of the way, the Bush administration moves toward its most strident Right Zionist policies with the invasion of Iraq and a radical program of de-Baathification in Iraq.

2004 Presidential Elections: Ahead of the 2004 elections, Rove allegedly demands “no war in ’04” and the Bush administration appears to moderate its policy in Iraq, appointing an ex-Baathist as its first Prime Minister, reversing previous de-Baathification orders, and handing Fallujah to a Baathist military officer. Brent Scowcroft predicts that a second term will see diminished Neocon power.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2004 elections out of the way, the Bush administration reverses course and reinvigorates the Neocon project, launching a massive assault on Fallujah and sponsoring three major votes–elections in January and December 2005 and the constitutional referendum in October 2005–that alienate Sunni Arabs and empower the Shiite and Kurdish populations.

2006 Midterms: The Bush administration welcomes the formation of an Iraq Study Group led by Realist/Right Arabist James Baker and suggests that it is willing to consider all kinds of tactical changes, including quiet chatter about an anti-Shiite coup.

Neocon Aftermath: It is too early to fill in the blanks regarding the Neocon Aftermath of the 2006 midterms. But one can imagine the basic outlines: hang Saddam, further alienate Sunni Arabs through US support for Shiite regional autonomy via a new hydrocarbons law, renew push toward regime change in Iran, etc?).

The general pattern of pre-election hesitancy and post-election audacity looks set to continue.

Exhibit A: Dick Cheney vows “full speed ahead” in Iraq:

It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue what we think is right,” Cheney said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not running for office. We’re doing what we think is right.”

“I think it’ll have some effect perhaps in the Congress,” he said of the election’s outcome, “but the president’s made clear what his objective is. It’s victory in Iraq. And it’s full speed ahead on that basis. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Won’t 2006 be different? After all, one might argue, the other elections resulted in Republican victories and this time the Democrats are going to win.

Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the Dems win both the House and Senate.

What will the Democrats do?

The Los Angeles Times quotes Marshall Wittmann, the figure who perfectly embodies the common ground that unites John McCain/Bill Kristol Neocons and Dem Zionists:

“It will be a new day,” said Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who is now with the moderate Democratic Leadership Council. “The real factor [Bush] has to fear is a collapse of support among Republicans, as well as Democrats.”

Some analysts, including Wittmann, expect that Democrats would use any new leverage to push Bush to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; his ouster has been demanded by a growing list of Republicans as well as Democrats.

I do not think they will manage to get Bush to dump Rumsfeld. No matter. The real issue is that Congressional pressure from some leading Democrats will be based on a bi-partisan McCain-inspired critique of Rumsfeld for not sending enough troops to win. The Democrat “critique” will function as a demand for more trooops.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol recently suggested that after the mid-terms, everything would be possible. Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

Neocons: Abandon Ship!

Posted by Cutler on November 04, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

On the eve of the mid-term elections, an impressive gaggle of Neocons have finally jumped ship.

The news comes in the form of a widely discussed, partially published Vanity Fair article where they collectively pile on with criticism of the war in Iraq.

This is big news, but there are two issues that will almost certainly get lost in the media frenzy.

First, this is not a Neocon (aka Right Zionist) apology. The Vanity Fair article is entitled, “Neo Culpa,” but that is highly misleading. Richard Perle and others interviewed for the article are conceding defeat in the factional battle with Right Arabists. They are not accepting responsibility for defeat or chaos in Iraq.

Here is Perle:

“The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.… At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.”

That is a slap at Right Arabists, plain and simple.

Michael Rubin is even more explicit about the critique of the Right Arabist position:

The president’s actions, Mr Rubin said, had been “not much different from what his father did on February 15 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up and then had second thoughts and didn’t do anything once they did.”

The second issue is that the Neocons have long been frustrated with the execution of the war and have long known that they faced serious opposition within the administration.

Previously, however, most held their tongues.

As Barbara Lerner wrote in May 2006,

In 2006, as the bloodshed in Iraq persisted and the regional situation deteriorated, I stopped criticizing our policies in Iraq for the same reason many other conservatives have lately been reluctant to do so: for fear of adding weight to a Leftist alternative that is even worse. Of course we can’t just cut and run in Iraq.

So, what has changed? Are they now prepared to cut and run?

Not a chance.

The timing of this story–rather than its content–provides the real news here. The Neocon critique of the Bush administration is, in essence, a very late prediction about the mid-term elections. The Neocons understand that the Bush administration is going down and they are already positioning themselves to help write the Dem Zionist script.

The issue is not whether the Neocons will influence the election, as Steve Clemons suggests they might. The Neocons have decided the election is over.
The point is that they are building the case for a Democrat position that argues Rumsfeld never sent enough troops, etc.

The key missive here comes from Robert Kagan, who argues that the Dems will perform well as the part of war in Iraq.

The Neocons are “neo” because some of them were once Democrats from the hawish, Zionist, “Scoop” Jackson wing of the party.  Kagan is surely correct.  The Democrats will “take it from here” Mr. President.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Posted by Cutler on November 02, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a previous post, I suggested that the primary function of high-profile proposals to facilitate the breakup of Iraq was to leverage attractive terms for international oil companies in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
Be that as it may, it may be helpful to recall where various foreign policy factions stand on the “partition” question.

Right Arabists

Right Arabists have never supported the breakup of Iraq.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft had to choose between the “breakup” of Iraq and the restoration of Saddam Hussein.

They chose Saddam Hussein over “breakup.”

As Bush and Scowcroft noted in their 1998 memoir, A World Transformed (p.489):

[N]either the United States nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Breaking up the Iraqi state would pose its own destabilizing problems.

Today, Right Arabists like Anthony Cordesman remain unalterably opposed to the breakup of Iraq.

Right Zionists

In making the case for toppling Saddam, Right Zionists were inevitably drawn into a debate with Right Arabists over the probability and desirability of the breakup of Iraq.

William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan, writing in their 2003 book The War Over Iraq (p.97), hedge on the issue of Iraqi unity:

[Secretary of State Colin] Powell and others have argued that if the United States alienates central Iraq’s Sunnis… Iraq could be plunged into chaos… But predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are… questionable…

If anything, one could argue that the aim of Iraqi unity may run counter to the aim of Iraqi stability… [M]ake Iraq a federation… A central government in Baghdad would still control most of the levers of Iraqi power, but each ethnic community would be granted limited powers of self-government…

AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht also hedges in a June 2004 essay, “Democratic Revolution in Iraq?“:

Given the regular pummeling of the Kurds by Sunni Arabs in modern Iraq, the Kurdish desire for considerable autonomy is sensible and morally compelling. There has been no bad blood between Arab Shiites and the Kurds, but the latter are well aware that a centralized Iraqi state will empower Arabs. And the Shiites have probably been the staunchest defenders of Iraqi nationalism. Sistani will not allow the Kurds to retain the authority that the Transitional Administrative Law, the interim constitution, would give them.

There is no easy answer to this. Ultimately, the Kurds have to weigh the risks and gains of independence. Washington ought not to abandon them. But it should encourage them to seek political compromises and constitutional protections that circumscribe but do not nullify the principle of one-man, one-vote. The Kurds are unlikely to find a more thoughtful Shiite Arab counterpart than Ayatollah Sistani, who in the history of Shiism can only be called a democratic revolutionary.

Others at AEI, however, are more sympathetic to the breakup of Iraq. John Yoo, for example, penned a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed in August 2005 entitled, “A United Iraq–What’s the Point?

[C]an Iraq really exist as one nation?

The Kurds and Shiites negotiated the draft charter, the Sunnis are left to take it or leave it, and the whole affair has literally papered over deep divisions about regional autonomy, oil revenues, Islamic law and more.

By demanding one new Iraqi state, the U.S. and its allies are… spending blood and treasure to preserve a country that no longer makes sense as a state, and to keep together people who only want to be separate. Iraqis might get closer to democracy, and the U.S. might get closer to its goals in the Middle East, if everyone would jettison the fiction of a unified, single Iraq.

Dem Zionists

Traditionally, liberal Democrats are the most prominent defenders of the breakup of Iraq.

I noted as much in a May 2006 post.

Senator Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb have published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:

America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.

There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:

“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (”U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)

Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.

The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.

His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.

Right Zionists vs. Dem Zionists

Notwithstanding some obvious affinities between Right Zionist and Dem Zionist proposals for US policy in Iraq, there appears to be an escalating war of words between Right Zionists and Dem Zionists on the issue of partition.

At one recent United States Institute of Peace panel discussion on Iraq (available online in a C-Span video recording of the event, at 1:07:21), AEI’s Michael Rubin questioned the motivations of partition advocates like Galbraith, suggesting that it is “easy to argue for the breakup of Iraq, especially if you are paid by the Kurdistan Regional Government” or “if you have significant interests in some Norwegian oil companies” that have signed oil development agreements with the Kurds. Rubin sugggest that it was important to “look a little bit more into motivations of some of these breakup theories.”

So, too, Reuel Marc Gerecht is poised take on the Dem Zionists. The New Republic Online is hosting an online debate between Peter Galbraith and Gerecht. The Galbraith contribution to the debate was posted November 1, 2006 and the Gerecht reply is set to be posted November 2, 2006. Should be interesting!

The White House

In the factional battles over the breakup of Iraq, George W. Bush has weighed in on the question. In an October 20, 2006 Fox News interview, Bush made the case against partition, although he hedged on the more general question of federalism.

O’REILLY: How about dividing it into three? Kurds autonomous region, Sunni autonomous, Shia autonomous and pay them oil revenues to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I strongly — I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I think that will increase sectarian violence. I think that will make it more dangerous — and so does Prime Minister Maliki with whom I spoke today… on the point you brought up about dividing the country in three, he rejected that strongly. He thought that was a bad idea, and I agree with him. I think — federalism is one thing, in other words, giving a balance between regional government and central government, but dividing is basically saying there will be three autonomous regions will create, Bill, a situation where Sunnis and Sunni nations and Sunni radicals will be competing against Shia radicals and the Kurds will then create problems for Turkey and Syria and you have got a bigger mess than we have at this point in time which I believe is going to be solved.

If the Bush administration is actually seeking to preserve Iraqi unity, then the recent parliamentary vote on a measure elaborating procedures for the establishment of autonomous regions–supported by the Kurds and some Shiites–was a major slap in the face of a Right Arabist White House.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

The SCIRI push for a Shiite “super-region” in the South may be a frontal rebuke to President Bush, insofar as he has assumed the mantle of the Right Arabist faction.

It cannot, for all that, be scored a “loss” for those Right Zionists and/or Dem Zionists who find reason to celebrate the termination of Sunni Arab hegemony in Iraq, if not yet the whole of the Middle East.

Baker Group: The Neocon Gloves Come Off

Posted by Cutler on October 24, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

I ordinarily try to offer an interpretive “reading” of articles to which I link.  For now, however, the following rant by AEI’s Michael Rubin–a full-throated critique of James Baker and his Iraq Study Group–will have to speak (or scream) for itself!

Here is the link: “Conclusion First, Debate Afterwards

A taste:

While bipartisan, the groups are anything but representative of the policy debate. I personally withdrew from an expert working group after concluding that I was meant to contribute token diversity rather than my substantive views.

Many appointees appeared to be selected less for expertise than for their hostility to President Bush’s war on terrorism and emphasis on democracy….

Baker and the Baath

Posted by Cutler on October 23, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

All the signs these days are pointing in one direction: a triumphant return of Right Arabist influence in Washington and a corresponding return of Baathist influence in Bagdhad.

Just like the old days of Operation Desert Storm and its most cynical aftermath: Right Zionist encouragement of Shiite/Kurdish forces, followed by a Right Arabist pact with Saddam’s Baathist party.

In Washington, the Right Arabists at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs are so eager for the dawn of a new day that they have gotten a bit ahead of themselves. As the Washington Post reports in an October 23, 2006 article entitled, “Fernandez Apologizes for Iraq Remarks“:

The State Department official in charge of public diplomacy for the Middle East apologized Sunday for telling the Arabic language Al-Jazeera television station that the U.S. had displayed “arrogance and stupidity” in Iraq.

Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, made the remarks in an interview that aired Saturday on the Qatar-based channel, which is carried by satellite and is closely watched in the Arab world.

Speaking in Arabic, Fernandez discussed topics such as the United States’ willingness to talk with insurgent groups in an effort to advance national reconciliation in Iraq.

“We tried to do our best,” he said during the interview, which aired late Saturday. “But I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq.”

As wire service accounts of his remarks began to appear, the state department initially said that Fernandez had been misquoted.

On Sunday, the agency posted a comment from Fernandez on its Web site apologizing for the remarks.

“Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase ‘there has been arrogance and stupidity’ by the U.S. in Iraq,” Fernandez said in the statement. “This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize.”

In truth, Right Arabists have been saying this all along. Most, however, have either done so anonymously or have waited until after leaving the service of the Bush administration.

The loose talk from Fernandez might indicate that he anticipates that Right Arabist criticism of the war will soon become official policy, presumably after the mid-term elections when James Baker’s Iraq Study Group issues its recommendations.

The other major sign of a major shift comes from the Baathist insurgents themselves.

According to an Associated Press report (via the International Herald Tribune), the US has been reaching out to Baathist insurgents:

A man claiming to be a member of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party told a television interviewer the United States was seeking a face-saving exodus from Iraq and that insurgents were ready to negotiate but won’t lay down arms.

The interview with “Abu Mohammed”, a pseudonym, was taped several days ago in Beirut, Lebanon, according to Ghassan Ben Jeddou, the network’s bureau chief in the Lebanese capital….

“The [Baathist] party and other insurgency factions are ready to negotiate with the Americans,” said the man, whose face was concealed.

The occupier has started to search for a face-saving way out. The resistance, with all its factions, is determined to continue fighting until the enemy is brought down to his knees and sits on the negotiating table or is dealt, with God’s help, a humiliating defeat.”

So, all of this points to a politics of Restoration.

These are not insignificant signs. Nevertheless, I reiterate here a few words of caution from a previous post

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

News of the death of the Right Zionists might be greatly exaggerated. Rumors of a nod toward the Right Arabists could be nothing more than a head fake for domestic political consumption.

Cheney and the Israel Lobby

Posted by Cutler on October 22, 2006
Iran, Iraq, libya, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

A new musing on some old news.

How and why did Cheney go from being a business dove–a leading US Oil Industry figure lobbying for an end to US sanctions against Iran and Libya (and perhaps Iraq)–to become the leading hawk on Iraq and Iran (but, presumably, not Libya)?

Back on July 26, 2001, Carola Hoyos and Guy Dinmore published an article in the Financial Times entitled “US Senate backs renewed sanctions on Iran and Libya” (can’t find it on-line, sorry).

Oil executives from companies such as Conoco and Chevron had high hopes that the energy sector background of Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney would prompt a resumption of US business ties with Iran, which has the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves. Mr Cheney was an especially vocal opponent of sanctions against Iran during the five years he headed Halliburton, an oil services company.

But in their new role, two factors in particular have limited their willingness to soften their stance on Iran: Russia and Israel.

The Russia angle may prove to be the more decisive factor. More on that soon.

For now, though, amidst all the debate over the “Israel Lobby” (the original essay seems to have been pulled from LRB website…) it is worth noting the following from a May 24, 2001 Financial Times article by Edward Alden, “US Congress Moves to Extend Sanctions” (available on-line through a third party here):

The US is set to renew its economic sanctions on Iran and Libya, perhaps for up to five years, despite the Bush administration’s promise of a thorough review of US sanctions policy.

The pre-emptive move by the US Congress will seriously complicate both the administration’s effort to re-think US sanctions, and its desire to expand US access to new oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea region.

