Right Zionists

Shia Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

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

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

–She Loves You, The Beatles, 1963

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Wurmser: A Very Medieval Sort of Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from Harnden’s news article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The US Occupation of Iraq (blog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s Wurmser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll buy that for a dollar.

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

Right Zionist Complexities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lead quote in the article belongs to Hannah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No answers, here.  Just questions.

Is this about factional splits within the Israel Lobby?

Or changing historical circumstances?

Or both?

 

The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his Time essay, Beinart warns:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recent New York Times editorial asserted:

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

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

Hardly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are these guys Persian?

Or Tutsi?

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.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Bush’s Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

True.  And 100% of all smokers die.

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

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

Here is John Kerry on Bush’s speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, I expect more muddle.

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Neocon” Split

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

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

Right Zionists: Stick with Maliki

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

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

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

Unipolarists: Dump Maliki

Unipolarists may have given lip service to those ideas.

No longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet Little Lies

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

But Krauthammer’s essay requires two little lies.

Cleansing” the 80 Percent Solution

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

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

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

Here is Gerecht on the 80 percent solution:

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

Here is Ajami:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

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

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

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

I know, it is crazy.

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

Not to worry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And their friends in Iran.

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

Remembering Cheney

Posted by Cutler on July 10, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Cheney’s critics are busy sculpting the contours of a narrative that will, they hope, guide popular perceptions of the vice president’s legacy.

According to the prevailing wisdom, the issue at the center of the storm appears to be Executive Power, specifically Cheney’s attempt to buttress the power of the executive branch relative to the legislature and the judiciary.

The production of this narrative about forms of power may be accurate and important, but it may also function to obscure some significant substantive issues at the heart of the Cheney administration–not least, US foreign policy in the Middle East.

On July 9, 2007, the New York Times published an Op-Ed penned by Sean Wilentz–“Mr. Cheney’s Minority Report“–that reminded readers that Cheney was already focused on the defense of “executive prerogatives” during the Iran-Contra investigations of the Reagan era.

Mr. Cheney the congressman believed that Congress had usurped executive prerogatives. He saw the Iran-contra investigation not as an effort to get to the bottom of possible abuses of power but as a power play by Congressional Democrats to seize duties and responsibilities that constitutionally belonged to the president.

At the conclusion of the hearings, a dissenting minority report codified these views. The report’s chief author was a former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael J. Malbin, who was chosen by Mr. Cheney as a member of the committee’s minority staff. Another member of the minority’s legal staff, David S. Addington, is now the vice president’s chief of staff…

The Reagan administration, according to the report, had erred by failing to offer a stronger, principled defense of what Mr. Cheney and others considered its full constitutional powers…

The report made a point of invoking the framers. It cited snippets from the Federalist Papers — like Alexander Hamilton’s remarks endorsing “energy in the executive” — in order to argue that the president’s long-acknowledged prerogatives had only recently been usurped by a reckless Democratic Congress.

Above all, the report made the case for presidential primacy over foreign relations. It cited as precedent the Supreme Court’s 1936 ruling in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation, which referred to the “exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations.”

Wilentz is, of course, correct to suggest that the Cheney’s “minority report” concerned itself with issues of constitutional authority.  And Cheney is undoubtedly committed to enhancing the power of the presidency.

But Cheney’s legacy cannot be reduced to his views on presidential authority.

There is also the substance of US foreign policy.

It’s about the war, stupid!

The war in Iraq.  De-Baathification and the advent of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.  The potential military intervention in Iran.  The extraordinary attempt to remake the balance of power in the Gulf and the larger Middle East.

And the escalation of Great Power rivalry between the US and Russia.

Cheney’s legacy is not (only) about the accumulation of formal power; it is about the exercise of power in extraordinary geopolitical strategic ventures.

Wilensky doesn’t mention it, but the minority report on Iran-Contra, for example, also weighed in on the substance of foreign policy, including US relations with Israel and Iran.

The potential geopolitical importance of Iran for the United States would be obvious to anyone who looks at a map. Despite Iran’s importance, the United States was taken by surprise when the Shah fell in 1979, because it had not developed an adequate human intelligence capability there. Our hearings have established that essentially nothing had been done to cure this failure by the mid-1980’s. Then, the United States was approached by Israel in 1985 with a proposal that the United States acquiesce in some minor Israeli arms sales to Iran. This proposal came at a time when the United States was already considering the advisability of such sales. For long term, strategic reasons, the United States had to improve relationships with at least some of the currently important factions in Iran….

The Iran initiative involved two governments that had sharp differences between them. There were also very sharp internal divisions in both Iran and the United States about how to begin narrowing the differences between the two countries. In such a situation, the margin between narrow failure and success can seem much wider after the fact than it does during the discussions. While the initial contacts developed by Israel and used by the United States do not appear likely to have led to a long-term relationship, we cannot rule out the possibility that negotiations with the Second Channel might have turned out differently. At this stage, we never will know what might have been.

This report appears to suggest that Cheney was once interesting in improving relationships with factions of the incumbent Iranian regime–a position that he continued to defend during the 1990s.

Cheney certainly appears to have changed his mind about US relations with Iran, as he did about US relations with Iraq and, perhaps, Saudi Arabia.

Did Cheney do everything in his power to enhance presidential authority, to say nothing of his own personal power?  Absolutely.

But Cheney also took the US into a war with Iraq that folks like Al Gore now call “an utter disaster, this was the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States.”

You wouldn’t even know that the US ever went to war with Iraq to judge from the recent Washington Post four-part series, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”

The Post series makes almost no mention of Iraq!

Part 1” of the series–a backgrounder on Cheney–says only this about Iraq:

A shooting accident in Texas, and increasing gaps between his rhetoric and events in Iraq, have exposed him to ridicule and approval ratings in the teens.

The other 3 parts say less about Iraq.

Like Part 2 of the series–“Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power“–takes up the same constitutional themes about the formal rights of executive privilege emphasized by Wilentz in his New York Times Op-Ed.

Part 1 of the Post series promises to a substantive look at particular policies, but the examples are drawn from domestic affairs:

Cheney has served as gatekeeper for Supreme Court nominees, referee of Cabinet turf disputes, arbiter of budget appeals, editor of tax proposals and regulator in chief of water flows in his native West.

Indeed, these are the issues that dominate the discussion of policy in Part 3 and Part 4.

The Post offers supplements that include a profile of “key players” identified as a “Cast of Characters.”

Lots of Cheney aides are profiled–including his top legal adviser David S. Addington and former domestic policy adviser Cesar Conda.

No mention is made of any of Cheney’s top foreign policy advisers.  On foreign policy, the Post never gets beyond Brian V. McCormack, a young man who once served as Cheney’s “personal aide” and progressed to assignments in the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq and then on the White House staff.

There is no mention of the current Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, John P. Hannah.  [Profile here; In a report from the early 1990s when Hannah served as Deputy Director of Research under Martin Indyk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hannah was identified as “specializing in Soviet Policy in the Middle East.” (“Restoring the Balance: U.S. Strategy and the Gulf Crisis: An Initial Report of The Washington Institute’s Strategic Study Group,” 1991, p.44)]

And, more to the point, there is no mention of David Wurmser, Cheney’s top Middle East adviser.

Have you not met the Wurmsers?

You really should.

David Wurmser (formerly of the American Enterprise Institute) is married to Meyrav Wurmser (of the Hudson Institute).  Both wrote Ph.D. Dissertations during the 1990s.

Here is a small taste that give a sense of their interests:

David Wurmser, “The Evolution of Israeli Grand Strategy, Strategy and Tactics and the Confluence with Classic Democratic Philosophy” (Johns Hopkins University, 1990).

Meyrav Wurmser, “Ideas and Foreign Policy: The Case of the Israeli Likud Party” (George Washington University, 1998).

My hunch is that Cheney isn’t primarily interested in the Wurmser family for their ideas about the US constitution and executive privilege.

For all of Cheney’s influence as the water czar from Wyoming, the vice president’s legacy cannot be fully understood in terms of either domestic policy or formal constitutional rights issues.

The most enduring contours of Cheney’s legacy may well reside in the Middle East.

But you wouldn’t know it from recent, premature efforts to “remember” Cheney.

Beyond the Surge: The Right Arabist Case Against Maliki

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

For much of the foreign policy establishment in Washington, the “military front” has never really been the central battlefield in Iraq.  Instead, the paramount issue has always been the “political front”–the composition of political power within Iraq and the regional balance of power in the Gulf.

As I have previously argued, the “political front” is dominated by a split in Washington between Right Arabists who see Sunni Arab rule in Iraq and the key to the policing of US imperial interests in the Gulf and Right Zionists who see Iraqi Shiite power as the key to a strategic re-alignment that envisions an alliance between the US, Israel, Iraq, and [a politically reconstructed] Iran.

[On the political “reconstruction” of what he calls “Eternal Iran“, Right Zionist Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute has recently suggested, “The real danger isn’t Iran’s bomb, however, but the regime that would wield it.]

As I have previously noted (here and here), Right Zionists are quite committed to the Shiite government in Iraq.  They see in Iraqi Shiites a more or less adequate proxy for US power.

By contrast, Right Arabists have never stopped lamenting the end of Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq.

Both of these two camps, however, focus on the centrality of political proxies for US power.

Meanwhile, the “surge” tends to look a little different.

The key figures behind the idea of the “surge” are figures best described as “Unipolarists” who tend to be far less focused on indirect rule through political proxies because they are much more committed–unapologetically so–to the widespread, direct application of US military force (aka “hard Wilsonianism” or, more simply, “imperialism“).

The leading Unipolarists include key architects of the “surge,” William Kristol and Frederick Kagan.

And here is a key to understanding the politics of the surge: the Bush administration has not traditionally been dominated by Unipolarists (hence all the Unipolarist attacks on Rumsfeld) and the Unipolarists, in turn, have always been closer to John McCain than to George W. Bush.

Frederick Kagan’s latest missive from his perch at the American Enterprise Institute speaks to the centrality of military power in the 2007 “surge” and marks some differences that make the Unipolarist faith in military power distinct from the quest for “political proxies” that animates both Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

A number of clear lessons drawn from these operations have informed the current strategy. First, political progress by itself will not reduce the violence. From May 2003 through mid-2006, the Bush administration and the military command focused on political progress as the key. The transfer of sovereignty in mid-2004, the election of a Transitional National Assembly in January 2005, the approval of a new constitution by referendum in October 2005, and the election of a fresh National Assembly in December 2005… throughout this period, American armed forces tried to stay in the background, keeping their “footprint” minimal and pushing the nascent Iraqi Security Forces into the lead….

Political progress and political solutions are essential to ultimate success in counterinsurgency, but they must often be complemented by major military operations sustained over a long time.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that when he does consider the “political front” Kagan appears to be much closer to the Right Arabist position than some of his colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute, especially Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Gerecht favors ruthless counter-insurgency efforts targeting the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency, even as he warns against a frontal assault on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Kagan’s “Anbar Model,” by contrast, seeks to woo the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency while reserving US firepower for al-Qaeda and Sadrists forces.  From Kagan’s latest defense of the “surge” names its targets quite carefully:

The new strategy for Iraq has entered its second phase. Now that all of the additional combat forces have arrived in theater, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno have begun Operation Phantom Thunder, a vast and complex effort to disrupt al Qaeda and Shiite militia bases all around Baghdad in advance of the major clear-and-hold operations that will follow. The deployment of forces and preparations for this operation have gone better than expected, and Phantom Thunder is so far proceeding very well.

No mention of targeting the ex-Baathis Sunni insurgency.  No mystery why.  Kagan considers them his new best friends.

As the new strategy of 2007 took hold, U.S. forces found that they could even negotiate and work with some of their most determined former foes in the Sunni Arab insurgency–groups like the Baathist 1920s Brigades that once focused on killing Americans and now are increasingly working with Americans to kill al Qaeda fighters. Coalition operations in Anbar, which looked hopeless for years, have accomplished extraordinary successes that are deepening and spreading.

Kagan’s surge has seemingly come under attack from within the Republican Party, allegedly prompting soul-searching and debate at the White House.

Much of this turmoil appears linked to the late June “defection” of Senator Richard Lugar.

Lugar takes some shots at the military surge.  But he has hardly become an advocate of US withdrawal.

Instead, a closer look at the Senate speech that prompted all the buzz about Republican defections suggests that Lugar’s central focus was on the political front, specifically his dissatisfaction with the Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki.

The speech is a classic Right Arabist manifesto–hawkish on Iran, soft on Sunni Arab regimes and highly critical of Shiite rule in Iraq.

I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East… But seizing these opportunities will require the President to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq… It will also require members of Congress to be receptive to overtures by the President to construct a new policy outside the binary choice of surge versus withdrawal…

We should attempt to preserve initiatives that have shown promise, such as engaging Sunni groups that are disaffected with the extreme tactics and agenda of Al Qaeda in Iraq. But three factors – the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process — are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame….

The Shia-led government is going out of its way to bottle up money budgeted for Sunni provinces… food rations are not being delivered to Sunni towns. Iraqi leaders have resisted de-Baathification reform, the conclusion of an oil law, and effective measures to prevent oil smuggling and other corrupt practices…

[W]e are continuing to pour our treasure and manpower into the narrow and uncertain pursuit of creating a stable, democratic, pluralist society in Iraq. This pursuit has been the focal point of the Bush Administration’s Middle East policy. Unfortunately, this objective is not one on which our future in the region can rest, especially when far more important goals related to Middle East security are languishing. I am not suggesting that what happens in Iraq is not important, but the Bush Administration must avoid becoming so quixotic in its attempt to achieve its optimum forecasts for Iraq that it misses other opportunities to protect our vital interests in the Middle East…

[W]e have an interest in preventing Iranian domination of the region. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni government opened up opportunities for Iran to seek much greater influence in Iraq and in the broader Middle East.  An aggressive Iran would pose serious challenges for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab governments. Iran is pressing a broad agenda in the Middle East with uncertain consequences for weapons proliferation, terrorism, the security of Israel, and other U.S. interests. Any course we adopt should consider how it would impact the regional influence of Iran….

In my judgment, the current surge strategy is not an effective means of protecting these interests. Its prospects for success are too dependent on the actions of others who do not share our agenda…

A total withdrawal from Iraq also fails to meet our security interests. Such a withdrawal would compound the risks of a wider regional conflict stimulated by Sunni-Shia tensions…

Most regional governments are extremely wary of U.S. abandonment of the Middle East. Moderate states are concerned by Iran’s aggressiveness and by the possibility of sectarian conflict beyond Iraq’s borders. They recognize that the United States is an indispensable counterweight to Iran and a source of stability. The United States should continue to organize regional players – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf States, and others – behind a program of containing Iran’s disruptive agenda in the region.

Such a re-alignment has relevance for stabilizing Iraq…

The United States should make clear to our Arab friends that they have a role in promoting reconciliation within Iraq, preventing oil price spikes, splitting Syria from Iran, and demonstrating a more united front against terrorism.

Lugar is a good Republican and he knows that the surge in US casualties will be costly for his party:

Some will argue that political timelines should always be subordinated to military necessity, but that is unrealistic in a democracy. Many political observers contend that voter dissatisfaction in 2006 with Administration policies in Iraq was the major factor in producing new Democratic Party majorities in both Houses of Congress. Domestic politics routinely intrude on diplomatic and military decisions. The key is to manage these intrusions so that we avoid actions that are not in our national interest….

[D]omestic pressure for withdrawal will continue to be intense. A course change should happen now.

But the primary emphasis of any “course change” is not military, but political: the end of the road for the Maliki government and Shiite political dominance.

Will the Bush administration turn against Maliki?

To some extent, that probably depends on his ability to move the hydrocarbon “framework” legislation through parliament.

In the current political context, however, the Sunni political establishment has made a stand against “foreign” control of Iraqi oil.

A member of Iraq’s parliamentary energy committee quit on Saturday in protest over a draft oil law…

Usama al-Nujeyfi told a small news conference that the proposal would cede too much control to global companies and “ruin the country’s future”. He vowed to work to defeat the draft in parliament.

“I announce my resignation and distance myself from delivering this draft before this parliament and I will carry out my obligation to repeal it inside parliament with all fellow nationalists,” al-Nujeyfi said….

[A]l-Nujeyfi, a Sunni member of the Iraq National List, headed by secular politician and former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, said the proposal would cede too much to foreign firms eager to rebuild Iraq’s oil industry.

“I call on my lawmaker brothers and sisters to confront this law which will ruin the country’s future and will be in the interest of large global companies at the expense of Iraqis,” he said.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, Right Arabists will successfully convince the White House to dump Maliki and install ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi as a new Iraqi “strongman.”

I tend to doubt it.

But if Sunni opposition to the hydrocarbon law continues much longer, it may prove very awkward when the US subsequently demands that Allawi impose legislation that his allies once decried as a measure designed “in the interest of large global companies at the expense of Iraqis.”

Who Let Hamas Out?

Posted by Cutler on June 22, 2007
Egypt, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Prof Cutler’s Blog will return on July 9th.

As I depart, the news on my mind involves US policy toward Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood

In a recent post, I argued that Right Zionists would shed no tears for the collapse of Fatah in Gaza, but I also suggested that they had no political “vision” for post-Fatah Gaza; only a military “vision” of an endless siege.

Such a siege had already begun by Wednesday, June 20, 2007.

But that same day, two news items appeared that caught me be surprise because they seemed to suggest that someone–but who?–actually did have a “vision” for Gaza under Hamas.

The first item was the simultaneous New York Times and Washington Post Op-Eds by Ahmed Yousef arguing for engagement with Hamas.

There are few surprises in the texts.  The surprise was the simultaneous, dual publication, especially in the context of the second news item, a story by Eli Lake in the Right Zionist New York Sun, entitled “Bush Weighs Reaching Out To ‘Brothers.’

The Bush administration is quietly weighing the prospect of reaching out to the party that founded modern political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still in its early stages and below the radar, the current American deliberations and diplomacy with the organization, known in Arabic as Ikhwan, take on new significance in light of Hamas’s successful coup in Gaza last week. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is widely reported to have helped create Hamas in 1982.

Lake’s story echoes an earlier Newsweek report by Michael Isikoff And Mark Hosenball.

Set aside, for the moment, the likelihood of such an overture to Hamas in Gaza and and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Who would promote such an idea within the Bush administration?

More to the point, if Right Zionists shed no tears for the collapse of Fatah in Gaza, would they embrace Hamas, the enemy of their enemy?

And doesn’t this question, in turn, demand a re-examination of the play of forces within the Bush administration behind the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election that brought Hamas to power within the Palestinian Authority?

Most of those promoting the idea of engaging Hamas are hardly Right Zionists.

These include figures like Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center and co-author of the Foreign Affairs essay, “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood”

Or Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Figures like Zeyno Baran, much closer to the Right Zionist world, tend to be critical of Leiken and Co.

But there is one figure who is very close to the Right Zionist “family” who supported the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections that ultimately brought Hamas to power.

That figure is Reuel Marc Gerecht.  Here is Gerecht on NPR, January 28, 2006:

ELLIOT: Mr. Gerecht, you’ve actually said that it’s a good think that Hamas came into power this week. Can you explain?

Mr. GERECHT: Yeah, I think it was, the result of that is, one, it was easily expected and two, you should not be discouraged by it. With Fatah in power you’re going to have no evolution. You’re going to have the continued radicalization of the Palestinian society. With Hamas now being the principal political party in the Palestinian territories, you actually have the chance for internal evolution. The issue is not the peace process. The issue is whether Palestinian politics, Palestinian ethics, start to evolve…

I think they will. But I think we have to expect–and there were some in the Bush administration who I think were naïve about this, that democratization moves forward in the Muslim Middle East it is going to increase anti-Americanism. That’s fine. That is part of the healing process. That’s part of the evolution.

And here is Gerecht at a Pew Forum event from all the way back in May 2005:

There are going to be problems with this evolution to a more democratic society. And again, I think this could happen a lot quicker than people realize. One of the things we’re going to have to realize that’s going to happen is that anti-Americanism is probably going to skyrocket. If you think anti-Americanism now is at a high watermark, just wait. When democracy takes hold, it’s just going to rip. So is anti-Zionism, so is anti-Semitism. All of these things for a variety of different reasons are going to accelerate. Don’t panic. It’s actually good. It’s the fever that will break the disease. You have to let it go.

This is something like the Zen of Right Zionism, I suppose.

There are plenty of skeptics.  David Brooks, for example, responded to Gerecht in a July 2006 New York Times column entitled, “The Fever is Winning.”

What remains totally unclear is whether or not Cheney has caught the fever.

Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

Posted by Cutler on June 16, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Helene Cooper of the New York Times has a front-page article–“Iran Strategy Stirs Debate at White House“–that is, essentially, a reprint of her June 1, 2007 article, “U.S. Not Pushing for Attack on Iran, Rice Says.”

After writing in relatively vague terms about “the few remaining hawks inside the administration, especially those in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” Cooper finally comes around to naming names.  Once again, Cooper fingers Right Zionist David Wurmser as the “hawk” inside Dick Cheney’s office.

Readers of this blog need no introduction to David Wurmser.

Why the reprint?  Cooper says she spoke to folks from both sides of the factional debate, but my sense is that Wurmser’s opponents in the administration are trying to use Cooper’s publicity machine to pressure Cheney to dump Wurmser.  Most of the references are to positions adopted by hawks “in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” rather than to Cheney himself.

Cooper says the “hawks” are “pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.”  But the big “hawk” she gets on the record–John Bolton (who Meyrav Wurmser considers part of the Right Zionist “family“)–mentions two hawkish options for US policy toward Iran:

[C]onservatives inside the administration have continued in private to press for a tougher line, making arguments that their allies outside government are voicing publicly. “Regime change or the use of force are the only available options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability, if they want it,” said John R. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Cooper doesn’t stop to note Bolton’s talk of regime change.  Instead, she references a Commentary essay by Norman Podhoretz, “The Case for Bombing Iran.”

As I have previously noted, Neoconservatives are actually split between those, like Podhoretz, who favor military action and those, like Michael Ledeen, who are primarily interested in regime change.

Here is Podhoretz on the split:

[A]s it happens, there is a split among neoconservatives on the desirability of military action against Iran. For reasons of their own, some–including Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute… [oppose] such a course…

In his article on “The Case for Bombing Iran,” Podhoretz attacks Ledeen (this time leaving off his name):

Those who advocate this course tell us that the “mullocracy” is very unpopular, especially with young people, who make up a majority of Iran’s population. They tell us that these young people would like nothing better than to get rid of the oppressive and repressive and corrupt regime under which they now live and to replace it with a democratic system. And they tell us, finally, that if Iran were so transformed, we would have nothing to fear from it even if it were to acquire nuclear weapons.

Once upon a time, under the influence of Bernard Lewis and others I respect, I too subscribed to this school of thought. But after three years and more of waiting for the insurrection they assured us back then was on the verge of erupting, I have lost confidence in their prediction.

Where do the remaining Bush administration Right Zionists stand (or fall) on this question?

As I have previously noted, it is tempting (if risky) to interpret Podhoretz as a proxy for the voice of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.

But does Podhoretz also represent the views of Wurmser?

How to find Wurmser’s views on the question when he has not spoken publicly since he handed his “Middle East” baton at the American Enterprise Institute to Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Does Gerecht represent a possible proxy for Wurmser’s voice?  Gerecht himself has tried to square the circle by suggesting that the bombing of Iran might help foment regime change:

It’s much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic’s loss to America–and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory–would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching… It’s likely that an American attack on the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us.

But he also seems to have lost some confidence in the imminent collapse of the regime:

[I]t is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians–which is the Bush administration’s current game plan–isn’t likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn’t the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

David Wurmser is married to Meyrav Wurmser and it is tempting (if risky) to take her voice as a proxy for his.

Meyrav Wurmser is certainly feeling hawkish about Iran and Syria.  But she appears to be somewhat skeptical about a narrow approach based on “military toughness.”

Syria and Iran now seek to further derail Western ambitions. They are escalating their offensive….

Syria and Iran see an opportunity they cannot pass up: The United States has no answer to the worsening situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Evincing perplexity and weakness, not consistently willing to confront its enemies, the United States entered direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, naively hoping that the purveyors of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon would willingly help resolve those problems….

As Israel’s war in Lebanon demonstrated, military toughness alone does not meet the growing Syrian/Iranian challenge. Instead of seeing all the problems in the Middle East solely as localized conflicts, we must understand their regional context. Only then can we devise a broad strategic vision to confront these threats. Toughness is necessary, but it will remain ineffective without a purpose and a plan.

Is that a call for a policy of regime change, beyond “military toughness”?

Unclear.

What is clear is that David Wurmser’s 1999 manifesto, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, is essentially one long “plan” for using Shiite power in Iraq to achieve regime change in Iran.

Here is an extended excerpt from my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” that lays out the heart of Wurmser’s 1999 position as it relates to “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.

“U.S. policy makers have long presumed that the majority Shi’ite population of Iraq would serve as Iran’s fifth column there; but would it?” (TA, p.72). Wurmser thinks not. Instead, he argues that “Iraqi Shi’ites, if liberated from [Saddam’s] tyranny, can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution” (TA, p.74). More specifically, Wurmser claims that “Shi’ite Islam is plagued by fissures, none of which has been carefully examined, let alone exploited, by the opponents of Iran’s Islamic republic” (TA, p.74, emphasis added). The idea of exploiting fissures is entirely consistent with realist theories of power balancing.

Wurmser argues that at the theological core of the Iranian revolution is “a concept promoted by Ayatollah Khomeini, the wilayat al-faqih — the rule of the jurisprudent” that served as “the bulldozer with which Khomeini razed the barrier between the clerics and the politicians” (TA, p.74). For Wurmser, the central strategic fissure within Shiite Islam is between those who favor Khomeini’s vision and those who reject the rule of the jurisprudent. “The concept of wilayat al-faqih is rejected by most Shi’ite clerics outside Iran (and probably many of those within Iran, too)… The current leading ayatollah of Iraq, Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani, has reaffirmed [this rejection], much to the chagrin of the Iranian government” (TA, p.75)…

The core of the Regional Rollback… is Iran. For Wurmser, so-called “realists” have always been correct to emphasize the link between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites, but they have misunderstood the potential nature of the link. If realists have traditionally feared Iranian influence in Iraq, Wurmser argues that the more likely scenario is Iraqi influence in Iran. The demise of traditional Sunni rule over the Iraqi Shiites “could potentially trigger a reversal” of fortune for the Iranian regime.

“Liberating the Shi’ite centers in Najaf and Karbala, with their clerics who reject the wilayat al-faqih, could allow Iraqi Shi’ites to challenge and perhaps fatally derail the Iranian revolution. For the first time in half a century, Iraq has the chance to replace Iran as the center of Shi’ite thought, thus resuming its historic place, with its tradition of clerical quiescence and of challenge to Sunni absolutism… A free Iraqi Shi’ite community would be a nightmare for the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran” (TA, p.78-79).

For Wurmser, the liberation of Najaf and Karbala would promote and empower potential US allies in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s strategy foresees US military intervention against the Sunni minority in Iraq, not primarily as a springboard for further military intervention in Iran, but as the Iraqi detonator for a populist, Shiite-led rebellion against rival clerics in Iran. Neo-conservative support for the political ascendance of Shiite Iraq is not about the principle of democracy. Nor are neo-conservatives blind to the ways in which regime change in Iraq might transform the relationship between Iraq and Iran. Neo-conservatives who favor de-Baathification in Iraq might seem like blundering fools who would unwittingly hand Iraq to Iranian clerics. Wumser’s scheme, however, is to hand Iran to Iraqi clerics, especially the followers of Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani. For Wurmser, the road to Tehran begins in Najaf.