Representative Benjamin Gilman and Howard Berman yesterday introduced legislation to extend the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) for five years. The bill has more than 180 co-sponsors in the House, and could be pushed to a vote as early as next month, well in advance of the August 5 expiry of ILSA.

On the Senate side, a companion bill has more than 60 co-sponsors, a solid majority

The Bush administration had been expected to push for an easing of the Iran and Libya sanctions. US oil companies with close ties to top Bush officials, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, are eager to resume operations in oil-rich Iran.

Also, the administration immediately launched a review of sanctions policy, and has been working to ease the embargo on Iraq.

But congressional proponents of the sanctions regime, backed by the powerful pro-Israel lobby, have moved aggressively to head off any debate over ILSA.

William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a business group that opposes sanctions, admits it will be “an uphill battle” to block extension of ILSA.

If I were the Israel Lobby (i.e., AIPAC) looking to publicize its power, I would cite this Financial Times analysis everywhere I could.

The Israel Lobby delivered up a surprise veto-proof majority in Congress against Cheney.

What’s a vice president to do?

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

The pre-emptive strike in Congress that may have prompted a pre-emptive strike in Iraq–and perhaps Iran.

Questions abound, among them, how/why did the Israel Lobby either drop the ball or simply lose more recently on the Libya issue?

And then there is the whole Russia question.

Still, I thought this bit of history might be worth remembering.

Haass Style

Posted by Cutler on October 17, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / 1 Comment

The Financial Times published a Richard Haass Op-Ed yesterday. It will also host an online discussion with Haass on Friday October 20, 2006. Post your questions now!

Haass runs the Council on Foreign Relations. He was James Baker’s top deputy on Iraq when the US opted to keep Saddam in power so he could crush the Shiite rebellion back in 1991. He continues to help define what it means to be a “realist” and a Right Arabist.

The Haass FT Op-Ed from October 16th is entitled “A Troubling Middle East Era Dawns.”

As Right Arabist doctrine, there isn’t much that is unexpected.

Gone is a Sunni-dominated Iraq, strong and motivated enough to balance Shia Iran

Iran will be one of the two most powerful states in the region. It is a classical imperial power, with ambitions to remake the region in its image and the potential to translate objectives into reality.

As I’ve argued in previous posts, Right Arabists fear Iranian regional power.

Contrast this with Right Zionists who don’t like the incumbent Iranian regime but yearn for Iranian regional power once the old US-Iranian alliance of the 1970s has been restored to its former glory.

Haass well understands that the demand for various routes to Right Zionist regime change in Iran all ultimately aim to increase Iranian regional power after the incumbent regime has been replaced with one aligned with Israel and the US.

Set aside, for the moment and for the sake of understanding the fears of Right Arabists, the “sanity” of these Right Zionist aims.

Haass–for all his antipathy toward the regional power of Shia Iran–rejects all ideas that center on regime change.

On a military strike on Iran:

To be sure, there are things that can be done. Avoiding an over-reliance on military force is one. Force is not terribly useful against loosely organised militias and terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the local population and prepared to die for their cause. Nor is there reason to be confident that carrying out a preventive strike on Iranian nuclear installations would do more good than harm. Military force should be a last resort here

Not endorsed. (Not ruled out, either).

On democratic regime change in Iran:

No one should count on the emergence of democracy to pacify the region. Creating mature democracies is no easy task. Those who grow up in democracies can still carry out terrorism; those who win elections can opt for war.

Ok, then. What’s left?

Diplomacy… One step that could only help would be to establish a regional forum for Iraq’s neighbours to help manage events there akin to that used for Afghanistan. This would require ending US diplomatic isolation of both Iran and Syria, which in any event is not working…

Surely, it is this kind of talk earns Haass the titles of “realist” and “pragmatist,” if not peacenik.

But the real impulse here is not Right Arabist pacifism. As Haass says himself, the real impulse is fear of the “imperial power” of Shia Iran and the threat a “Shia Crescent” would pose to Sunni Arab regional hegemony.

The “diplomacy” Haass has in mind is not for harmonious US relations with Iran. That is the Right Zionist game. The ideal of Haass diplomacy with Iran is the survival but containment of the incumbent Iranian regime.

All of this justifies great concern but not fatalism. There is a fundamental difference between a Middle Easthousing a powerful Iran and one dominated by Iran.

In the present context, Right Arabists are left defending efforts to contain “a powerful Iran” as a way of forestalling the formation of a Middle East “dominated by Iran.”

Haass talks peace with “official” Iran because his real war is with Right Zionists dreaming of “eternal Iran.”

[Update: The Haass Op-Ed discussed above is an abridged version of a longer essay published in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Highlights omitted from the Op-Ed:

It is true that mature democracies tend not to wage war on one another. Unfortunately, creating mature democracies is no easy task, and even if the effort ultimately succeeds, it takes decades. In the interim, the U.S. government must continue to work with many nondemocratic governments

Iran is a more difficult case. But since regime change in Tehran is not a near-term prospect, military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran would be dangerous, and deterrence is uncertain, diplomacy is the best option available to Washington. The U.S. government should open, without preconditions, comprehensive talks that address Iran’s nuclear program and its support of terrorism and foreign militias. Iran should be offered an array of economic, political, and security incentives. It could be allowed a highly limited uranium-enrichment pilot program so long as it accepted highly intrusive inspections. Such an offer would win broad international support, a prerequisite if the United States wants backing for imposing sanctions or escalating to other options should diplomacy fail.

The Middle East will remain a troubled and troubling part of the world for decades to come. It is all enough to make one nostalgic for the old Middle East.

I note, with great interest and humility (given my own prior reading of his FT Op-Ed, above), that Haass does not endorse containment or deterrance of Iran in the longer essay.  Instead, he endorses the incentive package most recently offered the Iranians…

Right Lightning, Left Thunder*

Posted by Cutler on October 16, 2006
Isolationism, Right Arabists / 1 Comment

How will the critics respond if the Bush administration capitulates to Right Arabist pressure (i.e., James Baker’s Iraq Study Group) and inaugurates an end-of term “clean break” with the Right Zionist course in Iraq?

Partisans, Plain and Simple

To be sure, some Iraq war critics are plain and simple partisans. These folks will attack the Bush administration for anything it decides because it derides the decider. Plain partisans feign passing interest in Iraq, but a change in course in Iraq would hardly register as significant.

The outcome: plain partisans will turn on a dime along with any change in the Bush administration. Without ever noticing, they will purge themselves of Right Arabist complaints about Iraq (too few troops, missionary zeal for democracy, naive de-Baathification, Zionist manipulation) and adopt the American Enterprise Institute homepage as their own. There they will find Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, and others lamenting the madness of US policy in Iraq (heavy-handed military occupation, coddling of dictators, naive re-Baathification, Saudi manipulation).

Plain partisans will be reliably critical of any shift in Bush administration policy. Trouble is, many of these same folks may be completely disarmed when Bush passes the torch to a Democratic administration. Anybody but Bush, right?

Such an administration could be given a free hand, when it comes to the substance of policy and the depth of sacrifice required, simply because it is not the Bush administration.

Not a particularly powerful basis for critically confronting a Democratic party that led the US to war in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam–just to name a few of the big military adventures of the 20th Century.

Foreign Policy Partisans

Unlike “plain partisans,” some anti-war activists actually dug in and developed commitments to a “line” on Iraq.

Many of these “foreign policy partisans” may have started as “plain partisans,” but they developed a specific critique of the Right Zionist character of Bush administration policies in Iraq.

That critique mirrored, in many respects, the critique offered up by the Right Arabist establishment that found itself suddenly in the “opposition” after September 11th.

Unlike “plain partisans” who risk serious cooptation only after 2008, “foreign policy partisans” face a more immediate risk of cooptation insofar as the Bush administration is currently contemplating a dramatic and decisive shift toward Right Arabist influence.

Such a shift may not actually come to pass. But if it does, “foreign policy partisans” will find themselves cheering for the Right Arabist establishment and the Bush administration.

In some cases, the “marriage of convenience” that linked foreign policy partisans of the Left to the Right Arabist establishment may endure. (Others will split, but the breakup is going to be awkward after all the sweet nothings whispered).

“Foreign policy partisans” most at risk are the ones whose critique has been the most narrowly focused on the Right Zionist menace.

Exhibit A is surely Robert Dreyfuss. But there is no reason to pick on Dreyfuss simply because he offers up such low-lying fruit.

There are plenty of writers whose critique of Right Arabists is quite dull.

Take, for example, a recent article in The Nation by David Corn, “Who’s Running Afghan Policy?

Corn begins with what would seem to be a pretty harsh critique of Meghan O’Sullivan, White House NSC deputy for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several months ago a leading American expert on Afghanistan was meeting with Meghan O’Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser in the Bush White House. The topic at hand was the attitude of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, toward the revived Taliban insurgents operating out of Pakistani territory…

[An expert meeting with O’Sullivan referred] to the Durand Line… [to note] that US efforts in the region are complicated by pre-9/11 history. O’Sullivan, according to this expert (who wishes not to be named), didn’t know what the Durand Line was. The expert was stunned. O’Sullivan is the most senior Bush Administration official handling Afghanistan policy. If she wasn’t familiar with this basic point, US policy-making on Afghanistan was in trouble.

Corn seems to be moving toward a harsh critique of O’Sullivan.

It doesn’t happen. Why? Corn explains:

O’Sullivan is not the issue. She is a protégé of Richard Haass, who left the State Department as policy director in July 2003 and became president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and she is neither a neocon nor an ideologue

The problem is that O’Sullivan, who is in her mid-30s, is not an expert in the field and does not have the stature to take on heavyweights in the Administration (say, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld). Worse, she has two briefs: Afghanistan and Iraq. Either project would (or should) be more than a 24/7 job for a senior Administration official…

O’Sullivan gets a (paternalistic) pass from Corn. Why? Apparently, any friend of Richard Haass is a friend of The Nation these days.

A pity, given Corn’s concern that “Pakistan has been colluding with the Taliban.”

As I mentioned in a recent post, Right Arabists are arguably the ones responsible for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, not because they lost out to Rumsfeld but because they won that factional fight back in 2002.

Insofar as Right Arabists recapture the ship of state, foreign policy partisans seem set to be disoriented and defanged.

Partisanship–whether plain and simple, or foreign policy focused–will not serve in the current context.

The foreign policy establishment has been engaged in an intramural rivalry between two factions–Right Arabists and Right Zionists–that offer different paths for policing US interests in the Middle East.

Those who pick a side in that battle risk being subsumed by it.

What is needed is a consistent and even-handed anti-imperialist politics.

*The title of this post owes its inspiration to an essay by Scott Tucker.

Baker’s Coup

Posted by Cutler on October 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is increasingly high-profile chatter these days about James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and the idea of a pro-Sunni Arab coup in Iraq.

After a flurry of speculation that Baker would embrace the breakup of Iraq, I think that idea has been put to rest.

In his October 9, 2006 appearance on The Daily Show, Baker was asked by Jon Stewart (Part 2 at 2:16), “You Gonna Split it Up?”

BAKER: “No, no, I don’t think we can do that.”

But then Baker quickly recovered and provided the formal response:

BAKER: “Although, we haven’t ruled anything out, Jon… That’s still one of the things we are looking at.”

Notwithstanding Baker’s back pedaling, the Right Arabist consiglieri spoke his mind and no one should be surprised by his opposition to a Right Zionist/Dem Zionist plan for the breakup of Iraq.

It should also be obvious that Baker will be praised by many as a voice of reason, but Right Zionists will protest if Baker’s Right Arabist position becomes policy.

The Eli Lake at the Right Zionist New York Sun has already published one sign (among others) of Right Zionist dissent, almost surely from one of the token Right Zionists (like Reuel Marc Gerecht) who have been part of the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups.”

Here is the New York Sun article, which includes leaked details of the Study Group’s work:

On PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show,” Mr. Baker… hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was “democratic” and one that was merely “representative.”

“If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success,” he said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. “Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative,” the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

There are at least two significant questions swirling around all the talk about impending Right Arabist coups in Washington and Baghdad.

1. Is it Real or is it Rove?

Robert Dreyfuss thinks his Right Arabist friends are on the verge of seizing control of the ship of state.

The realists may not be in charge, yet, but they’re getting there. John Warner is the muscle behind Frank Wolf, who created the ISG, and Warner isn’t happy. The military, behind Warner, ain’t happy, either.

Dreyfuss is right about Frank Wolf. And about the military brass.

But is Dreyfuss right that their campaign against Right Zionist influence in the Bush administration is actually “getting there”?

His pal Laura Rozen isn’t buying it.

So how coordinated is [Baker’s] book roll out (Comedy Central, Meet the Press, NPR this morning) with the White House in advance of the November election? My sense: totally coordinated. Is it not a very deliberately timed reach out and wink and nod to GOP realists — see, we are listening to you? The adults are in the house?… Seems Baker is a witting campaign prop being coordinated by the White House to communicate the message, the realists will be in charge of foreign policy the next two years. Without the White House having to say it, or it necessarily being true.

There is important precedent for this interpretation.

A Rozen reader (“JR”) suggests from 1972.

James Baker ploy is a subtler version of Kissinger’s Oct 1972 appearance at which he touched the breast pocket of his suit and said, about Vietnam, that the Nixon Admin had a plan for peace (‘…peace is at hand.’). Shortly after the election, the Paris peace talks broke down and two months later, the Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong began.”

As I noted in a September post, there is another, more recent example: the 2004 Presidential election.

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

2007 could be another year of living dangerously.

2. “Can we do it? Yes we Can!”

Robert Dreyfuss–aka, Bob the Baathist–is certainly keen to see the US return power to the Baathists, presumably as a way of getting US troops home.

Would it actually work? Would it turn out that way?

Swopa, for one, has long warned that such a move would likely generate a massive Shiite uprising.

The madness of contemplating a coup, though, is that the same Shiite religious hierarchy which swept Allawi out of power through general elections in January 2005 has feared such a coup as their nightmare scenario all along, and so would almost instantly call for a popular uprising that would put the U.S. in helicopters-on-rooftops departure mode.

The Shiite popular uprising is one problem. And then there are the Sunni insurgents who don’t want to align themselves with the US, even in exchange for a role in governance.

So, it would be a bloody mess (expect a media blackout, though; only the discredited Right Zionists will be complaining about the slaughter… the Right Arabist establishment that has been so happy to be featured on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” while Right Zionists rule will suddenly stop taking her phone calls. Perle and Wolfowitz might call, but will Amy Goodman welcome them? We’ll see).

But will it lead to “helicopters-on-rooftops” departure mode for the US?

I don’t know. That may be one scenario. But the other scenario is a replay of the Shiite uprising of February/March 1991.

In that scenario, US troops align themselves with the old Iraqi military. Who will stand up for the Iraqi Shiites?

Not Iran. Iran stood by in 1991. And Baker wants to “talk” to Iran because he is going to make sure they will stand by this time, in exchange for a security guarantee.

Not the Saudis, Egyptians, or Jordanians who have been complaining about a Shiite Crescent.

And not the British.

Indeed, if the Baker coup is coming then it may be time to dig up the old files on British campaigns to crush a Shiite rebellion and re-install Sunni Arab minority dominance when they inherited/”invented” Iraq from the Ottomans after World War I.

Clinton’s Right Arabists

Posted by Cutler on October 13, 2006
Dem Zionists, Right Arabists / No Comments

In a previous post, I noted that Bill Clinton’s references to “President Bush’s neo-cons” conveniently overlooked “neo-con” influence in the Democratic party and in his own administration.  Walter Slocombe at the Pentagon.  James Woolsey at CIA.

But maybe Clinton was trying to signal a change.  Perhaps the Democratic party wants to make a bid to become the party of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

Add this to the evidence pile: Hillary Clinton did a little singing from the same songbook over at the New York Daily News.

“If we could get some adult supervision right now in the administration with respect to their war strategy, this could be handled,” she said…

“I believe that if President Bush woke up tomorrow and said that he would substitute Jim Baker or Colin Powell or Brent Scowcroft or somebody who actually knows how to do things in the real world for Rumsfeld, I think the entire world would say ‘Okay, you’ve got another chance, we want to listen to you again.'”

Wow.  Really?

Going for the George H.W. Bush vote in 2008?

Good luck with that.

Baker’s Iraq Study Group

Posted by Cutler on October 10, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / 2 Comments

In a previous post I suggested that it would be very peculiar if Jame A. Baker, III–one of the leading Right Arabists in the foreign policy Establishment–embraced plans for a decentralized Iraq, as reported by the London Times.

I did not know, at that time, that Baker had appeared on ABC’s “This Week” the day before, talking about Iraq. I still have not seen an on-line transcript of the interview. But the Associated Press (via the International Herald Tribune) has offered up some quotes that only add to my sense that Baker is likely to favor an anti-Shiite coup, rather than regional autonomy for Shiites and Kurds.

Baker said, “if we picked up and left right now” Iraq would be plunged into “the biggest civil war you’ve ever seen,” with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved…

“[At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991,…] [a]s much as Saddam’s neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in ways that would play into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran,” Baker said.

Today in Iraq, “The risk is certainly there, the same risk,” Baker said.

Same risk. Same neighbors. Same Baker.

From De-Baathification to Decentralization

Posted by Cutler on October 09, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Two items in the news–both discussed in a Sunday post by Juan Cole–warrant some additional attention.

The first item–quite plausible and very interesting–concerns a Reuters report that Cheney and Rumsfeld led the campaign for the fateful May 2003 decision to support Iraqi de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi army.

The second item–totally implausible and quite startling–concerns a London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group “may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions.”

Cheney/Rumsfeld: No Likudniks, They

The report on Cheney and Rumsfeld arises from the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq. The Blunkett “revelations” accompany the release of his new memoir, The Blunkett Tapes: My Life in the Bearpit.

Reuters reports:

David Blunkett, Home Secretary at the time of the invasion, told newspapers that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could not diverted from their goal of dismantling the Iraqi Ba’athist government system.

“We dismantled the structure of a functioning state,” he said, adding that the British view was: “Change them by all means, decapitate them even, but very quickly get the arms and legs moving.”

Blunkett’s account is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the idea that the British opposed de-Baathification, favoring some form military decapitation that would allow for Saddamism without Saddam in post-invasion Iraq.

Second, it suggests that the policy of de-Baathification had the support of Bush administration principals, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Here is Cole on the Blunkett story:

Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed that the idea of dismantling the Baath-dominated Iraqi army and bureaucracy in May of 2003 came from US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (It is often blamed on proconsul Paul Bremer, but it has all along been obvious that he was ordered to do it by higher-ups). A precise timeline for the development of this policy (which had been ruled out at the Pentagon as late as March 15) and a precise account of where it came from has never been published.

It would be important to know what the role of the Likudniks was in this regard: Irv Lewis Libby and John Hannah in Dick Cheney’s office, and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and the neo-plumbers of the “Office of Special Plans“– i.e. Abram Shulsky, David Wurmser, Michael Rubin and others at the Pentagon. The decision was clearly against US interests, but an Iraq without an army may well have had a special appeal to Rightwing Zionists and their Chalabist allies among the Iraqi expatriates.

I think it has been clear for some time that the policy did have considerable appeal to Right Zionists. No surprise there.

Prior to the Blunkett claims, one might have even suspected that de-Baathification was championed exclusively by Right Zionist deputies who snuck one past distracted principals like Cheney and Rumsfeld.

This has never seemed particularly persuasive or plausible.

But Blunkett’s assertions move the spotlight off the role of the deputies and onto the role of Cheney and Rumsfeld.

As I have argued in a previous post entitled “Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney,” both of these figures had long-established records as Right Arabists, not Right Zionists.

So what were Cheney and Rumsfeld doing supporting de-Baathification?

Blunkett has made some news. But his claims only provoke more questions. On this, I completely agree with Cole: we need a precise timeline and a precise account. None have been written.

The Baker Boys

The London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group favors decentralization in Iraq simply defies all logic. Given the surprising turns of this administration, however, that may not be enough to render it false.

Nevertheless, I’ll eat my hat if this one turns out to be true.

James Baker one of the towering figures of the Right Arabist Establishment and was the principal most clearly identified with the decision to keep Saddam Hussein in power at the end of “Operation Desert Storm” rather than support rebellions by Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in search of autonomy.

Like de-Baathification, the defenders of decentralization tend to be Neocons and Zionists (Likudniks and Dem Zionists) who favor US alliances with Shiites and Kurds.

Right Arabists in Washington who favor Sunni Arab regional dominance–along with Sunni Arab regimes and most Iraqi Sunni Arabs–have vehemently opposed all policies that would compromise the “Arab” unity of Iraq.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is one of the four “participating groups” that formally constitute the Iraq Study Group. Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is the most prominent and vocal opponent of plans that support the decentralization of Iraq.

A look at the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups” does little to point toward support for decentralization of Iraq. Right Arabists are well represented (Amy Myers Jaffe, Chas W. Freeman, etc.).

The most prominent Right Zionist involved–AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–favors Shiite power in Iraq but has also looked hopefully to Shiite nationalists like Sadr to hold Iraq together. In a January 2006 Weekly Standard essay entitled “Devout Democracies,” Gerecht argued:

[T]here remains the huge fact of the Shiite population in Baghdad, which would be excluded from any Shiite semi–autonomous zone in the south. Baghdad is a majority Shiite city. And it simply cannot be compared to any other city in Iraq-certainly not impoverished and broken Basra, the other possible pole of Shiite urban influence. (The impoverished Shiite south of Iraq actually reminds one of Afghanistan.) For the foreseeable future, the centripetal power of Baghdad will remain. The exclusionary, defensive, federalist impulses of the Iraqi Shiite community… can go only so far before they provoke real, paralyzing Shiite resistance from Baghdad. If for no other reason, the Baghdad Shiite factor will likely guarantee sufficient tolerance toward the Sunnis for democratic progress to continue.

If Baker–and his Iraq Study Group–has flipped on this issue, it would represent an immense earthquake within the factional fault lines of the Republican foreign policy Establishment.

The only comparable Right Arabist defection?

Cheney and Rumsfeld’s support for De-Baathification.

Iran: Who “Sexed Up” the Intel?

Posted by Cutler on October 04, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / No Comments

Apparently, Washington Post reporter Ellen Knickmeyer isn’t going to fall for any “sexed up” intelligence reports in the run up to a war with Iran.

Confronted with allegations that Iran is arming Iraqi militias, Knickmeyer has penned an article–“British Find No Evidence of Arms Traffic from Iran“–suggesting these accusations may be fabricated.

Britain, whose forces have had responsibility for security in southeastern Iraq since the war began, has found nothing to support the Americans’ contention that Iran is providing weapons and training in Iraq, several senior [British] military officials said…

“It’s a question of intelligence versus evidence,” Labouchere’s commander, Brig. James Everard of Britain’s 20th Armored Brigade, said last month at his base in the southern region’s capital, Basra. “One hears word of mouth, but one has to see it with one’s own eyes. These are serious consequences, aren’t they?

They are. Allegations that Iran or its agents are providing military support for Iraqi Shiite Muslim militias and other armed groups is one of the most contentious issues raising tensions between Washington and Tehran…

Evidence of Iranian armed intervention in Iraq is “irrefutable,” one U.S. commander in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, told Pentagon reporters in August. The lead U.S. military spokesman in Iraq renews the allegation almost weekly in Baghdad…

Iraq’s remote Maysan province is “a funnel for Iranian munitions,” said Wayne White, who led the State Department’s Iraq intelligence team during the war and now is an adjunct scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. White said that in the first year of the occupation a well-placed friend had seen “considerable physical evidence of it, and just about everyone in al-Amarah knew about it.” Al-Amarah is the commonly used name of Maysan province…

[One quick clarification before moving to the heart of the matter: Why does Knickmeyer try to make these into “the Americans’ contentions” refuted by “Britain“? The US has been banging this drum. But–notwithstanding the investigations by these British military officials–“Britain” has hardly been silent on the issue. It was, after all, Tony Blair who issued one of the earliest, most explicit, high profile accuastions concerning Iranian efforts to arm Shiite militias back in October 2005. If “Britain” has made an about-face on this issue, Knickmeyer should dig up the PM’s retraction of the accusation. I couldn’t find one…]

White Wash

Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that Knickmeyer and her British sources have actually managed to debunk some trumped up charges about Iranian efforts to arm Shiite militias.

One of the most revealing elements in this exposé is the source of the drumbeat for the Iranian link.

Right Zionists?

Well, nobody should underestimate Right Zionist animosity toward the Iranian regime–or Sadr’s Shiite militia.

But in this instance the leading Iran hawk cited by Knickmeyer is a Right Arabist, Wayne White.

In several prior posts (here, here, and here, for example), I have argued that the same Right Arabists who seem so “dovish” on Iraq are usually quite hawkish on Iran.

That is why it should not be all that surprising to find Wayne White banging the drums about Iran.

Check out White in an appearance–opposite Right Zionist Reuel Gerecht–on The News Hour from September 21, 2005.

All of his points are drawn from the Right Arabist playbook:

WAYNE WHITE: The whole issue of militias here is critical. Throughout the country, militias have not been taken down as they were supposed to be… They’ve even been used unwisely, I believe, in some of our operations against Sunni-Arab strongholds in northwestern Iraq…

US military commanders, that the insurgency cannot be taken down militarily. It must… the solution must be political. And on a political front, we’re only moving forward in fits and starts and in some areas not at all. So that’s very, very distressing.

For White, the Shiite militias represent a crisis; the Sunni insurgency can and should be coopted.

Needless to say, this map of the world drew fire from Gerecht:

REUEL GERECHT: I would dissent a little bit. I think the American military sometimes is giving it an easy way out. I think much of the American military has not wanted to engage in a counterinsurgency campaign…

[T]he notion that you’re going to get a political solution to the Sunni insurgency I think is a bit overstated. I don’t think it’s possible to have that political solution unless you have an active counterinsurgency campaign where the Americans actually try to occupy the ground and ensure that cities remain clean of insurgents. We haven’t seen that. So far the Pentagon has gone has shown no desire to go in that direction…

All of which only goes to show that White–the guy Knickmeyer hits for sexed up “intel” on Iran–is a classic Right Arabist.

Funny, I thought Right Zionists were the only imperialists and warmongers capable of such skulduggery.

True Believer, Indeed

Posted by Cutler on October 02, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

If you take your news and your cues from CBS’s 60 Minutes, then I suppose you might believe that the Bush administration is now completely dominated by Neoconservatives–“true believers” and democratic idealists who reject the amoral realism that allowed the US to ally itself with undemocratic regimes in the name of geopolitical stability.

Just listen to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from her interview with Katie Couric, entitled “Condoleezza Rice: True Believer.”

I’m a true believer in the process of democratization as a way to overcome old wounds. And I believe that if we don’t do that, then people who have had their differences, people who have resolved their differences by violence or by repression, are never going to find a way to live peacefully together,” she says.

Is it really priority number one in terms of philosophically and pragmatically for the United States to be spreading democracy around the world?” Couric asks.

“Well, first of all, the United States is not spreading democracy. The United States is standing with those who want a democratic future,” Rice explains.

That was last week.

This week, however, priority number one is “standing with” the Saudi Royal family.

The Washington Post headline: “Rice Seeks Saudi Help to Stabilize Iraq.”

Needless to say, Rice doesn’t need Saudi help to democratize Iraq. Democracy in Iraq–a series of elections and a Constitutional ratification vote in 1995–brought Iraqi Shiites to a position of formal political power.

Rice nees to Saudis to stabilize Iraq because the Saudis are allied with the folks who are busy attacking the Shiite government.

During the trip, she plans to have a group meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the six Gulf Cooperation Council states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman….

“The countries that we are meeting … is a group that you would expect to support the emerging moderate forces in Lebanon, in Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories,” she added.

“I want the Saudis’ involvement in the stabilization of Iraq…

Saudi Arabia has a lot of standing with a number of the forces in Iraq and they have actually been very helpful in trying to get Sunnis involved in the election,” Rice said.

“So I think it would be very helpful if they were supportive of, and working toward, helping Prime Minister (Nuri) al-Maliki’s national reconciliation plan,” she added.

“They can rally people around the national reconciliation government. They have a lot of contacts among the tribes.”

“They have already been helpful. I’d like them to continue to be helpful,” she added.

Maybe I’m missing the point, but my guess is that Secretary of State Rice isn’t going to play hardball with the Saudi Monarchy regarding their own democratic legitimacy. And maybe I’ll be surprised by what unfolds, but I doubt Rice is going to “stand with” Saudi “liberals,” democrats, and dissidents while seeking help from the Royal Family.

Probably won’t press for elections anytime soon.

All of which goes toward two important points:

First, Bush administration rhetoric about democracy has little to do with its actual policies, even in the center of its foreign policy focus, the Persian Gulf.

You would have to ignore the howls of protest among Neocons in order to convince yourself that the Bush administration is actually standing with supporters of democracy–in either anti- or nominally pro-US regimes.

It isn’t so in Iran or Syria.

It isn’t so in Egypt. It isn’t so in Jordan. It isn’t so in Libya. It isn’t so in Saudi Arabia. Nevermind United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Second, the decisive battles within the Bush administration has never even been about idealistic principles of democracy.

Sure, some Neocons talk a lot about the principle of democracy.

But these folks have always been either marginal to the process or using democracy-talk to mask a decidedly “realist” agenda for tipping the balance of power in the Gulf toward a projected pro-US Shiite Crescent.

It is this “realist” Right Zionist agenda that was at the heart of US policy in Iraq. And it is this Right Zionist agenda that generates so much friction with the Saudis.

Hence, the extraordinary news of plans for a Saudi “fence” to protect the House of Saud from the Shiite Crescent.

In the Right Zionist war in Iraq, Saudi regional power was a key target.

Right Zionists and Right Arabists agree which each other that the Saudi regime fears Shiite regional power.

Richard Perle and David Frum, in their book An End to Evil (hereafter, EE) agree that the House of Saud has good reason to fear a Shia Gulf.

“[W]hile the royal family, the government, and the moneyed elite all live on the western, Red Sea side of the country, the oil is located on the eastern, Persian Gulf side. And while the people in the west are almost uniformly Sunni, one-third of the people in the Eastern Province… are Shiites…. Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state” (EE, p.141).

Sounds just like the realists — but with a crucial twist. Unlike Right Arabists, Perle and Frum think that Shiite control of Arabian Peninsula oil would be catastrophic for the Saudi state, but think it “might be a very good outcome for the United States” (EE, p. 141).

That dream is fading fast, as the US runs, hat in hand, to the Saudis.

The purpose of Rice’s visit with the Saudis surely undermines her status as a “true believer.”

But the “true belief” in question has little to do with democracy and everything to do with Iraq as the pivot upon which turns the balance of power in the Gulf.

The revolution that Rice is going to “sell out” is not only–or even primarily–a “democratic” revolution, but a Right Zionist one.