Does Wurmser still believe, with Ledeen, that the road to Tehran begins in Najaf?

Or, has Wurmser–like Podhoretz–“lost confidence” in his old plan for regime change?

And where is Cheney himself in all this?

Note well: Cheney was not always considered part of the Right Zionist “family.”

Right Zionists and the Collapse of Fatah

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2007
Israel, Palestinian Authority, Right Zionists / No Comments

In some respects, the American-sponsored “Dayton Plan”–named for US security coordinator Lt.-Gen Keith Dayton–to foment factional fighting within the Palestinian “unity government,” bolster the forces of Fatah, and challenge the dominance of Hamas in Gaza seemed like the work of Right Zionist hawks in the Bush administration (i.e., Elliott Abrams at the NSC and David Wurmser in the OVP).

After all, the Hamas-Fatah “unity government” was the work of Saudi King Abdullah and it made sense to think that an assault on Abdullah’s mediation efforts would bear the finger prints of the Cheney-Bandar-Right Zionist axis.

But as that plan crumbles–with signs of White House “acquiescence“–it becomes increasingly clear that the Dayton Plan to bolster Fatah may have simply marked the most “hawkish” and cynical last gasp of the old Oslo crowd.

If so, then there will be some Right Zionist “rejectionists” who mourn neither the failure of the Palestinian “unity government” nor the US effort to destroy that unity by bolstering Fatah.

Perhaps the strongest indication of this scenario is that the collapse of Fatah in Gaza has led to all kinds of speculation that it marks the end of a two-state solution.

Consider, for example, the Los Angeles Times article by Ken Ellingwood, “Palestinian Statehood Hopes in Peril.”

The deadly factional fighting in the Gaza Strip between the militant Hamas movement and Fatah could doom the long-held Palestinian vision of uniting Gaza and the West Bank into a single independent state….

The violence has dimmed hopes that Palestinians and Israelis might someday reach an agreement for side-by-side nations…

The political crisis has propelled a debate among Palestinian intellectuals over whether Palestinians might be better served by dumping the trappings of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, which created the enfeebled Palestinian Authority….

“One cannot exclude such a possibility: that this is the end of the two-state solution,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a fellow at Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Jerusalem.

So, for Right Zionist “rejectionists,” what comes after Oslo?

Right Zionist rejectionists do have a post-Oslo vision for the West Bank.  The cornerstone of that vision is the idea of Palestinian confederation with Jordan.

The Israeli Labor Party-Oslo crowd and their American allies are aware of this vision and reject it.

The great defender of the failed “Dayton Plan” was an Oslo figure, Dennis Ross.  In a June 4, 2007  Washington Post Op-Ed–“The Specter of Hamastan“–Ross championed the Dayton Plan and took aim at the idea of West Bank confederation with Jordan.

The defense of the Dayton Plan is quite clear:

If Fatah does have a plan for bolstering its forces in Gaza, it is worth supporting it by coordinating with the Israelis and Egyptians — not to produce a bloodbath in Gaza but to deter Hamas from seeking to impose itself there.

Ross also offers a more cryptic attack on a rival proposal:

Among some I heard an interesting proposal: Let’s make the West Bank work…

Let’s create understandings with Jordan and Israel for at least economic confederation and security…

Sounds good in theory, but I doubt it would work. No matter how sensible confederation between the Palestinian state and Jordan might be, at least economically, a failed state in Gaza would be a constant source of instability…

Moreover, while West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have much that divides them, they still have a common identity as Palestinians; the creation of a Palestinian state without Gaza would be an endless source of grievance and irredentism.

Ross doesn’t name any names, but this idea of “confederation with Jordan” belongs to the very same Right Zionist rejectionists who will now quietly celebrate the death of Oslo.

Meyrav Wurmser–who just happens to be married to Cheney’s top Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–is one key proponent of this position, as articulated in her July 2006 New York Sun Op-Ed, “Paradigm Shift” in which she also attacked key “Oslo” assumptions.

Assumption…: Abu Mazen is a better, more moderate a partner than Hamas…

But… Abu Mazen is not only hopelessly weak and ineffective; he also is covering for the mergence of a new Palestinian consensus around positions closer to Hamas’ than ever before. In this situation, the international community gains little from supporting Abu Mazen; he is no partner for peace…

Assumption…: Only independent Palestinian statehood will provide a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process…

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Israeli Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu offered a similar vision of a post-Oslo scenario:

Some kind of federated or confederated effort between Jordan and the Palestinians might introduce that function of security and peace.

Ken Ellingwood’s Los Angeles Times article acknowledges that there are supporters of such a scenario, but he doesn’t name names and he thinks it marginal.

Another idea that has circulated is an old one: reconnecting the West Bank to Jordan, somehow, and putting Gaza back into Egypt’s hands. But this scenario is a long shot.

The chances of this “long shot” becoming an active initiative would be far greater with the collapse of the Olmert government and the election of Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.

In the notion of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan, Right Zionists have a vision (little word from Jordan on any of this, of course).

The horrifying part is that Right Zionists have almost nothing to say about Gaza.

Is there a vision for Gaza?

It seems not.

There is plenty of alarm about Gaza.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Meyrav Wurmser expresses deep concerns about Gaza:

Now Hamas is threatening to escalate hostilities by attacking Israel’s main electric grid in Ashkelon. The significance of this–as well as of the Palestinian civil war and Hamas’s capture of Gaza–is that Hamas, and by extension Iran, has launched a real push to take over the Palestinian areas, just as the violence in Lebanon represents Syria’s attempt to retake that country.

Similarly, Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, is reported to have recently suggested that Washington abandon all Oslo pretensions.

Washington should go one step further and announce it is no longer working to set up the conditions for Palestinian independence.

“The conditions don’t exist,” Bryen said. “This is a huge emergency.”

But what does this “huge emergency” imply for Gaza?

Silence.

There is no plan for Gaza.

Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles Times offers up a chilling conclusion via Gidi Grinstein, a former aide to Ehud Barak:

Israeli analyst Gidi Grinstein told Israel Radio. “The Gaza entity will be regarded as an enemy entity and be treated accordingly…

The 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.

Wurmser: Outed or Ousted?

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

In a post last week, I suggested that David Wurmser was the likely “Cheney aide” rumored by Steven Clemons to be circulating word that Cheney did not support Secretary of State Rice’s diplomatic overtures to Iran.

On Friday, Helene Cooper of the New York Times–who wrote an entire article about Wurmser in December 2006 without ever using his name–finally put a name into the game: David Wurmser.

A senior Bush administration official separately denied that there was a deep divide between Rice and Cheney on Iran.

But, the official said, “the vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff.”

In interviews, people who have spoken with Cheney’s staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the report. Some said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders were made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now Cheney’s principal deputy assistant for national security affairs.

The anonymous “senior Bush administration official” quoted by Cooper certainly seems to have been trying to create some sunlight between Cheney and Wurmser by suggesting that Wurmser doesn’t necessarily speak for the vice president.

Jim Lobe–whose unflinching and relentless reporting on the waxing and waning of neo-conservative influence in Washington is now available in blog form at LobeLog–suggests that Wurmser may be on the way out.

[I]f Wurmser is forced out in the coming days, it will both further isolate and weaken the remaining key neo-cons – notably, Elliott Abrams at the NSC, and John Hannah, Cheney’s national security adviser — and confirm that the vice president himself has been badly wounded. If he isn’t forced out, then the persistence of Cheney’s influence on Bush will be confirmed, and the possibility of an attack on Iran will increase. This is a critical moment.

Meyrav Wurmser seemed to talking about her husband, David, when she suggested in December 2006 that, along with John Bolton, “there are others who are about to leave.”

The departure of Wurmser would be very significant.  I have argued that Wurmser’s 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally, provided the blue print not only for toppling Saddam Hussein but for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraq Shiites under the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Nevertheless, I think it may be wishful thinking to imagine that Cheney is “badly wounded.”  Even if Wurmser is ousted, this could mark a reversal of course by Cheney rather than a reversal of fortune.

As I argued in a previous post, Cheney has not always been a reliable ally to Right Zionists like Wurmser.  And there may be reason to suspect Cheney sometimes thinks of Iran in terms of his “Central Asia” portfolio rather than his “Middle East” portfolio.

Cheney: Beyond Hypocrisy

Posted by Cutler on May 30, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

In many respects, the factional battle lines that have formed around the US invasion of Iraq have been pretty stark and predictable.  In my ZNET essay on foreign policy factionalism, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” I suggested that the US invasion of Iraq tended to split the foreign policy establishment into two camps: Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

One of the central puzzles, from that day to this, has been locating Vice President Cheney on that spectrum.

Of course, Cheney has been very clearly aligned with Right Zionists for some time now and he continues to surround himself with Right Zionist advisers like David Wurmser.

But Cheney was not always perceived as a “sure thing” for Right Zionists.   Cheney was not always thought of as allied with Right Zionists.  Among other things,  the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia.

Back in the 1990s Cheney did not seem to be above taking pot shots at the Israel lobby and its zeal for US sanctions against Iran.

Nick Snow interviewed Cheney for Petroleum Finance Week at a 1996 Energy Conference and filed the following report:

Halliburton Co. Chairman Richard B. Cheney sees many opportunities worldwide for U.S. oil and gas producers, drilling contractors and service and supply companies. But he’s also concerned that sanctions sought by domestic politicians to please local constituencies will hurt U.S. business growth overseas…

But he also considers sanctions the greatest threat to Halliburton and other U.S. companies pursuing opportunities overseas. “We seem to be sanction-happy as a government. The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments,” he observed during his conference presentation.

If anything, Cheney was probably considered a Right Arabist eager to do business with the Saudis and willing to find a modus operandi for doing deals with the Iranians.

Something changed.  Cheney closely aligned himself with Right Zionists.

Commentators who note the change often seem to focus primarily on Cheney’s hypocrisy.  Be that as it may, there are important questions to be asked about what triggered Cheney’s change of “heart.”

I have tried to offer up some explanations, including one that focused on post-9/11 tensions between Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

More recently, I have also found reason to suspect that at least some of Cheney’s shift might have begun before September 11th.  According to this account, Cheney was handed a huge defeat by the Israel Lobby in early 2001.  Unable to beat them, he joined them.

Those who do not attend to the factors the triggered Cheney’s change are least likely to anticipate the possibility that other factors might cause Cheney to change course again.

In several recent posts last week (here, here, here, and here) I pondered the possibility that Cheney might “come to terms” with the Iranian regime.

Needless to say, these are merely speculations.

Even as Cheney “allowed” the US-Iranian meeting in Iraq, there are signs that he is far from committed to this track.

Apart from Cheney’s own strident, anti-Iranian bluster during his recent visit to the Gulf, there are also rumors that he and his Right Zionist allies are telling friends to discount all the “diplomatic” talk.

In early May, the Jewish Daily Forward reported such a rumor:

Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.

Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.

Was Abrams speaking truth to the “Jewish Republicans” or was he trying to manage their potential discontent?  Hard to say.

More recently, Steven Clemons has offered up alleged details of a similar “reassurance” campaign among Right Zionist allies:

Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously…

There are many other components of the complex game plan that this Cheney official has been kicking around Washington. The official has offered this commentary to senior staff at AEI and in lunch and dinner gatherings which were to be considered strictly off-the-record, but there can be little doubt that the official actually hopes that hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives share this information and then rally to this point of view…

Is there any reason to doubt that the “senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team” who has been “meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute” is either John Hannah or David Wurmser?

As Juan Cole has suggested, Steven Clemons is “very well connected in Washington,” especially among Right Arabists.  I’m in no position to discount the rumor.  I do think it is peculiar that, according to Clemons, there is “little doubt” that the “Cheney official” hoped “hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives would share this information.”  So far, only Clemons appears to be sharing the “information.”

In a more general sense, I think it is unwise to assume that Cheney will remain forever faithful to his Right Zionist allies.  He has bigger fish to fry.

Specifically, Caspian Sea fish.

I have no doubt Cheney would gladly discard his Right Zionist allies if he thought the incumbent Iranian regime could become a useful foil to Russian geopolitical aspirations.

A Regional Civil War in the Middle East?

Posted by Cutler on May 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

It is proving increasingly difficult to interpret US policy in the Middle East by listening to the fears of its presumed targets.  Why?  Because all the Sunni and Shiite regimes in the region now seem to think they are being targeted by the US.

And, given that the paramount US goal in the invasion of Iraq was to achieve a dual rollback of “wayward” Sunni and Shiite regimes, one might even say that all the panic is justified.

Sunni Arab Fear of a US Tilt toward the Shia?

On the one hand, Sunni political elites are quite understandably upset by signs of an Iraq-based, US-inaugurated “Shiite tilt” in the regional balance of power.

Indeed, one might suggest that pronounced Sunni howls of protest over the weekend provide the best evidence yet that the US moved decisively toward a “Shiite Option” in Iraq.

Consider, for example, signs of increasing frustration and defiance on the part of Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq Al Hashemi.

According to an Associated Press report, Hashemi is very concerned about the upcoming talks between the US and Iran:

Iraq’s Sunni vice president spoke out Sunday against the upcoming U.S.-Iran talks on the situation in his country, saying the dialogue was “damaging to Iraq’s sovereignty.”…

“It’s not good to encourage anybody to talk on behalf of the Iraqi people on their internal and national affairs,” al-Hashemi told reporters on the last day of an international conference held by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

Al-Hashemi said he would have preferred that the subject of Iraq’s stability was “tackled by Iraqis themselves.”

“This is really damaging to Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said.

And, yet, for all his alleged concern for Iraq’s sovereignty as a general principle, Hashemi seems most concerned about one neighbor in particular–Iran.

Gulf News reports that Hashemi “lashed out” at Iran:

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, lashed out at Iran at the conference.

“We say stop your interference in our internal affairs, stop settling scores on our soil, stop being part of covert plans to destabilize Iraq, and sit down with us to settle our differences, resolve outstanding issues and talk about economic cooperation,” he said.

Indeed, in an effort to thwart a US-Iranian tilt in Iraq, Hashemi seems willing to drop all the pretenses about Iraqi sovereignty and invite a regional takeover of Iraq.  The Jordan Times reports:

Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi stressed that the security of Iraq is becoming the security of the region and it is trying to convince its neighbours that “the situation in Iraq is going to spill over sooner or later.”

He asked for help from Iraq’s neighbours to reconcile internal differences before moving on to resolve external conflicts.

“We are not asking anyone to come and make decisions for us. All that we need is to stop people who are capitalising on our human tragedy; if this is beyond the capacity of the US then let the United Nations and our neighbours take over,” the Iraqi vice president said.

Finally, Hashemi is also reportedly resisting passage of the US-backed hydrocarbons bill introduced by Iraq’s Shiite Oil Minister, Hussain al-Shahristani.  The Associated Press reports:

Iraq’s vice president said Sunday he opposes a draft law that is key to the future of his country’s lucrative oil sector, saying it gives too many concessions to foreign oil companies.

“We disagree with the production sharing agreement,” Tariq al-Hashemi told reporters on the sideline of an international conference hosted by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

“We want foreign oil companies, and we have to lure them into Iraq to learn from their expertise and acquire their technology, but we shouldn’t give them big privileges,” al-Hashemi said.

As the Jordan Times reports, Hashemi’s fears and frustrations were echoed by Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib:

“We have to end proxy wars, we don’t want any party to use Iraq as a fighting ground for capital gains,” Foreign Affairs Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib said at the session, entitled “Iraq the regional security dimension.”

He added, however, that the Kingdom first wants to see Iraq achieve political reconciliation internally and the revival of Iraqi nationalism.

“When there is a national feeling of weakness it opens the door for other affiliations to emerge at the expense of our collective security in the region,” he said.

An Associated Press report puts Khatib’s concerns in the context of the regional balance of power:

Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib… turned a cold shoulder to… Iranian delegates.

“There are serious flaws in the regional order and some countries are interfering in the affairs of Arab countries,” al-Khatib said Sunday, referring to Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.

“We need to see deeds on the ground and respect for Iraq’s territorial integrity,” he said…

Iranian Fear of an Arab-Israeli-American Coalition against Iran?

Even as the Arabs continue to fear US plans for the formation of a “Shia Gulf,” the Iranian regime appears to fear Arab support for US and Israeli efforts to topple the Iranian regime.

The Financial Times reports:

Shia Iran meanwhile suspects its Sunni Arab neighbours, all allies of the US, of working to undermine it.

In response, Iran is trying to enhance its credibility with the “Arab street” in order to undermine the legitimacy of any anti-Iranian Arab initiative.  The FT makes the point:

Seeking the support of ordinary Arabs and Muslims with anti-Israeli slogans has been a cornerstone of Iran’s foreign policy under President Mahmoud Ahmadi- Nejad. But the strategy has infuriated Arab governments, and intensified suspicions of Tehran’s intentions at a time when its influence in the region has grown.

Evidence of such a strategy was on display at the World Economic Forum where Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki took aim at Saudi King Abdullah’s Palestinian “peace initiative.”  The Associated Press reports:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the [Saudi] plan would flounder…

“We had some 130 plans in the past 30 years, but none of them were realized because of the approach of the other side (Israel),” Mottaki said during a panel discussion. “Besides, we do not see any chance for the success of the Arab peace initiative because it fails to address fateful issues, like the capital of a Palestinian state and the right of return for some 5 million refugees.”

Former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Turki al-Faisal scolded Iran, however, saying that the predominantly Persian country had little to do with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

“It’s an Arab issue and should be resolved within the Arab fold,” he said.

Cheney’s Middle East

Prince Turki al-Faisal and Saudi King Abdullah can hardly be viewed as Cheney’s likely or willing collaborators in his efforts to assemble an anti-Iranian coalition in the Gulf.  It is, therefore, quite an accomplishment for the Iranian Foreign Minister to provoked the wrath of Prince Turki.

Perhaps the real “accomplishment” should be credited to Cheney himself.

After all, it was Cheney’s “rejectionists” in Gaza who detonated the current round of fighting that pits Iranian-backed Hamas forces against Fatah forces traditionally backed by Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

And it is Cheney and his Right Zionist allies who have been working overtime to reconstruct the balance of power in the Middle East with the help of a regional civil war.

Putin’s Caspian Coup, Cheney’s Iran Plan

In a major coup, Russian President Putin has clinched a deal to export Central Asian gas via Russia’s preferred overland route and has almost certainly dealt a fatal blow to Vice President Cheney’s vision of a submerged Trans-Caspian pipeline that would bypass Russia.

Putin claimed his Great Game prize at a weekend meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Kazakhstan Presdient Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Cheney had personally courted Kazakh President Nazarbayev in a bid to win support for the Trans-Caspian pipeline.  And the US had made similar overtures to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov after the sudden death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in December 2006.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev had been slated to attend an energy summit of ex-Soviet bloc leaders meeting in Poland to discuss pipeline projects designed to bypass Russia.

Instead of bypassing Russia, Nazarbayev bypassed Cheney.

This is an enormous victory for Putin in the increasingly intense Great Power rivalry between Russia and the United States.

Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov, seemingly eager to forestall an inevitable US-led smear campaign against his authoritarian regime, has held out hope that the Russian pipeline agreement does not preclude alternatives, including the Trans-Caspian pipeline:

Turkmen ambassador to Austria Esen Aydogdyev told the Viennese daily Der Standard that ‘Turkmenistan has enough gas to export it in all directions; the project involving a trans-Caspian pipeline remains an option. The West doesn’t need to have any worries.’

Austrian oil and gas company OMV AG plays a leading role in the consortium currently planning the Nabucco natural gas pipeline and recently confirmed its commitment to the project.

Nevertheless, officials in the US and Russia appear to read the situation differently.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, clearly gloating, suggested that Cheney’s pipeline is now dead:

“In my view, technological, legal, and environmental risks that are involved in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project make it impossible to find an investor for it, unless it is viewed as a purely political project and unless it does not matter what this pipe will pump,” Khristenko told journalists in Turkmenbashi on Saturday.

Khristenko’s American counterpart, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, appears to view the outcome as a significant setback for US efforts to help break European dependence on Russia.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday that a deal to pipe gas from Turkmenistan to customers in the West via Russia was bad for Europe.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of an International Energy Agency meeting here, Bodman said: “It would not be good for Europe. It concentrates more natural gas to one supplier.”

Implications for Iran

Putin’s Caspian delight may have significant implications for US policy toward Iran.  Cheney had been hoping to use the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, along with the Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipelines, to bypass Iran and Russia.  The gas would eventually flow to Europe through the NABUCCO pipeline.

Now, Cheney will arguably be forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils.”

From the perspective of Great Power politics, there is no question: Cheney will try to reconstruct an alliance with Iran.

The only question now may be how Cheney will rebuild ties between the US and Iran: diplomacy or regime change.  For the vice president, mere “containment” of Iran is no longer an option.  Cheney will not be likely leave office without an alliance with Iran.

One challenge, among several, is to pry Iran away from Russia.

Several weeks before the news of Putin’s Caspian coup, Nikolas K. Gvosdev–a self-proclaimed Washington “realist”–published an article in the National Interest entitled, “The Other Iran Timetable.”

Gvosdev argued that Europe needed Iranian gas for the NABUCCO pipeline:

[T]here is only so much time before Europeans will decide that Iran, which has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, is a critical part of ensuring their energy security. So far, the United States has been largely successful in convincing Europeans to delay proposed investments in Iran’s natural gas sector and has expressed strong disapproval of plans to connect Iran to the so-called NABUCCO pipeline (designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey to Europe).

But NABUCCO has limits. Many Europeans are skeptical that there is enough Caspian gas to really make a difference for their consumption… In the end, I was told, for NABUCCO to make sense, it will have to include gas from Iran.

This means that sooner or later Europe’s ability to give Washington support on isolating Iran will give way to its own needs for energy….

[W]as this is a case of advising, “Whatever you do, do it quickly”—meaning that if the United States were to pursue forcible regime change the preference would be to do it sooner?… [B]y 2011 or 2013, large-scale European investment in Iran will begin no matter whether it is still the Islamic Republic or some other form of government…

Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen were once champions of engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed after 1991.

During the middle of the 1990s, Cheney was himself a leading petro-realist, advocating direct engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed by July 2001.

Will Cheney and the Russia hawks go wobbly on Iran now that the US appears to have lost Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?

Will Right Zionists revert to their earlier support for an opening with Iran?  Or is Russia the “lesser of two evils” for Right Zionists, especially in light of Israeli interests in Turkmenistan and Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas?

Or, will Cheney and Right Zionists constitute a united front toward regime change in Iran?

Cheney: Delivering Justice to the Enemies of Freedom

Posted by Cutler on May 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Robin Wright’s May 11, 2007 Washington Post report ahead of Cheney’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia was entitled “Cheney to Try to Ease Saudi Concerns.”

I don’t know what Cheney was trying to do, but there are no indications in Wright’s article that Cheney is prepared to do anything much about “Saudi Concerns” regarding Iraq.

Saudi Concerns about Iraq

Wright characterizes Saudi concerns:

The oil-rich kingdom, which has taken an increasingly tough position on Iraq, believes Maliki has proven a weak leader during his first year in power and is too tied to Iran and pro-Iranian Shiite parties to bring about real reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunni minority, Arab sources said…

The king has balked at recent U.S. overtures to do more to help Iraq politically, beyond pledges of debt relief and financial aid, and has explored support for alternative leadership, including former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, U.S. and Arab officials said.

The Saudis have been increasingly concerned about reports that Maliki’s government favors Shiite officials in government ministries and Shiite commanders in the Iraqi military — at the expense of qualified Sunnis whose inclusion would help foster reconciliation, Arab officials said…

The U.S. Central Command chief, Adm. William J. Fallon, and the State Department’s Iraq coordinator, David M. Satterfield, were both rebuffed in appeals to the king during trips to Riyadh last month. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Fallon said the king told him “several times” during their April 1 discussion that U.S. policies “had not been correct in his view.”

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

[An Associated Press article on Cheney’s meeting with Abdullah reports that the king asked after George Bush Sr, as if to drive home the point that the alliance between the House of Saud and the House of Bush was secured by the senior Bush when he allowed Saddam to crush the Shiite rebellion in Iraq after Operation Desert Storm.]

Cheney: Assuaging Saudi Concerns?

Wright reports on Cheney’s planned effort to “ease” Saudi concerns:

Assuaging Saudi concerns is the primary reason for the vice president’s trip — and even a key reason he went to Baghdad this week, U.S. and Arab officials say. During his stop in Riyadh on Saturday, Cheney wants to be able to tell the Sunni world’s most powerful monarch that the Bush administration is leaning hard on the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to implement long-delayed political steps to help end the Sunni insurgency, U.S. officials said….

But the real point here, as Wright reports, is that Cheney continues to resist, so far, the real Saudi demand: bring back Iyad Allawi (a secular “Shiite,” but an ex-Baathist sometimes referred to as Saddam without a Mustache) and to restore Sunni political supremacy in Iraq:

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

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

The vice president will make the case that Maliki was elected and that Allawi, or any other leader, would not be more effective with the current situation in Iraq, U.S. officials said…

U.S. officials are already skeptical that the visit will produce a significant breakthrough, beyond underscoring common interests in regional stability.

Fallon is quite clear: the US is committed to the Shiite Option in Iraq.  There will be no rollback of the 2005 elections.  The US will not back Sunni puppets (these words may haunt Fallon if the US does ever resort to authoritarian rule under Allawi).

This only confirms my sense that Cheney has signed on to the initial Right Zionist plan to use Shiite majority rule in Iraq to challenge Sunni supremacy in the Gulf.

Cheney on Iran

If Cheney wanted to ease Saudi concerns about Iraq, he knows what to do: install Allawi as Iraq’s “benign autocrat.”

But Cheney didn’t go to Saudi Arabia to ease concerns about Iraq.  If anything, he went to try to provoke Saudi concerns about Iran (and, perhaps, to ease concerns that Maliki represented a “significant linkage to Iran”).

The Saudis were always destined to oppose “Act I” of the Right Zionist plan for “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.  But Cheney appears to still be hoping to enlist Saudi support for “Act II” of the dual rollback plan which targets the Iranian regime.

Indeed, Robin Wright’s article from May 12, 2007 makes the point: “In Gulf, Cheney Pointedly Warns Iran.”

“Throughout the region our country has interests to protect and commitments to honor,” Cheney told Navy staff aboard the USS John C. Stennis. “With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We’ll keep the sea lanes open. We’ll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We’ll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We’ll continue bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”

That last line seemed new to me.  Cheney has been talking about Iran in terms of “strategic threats” for a long time.  But is that last line a reference to domestic Iranian politics and the prospect of regime change from within?  Let it sink in… “bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”  Who are “those who suffer”?  Who are the “enemies of freedom”?  In a paragraph about Iran?

There are at least two ways of thinking about whether that line has any significance: reaction among those who yearn for regime change in Iran and those who fear it most.

Thus far, Cheney’s “freedom” line on Iran has elicited no discernable excited from the Right Zionists most enthusiastic about regime change.  That tends to make me think I may be reading too much into the line.  We’ll see… (keep me posted if you spot anything).

Within Iran, however, there seems to be heightened concern that the US is, indeed, supporting some kind of populist “velvet revolution” in Iran.  The Financial Times explains:

Iranians with close ties to Washington said the Bush administration’s decision to allocate special funding to support pro-democracy activities in Iran – while keeping the identities of recipients secret – had been a mistake that has led to a witch-hunt.

Indeed, the Iranians appear to have nabbed a major Iranian-American “witch,” Haleh Esfandiari.

The Associate Press explains the case:

[T]he hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan accused Haleh Esfandiari of spying for the U.S. and Israel and for attempting to launch a democratic revolution in the country….

“She has been one of the main elements of Mossad in driving a velvet revolution strategy in Iran, the paper wrote. She formed two networks, including Iranian activists, in the U.S and Dubai for toppling down [the Islamic government]”.

Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, denied the newspaper’s allegations.

“It is a false and hollow accusation that Haleh Esfandiari is one of the ‘principle instruments’ of Israel, or a Mossad spy service, in advancing the strategy of a ‘velvet revolution’ in Iran. It is a lie that Haleh Esfandiari had ‘undercover assignments’ or that she was one of the ‘media spies’ in Iran. She had no part in setting up a ‘communications network’ between Dubai and America,” Bakhash said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

It would be rather remarkable if Shaul Bakhash or Esfandiari constituted the “principle instruments” of those advancing the strategy of a “velvet revolution” in Iran.  More likely, the Iranians are simply rounding up the “usual suspects.”

Omid Memarian over at “Iranian Prospect” has some details from Iranian press reports:

Reja News, a super conservative website which has been active over the past few days in attacks against Hossein Moussavian, a senior Iranian diplomat recently arrested in Tehran, published a report in which Haleh Esfandiari was named the Zionists’ agent in Iran…

The report then describes Dr. Esfandiari’s activities in Ayandegan Newspaper, saying: “She is an effective member of the pre-Revolution Zionist Lobby in the Pahlavi court, who along with her husband founded the Zionist Ayandegan Newspaper in Tehran. The interesting point is that Haleh Esfandiari remained in Iran for a time after the Revolution, but with the ban on Ayandegan Newspaper, she fled Iran in August of 1979 for Israel.”

Reja News which withholds its source continues: “It is said that she was the architect of AIPAC’s conference two years ago, which met under the slogan of ‘Now Is The Time to Stop Iran,’ suggesting a review of all avenues to confront Iran’s nuclear programs. This conference’s motto, ‘Iran, the Point of Understanding Between US and Israel,’ tried to review ways for coordinating Israel and US efforts to apply pressure on Islamic Republic of Iran. George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Cinton, John Bolton, Ihud Ulmert and Amir Perez were some of the speakers in this conference. It is said that the decision of war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah was reached in this conference.”

Esfandiari did participate in an AIPAC policy conference back in 2004 where she joined Philo Dibble on a panel entitled, “Revolution From Within: Can the Iranian People Reclaim the Republic?”  Maybe somebody who was there could say how Esfandiari (and Dibble) answered the question.

As for Shaul Bakhash, I have previously noted that as a member of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce on Iran (co-chaired by Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski), Bakhash formally dissented from the main conclusions of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce Report , “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Bakhash appeared to be speaking, like Cheney, about bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.

I wish to stress that support for dialogue and diplomatic and economic relations between Iran and the United States does not imply acquiescence in the violation by the Iranian government of the civil rights and liberties of its own citizens. Some Iranians understandably fear that relations with the United States will reinforce the status quo and therefore regime durability in Iran. In fact, any study of Iranian history over the last century and more suggests that interaction with the outside world greatly accelerates, rather than hinders, the pace of internal political change. I believe enmeshing Iran with the international community, expanding trade, and improving economic opportunity and the conditions for the growth of the middle class will strengthen, not weaken, the democratic forces in Iran.

Are the Iranians right to be nervous about a “velvet revolution”?

I’ll believe that the US has adopted a policy of populist regime change when I see the accompanying Right Zionist jubilation.

Biden’s War

Posted by Cutler on May 01, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Happy May Day! I’ll be brief because this is labor’s day for reinvigorating the cultural battle for less work.

Senator Joseph Biden made an April 29, 2007 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Set aside, for the moment, Biden’s assertions about the future (“all of us have been arguing… in both parties, that you’re going to have to leave forces behind in Iraq”).

Biden’s most interesting comments concern the past. Biden’s explanation and justification for the invasion gets to some of the “truth” behind the lies:

[W]e were talking then about whether or not we could keep the pressure of the international community on Iraq to stay in the box we had them in. And remember, you had the French and others say the reason all those children were dying in Iraq, the reason why hospitals didn’t have equipment is because of what we, the United States, were doing, imposing on Iraq these sanctions. And that was the battle. The battle was do we lift these sanctions or do we in fact increase the sanctions? And everyone at the time was talking about—from the secretary of state to even the president—that this was to demonstrate to the world the president of the United States had the full faith and credit of the United States Congress behind him to put pressure on the rest of the world to say, “Hey, look, you lift the sanctions, you’re—we’re going to be on our own here. Don’t lift the sanctions. Get the inspectors back in.” That was the context of the debate, to be fair about it…

MR. RUSSERT: But you said Saddam was a threat. He had to be…

SEN. BIDEN: He was a threat.

MR. RUSSERT: In what way?

SEN. BIDEN: The threat he presented was that, if Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon—not by building it, by purchasing it. I also believed he was a threat in that he was—every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of—after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating. Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t. The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not. And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening. They were pulling away. They were saying, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe we should lift the no-fly zone. Maybe we should lift the sanctions.” That was the context.

In light of recent controversies over George Tenet’s new book, At the Center of the Storm, and his sense of the origins of the invasion plan, it might be worth noting that Biden’s justification for the invasion is not very different from the one offered, on the eve of the invasion, by Right Zionist Richard Perle over at the Project for a New American Century:

“Let’s be candid about it. France has found a way of dealing with Saddam Hussein that simply wouldn’t work for the United States because it entails a degree of cooperation that is not acceptable for us. The commercial relationship between France and Saddam’s regime is on hold owing to the sanctions but I think it’s clear that the moment the sanctions are removed there is a pipeline of contracts that would be promulgated and they’re important for France. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, they’re important for France. It’s my understanding that the Total contract with Saddam is worth $40 billion to $60 billion…. So there are commercial interests and for those people who accuse the United States in being interested in oil in this matter, I submit to you that our interest in oil is in purchasing it on the world market. That could best be accomplished by lifting the sanctions, hardly by going to war against Saddam Hussein. The French interest in the promulgation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious.

“But there’s a second French attitude that I think we have to come to grips with and understand and that is the desire on the part of France to build the European Union as a counterweight to the United States. Counterweight is the term most frequently employed by the French, by Chris Patten in Brussels and by others. For a long time the United States and France have been allies. Good allies. Vital to each other’s security at many times in our history and never in the period in which we were allies who supported one another did either of us think of describing the other as a counterweight. A relationship that can be described by the term counterweight is not a relationship of alliance”…

“Well, I don’t think we have the luxury of changing priorities from one day to the next. There was a review of Iraq policy underway on September 11th and the administration hadn’t decided at that point what to do, but one thing was very clear: the consensus behind the sanctions which had become the central element of western United Nations strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein was crumbling. France and Russia had already indicated they were opposed to continuing the sanctions. The French wanted to weaken the sanctions regime. The so-called smart sanctions policy of the United States was really a response to the eroding support for those sanctions and it was very clear that if something wasn’t done that Saddam was going to emerge the survivor who had outlasted the United Nations….So it was urgent to deal with Iraq, and we set on a course of dealing with Iraq.

The specific “crisis” that generated the US invasion of Iraq was the collapse of the sanctions regime, understood in terms of Great Power Rivalry, was “not acceptable to us.”

All that remains, it would seem, is to understand the contours of US policy after the invasion, i.e., the geopolitical rationale for de-Baathification (rather than, say, “grabbing” Iraq but maintaining Baathist rule).

Cheney is the Iraq War Czar

Posted by Cutler on April 30, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are signs that 2007 may be shaping up to be one of those audacious, off-election-cycle Bush administration years in the tradition of 2003 (invasion and de-Baathification of Iraq) and 2005 (successive pro-Shiite elections in Iraq).

The governing Shiite coalition in Iraq is growing increasingly strident.  According to the Washington Post and the New York Times, Iraqi Shiites appear to be stalling parliamentary passage of the Right Arabist “benchmarks” (re-Baathification, constitutional revisions, provincial elections) generated by former American Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

Shiites are backing centralization of Iraq’s oil industry, reflected in the draft of the hydrocarbons law, but this is less a concession to Sunni Arab sentiment than a significant blow to Kurdish demands for autonomy.

(Turkey is obviously in a huff about the Kurdish autonomy and tensions are high with the US, but Maliki’s Shiite coalition and Turkey’s strident generals can surely find common ground in opposition to Kurdish control of Kirkuk.  Didn’t Cheney say as much to Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen.Yaşar Büyükanit when the two met in February?).

Maliki is even moving against some of the Sunni security forces, including some of those favored by fiercely anti-Sadrist Right Arabist elements of the US military brass.

It is surely no coincidence that Right Zionists in Washington are warming to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Maliki (see my posts here and here) just as Maliki has been snubbed by Saudi King Abdullah.

At the same time, the US-Saudi relationship looks increasingly tense.  A New York Times profile of Prince Bandar ran under the strange headline, “A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush is Sounding Off-Key.”

The figure who undoubtedly sounds “off-key” to Cheney is Saudi King Abdullah.

The Times profile on Bandar painted an accurate picture of an “Ambassador” who no longer speaks for his country.

Prince Bandar… may no longer be able to serve as an unerring beacon of Saudi intent.

“The problem is that Bandar has been pursuing a policy that was music to the ears of the Bush administration, but was not what King Abdullah had in mind at all,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel who is now head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Of course it is ultimately the king — and not the prince — who makes the final call on policy.

In any ordinary country, it would go without saying that the King, not the Ambassador, makes policy.  But Bandar is not merely a civil servant.

Instead, he is a son of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at a time when the future of Saudi royal succession remains a matter of considerable speculation.

If National Security Council Adviser Stephen Hadley is having trouble finding someone willing to serve as Iraq War Czar the reason is not difficult to discern: Vice President Cheney already has the job.

Right Zionists and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on April 24, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / No Comments

Why don’t Right Zionists favor US withdrawal from Iraq?

This may seem like a silly question: for many Neocons, US withdrawal from Iraq automatically equals defeat.

To be sure, there is a crowd–call them the “Unipolarists” most closely identified with William Kristol and John McCain–for whom Iraq is and has always been about US boots on the ground and the direct projection of US imperial power. When the US invaded Iraq, these Neocons joined many Right Arabists like Colin Powell and Anthony Zinni in favoring a direct, formal US Occupation of Iraq.

Right Zionists are by no means hostile to the projection of US power.

However, as I argued in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence,” Right Zionists also have a particular vision of the future of Iraq that seems lost on those critics who see US policy toward Iraq as guided by little more than the generic appetite of the military industrial complex.

The core of the Right Zionist vision for Iraq is the substitution of Iraqi Shiite majority rule in place of traditional authoritarian rule by Iraq’s Sunni minority.

It is easy enough to figure out why Right Arabists want the US to stay in Iraq: American force is required to close Pandora’s Box, reverse Shiite empowerment, and restore Sunni Arab minority military rule.

So, here is the mystery:

Why wouldn’t a Right Zionist like Reuel Marc Gerecht–perhaps the leading US proponent of Iraqi Shiite majority rule, with the possible exception of Vice President Cheney’s Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–support US withdrawal?

After all, Gerecht–like Fouad Ajami–seems pretty confident that Iraqi Shiites are prepared to spill Sunni Arab blood in order to finish off the Sunni insurgency.

Gerecht has painted a picture of Iraq after US withdrawal. It is not pretty. But it would be very surprising if Gerecht–who once asked, “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?“–tried to ground his argument for US troops in Iraq on the basis of humanitarianism.

For Gerecht, the chief reason to stay in Iraq is neither to repress Iraqi Shiites nor protect Iraqi Sunnis but to contain Iranian influence in Iraq.

If the US does not ally itself with Iraqi Shiites in a regional war against radical Sunni Arabs, Iraqi Shiites will have no choice but to seek security in the arms of Iranian radicals. Here is Gerecht, from January, on withdrawal.

[A]n American withdrawal would provoke a take-no-prisoners civil war between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs, which could easily reach genocidal intensity…

[T]he Sunni Arab population of Baghdad is going to get pulverized…

Once the Shia become both badly bloodied and victorious, raw nationalist and religious passions will grow. A horrific fight with the Sunni Arabs will inevitably draw in support from the ferociously anti-Shiite Sunni religious establishments in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and on the Shiite side from Iran…

Imagine Iraqi Shiites, battle-hardened in a vicious war with Iraq’s Arab Sunnis, spiritually and operationally linking up with a revitalized and aggressive clerical dictatorship in Iran…

Hence, the need for US troops and Gerecht’s support for the current “surge”:

A strong, aggressive American military presence in Iraq can probably halt the radicalization of the Shiite community.

That was January 2007.

In his most recent missive, Gerecht appears to suggest that if the “surge” goes his way, he would welcome Iraqi Shiite demands for US withdrawal.

The key, for Gerecht, is that the US must abandon its attempts to appease the Sunni minority.

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

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

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

Gerecht does not support talk of immediate withdrawal:

[T]he surge deserves to be supported. This is not the time for talk of timetables for withdrawal–much less talk of a war that is lost. It isn’t inconsistent to scorch Bush for his failures–and still to argue that the American blood we will spill in Iraq in the surge is worth the possibility of success.

But there is also this surprising little nugget:

As a Shiite-led democracy grows, the calls for an American withdrawal will increase. Which is fine. Iraqi nationalism is vibrant among the Shiites, especially those who are religious. And democracy in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, is unlikely to be particularly affectionate toward the United States. Iraqi democracy is much more likely to free American soldiers to go home than is chaos in Mesopotamia.

Gerecht may be playing partisan games, rejecting talk of timetables for withdrawal while giving a nod toward withdrawal at some point over the horizon. But which position features the political pandering and which features the ideology of a Right Zionist?

Is Gerecht blowing smoke when he describes as “fine” increasing Iraqi Shiite calls for American withdrawal?

Or is this the rebirth of Right Zionist optimism that “we are getting there,” courtesy of vengeful Shiite militias and the hope of a reinvigorated US counter-insurgency campaign?

[W]ith Petraeus, Maliki, and Sistani in charge, things may work out…

Gerecht remains cautious about the road ahead:

American and Iraqi forces in Baghdad will have to figure out a way to diminish significantly the number and lethality of Sunni suicide bombers. Given the topography of Baghdad, the possible routes of attack against the capital’s Shiite denizens, and the common traits of Iraq’s Arabs, this will be difficult. If we and the Iraqis cannot do this, then the radicalization of the Shiites will continue, and it will be only a question of time before the Shiite community collectively decides that the Sunnis as a group are beyond the pale, and a countrywide war of religious cleansing will become likely… In the next few months, of course, things could go to hell. One suicide bomber killing the right Shiite VIPs could threaten all.

Each day brings news that all that could go to hell probably will.

Nevertheless, when coupled with Fouad Ajami’s recent optimism, Gerecht’s latest missive appears to mark something of a Right Zionist trend in the making.

It may not point to the direction of events in Iraq or even Washington. But it does clarify the stakes, for Right Zionists, of ongoing battles in and around Iraq.

Right Zionist optimism may tell us little about the chances for US success in Iraq but more about some Right Zionist definitions of success.

Iran-Contra, Redux?

Posted by Cutler on April 23, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Washington wants to sell weapons to the Saudis.  Watch Right Zionists squirm.

We’ve been here before.

In the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Right Arabists like Reagan administration Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger responded by bolstering US relations with Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  The goal was both to reassure the Saudis that the US would not retreat from the Gulf and to help the Saudis and Iraq defend the Gulf against Iranian influence.

Today, as the US is bogged down in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and, according to Gates, the State Department) wants to send the same message, allegedly offering to sell Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs to the Saudis.

Part of the story centers on Washington’s efforts to construct and maintain a broad coalition against Iran.

But Gates appears also to feel the need to “reassure” the Saudis of US support, more generally, if only to keep Riyadh out of the hands of Moscow.

Gates explained:

Q Mr. Secretary, could we go back for a moment to your visit here in Israel? (I thought ?) you (were discussing ?) your concerns about future U.S. arms exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. And were you able to reach any kind of understanding on — (inaudible) — any Israeli fears that there may be?

SEC. GATES: We did talk about that. And I talked about the — first of all, I made it clear that it’s a State Department program, not a Defense Department program. But that I thought that, look, we need to look at the circumstances in terms of the overall strategic environment and in terms of the concerns of other neighbors (more over ?) Iran, perhaps, than Israel, and that they needed to take into consideration the overall strategic environment and how that has changed. So I made it pretty clear that there are alternatives for their neighbors in terms of sophisticated weapons, and that needed to be taken (into consideration ?) as well.

Q Could you just expand on that a little bit? You say there are alternatives?

SEC. GATES: Well, I’m confident the Russians would be very happy to sell weapons in the region.

Gates may simply be playing the Russian card to snow the Israelis, but Gates may be something of a Russia hawk and Putin’s historic February visit to Saudi Arabia might have raised alarm bells at the Pentagon (as it certainly did for Ariel Cohen over at the Heritage Foundation).

Iran-Contra, Redux?

Back in the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s tilt toward Saudi Arabia created a serious dilemma for Right Zionists (aka, Neocons) feared stronger ties between the US and Saudi Arabia at least as much as they feared the revolutionary regime in Iran.

Today, leading Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen present themselves as supremely hawkish on Iran, ruling out any diplomatic settlement with Iran, etc.

And Ledeen, in particular, likes to talk about how the Iranians declared war on the United States in 1979 and have been waging that war ever since:

The Ayatollah Khomeini branded the U.S. “The Great Satan” in 1979, and Iranians and Iranian proxies have been killing Americans and American friends and allies ever since…

Be that as it may, Ledeen and Co. have not always favored confrontation with Iran.  The reason is quite simple: Right Zionists consider the Arab Gulf to be a permanent enemy of Israel while they consider “eternal Iran” an essential ally.

Indeed, Ledeen and the Right Zionists were the architects of the plan to reach out to Iran during the Reagan administration (the so-called Iran-Contra affair) and Ledeen’s diplomatic drum beat continued until after the Gulf War.

In a previous post, I have recalled some of Ledeen’s earlier, more “diplomatic” positions:

Some “Right Zionist history” may help make the point: way back on July 19, 1988, Michael Ledeen–famous for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair–published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Let’s Talk With Iran Now” (I couldn’t find an on-line copy. Link anyone?). Here are some excerpts of his position at that time:

The United States, which should have been exploring improved relations with Iran before… should now seize the opportunity to do so. To wait might suggest to even pro-Western Iranians that a refusal to seek better relations is based on an anti-Iran animus rather than objections to specific Iranian actions.

Those Iranians who have been calling for better relations with the West have clearly been gathering strength… Among the advocates of such improved relations are two leading candidates to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani and the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri

Yet there has been no sense of urgency among our top policymakers to design and conduct a policy toward Iran–in part because our top officials, traumatized by the Iran-contra scandal and the hearings and investigatiosn that followed, were determined to to be caught dealing with the Iranians…

Yet past mistakes should not prevent the Administration from pursuing the clear chance for a potential breakthrough in one of the more strategically sensitive areas of the world.

Same theme, again, in a February 1, 1991 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Iran–Back in the Game,” as the US waged war against Iraq.

Iran is once again a player in the Great Game, even to the point of being able to contemplate territorial acquisitions of its own once Iraq has been defeated…

Iran will be seated at the table when the new Middle Eastern order is designed at war’s end, and it will not be easy for the U.S. to know how to deal with it. For there is no country in the world that American diplomats have shunned so totally, indeed avoided so compulsively, as Iran. We have done so primarily for political reasons; ever since the Iran-Contra affair, no American leader has wished to be caught talking to an Iranian, even though many recognized the many sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran.

It would have been wiser to have dealt with the Iranians earlier, but we now have little choice in the matter. Our contacts will surely increase, and President Rafsanjani and company will likely sit at the postwar negotiating table, thereby producing the great historical irony that Saddam Hussein, the conqueror of Persia, will have forced us to resume sensible relations with a reemerging Iran.

The immediate political question today is whether the Israeli government will mobilize Congressional opposition to the recent proposal to sell arms to the Saudis.  This may depend, in part, on the balance of forces between Right Zionists in the US and the ruling Kadima party in Israel.

But equally important in the long term may be whether and under what circumstances Ledeen, or some of his Right Zionist allies, might break ranks with the proposed Saudi-Israeli, anti-Iranian coalition and discover “sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran” and move to thwart their “real” enemy, King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia.

If such an abrupt reversal is in the cards, it may be helpful to understand why Ledeen reversed himself after 1991.

What made Ledeen move from diplomacy to regime change?  What would it take for him to move back?

This is not a rhetorical question.  I don’t know and it seems important.

Ledeen could tell us, but he may be too busy covering the tracks of his previous preference for “diplomacy” and pretending to have been fighting the Iranians “ever since” the revolution of 1979.

Birthday Blogging

Posted by Cutler on April 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

“Cutler’s Blog” is one year old today.

The first post examined the “decision” of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside amidst considerable pressure from Washington.

By some measures, it looks like the political process hasn’t changed much in a year.

One year ago, Bush administration Right Arabists were busy trying to curb Shiite power and woo the Sunni minority back into the political process.

This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered that same message to Baghdad.  The Washington Post reports:

Gates on Friday called the Baghdad security plan “a strategy for buying time for progress toward justice and reconciliation.”

He urged Iraq’s parliament to pass legislation on provincial elections, the exploitation of the country’s vast oil resources, the status of former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein and other issues before the lawmakers recess this summer. “These measures will not fix all of the problems in Iraq, but they will manifest the will of the entire government of Iraq to be a government for all the people of Iraq in the future,” he said.

In April 2006, however, the US managed to oust Jaafari only to settle for his deputy, Prime Minister Maliki.

One year later, Maliki–like Jaafari–retains some independence from the Washington’s Right Arabists.

Asked how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had responded, Gates said Maliki had reminded him that the parliament is independent, suggesting he could make no assurances on the legislation.

Hasan Suneid, a lawmaker and adviser to Maliki, said the Iraqi government would like to see both the oil legislation and de-Baathification proposal pass, but at their own pace. “These demands are already Iraqi demands,” he said. “The most important thing is to achieve discussion of these plans. Time is irrelevant.”

The “independence” of the Shiite political establishment should not be exaggerated, but neither should it be viewed as an unmitigated disaster for Washington’s political establishment.

The beleaguered Right Zionists (i.e., Neocons) have little left to show for themselves in Washington (save for David Wurmser and John Hannah in Cheney’s office and Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, and perhaps a smattering of lesser figures).

But unlike Washington’s Right Arabists, some Right Zionists–most recently, Fouad Ajami–are quite pleased by signs of Shiite power and Shiite independence from Right Arabist Washington.

What I cannot figure out, one year later, is how this story ends.

Will “facts on the ground” in Baghdad force Right Arabist Washington to come to terms with Shiite power in Iraq?  Or will Right Arabist Washington lose patience with Iraqi Shiites and force an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

I would not have predicted that the current political “muddle” could have gone on as long as it has.

At one point in the last year, it looked as though James Baker’s Right Arabists were preparing for a clean sweep in Washington.

It didn’t happen.

And then there were signs that 2007 might tilt dramatically toward Shiite power in Iraq and Right Zionist influence in Washington, courtesy of Vice President Cheney.

Nothing quite so dramatic has yet unfolded in 2007.

The political meaning of the surge remains highly ambiguous and the additional US forces will not be in place until June.

If Shiite power in Iraq is linked to regime change in Iran–the original Right Zionist plan for “Dual Rollback”–then there are few signs such a plan has any legs in Washington (to say nothing of its chances in Tehran).

As I noted in a recent post, Right Zionists like Richard Perle feel utterly betrayed by US policy toward Iran.  Here is Perle:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Perle has any friends in high places, they are now as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.

The Washington Times reported this week that some Democrats are trying to “out hawk” the Bush administration on Iran:

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, criticized the administration for not taking action under the Iran Sanctions Act.

That law requires imposing sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in one year in Iran’s energy sector.

Mr. Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs terrorism, nonproliferation and trade subcommittee, included a list of foreign companies that have invested millions or more than $1 billion in Iranian energy.

Although the administration may say the deals may not go through or the full extent of the investments will not be realized, “it strains credulity to say that no single $20 million investment has occurred in Iran in the past decade driving any calendar year,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is that the State Department refuses to find evidence of the investments that would trigger the act because they do not want to find evidence of such investments.”

But even Dem Zionists seem to be split on how to proceed.  California Congressman Tom Lantos–traditionally a great friend of Israel–reaching out to Russia, Syria, and even Iran.

So, the muddle continues.

And so does “Cutler’s Blog.”

From Russia (To Israel) With Love

Posted by Cutler on April 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

One of the central assumptions behind discussions of the domestic political influence within the US of the “Israel Lobby” is that the power must be grounded in domestic lobbying because there is no coherent strategic rationale that justifies the “special relationship” between the US and Israeli.

One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests… Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’…

Without minimizing the importance of domestic politics, there may be more to say about the strategic significance of Israel.

Consider the role of oil.

In a region that is home to enormous oil reserves, why favor a country that has almost no energy of its own?

Because much of the geopolitics of oil is about oil transport.

Consider, for example, an October 2006 report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Israel has one main operational oil pipeline, known as the “Trans-Israel Pipeline” or the “Tipline,” built in 1968 to ship Iranian oil from the southern Red Sea port of Eilat to the northern Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, as a gateway to Europe. The pipeline went into disuse after relations with Iran soured in 1979. The 152-mile pipeline has a reported current capacity of 1-1.2 million bbl/d (having been expanded from 400,000 bbl/d) and 18 million barrels of storage capacity….

During 2003, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) modified the pipeline to reverse flows on the 42-inch line, to facilitate Russian Caspian petroleum exports to Far East. In October 2003, it was first reported that Swiss trader Glencore would ship 1.2 million barrels of Kazakh CPC Blend crude and 600,000 barrels of sour Russian Urals through the line as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which can accommodate only smaller, “Suezmax” tankers. In July 2006, Israel also signed and agreement with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) to import and transport Azeri Light Crude through the pipeline.

That brief EIA narrative raises a whole host of interesting questions.

Who, for example, might harbor the dream of restoring the original direction of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline as an Iranian-Israeli route that reaches Europe but bypasses Arab oil?

Who dreams of bypassing the Suez canal?

Who dreams of oil, loaded onto VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) in the Red Sea for shipment to markets in Asia?

Note, too, the possibility that the Israeli pipeline route might get tangled up in the Great Power rivalry between the United States and Russia.

After all, the Azerbaijan oil that flows through the BTC pipeline is specifically designed to bypass Russian influence in the transportation of Caspian Sea oil.

But Russia is making its own play for the Israeli route, also via Turkey.

Black Sea ministers… faced conflicts over competing pipeline projects, such as Russia’s plans to expand its Blue Stream gas pipeline through Turkey to Israel and possibly Europe, which would rival the planned [US-backed] Nabucco pipeline.