News of the death of the Right Arabist Establishment is greatly exaggerated.

Beltway Insurgency

Posted by Cutler on September 29, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Foreign policy “realists”–the folks I call “Right Arabists”–are taking plenty of shots at Bush administration foreign policy ahead of the mid-term elections. By my latest count, it’s getting to the point now where there are eight-, nine-hundred attacks a week. That’s more than 100 a day. That is four an hour.

Well… that may not really be accurate. The passage above that begins “it’s getting to the point” is actually a line used by Bob Woodward in an upcoming CBS News 60 Minutes interview to describe the level of insurgent attacks on US forces in Iraq.

I would propose, however, that Woodward’s new book–State of Denial, published by Simon & Schuster, part of Viacom’s CBS Corp.–is the tactical equivalent of an IED in the beltway insurgency of “realists” against administration “neocons.”

Can we acknowledge that Woodward’s social function–whatever his own personal politics may be–is to “channel” internal rivalries within the Republican party? Woodward’s insurgents are Republicans, not Democrats.

It has ever been thus, since Watergate and the Nixon administration. Woodward books since 9/11–Bush at War and Plan of Attack–have chronicled the battles of Bush administration “realists” against Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the Neoconservatives.

So, too, it seems with State of Denial. The factionalism angle is played down by the official CBS line which emphasizes Bush administration “denial” regarding the level of insurgent activity in Iraq.

But those reporters who skipped the press release and grabbed a retail copy (did on-line book retailers blow Viacom’s embargo on the sale of the book before its official release?) suggest that Woodward has once again delivered up a chronicle of beltway insurgency.

From the New York Times:

The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms…

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as… so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls…

The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that “Rumsfeld doesn’t have any credibility anymore”…

Robert D. Blackwill, then the top Iraq adviser on the National Security Council, is said to have issued his warning about the need for more troops… [T]he White House did nothing in response…

Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff…made a concerted effort to oust Mr. Rumsfeld at the end of 2005, according to the book…

Two members of Mr. Bush’s inner circle, Mr. Powell and the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, are described as ambivalent about the decision to invade Iraq.

De-Baathification in Washigton?

A lot of the factionalism described in Woodward’s new book is old news. And it appears that Woodward may, in some respects, have chronicled the “last throes” of the beltway insurgency. Powell is long gone. So is Tenet. So is Blackwill. Card, too.

Lower level insurgents–like Paul R. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005–have also left the administration, although they have hardly been disarmed or neutralized.

Insurgent Infiltration of the Government

Much to the chagrin of Right Zionists, however, there beltway insurgency has not yet been completely purged from the administration itself.

Zalmay Khalilzad runs the show on the ground in Iraq and he–along with the military commanders–draw regularly from the Right Arabist playbook, tilting toward a new political and military accords with Sunni Arab forces and ex-Baathists.

Traditional State Department Right Arabists like Robert Zoellick, Nicholas Burns (number 2 and 3 at State, respectively) and David Welch at Near Eastern Affairs still give Right Zionist Elliott Abrams at NSC a run for his money in Middle East diplomacy relating to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Within the National Security Council, Abrams may have the Israel portfolio, but not Iraq. That honor goes to Meghan L. O’Sullivan, deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan–and, according to the New York Times, the most senior official working on Iraq full time at the White House.

Meghan O’Sullivan is no Right Zionist. She is, rather, a protégé of Richard Haass, the Right Arabist head of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Lawrence Kaplan, in a profile of Haass in the March 26, 2001 issue of The New Republic reported:

“[I]n recent weeks [Haass has] been peddling to administration officials recommendations gleaned from a policy paper titled, aptly enough, “Iraq: Time for a Modified Approach.” Written last month by Meghan O’Sullivan, who worked for Haass at the Brookings Institution, the brief for softening the sanctions regime neatly anticipates almost every utterance Powell has made recently about Iraq–from his insistence that loosening the embargo will dispel Arab anger to the old canard that “there is linkage to the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Bush, of course, inherited Haass from his father’s Middle East team. And, with him, he’s inheriting its worst inclinations.”

Similarly, AEI’s Michael Rubin has nothing nice to say about O’Sullivan. In a December 2005 National Review article, he described clashes she had with Right Zionist ally, Ahmed Chalabi:

“Chalabi agitated for direct elections and restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. He clashed with Meghan O’Sullivan, now deputy national security adviser for Iraq, when she worked to undermine and eventually reverse de-Baathification.”

Also, Michael Rubin in a February 2005 “Jerusalem Issue Brief” reports on O’Sullivan and Iran policy:

“New National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley’s decision to remove Richard Haass protégé Meghan O’Sullivan from the Iran portfolio (she retains her position as senior director for Iraq at the National Security Council) also bodes well for a more activist policy, especially as the new National Security team again reviews Washington’s policy – or lack thereof – toward Tehran. O’Sullivan had long been both dismissive of Iranian dissidents and a proponent of engaging the Islamic Republic.”

Over at State, there is Condoleezza Rice. Whatever the tension between Rice and Rumsfeld during the first term, Rice’s move to “foggy bottom” has convinced some Right Zionists–like Richard Perle–that the Secretary of State has subsequently been captured by insurgents there.

Then there is John Negroponte, the Intelligence czar. When an insurgent Intelligence underling leaked passages from the NIE report suggesting that the war in Iraq was fueling terror, the White House worked hard to smack down the idea.

Here is how Bush responded to the charge that the war in Iraq has fueled terror:

Some people have, you know, guessed what’s in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it’s naive. I think it’s a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe.

Negroponte’s response, courtesy of a Washington Post article entitled, “Iraq Just One Factor, Negroponte Says“:

“The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives”…

Finally, somewhere in all this lurks the figure of a “Right Arabist” Godfather, James A. Baker, III and his Iraq Study Group. Baker’s group is officially independent of the administration, but the White House went out of its way to formally “welcome” the formation of the group.

Among Right Arabists who contintue to “infiltrate” the administration, the well-timed leak remains the preferred IED.

Which Side Are You On?

Right Zionists know when they are getting hit. They are sitting ducks. And they don’t really have any way of protecting themselves.

Hence the complaint of Michael Rubin at the National Review blog “The Corner.”

[T]he real problem is within the intelligence community. Selective CIA leaks are the equivalent of intelligence officials running information operations on the American public. John Negroponte and Pat Kennedy, how long are you going to allow these leaks to continue? Do you really think it healthy in a democracy for the CIA and DIA to stray from intelligence collection and analysis into politics? How many investigations have you launched? How many have concluded?

Intelligence officials–along with military officers, diplomats, etc.–are running “operations,” but the target is not only the American public, but the administration itself.

Bush himself said as much, suggesting that the recent NIE leak was “politically motivated.”

Right. But the politics are intra-mural, within the Republican party.

Are the Beltway Insurgents willing to go so far as to directly support Democratic party efforts to win control of Congress? In some instances, Yes.

In other instances, the insurgents probably hope to use election-cycle leverage to press the administration to change its policies in order to appease the insurgency.

In 2004, some Right Arabists–including those closest to Bush Sr.–retreated from a direct confrontation with the administration if it meant handing victory to the Democrats (not altogether surprising if they fear that foreign policy under the Democrats would be at least as Zionist as it has been under Bush).

This was surely the case with Brent Scowcroft whose retreat was quite public.

In an October 14, 2006 interview with the Financial Times, Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his allies, Right Zionist influence might diminish in a second term, once free from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

The implicit swipe at the power of the “Israel Lobby,” notwithstanding, the interview was surely signaled that Scowcroft a company would rather battle Zionists within a Republican administration than within a Democratic one.

Will Right Arabists begin to pull their punches as the mid-term elections approach?

Scowcroft waited until October 14. We still have a few weeks to go.

Or maybe this time, the Right Arabists are prepared to pull the trigger.

Rubaie Coup

Posted by Cutler on September 28, 2006
China, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “security news” from Iraq continues to be very, very grim. According to a recent–if generic–AP report:

The bodies of 40 men who were shot and had their hands and feet bound have been found in the capital over the past 24 hours, police said Thursday.

All the victims showed signs of torture, police Lt. Thayer Mahmoud said. They were dumped in several neighborhoods in both eastern and western Baghdad, he said….

The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell… said murders and executions are currently the No. 1 cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad.

I continue to be amazed, however, that these stories run–day after day–without any real attempt to put them in a political context.

There is some talk that this violence is not actually “political” or even “sectarian” but simply the work of rogue gangs who thrive on kidnapping and murder amidst the chaotic lawlessness of a city and country that the US refuses to govern.

I’ve got no basis for understanding much about criiminal gang activity, but why all the torture? Surplus brutality for its own sake? Simple sadism, notwithstanding, I tend to think of torture as linked to threats and demands. Are there criminal bandits making demands for ransom? If so, I’ve never seen a single report about such demands.

If the violence is “political” or “sectarian”–the work of politicized death squads–then where is the attempt to situate the deaths on a political axis. Who were the victims? Shiites? Sunnis?

It almost feels like the daily drumbeat of news of “random” violence is accompanied by a news blackout on context. Such reporting only adds to the notion that someone–anyone–should put an end to this anarchy and madness.

Speaking of a Coup

The classic formula for ending “anarchy and madness” is a military coup. I cannot help thinking that the US continues to threaten a coup in Iraq.

The latest nod in that direction comes from a September 28, 2006 New York Times article, “Military Officials Add to U.S. Criticism of Iraq’s Government,” in which unnamed senior U.S. military officials slam the Maliki government on a variety of charges:

Referring to the problem of militias, he added, “There is going to come a time when I would argue we are going to have to force this issue.”

The official said political parties who were plundering ministries were squandering chances to make progress that could reduce sectarian violence.

“I can tell you in every single ministry how they are using that ministry to fill the coffers of the political parties,” the official said. “They are doing that because that is exactly what Saddam Hussein did”…

In recent weeks American and Iraqi officials have privately voiced concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki might not have the will or the political dexterity to bring the country together and avoid a full-scale civil war. Mr. Maliki, they say, is hamstrung and beholden to rival political parties with their own large militias.

Comments offered by senior United States military officials in the last few days have been even more pointed and take in not only the Maliki administration but also the whole of the Iraqi government bureaucracy. The senior military officials agreed to speak only without being identified, because of the delicate nature of the issue.

So, who will “bring the country together” if Maliki cannot do it?

I have no idea. But I do note that there is one Iraqi official who the Times quotes along with the US military officials: Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

A Newsweek profile from December 2004 referred to Rubaie as “Mr. Cellophane” because he is everywhere in the “New” Iraq, but remains largely invisible.

Amidst several political changes–from the US-appointed government of Iyad Allawi to the elected Maliki government, Rubaie has served as “National Security” advisor without interruption.

The Times quotes Rubaie on the current government:

The situation is really serious,” Mr. Rubaie said. “There is no cohesion in the government to help him. There are so many circles he needs to take into consideration when he wants to make a decision. There is a lack of will to stop the violence among the politicians.”

Maybe Rubaie could… “help.” (Some are already predicting he will…)

The meaning of a Rubaie coup would depend on what he does and his base of support (aside from the US).

The Newsweek profile claimed that Rubaie is close to Sistani. And back in 2004 it was Rubaie who pressed for various “deals” with Sadr during his uprisings–only to have his deals undermined by Iyad Allawi. Rubaie is from the Shiite Dawa party–the same as Prime Minister Maliki.
It is, therefore, hardly clear that a Rubaie coup would make sense: he would hardly represent a radical break with Shiite rule.

Unless he was prepared to rely on a very different constituency for his support in a coup. If so, his Shiite credentials would tend to add an aura of “legitimacy” to what would, in effect, be an anti-Shiite coup.

I have no basis for thinking that Rubaie would make such a break.

I do note, however, that in Washington factional politics, Right Zionists seem surprisingly critical of Rubaie.

In a May 2004 article, Michael Rubin of AEI went out of his way to criticize Rubaie–although the charges against him were rather vague and confused:

On April 10, Bremer appointed Mowaffaq al-Rubaie to be Iraq’s National Security Advisor. Iraqis were flabbergasted. Rubaie was the butt of Iraqi jokes. Several different Iraqis say he charged Iraqi businessmen for introductions to CPA officials and access to the Green Zone. Iraqis ridiculed his lack of Iraqi support and his frequent appearances on television. “Mowaffaq’s constituency is CNN, BBC, and [the Arabic satellite network] al-Jazeera,” one Najaf businessman joked…

While State Department officials insisted that Rubaie was an important aide to Grand Ayatollah ‘Ali Sistani (Powell even dined with Rubaie during his September 2003 visit to Baghdad), Iraqis called Rubaie a fraud…

[M]any Iraqis remember… Rubaie’s time as spokesman for the Iranian-backed Islamist al-Da’wa party. Al-Dawa is suspected the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait.

Rubin charges Rubaie with being too close to Iran–a charge that would presumably apply to every other Dawa leader, including Prime Minister Maliki. This hardly makes him the obvious choice to lead an anti-Shiite coup.

But the real issue–for Rubin–would likely be the “dinner” with Colin Powell and his support from within the State Department.

This would make Rubaie a likely candidate to lead an anti-Shiite coup.

Right Zionists Ready to Move On?

There are news reports that Iraqi oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, will travel to China to discuss going forward with oil development contracts awarded under Saddam Hussein.

[Oil ministry spokesman] Asim Jihad told Reuters… “The minister will discuss with Chinese companies fulfilling previous contracts signed with the former regime.”

Iraqi oil officials have previously said they believe China will agree to develop the 90,000-barrel per day (bpd) Ahdab field in south central Iraq as the first project since the war.

The field, with an estimated development cost of $700 million, was awarded to China National Petroleum Corp and Chinese state arms manufacturer Norinco by Saddam.

The deal, like others signed by Saddam, was effectively frozen by international sanctions and then Saddam’s overthrow.

It is too early to get any reaction from Right Zionists. But this much is clear: Right Zionists like Richard Perle were quite clear, on the eve of the US invasion, that the collapse of the sanctions regime in the late 1990s forced the US to act: crumbling sanctions would mean that US rivals and competitors would get access to the oil.

For Right Zionists, China is a rival, not an ally.

If a Shiite Iraqi oil deal with China is not enough to tip the Right Zionists toward support for an anti-Shiite coup, I do not know what would.

Maybe a strategic reconciliation with Saudi Arabia on the basis of mutual animosity toward Iran?

Forget the Democrats

Posted by Cutler on September 27, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists / 5 Comments

As mid-term elections approach, it is reasonable to expect political partisans to try to make Iraq and terror into issues that divide Democrats and Republicans.

William Kristol is certainly correct to point out that Clinton’s red meat slap at Fox and the “right-wingers” behind ABC’s “The Path to 9/11″ was a calculated piece of political theater. And Kristol is candid enough to acknowledge the flip side:

Republican efforts (engineered by the dastardly Karl Rove) to paint Democrats as unreliable in the war on terror… Bush and Rove have had a few good weeks on this issue.

The crux of Rove’s strategy is to transform all discussions of Iraq into discussions of terror. And Democrats will surely be tempted to try to claim this turf for themselves by suggesting that Iraq is now about terror because of Bush’s misguided war (good luck with that!).

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal seems to rejoice in all this.

When the New York Times published elements of a classified National Intelligence Estimate report suggesting that the war in Iraq had fueled terrorist activity, the Journal essentially begged for more. They published an editorial entitled, “Declassify the Terrorism NIE” (subscription only):

So here’s our suggestion for President Bush: Declassify the entire NIE…

As for the substance of the 2006 NIE’s alleged claims, does anyone doubt that many jihadis are rallying against the American presence in Iraq? The newspapers tell us that much every day. Whether the war in Iraq has produced more terrorist hatred than would otherwise exist, however, is a matter of opinion and strategic judgment.