One might even imagine Israel being wooed by Russia and the US.

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.


One Happy Neocon

Posted by Cutler on April 13, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Looking for a happy Neocon in Washington?

You are unlikely to find one at the World Bank, where former US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz is under pressure to resign.

Instead, the happiest Neocon in Washington appears to be long-time Wolfowitz associate Fouad Ajami.

Like Senator John McCain, Ajami is just back from Iraq and has been all over the media sharing his new-found optimism about Iraq.

It wasn’t always thus.  Having offered up glowing predictions on the eve of the US invasion, Ajami seemed to concede failure in May 2004 with a New York Times Op-Ed that declared “The Dream is Dead.”

Let’s face it: Iraq is not going to be America’s showcase in the Arab-Muslim world… If some of the war’s planners had thought that Iraq would be an ideal base for American primacy in the Persian Gulf, a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world, that notion has clearly been set aside.

We are strangers in Iraq, and we didn’t know the place. We had struggled against radical Shiism in Iran and Lebanon in recent decades, but we expected a fairly secular society in Iraq (I myself wrote in that vein at the time). Yet it turned out that the radical faith — among the Sunnis as well as the Shiites — rose to fill the void left by the collapse of the old despotism.

More recently, however, Ajami has been publishing relatively upbeat Wall Street Journal Op-Ed essays, including his April 11, 2007 piece “Iraq in the Balance,” expressing “cautious optimism” about Iraq.

Traveling “in the company of the Shia politician Ahmed Chalabi” and armed protection, Ajami toured Baghdad.

[T]he sense of deliverance, and the hopes invested in this new security plan, are palpable…

The essay was published before a recent bombing of the Iraqi Parliament killed several Iraqi MPs and prompted the US to concede that even the Green Zone is not safe.  And it comes before the word that the US will extend the tours of those serving in Iraq.

Ultimately, however, Ajami’s optimism is not grounded in a naive hope of swift US military success in Iraq (although Ajami can certainly sling that hash with the best of those accused of reading from a White House script).

Instead, Ajami’s optimism appears to be grounded in a far more cold-hearted (if still potentially incorrect) calculation: Shiite vengeance has done what the US refused to do–break the back of the Sunni insurgency.

In other words, Iraq is (or has been) in the throes of a sectarian civil war, but in the words of Charles Krauthammer, Iraq is “A Civil War We Can Still Win.”

What some might call “ethnic cleansing” in Baghdad, Ajami calls victory:

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

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad. The great flight from Baghdad to Jordan, to Syria, to other Arab destinations, has been the flight of Baghdad’s Sunni middle-class. It is they who had the means of escape, and the savings.

Whole mixed districts in the city–Rasafa, Karkh–have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts. This was the tragic logic of the campaign of terror waged by the Baathists and the jihadists against the Shia; this was what played out in the terrible year that followed the attack on the Askariya shrine of Samarra in February 2006. Possessed of an old notion of their own dominion, and of Shia passivity and quiescence, the Sunni Arabs waged a war they were destined to lose.

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

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

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

In other words, the Chalabi-Ajami Right Zionist crew that put its faith in the Iraqi Shia have not been disappointed by the decision.

The disappointment has been in Washington.  And if Ajami continues to fear anything, it is the Bush administration:

The Americans have given birth to this new Shia primacy, but there lingers a fear, in the inner circles of the Shia coalition, that the Americans have in mind a Sunni-based army, of the Pakistani and Turkish mold, that would upend the democratic, majoritarian bases of power on which Shia primacy rests. They are keenly aware, these new Shia men of power in Baghdad, that the Pax Americana in the region is based on an alliance of long standing with the Sunni regimes. They are under no illusions about their own access to Washington when compared with that of Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and the smaller principalities of the Persian Gulf. This suspicion is in the nature of things; it is the way of once marginal men who had come into an unexpected triumph.

In truth, it is not only the Arab order of power that remains ill at ease with the rise of the Shia of Iraq. The (Shia) genie that came out of the bottle was not fully to America’s liking. Indeed, the U.S. strategy in Iraq had tried to sidestep the history that America itself had given birth to. There had been the disastrous regency of Paul Bremer. It had been followed by the attempt to create a national security state under Ayad Allawi. Then there had come the strategy of the American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, that aimed to bring the Sunni leadership into the political process and wean them away from the terror and the insurgency.

Mr. Khalilzad had become, in his own sense of himself, something of a High Commissioner in Iraq, and his strategy had ended in failure; the Sunni leaders never broke with the insurgency. Their sobriety of late has been a function of the defeat their cause has suffered on the ground; all the inducements had not worked.

We are now in a new, and fourth, phase of this American presence. We should not try to “cheat” in the region, conceal what we had done, or apologize for it, by floating an Arab-Israeli peace process to the liking of the “Sunni street.”…

For our part, we can’t give full credence to the Sunni representations of things. We can cushion the Sunni defeat but can’t reverse it. Our soldiers have not waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against Sunni extremists to fall for the fear of some imagined “Shia crescent” peddled by Sunni rulers and preachers.

The Neocons began to lose control of US policy in Iraq as early as September 2003.  They have never been completely eclipsed in Washington, least of all in the Office of the Vice President.

Ultimately, the “(Shia) genie” in Iraq remains the ace in the hole for Right Zionists.

Students of the Sunni insurgency might well argue that Ajami is blowing smoke when he says that the Mahdi Army has won the fight for Baghdad.  At one level, Ajami is simply repeated the old hope that he is witnessing the “last throes” of the Sunni insurgency.  There is good reason for skepticism.

No matter.  The significance of the Ajami text is not in the adequacy of its predictions about Baghdad but in the content and direction of its political investments.

Ajami has produced an “unflinching” Right Zionist defense of the 80 Percent Solution.

Does Washington support the 80 Percent Solution?

Ajami is not sure.  In his January 2007 Op-Ed “The American Iraq,” he expressed cautious optimism about Washington:

[I]n recent months our faith in democracy’s possibilities in Iraq has appeared to erode, and this unnerves the Shia political class… [T]here was that brief moment when it seemed as though the “realists” of the James Baker variety were in the midst of a restoration. The Shia (and the Kurds) needed no deep literacy in strategic matters to read the mind of Mr. Baker. His brand of realism was anathema to people who tell their history in metaphors of justice and betrayal. He was a known entity in Iraq; he had been the steward of American foreign policy when America walked away, in 1991, from the Kurdish and Shia rebellions it had called for. The political class in Baghdad couldn’t have known that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would die on the vine, and that President Bush would pay these recommendations scant attention. The American position was not transparent, and there were in the air rumors of retrenchment, and thus legitimate Iraqi fears that the American presence in Baghdad could be bartered away in some accommodation with the powers in Iraq’s neighborhood.

These fears were to be allayed, but not put to rest, by the military “surge” that President Bush announced in recent days. More than a military endeavor, the surge can be seen as a declaration by the president that deliverance would be sought in Baghdad, and not in deals with the rogues (Syria and Iran) or with the Sunni Arab states. Prime Minister Maliki and the coalition that sustains his government could not know for certain if this was the proverbial “extra mile” before casting them adrift, or the sure promise that this president would stay with them for the remainder of his time in office.

Ajami–like Maliki–might still have his doubts about President Bush.  But if push comes to shove between Bush and Maliki, Ajami’s commitments are crystal clear:

Mr. Maliki will not do America’s bidding, and we should be grateful for his displays of independence.

Iranian Quid Pro Quo?

Posted by Cutler on April 11, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Let’s revisit the old question of Cheney–his influence and his agenda.

There has been speculation, most recently in early March, that Cheney might be losing his influence in the White House.

At least some folks in Washington think that may be so much wishful thinking.

Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks report in the Washington Post that someone in the White House is looking to find a powerful successor to Meghan O’Sullivan, the Richard Haass protégé who has been the lead White House staffer responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Gen. John J. “Jack” Sheehan was one of those invited to consider the White House “war czar” position and his public response to that invitation speaks directly to the question of Cheney’s influence.  The Post quotes Sheehan:

“The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going,” said retired Marine Gen. John J. “Jack” Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. “So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, ‘No, thanks,’ ” he said….

In the course of the discussions, Sheehan said, he called around to get a better feel for the administration landscape.

There’s the residue of the Cheney view — ‘We’re going to win, al-Qaeda’s there’ — that justifies anything we did,” he said. “And then there’s the pragmatist view — how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence.” Sheehan said he wrote a note March 27 declining interest.

And then there is Cheney and US relations with Iran.

On the one hand, Iran hawks like John Bolton have criticized the UK–and the US–for handing Iranian hardliners a victory in the recent “hostage” affair.  Writing in the Financial Times, Bolton declares:

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, an improbable Easter bunny, scored a political victory, both in Iran and internationally, by his “gift” of the return of Britain’s 15 hostages. Against all odds, Iran emerged with a win-win from the crisis: winning by its provocation in seizing the hostages in the first place and winning again by its unilateral decision to release them….

Tony Blair, the prime minister, said he was “not negotiating but not confronting either”… [W]hat does “not negotiating but not confronting” actually mean? Unnamed British diplomats briefed the press that they had engaged in “discussions” but not negotiations. One can only await with interest to learn what that distinction without a difference implies…. the US was silent, at Britain’s behest.

The Captain Ahabs of British and US diplomacy, obsessed by their search for Iranian “moderates”, those great white whales, are proclaiming yet another “moderate” victory in this outcome…

Indisputably the winners in Iran were the hardliners.

When Bolton proposes that there might, as yet, be more “to learn” about the nature of the discussions between the British and Iran he is referring to the widely circulating rumor that there was a quid pro quo involved in the hostage release.

Specifically, there has been speculation linking the capture and release of the British “hostages” to the capture of several Iranian “hostages”–the so-called Irbil Five–in Iraq.

On the Left, Patrick Cockburn suggested that the Iranians seized the British in retaliation for the American capture of the Iranians.

During the “negotiations,” an Iranian diplomat held in Iraq was released, feeding speculation of dealmaking.

The Iranians hinted at a deal after the British were released:

Tehran has called on London to respond to its release of 15 UK naval personnel with a gesture of good will, indicating it wants Britain’s help to free five Iranians held in Iraq and ease concerns about its nuclear programme.

“We played our part and we showed our good will,” Rasoul Movahedian, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, told the Financial Times, in his first interview since the crisis began. “Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way.”

There has been speculation that Tehran’s decision to free the 15 was linked to the fate of the Iranians held by the US since January.

This sparked fear among Iran hawks on the Right that the Bush administration had agreed to the link in a scandalous quid pro quo.

Eli Lake at the New York Sun reported, “America May Free Iranians Taken in Iraq” and the editorial page decried signs of a deal.

Where is Cheney?

In an interview with ABC News Radio, Cheney was asked about a quid pro quo:

Q Do you think there was any quid pro quo for their release?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don’t know.

Q Do you think there should have been?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t think there should have been…

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release.  But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them.  At least not yet.  And, according to the Financial Times the Iranians are pissed.

Iran’s frustration has been gradually building over the lack of progress in releasing five Iranians seized by US forces from Tehran’s consular building in Arbil, northern Iraq, on January 11. The case has become for Iran a disturbing sign of hostile US intentions, both over Tehran’s role in Iraq and its nuclear programme…

“We are not responsible for [the detained Iranians],” one Iraqi source said. “The realpolitik of today’s Iraq is different and [the Iranians] know it for sure.”…

Iran’s hopes for the release of the “Arbil Five” blossomed last week both with the freeing of Jalal Sharafi, a senior Iranian diplomat, two months after he was kidnapped in Baghdad apparently by Iraqi special forces, and with Iran’s release of 15 British sailors and marines detained since March 23.

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

In addition to questions of influence, there remains the issue of Cheney’s goals regarding Iran.

I note with interest that some of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies continue to be very frustrated by US policy toward Iran.  Right Zionists have always thought of populist regime change as the top priority in Iran.  But Cheney’s potential influence appears to offer little hope to Right Zionists that US policy is moving decisively in this direction.

In a recent interview, Richard Perle seems nearly inconsolable:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Cheney is preparing the way for a “political strategy” of populist regime change in Iran, he appears to be keeping it from some of his best friends.

Abdullah’s Chance and His Critics

Posted by Cutler on March 23, 2007
Arab League, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Saudi King Abdullah is making news with a proposal to revive his 2002 “peace plan” at an Arab League summit set to begin Riyadh on March 28.

In Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column, “Abdullah’s Chance,” he wonders aloud whether Saudi Arabia is becoming “the new Egypt.”

Friedman is understandably delighted by the news.  After all, Friedman had a hand in the 2002 peace plan.  At a minimum, he broke the story in his 2002 column, “An Intriguing Signal From the Saudi Crown Prince.”  But, as Friedman immodestly suggested in a radio interview on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR program, “On Point,” he deserves even more credit:

“I’m the guy who, you know, came up with the Abdullah peace plan in an interview with the King of Saudi Arabia” (19:40).

As the initiative comes back into focus, it might be worth situating the place of this scheme within the context of ongoing factional battles in Washington, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

The Abdullah peace plan is properly understood as a diplomatic centerpiece for an “axis” that includes James Baker’s “Right Arabists” in Washington, the “Faisal” faction in Riyadh, and the center-right Kadima crowd in Tel Aviv.

Likely critics of such a plan might include a “rejectionist” axis, led by Vice President Cheney and his “Right Zionist” allies in Washington, the old “Fahd” faction–including Prince Bandar–in Riyadh, and the Likud party in Tel Aviv.

As Eli Lake reports in the Right Zionist New York Sun, Likudniks are already speaking out:

While that appears to be the view of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, other players within the government have been critical of Mr. Olmert’s seeming embrace of the Saudi initiative. In an interview yesterday with the Arutz Sheva news service, a leading Likud member of the Knesset, Yuval Steinitz, attacked the prime minister. “When you mention the other side’s plan and add ‘all is open for negotiation,’ it means that you are not going to stand firm on defensible borders in the Golan Heights or in Judea and Samaria,” he said.

A former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Dore Gold, said: “Those who believe that redividing Jerusalem by advancing the Saudi plan will lower the flames of radical Islamic rage have absolutely no idea of what they are dealing with. Any proposal to give the Hamas government the hope of taking over Jerusalem will shoot up jihadism in the region by giving new hope to Al Qaeda affiliates that Jerusalem is within their grasp.”

The factional “shoe” has yet to drop in Washington.  But it will.  For all the talk of “departing hawks,” Secretary of State Rice is not out of the factional woods just yet.

No word yet from Riyadh, but maybe it would be useful to recall a little-noticed source of vehement dissent that arose when the “Abdullah plan” was first aired back in 2002.

Remember that famous Saudi “hawk”–Nawaf Obaidi–who made news with a Washington Post essay that threatened dramatic Saudi action to thwart Iranian regional ambitions?  In a recent post, I speculated that there might be reasons to link Obaidi to the Bandar crowd.

If so, then it might make sense to recall an extraordinary earlier Op-Ed by Nawaf Obaidi–”
The Israeli Flag in Riyadh?“–published in the Washington Post on March 2, 2002.

Considering the hushed tones of Saudi factionalism, this essay reads like a sweeping broadside against the man who would soon become King!

Will there be an Israeli Embassy next door to the Saudi royal court? Not any time soon.

The recent announcement by Crown Prince Abdullah that Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 borders… reveals the courage and vision of the Saudi leader.  However, to assume that the Saudi crown prince can dictate such an important policy is to gravely misunderstand the situation on the ground. In the Saudi kingdom, consensus is the coin of the realm, and in this case, consensus is going to be extremely difficult to come by.

Saudi Arabia has never been a one-man show, although pundits and policymakers in the West often paint it as a monolithic state. Through nearly a century of existence, leadership has been exercised by balancing the various centers of power in the kingdom: the senior Saudi princes, religious leaders and the public. No one institution has the authority to implement a policy as important as recognizing Israel…

Even if Crown Prince Abdullah is able to gain the support of a majority of the senior leadership of the royal family, opposition among the religious establishment and on the street is deep-seated and adamant. Since the announcement, reaction in the kingdom has wavered between astonishment and dismay…

Disgruntled religious extremists have a history of violence in the kingdom, and their ranks will only grow if the leadership is seen as abandoning long-held Saudi values. Thus, the royal family will be extremely careful about adopting any policy that widens the gap between themselves and their people…

For this reason, it is worth considering the wisdom of the manner in which this proposal was presented… Announcing it over dinner, without any details and to a journalist who is a longtime Saudi critic, only undermined any chance for broad-based Saudi and Arab consensus.

There are lots of flattering words thrown in along the way, but this certainly reads like a shot across the bow.

Does this mean that a possible Obaidi-Bandar faction in Riyadh is actually more hostile to Israel than the Abdullah faction?  No.  Absolutely not.

But it does mean that such a faction likely remains mistrustful of Adbullah’s “one-man show” and that they–along with their rejectionist allies in Washington and Tel Aviv–have a very different vision of the roadmap to a “new” Middle East.

Cheney and Iran

Posted by Cutler on March 21, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

What is the relationship between Cheney and Iran?

In a March 20, 2007 New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof describes the VP as “Iran’s Operative in the White House.”

Is Dick Cheney an Iranian mole?

Consider that the Bush administration’s first major military intervention was to overthrow Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, Iran’s bitter foe to the east. Then the administration toppled Iran’s even worse enemy to the west, the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

You really think that’s just a coincidence? That of all 193 nations in the world, we just happen to topple the two neighboring regimes that Iran despises?

Moreover, consider how our invasion of Iraq went down. The U.S. dismantled Iraq’s army, broke the Baath Party and helped install a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. If Iran’s ayatollahs had written the script, they couldn’t have done better — so maybe they did write the script …

We fought Iraq, and Iran won. And that’s just another coincidence?

Kristof, it seems, is joking.

O.K., O.K. Of course, all this is absurd. Mr. Cheney isn’t an Iranian mole…

Mr. Cheney harmed American interests not out of malice but out of ineptitude. I concede that they honestly wanted the best for America, but we still ended up getting the worst.

I have no problem stipulating a lot of ineptitude in the Bush administration, starting at the top.  But I have also warned–in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–that the simplistic charge of ineptitude can lead one to underestimate opponents.  This is almost certainly the case when thinking about Cheney and geopolitical strategy.

So, without suggesting that there is any transparency about Cheney’s current thinking about Iran, it might be worth recalling that Cheney was not always an Iran hawk, especially when it came to thinking about Russia and the Caspian Sea.

Dick Cheney, chief executive officer of Dallas-based Halliburton Co. and former U.S. defense secretary, argued Wednesday the U.S. policy toward Iran hampers another American effort, to encourage Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the other countries in the Caspian region to act independently of Moscow.

Policies against Iran interfere with our policy of independence for the Caspian nations,” Cheney said. (“U.S. moves to foil Iran pipeline; Kazakhs seek loans for alternate routes,” The Houston Chronicle, November 20, 1997, p.2)

A lot has changed since then.  Among other things, Cheney’s potential overtures to Iran in 2000 were blocked by the Israel lobby in the US Congress.

But Cheney has certainly not lost his focus the urgency of “our policy of independence for the Caspian nations.”  Some of that has meant working mightily to construct energy pipelines that bypass Russia and Iran.  But some of it has also meant preparing the way–one way or another–for a new dawn in US-Iranian relations, all at the expense of Russian influence in the Caspian.

Indeed, according to Cheney’s own calendar, the time is coming near:

“I think we’d be better off if we in fact backed off those [Iran] sanctions . . . didn’t try to impose secondary boycotts on [Australian] companies like BHP trying to do business over there,” he told the Business Sunday program.

For several years BHP has been discussing a 2400km natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Iran to Turkey but has been reluctant to commit to the project for fear of US reprisals…

“I think the [hawkish] Iranian policy the US is following is also inappropriate, frankly,” he said.

“I think we ought to begin to work to rebuild those relationships with Iran . . . it may take 10 years but it’s important that we do that.”  (“BHP pipeline should not face US sanctions, says Cheney,” The Australian, April 20, 1998, p.35.)

It may take ten years.  Hmmm.  That gives him until April 20, 2008.  Mark your calendars.

Cheney and the Neocons

Posted by Cutler on March 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

If there is any daylight to be found between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies–and I’m not sure if there is–look to the Russia-Iran axis as the source of the split.

The alliance between Russia and Iran also provides a foundation for the alliance between Cheney and Right Zionists.

Insofar as a split develops between Russia and Iran, however, Right Zionists would likely to try to bring Russia into the anti-Iranian camp.  For Cheney and other Russia hawks, the temptation would be to bring Iran into the anti-Russian camp.

The possibility of such a split has become far more likely in recent days, as Russia has distanced itself from Iran’s nuclear program.

Public Enemy #1: Iran or Russia?

For the most part, Right Zionists join Cheney in his hawkish approach to Russia.  Richard Perle, for example, took the lead back in 2003 in demanding that Russia should be thrown out of the G8.  And Right Zionists are very well represented in campaigns that castigate Russia for its war in Chechnya.

But there are several countervailing tendencies that might make Right Zionists go “wobbly” on Russia.  One is Iran.

For Right Zionists, the Iran Question–as a threat and an opportunity–arguably trumps the Russia Question.

Can the same be said for Cheney?

Cheney’s approach to regional actors like Iran, Iraq, and much of Central Asia mirrors Teddy Roosevelt’s approach to Great Power rivalry a century ago: battles were fought in places like the Philippines, but the War was with another empire, i.e., Spain.

Cheney is focused on Great Power rivalries with China and Russia.  Iraq and Iran are pawns in the Great Game.

Right Zionists are, not surprisingly, focused on Israel and its neighborhood.  Russia and the US are, in effect, viewed as pawns in a Zionist game.  For much of its history, the Zionist movement has proven itself adept in courting Great Powers and making them compete for its loyalty.

So, what happens when hawks are forced to choose between Iran and Russia?  It depends on the hawk.

Zionists Go “Wobbly” on Russia

The most high profile sign of a major shift on Russia among Zionists in the US came in February when Congressman Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, visited Moscow and turned heads with a dramatic flip-flop on Russia.  As one media source suggested in reference to the Lantos visit, “the hitherto staunch critic of Russia” had now embarked on a path of “good will and appeasement to Russia” (Natalia Leshchenko, “U.S. Promises to Lift Trade Restrictions with Russia,” Global Insight Daily Analysis, 21 February 2007).

Even as Washington was reeling from Putin’s anti-American speech in Munich, Lantos found nothing but blue skies ahead for US-Russian relations.  A report from Kommersant tells the story of the Lantos conversion:

In 2003, Mr. Lantos set the tone for the discussions of the Yukos affair in the US, and at that time he was one of the authors of the congressional resolution that called on the US President to bar Russia from the G8. Thus far this year, Mr. Lantos has already at least twice confirmed his reputation as the “bad cop” when it comes to Russia, first by accusing Russia and China of throwing up “constant roadblocks” to the resolution of the Iranian nuclear question, and second by sending a letter to the State Department in which he called on the department to include the sentence “Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are political prisoners” in its annual human rights report.   In his letter, Mr. Lantos wrote that the former Yukos executives “are imprisoned not for any crime that they committed but for their political activities, which threatened Putin’s totalitarian regime.”

Tom Lantos arrived in Moscow soon after President Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich, which was followed by more harsh anti-American rhetoric from the Russian leadership that has caused many to comment on the threat of a return to Cold War-era relations between the two countries. However, his visit has not caused the scandal predicted by many observers. [State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev] Konstantin Kosachev, who spoke with his American colleague for more than an hour, told Kommersant that his impression of Mr. Lantos during their conversation was entirely positive… In reply to a question from Kommersant about whether they had discussed the Yukos affair, the problems of democracy, or other Russian domestic issues, Mr. Kosachev said that such questions had not come up. “He did not bring up those subjects, and so we didn’t either,” he explained, adding, “I liked Mr. Lantos’ attitude. He had a lot to say about how Russia and the US are on the same side of the barricade, and that the problem is that in many cases they have not yet arrived at mutual understanding when confronting threats and challenges that they both face.”

With his trip to Moscow, Mr. Lantos appears determined to shed the image of Russia’s “chief persecutor.” Yesterday he captured the interest of Russian journalists by promising that at his press conference today he will make “an important statement, one that will have historical significance for Russian-American relations.” Kommersant has learned that the surprise up his sleeve is thought to be a statement of America’s readiness to repeal the infamous Jackson-Vanick Amendment, which has hobbled trade relations between the two countries ever since it was introduced by Congress at the height of the Cold War. Thus, America’s “chief persecutor” of Russia may well become Russia’s “chief savior.”

A column in RIA Novosti described as “sensational” the announcement by Lantos that he would, indeed, support the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, thereby facilitating Russia’s WTO entry.  [The “Jackson” in the Jackson-Vanik amendment is Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the late Senator from Boeing/Washington, also mentor in the 1970s of two young Right Zionist staff aides, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz].

An Associated Press report included remarkable quotes from a Lantos press conference in Moscow:

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday he would call for the removal of Russia from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has restricted bilateral trade and remained a key irritant in relations between Moscow and Washington.

It’s time to put behind us this relic of the Cold War,” Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said at a news conference. “I will spare no effort to bring this about and I have every expectation that I will be successful.”

Moscow has long urged the United States to abolish the Jackson-Vanik amendment tying Russia’s trade status to whether it freely allows Jewish emigration…

In what appeared to be an attempt to strike a conciliatory note, Lantos said Putin’s [Munich] statement was a “fully understandable” attempt to demonstrate that his country, a former superpower, was resurgent after years of post-Soviet demise and stressed that Putin’s criticism should not stand in the way of the two countries’ cooperation.

The United States and Russia have far too many common interests and long-term goals,” Lantos said… “We certainly will not allow… [Putin’s Munich] speech to stand in the way of our very positive attitude towards Russia and our future cooperation.

What was the cost, for Putin, of all this “appeasement” from Lantos?

The answer appears to have arrived on February 19 while Lantos was in Moscow: Russia’s retreat from Iran’s nuclear program.

A source in Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom told Reuters it was obvious the timetable for the Bushehr plant needed to be “corrected” because Tehran had not made payments for the work for more than a month.

Moscow had been due to start nuclear fuel deliveries for the plant in March, ahead of the reactor’s planned September start. It was unclear how long the delay would be. Moscow has already pushed back completion several times, citing technical reasons…

Atomstroiexport, the Russian state company in charge of the Bushehr work, said existing U.N. sanctions against Iran were also contributing to the delays because of a trading ban on certain atomic equipment.

“There are certain obstacles affecting our work in Bushehr,” said spokeswoman Irina Yesipova. “Because of the embargo a number of third countries declined to supply equipment (to Iran). That’s why Russian producers have to provide all the equipment all of a sudden. It’s a tough situation.”

Right Zionists took note and suddenly began to elaborate the potential joys of diplomacy.  When the news broke, Cliff May had this to say over at the National Review Online:

If ever there was a time for skillful diplomacy, this is it. The focus should be on Russia. Whatever his faults (and they are many) Putin can be made to see that Russia’s future should not be as the junior, infidel partner to an aggressive, expansionist, radical Islamist, nuclear-armed Iran.

Russia Hawks Go Wobbly on Iran

Even as some Right Zionists were cooing over the prospect of a US-Russian axis against Iran, Russia hawks in the Bush administration–focused on Caspian Sea energy politics–were arguably going “wobbly” on Iran.

Consider, for example, the case of Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Within the Bush administration, Bryza is one of the figures responsible for finding ways to break Russia’s leverage as a supplier of natural gas to Europe and its monopoly control over energy routes out of the Caspian Sea.  Iran looms large as both a source of fuel and a potential route for natural gas from Turkmenistan.

Bryza’s recent interview with Turkish Daily News speaks volumes about his priorities when it comes to Russia and Iran:

[T]he planned Nabucco [pipeline] raises hopes for providing Europe with natural gas from Central Asia, not Russia. It is set to run through Turkey to Vienna via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. However there are concerns that the Azerbaijan gas fields are not yet suitable for extraction.

I don’t know if Nabucco needs a lot of help from America and Europe, but we are all for it,” said Bryza.

“Nabucco needs good, clear gas production from Azerbaijan. We believe that within five to 10 years this could be achieved and Azerbaijan could be producing enough gas”…

Asked whether the United States felt apprehensive about Russian state-owned Gazprom’s tactics, Bryza said that the United States stood for a free, competitive market.

“Gazprom is a monopoly,” he emphasized, “and monopolies behave as monopolies. We don’t like monopolies…

In recent statements President Putin raised the possibility of a Russia-Iran agreement on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) model. Bryza said it was hard to tell if these were empty threats, adding, “I think the Iranians have proved themselves to be difficult associates”…

“Although President Bush has said that no option is off the table, I don’t think a [U.S.] attack on Iran is likely. Our policy is to change the behavior of the Iranian government through diplomacy, not to change the regime,” stated Bryza.

That kind of talk is enough to drive Right Zionists–committed, as they remain, to popular insurrection and regime change in Iran–into fits of rage.

Is it also enough to allow some daylight between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies?

Hersh’s Redirection

Posted by Cutler on March 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In his most recent New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” Seymour Hersh tries to make some sense out of US efforts to build a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.  In some respects, the essay runs along the same lines as my own effort to trace the lines of such a redirection in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Hersh also gives a nod to the possibility that the “shift” may be championed by factions within the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel but this theme remains relatively underdeveloped and the refusal to take factionalism more seriously tends to trouble his narrative.

Hersh pins the US strategy on Cheney, Right Zionist Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad.  He sees John Negroponte as a critic and hedges on the role of Condoleezza Rice:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney…

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings…

[T]he echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State.

On Saudi factionalism, Hersh reiterates some of the themes that have been developed in previous posts (here, here, and here)–including the idea that Prince Bandar is the a figure of any such new alignment.  But Hersh hedges his bets on the depths of the Saudi schism:

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed…

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

I think the Turki-Bandar split runs deeper than a personality dispute.  The Turki faction is more dovish on Iran and more hawkish on Israel and, in a US context, the Turki faction is closer to Baker than Cheney.

There are some unruly problems that disrupt Hersh’s attempts to craft a coherent narrative.  Hersh takes up the Saudi-Israeli element of the redirection, but he can’t entirely square the circle:

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations…

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction… Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran…

[T]he Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

Isn’t it possible that the Saudi brokered deal at Mecca between Hamas and Fatah represented more of a triumph for one faction than another?  If the Mecca deal was part of a US initiative, it seems strange that the US was not only dissatisfied with the terms, as Hersh suggests, but was also reportedly caught by surprise by the deal.

There are certainly signs of renewed interest in some quarters for an Israeli-Saudi accord but to judge from the headlines, Prince Turki seems unlikely to emerge as a leading source of such enthusiasm.  Right Zionists are not exactly dancing in the streets.

Hersh’s article focuses well-deserved attention on Saudi involvement in Lebanon, although even here I think he understates the conflict between Bandar’s hawkish approach toward Hezbollah and the Turki faction’s quest for reconciliation in Lebanon.

The biggest question is what a new US-Saudi-Israeli strategic alignment would mean for Iraq.  Hersh’s whole analysis of the “redirection” begins with the question of Iraq:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy.

But Hersh is actually weakest in his attempt to link the “redirection” to the politics of Iraq.  As Hersh suggests, the US initially aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites and marginalized Iraqi Sunnis.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites….

Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

One peculiarity in this story: neoconservative ideologues appear, in Hersh’s telling, at the center of both the move toward Iraqi Shiites and a pro-Sunni redirection designed to counteract the “distress” the pro-Shiite tilt has caused.

Is the assumption that neoconservatives have been distressed by empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority?  I see no sign of that distress, in part because Right Zionists close to Cheney have always argued–and continue to argue–that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority could provide a pro-American balance to both Sunni extremists (including the Turki faction in Saudi Arabia!) and Shiite extremists in Iran.

One might expect that a pro-Saudi tilt in US policy would require rollback of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and the containment of Iran.  This might, in fact, reflect the goals of the Baker-Turki factions.

The restoration of Sunni Arab political power (through an anti-Shiite coup, etc.), however, is decidedly not on the agenda of “neo-conservative ideologues.”  Neither, it seems, is a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hersh knows that the signs of “redirection” in Iraq do not appear to include a retreat from Shiite power.

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

If Hersh knows why “the trends have been in the opposite direction” of those implicit in his sense of the redirection, he isn’t saying.

The Baker and the Turki faction are “irreconcilables” when it comes to Shiite power in Iraq, even as they seek to retain but contain the incumbent regime in Iran.  For this crowd, the “trends” in Iraq continue in the wrong direction.

Hersh, however, may be missing a key piece of the puzzle.  The faction behind the redirection–Cheney, his Right Zionist allies, and Bandar–are very hawkish about the Iranian regime but remain quite hopeful about relations with  Iraqi Shiites, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

The evidence for this is quite clear in the case of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies, if not in the case of Cheney himself.

On the Bandar front, the evidence remains murky.  There are, however, some tantalizing clues.

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

Recall that Obaid made headlines with a November 29, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping Into Iraq” that seemed to threaten Saudi action to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq.  Obaid was fired by Turki after the publication of the Op-Ed.

Does Nawaf Obaid represent Bandar’s views?  That remains a speculative proposition.  Nevertheless, Obaid did appear to suggest that his views had some base of support in Saudi Arabia, if not “the Saudi leadership”:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Is Bandar part of “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions”?  Is Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council a strategic position?

In any event, Obaid’s Op-Ed was actually a condensed version of a larger report–“Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective“–published in connection with his time as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Obaid’s report is long and complex and deserves to be read in full.  Nevertheless, the relevant point in the context of Saudi relations with Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is that the report is, as one might predict, extremely hawkish about the pernicious influence of Iran in Iraq.  The chief recommendations in the report concern preparing for a “worst case scenario” in which Saudi Arabia must aggressively “counter meddling by Iran.”

At the same time, the report includes a very important recommendation that was not part of Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed: “Extend a State Invitation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It is also important for the Saudi leadership to open a meaningful discussion with Grand Ayotollah Ali al- Sistani by extending an invitation to him to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an overture would send a strong positive message – both within the Kingdom and in the region at large – regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Shi’ite community. It would also demonstrate that the Kingdom recognizes Ayatollah al-Sistani’s authority and respects those who regard him as the leading Shi’ite Arab cleric. Ayatollah Sistani is not only the foremost religious figure for Iraqi Shi’ites, but his influence in Iraq’s political sphere is equally as important. An official state visit to Saudi Arabia would reassure the Iraqi Shi’ite community that the Saudi leadership fully acknowledges that they are critical to establishing stability in the country.

Prince Bandar meets David Wurmser.  Welcome to Cheney’s world.

It’s the Regime, Stupid

Posted by Cutler on March 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

US policy toward Iran is so much in the news, but the stakes for various players in Washington have rarely been less transparent.

So much of the focus has been framed as one of nuclear non-proliferation: how can the US stop Iran from acquiring nukes?

I would not be the first to note the haunting symmetry between the invocation of Iraqi WMDs and the urgency of a strident non-proliferation agenda ahead of the US invasion and the current focus on Iranian non-proliferation.

Iran hawks are quick to point out a key difference: Iran’s nuclear program is the real deal. For many liberal hawks, Iran becomes one more occasion to bash the Bush administration. Having cried wolf in Iraq, they risk making us complacent about the real threat of Iran.

My interest in the focus on Iranian nukes has more to do with a somewhat different link to the earlier focus on Iraqi WMDs. Both appear to represent a kind of bureaucratic compromise referenced by Paul Wolfowitz.

Indeed, as with Iraq, it would seem that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) have always had a very different set of priorities than other Iran hawks. Right Zionists do fear that the Iranian regime will acquire nukes. But their preferred solution–today as always–is regime change rather than nuclear non-proliferation.

One corollary: after regime change, the prospect of Iranian nukes in a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran are not perceived as a threat. As Michael Rubin has insisted, “democratization” in Iran can “take the edge off the Iranian threat.”

Indeed, for some Right Zionists and Iranian dissidents the administration’s emphasis on nukes is a source of considerable frustration.

All of which goes to say that Right Zionists are Iran hawks. But they do not aim to contain or defeat Iran, they aim to win Iran.

Michael Ledeen at AEI says as much in his latest missive in which he criticizes the Bush administration for “excessive timorousness with regard to Iran.” But then he comes to the point that distinguishes Right Zionists not only from the Bush administration’s halting diplomatic initiatives but also, perhaps, from Cheney’s own brand of bellicose hawkishness :

The proper strategy toward Iran is non-violent regime change, of the sort that was accomplished to the ruin of the Soviet Empire. Military attack against Iran would be a mistake, indeed it would constitute a tragic admission of the utter failure of the United States and her allies to conceive and conduct a serious Iran policy over the course of nearly three decades. Political support for the tens of millions of Iranians who detest their tyrannical leaders is both morally obligatory and strategically sound.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, also at AEI, is considerably less hostile to a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But like Ledeen, Gerecht is a strident advocate of regime change in Iran and has argued in the past that the former is quite compatible with the latter:

It’s much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic’s loss to America–and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory–would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching… It’s likely that an American attack on the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us.

For Gerecht, however, the real key to Iran has always been Iraq. He returns to this theme in his most recent essay, “The Myth of the Moderate Mullahs.” The title is arguably quite ironic: Gerecht seeks to dispel the myth of the moderate Iranian “mullahs” (especially Rafsanjani) but the argument ends with a celebration of moderate Iraqi “mullahs.”

The American presence in Iraq… gives Iraqi Shiites a non-Iranian option, particularly in the face of the Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shia.

If the United States can develop a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis, Iraq’s Shiite clergy may grow more independent and open in its internal debates about proper governance and its own role in an Iraqi democracy. Friendly and dependent Iraqi groups like SCIRI may fairly quickly become difficult for Tehran. Right now, SCIRI has no firm idea of what it is. It has had no test of its democratic commitment. It doesn’t really know what its relationship will be with Iraq’s moderate senior clergy in Najaf. This process of discovery for SCIRI, and for other Shiites in Iraq, may come with speed if the Sunni violence can be checked. This could go badly for Tehran.

This has always been the hope of Right Zionist support for the war in Iraq.

One way to gauge how much sway Right Zionists–and the AIPAC crowd meeting in Washington–continue to have in the Bush administration is to seek signs of the one thing Gerecht has always demanded: “a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis.”

Some argue that a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis is simply not possible. Gerecht doesn’t believe that. But he also thinks the US hasn’t even been trying to achieve that aim since September 2003. Instead, the emphasis has been on incorporation and reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunnis.

Gerecht hasn’t yet said whether he thinks the “surge” marks a departure from this policy. We’ll see. I’m not sure General Petraeus is in Gerecht’s corner on this one.

Meanwhile, it is far less difficult to discern how much sway the AIPAC crowd has with Dem Zionists.

Top U.S. House Democrats have frozen their attempt to limit President Bush’s authority to take military action against Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the leadership decided on Monday to back down from presenting a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats and other pro-Israel lawmakers had argued for the change in strategy.

So much for the Democrats.

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)

Karbala: Bush’s Casus Belli?

Posted by Cutler on January 31, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

The Bush administration seems to be escalating its campaign against Iran and may have already found its justification for military engagement.

Start with a January 20, 2006 attack on US forces in the Shiite city of Karbala in southern Iraq.

At the time, Helena Cobban at Just World News emphasized the significance of the attack and feared that the US would try to bury the story:

It seems the US authorities were not eager for the US public (or anyone else) to know the details of the lethally effective raid mounted against US occupation forces in Karbala last Saturday…

[A]ll in all, for the Bushites, it’s an extremely inopportune time for detailed news about an attack like the one in Karbala to get out and be disseminated to a wide US readership.

And yet, they proved unable to suppress the news.

Fear not.  The “Bushites” are now more than eager to disseminate the news.

According to  CNN and an article in the New York Times, the Pentagon is investigating the possibility that Iranians–in cahoots with “rogue” elements of the Mahdi Army–were involved in the Karbala attack.  James Glanz and Mark Mazzetti of the Times reports:

Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry…

Tying Iran to the deadly attack could be helpful to the Bush administration, which has been engaged in an escalating war of words with Iran…

An Iraqi knowledgeable about the investigation said four suspects had been detained and questioned…

The suspects have also told investigators that “a religious group in Najaf” was involved in the operation, the Iraqi said, in a clear reference to the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the breakaway Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. If that information holds up, it would dovetail with assertions by several Iraqi officials that Iran is financing and training a small number of splinter groups from the Mahdi Army to carry out special operations and assassinations.

“I hear that there are a number of commando and assassination squads that are disconnected and controlled directly by Iran,” the senior Iraqi official said, citing information directly from the prime minister’s office. “They have supplied JAM and others with significant weaponry and training,” he said using shorthand for the group, from its name in Arabic, Jaish al Mahdi.

I don’t mean to be overly skeptical about reporting by James Glanz, although I agree with Juan Cole that his recent report on Iranian influence in Iraq seemed “a little breathless.”

In the report on Iran and the Karbala attack, Glanz and Mazzetti include a seemingly skeptical reference to the ways in which allegations of a link between Iran and the Karbala compound attack could be “helpful” to an administration accustomed to the self-serving public amplification of faulty intelligence.  (Maybe the sober influence of Mazzetti?)

But the article then makes what seems like quite a leap to suggest that mention by suspects of “a religious group in Najaf” was a clear reference to the Mahdi Army.   Note well: there are no “scare quotes” around the phrase clear reference.  This is presented in the authoritative voice of the reporter.  Is this supposed to be “clear” to Glanz and Mazzetti?  Clear to the Bush administration?  Clear to everyone?  Gosh, when I think of religious groups in Najaf my mind wanders over to a whole panoply of groups that appear to be active there.  Juan Cole took a look at religious groups in Najaf and threw up his hands, asking “Who knows?”  I guess James Glanz knows.

In any event, the Karbala-Iran link also provides some useful context for another piece of the “Iran campaign” story.  On Saturday, January 27, 2007 the Washington Post published a report by Dafna Linzer alleging that the Bush administration had authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq.

The new “kill or capture” program was authorized by President Bush in a meeting of his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut…

In Iraq, U.S. troops now have the authority to target any member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, as well as officers of its intelligence services believed to be working with Iraqi militias. The policy does not extend to Iranian civilians or diplomats. Though U.S. forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority.

The wide-ranging plan has several influential skeptics in the intelligence community, at the State Department and at the Defense Department who said that they worry it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war…

Advocates of the new policy — some of whom are in the NSC, the vice president’s office, the Pentagon and the State Department — said that only direct and aggressive efforts can shatter Iran’s growing influence…

The decision to use lethal force against Iranians inside Iraq began taking shape last summer, when Israel was at war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Officials said a group of senior Bush administration officials who regularly attend the highest-level counterterrorism meetings agreed that the conflict provided an opening to portray Iran as a nuclear-ambitious link between al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the death squads in Iraq.

Among those involved in the discussions, beginning in August, were deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, NSC counterterrorism adviser Juan Zarate, the head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, representatives from the Pentagon and the vice president’s office, and outgoing State Department counterterrorism chief Henry A. Crumpton.

The Bush administration made no effort to deny the report.  Indeed, Bush seemed to welcome the chance to confirm the Linzer story.

“It makes sense that if somebody’s trying to harm our troops, or stop us from achieving our goal, or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them,” Bush said in response to a question about the program, the details of which were first reported in yesterday’s Washington Post.

At the time of its publication, the whole idea of a “kill or capture” initiative designed to respond to Iranian attempts to “harm our troops” seemed pretty hypothetical.  There was no specific reference, at the time, to any particular Iranian activity and authorization for the initiative was reportedly given in the summer of 2006.

In retrospect, however, the timing of the Linzer story seems linked to the Karbala compound attack.  Bush already had his casus belli when he warned against Iranian activity in Iraq.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that the first obscure mention I’ve found of an Iranian link to the Karbala attack came the day before the Linzer story ran when Bill Roggio–“embedded reporter” to all the big Neo-conservative/ Right Zionist media outlets–appears to have broken the story on his blog, The Fourth Rail.

I sure wish I had better intelligence about Karbala.  I mean, how do we know that the whole city isn’t actually located in the Gulf of Tonkin?

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.

Gerecht & Cheney

Posted by Cutler on January 17, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Maybe Reuel Marc Gerecht doesn’t matter.  Gerecht does not now and has never served as a member of the Bush administration’s foreign policy team.  Perhaps his views on Iraq are merely those of a think tank wonk pontificating and prescribing from the sidelines as history rolls along without even a passing glance in his direction.

Maybe.

But the real issue is not Gerecht’s personal influence but the possibility that his views can be considered representative of those held by figures in the White House whose service inside the administration seems to imply a veritable gag order.

Can Gerecht be taken to be a proxy for the views of David Wurmser, the current “Middle East” expert on Cheney’s National Security staff whose wife–Meyrav Wurmser–referenced just such a gag order in a recent interview?

There is no way to gauge, from the outside, Wurmser’s current influence on Cheney’s thinking.  But Wurmser serves at the pleasure of the Vice President. He has not yet been shown the door, nor has he resigned in protest.

I have previously noted the strong continuities between Wurmser’s earlier published work on Iraq and Gerecht’s writing.  Prior to his service in the Bush administration, Wurmser was the Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute.  Gerecht is his successor in that role.

All of which goes to the value of attending to Gerecht’s views, even as these views are disparaged by critics who dismiss them as “wishful thinking and unsubstantiated assertions flavored with a healthy dose of ad hominem attack against any who question him.”

As I have noted in a recent post, Gerecht has been promoting what is best described as a stridently pro-Shiite option abandons all pretense to national reconciliation in Iraq, even as he remains dismayed by the level of factional infighting within the Bush administration.

His most recent missive is a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Petraeus Time.”

The good news is that by emphasizing a military, not political, strategy to diminish Iraq’s debilitating violence, the president has correctly set aside one of the primary factors destroying the Shiite Arab center. While waiting for a “political solution” to the Sunni insurgency, we watched Shiite timidity and patience turn to anger–and to a revenge which now threatens the integrity of the Shiite-led Iraqi government… The reversal of this soft-power, politics-not-troops mentality is an essential step forward…

Nevertheless, there is a dismaying hesitancy in the military’s and the White House’s deliberations on this conflict. Although the president wants a new approach, the Pentagon, the State Department and even the National Security Council appear wedded to the past. The contradiction between what the president says and what his government does has never been greater.

Presumably, Cheney stands behind the president in favoring such a “new approach.”  This, at least, has been a persistent rumor.

Gerecht–whose tenure with the CIA focused on Iran and who has been consistently hawkish on Iran–exhibits no fear of Shiite power in Iraq.

The administration needs to rethink its understanding of Iraqi culture and politics, as the “new” strategy still contains ideas that have catastrophically guided American officials in the Green Zone ever since Sunni Arab insurgents started killing Americans in significant numbers. U.S. officials still believe they must soon see sectarian reconciliation, a reversal of de-Baathification, and a nonsectarian, equitable distribution of oil wealth.

All these achievements are meant to placate the aggrieved Sunni Arabs, who represent 15% of the population…

For the serious ex-Baathists, Sunni supremacists and Iraqi Sunni fundamentalists–the lethal hardcore of the insurgency–it’s still a good bet that they’re not into democratic negotiations…

If the U.S. and Iraqi governments are going to bring peace to the “Sunni triangle,” they must break the back of the insurgency. A minority, used to the prerogatives of a communitarian dictatorship, the Sunnis have been trying to derail the new Iraq: They must come to know that they will lose everything if they don’t abandon violence as their principal political tool… This means, as it has always meant, a combined American and Shiite Iraqi occupation of major Sunni Arab cities.

Baghdad is the first step…

Gen. Petraeus will have to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr. The thuggish son of Iraq’s most revered clerical family, he has become for many Shiites in Baghdad a rapturously praised defender. This esteem is merited: He, not any American general, increased the security of the average Shiite in the capital. And if he is smart, he’ll attack the Americans before they have the chance to deploy much new strength. If the Americans successfully down Sunni insurgents in the capital, then they will go after Mr. Sadr.

But the U.S. military should absolutely not go after Mr. Sadr first…

The key here is how Shiites view the first encounter. If it goes against the insurgents… [Sadr] just may play along. He and his forces were mauled by the Americans in 2004. Since then they haven’t been particularly bold in attacking U.S. soldiers. Mr. Sadr has recently manifested some statesmen-like behavior, and has been more correct in his behavior toward Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual guide of Iraq’s Shia and a bulwark of moderation.

Who else but Gerecht speaks of Sadr in such respectful terms?

Certainly not the military brass.

The only person I can think of is… the Vice President of the United States:

KUDLOW: 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: He is — obviously speaks for a significant number of Iraqis, has a strong following…

Sadr’s New American Friends

Posted by Cutler on January 12, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Blake Hounshell at FP Passport points out that Bush’s “New Way Forward” in Iraq reiterates the demand that Prime Minister Maliki facilitate a military crackdown on Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army. Or, at least a crackdown on “rogue elements” of the militia.

For a while, it seemed like the entire US foreign policy establishment was united by a common atipathy toward the Sadrists.

More recently, however, Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht who have long feared that Sadr would marginalize “moderate” Shia figures like Grand Ayatollah Sistani have argued that the best way to marginalize Sadr is not through frontal assault on Sadr City, but through a beefed up, unrelenting assault against Sunni insurgents.

The White House is not reading from the Gerecht playbook. The pressure is for Maliki to green light a break with Sadr.

But Gerecht’s Washington defeats may yet prove to be Baghdad “victories” if Shiite political forces resist the White House plan.

That resistance will get coded by most US commentators, especially on the Left, as a defeat, a blow to US power, etc. But it is worth keeping in mind that Washington is factionalized. The Iraqi Shia may hand a massive defeat to Bush and Right Arabists. But this may not necessarily imply a defeat for Right Zionists–or Cheney. On the contrary, Right Zionists may already have unleashed forces in Iraq that Right Arabist Washington is unable to contain, notwithstanding the best efforts by Zalmay Khalilzad to close pandora’s box.

Roula Khalaf and Steve Negus of the Financial Times seem to agree that Bush is sticking with the Khalilzad playbook, but they have serious reservations about the odds of political success (let alone military success).

Largely focused on a military push, the new US “way forward” for Iraq depends heavily on the weak Iraqi government’s will and ability to adopt controversial policies it has so far resisted…

Despite the administration’s public support for Mr Maliki, US officials have repeatedly complained about his resistance to reining in Shia militias, some of which are affiliated with parties in the ruling Shia coalition that brought him to power…

Mr Maliki announced a new security plan for Baghdad on Saturday, in which he suggested that government forces would make more serious attempts to contain Shia militias…

Although the US says American and Iraqi troops will now have a free hand to conduct operations in the capital, assaults on the overpopulated suburb of Sadr city, the Mahdi army stronghold, would carry huge risks for Washington, radicalising more Shia and turning them against the US.

American pressure on the government over the past year to make political concessions to the Sunni minority, which has been marginalised since the 2003 invasion, already has made many Shia suspicious of US intentions…

Khalaf and Negus temper this analysis with some factors that may work in favor of the White House plan:

On the other hand, Mr Maliki’s standing with his own core constituency seems to have recovered somewhat with the hanging of Saddam Hussein in the face of opposition from Sunni Arabs inside Iraq and in the region.

This, together with the imminent departure of US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad who was seen as the architect of a pro-Sunni policy, may give Mr Maliki the freedom to take actions that would otherwise alienate his own Shia constituency.

Will Maliki move against his own base? In the last instance, Khalaf and Negus seem dubious:

But some members of Mr Maliki’s coalition believe that the Shia government should shrug off American pressure. They have said that Iraq does not need any more foreign troops and instead have called for Iraqi units to be transferred to an Iraqi chain of command…

[S]ome Sunni politicians doubt the [Maliki] government has any real intention of controlling militias and is instead supporting them in the hopes of winning the sectarian battles for Baghdad neighbourhoods and districts near to the capital.

Seen from this light, Mr Maliki’s acquiescence to the Bush plan may appear simply to be a play for time as the country’s new Shia leaders cement their control over the capital.

The Bush plan may be D.O.A. But don’t expect Right Zionists to shed any tears.

Surge Protection

Posted by Cutler on January 06, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Even as the Democratic leadership declares its opposition to a “surge” in Iraq, it should also be noted that not all Neocons agree on military tactics and there are significant political and strategic divisions among those who make the tactical case for more troops in Iraq.  The debate about military escalation sometimes conceals more than it reveals about serious political disagreements among foreign policy elites about the balance of forces in Iraq and in the Gulf.

Neocon Splits on Military Strategy

As Peter Spiegel suggested in his Los Angeles Times report on Neocons and the surge, there has always been a split between those who backed Rumsfeld’s “military transformation” vision and a “light footprint” strategy in Iraq and those who favor boots on the ground.

Some leading neoconservatives do not embrace the troop surge proposal.

Wolfowitz, for instance, ridiculed the notion that more troops would be needed to secure Iraq than were used in the invasion.

And Richard N. Perle, a former top advisor to the Pentagon who also advocated for smaller troop numbers at the time of the invasion, is known to be skeptical of the idea of a surge.

The plan’s advocates acknowledge the split.

“Before the war, I was arguing for a quarter of a million troops in expectations we’d be there five or 10 years,” said Gary J. Schmitt, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who has worked closely with Kristol and Kagan. “Richard Perle, obviously somebody else who’s thought of as a neocon, thought we should go in” with far fewer U.S. forces.

These splits go way back.

Kristol and Kagan backed McCain in 2000, not Bush.  Perle and Wolfowitz were on the Bush team from the start.

For the McCain crowd, the focus is on the direct demonstration of American power.

The Right Zionist “family” around Perle–the authors of “A Clean Break“–is more focused on Israel and the exercise of military power in support of strategic alliances with indigenous “clients.”

Whose Military Escalation?

Even among those who currently champion an escalation, there appear to be some significant disagreements about the nature and purpose of such a surge.

The key split is between those who link a surge with a renewed effort to crush the Sunni insurgency in support of the Shia and those who think a surge should be used to crush Sadr’s Shiite militia, even as the US continues to try to court the Sunnis.

Right now, all those folks seem to hanging out together at the American Enterprise Institute.  But at some point, the differences will be come more visible.