The White House promptly adopted this strategy. More recently, in an editorial entitled “The Decision to Declassify,” the Journal‘s editorial page focuses on the response from Democrats:

The one policymaker who appears to have been swept away on the basis of the leak is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. After Mr. Bush made his announcement, Ms. Pelosi called for the House to go into a “closed” session — the first since 1983 — to discuss the NIE. We’ll set aside the manifest absurdity of the House going into “secret session” to discuss a classified document being made public. The point of Ms. Pelosi’s stunt is to gain traction for the Democratic campaign strategy of telescoping the national-security debate down to her party’s proposal to withdraw from Iraq, thereby neutralizing the GOP’s advantage when the debate is on the broader war on terror

We will hold an election in this country in six weeks and a bigger one in 2008. The war on terror — with or without Iraq — will be central to those votes. If declassifying this national intelligence estimate helps voters in that decision, so much the better.

Hmmm. Hardly shaking in their boots.

The weakness in the Pelosi’s position is not her “proposal” to withdraw from Iraq. The key problem there is that the rest of the Democratic Party refuses to embrace a populist anti-war position.

Instead, the weakness in Pelosi’s position is the effort to try to link Iraq and terror–to use Iraq to say that the war on terror is more serious than the administration acknowledges.

I believe that is what is called an own goal. “So much the better,” as the Journal says.

An “Establishment” Insurgency

On the war in Iraq, the Bush administration does actually face a political insurgency on the home front.

The base of that insurgency, however, arises from within the [Right Arabist] Foreign Policy Estabisment itself–the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass.

This, at least, is the common complaint among Right Zionists.  In a May 3, 2004 article at the National Review Online Michael Rubin of AEI lamented:

The State Department, CENTCOM, and CIA [argue] that only a strongman or benign autocrat can govern Iraq…

Who leaked the NIE to the New York Times? Was it a partisan democrat loyal to Pelosi? Not a chance.

Forget the Democrats.

All the likely suspects come from within the “Republican Establishment.”

The “Establishment” war against the Right Zionists began with the earliest factional fights over Afghanistan and Iraq. The insurgency has been relentless and it has all been “friendly fire” from within a divided Republican administration.

Who argued against toppling Saddam before the war, while most Democrats were preparing to vote for the war? Brent Scowcroft. No Democrat, he.

Who leaked Major General Antonio M. Taguba’s fifty-three-page report on Abu Ghraib to Seymour Hersh at The New Yorker?

Who published Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror? (Answer: Michael Scheuer, CIA.)

Who published Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror? (Answer: Richard Clarke, NSC).

Who has repeatedly slammed the administration for “De-Baathifying” and “Disbanding the army” in Iraq? Retired General Anthony Zinni.

Who went public with charges against a Neocon “cabal” within the Bush administration? Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Who continually calls for the head of Donald Rumsfeld? The military brass, most recently a group of retired officers including Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste.

Are these folks in a marriage of convenience with Democrats? Yes.

Are they anti-war pacifists or isolationists? Hell no.

The point was made by Dana Milbank in his Washington Post column, “For Democrats, Welcome Words on Rumsfeld–If Not the War.”

“Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader,” said Batiste, wearing a pinstripe suit, calling himself a “lifelong Republican” and bearing a slight resemblance to Oliver North…

“Our world is much less safe today than it was on September 11,” Batiste said, echoing the administration’s newly leaked intelligence estimate.

Batiste, who retired in protest rather than accept a three-star promotion, was a persuasive witness — and Democrats were joyous…

But Democrats, while celebrating Batiste’s criticism of the administration, exercised some selective listening at the hearing when Batiste and his colleagues offered their solution: more troops, more money and more time in Iraq.

The “real” domestic insurgency is led by Right Arabists who lost control of the ship of state after 9/11. For better or worse, the “real” domestic insurgency is not led by Democrats. It is led by Republicans.

Specifically, Right Arabists.

Right Arabist Republicans like George H.W. Bush.

Right Arabists: A Hawkish Turn on Iran

Posted by Cutler on September 22, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / No Comments

This may seem like a strange time to predict that Right Arabists have taken a “hawkish” turn on Iran.

After all, was it not two days ago (Wednesday, September 20, 2006) that the Right Arabist establishment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) gathered–amidst howls of protest from Jewish and Zionist quarters–to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Where is the “hawkish” turn? The downgrading of the meeting from a “dinner” to ” light hors d’oeuvres on the side”? [The New York Times carefully reported of the hors d’oevres, “Mr. Ahmadinejad never touched them.”]

The invitation, notwithstanding, Ahmadinejad himself seems to have noted a somewhat surprisingly hawkish turn at the meeting. The Times quotes his concluding remarks to the CFR:

“At the beginning of the session, you said you were an independent group,’’ he said. “But almost everything that I was asked came from a government position.’’

Evidence of a “hawkish” turn among Right Arabists comes, not from the CFR meeting but from the recent pronouncements of Ray Takeyh, the CFR’s Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies.

By way of introduction, one might note that back in September 2003 Takeyh penned (with Nikolas Gvosdev) one of the most candid Right Arabist manifestos published on Iraqi politics, “Benign Autocracy is Answer for Iraq.”

The best that the United States can hope for is to encourage the rise of liberal autocracies that… while still maintaining close ties with the United States…

Instead of quixotic democratic schemes, Washington should create a strong central government in Baghdad, one that is responsive to its citizens but also capable of regulating local rivalries and is insulated from popular pressure.

The United States should select an efficient new leadership capable of initiating market and other reforms while also managing popular discontent with American policies…

Saddamism without Saddam, one might say.

While Takeyh may be more candid than some, his concerns are the standard concerns of Right Arabists.

Consider, for example, a September 18, 2006 Newsday essay–“New Sectarian Threats Rip Middle East“–published by Takeyh with his CFR colleague Charles A. Kupchan.

The strategic landscape of the Middle East is changing yet again as the emergence of a “Shia Crescent” running from Tehran to Beirut awakens a new sectarian divide. This earthquake began with America’s invasion of Iraq, a move that installed a Shia regime in Baghdad…

The intensifying rivalry between Shia and Sunnis promises to make an already volatile Middle East even more unstable. A new sectarian divide could sow domestic strife throughout the region, including in some of America’s key allies. Although predominantly Sunni, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has a large and restive Shia population in its eastern province. Bahrain, host to America’s Fifth Fleet, and Kuwait, a bastion of pro-American conservatism, both have sizable Shia populations.

As I suggested in my essay “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” such Right Arabist fears are longstanding.

It was precisely these concerns about “the emergence of a ‘Shia Crescent’ running from Tehran to Beirut” that led Right Arabist in the Reagan administration to “tilt toward” Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Likewise, it was the 1991 Shiite (and Kurdish) uprising against Saddam that led Right Arabists in the first Bush administration to prop up the Iraqi regime after expelling Saddam from Kuwait.

For Right Arabists like Takeyh, the catastrophic decision of the current Bush administration to push for “democracy” in Iraq has empowered Iran, just as Right Arabists long predicted.

In September 19, 2006 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Takeyh elaborated the point.

On September 12, a momentous event took place in Tehran. Iraq’s new premier, Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran eager to mend ties with the Islamic Republic. The atmospherics of the trip reflected the changed relationship, as Iranian and Iraqi officials easily intermingled, signing various cooperative and trade agreements and pledging a new dawn in their relations. It must seem as cold comfort to the hawkish Bush administration with its well-honed antagonism toward the Islamic Republic that it was its own conduct that finally alleviated one of Iran’s most pressing strategic quandaries. In essence, the American invasion of Iraq has made the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue even more difficult…

The ascendance of the Shiites maybe acceptable to the Bush administration with its democratic imperatives, but the Sunni monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the presidential dictatorships of Egypt and Syria are extremely anxious about the emergence of a new “arch of Shiism.” At a time when the leading pan-Arab newspapers routinely decry the invasion of Iraq as an U.S.-Iranian plot to undermine the cohesion of the Sunni bloc, the prospects of an elected Shiite government in Iraq being warmly embraced by the Arab world seems remote.

A Search for Common Ground with Iran

Nevertheless, Takeyh’s fears have, until now, been tinged with hope for finding common ground with Iran.

In January 2006, for example, Takeyh argued that Iran had reason to share his commitment to a strong, centralized government in Iraq. In an International Herald Tribune Op-Ed published with Charles A. Kupchan, Takeyh argued,

The United States and Iran have many common interests in Iraq, providing a unique opportunity for Tehran and Washington to edge toward normalization. Tehran, like Washington, is keenly interested in avoiding a civil war and sustaining Iraq as a unitary state. Iranian elites support a democratic Iraq, fully aware that consensual arrangements for power-sharing among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are vital to Iraq’s survival…

Iran’s seminaries, clerics, politicians and businessmen hold powerful sway over elites in Baghdad as well as local leaders. Tehran’s interest in preventing the fragmentation of Iraq gives it reason to encourage all Shiite parties, including the independent militias, to work with the central government and resist secessionist temptations.

Those hopes appear to have been dashed by the recent Shiite push for regional autonomy in Iraq. On September 11, 2006 the International Herald Tribune reported,

Over the weekend, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is close to Iranian leaders, renewed his call for a massive eight-province southern autonomous region, stretching from Kut to Basra, that would include much of the country’s Shiite population and oil wealth. Such a step, he suggested, is necessary to protect Shiites against a return to despotism.

As Takeyh conceded in a September 14, 2006 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered

Iraq is not going to have a strong central government. Iraqi constitution itself recognizes that Iraq will have strong provisional governments and a weak central government. In the future in ideal terms… contending federal enclaves would come together in the central government… But the future of Iraq as envisioned by the constitution and as developments on the ground are moving is likely to be a state with strong provinces and a weak central government.

Containment, Not Regime Change

Notwithstanding his alarm at the growing power of Iran and his disappointment regarding Iranian influence in Iran, it is important to note the ways in which Takeyh’s posture toward Iran–however hawkish it may now become–remains fundamentally different from that of Right Zionists and Neoconservative Unipolarists.

As I have argued in several previous posts (here, here, here, and here, for starters), Right Zionists are hawkish toward the incumbent regime–what they call “official Iran.” But in the long run, Right Zionists are not at all “anti-Iranian.” Indeed, they dream of restoring US and Israeli alliances with a strong, post-revolutionary regime, grounded in what they call “eternal Iran.”

For Right Zionists, regime change is the essential–if missing–ingredient US policy toward Iraq.

Not so Right Arabists like Takeyh.

Back in the 1970s, Right Arabists criticized US reliance on the Shah to police the Persian Gulf because they feared that the US-Iranian alliance under Nixon and Kissinger was an attempt to tilt the balance of power away from the US-Saudi alliance.

The last thing Right Arabists want to see is a restoration of a powerful US-Iranian alliance.

Takeyh said as much in his recent Senate testimony where he rejected reconciliation, proposing instead a “model of engagement” for containing Iranian regional power.

In essence, this model of engagement does not seek reconciliation between the two antagonists

The proposed engagement strategy appreciates Iran’s resurgence and seeks to create a framework for limiting the expressions of its power. The purpose of engagement is not to resolve all outstanding issues or usher in an alliance with the Islamic Republic…

As such engagement becomes a subtle and a more effective means of containment.

Indeed, in his Newsday essay, Takeyh insisted,

[T]he Bush administration’s top priority must be containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Afghanistan: The Salad Days

Posted by Cutler on September 07, 2006
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

It will be tempting for critics of the Bush administration to read news of a new peace treaty between Taliban forces and the Pakistani government as one more way to criticize the war in Iraq.

“See?… We were supposed to be fighting the actual war on terror. But we didn’t. Instead we were distracted by a cabal of Neoconservatives into fighting the wrong war in Iraq. Now, our real enemies are on the rise again in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

(Has somebody already said all this? Probably. The “quote” above is hypothetical, but I would welcome any links).

There are both dangers and errors in this tempting line of criticism.

Danger, Will Robinson…

The danger, for the Left, is in trying to hit the Bush administration from its Right.

File this under “Careful What you Wish” (CWW for the IM crowd?).

Do you really want to be more hawkish than this administration? Or is this simply about demonstrating Bush administration hypocrisy?

Do you really prefer a consistent Bush administration that actually stays the course in its Global War on Terror?

Some may very well answer, Yes. Such hawks should not hide behind the softer charge of hypocrisy so they can “hang” with the groovy anti-war crowd.

For those who answer, No, it might make more sense to understand why the Bush administration has let Afghanistan slip.

Remembering Factionalism: The Salad Days

With the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, let’s take a stroll down memory lane back to the early days of the War on Terror.

There is a tendency to think of Afghanistan as the “consensus” war and Iraq as the source of discord. Not so within the Bush administration.

Factionalism after 9/11 did not start because some in the administration wanted to talk about Iraq. It started with Afghanistan.

Recall, for example, a Willliam Kristol Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “Bush vs. Powell,” archived on the website of the Project for a New American Century.

It is a great opening salvo in the factional war between Right Zionists like Kristol and Right Arabists like Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The president devoted a good chunk of his speech to an indictment of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan: “In Afghanistan we see al Qaeda’s vision for the world. Afghanistan’s people have been brutalized . . . we condemn the Taliban regime.” Further: “By aiding and abetting murder the Taliban regime is committing murder.”…

On Sunday, by contrast, the secretary of state drew a distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban, and more or less dismissed concerns about the Taliban: “With respect to the nature of the regime in Afghanistan, that is not uppermost in our minds right now. . . . I’m not going to say that it has become one of the objectives of the United States government to either remove or put in place a different regime.”

At the time, it might have seemed like Powell was simply playing the anti-war dove. Maybe. But there were also regional strategic issues involved.

The Taliban was a product of the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis were closely aligned with the Saudis. Right Arabists were not prepared to break any of these ties.

By contrast the “Northern Alliance” (remember them?) were aligned with Iran and India. And India was closely aligned with Israel. And Iran was once Israel’s best friend in the region. Right Zionists wanted to topple the Taliban as the first step in a regional re-alignment that would ultimately break the alliance between the US and the Saudis.

Kristol (with Robert Kagan) wrote a follow-up on the factional battle over Afghanistan in a November 26, 2001 Weekly Standard article entitled “A Winning Strategy.”

The original strategy, promoted especially by State Department officials under Secretary of State Colin Powell, in cooperation with the CIA, was unenthusiastic about too rapid a military advance by the Northern Alliance against Taliban positions in the north and around Kabul, and was therefore not designed to aid such an advance.

From the very outset, even before the bombing began on October 7, there was a fundamental disagreement between the Pentagon and the State Department over how to manage the situation in Afghanistan. On September 26, the Washington Post reported an “ongoing debate” between the State Department and the Pentagon over the objective. Pentagon officials wanted to “ensure that the campaign ends with the ouster of the Taliban.” But State Department officials argued the administration should “be cautious and focus on bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.” Secretary Powell was reluctant to make the overthrow of the Taliban the stated objective of the war.

The State Department’s position reflected concern for the sensitivities of the Pakistani government and its nervous president, General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan had long supported the Taliban, and the government wanted a guarantee that some Taliban elements would have a share in any postwar government. The Pakistanis were also acutely hostile to the Northern Alliance and wanted to make sure that it would be kept out of a new government or would have at most a minimal role…

[T]he State Department pursued what became known as the “southern strategy.” State Department and CIA officials worked arduously to put together a Pashtun coalition acceptable to Pakistan. In the process, attempting to sweeten the pot, the State Department made a significant compromise regarding the future role of the Taliban. Secretary Powell, meeting with President Musharraf in the second week of October, agreed with the Pakistani president that “moderate” Taliban members might be able “to participate in developing a new Afghanistan.”