Here is Gerecht at AEI on the purpose of a surge:

Let us be clear: The Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shiite community cannot be broken unless the cities of Baghdad and Ramadi are pacified. Unless these two towns are cleared and held, there is no way any Shiite government in Baghdad can begin the process of slowly neutralizing the murderous Shiite militias that now operate often with government complicity. The militias have gained increasing support from the Shiite community because they are the only effective means of neighborhood protection and offensive operations against Sunni insurgents and holy warriors…

And the Americans, who started withdrawing from Baghdad’s streets in the fall of 2003 (perhaps the most catastrophic decision ever made by General Abizaid), have retreated further into large, well-fortified bases. Revenge killings of innocent Sunnis are an ugly and unavoidable outgrowth of this process. They cannot be stopped unless the United States and the Iraqi government first significantly diminish the Sunni Arab menace–that is, clear and hold Baghdad and Ramadi.

But McCain (with Lieberman) was also on hand recently at AEI.  The Washington Post transcript of the event suggests that McCain’s surge is intended to serve a different purpose.

A troop surge is necessary but not sufficient for American success in Iraq. By controlling the violence, we can pave the way for a political settlement. Once the government wields greater authority, however, Iraqi leaders must take significant steps on their own.

These include a commitment to go after the militias, a reconciliation process for insurgents and Baathists, more equitable distribution of government resources, provincial elections that will bring Sunnis into government, and a large increase in employment- generating economic projects.

McCain is not alone in his focus on Sadr.  The military is itching for a fight with Sadr.

These are potentially very different surges, the “success” of which would be judged very differently by different US factions.

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.

Bi-Partisan Bush

Posted by Cutler on January 03, 2007
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

George W. Bush has an Op-Ed–“What the Congress Can Do for America“–in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The essay is a plea for a level of bi-partisan cooperation and common ground that will preserve some relevance for Bush presidency.

I will have the privilege of working with [the 110th Congress] for the next two years — one quarter of my presidency, plenty of time to accomplish important things for the American people.

It is also a preview of some domestic economic policy themes that will likely be featured in Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address (spending restraint and entitlement reform; no new taxes).

The missive is also clearly designed to make the case for a military “surge” in Iraq:

In the days ahead, I will be addressing our nation about a new strategy to help the Iraqi people gain control of the security situation and hasten the day when the Iraqi government gains full control over its affairs. Ultimately, Iraqis must resolve the most pressing issues facing them. We can’t do it for them.

But we can help Iraq defeat the extremists inside and outside of Iraq — and we can help provide the necessary breathing space for this young government to meet its responsibilities. If democracy fails and the extremists prevail in Iraq, America’s enemies will be stronger, more lethal, and emboldened by our defeat. Leaders in both parties understand the stakes in this struggle. We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war.

The entire emphasis of the “new strategy” is on the so-called security front.  No new formula for national reconciliation, etc. in the political domain.  This is about boots on the ground and–I suspect–aggressive counter-insurgency that recalls the anti-Baathist military operations from the summer and early fall of 2003.

Also, note well: “defeat the extremists inside and outside of Iraq.”  Which extremists “outside of Iraq” does Bush have in mind?  Extremists in Syria? Iran?

A Mandate for War?

Now, according to Bush, in light of the mid-term election victories by the Democrats there is an “opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war.”

Bush may be misreading the implicit message of the election, but he is not necessarily misreading the Democrats.

There will be some bi-partisan resistance.  2008 Democratic Presidential hopeful John Edwards looks set, for now, to run Left of Hillary on Iraq.  He has denounced the surge and dubbed it the “McCain Doctrine.”  And some in the GOP will balk.

But one should not underestimate the level of “bi-partisan” support for a pro-Shiite military surge that aims to return to the original Right Zionist vision for post-invasion Iraq.

Right Zionists like Lieberman and McCain will be touted as “centrists” and “moderates”, even as they gladly inherit the war–surge and all–from President Bush.

Dangerous times, these.

Cheney and Sistani

Posted by Cutler on January 02, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In a preview of 2007, the Financial Times asks how Vice President Cheney will fare in the new year.  There will be some trouble for Cheney:

Dick Cheney has forged a reputation as the most powerful but also least visible vice-president in recent history. In the next few weeks, however, he will be forced to fight some of his battles in the open – in the courtroom and on Capitol Hill.

The first test will come in the criminal trial of his former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, charged with lying to a grand jury during an investigation into how a CIA agent’s name was leaked. The trial, due to begin in two weeks, is likely to set an ignominious precedent when Mr Cheney becomes the first vice-president to testify in a trial.

Mr Cheney’s legal team are also steeling themselves for the launch of legislative investigations by the new Democrat-controlled Congress.

Neither of these external threats will likely do much damage.  The real question is Cheney’s role inside the White House.

His influence has never come from his popularity outside the White House, but from his access within it. That has not changed. Josh Bolten, the White House chief of staff, told the FT: “He is a welcome participant in every meeting the president is in, he sits in on almost all the policy meetings…

Even so, there are signs that the president’s confidence in his judgment has waned. He was cut out of the decision to oust his ally Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defence, a move he vigorously opposed. “They really are genuinely close friends but the president doesn’t always take his advice,” said Mr Bolten.

The FT mentions that Cheney may lose some influence to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson on question of economic policy, including Social Security reform.  One might add China policy to that list.

But the FT ultimately dodges the crucial question: does Cheney call the shots on US foreign policy in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Iran?

If Bush “doesn’t always take [Cheney’s] advice,” as Bolten says, neither does he always take the advice of Right Arabists like James Baker.

The big post-mid-term election story of 2006 was the unexpectedly cold White House reception given to Baker’s Iraq Study Group Report (for some background on the “push back” against Baker, see previous posts here, here, here, and here).

Cheney Drives the Bus

Until Bush formally announces the results of his Iraq Policy Review, it will remain difficult to discern the course of US policy ahead.  Nevertheless, there may be some hints in the news, all of which point to Cheney at the wheel.

The strongest signals of late seem to indicate that the “Shiite Option” in Iraq may still have some legs, even as this is linked to an aggressive policy toward Syria and Iran.

If so, an early casualty will be US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Much of Khalilzad’s “timetable” for Iraq was written into the Iraq Study Group Report and his tenure as Ambassador has corresponded with US efforts to court Sunni political support and move against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army.

Sistani: Foil to US Occupiers?

It was Khalilzad who was most closely associated with plans for the formation of a new “moderate” Iraqi government that would see Prime Minister Maliki dump Sadr and align himself more closely with Sunni forces.

This idea hit a major hurdle when Grand Ayatollah Sistani allegedly rejected the plan in late December.

Helena Cobban at “Just World News” has interpreted this move by Sistani as one more instance in which the Grand Ayatollah has again “foiled” the US occupiers.  A similar analysis accompanied the Iraqi elections of 2005 when Swopa claimed that Sistani had forced the to hold elections that Bush never wanted.

There is more than a bit of truth to these claims.  But it is also worth noting that in both instances Sistani’s actions represented a defeat for Right Arabists in the Bush administration but were quite compatible with the path promoted by Right Zionists like AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Gerecht celebrated the 2005 Iraqi elections for all the same reasons Right Arabists opposed them and more recently he warned against Khalilzad’s effort to split the Shia.  In an essay entitled, “In Iraq, Let’s Fight One War at a Time,” Gerecht argued:

In Baghdad and in Washington, officials privately and the press publicly suggest that the Bush administration would prefer that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki fell… Mr. Maliki is politically too dependent, the reasoning goes, on the young Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, a scion of a prestigious clerical family and the boss of a pivotal bloc of votes in Iraq’s Parliament…

Since President Bush is now immersed in a top-to-bottom Iraq review, in which a substantial surge of American soldiers into Baghdad seems ever more likely and the Army is again seriously considering directly confronting Mr. Sadr, the appeal of Mr. Mahdi and the Supreme Council may grow in Washington and Baghdad.

If so, the administration should nip in the bud such inclinations. Changing the Shiite parts of the Iraqi government and quickly taking on Mr. Sadr would do nothing to end the Sunni insurgency and the holy war of foreign jihadists against the new Iraq

[S]ome Shiites, and perhaps most Sunnis, may threaten to walk out of Iraq’s government and forsake reconciliation talks if the Americans get serious about pacifying Baghdad and the insurgency elsewhere. Let them. If the city’s and country’s Shiites, who represent about 65 percent of Iraq’s population, see that the Americans are committed to countering the insurgency, any protest from Mr. Maliki or call to arms by Mr. Sadr will have increasingly less power.

No, it won’t be easy–but with American and Iraqi troops all over Baghdad and daily life returning to some normality, the situation will certainly be more manageable than what we confront now. The politics of peaceful Shiite consensus, which is what Grand Ayatollah Sistani has tried to advance since 2003, could again rapidly gain ground

The key for America is the same as it has been for years: to clear and hold the Sunni areas of Baghdad and the so-called Sunni triangle to the north. There will probably be no political solution among the Iraqi factions to save American troops from the bulk of this task. The sooner we start in Baghdad, the better the odds are that the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiites can be halted.

The Shiite Option in 2007

There may already be signs that the Bush administration is preparing to pursue this course.

The execution of Saddam Hussein might be one place to begin looking, despite some protestations from Khalilzad.

Then there is the news of a US military raid on the offices of Saleh al-Mutlak, an ex-Baathist Sunni politician once actively courted by Condoleezza Rice.

And National Security Council Adviser Stephen Hadley floated a pro-Shia trial balloon.  The New York Times welcomes the new year with a story that features Hadley reflecting on the failures of recent US policy and preparing the way for an anti-Sunni military “surge” in Iraq:

We could not clear and hold,” Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, acknowledged in a recent interview, in a frank admission of how American strategy had crumbled. “Iraqi forces were not able to hold neighborhoods, and the effort to build did not show up. The sectarian violence continued to mount, so we did not make the progress on security we had hoped. We did not bring the moderate Sunnis off the fence, as we had hoped. The Shia lost patience, and began to see the militias as their protectors.”…

In early August, the United States was forced to reverse course and add troops in Baghdad. On reflection, Mr. Hadley said, “Finally the patience of the Shia had worn thin,” and, “By the time the unity government took over the cycle of sectarian violence had begun. And they and we have not been able to get ahead of it .”

The Washington Post offers a similar profile of Khalilzad’s failure to gauge Shia impatience:

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad declared the Shiite militias the most significant threat to Iraq’s stability, replacing the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaeda. Frustrated by the Shiite government’s inability to govern and bring security, U.S. officials began pressuring Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to dismantle the militias. They zeroed in on the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, upon whom Maliki depends for power…

Shiite politicians and analysts say Khalilzad is backing the Sunnis to limit the power of Shiites in the government…

“We know the U.S. is under great pressure from Arabic and Islamic countries, who are Sunni,” said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a member of parliament with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite party with strong ties to Tehran. “They fear the growing power of the Shia inside Iraq.”

“The Americans have a wrong reading of Iraq,” said Hasan Suneid, a member of the Shiite Dawa party and a close aide to Maliki. “And who is responsible for this reading? It is the diplomatic channel, that is, Khalilzad.”

The idea of a military surge in Iraq is already generating Republican resistance within the Senate.  Any move to dump Khalilzad and tilt US policy toward Iraqi Shiite political dominance will likely generate similar howls of protest from Right Arabists in the James Baker crowd.

But it would represent an enormous victory for Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the Right Zionists who have long pinned their hopes on him as the key to “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.

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.

Meet the Wurmsers

Posted by Cutler on December 18, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Ynetnews has published an interview with Meyrav Wurmser Meyrav Wurmser–Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy–is married to David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East advisor.

Until he went to work in the Bush administration, David Wurmser was Middle East fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and his views were quite public.

Once on Cheney’s staff, however, David Wurmser hasn’t said much of anything public.  It has always been tempting to read Meyrav Wurmser’s public pronouncements as some kind proxy for the prevailing views of David Wurmser, if not the Office of the Vice President as a whole.

Meyrav Wurmser’s interview is extremely pessimistic, not about Iraq or the Middle East, but about the factional politics of the Bush administration.  The tone offered up is not the outlook of a person whose partner is about to win control of the ship of state.

In any event, if Meyrav Wurmser’s Ynetnews interview is any indication of David Wurmser’s influence, however, it looks highly unlikely that his so-called “Shiite Option” will be adopted as a result of the ongoing White House Iraq Policy Review.

Indeed, Meyrav Wurmser suggests that most of the Neocons are already gone and “there are others who are about to leave”  (including David Wurmser?  or Elliott Abrams? both?).

This is not a cautious interview.  Interviewer and interviewee are so blunt about so many issues that I wondered if the interview was a fake.  Instead, it appears to be the opening salvo in a post-Wurmser Bush administration.

Either way, here are some of the key sections of the interview (there are sections on Israel’s military action in Lebanon that lend support to propositions from previous posts here and here, but the selections below are the ones focused on Iraq):

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did you, in practice, bring about the war in Iraq?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “We expressed ideas, but the policy in Iraq was taken out of neocon hands very quickly. The idea was that America has a war on terror and that the only actual place for coping with it is in the Middle East and that a fundamental change would come through a change in leadership. We had to start somewhere.

“The objective was to change the face of the Middle East. But it was impossible to create a mini-democracy amidst a sea of dictatorships looking to destroy this poor democracy, and thus, where do insurgents in Iraq come from? From Iran and Syria.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Should they have been conquered?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “No. There was a need for massive political action, of threats and pressure on these governments, financial pressure, for example. The sanctions on Syria were nothing. There was a period of time when the Syrians were afraid that they were next. It would have been possible to use this momentum in a smarter way. There’s no need to go in militarily.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Your people held senior positions in the Pentagon. Didn’t Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith implement your theories?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “The final decisions were no in their hands. In the Pentagon, the decisions were in the hands of the military, and the political leadership had a lot of clashes with the military leadership.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the military leadership ask for more soldiers in Iraq?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Rumsfeld prevented that. He was a failure. The State Department opposed the neocons’ stances. Also John Bolton, who is also part of the family, and was no. 4 at the State Department under Colin Powell, was incapable of passing decisions

“Powell curbed our ideas and they did not pass. 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.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: In the meantime you left the US inside Iraq?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “We did not bring the US into Iraq in such a way. Our biggest war which we lost was the idea that before entering Iraq we must train an exile Iraqi government and an Iraqi military force, and hand over the rule to them immediately after the occupation and leave Iraq. That was our idea and it was not accepted.”

The only “news” here is probably the prediction that other members of “the family” are “about to leave.”  The idea that the “administration is in its twilight days” certainly seems to suggest that there will no big new initiatives from the Right Zionist playbook in 2007.

Meyrav Wurmser writes as if James Baker was now running the White House.  Or, at least, as if any push back against Baker does not represent any particular fidelity to the ideas of  “the family.”

David Wurmser: That Special Someone?

Posted by Cutler on December 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

Helene Cooper of the New York Times has a big article on the front page of the “Week in Review” that discusses all the buzz about the so-called Shiite Option or “80 Percent Solution” in Iraq.

SOMEONE in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office has gotten everybody on this city’s holiday party circuit talking, simply by floating an unlikely Iraq proposal… that Washington should stop trying to get Sunnis and Shiites to get along and instead just back the Shiites, since there are more of them anyway and they’re likely to win in a fight to the death. After all, the proposal goes, Iraq is 65 percent Shiite and only 20 percent Sunni…

Unnamed government officials with knowledge in the matter say the proposal comes from his office, but they stop short of saying it comes from Mr. Cheney himself…

[S]omewhere deep inside the Beltway, someone has laid out the intellectual basis for the Shiite option…

An even more far-fetched offshoot of the [plan] is floating around… It holds that America could actually hurt Iran by backing Iraq’s Shiites…

Wow.

This is all very important, etc. even though Cooper predicts that the Shiite Option “most likely not going anywhere.”

Why all the mysterious references to “someone” without ever venturing a guess?  Why does Cooper refuse to even speculate that David Wurmser–who handles the Middle East portfolio on Cheney’s National Security staff–is the special “someone” promoting this option?

I mean, it is not like it is a big secret.  Wurmser published a whole book way back in 1999–entitled Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (AEI Press) that “laid out the intellectual basis for the Shiite option.”

That book serves as the backbone for my ZNET article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

Why no name?  Is Cooper afraid of mentioning that Wurmser is a prominent Right Zionist?

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.

Russia, Iran, and Israel

Posted by Cutler on December 01, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

When Great Powers compete, you win.

Rivalry between Russia and the United States, according to this scenario, should lead both Great Powers to actively court states like Iran, offering various incentives, including cakes and Bibles. The constraints imposed by inter-imperialist rivalry, then, would make it very difficult for the US to adopt harsh, punishing policies toward Iran as these efforts would only benefit Russian influence in Iran.

Countries like Iran–the “targets” of such competition–presumably delight in the enhanced leverage afforded in a multi-polar world. The more fierce the rivalry, the greater the charm offensive.

And, in fact, there are some very intense Russia hawks within the US who adopt precisely this approach toward US-Iranian relations.

If you want to see an amazing list of Russia hawks, check out bi-partisan list of signatories to the “Open Letter” published in the Moscow Times in September 2004. The letter warns:

President Putin’s foreign policy is increasingly marked by a threatening attitude towards Russia’s neighbors and Europe’s energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire, and by a refusal to comply with Russia’s international treaty obligations.

If Russia hawks are united against the threat of Russian empire, they are quite divided on what this might mean for US relations with Iran.

Some Russia hawks explicitly endorse the strategy of courting Iran in an effort to pry it away from Russia.

Within the United States, the split among Russia hawks is most clearly evident within the halls of the conservative Hudson Institute. The Hudson Institute is united in its hawkish analysis of Russian imperial ambitions.

So intense is the anti-Putin sentiment over at the Hudson Institute that some of the think tank’s scholars approach Putin’s role in Beslan the same way conspiratorial thinkers in the US think about Bush’s role in 9/11. An uncanny resemblance, really: “The Russian authorities may have deliberately allowed the terrorists to take over the school in order to have an excuse to destroy them.”

Hudson Institute Splits on Iran

On the side of wooing Iran stands Hudson Senior Fellow, Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.).

Odom has made big news in anti-war circles for announcing, in no uncertain terms, that the US shouldcut and run” in Iraq.

In Hudson Institute articles, he has also emphasized a very “dovish” approach toward Iran:

[T]he U.S. must informally cooperate with Iran in areas of shared interests. Nothing else could so improve our position in the Middle East. The price for success will include dropping U.S. resistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as cutting and running, but it is no less essential. That’s because we do share vital common interests with Iran. We both want to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban (Iran hates both). We both want stability in Iraq (Iran will have influence over the Shiite Iraqi south regardless of what we do, but neither Washington nor Tehran want chaos). And we can help each other when it comes to oil: Iran needs our technology to produce more oil, and we simply need more oil.

Accepting Iran’s nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely benefits. Moreover, its nuclear program will proceed whether we like it or not. Accepting it might well soften Iran’s support for Hezbollah, and it will definitely undercut Russia’s pernicious influence with Tehran.

One of the distinguishing characteristics about Odom’s approach to Great Power rivalry is that his charm offensive toward Iran also includes some tough love for Israel:

Most people are dealing with the symptoms, but we’re not dealing with the fundamental problems. I suggest that if we’re going to deal with Israel, they have to listen to us and follow what we say. They need to stop using the Old Testament as though it’s a property deed. The Mohawk Indians have a better claim on Manhattan than they do on the West Bank.

My hunch is that this kind of talk doesn’t go down so well with other Hudson Institute fellows, especially Senior Fellow, Meyrav Wurmser, the Director of the Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy.

Meyrav Wurmser is one of the most hawkish Likudnik Zionist voices on the US scene. She is also married to another Right Zionist, David Wurmser. David Wurmser once held the comparable “Middle East Policy” position at another conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Today, he is the chief Middle East Policy aide to Vice President Cheney.

For Right Zionists, wooing Iran is not an option.

If you want to know why some Russia hawks are unwilling to court Iran, the best explanation may be found in their relation to the Israel Lobby.

Cheney may once have wanted to court Iran with carrots rather than punish with sticks. But that strategy has been consistently blocked by the Israel lobby and its demand for sanctions.

Shorn of the opportunity to woo the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia, Cheney will turn to the only remaining strategy, short of handing Iran to the Russians: regime change in Iran.

He will run into resistance from all those who favor engagement with Russia and Russia hawks who want to court Iran.

Cheney may be pretty isolated in his approach. Trouble is, he is also untouchable.

Right Arabists Split on Iran

Posted by Cutler on November 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

If Right Zionists have any chance of salvaging a role for themselves in the Bush administration, they will do so by exploiting to the full factional tensions among Right Arabists.

As “luck” would have it, there 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.

Right Zionists are clearly aligned with Cheney in this dispute. The personification of this alliance remains David Wurmser, the key Middle East aide in the Office of the Vice President.

The Baker position is represented not only by Baker’s own pronouncements in favor of dialogue with Iran but by several of his key allies including Richard Haass–Baker’s former deputy in the administration of Bush Sr and currently the president of the Council on Foreign Relations–and Ray Takeyh, also at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Takeyh has suggested himself, at least some elements of the House of Saud aim to appease and contain the Iranians.

[T]he Gulf monarchies are eager to accommodate—as opposed to confront—Iran’s power.

Not so Cheney. Cheney may be somewhat isolated within the administration at times, but he remains untouchable. And he has a number of important Right Arabist allies who have long favored a more confrontational approach toward Iran. This include some diplomatic figures with very close ties to the House of Saud–including former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins–and much of the military brass, including former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni, who appeared to be “dovish” on Iraq because they opposed an invasion that set out to establish Iraqi Shiite rule but are more than anything, very hawkish on Iran.

Anti-Iranian Right Arabists–the ones who are most adamently opposed to engagement with the incumbent Iranian regime–are also adamently opposed to any withdrawal of US forces that would strenghten Shiite power in Iraq.

The Cheney, anti-Iranian Right Arabist line was on full display in Nawaf Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping into Iraq.”

One hopes [Bush] won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis…

There is reason to believe that the Bush administration, despite domestic pressure, will heed Saudi Arabia’s advice. Vice President Cheney’s visit to Riyadh last week to discuss the situation (there were no other stops on his marathon journey) underlines the preeminence of Saudi Arabia in the region and its importance to U.S. strategy in Iraq. But if a phased troop withdrawal does begin, the violence will escalate dramatically.

This is Op-Ed is not a Saudi warning to the Bush administration. I agree with those (including Bernhard at Moon of Alabama) who think Nawaf Obaid’s Op-Ed was a warning to the Democrats–although perhaps an unnecessary warning because most members of the Democratic leadership are bluffing in their “redeployment” banter and because many are quite hawkish on Iran.

But the Nawaf Obaid Op-Ed was also part of a Cheney campaign against Baker. That campaign was also on display earlier in the week when an unnamed official leaked word that Iranian-backed Hezbollah was training Sadrists in Iraq.

Ultimately, the split between Right Arabists has less to do with the House of Saud or Iran, as such, than it does with different approaches to Great Power Rivalry.

The Russians

There are signs that the key split over Iran turns on competing approaches to Russia. In this scenario, Cheney considers Iran (and Iraq) the venue for US rivalry with Russia (if not also China). Same goes for Cheney’s approach to the Caspian generally. Cheney is a Russia hawk and the big problem with the incumbent regime in Iran is not its hostility toward Israel but its strategic alliance with Russia.

Baker and Co. favor ongoing cooperation with Russia. Hence, they do not fear engagement with an Iranian regime allied with Russia. The same was true in their approach to Saddam after 1995, when he sought and received strategic support from Russia. For Cheney and Co. the crisis of Iraq was the crumbling of containment brought on by Saddam’s effective courting of the Russians (and the French) in the middle of the Clinton administration.
One urgent question that follows from this scenario: where to position incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates on this score?

One clue might be to trace the position of his mentor and booster, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the company he keeps.

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.

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.

Oh, Henry

Posted by Cutler on November 20, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Henry Kissinger’s BBC interview is making headlines that suggest Kissinger has given up on the idea of a US military victory in Iraq.

This is going to get all kinds of folks excited because it seems to imply that Kissinger is ready to wave a white flag and retreat from Iraq. It just isn’t so.

Kissinger is making the big headlines. But Brent Scowcroft is also lowering expectatiosn on Iraq. He was quoted on the front page of the New York Times:

“Things are so difficult and so complicated, it may be beyond anyone’s ability to be successful,” said Brent Scowcroft, a mentor and admirer of Mr. Gates.

But neither of these guys are advocating US withdrawal. Scowcroft made this clear last week. And Kissinger warns that withdrawal would yield catastrophic results that would inevitably draw us right back into the region:

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it’s a very unfortunate situation. But that doesn’t help us, I mean saying that doesn’t help us in the process of extricating ourselves, extricating is clearly a word I don’t like, or of finding a solution which does not make the situation in the region worse, and worse for all of us, that is the big challenge that we’re facing…

ANDREW MARR: Given that, what would you say to all those people who say well let’s bring all the troops home now? What’s the downside of a fast and total withdrawal, both by American and by British troops now?

HENRY KISSINGER: Well if we were to withdraw all the forces without any international understanding and without any even partial solution of some of the problems, the civil war in Iraq will take on even more violent forms and the chief dimensions that are probably exceeding those that brought us into Yugoslavia with military forces, all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised.

So I think a dramatic collapse of Iraq, whatever we think of how the situation was created, would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years, and which would bring us back in one way or another into the region.

None of this is really about the military front. It is about the political front. As always, most of the sharpest debates in Washington have turned on questions of geopolitical strategy, not military tactics.

Consider, for example, Kissinger’s prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq.

Who is he talking about? Is he warning that Iran would be destabilised? Or is he talking about Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even Pakistan?

Today, most of the chatter that is ostensibly about Iraq is really about US policy toward Iran and Iran’s relation to the Gulf–even as Iran’s regional proxy, Hezbollah, flexes its muscles in Lebanon.

Here is Kissinger on Iran, from the BBC interview:

ANDREW MARR: What about the Iranians, Dr. Kissinger, do you envisage any likelihood of Washington opening a new dialogue with President Ahmadinejad given some of the things he’s been saying recently again about Israel?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it would probably be better, first the answer to your question is yes, I believe America has to be in some dialogue with Iran.

But it seems to me the fundamental problem is, does Iran conduct itself as a crusade or as a nation? If Iran is a nation it should be possible to define a relationship in which Iran together with all interested parties contributes to stability in the region, and plays a respected role.

If Iran is a crusade that is trying to overthrow the international system as we know it, which is the way the Iranian president talks, then it will be extremely difficult to come to a negotiated solution.

Here, Kissinger is riffing on a theme he introduced in a July 31, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled, “Next Steps with Iran.”

A modern, strong, peaceful Iran could become a pillar of stability and progress in the region. This cannot happen unless Iran’s leaders decide whether they are representing a cause or a nation — whether their basic motivation is crusading or international cooperation. The goal of the diplomacy of the Six should be to oblige Iran to confront this choice.

Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks — or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability.

The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America — and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six — is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.

In light of this scenario, I think it seemss plausible to think that Kissinger’s BBC prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq is not about the collapse of Iran but the threat Iran poses to Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Pakistan.

What is the US prepared to offer Iran in exchange for becoming “a pillar of stability and progress in the region”? How much of Iraq is on the table? Say, control of southern Iraq?

ANDREW MARR: And do you think there might be, it might be necessary to divide Iraq, for Iraq to come apart in two or three pieces?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think that might be an outcome, but it would be better not to organise it that way on a formal basis.

What happens if “engagement” with Iran fails?

Some Neocons are already sure such engagement is doomed and have their answer: “Bomb Iran.”

What is Kissinger prepared to do if Iran makes the “wrong” choices?

In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Is that Kissinger-speak for “Bomb Iran”?

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.

Israel, Iraq and the Elections

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

Were the midterm elections a referendum on the Right Zionist (aka “neocon”) war in Iraq?

Maybe. But as I’ve previously noted, the Democrats not particularly reliable opponents of Right Zionist policies in Iraq. The most strident critics of Right Zionist war aims in Iraq continue to be Republicans–specifically, the folks I call Right Arabists.

How will the midterm elections influence these battles?

With the control of the Senate still unclear at this writing, the broad contours of power have yet to be determined. Nevertheless, some of the details are clear.

Matthew E. Berger of the Jerusalem Post has written two articles that help map the terrain. The first report is an October 26, 2006 article entitled, “Is there an ally in the House?” and the second is from November 2, 2006 entitled, “Who’s good for the Jews?”

The October article makes some important points about areas to watch, given Democratic leadership in the House:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader who would become speaker of the House, is a strong pro-Israel supporter…

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, is in line to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee if the Democrats win. But some rumblings suggest other lawmakers – namely Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) – may bypass him because of Lantos’ support for the Iraq war. Privately, congressional aides say Lantos has been reassured by Pelosi that he will get the chairmanship; both men are considered strong backers of the Jewish state.

The more intriguing scenario rests on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) is in line to chair it. He has been an occasional critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and their influence over Middle East policy. But at the same time, pro-Israel advocates say he has been more than willing to cede issues to his subcommittee leaders, and the new foreign operations subcommittee chair would be Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a strong, proactive Israel backer.

Among House Democrats, most of the policy differences are measured within a broad, pro-Israel consensus. I guess one might keep an eye on David Obey.

If there is real “news” from the Senate race, it requires a little digging.

The headline story is that in places like Rhode Island, Democratic challengers defeated Republican incumbents. It looks, on the surface at least, like a rejection of Bush, Cheney and the “neocon” war.

Look more closely.

Incumbent Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee was a Right Arabist critic of the Neocons.

Just to get a flavor for his views, have a look at a Providence Journal Op-Ed he published on January 20, 2004 entitled, “Foes of ‘land for peace’ Put Mideast Peace at Risk” (registration required):

IN OCTOBER, I traveled with a delegation to Iraq. While in Mosul and Baghdad, I asked about Arabic graffiti we saw scrawled here and there. The answer from our escort was “Oh, a lot of it is crazy stuff about Israel — such as ‘Israel is taking over Iraq.’ The extremists use the Palestinian cause a lot in their propaganda.”…

[I]t is logical to conclude that the “global jihad” is intensified greatly by the dispute over this land... [T]he peace process has been at a dead stop. Why is that?

Two recent events have been especially perplexing. Vice President Dick Cheney just hired as his Mideast adviser a fervent foe of “land for peace,” David Wurmser. His selection is a staggering disappointment to those of us who support the road map.

Second, there was barely a whisper of repudiation from anyone in the Bush administration when Gen. William G. Boykin was found to have appeared publicly in uniform making inflammatory statements disparaging the Islamic religion.

Back in 2002 when the Republicans took control of the Senate, Chafee also grabbed the chairmanship of a key Senate Foreign Relations committee, the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs responsible for oversight of Iraq, Iran, etc, displacing the Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, an Iraq hawk and the ranking Republican who was then in line for the gavel.

Here is the Roll Call report from January 29, 2003 entitled “Chafee Gets Key Gavel” (no online link):

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), the only Senate Republican to have voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, is poised to take the gavel of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Middle East policy.

The Rhode Island moderate’s selection to helm the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs came as a surprise to some panel observers, who had thought as recently as last Thursday that the gavel would go to Sen. Sam Brownback (R).

It would be a mistake to overstate the importance of such a subcomittee chairmanship. But every little bit counts and the defeat of Lincoln Chafee can hardly be interpreted as a defeat for Right Zionists like David Wurmser.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. We’ll see if she gets the gavel.

Where does Boxer stand on Israel?

Chalabi and Re-Baathification

Posted by Cutler on November 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

Gideon Rachman, the “official” blogger of the Financial Times, recently ran into Ahmed Chalabi in London and it prompted a recollection of Chalabi’s role in the US invasion of Iraq.

Rachman notes a change in Chalabi’s “program” these days:

[I]n one significant respect, Chalabi’s message now differs markedly from that of his original neo-con sponsors. While they are clearly itching to take on Iran, Chalabi is urging reconciliation. He argues that the Iranians would be willing to play a positive role in stabilising Iraq, if Iran could be assured that the new Iraq would not then be used as base to attack them. Chalabi wants to convene a regional peace conference and worries that – “Iraq is being turned into a battleground between Iran and the United States.” But even though a respectable crowd turned out to see Chalabi today, I have the feeling that the man’s audience is dwindling away.

Chalabi has reinvented himself any number of different times, including one recent incarnation as an ally of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Perhaps feeling his audience “dwindling away,” Chalabi may be reinventing himself in an even more dramatic way as a champion of re-Baathification!

A Washington Post article–“Proposal Would Rehire Members of Hussein’s Party“–reports the following:

A high-ranking commission of Iraq’s Shiite-led government said Monday it had prepared a draft law that could return tens of thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to their government jobs…

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, said in an interview that the commission had drafted a law for parliament that would give 1.5 million former Baathists who “excommunicate” themselves from the party the option of returning to their former government jobs or drawing a pension for their past employment…

Lami said 3,000 or so top former Baathists would be given their pensions but would not be allowed to resume government employment. And about 1,500 high-level former Baathists would be barred from ever resuming their jobs or drawing a pension.

This has all the markings of a Chalabi move.  Chalabi has always been the most ardent supporter of the “Commission for de-Baathification.”  And who is Lami? An article in Al Hayat from February 23, 2005, republished by the BBC on February 24, 2005 (no on-line link) identifies Lami in this way:

“Ali Faysal al-Lami [is a] member of the Shi’i Political Bureau and the political coordinator of the group in the United Iraqi Alliance that supports the nomination of Iraqi National Congress Leader Ahmad al-Chalabi to the post of prime minister.”

It would appear that Chalabi is now courting the Baathist insurgency.  Presumably, he has the strong support of US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in this regard.

One wonders, however, if his Right Zionist friends are similarly prepared to adopt such a conciliatory approach to the “old guard” Sunni Arab Baathist ruling elite.   If so, this would be far more significant that all the pseudo-self-criticism that has been making news of late.

Iraq, Vietnam and Democrats

Posted by Cutler on November 06, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I have been pretty relentlessly negative (here, here, here, here and here, for example) about the significance of any Democrat mid-term victories, at least in terms of the war in Iraq.

I stand by that analysis. As some Neocons themselves appear to understand, the Democratic party is not fundamentally opposed to the Neocon war in Iraq.

There are, however, a few additional points to consider.

First, votes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Will the mainstream media emphasis focus on the anti-war “No” vote or the Democrat victory?

In Connecticut, for example, the Democrat Senate primary several months ago was a clear referendum on the war and Ned Lamont won as an anti-war candidate. While Lamont will probably hold all the votes he won in the primary, Joe Lieberman, running as an “independent Democrat” will probably trounce Lamont in the general election, if only because Republicans gagged their own candidate and backed Lieberman, even as the Democrats party hedged its bets by promising to preserve Lieberman’s seniority if elected. Lieberman then made his seniority a bread-and-butter campaign issue.

In this instance, the story will correctly focus on a Democrat, pro-war victory.

In other cases, however, the spin may focus on the implicit, popular, anti-war “No,” rather than the highly ambiguous Democrat “Yes.”

If so, then a media feedback loop might help make the election an occasion to reinforce popular anti-war sentiment.

I take some comfort in the fact that Marshall Wittmann is worried about his newly adopted party. Wittmann, a Kristol/McCain Neocon who ostensibly “left the GOP” for the right wing of the Democratic Party, predicted that something like what I’m calling a “productive misunderstanding” might emerge from the mid-term elections.

Speaking to Byron York of the National Review for a September 11, 2006 article (full text available online from a third party) written in the aftermath of the Lamont primary victory, Wittmann seemed to fear the worst.

“It’s going to drive the Democratic presidential primaries to the left on national security and the Iraq War,” says Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, “and it’s going to make it difficult for anyone to stand by their decision to vote to authorize the war.” The rise of netroots anger, Wittmann adds, will “send the message that centrist hawks are unwelcome in the Democratic party,” which could affect the party for years to come…

“While the Republicans may be forced to reform themselves after the ’06 elections, the Democrats will be emboldened and not inclined to change, so the weaknesses that were evident in the ’04 campaign will never be addressed,” says Marshall Wittmann. “The paradox of ’06 is that the Republicans could be forced to get their act together while the Democratic Left will be completely reinforced by the results.”

We’ll see. I’m not sure that the Democratic Left, such as it is, will manage to run Wittmann and the Democratic Leadership Council out of the party. It isn’t even clear that Wittman really believes this. His professed “fears” about the Democratic party may simply be Wittmann preparing the way for his inevitable decision to return to the Republican party in time for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Finally, I have a question for those who know more about Vietnam and the Democratic Party:

What prepared the way for an anti-war challenge to a Democrat war in Vietnam back in the Johnson years?

My fear, today, is that the Democrats will be more effective than the Republicans at mobilizing popular support for the war.

The Johnson years tell a different story, don’t they?

As the Democrats return to positions of power, we need to review the history of the progressive de-legitimation of Johnson’s war.

How to prepare the way for a critique of “our” war (the one inherited by “competent” Democrats who presumably don’t allow for easy but narrow critiques of Halliburton/Bechtel cronyism and corruption, etc.)?

My hunch is that “Anybody But Bush” isn’t going to cut it.

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.

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 Neocons

Posted by Cutler on October 11, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In his recent “outburst” on Fox news, President Clinton talked about “All of President Bush’s neo-cons.”

Clinton had less to say, on Fox, about his own neo-cons.

But Clinton–and “Dem Zionists“–are not quite always so hostile to neo-cons.

The politics of the war in Iraq do not really divide on partisan lines.

That is one reason to suspect that Democrats who have refused to embrace a populist anti-war position during the Bush administration are likely to renew major elements of the Right Zionist project in the Gulf if they are empowered to do so in upcoming elections.

De-fending De-Baathification

Take, for example, the crucial question of dismantling the Iraqi army in May 2003.

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni has called the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army the Bush administration’s “worst mistake” in postwar Iraq.

That, at least, was his sense of things back in November 2003, according to a Washington Post article from that time–“Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?

The old article worth reviewing again because the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and de-Baathify the Iraqi state is back in the news with the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq that Cheney and Rumsfeld were the driving forces behind that decision.

Today, Zinni’s criticism has become the “common sense” regarding the war. Almost everybody agrees with Zinni; if there are major disagreements they involve ways to fix the problem now that the damage has been done.

Almost everybody agrees with Zinni.

But even after the rise of the Iraqi insurgency there were two US foreign policy figures who continued to explain and defend the rationale for de-Baathification.

Feith Leads the Way

The first figure is now quite infamous: Douglas J. Feith.

Feith served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and is the Bush administration Right Zionist most closely identified with the manipulation of pre-war intelligence and the failures of post-war planning.

His infamy was probably secured when General Tommy Franks–who commanded US forces in the invasion of Iraq–referred to Feith as the “dumbest [expletive] guy on the planet.”

In a May 28, 2003 press conference, Feith defended the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

Q My name is Saeb Erekat from al Quds Newspaper. Mr. Feith, in the last few days, we have witnessed increased attacks on American forces in Iraq. Do you attribute this to the dissolution of the Iraqi armed forces? And was that wise to do? And in retrospect, do you think that the policy — not in retrospect, in effect, the policy of applying de-Ba’athification to the entire bureaucratic infrastructure in Iraq is really wise in terms of getting Iraq back on its feet since you would need a lot of this talent and ability and technical capabilities and so on? Thank you.

MR. FEITH: We view the de-Ba’athification policy not only as wise but as indispensable to the effort to create a free Iraq… There was — we got a lot of Iraqis coming forward and saying that people would not feel comfortable cooperating with us, talking to us, working with us, if they felt that they were going to remain subject to retaliation by the Ba’ath Party elements. And it is — it is clear that the future of Iraq as a free country depends on people in the country believing and seeing that the Ba’ath Party is gone and that it’s not going to come back, and that the remnants of the Ba’ath Party are not going to be in a position to control the administration of the country or to physically attack the people who are going to be creating a free Iraq…

Apart from Feith defense of the policy–which came in the very early days after the decision was announced–is there anyone else who defended the policy?

Feith’s Fellow Traveler: Walter Slocombe

During the Clinton administration, Walter Slocombe occupied the exact same post that Feith would later occupy during the Bush administration.

Slocombe served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1994 to 2001.

But Slocombe is far less famous/infamous than Feith. To date, the poor fellow doesn’t even have his own wikipedia entry.

Nevertheless, he is a crucial figure for understanding the partisan contours of Iraq war politics.

According to that old Washington Post article, “Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?,” from November 20, 2003, Slocombe played a major role in the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces.

Of course, all the “other” Right Zionists players were involved. And nobody should try to pin the deal on Slocombe as a way of deflecting blame from the Bush administration.

However, it is also worth noting: long after Slocombe had left the service of Paul Bremer, whose Coalition Provisional Authority was in full retreat from its earlier policy and was now re-Baathifying as quickly as it could–Slocombe continued to make the case for de-Baathification.

And Slocombe’s explanation for the policy is far more candid about the geopolitical stakes than Feith’s. Slocombe emphasizes that his focus was on the contours of Sunni-Shiite political power in Iraq.

Slocombe’s line was the same during his service as it was later.

As a government official, Slocombe explained the policy–and warned against a tilt toward re-Baathification–in a November 5, 2003 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “To Build an Army.”

[I]t’s being argued by some that… the United States could and should have relied on Saddam Hussein’s old army and saved itself the trouble of creating a new one. Some even say we should try to do that now by recalling the old army to service some six months after its defeat.

It’s an argument that doesn’t add up. Given our objective of replacing Hussein’s regime, and not just its leader, it would have been a mistake, I think, to try to convert an army that was a principal tool of his oppressive system into the armed guardian of a new democracy…

Some observers… say that we should have called the departed soldiers back. Hussein’s army, however, consisted entirely of conscripts below officer level, most of them Shiites, who were badly mistreated by the overwhelmingly Sunni officers. Those conscripts were delighted at the opportunity to escape the abuse, corruption and misery of the old army. They certainly weren’t going to heed the call of their officers to return, and we were not about to send press gangs out to round them up.

Thus any recalled “army” would have consisted almost entirely of officers from the absurdly top-heavy senior ranks.

Slocombe supported dismantling the Iraqi army as one element of a larger campaign to depose the Sunni governing elite.

In April 1, 2004 remarks entitled “Inside Iraq” delivered to the Commonwealth Club after he had left the Coalition Provisional Authority, Slocombe continued to emphasize the Sunni-Shiite political dynamic.

[The Iraqi army] was a conscript army. Most of the officers – well over 80 percent – were Sunni; most of the enlisted – probably 80 percent, higher than the population percentages – were Shia. And the conscripts went home. They liked the idea that they were formally excused from their obligations. They were not paid, so they hardly became unemployed. They were a lot more useful for the society home with their families. There was no question of getting them to come back.

We could have gotten a lot of officers. The Iraqi army had 11,000 general officers… The sensible thing to do was to start from the bottom and build up.

As Slocombe explained in the November 2003 Washington Post article “Wrong Turn at a Postwar Crossroads?“:

“This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute and done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad. It was discussed,” Slocombe said.

For Slocombe, disbanding the Iraqi army was a political decision. It didn’t “mistakenly” alienate the Sunni officers. It did so intentionally, as part of a larger project of transforming the regional balance of power.

My hunch is that Dem Zionists will join Slocombe in defending this project long after the Republican party has returned to its Right Arabist roots.

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 Plan?

Posted by Cutler on October 07, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The “Iran Question” makes my head hurt.

The reason has been pretty clear since the ’06 Lebanon War. You can see early signs of turbulence in my ZNet essay “The Devil Wears Persian.”

“Dual rollback” is a two act play:

Act One: Target Iraqi regional power, with the acquiescence of Iran.

Act Two is just beginning….

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran. Arab officials are cast in a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran…

Right Zionists will find that they have powerful allies… in Washington (Right Arabists) — the very folks who worked most diligently against them during Act One.

[T]he emergence of a new Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis against Iran will almost certainly mean that dissent — facilitated by Right Arabists during Act One — will prove far more difficult during Act Two.

Dissent may prove more difficult. So, too, analysis.

Act II?

Any “Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis” against Iran (“Act II”) would muddy all the factional lines from Act I that have served as guideposts for understanding the contours of the Bush administration.

A case in point of potentially muddied factional lines: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s most recent trip to the Middle East.

There has been considerable media speculation that Rice went to the region in an effort to build support for a united front against Iran.

Take, for example, Jon Leyne’s BBC news analysis, “Iran Behind Rice’s Mid-East Tour.”

Why did Condoleezza Rice come to Israel and the West Bank earlier this week?

Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran.
[S]tate department counsellor Philip Zelikow seemed to give the game away in an address to a Washington think tank on 15 September.

“For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to co-operate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.”

No mention of Iran, but the implication is clear.

See similar speculation by Ehsan Ahrari here.

As I noted in a previous post, speculation of this type has increased dramatically with news of a secret Saudi-Israeli summit to discuss Iran.

As Eli noted in a comment to a previous post, this scenario has generated considerable enthusiasm among “Dem Zionists” like MJ Rosenberg at the Huffington Post.

Or, Act I?

My head starts hurting right about here. The cognitive dissonance I am feeling probably has its source in a comparable dissonance I detect in Right Zionist circles.

Take, for example, Michael Ledeen’s recent essay, “Cognitive Dissonance: The Bush Administration on Iran.” It is an elaborate critique of Condoleezza Rice and her most recent statements on Iran from an interview with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal.

[Condoleezza Rice] hopes sanctions will have an effect on Iranian officials who “do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they’re headed toward.” Stephens, shocked that Rice apparently thinks there are legitimate interlocutors in power in Tehran, presses her, and she responds, “I do not believe we’re going to find Iranian moderates… The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?”

As Stephens dryly remarks, there are lots of Iranian “reasonables.” They comprise upwards of 80 percent of the population. But we are not supporting them; instead we are dithering around in negotiations designed by Europeans whose greatest fear is not Iranian terrorism, but American action in the Middle East. And when Secretary Rice starts talking about diplomacy, there is a change in focus. She’s no longer talking about the war, she’s talking about the nuclear program.

In short, she has no serious intention of challenging the Tehran regime…

It is impossible not to be struck by the cognitive dissonance between this interview and the many speeches by the president in which he has all but called for regime change in Iran.

If this be “Act II,” then Ledeen does not appear to be on board.

One reason Ledeen is not on board is that Rice is “talking about the nuclear program” while he wants to talk about regime change.

Iranian nukes and Iranian regime change are potentially very different questions. They are mostly unrelated (Right Zionists who favor regime change wouldn’t much mind a nuclear Iran once it is pro-Western).

The nuke and regime change issues may also be at odds with one another if all the talk about Iranian nukes helps the Iranian regime consolidate its popularity among Iranian nationalists.

This difference–between nukes and regime change–not only marks a division between Right Zionists and Right Arabists, but between Right Zionists and Neocon Unipolarists.

Like Ledeen, Michael Rubin also seems unimpressed by the direction of US policy. He has had nothing good to say about Rice’s visit to the Middle East. Writing on the NRO blog, Rubin complained that Rice sold out Egyptian dissidents and the whole “Bush Doctrine.”

Rubin doesn’t seem to think that Rice’s attempts to curry favor with Arab regimes is part of some Right Zionist game plan for a united front against Iran.

Indeed, at this point, one is hard pressed to find Right Zionists discussing recent Bush administration Middle East policy in the same enthusiastic tone that marked the Lebanon War.

At the time of the Lebanon War in July 2006, Right Zionists like Dore Gold wrote about an “Opening Round” in a battle between Iran and the West.

But that “Gold” opportunity–to the extent that it ever existed–was slammed shut by the failure of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon.

Where does that leave Act II?

If the Rice trip to the Middle East was a “second round” in Act II, somebody forgot to tell the Right Zionists.

Where is the evidence of Neocon enthusiasm?

This is not a rhetorical question. I am asking: has anyone seen any signs?

If the Right Zionists are disgruntled, are the “Unipolarists” more hopeful?

Or is it just Dem Zionists?

As Michael Rubin says,

It’s almost as if Kerry won and named Nicholas Burns is Undersecretary of State.

Dem Zionists” and Right Arabists.

[LATER: If “Act II” requires Right Zionists to court “Arab moderates” in search of a united front against Iran, would this actually extend so far as to tolerate an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

Or is all the talk of a coup in Iraq simply an older story: the denouement of “Act I,” the eclipse of Right Zionist influence, and the triumph of the old Right Arabist establishment.]

A Really Lame Duck

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

There is talk these days of a Republican “perfect storm” that threatens to drown the reckless rightwing crew that have been steering the ship of state since 9/11.

If so, then the mid-term elections should result in huge losses for the Republicans and set the course for a great reversal in 2008. Hence the clocks counting down the days of the Bush Presidency.

Maybe this is a perfect storm.

But we may be in for a rough ride. And the Democrat’s GPS is on the blink.

Cheney Gone Wild

One of the frightening things about Cheney is that he seems live as though his heart [sic] might go at any minute. No future political plans. No aspirations beyond the current administration.

Cheney’s permanent lame duck status has given him an unusual level of insulation from the kind of “political” accountability that derives from the commodification of politics–polling, the next election cycle, etc.

The result has been an unusually high level of “ideological” and ambitious foreign policy, to say the least.

Thus far, however, one might imagine that these tendencies have been qualified, to some extent, by Karl Rove and the Republican party Congressional leadership who do have an eye on the next election.

This, at least, is the conclusion of the ideologues. See, for example, Norman Podhoretz on the role of “politics” in slowing the pace of the Bush revolution.

At least until the mid-term elections.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol offers hope to the so-called “ideologues”: after the mid-terms, everything is possible.

Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

More US casualties.

(During the interview, Kristol does begin to say that he would “support” an increase in US casualties. This should come as no real surprise given his devotion to the cultural politics of “sacrifice”).

This may be wishful thinking on Kristol’s part.

But what if Kristol is right?

What if Rove is restraining the Neocons because of his long-standing recognition of the powerful, “new isolationism” that runs through US political culture?

Will the passing of the mid-term elections release the Neocons from Rove’s shackles?

If so, then this is actually the calm before the storm.

What if the gathering storm includes a dramatic move to finish out the administration with “rollback” in Iran?

Would it be an enormously risky move that would almost certainly generate extraordinary instability?

Yes.

But “with any luck,” the Democrats will be left holding that bag.

And they will finally deliver the political culture of sacrifice for which Kristol has been pining but which Rove has been unwilling to deliver.

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?

Iraqi Partition: A Test of Iranian Influence?

Posted by Cutler on September 25, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Iraqi political elites have been wrangling over the issue of “regional autonomy” since early September when SCIRI introduced its push for the recognition of an autonomous southern Shiite region.

If the SCIRI move is viewed as part of an Iranian bid for power, then the battle lines that have formed over this issue may say something about the future of Iranian influence in Iraq.

An Iranian Push for Iraqi Shiite Autonomy?

Is Hakim acting as an agent of Iranian influence in this instance? I have no independent basis, at this time, for evaluating the “accusation.”

I do note, however, that Stratfor‘s September 6, 2006 report–“Iraq: Tehran’s Shiite Autonomy Solution” (subscription required)–does not hesistate to level the charge:

Combining existing provinces into federal zones would allow Tehran and its Shiite allies in Iraq to wield greater power over the Iraqi state by creating an additional layer of government…

SCIRI — led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who also heads the UIA — is the most powerful and pro-Iranian component of the UIA…

By rearranging the provinces into autonomous federal zones along the lines of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, the pro-Iranian Shia have found a way to consolidate their gains over power and the oil resources in the south. The Iraqi Shia and their Iranian patrons are trying to make regional autonomy the rule rather than an exception limited to the Kurds.

Iraq: America’s Gift to Iran? (Beats a Cake and a Bible)

Ever since the US “helped” Iraqi Shiites win political control of Iraq (formally, at least), critics have been accusing the Bush administration of essentially turning Iraq over to Iran.

The charge of aiding Iran is one of the chief arguments behind the notion of Bush administration “incompetence.” After all, the Bush administration is clearly hawkish on Iran. So the enhancement of Iranian influence would have to be an unintended consequence of foolish “democratization” dreams.

Right Zionists were ready with a response: Iraqi Shiites are no friends of the Iranian regime. Michael Ledeen, for example, predicted in the New York Sun at the start of the war:

If we understand this war correctly, the Iraqi Shi’ites will fight alongside us against the Iranian terrorists, for the Iraqis want freedom, and they know they will not get any from the mullahs in Tehran.

I have previously written about the Right Zionist idea of a so-called Najaf-Qom rivalry (especially here). The notion prompted Swopa at Needlenose to comment on Cutler’s Blog:

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true.Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Given what he has said elsewhere about the vacuity of Iraqi sovereignty, I doubt that Swopa would say that the “Shiite parties” have now “cemented their control over Iraq.”

Nevertheless, with the current impasse over the issue of “partition,” we may now be at a moment when Sistani and the Iranians may have to settle their differences, one way or the other.

Needless to say, the Sunni political establishment is extremely hostile to any partition schemes. But, as the Washington Post and other media outlets have been reporting, several key Shiite forces have joined Sunni politicians in opposing an autonomous southern Shiite (let alone a Kurdish region in the north, based in Kirkuk).

Sadr is opposed. And, according to a Gulf News report, both the Shiite Fadhila/Virtue party and the Karbala-based forces of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani are also opposed. None of this is shocking: each of these groups include militias that have clashed with SCIRI’s “Badr Brigades” militia.

So, in some respects, the key “swing” factor may turn out to be Sistani.

Where is Sistani?

The big, recent headline is that Sistani has essentially “retired.” We’ll see. I have my doubts.

The key partisans in the debate over partition certainly still seem to think Sistani matters.

The Kurds–who favor autonomy for Shiites as a way of enhancing their own autonomy leverage–were quick to suggest that Sistani supports partition. According to a Kurdish press report,

A representative of the revered Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah al-Sistani has told Muslims attending Friday prayers in the southern city of Nasiriya that the Islamic faith sanctions federalism, and that it is the correct system of government for Iraq.

“Federalism is a form of governance that has had a place in the history of Islam and which it allows,” said Mohammed Baqir al-Nasiri.

But the Sunni opposition also claimed to have Sistani on its side. According to a September 13, 2006 report in the Washington Post,

[Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mahmoud] Mashhadani said Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, had ordered Shiite politicians to back off from the plan in order to prevent bitter infighting.

So, which is it?

Maybe it is too soon to say. The most recent news–a Washington Post article entitled, “Iraqi Parties Reach Deal Postponing Federalism“–is that the legislature may vote later this week on a resolution, but even an affirmative vote would essentially delay any actual autonomy moves until 2008.

Maybe this goes to Swopa’s point that any differences between Sistani and Iran will be settled later.

It may be worth noting, however, that Sistani’s key ally in the government–Hussein al-Shahristani, the Oil Minister–has been pushing back against autonomy moves.

Most recently, he questioned the validity at Kurdish oil deals. According to the Financial Times,

Hussein al-Shahristani, the oil minister, was quoted by the state-run al-Sabaah newspaper as saying: “The ministry isn’t committed to oil investment contracts signed in the past . . . by officials of the government of the Kurdistan region which were announced as contracts for investment and the development of oil fields”…

The latest dispute comes as Iraq’s parliamentarians on Sunday agreed to begin debate on the issue of federalism, but said they would delay the creation of any new autonomous areas for at least 18 months.

Can Shahristani’s move against the Kurds be taken as indicative of Sistani’s view of partition, more generally?

Is the delay of Hakim’s autonomy move a sign that Iraqi Shiites–along with Sunnis–will, in fact, resist Iranian influence in Iraq?

How will Hakim and Iran respond to the failure of the autonomy push?

Iran: Unipolarists vs. Right Zionists

Posted by Cutler on September 20, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 1 Comment

What’s the matter with Iran?

Let me rephrase that: What, exactly, is the Bush administration’s problem with Iran? What are the administration’s grievances and what are the likely remedies?

As usual, the answers may depend on a prior question: who is running this show?

I’m far from convinced that the so-called “neoconservatives” are steering the ship of state. But let’s map their grievances and remedies, just in case.

Norman Podhoretz recently noted,

[A]s it happens, there is a split among neoconservatives on the desirability of military action against Iran. For reasons of their own, some–including Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute… [oppose] such a course…

Where Iran is concerned, those neoconservatives who oppose military action, and detect no possibility of even relatively free elections there, have instead placed their hopes in an internal insurrection that would topple the mullocracy and replace it with a democratic regime. They also keep insisting that the failure of this long-predicted insurrection to materialize is largely the fault of the Bush administration, whose own failure to do everything in its power to help the democratic opposition is in their eyes a blatant betrayal of the Bush Doctrine.

On this account, Richard Perle, one of the most influential of the neoconservatives, is furious with the president (in whose administration he formerly served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board). “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)” reads the headline of a piece he recently published in the Washington Post. Here Mr. Perle charges that Mr. Bush has “chosen to beat . . . an ignominious retreat” by yielding to the State Department’s wish “to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.” In thereby betraying the promises of his own doctrine, Mr. Perle adds, the president has crushed the hopes that his “soaring speeches” had once aroused in the young democratic dissidents of Iran.

Am I the only one who thinks Podhoretz is distancing himself from the “internal insurrection” camp? Something about how they “keep insisting” on the same thing they have “long-predicted,” notwithstanding its “failure” to materialize. Wouldn’t Podhoretz find less dismissive ways of writing this sentence if he thought an internal insurrection was likely?

Later in his essay, Podhoretz returns to the issue of Iran in order to respond to Perle’s charge that Bush is now appeasing the regime through diplomacy, but he never responds to the charge that an internal insurrection might be in the offing if only the Bush administration would embrace Iranian dissidents.

Podhoretz and his son-in-law, White House NSC staffer Elliott Abrams, are likely on the same page in this regard.

Note, for example, the public disappointment expressed by the “democratic dissidents” who recently attended a White House confab on Iran, co-hosted by Abrams and the State Department’s Nicholas Burns.

There was virtually no discussion of… US plans to give millions of dollars to Iranian pro-democracy activists. Instead the agenda was dominated by Iran’s nuclear programme, and the US diplomatic approach at the United Nations to stop it. “They are obsessed with the nuclear issue,” commented one Iranian.

Either Abrams was biting very hard on his tongue during this meeting–subordinating himself to Burns without a public fight–or Abrams and Burns agree that the regime change/popular insurrection idea is dead.

Regarding the confrontation over Iranian nukes, Podhoretz denies that Bush has blinked.

To me (pace Richard Perle), it has seemed more likely that he has once again been walking the last diplomatic mile… The purpose… is… to show that the only alternative… is military action.

Robert Kagan–a neoconservative who has not given up on Mr. Bush–puts this well in describing the negotiations as “giving futility its chance.”… [O]nce having played out the diplomatic string, Mr. Bush will be in a strong political position to say, along with Senator John McCain, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb–and not just to endorse that assessment but to act on it.

Needless to say, a ritualized walk down the diplomatic path will not necessarily put the Bush administration in a “strong political position” internationally. It did not do so in the case of Iraq. And, if Chirac has anything to say about it, the same will hold true in the case of Iran.

The emphasis on nukes, rather than internal insurrection, may be the most instructive element here.

The neoconservative split over Iran hinges on divergent priorities with the so-called “neoconservative” movement.

Unipolarists

There is a neoconservative camp–call them “Unipolarists” after Charles Krauthammer’s famous 1990 Foreign Affairs essay, “The Unipolar Moment“–for whom battles with countries like Iraq and Iran are most important for the way in which they project American power around the world. As such, the real targets are not only the oil-rich states and Arab street. Unipolarists also favor massive demonstrations of American power and resolve as a shot across the bow of potential “Great Power” rivals including France, Russia, and especially China.

Unipolarists include Krauthammer, but also William Kristol. Indeed, the unipolarist vision was a primary inspiration for Kristol’s “Project for A New American Century.”

It must also be said–although it is not said often enough–that the patron saint of unipolarists is Senator John McCain, as much as it is George W. Bush. Back in 2003, the Washington Post called Kristol a “champion of John McCain during the 2000 primaries.”

Both Kristol and McCain have, at various times, criticized Rumsfeld for favoring “military transformation” (and force protection?) over “boots on the ground.” Boots on the ground are presumably essential for a “New American Century.”

For Unipolarists, military action in Iran is urgent–even if highly risky–because the US cannot possibly afford to back down from any challenge if it has any chance of beating back Great Power antagonists. Chinese and Russian engagement with Iran actually precludes the possibility of a US compromise with the Iranian regime. Even if Unipolarists might have wanted to find a way of engaging Iran at some point during the 1990s, Chinese and Russian efforts to curry favor with the Iranian regime represent an implicit challenge to US power so long as US policy was, for better or worse, isolation of the regime.

Right Zionists

The “neo-conservatives” I identify as Right Zionists have a somewhat different profile than the Unipolarists. As I explained in my profile of Right Zionists, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” this faction of the neo-conservative movement is primarily focused on the strategic position of Israel within the Middle East.

Needless to say, most Unipolarists are also Zionists. But there is a difference in emphasis between the two camps and this difference helps explain the split regarding Iran.

At the heart of Right Zionist interest in Iran is the so-called “Doctrine of the Periphery” whereby Israel seeks to build regional alliances by promoting and exploiting divisions between hegemonic Sunni Arab nationalist rulers and various peripheral populations–Persians, Turks, Kurds, etc. who might be willing to collude with Israel against a common enemy.

Iran under the Shah figured prominently in this scenario and the fall of the Shah represented a crisis for the Doctrine of the Periphery. Israel lost an ally in the Shah, but whatever the tensions between “official Iran” of the Shiite revolution and Israel, Right Zionists have never renounced the hope of restoring an alliance with “eternal Iran.”

For Right Zionists, the possibility of Arab-Persian rivalry for control of the Gulf makes Iran and indispensible ally.

A populist insurrection in Iran offers the prospect–for Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen at AEI–of restoring a powerful (even nuclear) US- and Israel-aligned Iran to its proper place in the Gulf: as a rival to Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the Gulf.

The Neo-conservative Split on Iran

At present, Unipolarists have essentially accepted that Iran is an enemy of the US (and Israel) and seek to beat the regime into submission–either through the use of military force or threats of the use of military force.

Right Zionists, however, accept that Iran is currently an enemy of Israel. Unlike those who want to beat Iran and vanquish the enemy, Right Zionists need to win “eternal” Iran as an ally.

A weak, isolated Iran may be the endgame for Unipolarists–and Right Arabists.

Not so for Right Zionists.

As it happens, the key split in the Bush administration right now is probably between Unipolarists bent on military confrontation and Right Arabists committed to diplomatic containment of a relatively weak revolutionary regime.

For now, the Right Zionists–and their dreams of a populist, pro-“Western” insurrection–appear to be out of the running.

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.

Krauthammer: We Must Pretend

Posted by Cutler on September 01, 2006
Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Keep hope alive.

That seems to be the thrust of a Charles Krauthammer essay–“Hezbollah’s ‘Victory’“–in today’s Washington Post.

The hope in question? Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution. As I noted in a previous post (and again, here), the Cedar Revolution was, in many respects, dead upon arrival when the latest hostilities broke out between Israel and Lebanon.

Some of Krauthammer’s article is, by its own estimate, simply wishful thinking:

We must pretend that Security Council Resolution 1701 was meant to be implemented and exert unrelieved pressure on behalf of those Lebanese — a large majority — who want to do the implementing.

At least Krauthammer implicitly acknowledges that there is no real prospect of UN forces disarming Hezbollah.

But Krauthammer also engages in some “analysis” that may also represent a kind of wishful thinking. He insists that the Cedar Revolution–a revolution in Lebanese politics–retains intact:

True, under the inept and indecisive leadership of Ehud Olmert, Israel did miss the opportunity to militarily destroy Hezbollah and make it a non-factor in Israel’s security, Lebanon’s politics and Iran’s foreign policy…

Nonetheless…

Hezbollah’s political gains within Lebanon during the war have proved illusory. As the dust settles, the Lebanese are furious at Hezbollah for provoking a war that brought them nothing but devastation — and then crowing about victory amid the ruins.

Hezbollah is under renewed attack — in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, as well as by many Lebanese, including influential Shiite academics and clan leaders. The Arabs know where their interests lie. And they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.

So, here is the old hope: Arab-Iranian tension will allow Israel to play the Arabs against Iran.

How is that going, so far? Wishful thinking?

In Lebanon, I see know sign that Hezbollah has been politically weakened, and Krauthammer doesn’t offer much support for such a claim:

Even before the devastation, Hezbollah in the last election garnered only about 20 percent of the vote, hardly a mandate. Hezbollah has guns, however, and that is the source of its power. But now even that is threatened.

Of course, this is a bit of sophistry. The real issue is not Hezbollah’s political support nationally, but among Lebanese Shiites. Here, I would wait to see evidence that they have any less of a mandate than they did before the recent fighting began. Surely it would be a major strategic error to undermine Hezbollah’s grassroots support in southern Lebanon. Does Krauthammer really belive that the primary source of Hezbollah’s political power comes from the barrel of a gun?

But there is the neighborhood, as Krauthammer says: “Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt” etc.

Here, I would also propose that some caution is in order. Krauthammer’s analysis rests on some tenuous assumptions.

He insists that “The Arabs know where their interests lie.” True enough. But his emphasis is on Iran: “they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.”

If we are talking about the Saudis, it might be worth noting that they have two relatively distinct “interests”–one relating to Syria and one to Iran.

Most of the heat that initially sparked the Cedar Revolution was between the Saudis and Syria, not Iran. The issue was not the disarmament of Hezbollah, but control of the Lebanese Presidency–specifically, Syria’s move to have Lebanese President Lahoud remain in office for a third term–and, implicitly, control of the economy.

On this front, the sparks have once again begun to fly. There are live tensions between the Saudis and the Syrians and–as I noted in a previous post–these tensions may have become worse since the end of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

Right Zionists in the US, like the Saudis, have little patience for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Krauthammer wants to keep the heat on the Syrian President:

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

Likewise, Right Zionists like James Woolsey were clear at the start of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah that he was ready to take the fight to Syria. At the time, Woolsey told Fox News,

I think we ought to execute some air strikes against Syria, against the instruments of power of that state, against the airport…

At least part of the trouble–for Krauthammer and Woolsey–is that Right Zionists aren’t running the whole show in Israel.

Shimon Peres is part of the Olmert government. And Peres-aligned Zionists want to open a dialogue with Syria, presumably in an effort to pry Syria away from Iran.

See, for example, the essay by Ron Pundak of the Peres Center entitled “There Is Someone to Talk To.”

For a similar perspective, see the recent essay by Dennis Ross–“A Cease-fire Reality: Dealing with Syria“–in the Washington Post.

The Bush administration, which has expressed an interest in weaning Syria away from Iran, won’t be able to do that without talking to the Syrians.

Moreover, there is far more evidence of current Saudi tension with Syria than there is of current Saudi tension with Iran.

True, the Saudis are certainly supportive of US efforts to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But Iran’s priority in Lebanon is Hezbollah and as I noted in a previous post, the Saudis–and their proxy in Lebanon, the Siniora government–made peace with Hezbollah back in January.

Krauthammer says that “Hezbollah” is under renewed attack in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt. Most of the media reports that received attention in the US were about Syria–not Iran or Hezbollah–coming under renewed attack in such newspapers.

If the Peres crowd is hoping to pry Syria away from Iran, the Saudis may be trying to pry Iran–and Hezbollah–away from Syria. Indeed, this has been a risk for the Syrians since the advent of Saudi-Syrian tensions.

Where are the signs of Saudi-Iranian tensions? Immediately after the ceasefire took hold in Lebanon–amidst a veritable shouting match between Syria and Saudi Arabia–Saudi King Abdullah hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for a meeting in Jeddah.

Did you hear lots of shouting and name-calling after that meeting? I didn’t.
Did you see Saudi Kind Abdullah welcome the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to Jeddah? Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see the Saudis roll out the red carpet for the Syrians.

The “hope” for Right Zionists, if there is any, would seem to be in the future of Saudi-Syrian tensions. I’m not sure the Saudis are actually spoiling for a battle with Iran right now.

Have I missed the signs of the times?

Podhoretz: Wilderness or White House?

Posted by Cutler on August 27, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I discussed a recent article by Norman Podhoretz entitled, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?

Podhoretz was responding to the complaints of many Right Zionists who have been howling in the wilderness, upset that the Cheney administration has betrayed their Revolution.

Podhoretz explained to his Right Zionist friends that the central explanation for the setbacks was not to be found in an ideological battle (say, with Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft), but in a simpler domain: politics.

Its the election, stupid. If there is anyone to blame… blame Rove.

But don’t blame Rove, Podhoretz implied, because the Revolution will not be televised if the Republicans lose control of government.

One thing I failed to mention at the time of my previous post: Podhoretz might not have simply offering sage advice from movement elder who has done his own share of howling in the wilderness in years past.

Is it possible that Podhoretz was actually giving voice to the frustrations–and rationalizations–of those Right Zionists who continue to serve within the administration, including the White House?

I have in mind the “voice” of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.

Why?

Because Abrams and Podhoretz are family. As Tom Barry notes in his recent Counterpunch article, “Gangster Diplomacy: Elliott Abrams in Jerusalem,”

Abrams, a proud self-declared “neoconservative and neo-Reaganite,” is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, an activist couple who played a leading role in establishing neoconservatism as an influential political tendency in the 1970s.

It would still be highly speculative to talk about a rift between any Right Zionists and Karl Rove. None have explicitly attacked him.

On the other hand, it would be all the more interesting if the Podhoretz commentary was intended to serve as a kind of note passed from White House insiders to “movement” outsiders: “the President has not betrayed our ideology; he is just trying to keep all of us in office.”

Here is the punch line, from my perspective: any rift with Rove has nothing to do with Rove as an ideologue. It has to do with Rove as a “political professional” who knows how to pander to the polls. According to such a scenario, Rove acts as something like an opportunistic–even entrepreneurial–“register of the popular will” within an administration otherwise dominated by committed foreign policy factions.

And the popular verdict, in the current context? Don’t even think about sending US troops to Lebanon.

Wouldn’t that represent an interesting dynamic?

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?

Podhoretz and the Triumph of Politics

Posted by Cutler on August 23, 2006
Isolationism, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Norman Podhoretz–a figure whose views I have previously identified as a key benchmark for defining a Right Zionist agenda for US foreign policy–has weighed in at the Wall Street Journal “Opinion Journal” with a full-scale review of factionalism on the Right and the fate of the Bush Doctrine. He asks, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?

I will not provide a blow-by-blow review of his argument (it is well worth reading in its entirety–including the section on neoconservative splits over Iran and the relative merits of military action vs popular insurrection).

The simple version of his answer is, “No.” The Bush Doctrine is not dead.

For much of the essay, Podhoretz proposes to answer this question with reference to “the president’s speeches, as well as by his unscripted remarks at press conferences and other venues.”

But Podhoretz is no fool and he understands that his real interlocutors are not so-called realists, or liberal internationalists, or paleocons, or lefists. The Podhoretz essay is best understood as a response to a different audience: his own best friends.

[T]hose neoconservatives who have been pressing for a more aggressive implementation of the Bush Doctrine. I even think that there is at least some merit in many, or perhaps even most, of the arguments they offer to explain why they have concluded that American foreign policy is no longer true to the doctrine’s promises. Without denying that the president is still talking the talk, they contend that his actions demonstrate that he has ceased walking the walk; and it is by stacking those actions up against his own language that they seek to justify the charge of, at best, a loss of nerve and, at worst, an outright betrayal of the goals they formerly believed he meant to pursue and to which they themselves are as dedicated as ever.

It is at this point that the Podhoretz essay makes its most “original” contribution–one with extraordinarily wonderful connections to my recent speculations about a rift between Right Zionists and Karl Rove–what one commenter has called (with an implicit nod to David Stockman) a “Triumph of Politics” over ideology.

Without overreaching (I do not think the Podhoretz essay provides a “smoking gun” that signals tension between Right Zionists and Karl Rove), I do think it is quite interesting that Podhoretz does not deny a gap between Bush’s “best” talk and his “worst” walk.

Instead, Podhoretz comes to the heart of his essay:

To begin with, the neoconservatives who have given up on Mr. Bush or are in the process of doing so overlook one simple consideration: that he is a politician. This ridiculously obvious truth has been obscured by the fact that Mr. Bush so often sounds like an ideologue, or perhaps idealist would be a better word…

In pointing this out, I am not suggesting that those of us who share Mr. Bush’s ideas and ideals… are barred from questioning the soundness of his prudential judgment in this or that instance.

But I am suggesting that, by the same token, we have an intellectual responsibility to recognize and acknowledge that he has already taken those ideas and ideals much further than might have been thought possible, especially given the ferocity of the opposition they have encountered from all sides and the difficulties they have also met with in the field. Indeed, it is a measure of his enormous political skills that–at a time in 2004 when things were not looking at all good for the Bush Doctrine’s prospects in Iraq–he succeeded in mobilizing enough support for its wildly controversial principles to run on them for a second term and win.

In other words: Right Zionists need to shut up and be grateful for what they get from Karl Rove.

Not only does this analysis suggest that there has been a kind of “triumph of politics” at work, but it also points to the necessity–from the perspective of Podhoretz–of subordinating Right Zionist ideals to political pragmatism: Rove does what is necessary to keep Bush in office and Right Zionists live within those boundaries.

Note well: Podhoretz offers no such peace pipe his ideological opponents. Scowcroft, for example, comes in for stinging rebuke as a figure “whose political purposes as an enemy of Israel are even [worse] than are those of the old foreign-policy establishment.”

Surely this makes it far more difficult to trace the splits between Right Zionists and Rove than it is to track parallel splits between Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

Perhaps the “peacekeeping” work of Podhoretz–aimed to quell the Right Zionist insurgency–is the best evidence we have of ongoing tensions between ideology and the triumph of politics.

Taking Casualties

Posted by Cutler on August 22, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

An editorial in today’s Financial Times–entilted “Stepping Up to the Plate in Lebanon“–discusses the French reticence to lead a “robust” Multinational Force in Lebanon.

Just last Thursday, Jacques Chirac, the French president, told Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, that France was ready to assume command of the bolstered UN force in Lebanon. But he has so far promised to increase the French presence in the country by a paltry 200 troops. Paris, whichrevelled in seizing a leading role in negotiations at the UN SecurityCouncil, seems to be having second thoughts about putting troops where its mouth is…

At bottom, the dilemma over sending in troops bears on an unwillingness to take casualties. Providing manpower for Unifil has long been a deadly assignment. France is also all too aware that its frequent calls for Syria to be brought to account could make it vulnerable to attack by Damascus’ supporters in Hizbollah.

This has only exacerbated anti-French sentiment in the US, with Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly calling Chirac a Wanker.

But if the French are having second thoughts, I continue to wonder why the US seems to not have even had “first thoughts” of sending US troops to Lebanon.

Back in the otherwise eerily similar case of the 1982 Israeli campagin in Lebanon, there were big factional fights in the Reagan administration over the issue with Secretary of State George Shultz and much of the NSC staff strongly in favor of projecting US influence in Lebanon through active military participation in a Multinational Force.

Today, there appear to be no public advocates for US troops in Lebanon.

John Bolton–US Ambassador to the UN, and a figure who might have been expected to champion US participation–shut down the discussion very quickly at the start of the current crisis.

The Washington Post ran a story on July 22, 2006 that quoted Bolton:

As far as boots on the ground, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards,” said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a sentiment also expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.

“I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces . . . are expected for that force,” she said.

So, what is the story here?

Have Right Zionists simply become more “pragmatic” now than they were back in the early 1980s? Are they implicitly acknowledging that Iraq has become such a quagmire than US troops are now overstretched?

[On the overstrethced issue: is that notion endorsed by all the “critics” who have insisted all along that Rumsfeld could have an should have sent 500,000 troops to Iraq in order to do it right? Now, with something less than 150,000 troops in Iraq, the US is unable to send, say, 50,000 troops to Lebanon?]

Or, perhaps Right Zionists would have argued for US troops in Lebanon if Bolton had not signaled early on that they need not waste any breath since a factional battle had already been quietly fought and lost within the administration.

Hence Bolton’s posture as a mere observer or fortune teller: it simply isn’t “in the cards”–regardless of the merits of the idea, from his perspective.

But if Right Zionists faced a quiet defeat within the Bush administration, who did them in? Was it the work of Right Arabists unwilling to risk a direct confrontation with Syria and/or Iran? Perhaps, although I think there may be good reason to doubt that.

Is it possible that Right Zionists were dealt a defeat at the hands of… Karl Rove?

There were rumors that Rove’s “in-house” slogan during the last Presidential election was “No War in 2004″–meaning no serious counter-insurgency activity that might produce US casualties. Such a rumor seems to have been given some support by the timing of the US assault on Fallujah which seemed to have been on hold for much of 2004, until Bush’s election was secured.

Is it possible that with mid-term elections on the horizon in the US, Rove is reluctant to risk US casualties in Lebanon–especially with the memory of the October 23, 1983 bombing of US Marine Barracks in Beirut that killed 241 US soldiers? A new “in-house” slogan: “No Barracks in 2006″?

All of this is speculation, of course.

But is it possible that all along Right Zionists have faced resistance, not only from Right Arabists, but from “political professionals” like Rove who detect–and “pander” to–an emergent, growing “isolationism” within the US and an indifference to the old motif of wartime sacrifice?

Why No US Troops in Lebanon?

Posted by Cutler on August 18, 2006
Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

It is clear that there isn’t going to be a “robust” multinational force–one strong enough to disarm Hezbollah–in southern Lebanon.

As Swopa at Needlenose has suggested, the French “hesistancy” can hardly come as a surprise to Israel–even though the Israelis now say they are “shocked, shocked” to discover that the multinational force is looking quite anemic. Swopa says…

[T]he Israelis and Americans… wanted a fig leaf to end a war that had backfired, and the French gave it to them by getting Hezbollah to agree to an “expanded international peacekeeping force” (wink wink, nudge nudge) that numerous realistic observers knew would probably never materialize.

As Praktike at American Footprints points out, Charles Krauthammer hasn’t yet given up hope on the idea that a force of some kind might be able to finished the job and disarm Hezbollah.

Krauthammer’s column in today’s Washington Post is entitled “A Moment to Be Seized in Lebanon.” Surely that title is an intentional, if tasteless, pun–a caustic reminder of those “seized” during the last multinational force in Lebanon. As Thomas Ricks and Robin Wright at the Washington Post recently recalled,

The last multinational force, deployed in 1982 and led by the United States, was repeatedly targeted by Muslim militants and forced to end its mission abruptly in 1984. U.S. forces were taken hostage. Marine Col. Rich Higgins was kidnapped shortly after he took over command of the U.N. Observer Group Lebanon in 1988. He died in captivity.

Surely all the wringing of hands about the multinational force begs a question:

Why No US Troops?

The most frequent answer seems to be that US forces are “overstretched.”

This was the explanation offered by Ricks and Wright on July 22, 2006 in the Washington Post,

In a departure from past peacekeeping missions to Lebanon, the force currently being discussed would not include U.S. troops, U.S. officials said yesterday…

U.S. forces are already stretched by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are no troops to spare for Lebanon, Pentagon officials said.

As reported by Defense News Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, provided some similar explanations on August 17, 2006.

No U.S. troops will go to Lebanon “because of the nature of the conflict there,” said Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs, the third ranking official at the State Department…

American troops have “raised so many different passions among the Lebanese public due to the history of our involvement in that country” and in the region, he said in comments to reporters.

The United States also won’t send troops to Lebanon because “we are engage elsewhere in the world — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Far East. We’re certainly doing our share for global stability,” Burns said.

The most clearly articulated of these explanations is the overstretched line: “we are engaged elsewhere.”

Burns also hints that “the history of our involvement” raises “passions among the Lebanese public.” Like Hezbollah Shiites? The same Lebanese Shiites who killed 241 Marines with a 1983 truck bombing?

Are those “Lebanese” passions that are likely to be raised? Or US passions–especially among elements of the uniformed military still haunted by that loss?

And then there is the most opaque but intriguing Burns explanation: “the nature of the conflict there.” What does that mean? That we do not want to be seen joining Israel in a direct confrontation with Shiites? Afraid of a reaction among Iraqi Shiites?

Ken Silverstein emphasizes the overstretched explanation:

The uniformed military… is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source [“a well-connected former CIA officer”]. “They are saying ‘What the fuck?’” he told me. “Most of our combat-ready divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on their way, or coming back. The generals don’t like it because we’re already way overstretched.”

But back in late July, his CIA source suggested that the idea had not yet been ruled out:

According to the former official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a “multinational” deployment, and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

Who–according to Silverstein–might these “top administration officials” and “senior civilians at the Pentagon” be?

You guessed it…

The scenario of an American deployment appears to come straight out of the neoconservative playbook: send U.S. forces into the Middle East, regardless of what our own military leaders suggest, in order to “stabilize” the region.

I don’t dispute this. It has a certain logic to it. And yet, I can find no instance of neoconservatives banging the drum for US boots on the ground. Krauthammer doesn’t make the case–at least not explicitly–in his recent column where he insists that the multinational force is “so critical.”

At best, there is the following cryptic remark:

Now is [Hezbollah’s] moment of maximum weakness. That moment will not last long. Resupply and rebuilding have already begun.

This is no time for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations [John Bolton] to be saying, when asked about the creation of an international force, that “this really is a responsibility of the Secretariat.” Maybe officially, but if we are not working frantically behind the scenes to make sure that this preposterously inappropriate body gets real troops in quickly, armed with the right equipment and the right mandate, the moment will be lost.

Are French troops “real troops” in Krauthammer’s book? Or is that a nod toward a role for US troops?

I’m guessing that if Right Zionists really wanted US troops they might say so. They are not exactly shy or subtle. So, where is the demand for US troops?

Not a rhetorical question… has anyone seen Right Zionists banging the drum for US troops–as anticipated by Ken Silverstein?

Or is there some reason why that idea is a non-starter from the get go–even for “neoconservatives” who allegedly favor the projection of US military power anywhere and everywhere, even as an end unto itself, let alone when Israeli security is presumably at stake?