This is the background story of factionalism that led us to the current moment in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Those who want to use the fact of a resurgent Taliban to whip the neocons for their war in Iraq should be very clear: you are playing on their home turf.

The Right Zionists would be the first–indeed, they were the first–to criticize Right Arabist compromises with Musharraf and the Taliban.

Iraq: Back to Square One

Posted by Cutler on September 06, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “political” scene in Iraq has been muddling through for some time now, not least because of major inconsistencies in US policy.

At the start of the war, the US made different–and largely incompatible–promises to different sectors of Iraqi society.

Iraq’s Sunni military officers were told that the US was interested in nothing more than “Saddamism without Saddam.”

Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds were told to prepare for a social revolution in Iraq: de-Baathification and the end of Sunni minority rule in Iraq.

Since those days, the Bush administration has flip-flopped on this question, twisting and turning with dramatic but totally inconsistent policies, each favored by rival Bush administration factions (for the latest salvo in that factional war, see Right Zionist Frank Gaffney‘s most recent attack on Right Arabist influence at the State Department).

Paul Bremer’s May 2003 de-Baathification order–hailed by Right Zionists–was immediately followed by Bremer’s own efforts to take it all back, culminating in the US appointment of ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi as the Iraqi Prime Minister in June 2004–a victory for Right Arabists.

Then the US sponsored elections in 2005–celebrated by Right Zionists–but continued, under Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, to seek reconciliation with various elements of the Sunni resistance, as suggested by Right Arabists.

After all this wavering and waffling, it was beginning to look like the US might simply stall indefinitely on these questions, keeping all parties in Iraq “on their toes” through policies designed to keep everyone guessing about US intentions.

That trend may continue, but there have been some signs in recent days that the US may be pressed to come clean on the old, central political issue of Sunni minority rule.

Bring Back the Baath

On the Sunni side, there was the extraordinarily clear and simple statement by a group of Sunni tribal leaders: Bring Back Saddam Hussein.

The news came in a September 3, 2006 Washington Post article entitled, “A Demand for Hussein’s Release,”

A coalition of 300 Iraqi tribal leaders on Saturday demanded the release of Saddam Hussein so he could reclaim the presidency and also called for armed resistance against U.S.-led forces.

The clan chieftains, most of them Sunni Arabs, included the head of the 1.5 million-member al-Obeidi tribe, said they planned to hold rallies in Sunni cities throughout the country to insist that Hussein be freed and that the charges against him and his co-defendants be dropped.

These are hardly the first signs of Sunni Arab resistance to US policy. That is not the novelty. What is striking about the statement is the simplicity of the demand: let’s go right back to SQUARE ONE.

Nothing subtle here like support for an ex-Baathist like Allawi. Not Saddamism without Saddam. Nope. Saddam Hussein himself.

Sistani: Can You Hear Me Now?

At roughly the same time, there have been some rumblings from Grand Ayatollah Sistani–the most senior Shiite cleric in Iraq.

On the one hand, there is the widely circulated September 3, 2006 report in the Telegraph that Sistani is essentially quitting the political front.

I will not be a political leader any more,” he told aides. “I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters.”…

Asked whether Ayatollah al-Sistani could prevent a civil war, Mr al-Jaberi replied: “Honestly, I think not. He is very angry, very disappointed.”

He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani’s decision. “He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him,” he said. “After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad.”

The guilt-tripping about how nobody comes to visit anymore seems to have worked wonders: the same Washington Post article that reported on the “Free Saddam” confab also reported that Sistani had a special visitor:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to the southern city of Najaf on Saturday to discuss the deteriorating security situation with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite leader in Iraq. Sistani’s office said in a statement after the meeting that he supported Maliki’s 28-step national reconciliation plan and called on the government to quickly reduce violence in the country before other groups, such as armed militias, fill the void.

If folks at the Telegraph thought that Sistani’s complaint that nobody comes to visit made him sound like he was settling in for life as a retired grandparent, Sunni political leaders in Iraq were not so sure.

According to an Associated Press report, Maliki’s visit to Sistani prompted complaints from Sunni MP Saleh al-Mutlaq:

Al-Mutlaq… unleashed a barrage of criticism against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national unity government, saying it should not be taking its cue from the top Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

“…I say we don’t need to visit anyone as a government, an independent government that should be making its decisions on its own, not based on (directions) from a religious authority.”

Maliki went to see the Ayatollah with recent “coup” rumors on his mind.

Back in late July 2006, reports of such a coup hit the US media. An article in the Washington Post quoted concerned Shiite politicians:

Hadi al-Amiri, a member of parliament from Iraq’s most powerful political party, said in a speech in the holy city of Najaf that “some tongues” were talking about toppling Maliki’s Shiite-led government and replacing it with a “national salvation government, which we call a military coup government”

A new government would mean “canceling the constitution, canceling the results of the elections and going back to square one . . . and we will not accept that,” he said.

Amiri is also a top official in the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the leading member of a coalition of Shiite political parties governing Iraq.

At that time, bloggers in the US (including Praktike and Swopa) wondered how Sistani would respond to such a coup?

So, it seems, did Prime Minister Maliki.

According to at least one report on Arab media coverage of the meeting, Maliki got nod he was looking for from Sistani:

In a press conference following the meeting, Maliki told journalists that ‘Sistani stands as a support for the government,’ emphasizing that the government was able to solve the problems in the country and not ‘a salvation government’ which ‘enemies of the political process’ call for.

And, not coincidentally, Sistani got confirmation that Maliki would resist calls to dump Sistani’s closest ally in the government, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani.

Far from stepping back from the “political front,” Sistani may actually be stepping up.

Amidst all the political alternation of Bush administration policy and the recent chatter about US support for a coup, Sistani seems ready to press the Bush administration for some clarity, especially with reports in the news that James Baker–Secretary of State during the administration of George HW Bush and a leading Right Arabist critic of Shiite empowerment–was in Iraq meeting with Sunni leaders.

Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s Shiite Deputy President, made a “private visit” to Washington to meet with administration figures including Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

According to a Jackson Diehl column in the Washington Post–“Not Wanted: An Exit Strategy“–Mahdi was sent to Washington on behalf of Sistani to ask, amidst all the factionalism and waffling in the Bush administration, if the US was prepared to back Shiite rule or support an anti-Shiite coup:

[Mahdi] was here to deliver a message, and ask a question, on behalf of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who remains Iraq’s single most influential figure — and the linchpin of the past 40 months of political reconstruction. Sistani’s message to Bush, Mahdi told a group of reporters I joined last week, was that “Iraqis are sticking to the principles of the constitution and democracy.” But the ayatollah wanted to know if the United States is still on board as well.

“It’s a critical moment. We want to be sure that we understand perfectly what’s going on, and what is the real strategy of the United States in Iraq,” Mahdi said. “We read in the press about different perspectives and attitudes. That’s why we want to be clear — whether there is a Plan B.”

According to a report in the Financial Times (Guy Dinmore, “Bush Holds to Rhetoric of No Appeasement As Critics Fred Over Failures,” September 4, 2006; subscribers only), Mahdi got something like an answer from Washington:

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s vice-president, said he came to Washington last week to ask Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, the vice-president, what their “real strategy” was in Iraq, whether there really was a “plan B” as talked about in the media – all in the context of US domestic politics and the election build-up. In reply, he was told the Bush team would hold “steady”.

Mr Abdul-Mahdi also carried an unusual verbal message to the White House from Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shia Muslim cleric. The spiritual leader expressed Iraqis’ commitment to democracy and their constitution and called on “others” to stick to those principles.

A regional expert who advises the White House said Mr Abdul-Mahdi came to Washington because the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, was losing its trust in Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to Baghdad.

Was Sistani comforted to know that the Bush administration would hold “steady”? In the context of all the administation’s zigzag approach to Iraqi politics, what would it even mean to hold “steady”?

How long can the Bush administration delay the day of political reckoning with a “steady” policy of oscillation and vacillation?

Sistani, for one, seems ready for a reckoning.

Guess Who Favors US Troops in Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on August 24, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

I was wrong.

I have been trying to figure out why nobody has been proposing sending US troops in Lebanon, especially in light of widespread “disappointment” with Israel’s campaign and growing “reluctance” on the part of France to lead a robust Multinational Force.

Most recently (here and here), I speculated about the possibility that Right Zionists would like to see US forces in Lebanon but might have quietly abandoned that idea when told by Karl Rove & Co that the administration was not prepared to take (more) casualties ahead of midterm elections.

Maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree. Like Ken Silverstein, I was expecting Right Zionists to be the primary champions of a US troop presence. After all, the most pro-Israel factional players in the Reagan administration–e.g., NSC staffer Howard Teicher–were also the most ardent advocates for an active US military mission in Lebanon back in 1982 and 1983. Right Arabists like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were the most reluctant.

Well, I recently stumbled upon a Baltimore Sun Op-Ed by Drew Bennett, a Marine colonel on the faculty at the National War College, who warns against deploying troops in Lebanon. It was Bennett who noted what I had overlooked:

Although the Bush administration says that it does not plan on putting troops on the ground, some – including former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft – suggest that the United States might need to send peacekeepers into Lebanon

Bennett is correct.

In my own previous post on Brent Scowcroft’s July 30, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon” I completely overlooked the following passage:

The obvious vehicle to direct the process would be the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations), established in 2001 for just such a purpose. The Quartet, beginning at the foreign-minister level, would first organize the necessary international force for southern Lebanon and Gaza and then call for a cease-fire. The security force would have to have the mandate and capability to deal firmly with acts of violence. Ideally, this would be a NATO, or at least NATO-led, contingent. Recognizing the political obstacles, the fact is that direct U.S. participation in such a force would be highly desirable — and perhaps even essential — for persuading our friends and allies to contribute the capabilities required.

Ok, then. [Note: “Recognizing the political obstacles”–i.e., popular resistance to taking casualties, right?]
Warrent Christopher hits the same note in his July 28, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “A Time to Act.”

[T]he United States has an indispensable role to play. A succession of Israeli leaders has turned to us, and only us, when they have concluded that retaliation for Hezbollah attacks has become counterproductive. Israel plainly trusts no one else to negotiate on its behalf and will accept no settlement in which we are not deeply involved. Further, based upon my experience in helping bring an end to the fighting in the Balkans, the Europeans are unlikely to participate in a multinational enforcement action until the United States commits to putting its own troops on the ground.

No doubt about it. Here are two significant “Arabist” figures–one Republican and one Democrat, both held in contempt by Right Zionists–calling for US troops in Lebanon.

Now the hard part: what does it mean?

As I’ve mentioned before, the current conflict in Lebanon seems, in many ways, like a replay of 1982. But it is surely tempting to think that this issue–the source of pressure for US troops–marks a very significant change of some sort.
Ideas?

Khalilzad on Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on August 12, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The New York Times includes an article today entitled “U.S. Ambassador Says Iran is Inciting Attacks.” I bring it up primarily because it relates directly to my recent post–“Keyser Söze in Sadr City“–and the notion that recent US raids in Sadr city are aimed at a “splinter” group of Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The Times reports:

The Shiite guerrillas behind the recent attacks are members of splinter groups of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia created by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalilzad said.

The splinter groups have ties to Iran, which is governed by Shiite Persians, and to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Arab militia in Lebanon that has been battling Israel for a month, the ambassador added.

There is evidence that Iran is pushing for more attacks, he said, without offering any specifics. But he acknowledged that there was no proof that Iran was directing any particular operations by militias here

Despite the recent attacks by the splinter groups, Mr. Khalilzad insisted that the most powerful Shiite leaders in Iraq had not yet pushed for more violence against the Americans, even though Iran would like them to. That includes Mr. Sadr, he said.

“Generally the Shia leadership here have behaved more as Iraqi patriots and have not reacted in the way that perhaps the Iranians and Hezbollah might want them to,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

All of which goes to my prior speculation about “Sadr’s own complicity in a purge of more radical, anti-US Sadrist factional players.

It should also be noted that Khalilzad has frequently tried to advance “Right Arabist” goals during his tenure as US Ambassador in Iraq. I would note that his desire to pin US troubles in Sadr City directly to Iran–even as he acknowledged that there was “no proof” of this–certainly does little to challenge my argument–in a previos post–that in the current context, many Right Arabists are as “hawkish” on Iran as Right Zionists.

As the Times article suggests,

Mr. Khalilzad’s comments also reinforce the observations of some analysts that the rise of the majority Shiites in Iraq, long oppressed by Sunni Arab rulers, is fueling the creation of a “Shiite crescent” across the Middle East, with groups in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon working together against common enemies, whether they be the United States, Israel or Sunni Arab nations.

Just to be clear: that is the whole ball of wax–Act Two of the Bush Revolution–in a nutshell.  The “United States, Israel [and] Sunni Arab nations” fighting against “common enemies” of a “Shiite crescent.”

Who Killed the Cedar Revolution?

Posted by Cutler on August 11, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

George Ball, in his canonical 1992 Right Arabist book The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel, 1947 to the Present (hereafter, PA), argues that the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon had two objectives.

At a minimum, Israel wanted to undermine the PLO as a political force in Lebanon. Likewise today, only with Hezbollah playing the role of the PLO (the distinction is mainly important because it has significant implications for the reaction of the Arab world; the PLO could rely on far greater support from Gulf Arabs than Hezbollah).

But, Ball insists, Israel’s “first objective” was accompanied by its second:

“the installation of a minority Maronite Christian government to rule over a Lebanese protectorate which would conclude a separate peace with Israel” (PA, p.120).

Ball calls this second objective the “grand design” that dates at least as far back as David Ben-Gurion’s 1948 diary entry cited by Ball:

“the weak link in the Arab coalition is Lebanon… A Christian state must be established whose southern border will be the Litani. We shall sign a treaty with it” (PA, p.120).

As regards the current situation, a very similar “dual objective” position has been outlined by Dore Gold in his July 17 brief regarding the outbreak of fighting with Hezbollah, “The Opening Round of Iran’s War Against the West.”

Gold elaborates the specifics regarding a “first objective”:

So what should be the aims of the entire Western alliance – including Israel – in the current conflict? The chief goals are: First, full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that call for the complete dismantling of Hizballah and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israel-Lebanon border instead. Second, the removal of all Iranian forces and equipment from Lebanese territory, along with any lingering Syrian presence.

But Gold goes on to suggest that the contours of a contemporary “grand design.”

At the same time, there is a need to recognize that this is a regional war. Iran is seeking to dominate Iraq, particularly its southern Shia areas – the provinces where British troops are deployed – and hopes to encircle both Israel and the Sunni heartland of the Arab world. Syria is Iran’s main Arab ally in this effort. There is no question that Iran’s main aim is to dominate the oil-producing areas by agitating the Shia populations of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Defeating Iran’s opening shot in this Middle Eastern war is not just Israel’s interest, but the collective interest of the entire civilized world.

There are at least two things worth mentioning in reference to Gold’s grand design. First, unlike the 1982 Israeli invasion described by Ball–which aimed to court Lebanese Shia animosity toward Sunni and PLO political domination–the current “design” is intended to court Sunni Arab animosity toward Hezbollah, Syrian, and Iranian political domination in Lebanon.

Second, Gold’s “design” has not necessarily been adopted by the incumbent Israeli government. Gold is a Netanyahu Likudnik. Labor party Zionists like David Kimche who favor negotiations with Syria were relieved when the Likuk party–which refused to join Sharon in the formation of the “centrist” Kadima party–did relatively poorly in the most recent Israeli election.

Indeed, there are signs that the Right Zionists (neocons; US Likudniks) may be closer to power in Washington than they are in Israel. This may account for some of the recent tension between the Right Zionists in Washington and the government of Israel.

See, for example, an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “US Neocons Hoped Israel would Attack Syria.”

The White House, and in particular White House advisors who belong to the neoconservative movement, allegedly encouraged Israel to attack Syria as an expansion of its action against Hizbullah, in Lebanon. The progressive opinion and news site ConsortiumNews.com reported Monday that Israeli sources say Israel’s “leadership balked at the scheme.”

See, also, Charles Krauthammer’s criticism of the Olmert government, noted in a previous post.

War As Politics?
In his account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, George Ball suggests,

“Israeli leaders knew that timing was of the essence. Lebanon was required to elect a new president by August 23, 1982, and the IDF had to be in Beirut before that… Israel’s problem was to find, or create, an ‘internationally recognized provocation’…” (PA, p.122).

Back in ’82, Ball reports “a terrorist group obligingly furnished Israel with at least a shadowy casus belli by shooting in the head an Israeli envoy post in London” (PA, p.123).

In 2006, the July 12 Hezbollah raid furnished the casus belli.

The Israeli response to the Hezbollah raid is not merely “disproportionate,” however. It involves ambitious goals that seek to go beyond a return to the “status quo ante,” as Secretary Rice said at the start of the crisis.

So if the Hezbollah raid was the “manifest” trigger, what was the “latent” trigger, in terms of long-term Right Zionist “grand designs”?

Can the current war be either divorced from–or worse, at odds with–an Israeli agenda for the long-term contours of Lebanese politics?

One increasingly popular view is that the Israeli military tactics have actually undermined Israel’s political objectives. This perspective finds some support in an important Newsweek article, “Now Comes the Next War.”

Soon comes its next fight—a postwar political reckoning. Whether the [Hezbollah] party emerges from the current conflict weaker or stronger—and stronger seems the answer now—it will then have to battle the country’s other political, religious and ethnic groups for the soul and identity of Lebanon…

This face-off will transcend borders, for it is a microcosm of the wider struggle in the Middle East. On one side is the American-led West and Israel, with some very quiet Arab allies; on the other is the movement to affirm an Arab-Iranian-Islamist identity…

Even now, the military clash is largely a political war of wills, deterrence and resistance, at least in Hizbullah’s view. Holding out for a month and emerging to negotiate a ceasefire represents, to many, a considerable victory. Yet within Lebanon itself, the fighting has both accelerated and camouflaged deep political tensions.

Before the war, just over half the Lebanese said they supported Hizbullah’s role as an armed resistance group that deterred Israeli attacks. Two weeks after the fighting started, more than 85 percent of Lebanese in one poll said they supported Hizbullah’s military attacks against Israel. This included 80 percent of Christians, a figure that was obviously inflated by anger against Israel for its savage attacks against all parts of Lebanon, not just Hizbullah strongholds in the south.

Joshua Landis over at Syria Comment has been quoted along similar lines in the Los Angeles Times.

The decision by President Bush not to support the Lebanese government’s plea for a cease-fire, even though that government has been backed by the United States, has dealt a further blow to public feelings about the U.S. in the region.

Members of the governing bloc in the Lebanese parliament, led by Saad Hariri, “are the most pro-American Arabs in the Middle East. They have promised, ‘America will protect us if we stand against Syria,’ ” said Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Now Israel is “blowing the hell out of them, and America isn’t taking one step to protect them,” Landis said. “The whole Arab world is going to look and see that Hariri has been sacrificed on the altar of Israeli power.…”

The most important thing to know about Saad Hariri is not that he is “the most pro-American” Arab in the Middle East, but that he is the most pro-Saudi Arab in Lebanon.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the father of Saad Hariri. It was the murder of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 that focused a powerful spotlight on Saudi-Syrian rivalry over political and economic control of Lebanon, especially once Saudi Arabia pushed Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

For Right Zionists, the murder of Hariri established the conditions for a dramatic realignment of Lebanese politics by prying Saudi Arabia away from Syrian and Iranian political forces in Lebanon. In the so-called “Cedar Revolution” Right Zionists hoped to establish and support an alliance between Lebanon’s pro-Saudi Sunni Arab political forces–now led by Saad Hariri and Rafik Hariri’s former aide (and current Lebanese Prime Minister) Fouad Siniora–and the traditional anti-Syrian Christian (and Druze) opposition that Israel has always courted.

If that alliance–the so-called “March 14 Forces,” named for the day in 2005 when there were huge anti-Syrian rallies in Beirut one month after Mr Hariri’s assassination–was strong and steady prior to the Israeli invasion, then it would be difficult to discern what plausible Israeli advantages might have been anticipated on the basis of the invasion.

Although it is far from certain that the invasion will in any way help the “March 14 Forces,” Israel might have had good reason to fear that prior to the Hezbollah raid, Saudi Arabia was doing everything within its power to paper over Saudi-Syrian tensions in Lebanon and to re-align pro-Saudi forces in Lebanon with pro-Syrian forces and Hezbollah.

Setting aside some fo the important details of Saudi involvement in Lebanon after the murder of Hariri, it is clear that by January 2006 a Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was in the works.

According to news reports (here and here) and commentary (esp. that of Pat Lang, here, and–for a different interpretation–that of Tony Badran, here) the deal was sealed at a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi Kind Abdullah in January 2006.

As Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis suggested at that time,

Now, Washington will have to deal with the Kingdom. If the “kowtow” was convincing, Abdullah et al will not want their “satellite” disturbed much more.

It is into this context–not the full-flowering of the Cedar Revolution–that Israel intervened.

Will the Israeli invasion “save” the Cedar Revolution and reinvigorate Saudi-Syrian tension? It may be too early to say for sure, but the chances look increasingly slim.

Did the Israeli invasion “kill” the Cedar Revolution? No. It was already dead.

Seems Like Nothing Has Changed (Since 1982!)

Posted by Cutler on August 07, 2006
Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

I know it seems like Condi Rice has been stalling on the whole diplomatic search for an immediate ceasefire. And I’m sure it seems like the delays have been designed to give Israel time to score some military victories on the ground in Lebanon before introducing a UN resolution. As it turns out, Rice was simply being gracious, insuring that US or Israeli policy would be frozen in time during my two-week absence. Thanks Condi! Go right ahead, now…

The US and the French have hammered out a draft UN “ceasefire” resolution, but as currently written it won’t amount to much. As the Washington Post (“Rice Calls Plan at U.N. Crucial Step to Peace“) reports,

The resolution does not call for Israeli troops to immediately withdraw from Lebanon, a point that has drawn sharp opposition from key players in the conflict…

The United States and France agreed on the proposed Security Council resolution Saturday to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group. The resolution calls for a “full cessation of hostilities,” including the immediate end of Hezbollah attacks and “all offensive military operations” by Israel.

So, Israel can stay in Lebanon, Hezbollah must stop all attacks and Israel only has to stop “offensive” operations. What does a “defensive” operation look like under these circumstances?

An obscure footnote in Caspar Weinberger’s 1990 memoir, Fighting for Peace, recounts a similar ceasefire deal from an earlier Israeli invasion of Lebanon:

“One of the… more creative interpretations of the term “cease-fire” was [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s claim, after the Israeli Defense Forces invaded Lebanon in June 19982, that he did not believe a cease-fire was a “cease fire in place.” And so the Israelis felt they could advance as long as they did not fire, and if the other side fired to halt the Israeli advance it was a violation of the cease-fire” (FFP, p.141).

Rice herself was quick to point out that any deal at the UN would not necessarily lead to a halt in the fighting. Reuters reports,

If that resolution can be quickly voted on, Rice said, “I would hope that you would see very early on an end to large-scale violence…

That does not necessarily mean an end to all fighting in the short run because “these things take a while to wind down,” and there could be skirmishes for some time to come, she said.

“We’re trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years. So it’s not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council,” Rice said.

As Tony Karon has suggested over at Rootless Cosmopolitan

The purpose of the cease-fire deal, though, may not be to end the fighting — which Rice herself seems to admit is unlikely — but rather to make another attempt at winning diplomatic endorsement for Israel’s military campaign by isolating Hizballah as the obstacle to an internationally sanctioned peace.

No real signs of Bush administration retreat, here. Still, there are signs of disappointment. I have in mind Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post column from Friday (“Israel’s Lost Moment“):

There is fierce debate in the United States about whether, in the post-Sept. 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability. Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America’s war on terrorism…

The United States… has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later.

I gather things are not going so well (from a strategic, in addition to a humanitarian, perspective) on the ground in Lebanon. Krauthammer blames the Israeli political leadership. But Hezbollah resistance is probably the real story here, at least according to the New York Times article, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Suprises Israel with its Training, Tactics, and Weapons.”
All of which begs the question: What Were They Thinking?

I have tried to discern various elements of a Bush administration “strategy,” most recently in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Now, Matt over at Il Cattivo Soggetto/The Bad Subject has offered up a critique of this idea:

The Right-Zionist strategy always struck me as a massive gamble, and now it just seems like a stupid one…

While Hezbollah no doubt miscalculated the new Israeli government’s willingness to use it’s military might, they may yet have the last laugh. The US and Israeli plan, if indeed Cutler’s analysis is correct, is more and more imperiled with each day this conflict drags on. Israel has seriously miscalculated Hezbollah’s military capability…

At the outset, Saudi and Egyptian reaction to the Israeli offensive was measured, and many in the region were quick to lay the blame on Hezbollah’s adventurism. But with no end in sight, these same people are feeling the heat.

The first point seems quite right, although the battles continue.

On the consequences of “heat” on Arab leaders, the jury remains out. An Arab League delegation has promised to take Lebanon’s concerns about the current UN resolution language–especially its failure to demand an immediate Israeli ceasefire and withdrawal–to the UN. But I think a case could be made that Arabs are still holding their fire until the Israelis have been forced to hold theirs.
The idea of a strategic plan also comes under attack because there are signs–in the Financial Times–that the Bush administration is unwilling to back regime change in Iran:

And here’s another kink in the theory: the admnistration disappointed Iranian exile activists last week during a meeting focusing on Iran’s nuclear capability. Not only did Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser, and Nicholas Burns, a State Department official in charge of the Iran portfolio, tell the Iranian exiles that the US had no intention of broadening the conflic to Syria and Iran, they even “argued against regime change,” according to one of the attendees. And this at a “gathering of 30 Iranians, including analysts, academics and members of religious and ethnic minorities, was billed by the White House as a ‘historic first step in promoting personal freedom and liberty in Iran.'”

I think the report surely indicates that the Cheney administration isn’t yet ready to go public with an active campaign against Iran–especially with things going poorly against what is arguably something of an Iranian proxy army in Lebanon. Still, the meeting–and the sour comments from disappointed Iranian dissidents–is an important news story.

Finally, I note that the Right Arabist dissent remains pretty muted. I have in mind here Brent Scowcroft’s Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon.” Scowcroft doesn’t seem quite so upset with what is happening in Lebanon than what might happen “beyond” it once Israel has done the deed.

Of course, it is a Right Arabist plea for dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issue as the “root” of the crisis. I’ll grant that. So he leads with the language of dissent:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that a simple cease-fire in Lebanon is not the solution to the current violence. She says it is necessary to deal with the roots of the problem. She is right on both counts. But Hezbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948.

But after that, it becomes pretty clear that Scowcroft has no critique of the Israeli war against Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

The current crisis in Lebanon provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible…

A comprehensive peace settlement would not only defang the radicals in Lebanon and Palestine (and their supporters in other countries), it would also reduce the influence of Iran — the country that, under its current ideology, poses the greatest potential threat to stability in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.

Ironically, there is more Rigth Zionist disappointment than Right Arabist dissent. At least for now…

Beirut to Baghdad

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The big news story of the day is the Israeli strikes against Lebanon. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Israel bombed Beirut’s airport early today and sent troops and tanks deep into Lebanon after guerrillas from the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a meticulously planned border raid.

It was Israel’s first major offensive in Lebanon in six years

Many in the US will join the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, in criticizing Israel for “a disproportionate act of war” against Lebanon, especially in light of Israel’s massive, 2-week-old, ongoing offensive in Gaza sparked by a June 25 raid by Hamas.

Hamas, however, seems less focused on or surprised by Israel’s disproportionate reprisals than Hezbollah’s “heroic” border raid. According to the Kuwait Times

Hamas political bureau member Mohammad Nazzal told Reuters the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was a “heroic operation” and would help a campaign to free 1,000 Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, Israelis are also focused on Hezbollah’s border raid and they are outraged.

More surprising, however, the raid also seems to have upset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to press reports,

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also indirectly criticized Syria, suggesting it disrupted his country’s attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release. Hamas was subjected to “counter-pressures by other parties, which I don’t want to name but which cut the road in front of the Egyptian mediation and led to the failure of the deal after it was about to be concluded,” Mubarak said in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Massai newspaper published yesterday.

Egyptian “attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release” were undertaken at the behest of the Bush administration, specifically David Welch. Welch is the former US ambassador to Egypt and currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Near Eastern Affairs is traditionally the center of Right Arabist influence in the foreign policy establishment.

In return for his cooperation, Mubarak may have looked forward to easier relations with the US and a green light from the US to position his son, Gamal, as his successor.

Welch’s deal had been rumored in Israel, but it was not popular there. According to The Forward:

[P]rior to the abduction of two more soldiers near the Lebanon border… one of Olmert’s closest allies in the Cabinet suggested that a kind of retroactive prisoner swap could be in the works.

“The release of the kidnapped soldier will be a must. The moment that Qassam rocket fire also stops, we will enter a period of quiet, at the end of which it will be possible to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture,” Israel’s internal security minister, Avi Dichter, said at a conference in Tel Aviv. “This is something that Israel has done in the past and that can serve it in the future as well.”

The remarks were relayed internationally, prompting Dichter to say he had been misunderstood and Olmert’s office to deny a deal was in the offing.

But the Welch deal was undermined by the “counter pressures” on Hamas by the “other parties” that “cut the road” out from under Welch and Mubarak.

According to Bloomberg News, Dennis Ross—a Clinton administration Middle East envoy—faulted Welch for his reliance on Mubarak.

Ross said the U.S. has put too much faith in Egypt’s ability to mediate Shalit’s release…

Rather, the U.S. needs to talk most urgently to Syria, which hosts Hamas’s leadership and facilitates Hezbollah operations. Hezbollah’s attack yesterday “is obviously part of a coordinated effort to help Hamas,” Ross said. “And now there’s a risk of a wider escalation, and the address for all of this goes back to Damascus.”

The Welch initiative in Egypt was, in essence, an “Arab” response to the end of the Hamas ceasefire and the massive Israeli response.

The opening of a second front—sparked by the Hezbollah raid—has consequences in the Middle East and in the US.

In the Middle East, it has allowed Iran and Syria to undermine Arab control of the Palestinian resistance. As luck would have it, Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa and Iranian top nuclear diplomat Ali Larijani were together in Damascus for a press conference. Kuwait Times reports:

“When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people resistance is necessary,” Larijani said.

The Hezbollah raid also allows Iran to display some of its regional leverage amidst US attempts to isolate the Iranian regime at the UN.

In the US, the opening of a Hezbollah front shifts the factional center of gravity within the Bush administration where Welch shares the Israel/Palestine portfolio with Elliott Abrams, the Right Zionist White House as Deputy National Security Adviser.

The shift of focus toward Hezbollah moves the spotlight from Welch and his Egyptian allies to Elliott Abrams and his Israeli allies.

A spokesman for Elliott Abrams and the National Security Council put the blame squarely on Iran and Syria, gave Israel a “green light” for intervention, and made an appeal for Lebanon to cut its ties to Iran and Syria.

Reuters reports:

“We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hezbollah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence,” Jones added…”Hezbollah terrorism is not in Lebanon’s interests,” Jones said…
“This attack demonstrates that Hezbollah’s continued impunity to arm itself and carry out operations from Lebanese territory is a direct threat to the security of the Lebanese people and the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.”

As Juan Cole has suggested, Israeli intervention in Lebanon has the potential of spilling over into Iraq.

[H]ard line Shiites like the Sadr Movement and the Mahdi Army are close to Hizbullah. Israel’s wars could tip Iraq over into an unstoppable downward spiral.

A Sadrist uprising already seemed likely after US-backed raids in Sadr City last week and Israeli brutality toward the Shiites of southern Lebanon could certainly generate a response among the Shiites of southern Iraq.

If Right Zionists in the US support Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas and terrorize the population of Gaza, it does not follow that they favor a parallel track amongst the Shiites of southern Lebanon.

David Wurmser—the Right Zionist who presumably still serves as Cheney’s Middle East expert on his national security staff—had quite a bit to say about the Shiites of southern Lebanon in his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally:

“[A] shift of the Shi’ite center of gravity [from Iran] toward Iraq has larger, regional implications. Through intermarriage, history, and social relations, the Shi’ites of Lebanon have traditionally maintained close ties with the Shi’ites of Iraq. The Lebanese Shi’ite clerical establishment has customarily been politically quiescent, like the Iraqi Shi’ites. The Lebanese looked to Najaf’s clerics for spiritual models [until it was transformed into a regional outpost for Iranian influence]. Prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shi’ite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balance and to whittle away at Syria’s power” (TA, p.107, 110).

Do Right Zionists still hold out the hope of “prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away” from Iran?

If so (I have my doubts), much will depend on the nature of Israeli retaliation. If Israel tries to slaughter the Lebanese Shiite population, it won’t have much hope of “prying them” away from Iran or Syria.

News reports thus far (morning, July 13) are mixed. The New York Sun reported:

[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] immediately called up 6,000 reservists yesterday and put into effect plans for an extended incursion into southern Lebanon, which has long hosted Hezbollah terrorists. The intention appeared to be to dismantle the extensive network of terrorist bases and persuade the Beirut government to meet international calls to disarm the group once and for all.

Israeli forces went on the attack, targeting bridges, communication towers, military bunkers, and other facilities. At least two Lebanese civilians were reported to have been killed in the attacks.

On the other hand, there are reports that the most high-profile Israeli retaliation in Lebanon includes a naval blockade and a bombing campaign against Beirut’s airport, both of which serve to cut the ties that link Lebanon with Iran and Syria.

An attempt to pry Lebanese Shiites from Iran?

Good luck with that…

Arabists and Iran

Posted by Cutler on July 06, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

Robert Kaplan is surely a strange bird–ideologically, at least.  In truth, I cannot really make heads or tales of his politics.  It is only tempting to care about his politics because he was one of the “critics” that Bush recently brought in for a discussion about the war.

Kaplan takes an extreme form of the Right Arabist preference for status-quo strongmen and has done so repeatedly since September 11th.  On October 14, 2001, he penned a Wall Street Journal Op-ed entitled, “Don’t Impose Our Values: Stability is more important than democracy in the Mideast.”

When [Iraq] is decapitated, it will leave a vacuum that could unleash a regional war. In countries such as Iraq… entire intellectual classes have been wiped out over the decades, leaving only Islamists and sectarian nationalists to inherit the void. That is why the surest path toward more open societies in these countries is not some overnight experiment in democracy… but moderate military regimes representing the interests of merchant communities that span sectarian lines…

Status quo monarchies and enlightened dictatorships may serve our purposes better than weak and unstable democratic regimes. 

Similarly, March 2, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “We Can’t Force Democracy.”

Imperfect these rulers clearly are, but to think that who would follow them would necessarily be as stable, or as enlightened, is to engage in the kind of speculation that leads to irresponsible foreign policy. Recall that those who cheered in 1979 at the demise of the shah of Iran got something worse in return. The Saudi Arabian royal family may be the most reactionary group to run that country, except for any other that might replace it. It is unclear what, if anything, besides the monarchy could hold such a geographically ill-defined country together.

Nevertheless, in an April 17, 2006 Los Angeles Times Op-ed, “Haunted by Hussein, Humbled by Events,” Kaplan describes himself as having been “an early supporter of the invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

What was that all about?  Hard to say.  It almost seems to have been personal.  In his most hawkish, pre-invasion, pro-invasion article, “Slave State: Why Saddam is Worse Than Slobo,” he mentions:

I had my passport taken away from me for ten days by the Iraqi security police in 1986.

As he acknowledges in his “Haunted by Hussein” article,

[M]y earlier support [for the war]… was…based on firsthand experiences in Iraq.

Must have really pissed him off to have his passport taken away.

In any event, he has this little rhetorical bridge he uses to reconcile his pro-war position and his otherwise principled appreciation for enlightened dictatorship.  In his “We Can’t Force Democracy” Op-ed, he writes:

In the case of Iraq, the state under Saddam Hussein was so cruel and oppressive it bore little relationship to all these other dictatorships. Because under Hussein anybody could and in fact did disappear in the middle of the night and was tortured in the most horrific manner, the Baathist state constituted a form of anarchy masquerading as tyranny.

Everybody got that?

Forgive me this long, tortured discussion of a figure I think is somewhere between totally ridiculous and incredibly frightening (I hear he and the President got on quite well during their recent confab).

My point is to say that in 1993, just before he became famous for his book on the Balkans (Clinton was seen holding a copy) he published a book entitled, “The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite.”  I find the politics of the book inconsistent when not simply inscrutable, but when looking for a label to give the Bush administration faction that so vehemently opposed the idea of terminating Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq, Kaplan’s “Arabists” seemed to fit.

Although I tend to be somewhat dubious about giving too much explanatory weight to the “romance”–relative to say, the “geo-politics” or the alleged “lucre”–in accounting for Arabist commitments, the committments seem real and enduring.

The feature I find most intriguing–for the current “Iranian” moment–is the perspective of Arabists on the future of Iran.

In his book, Kaplan recalls a phrase: “Scratch an Arabist and you’ll find an anti-Iranian.”

I think there is plenty of evidence for this in contemporary foreign policy discussions about the Gulf.

In an October 14, 2005 Middle East Policy Council symposium entitled, “A Shia Crescent: What Fallout for the U.S.?,” Council President Charles Freeman–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a Right Arabist if there has ever been one–opened with the following remarks:

[T]he Saudis… are concerned about… the possibility of Iranian domination of a weak and divided Shi’a-dominated Iraq. In a recent visit to the region, in fact, I found a dominant concern in the Gulf countries to be the possibility that the United States, by intervening as we did in Iraq, may inadvertently be creating a Shi’a crescent in the northern tier of the Arab world, which could offer Iran unique opportunities that it has not had for many years, to exercise a dominant role, and to exercise that role in ways that may be destabilizing to others.

The question is: What policy toward Iran follows from this Right Arabist concern?  How best to marginalize the regional power of Iran?

In Iraq, the answer seems relatively simple: restoration (in various forms and by various means) of Sunni Arab power.

In Iran itself, however, the answer seems less clear.

As I noted in a previous post, at least one significant Right Arabist–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins–thinks regime change is the preferred path.

Akins may be a bit far out on a limb, however.  Although I have found no Right Arabists critical of Akins, I have also found little evidence of comparable hawkishness among other prominent Right Arabists (including Charles Freeman).

Many of the published comments–old and new–tend to support diplomatic engagement with the current regime.  For example, Richard Murphy–another former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia–took a moderate tone in a May 28, 2003 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Richard Murphy: [T]here’s certainly disagreements between some of the neo-conservatives who have been quite prominent in the Pentagon ranks, and the… I would call it the mainstream in State that is uncomfortable, uneasy about this talk of confronting Iran now that they have watched what happened in Iraq, they will learn the lesson of Iraq…

I don’t see any interest in Washington in launching a military attack on Iran – in discouraging Iran from a nuclear weapons program, in bringing Iran to turn over any Qaeda operatives who may be getting sanctuary in Iran – that is the interest, but not in doing it by means of a military attack…

It is certainly not Government policy to destabilise Iran, but there are elements in Washington who wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see the end of the regime there.

And they point to the evidence of the dissatisfaction with the Iranian regime, on the part of the youth of the unemployed, of the women of Iran, and some of them seem to be calculating that it is so unstable that a bit of rhetoric now and then might turn things around.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: But it is still a high-risk strategy? It could have unintended consequences?

RICHARD MURRAY: Absolutely, absolutely, and sober voices are stating that very clearly, and I repeat it is not policy to move frontally against Iran, but it is still on the President’s list of the Axis of Evil states, as you know.

Is it possible that Akins regime change agenda represents more of a hedge against Right Zionists than anything else?

If the Bush administration is going to support the Right Zionist goal of regime change in Iran, then Right Arabists had better be prepared to influence the process of change and the profile of any new regime.

And yet, wouldn’t a Right Arabist be even more content to have Iran contained, weakened, under a permanent cloud of suspicion, and relatively isolated–as the current regime would be under a UN inspection program, for example–than to have Iran serve as an “American project” that might ultimately provide a real alternative to US reliance on incumbent Arab regimes?

“Who are the Good Guys?”

Posted by Cutler on June 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In a recent dispatch, Robert Dreyfuss writes:

[I]t’s at least worth asking: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Iraq? Are the good guys the U.S. troops fighting to impose American hegemony in the Gulf? Are the good guys the American forces who have installed a murderous Shiite theocracy in Baghdad?…

Dreyfuss goes on to answer his own question:

[T]here’s at least as much good on their side as on ours, if not more.

Note, however, that “their side” does not simply mean the “Iraqi” side. The Iraqi side, after all, includes a “murdersous Shiite theocracy.” These, it would seem, are “not” the folks with “as much… if not more” good on their side. No, the folks with more good on their side, according to Dreyfuss, are the Baathists and former military leaders of Iraq.

That raises, once again, the question of a dialogue with the Iraqi insurgents. For the past year, off and on, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has conducted secret talks with the resistance and has openly made a distinction between Zarqawi-style jihadists and former Baathists and military men…

Still, whether one thinks the resistance fighters are good guys, or bad guys that we need to talk to, the left, the antiwar movement, and progressives don’t have to wait for Zal Khalilzad. The time for talking to Iraq’s Baath, former military leaders, and Sunni resistance forces is here.

It is commonplace to favor talks with the Baathist resistance. Even some Right Zionist have embraced the idea. See, for example a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Amnesty for Insurgents? Yes” by Charles Krauthammer.

Insurgencies can be undone by being co-opted. And that is precisely the strategy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given that his life is literally on the line in making such judgments, one should give his view some weight.

Dreyfuss, meanwhile says nothing about the “murderous” record of the Baathists, but goes out of his way to take the moral high ground in relation to “murderous” Shiites.

Why the double standard? Why so soft on Baathists and hard on Shiites?

It is a perspective that matches perfectly with the anti-Shiite outlook of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Right Arabists like James Akins–a regular Dreyfuss informant–are extremely hawkish about Iran.

Where is Dreyfuss on Iran? Funny you should ask. He has a new article about US policy toward Iran–“Next We Take Tehran“–in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.

Unlike his erstwhile ally James Akins, Dreyfuss remains–at present–dovish on Iran. And, in a refreshing acknowledgement that Neocons are not the only folks who make US foreign policy, Dreyfuss takes a broad brush in criticizing US policy toward Iran.

Of course, the idea of the Persian Gulf as an American lake is not exactly new. Neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, “realists” typified by Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker, and liberal internationalists in the mold of President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, mostly agree that the Gulf ought to be owned and operated by the United States, and the idea has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy under presidents both Republican and Democratic.

At least in spirit (if not historical particulars), this is probably the best Dreyfuss line I’ve read because it represents a great break with his otherwise overly narrow focus on the Neocons. In the very next paragraph, however, Dreyfuss walks right back into that political corner of his:

But if the administration’s goals are congruent with past U.S. policy, its methods represent a radical departure. Previous administrations relied on alliances, proxy relationships with local rulers, a military presence that stayed mostly behind the scenes, and over-the-horizon forces ready to intervene in a crisis. President Bush has directly occupied two countries in the region and threatened a third. And by claiming a sweeping regional war without end against what he has referred to as “Islamofascism,” combined with an announced goal to impose U.S.-style free-market democracy in southwest Asia, he has adopted a utopian approach much closer to imperialism than to traditional balance-of-power politics.

This paragraph is a train wreck.

Are “traditional balance-of-power politics” actually so different from “imperialism”? At best, one could argue that there are tactical differences between an imperialism that operates through direct occupation and one that relies on alliances and proxy relationships with local rulers.

If this distinction actually matters to Dreyfuss, then he should be prepared to acknowledge that in the factional battles over Iraq, at least, Right Zionists always advocated–and have been criticized for advocating–reliance on indirect rule by Shiite proxy forces with a relatively “light” military presence over the horizon. By contrast, Right Arabists have always insisted that any regime change effort in Iraq would require at least 500,000 US troops and an occupation that would last years or decades.

Here, for example, is a leading Right Arabist, General Anthony Zinni, talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

We made a mistake in not understanding that after our invasion there would have to be a period of occupation. As a matter of fact, friends of mine who were planners in the workup were told not to use that word. But that’s denying reality. We had to have a period, much like we had in Japan and Germany at the end of World War II, where we controlled things

But we believed that the Iraqi people could take this upon themselves right away. We did it without the kind of, again, law and order and control in there.

The “we” that made that made that alleged “mistake” were the Right Zionists. Right Zionists like Douglas Feith, however, speak of the opposite “mistake”–the one made by Right Arabists. Feith told the Washington Post:

First, the United States missed the opportunity before the war to train enough Kurds and other Iraqi exiles to assist the U.S. military, he said. “That didn’t happen in the numbers we had hoped,” he said…

Even more important, Feith said, was the reluctance among some U.S. officials to transfer power early on to an Iraqi government and dismantle the U.S. occupation authority, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer.

Whatever the merits, for US empire, of direct occupation v. indirect rule through local proxies and/or the mistakes made, it is clear which imperial faction advocated which strategy in Iraq: Right Arabists favored US rule through direct, long-term occupation; Right Zionists favored US rule through local (Shiite and Kurdish) proxies.

Meanwhile, in the case of Iran, nobody within the foreign policy establishment has advocated direct military occupation. All of the big fights have been about three different options: peaceful diplomacy, military air strikes, or regime change led by proxy forces.

Bush administration Iran policy–like its policy toward Iraq–is based on “balance of power” politics. There is nothing new or utopian about it. What is new–and Dreyfuss won’t acknowledge–is that his old Right Arabist friends don’t talk like peaceniks about Iran.

There is a ton of unacknowledged history of Right Arabist/Right Zionist factionalism in all this. It was, after all, the Eisenhower administration–perhaps the US administration most clearly dominated by Right Arabists–that rejected the joint UK-French-Israel effort to topple an Arab nationlist leader, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Peaceniks, to be sure. But it was that same administration that gave the green light for a US-led covert operation for a coup against a Persian nationalist leader, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Who are the “bad” buys on Iran policy? Do Right Zionists support regime change in Iran? You bet. Is there at least “as much” bad “if not more” on the Right Arabist side when it comes to Iran? Ask former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins.