Iraq

US and Iran: The Worst of Friends

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

The winds of war are blowing toward Iran.

General Petraeus is reportedly stepping up accusations against Iran.

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If so, that support may only go so far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shia Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

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

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

–She Loves You, The Beatles, 1963

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Wurmser: A Very Medieval Sort of Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from Harnden’s news article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The US Occupation of Iraq (blog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunt for Iraqi Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Condoleezza Rice didn’t exactly endorse the deal.

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krugman reaches for the big interpretation:

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

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

That would put “partition” question back in play.

I am not so sure.

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

I think there is a different game being played here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps they understand two crucial points:

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

2) Bush is bluffing.

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

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

Fallon His Sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does all that amount to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gareth Porter filed one such report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Fallon is hardly channeling Cindy Sheehan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With dissent like that, who needs unity?

Right Zionist Complexities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lead quote in the article belongs to Hannah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No answers, here.  Just questions.

Is this about factional splits within the Israel Lobby?

Or changing historical circumstances?

Or both?

 

The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his Time essay, Beinart warns:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recent New York Times editorial asserted:

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

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

Hardly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are these guys Persian?

Or Tutsi?

Blog Slowdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not quite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran and Great Power Politics

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

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

Who am I to disagree?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are limits.

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

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

Cheney, Putin, and the Battle for Iraqi Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, Russia can forget about control.

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

Could Cheney have found a better ally in Iraq?

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

Even as he allegedly dreams of war with Iran.

Anbar Fire Sale?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Price Anbar?

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

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

The main battle in Iraq today is against al Qaeda…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are a range of possible answers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still think that is a plausible scenario.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for “Saddamism Without Saddam.”

Cheney and Sistani, Sitting in a Tree

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

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

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

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

Similarities between Maliki and the late Saddam?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Maliki still has some very powerful friends.

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

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

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

And then there is Vice President Cheney.

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

CHENEY: Right.

KING: Why were you wrong?

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

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

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

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

CHENEY: Well, it’s better than…

KING: While our men are over there?

CHENEY: Yes. It’s better than taking…

KING: And women…

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

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

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

Either seems plausible.

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

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

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

Indyk of Arabia

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

Martin Indyk wants to save the Arabs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity against Iran is not a hard sell….

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

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

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

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

Saudi Resistance in Lebanon

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

Saudi Resistance in Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In early July, Reuters affirmed the Saudi position:

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

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

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

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

Saudi Resistance in Iraq

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

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

Dreaming of a Crown Prince?

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

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

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

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

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

Zionists and the Saudi Arms Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell to Wurmser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns…

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

Does it mark the end of administration factionalism?

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One note on the substance of US policy going forward:

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

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

This would be a surprising development, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So noted.

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

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

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

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

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

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Bush’s Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

True.  And 100% of all smokers die.

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

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

Here is John Kerry on Bush’s speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, I expect more muddle.

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Neocon” Split

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

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

Right Zionists: Stick with Maliki

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

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

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

Unipolarists: Dump Maliki

Unipolarists may have given lip service to those ideas.

No longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet Little Lies

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

But Krauthammer’s essay requires two little lies.

Cleansing” the 80 Percent Solution

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

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

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

Here is Gerecht on the 80 percent solution:

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

Here is Ajami:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

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

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

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

I know, it is crazy.

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

Not to worry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And their friends in Iran.

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

Crude Politics in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, this isn’t a war for oil…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dow Jones reported:

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurds promptly rejected the changes.

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

Others were even more strident:

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

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

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

Can the Kurds block parliamentary passage of the bill?

Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place your bets.

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

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

There Is No Decider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only if Iraqi Shiites relinquish power without a fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not yet.

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

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

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

Pinkerton’s Sunni Arab ally agrees:

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

Will the Decider ever embrace a decisive policy in Iraq?

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

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

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

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

The Limits of Grassroots Reconciliation In Iraq

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

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

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

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

Charles Krauthammer makes a similar point in his most recent Washington Post column.

A year ago, it appeared that the only way to win back the Sunnis and neutralize the extremists was with great national compacts about oil and power sharing. But Anbar has unexpectedly shown that even without these constitutional settlements, the insurgency can be neutralized and al-Qaeda defeated at the local and provincial levels…

In some ways, the so-called “grassroots” reconciliation is a substitute for “top down” reconciliation.

Note well, the reconciliation is between US forces and the Sunnis, not between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis.  Indeed, the Shiite-led Iraqi government has expressed grave concern about the drift Bush’s “bottom up” reconciliation.

Between Krauthammer, the White House and Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate there is no real disagreement on the issue of “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

The disagreement centers on the Maliki government and its commitment to “top-down” reconciliation.  Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate want Bush to dump Maliki because he and his governing coalition continue to resist efforts to hand power to the Sunni Arab minority.

The Washington Post quotes Haider al-Ebaidi, a Shiite politician from Maliki’s Dawa party:

Ebaidi said many Shiites view reconciling with former Baathists as “rewarding those people who have been responsible for torturing and killing”…

“The moment they push these things through,” he said, “they will divide the government more.”

It is far from certain that Bush will, in fact, abandon Maliki.

But it is also unclear whether Senate Republicans think there is a viable parliamentary alternative to Maliki.

We may find out this weekend.

Earlier in July, CBS News reported that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (sometimes transliterated as Tariq al-Hashemi) was assembling the votes for a parliamentary no-confidence vote to topple the Maliki government.

CBS News has learned that on July 15, [senior Iraqi leaders] plan to ask for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki…

The no-confidence vote will be requested by the largest block of Sunni politicians, who are part of a broad political alliance called the Iraq Project. What they want is a new government run by ministers who are appointed for their expertise, not their party loyalty.

[The CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote had the support of Vice President Cheney, an claim recently echoed in the Economist.  Even the most ardent US supporters of such a no-confidence vote remain skeptical that Cheney would support the move.]

Juan Cole does some nose counting and seems to doubt Hashimi will be able to get the votes:

There are three Sunni Arab parties in the 275-member parliament. The largest, with 44 seats, is the Iraqi Accord Front. The National Dialogue Front of Salih al-Mutlak has 11 seats. The small Liberation and Reconciliation Party has 3 seats (its founder, Mishaan al-Jibouri has had to flee the country because a warrant was issued for his arrest last fall). According to the Iraqi constitution, any 50 members of parliament can call a vote of no confidence, so the Sunni Arab parties can certainly initiate the process.

They would need 138 seats to unseat al-Maliki, however, and it is not clear that they would have them. The 58 Kurdish deputies will vote for al-Maliki, and he would only need 80 Shiite votes to win the vote. Even with the defection from his alliance of 32 Sadrist MPs and 15 from the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), al-Maliki probably still has 80 Shiite MPs behind him (before the defections he had about 130 in his United Iraqi Alliance, so the defections should have left him with 88). It is also not clear that the Sadrist and Islamic Virtue MPs will actually vote with Sunni fundamentalist parties to unseat a Shiite prime minister.

Maliki retains the confidence of his key ally, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.

But the CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote was merely “the first step” to bringing down the government.

Other steps would presumably require “extra-parliamentary” action.

In other words, Hashimi and his political allies might abandon the “political process” altogether and launch the long-awaited anti-Shiite coup that would finally silence Maliki’s Right Arabist critics (even as it might unleash the fury of Iraqi Shiites).

At present, there is nothing in the news that would suggest the White House has given up on the Maliki government or the Iraqi parliamentary process.

Until he does, however, there will be no political reconciliation between Bush and his Right Arabist critics.

Is That a Lugar in Your Pocket?

Posted by Cutler on July 12, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

Are Republicans in the US Senate going to force the Bush administration to “change course” in Iraq?

Maybe.

But as I suggested in a recent post, the change of course is going to be primarily political, not military.  It will not mean US withdrawal from Iraq.

If Senator Richard Lugar and Company have any influence at all, it will be to press the Bush administration to dump the present Shiite-led government of the “young democracy” of Iraq in exchange for a coup under the auspices of an ex-Baathist, Sunni Arab “national salvation” government–aka “Saddamism without Saddam.”

The “failures” of the Maliki government, rather than the failures of the military “surge,” are the primary targets of Lugar’s attacks.

It is not difficult to image that it was the future of the Iraqi government not the future of the surge that topped the agenda when Lugar met for negotiations with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Did Lugar get some commitments from Hadley that the White House would dump Maliki?

Unclear.

But it is worth noting that Lugar refused to support Senate defense appropriation amendments that press for US withdrawal.

At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reports that Senator Lugar will join Senator John Warner in offering an amendment of their own to the defense spending bill.

If Lugar’s big speech of June 25 is any guide, a Lugar-Warner amendment will be heavy on rhetoric about the urgency of a “change of course” in Iraq, very light on troop withdrawal and very strident in its demand for a political change in Iraq.

If Lugar gets his way, Bush is going to have to abandon his talk about supporting the “young democracy” of Iraq.

Remembering Cheney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is also the substance of US foreign policy.

It’s about the war, stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Post series makes almost no mention of Iraq!

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

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

The other 3 parts say less about Iraq.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you not met the Wurmsers?

You really should.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Surge: The Right Arabist Case Against Maliki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a re-alignment has relevance for stabilizing Iraq…

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

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

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

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

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

Will the Bush administration turn against Maliki?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tend to doubt it.

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

The “Anbar Model”: A Slow Moving Coup in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on June 18, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

The essential “finding” of Joshua Partlow’s Washington Post article, “U.S. Strategy on Sunnis Questioned,” is that Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish political figures are not stupid.

That is, they understand that the so-called “Anbar Model” is a slow-motion, pro-Baathist coup.

Shiite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations on Sunday about the new U.S. military strategy of partnering with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“They are trusting terrorists,” said Ali al-Adeeb, a prominent Shiite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. “They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein.”…

Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs and direct assistance from U.S. soldiers….

One senior Iraqi government official described the American military policy of partnering with local Sunni groups as “nonsense.”

“Every three months they have a new strategy. This is not only a distracting way to conduct policy, it is creating insecurity for all. I don’t think these strategies have been thought through deeply. It is all about convenience,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“In reality, they are forcing the Iraqi government and the Shia and the Kurds to reconcile with the Saddamists,” the official added.

The U.S. military focus on al-Qaeda is, at least in part, a way of deflecting attention away from the fact that most attacks on US forces are from the Sunni nationalist insurgency, not al-Qaeda.

General Petraeus chose his words carefully in his most recent interview with FoxNews.

Al Qaeda is the face of what is happening on the extremist Sunni side.

They are carrying out the bulk of the sensational attacks, the suicide car bomb attacks, suicide vest attacks and so forth.

The anonymous “senior Iraqi government official” cited by Partlow is correct to suggest that Washington has a “new strategy” every three months, except that the competing strategies are actually simultaneous, not sequential.

There is a “Shiite Option” strategy and there is the “Anbar Model” strategy of the anti-Shiite coup.

So intense are the disagreements in Washington that the American Enterprise Institute is home to some of the most ardent ideological defenders of each strategy.

The leading advocate for Shiite political dominance in Iraq continues to be AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht.

At the same time, AEI’s Frederick Kagan is one of the leading defenders of the so-called “Anbar Model.”

It must be kind of awkward around the AEI water cooler these days.

One Crude Benchmark

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In October 2006, former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad introduced American “benchmarks” for measuring the success of the Iraqi government.

Some of those benchmarks drew inspiration from the Right Arabist critique of the pro-Shiite tilt in US policy, especially Khalilzad’s demands for “reform” of the de-Baathification process (i.e., re-Baathification) and for new provincial elections to reverse the consequences of the Sunni Arab boycott.

Two benchmarks related directly to oil: passage of the US-backed “hydrocarbons law” and constitutional reform related a promised referendum on Kurdish control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Today, it looks increasingly likely that the Shiite-led government in Iraq will do the Bush administration’s bidding on the oil front, but not those measures designed to reverse Shiite political dominance.

A New York Times article by Damien Cave prepares readers for this outcome:

[M]any Iraqi and American officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year…

[T]he oil law appears the most likely, officials said.

Notwithstanding some grumbling from abroad, I suspect the oil law will, indeed, pass the Iraqi parliament.  This is clearly the one “benchmark” that matters to the entire Bush administration.  It has the strong support of the Sistani-backed Shiite oil minister, Hussein Shahristani.

Indeed, I think the path toward passage of the oil law was likely cleared a bit with the recent removal of the Iraqi parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

At the same time, re-Baathification looks like a dead letter.

Cave’s New York Times article suggests that Iraqi Shiites have rejected Khalilzad’s re-Baathifying “Reconciliation and Accountability Law.”

[A]n aide to the reclusive cleric [Sistani] confirmed that there was “a general feeling of rejection” about the proposal.

Since then, the original draft has gone nowhere…

Iraqi officials said they were working on a compromise law… primarily a softer alternative…

It remains unclear how much support the proposal could attract. Mr. Falluji, the Sunni lawmaker, said the prime minister did not fully support reconciliation with former Baathists — a suspicion also harbored by some American officials.

In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Prime Minister Maliki gives only lukewarm lip service in support of re-Baathification:

From the outset, I committed myself to the principle of reconciliation, pledged myself to its success. I was determined to review and amend many provisions and laws passed in the aftermath of the fall of the old regime, among them the law governing de-Baathification. I aimed to find the proper balance between those who opposed the decrees on de-Baathification and others who had been victims of the Baath Party. This has not been easy, but we have stuck to that difficult task.

Provincial elections in places like Babil would undermine Shiite political dominance and look increasingly unlikely.

There is no constitutional change required for a Kirkuk referendum and the US has refused to say much about whether or not it is willing to buck a broad range of Turks, Sunni Arabs, and Sadrist Shiite Arabs in order to go ahead with the referendum.  I tend to think the US will pressure the Kurds to drop the idea of a referendum.

According to Cave’s report, the Iraqi Shiite government is far from committed to swift constitutional reform.

“We have not committed to doing it by September,” [Sheik Humam Hamoudi, one of three committee chairmen and a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council] said. “Maybe the American Congress has made such a commitment, but we have not.”

The real question, at this point, is not where the Iraqi Shiite government stands, but where the Bush administration stands in relation to Khalilzad’s original benchmarks.

Most Western political officials in Iraq and Washington publicly refuse to discuss a Plan B… Many have turned their attention toward risky local alliances with insurgents or former insurgents who say they will fight Al Qaeda.

Is the Bush administration still playing from the Right Arabist playbook, hoping for restoration of Sunni Arab political power?  Or has the administration “signed on” with the Right Zionist “Shiite Option” in Iraq?

It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Maliki seems to think he has some significant enemies, but they are “mediated” through regional tensions.  His Op-Ed makes clear that Maliki thinks himself pulled between Iran and the Arab League, even as he tries to appear neutral:

Our conflict, it should be emphasized time and again, has been fueled by regional powers that have reached into our affairs…

We have reached out to those among our neighbors who are worried about the success and example of our democratic experiment, and to others who seem interested in enhancing their regional influence…

Our message has been the same to one and all: We will not permit Iraq to be a battleground for other powers. In the contests and ambitions swirling around Iraq, we are neutral and dedicated to our country’s right to prosperity and a new life…

Maliki’s reference to those “worried about… our democratic experiment” is clearly to the Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.  His reference to those “interested in enhancing their regional influence” is clearly about Iran.

In Washington, Right Arabists remain resistant to the “democratic experiment” in Iraq; Right Zionists are ultimately committed toward the enhanced “regional influence” of [a reconstructed] Iran.

The question, now as always, is the battle between Right Arabists and Right Zionists in Washington.

Babel: Washington’s Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on June 11, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Right Zionists like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht have learned to love the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq, but the US military brass on the ground in Iraq seems to feel very differently.

Consider, for example, Major General Rick Lynch–commander of the Third Infantry Division responsible, according to a Reuters profile, for three of five extra brigades deployed as part of a four-month-old Baghdad security plan.

On Sunday, June 10, 2007, Maj. Gen. Lynch seems to have had a wide-ranging discussion with reporters.  While there are no signs yet of a full transcript of the briefing, his comments seem to inform several major articles in the news.

The Los Angeles Times report by Tina Susman and Garrett Therolf suggests that Lynch does not share the confidence in Maliki expressed by Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht.

More than security, Lynch said, he was concerned about the Iraqi national government, citing its failure to hold provincial elections to ensure fair representation for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in different areas of the country.

Lynch said that in one province he commands, Babil, it was common for national government officials to order provincial forces to free detainees because of political or sectarian loyalties. After one recent operation, 42 detainees were ordered freed on direction of the national government, Lynch said.

Indeed, Susman and Therolf report that Maj. Gen. Lynch is at the cutting edge of the effort to cultivate alliances with Sunni Arab forces, even over the objections of Maliki’s Shiite government.

[T]he U.S. military is planning to establish “provisional police forces” that would arm men affiliated with Sunni tribal sheiks and militant groups who are willing to assist American forces, Lynch told journalists. He said that U.S. generals were trying to persuade the Iraqi government to support the plan, but that the American military was determined to pursue it, even without government backing.

And, yet, it appears that some of Lynch’s own preferred allies in Babil have their own “sectarian loyalties.”  A FOXNews story attributed to the Associated Press quotes Lynch:

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch… spoke at length about U.S. efforts to draw Sunnis into the security forces.

“There are tribal sheiks out there who say ‘Hey, just allow me to be the local security force. I don’t care what you call me. … You can call me whatever you want. Just give me the right training and equipment and I’ll secure my area.’ And that’s the direction we’re moving out there,” the Third Infantry Division commander said.

In a meeting with reporters, Lynch said contacts with the Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the insurgency, were a matter of pragmatism.

They say: ‘We hate you because you are an occupier, but we hate Al Qaeda worse and we hate the Persians (Iranians) even worse‘ … you can’t ignore that whole population,” Lynch said.

[These must surely be the same “Persians” currently meeting with the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, Mowaffaq Al Rubaie.]

The colorful Maj. Gen. Lynch is also one of the key military figures cited today’s front-page New York Times article–“U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies“–about US efforts to expand the so-called “Anbar Model” to areas like Babil (even as the Washington Post reports that the “Anbar Model” may be in some trouble in Anbar).

An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?”

Despite such views, General Lynch said, the Americans believed that Sunni groups offering to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces met a basic condition for re-establishing stability in insurgent-hit areas: they had roots in the areas where they operated, and thus held out the prospect of building security from the ground up. He cited areas in Babil Province where there were “no security forces, zero, zilch,” and added: “When you’ve got people who say, ‘I want to protect my neighbors,’ we ought to jump like a duck on a june bug.”

For Maj. Gen. Lynch, however, the “security” effort is linked to the larger political context in Babil where the officer appears eager to transform the political dynamic.

The top diplomat on the US state department “Provincial Reconstruction Team” in the Babil province is Dr. Charles Hunter.  In a March 30, 2007 briefing, Hunter described the contours of political control on Babil:

DR. HUNTER: Well, Hilla is the capital of Babil province, of course, which is a mixed province. The Sunnis are concentrated in the north…

QUESTION: And what is the Iraqi political make up in the province and in the city?

DR. HUNTER: Well, the provincial council, which is composed of 41 members, currently has no Shia — excuse me, no Sunni — member of it. The Sunni there boycotted the elections in 2005. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, dominates that council and most of the other provincial-level positions, the mayorships and so on….

Accordin to Reuters, Maj. Gen. Lynch doesn’t have much confidence in the SCIRI crowd that is running Babil.

He said of the three tiers which comprise the U.S. strategy in Iraq, governance issues worried him more than security matters and transition work towards handing control back to Iraqi institutions.

“I am concerned about the capacity of government,” Lynch told reporters on Sunday.

“As I deal with the government at a provincial level, I have a concern about whether or not that government is truly a representative government that respects the human rights of all the Iraqis in that province,” he said.

Are these the same provincial government officials who met with President Bush in July 2005?

And/or are these the same provincial government officials discussed in an official province-by-province snapshot of Iraq produced by US officials in April 2006?

Babil Province, an important strategic area abutting Baghdad, also has “strong Iranian influence apparent within council,” the report says.

Maj. Gen. Lynch appears very eager for the Maliki government to move forward on one of the major “benchmarks” set forth by the US: provincial elections.

Iraq’s parliament last month chose an election commission, seen as a big step towards calling local polls, but Washington is still pressing for a date for the elections before parliament rises for its summer break.

Lynch said U.S. commanders believed the elections were crucial if Iraq was to have a truly representative government in which decisions were not made along sectarian lines. Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005.

“That has to happen. We’ll facilitate an election, but the government of Iraq has to schedule those elections,” Lynch said.

You do have leaders in very high positions who are making sectarian-based decisions, no doubt about it. I see indications of sectarian decisions and not Iraqi decisions.”

I don’t mean to go way out on a limb here, but I do not think Major General Lynch is a big fan of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

Perhaps it was with figures like Maj. Gen. Lynch in mind that Fouad Ajami spoke hopefully of Prime Minister Maliki:

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

The New York Times article on Lynch and his “Anbar Model” for Babil province offers up some words of caution:

[C]ritics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war… The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.

It may be tempting to imagine a unified–if deeply cynical–American strategy to arm both sides in an Iraqi civil war.

There continue to be signs, however, that such a scenario might develop less on the basis of a unified master plan so much as an ongoing civil war in Washington–between Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht who favor Iraqi Shiite rule and Right Arabists, like Maj. Gen. Lynch who appear to favor the restoration of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.

The Playbook for Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on June 07, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud…

But does the Left have to choose sides in the internal politics of Iraq?

Robert Dreyfuss seems to think so.

In his latest missive at The American Prospect, he argues (again) that withdrawal demands re-Baathification in Iraq and fierce resistance to Iran.

Last February, Representative Jim McDermott of Washington organized an extraordinary Capitol Hill event. By teleconference, McDermott brought five Iraqi members of the 275-member parliament together with a dozen or so members of Congress to discuss the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations. All five Iraqi parliamentarians called for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, along with urgent steps to help end the civil war, restore Iraq’s old army, accommodate the dissolved Baath party, and rebuild the shattered economy…

Two weeks ago, I spent several hours with Mohammed al-Daini, a member of the parliament, who was visiting Washington. “The Maliki government is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said…

“When you weaken Iran’s influence in Iraq, it will also weaken Maliki’s government.” Daini told me. “The Maliki government is using Iranian intelligence to get rid of its opponents.” Indeed, many Iraqi leaders, especially the Sunni Arabs, were alarmed by the May 25 U.S.-Iran talks, fearing an American deal with Iran to carve up Iraq. Following the U.S.-Iran meeting, the Baath party of Iraq — which plays a key role in support of the armed resistance — warned that the United States and Iran are determined to eliminate Iraq’s “Arab identity,” adding: “The U.S.-Iranian alliance is the number one enemy of Iraq and of the Arab nation.”

In the end, if and when the United States reconciles itself to a withdrawal from Iraq, the path to stability will be found in a nationalist government constituting most or all of the emerging “national salvation” coalition. It’s possible that the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy can come to that understanding on their own.

(Note to White House: somebody should tell Cheney about “the U.S.-Iranian alliance.”  He and his staff appear to be off message.  Also, let Cheney know that so-called “realists”–not his “Neocon” allies–now control U.S. foreign policy.)

As I have suggested previously, Dreyfuss takes his cues from the Right Arabist playbook written by his friend James Akins.

Assume for the moment that Dreyfuss is actually motivated by a desire to see the swift withdrawal of US troops from Iraq (leaving aside the fact that Dreyfuss was a committed Iran hawk long before there were US troops in Iraq).

It is far from obvious that Right Arabists, focused as they have always been on the “path to stability” in Iraq, are the most likely allies in the battle to bring US troops home from Iraq.

I have previously argued that the opposite might even be true: Right Zionists committed to Shiite political dominance in Iraq might be more inclined to “allow” US withdrawal than Right Arabists who have always known that restoration of the old Sunni Arab political elite would require ongoing and expanded military occupation.

The same point was made (for different reasons) by Dan Senor, former spokesman for Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Realists on Iraq.”

it has often been said that the president got into Iraq because he disregarded advice from the true regional experts: foreign-policy “realists” who put together the Gulf War I coalition and counseled President George H.W. Bush against regime change; “moderate” Sunni Arab Governments; and the U.S. intelligence community.

But what if today these groups were actually advising against an American withdrawal?…

Consider Brent Scowcroft, dean of the Realist School, who openly opposed the war from the outset and was a lead skeptic of the president’s democracy-building agenda. In a recent Financial Times interview, he succinctly summed up the implication of withdrawal: “The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution.”

And here is retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Centcom Commander and a vociferous critic of the what he sees as the administration’s naive and one-sided policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East: “When we are in Iraq we are in many ways containing the violence. If we back off we give it more room to breathe, and it may metastasize in some way and become a regional problem. We don’t have to be there at the same force level, but it is a five- to seven-year process to get any reasonable stability in Iraq.”

A number of Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors also opposed the war as well as the U.S. push for liberalizing the region’s authoritarian governments. Yet they now backchannel the same two priorities to Washington: Do not let Iran acquire nukes, and do not withdraw from Iraq…

It would be one thing if only the architects of the Bush policy and their die-hard supporters opposed withdrawal. But four separate groups of knowledgeable critics–three of whom opposed going into Iraq–now describe the possible costs of withdrawal as very high.

If the Realists, neighboring Arab regimes, our intelligence community and some of the most knowledgeable reporters all say such a course could be disastrous, on what basis are the withdrawal advocates taking their position?

Senor’s final question should be addressed directly to Robert Dreyfuss.

The answer, however, has more to do with the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement than with taking sides in an intramural imperialist battle between Right Zionists and Right Arabists over the preferred mix of proxy forces able to police US imperial interests in the Middle East.

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.

Kicking the British Poodle in Basra

Posted by Cutler on May 29, 2007
britain, Iraq / 2 Comments

Israeli strategic studies scholar Amikam Nachmani has long argued that the US consistently and forcefully–if quietly–undermined and marginalized British imperial control around the world.

Is this pattern also evident in Iraq today?  Is the US quietly working to undermine the British political position in Iraq?

Are the US and the UK on opposing sides in the relatively low-intensity “Shiite civil war” in Basra?

According to Reuters, British forces issued a press release on Friday, May 25, 2007 announcing that a Sadrist “militia leader” in Basra was killed in a “precision strike” on his car.

A later British report qualified the official story of the event:

[British military spokesman] Major David Gell said Abu Qader [“the leader of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Basra”] and at least one aide were shot shortly after leaving Sadr’s offices in the centre of the city, the hub of Iraq’s main oilfields. He said the operation was authorised by the Iraqi government…

“During the arrest operation the targeted individual was killed … after he resisted arrest,” he said.

According to the Guardian, the British were pretty unhappy with Abu Qader (also sometimes identified as Abu Qadir or Wissam al-Waili):

The British army yesterday said Mr Qader was a “known key criminal leader who was believed to have been involved in criminal activity such as weapons trafficking, theft and assassinations”. “He was also suspected of intimidation against local security forces and local civilians in Basra and planning and participating in attacks against MNF [multinational forces].” It described him as a “prominent member of the militant arm of Jaish al-Mahdi in the Basra area”. “The citizens of Basra are far safer now that the criminal leader is off the streets.”

Nevertheless, Abu Qader also had some well-positioned defenders.  The Guardian reports:

[T]he Iraqi military intelligence officer in Basra told the Guardian Mr Qader was known for instilling restraint in his men, and said his absence could unleash new violence on the city. “He was a very good person, serious and was working very hard to stabilise Basra,” the officer said. “He used to restrain his men from going into clashes against other militias. He was a nationalist who had no connections to Iran. There will be repercussions as his men will accuse Fadhila [a rival Shia faction] and they will try to avenge his death.”

The “precision strike” against Abu Qader is best understood as part of a larger effort by the British and the local Fadhila party (the so-called “Virtue Party) to bolster their position ahead of a planned British withdrawal.

In February 2007, Reuters reported:

In London, Blair told parliament Britain would reduce its troop levels by 1,600 over coming months, but said its soldiers would stay in Iraq into 2008 as long as they were wanted. Britain currently has 7,100 troops in Iraq.

Since late last year British troops have been conducting a major security sweep called Operation Sinbad aimed at purging the police of militia infiltration…

The Sadrists are believed to have infiltrated the security forces in the city and are often at odds with a pro-British governor from the rival Shi’ite Fadhila party.

As part of Operation Sinbad, British forces cleared Basra’s serious crimes unit on Dec. 25 and blew up the building with explosives after intelligence had suggested “rogue” officers were about to execute prisoners. The governor backed the move but the police chief was outraged.

The Guardian also suggests that the British are closely aligned with the Fadhila party and its governor, Mohammed al-Waeli:

Nasaif Jassem, a city councillor for the Fadhila party that controls the governorship and the oil industry in Basra, was critical of Iranian interference. Fadhila, widely seen as backed by the British, split from the main Shia alliance in Baghdad…

Meanwhile, all of the key US-backed Shiite political forces are united in trying to oust the Fadhila-backed provincial governor of Basra.  The Associated Press reports:

Two-thirds of the members of the Basra provincial council signed a statement Saturday declaring they have no confidence in the governor of the oil-rich province and asked parliament to remove him, a local official said…

Twenty-seven council members, or two-thirds, signed the statement and sent it to the parliamentary committee on provincial affairs, the official said…

The document was signed by the members of the Basra Islamic List, an alliance of Shiite parties opposed to Fadhila, and eight members of the Center Bloc.

The Basra Islamic List includes the Sadrist Movement of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Badr Organization, the Master of All Martyrs Movement and Hezbollah. The List holds 19 of the 41 provincial council seats, while Fadhila has 12.

Doesn’t this suggest that the US and the UK are backing opposing sides in the “Shiite civil war” for control of southern Iraq?

And, insofar as British forces are widely viewed as being chased out of Basra, is it too much to suggest that the US is “gently” showing the British the door?

US-Iranian Make-Up Sex

Posted by Cutler on May 23, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Does anybody remember what Kissinger and the Chinese were saying about each other right before Nixon arrived in China?

[This is not a rhetorical question.  I have no idea, but would appreciate some guidance.]

I’m trying to figure out if there is any precedence for the current dance between Iran and the US in which two parties appear to rattle sabers all the way up to the moment they embrace as the oldest of friends.

Robin Wright captures the nutty spirit of the moment in her Washington Post article, “Tehran Detains 4th Iranian American Before Talks.

Is the idea here that the intensity of the “make-up sex” improves with the bitterness of the prior strife?

Or, are the key players playing to domestic factional politics, trying to distract their own hardliners and rejectionists even as they lurch toward mutual embrace?

Consider, for example, the Associated Press report that accompanied Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing of the US-Iranian dialogue:

Iran’s supreme leader gave his backing Wednesday to U.S.-Iran talks about Iraq’s security. But he took a tough line, insisting the meeting will deal only with fixing American policies in Iraq, not changing Iran’s.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s harsh tone appeared aimed at quieting criticism by hard-liners over the planned meeting in Baghdad with the United States

Khamenei said Iran agreed to the “face-to-face negotiation” to “remind the U.S. of its responsibilities and duties regarding security” and “give them an ultimatum.” He did not specify what the ultimatum was.

“The talks will only be about the responsibilities of the occupiers in Iraq,” he said during a speech to a group of clerics in Mashhad city, about 620 miles northeast of Tehran, according to state-run television.

As I noted in a previous post, some “anonymous” American officials in Baghdad and Washington have adopted an equally hawkish posture ahead of talks with Iran.  [Update: Also, there continue to be rumors that the White House has authorized covert action to destabilize the Iranian regime.]

Vice President Cheney and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appear to be drawing from the same play book.  [It makes sense; they both appear to be “supreme leader” even though neither is actually president.]  Cheney has given his blessing to the US-Iranian talks, even as he recently did some very serious saber rattling from the deck of the USS John C. Stennis.

Nevertheless, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker seems to be tasked with preparing the ground for what he has called “a whole new era” in the Gulf.

[The Iranians] have an extensive relationship with Iraq, but pretty clearly, from our perspective, not all aspects of it are helpful and some of them are positively dangerous. I mean, their support for militias, their involvement in the development and transfer of EFPs that are killing our forces, these are not good things, not from a U.S. point of view and not from an Iraqi point of view. But that’s why I made the point I did about the, kind of the difference we see between the articulation of Iran’s policy interests and goals, which again track pretty closely with ours, and then what they’re actually doing on the ground. It would be a very good thing if they brought their actions more into alignment with their words.

We have no problem with a close relationship between Iran and Iraq. What we do have a problem with is Iranian behavior in Iraq that is again counter to what we want to see, what the Iraqi government and people want to see and indeed counter to some of their own stated interests. That’s what we want to see change. But you know, Iran and Iraq —Iraq’s longest border is with Iran. They’re neighbors forever, for better or for worse; for a very long time it’s been for worse. No country has suffered more, with the exception of Iraq itself, from Saddam’s regime than the Iranians. There is an opportunity here for them, I think, to move into a whole new era in a relationship with a stable, secure, democratic Iraq that threatens none of its neighbors, including Iran. But, you know, to get there they need to start doing some more constructive things than they have.

Jim Hoagland’s recent column in the Washington Post noted the persistence of rumors that the US would seek to restore Sunni Baathist by supporting a coup against the Shiite government in Iraq.

Washington [would take serious risks] by strong-arming the admittedly faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki out of office and replacing Maliki with a U.S.-anointed Iraqi savior.

Arab allies are urging such a course on Bush and would not object to U.S. military action against Iran. There is growing concern in Baghdad that Washington is developing a “Plan B” that involves both hitting Iran and ousting Maliki…

Some in Iran–including Mohammad Javad Larijani, brother of Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani–reportedly share similar concerns about US intentions.

Perhaps this helps explain the “leak” of a classified US plan by Crocker and David Petraeus that affirms US support for Prime Minister Maliki.

Ann Scott Tyson reports in the Washington Post:

The classified plan, scheduled to be finished by May 31, is a joint effort between Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American general in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. More than half a dozen people with knowledge of the plan discussed its contents…

The plan is… designed to shore up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though some U.S. commanders regard him as beholden to narrow sectarian interests….

“Maliki is the chosen vehicle; he’s the one-trick pony,” Dodge said in an interview from London. “Everyone recognizes that the success or failure [of U.S. policy] would be delivered through the office of the prime minister” and there is no discussion in Baghdad of removing him, he said.

Message to Iran: the US is sticking with the “Shiite Option” in Iraq.

Cheney’s Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Is the US preparing the way for a decisive pro-Shiite alliance with both the Iraqi Shiites and the incumbent Iranian regime?  Or is it preparing the way for a confrontation with Iran?

By some accounts, Iraqi Shiites are currently facilitating a diplomatic opening between the US and Iran.

Stratfor offers the following interpretation of recent events:

Iraq’s most senior Shiite politician, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, was in Iran on May 21 to undergo medical treatment after being rushed to the United States for testing a few days earlier. But it is unlikely that his trip is actually health-related; rather, al-Hakim flew to Iran from the United States to deliver the U.S. response to Tehran’s proposed framework for negotiations at the first direct public U.S.-Iranian meeting over Iraq, to be held in Baghdad on May 28….

When Iran relayed its terms for the talks, it did so by having an Iranian official hand-deliver the proposal to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker; this took place during a three-minute meeting on the sidelines of the May 4 international conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A version of that report was also leaked to a Saudi paper in an attempt to placate the Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia) that are wary of any U.S.-Iranian accommodation on Iraq. Because of the sensitive nature of U.S.-Iranian communications, the Bush administration chose to use al-Hakim as a conduit for transmitting its response.

The US-Iranian dialogue is, as noted by Stratfor, “sensitive” because Sunni Arab forces are wary of a US “tilt” toward a Shia Gulf.

Indeed, Sunni Arab suspicions seem to grow more pronounced with each passing day.

IraqSlogger has translated a recent interview with Saleh al-Mutlak, previously celebrated by Secretary of State Rice for taking positions that represented “considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership.”

Mutlak seems to fear the US and Iran are already de facto allies in Iraq:

In general, US policy towards Iran is vague, and unclear, and there are those who believe that the controversy is agreed upon, and is not a real controversy.

And in the result that the goals that Iran seeks in Iraq, they are the same goals that America seeks. Iran wants a weak Iraq, and fragmented to a certain extent, and this is an American goal. And whether there is coordination on this matter or not, they are walking on the same path and (towards the same) goal.

At the same time, Mutlak is critical of Sunni Arab neighbors for abandoning Sunni Arab Iraq to Iranian political dominance.

Unfortunately, the Arab countries, and at the forefront of them the neighboring countries are remiss with regards to Iraq, as they, at least have even not moved to stop the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

All of this suggests that the US is, indeed, tilting toward a Shia Gulf.

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the Bush administration is united in its policies toward Iran.

According to a report by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian, some US officials–all anonymous–are still speaking in very hawkish terms about Iran and its role in Iraq.

“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”

So, who are the remaining Iran hawks?

Right Zionists like Richard Perle remain quite hawkish about Iran and are very hostile toward dialogue with the Iranian regime, but do they have friends in the administration calling the shots on Iraq and Iran?

Cheney is the most likely ally, but he appears to be supporting the diplomatic discussions with Iran.

He recently explained his position to reporters:

QUESTION: Is it possible to both have a hard line on Iran, as you did on the aircraft carrier, and talk with them about Iraq? But are you still both going in different directions?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: They’re separate issues. The President made clear the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors — focused on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.

Not exactly the warmest words of greeting, but neither is it a critique of the diplomatic opening.

Moreover, Robin Wright at the Washington Post suggests that Cheney has been instrumental in facilitating the “medical care” for al-Hakim that has taken him to the US and Iran.

Vice President Cheney played a role in arranging for Hakim to see U.S. military doctors in Baghdad, who made the original diagnosis, and for the current medical treatment in Houston, the sources said.

If Cheney is facilitating dialogue between the US and Iran, then who is busy screaming about Iran to Simon Tisdall at the Guardian?

There are, of course, Right Arabist Iran hawks from the worlds of diplomacy (i.e., James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee) and within the military brass (i.e., Zinni and others).

Steven Clemons suggests that “Bush is allowing Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice to play good cop, bad cop with the Iranians.”

So, which cop is bluffing?

Is this the start of a “beautiful relationship” between the US and Iran?  Or is this the prelude to a policy of regime change?

Either way, my bet is that Cheney doesn’t leave office without trying to go beyond containment.

A Regional Civil War in the Middle East?

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

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

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

Sunni Arab Fear of a US Tilt toward the Shia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We say stop your interference in our internal affairs, stop settling scores on our soil, stop being part of covert plans to destabilize Iraq, and sit down with us to settle our differences, resolve outstanding issues and talk about economic cooperation,” he said.

Indeed, in an effort to thwart a US-Iranian tilt in Iraq, Hashemi seems willing to drop all the pretenses about Iraqi sovereignty and invite a regional takeover of Iraq.  The Jordan Times reports:

Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi stressed that the security of Iraq is becoming the security of the region and it is trying to convince its neighbours that “the situation in Iraq is going to spill over sooner or later.”

He asked for help from Iraq’s neighbours to reconcile internal differences before moving on to resolve external conflicts.

“We are not asking anyone to come and make decisions for us. All that we need is to stop people who are capitalising on our human tragedy; if this is beyond the capacity of the US then let the United Nations and our neighbours take over,” the Iraqi vice president said.

Finally, Hashemi is also reportedly resisting passage of the US-backed hydrocarbons bill introduced by Iraq’s Shiite Oil Minister, Hussain al-Shahristani.  The Associated Press reports:

Iraq’s vice president said Sunday he opposes a draft law that is key to the future of his country’s lucrative oil sector, saying it gives too many concessions to foreign oil companies.

“We disagree with the production sharing agreement,” Tariq al-Hashemi told reporters on the sideline of an international conference hosted by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

“We want foreign oil companies, and we have to lure them into Iraq to learn from their expertise and acquire their technology, but we shouldn’t give them big privileges,” al-Hashemi said.

As the Jordan Times reports, Hashemi’s fears and frustrations were echoed by Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib:

“We have to end proxy wars, we don’t want any party to use Iraq as a fighting ground for capital gains,” Foreign Affairs Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib said at the session, entitled “Iraq the regional security dimension.”

He added, however, that the Kingdom first wants to see Iraq achieve political reconciliation internally and the revival of Iraqi nationalism.

“When there is a national feeling of weakness it opens the door for other affiliations to emerge at the expense of our collective security in the region,” he said.

An Associated Press report puts Khatib’s concerns in the context of the regional balance of power:

Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib… turned a cold shoulder to… Iranian delegates.

“There are serious flaws in the regional order and some countries are interfering in the affairs of Arab countries,” al-Khatib said Sunday, referring to Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.

“We need to see deeds on the ground and respect for Iraq’s territorial integrity,” he said…

Iranian Fear of an Arab-Israeli-American Coalition against Iran?

Even as the Arabs continue to fear US plans for the formation of a “Shia Gulf,” the Iranian regime appears to fear Arab support for US and Israeli efforts to topple the Iranian regime.

The Financial Times reports:

Shia Iran meanwhile suspects its Sunni Arab neighbours, all allies of the US, of working to undermine it.

In response, Iran is trying to enhance its credibility with the “Arab street” in order to undermine the legitimacy of any anti-Iranian Arab initiative.  The FT makes the point:

Seeking the support of ordinary Arabs and Muslims with anti-Israeli slogans has been a cornerstone of Iran’s foreign policy under President Mahmoud Ahmadi- Nejad. But the strategy has infuriated Arab governments, and intensified suspicions of Tehran’s intentions at a time when its influence in the region has grown.

Evidence of such a strategy was on display at the World Economic Forum where Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki took aim at Saudi King Abdullah’s Palestinian “peace initiative.”  The Associated Press reports:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the [Saudi] plan would flounder…

“We had some 130 plans in the past 30 years, but none of them were realized because of the approach of the other side (Israel),” Mottaki said during a panel discussion. “Besides, we do not see any chance for the success of the Arab peace initiative because it fails to address fateful issues, like the capital of a Palestinian state and the right of return for some 5 million refugees.”

Former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Turki al-Faisal scolded Iran, however, saying that the predominantly Persian country had little to do with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

“It’s an Arab issue and should be resolved within the Arab fold,” he said.

Cheney’s Middle East

Prince Turki al-Faisal and Saudi King Abdullah can hardly be viewed as Cheney’s likely or willing collaborators in his efforts to assemble an anti-Iranian coalition in the Gulf.  It is, therefore, quite an accomplishment for the Iranian Foreign Minister to provoked the wrath of Prince Turki.

Perhaps the real “accomplishment” should be credited to Cheney himself.

After all, it was Cheney’s “rejectionists” in Gaza who detonated the current round of fighting that pits Iranian-backed Hamas forces against Fatah forces traditionally backed by Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

And it is Cheney and his Right Zionist allies who have been working overtime to reconstruct the balance of power in the Middle East with the help of a regional civil war.

An Iraqi Shiite “Readjustment”?

Posted by Cutler on May 18, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Something is brewing in the world of US-Shiite relations, but I confess that the contours of any shift remain very murky.

As noted in my previous post, there has been increased chatter about tensions between Iraqi Shiites and the Iranian regime.  Reuters reported:

Iraq’s biggest Shi’ite party on Saturday pledged its allegiance to the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a move that would distance it from Shi’ite Iran where it was formed.

Party officials told Reuters on Friday… the party had been close to Sistani for some time, but a two-day conference on Baghdad that ended on Friday had formalized relations with the influential cleric.

“We cherish the great role played by the religious establishment headed by Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali al-Sistani … in preserving the unity of Iraq and the blood of Iraqis and in helping them building a political system based on the constitution and law,” said Rida Jawad al-Takki, a senior group member, who read out the party’s decisions to reporters…

Officials said the party, which was formed in Iran in the 1980s to oppose Saddam, had previously taken its guidance from the religious establishment of Welayat al Faqih, led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

Anne Barnard of the Boston Globe followed up with additional talk of popular Iranian Shiite support for Sistani.

At the governmental level, the US has been urging and predicting such an Iraqi Shiite shift for some time.  In January 2007 press briefing, Zalmay Khalilzad described a “readjustment” underway among Iraqi Shiites:

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think the Iraqis are going through a readjustment process – and by Iraqis I mean different political forces. There is no problem in terms of understanding between us and the Prime Minister. In the past, before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, a number of groups opposed to the regime operated from outside Iraq and they developed relations with some of the institutions and organizations of the neighboring states that supported them, and those are almost invariably security institutions. But now Iraqi is in a different place. It is a state that some of those people who were opposed are now in the government and there cannot be and there should not be relations with security institutions of neighboring states that work against the interests of this new Iraq; that attack Coalition forces, Iraqis, undermine the stability of Iraq.

Right Zionists celebrated news that such a “readjustment” might have led to a rift between Iraqi Shiite politicians and the Iranian regime.  FrontPage predicted the US was “Turning the Corner in Iraq“:

[B]ad news for Iran is the seismic shift of Iraq’s largest political party away from Iran…

In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi’a faith….

And yet, the signs do not all run in the same direction.

First, the FrontPage writer, Steve Schippert proposes that some sober “caution” is in order:

While it is difficult to understate the significance of the monumental shift within Iraq, it should also be recognized that the decision to transform the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq into simply the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council was not arrived at with unanimity.  Nor was it arrived at without heated debate.  As well, many of the SCIRI party’s elected government officials have ties and allegiances to Iran that are unlikely to simply evaporate overnight.

The factional lines within SCIRI/SIIC are not clear, but IraqSlogger cast doubt on the entire story of an Iraqi Shiite shift:

The media bureau of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, formerly SCIRI, issued a statement late Saturday correcting what it described as “dubious remarks attributed to senior SCIRI officials” and “inaccurate analysis” made by media outlets, referring to reports that the party would distance itself from neighboring Iran.

It can be difficult for any leader to deal with organizational factionalism, but SCIRI/SIIC leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim seems to be taking it all very hard.

The Associated Press is reporting that al-Hakim is suddenly on his way to the US:

The leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite political party has left for the United States for medical checkups after complaining of exhaustion and high blood pressure, two officials said Friday.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim flew to the United States on Wednesday, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official, who works at al-Hakim’s office, declined to give further details. But a senior member of the Shiite leader’s party, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, said al-Hakim was suffering from fatigue and high blood pressure.

Maybe he will also use his time in the US to “clarify” the position of his party, in light of the current confusion and the prospect of factional divisions.

And, finally, there is the question of the alleged rivalry between Sistani, on the one hand, and Khameini and the incumbent Iranian regime, on the other.

According to recent reports, Sistani has welcomed upcoming talks between the US and the Iranian regime:

Planned talks between the United States and Iran in Baghdad are “the first promising step for free and direct bilateral talks” between the two adversaries, a cleric close to Iraqi Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said on Friday.

In his Friday sermon in a Najaf mosque, Shia Imam Sadr Eddin al- Qabanji expressed hope that the Iranian-US talks would lead to peace between the US and Iran…

Right Zionists love Sistani.  But not all Right Zionists seem to share Sistani’s enthusiasm for US-Iranian diplomacy.

Richard Perle, in particular, seems pretty bitter about the prospect of US talks with Iran:

Richard Perle offered a withering assessment of the president’s impotence at a meeting of the Hudson Institute in New York, saying American foreign policy is being applied by an out-of-control State Department….

“We have already seen a change in policy towards Iran,” he said. “It is now firmly back in the hands of the Department of State.”

Ultimately, Right Zionists are committed to the restoration of the old US-Israeli-Iranian strategic alliance.  The question is whether that could ever mean peace with the incumbent Iranian regime or only peace with “eternal Iran.”

Perhaps al-Hakim will be discussing that very question during his visit to the United States.

Dreyfuss: Learning to Love the Neocons?

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq / 1 Comment

The Left has lots of ways of talking about what is “wrong” with the Iraq war.  Some are likely to endure more than others.

There are claims, for example, that the invasion was morally wrong (an oil grab, an imperialist imposition, etc.).

There are also claims that that the invasion was strategically wrong (the Neocons were incompetent, naive, ideological).

Debate among those who make arguments about strategic calculations turn on a few major issues.

The Sunni Insurgency:

Neocons arguably failed to anticipate the Sunni insurgency.

Cheney conceded that point back in June 2006.

Q Do you think that you underestimated the insurgency’s strength?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think so.

Of course, Cheney has taken heat for adding, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered.”   Rumsfeld, too, suggested that nobody anticipated the insurgency’s strength.  This is nonsense.  Cheney and Rumsfeld chose to discount the threat of the insurgency.

One might even predict that the greater “wrong” here is not strategic butmoral.”

What if Cheney and Rumsfeld did anticipate a Sunni insurgency but thought that the US could “win dirty” by allowing Shiites and Kurds to “cleanse” Iraq of Sunni resistance?

Remember Rumsfeld:

Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.

Wasn’t Rumsfeld already talking about winning dirty?  His Right Zionist allies were always prepared to win dirty.  Remeber Reuel Marc Gerecht: “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?

Indeed, Right Zionists (Fouad Ajami and Gerecht) are feeling optimistic today precisely because they think the US has already started to win dirty.

Handing Iraq to Iran:

Other critics have suggested that the Neocon incompetence handed Iraq to Iran.

The leading “Left” critic on this score has been long-time Iran hawk, Robert Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss has frequently “exposed” the “Secrets of the US-Shiite Alliance” and lamented the disastrous creation of “Iran’s Iraq.”  He has also penned vicious attacks on Iraq’s leading Shiite political figures, denounced “Bush’s Shiite Gang in Iraq“:

So the question is: when will [we] hear the Bush administration’s top officials start calling the Shiite fundamentalist regime in Baghdad “Islamofascists”? So far, they’s applied that term only to the Iraqi resistance, tarring the Sunni-led insurgency by painting them as led by Al Qaeda-style terrorists, when in fact that they are mostly Iraqi nationalists, Baathists, and ex-military men. Their main grievance is that the United States is handing Iraq over to Iran. I’d say they’re right.

Now, however, he seems to be changing his tune.  The change does not appear to be based on a reconsideration of the morality of playing the “Devil’s Game” so much as a reconsideration of the strategic viability of the same Neocon strategy I discussed in my article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

The Dreyfuss reversal is a blog post entitled, “Iraq’s Influence in Iran.”

Before the war in 2003, the neocons’ fervent hope was that Najaf, the Iraqi holy city, would rise to eclipse Qom, the Iranian clerical center, helping to undermine the rule of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Since then, Iran’s influence in Iraq has appeared far greater than vice versa. But a Boston Globe article suggests that the effects are being felt both ways….

This is interesting, and deserves further investigation. Certainly, Iraq and Iran influence each other, and in many ways. So far, it seems, Iran’s influence in Iraq is greater than the other way around, although the possibility of clerical opposition to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is growing. Some of that, at least, could be tied to Iraqi ayatollahs, including Sistani, in concert with dissident Iranian clerics such as Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who challenged the political theory of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Dreyfuss has penned articles attacking Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen not only on the basis that they were morally suspect but also on the basis that they simply had no idea what they were talking about.  Now, Dreyfuss finds the consequences of Ledeen’s war in Iraq “interesting.”

That is a step toward acknowledging that when dealing with Right Zionists, we are in a realm “beyond incompetence.”

As I have previously discussed, there are critics (Swopa at Needlenose) who have been utterly dismissive of the notion of tension between Najaf and Qom.

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true. Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Juan Cole’s interpretation of this issue has always left me confused.  On the one hand, Cole wrote a July 2005 article in Salon entitled, “The Iraq War is Over, And the Winner Is… Iran.”

On the other hand, I have also previously noted that Cole’s adamant insistence (in agreement with Right Zionist strategists) that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is not close to the regime in Iran.  Indeed, when Professor Cole listed his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005, number five was as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

Am I alone in being amazed that four years after the US invasion of Iraq there has never been a full airing of this issue, even among Left critics of the war?

If, as Dreyfuss suggests, there might prove to be something “interesting” about the strategic consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, then Left “critics” might at some point contemplate abandoning their posts as armchair imperial strategists and find a different anti-imperialist basis for opposing the US war in Iraq.

Cheney: Delivering Justice to the Enemies of Freedom

Posted by Cutler on May 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Robin Wright’s May 11, 2007 Washington Post report ahead of Cheney’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia was entitled “Cheney to Try to Ease Saudi Concerns.”

I don’t know what Cheney was trying to do, but there are no indications in Wright’s article that Cheney is prepared to do anything much about “Saudi Concerns” regarding Iraq.

Saudi Concerns about Iraq

Wright characterizes Saudi concerns:

The oil-rich kingdom, which has taken an increasingly tough position on Iraq, believes Maliki has proven a weak leader during his first year in power and is too tied to Iran and pro-Iranian Shiite parties to bring about real reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunni minority, Arab sources said…

The king has balked at recent U.S. overtures to do more to help Iraq politically, beyond pledges of debt relief and financial aid, and has explored support for alternative leadership, including former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, U.S. and Arab officials said.

The Saudis have been increasingly concerned about reports that Maliki’s government favors Shiite officials in government ministries and Shiite commanders in the Iraqi military — at the expense of qualified Sunnis whose inclusion would help foster reconciliation, Arab officials said…

The U.S. Central Command chief, Adm. William J. Fallon, and the State Department’s Iraq coordinator, David M. Satterfield, were both rebuffed in appeals to the king during trips to Riyadh last month. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Fallon said the king told him “several times” during their April 1 discussion that U.S. policies “had not been correct in his view.”

“He also told me that he had severe misgivings about the Maliki government and the reasons for that,” Fallon added. “He felt, in his words, that there was a ‘significant linkage to Iran.’ He was concerned about Iranian influence on the Maliki government and he also made several references to his unhappiness, uneasiness with Maliki and the background from which he came.”

[An Associated Press article on Cheney’s meeting with Abdullah reports that the king asked after George Bush Sr, as if to drive home the point that the alliance between the House of Saud and the House of Bush was secured by the senior Bush when he allowed Saddam to crush the Shiite rebellion in Iraq after Operation Desert Storm.]

Cheney: Assuaging Saudi Concerns?

Wright reports on Cheney’s planned effort to “ease” Saudi concerns:

Assuaging Saudi concerns is the primary reason for the vice president’s trip — and even a key reason he went to Baghdad this week, U.S. and Arab officials say. During his stop in Riyadh on Saturday, Cheney wants to be able to tell the Sunni world’s most powerful monarch that the Bush administration is leaning hard on the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to implement long-delayed political steps to help end the Sunni insurgency, U.S. officials said….

But the real point here, as Wright reports, is that Cheney continues to resist, so far, the real Saudi demand: bring back Iyad Allawi (a secular “Shiite,” but an ex-Baathist sometimes referred to as Saddam without a Mustache) and to restore Sunni political supremacy in Iraq:

In a message that U.S. officials said will be underscored by Cheney, Fallon said he urged the king to show some support for the Iraqi leadership even if he does not like Maliki, because it is “unrealistic” to expect a change in the Baghdad government.

“We’re not going to be the puppeteers here,” Fallon told the Senate committee…

The vice president will make the case that Maliki was elected and that Allawi, or any other leader, would not be more effective with the current situation in Iraq, U.S. officials said…

U.S. officials are already skeptical that the visit will produce a significant breakthrough, beyond underscoring common interests in regional stability.

Fallon is quite clear: the US is committed to the Shiite Option in Iraq.  There will be no rollback of the 2005 elections.  The US will not back Sunni puppets (these words may haunt Fallon if the US does ever resort to authoritarian rule under Allawi).

This only confirms my sense that Cheney has signed on to the initial Right Zionist plan to use Shiite majority rule in Iraq to challenge Sunni supremacy in the Gulf.

Cheney on Iran

If Cheney wanted to ease Saudi concerns about Iraq, he knows what to do: install Allawi as Iraq’s “benign autocrat.”

But Cheney didn’t go to Saudi Arabia to ease concerns about Iraq.  If anything, he went to try to provoke Saudi concerns about Iran (and, perhaps, to ease concerns that Maliki represented a “significant linkage to Iran”).

The Saudis were always destined to oppose “Act I” of the Right Zionist plan for “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.  But Cheney appears to still be hoping to enlist Saudi support for “Act II” of the dual rollback plan which targets the Iranian regime.

Indeed, Robin Wright’s article from May 12, 2007 makes the point: “In Gulf, Cheney Pointedly Warns Iran.”

“Throughout the region our country has interests to protect and commitments to honor,” Cheney told Navy staff aboard the USS John C. Stennis. “With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We’ll keep the sea lanes open. We’ll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We’ll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We’ll continue bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”

That last line seemed new to me.  Cheney has been talking about Iran in terms of “strategic threats” for a long time.  But is that last line a reference to domestic Iranian politics and the prospect of regime change from within?  Let it sink in… “bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”  Who are “those who suffer”?  Who are the “enemies of freedom”?  In a paragraph about Iran?

There are at least two ways of thinking about whether that line has any significance: reaction among those who yearn for regime change in Iran and those who fear it most.

Thus far, Cheney’s “freedom” line on Iran has elicited no discernable excited from the Right Zionists most enthusiastic about regime change.  That tends to make me think I may be reading too much into the line.  We’ll see… (keep me posted if you spot anything).

Within Iran, however, there seems to be heightened concern that the US is, indeed, supporting some kind of populist “velvet revolution” in Iran.  The Financial Times explains:

Iranians with close ties to Washington said the Bush administration’s decision to allocate special funding to support pro-democracy activities in Iran – while keeping the identities of recipients secret – had been a mistake that has led to a witch-hunt.

Indeed, the Iranians appear to have nabbed a major Iranian-American “witch,” Haleh Esfandiari.

The Associate Press explains the case:

[T]he hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan accused Haleh Esfandiari of spying for the U.S. and Israel and for attempting to launch a democratic revolution in the country….

“She has been one of the main elements of Mossad in driving a velvet revolution strategy in Iran, the paper wrote. She formed two networks, including Iranian activists, in the U.S and Dubai for toppling down [the Islamic government]”.

Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, denied the newspaper’s allegations.

“It is a false and hollow accusation that Haleh Esfandiari is one of the ‘principle instruments’ of Israel, or a Mossad spy service, in advancing the strategy of a ‘velvet revolution’ in Iran. It is a lie that Haleh Esfandiari had ‘undercover assignments’ or that she was one of the ‘media spies’ in Iran. She had no part in setting up a ‘communications network’ between Dubai and America,” Bakhash said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

It would be rather remarkable if Shaul Bakhash or Esfandiari constituted the “principle instruments” of those advancing the strategy of a “velvet revolution” in Iran.  More likely, the Iranians are simply rounding up the “usual suspects.”

Omid Memarian over at “Iranian Prospect” has some details from Iranian press reports:

Reja News, a super conservative website which has been active over the past few days in attacks against Hossein Moussavian, a senior Iranian diplomat recently arrested in Tehran, published a report in which Haleh Esfandiari was named the Zionists’ agent in Iran…

The report then describes Dr. Esfandiari’s activities in Ayandegan Newspaper, saying: “She is an effective member of the pre-Revolution Zionist Lobby in the Pahlavi court, who along with her husband founded the Zionist Ayandegan Newspaper in Tehran. The interesting point is that Haleh Esfandiari remained in Iran for a time after the Revolution, but with the ban on Ayandegan Newspaper, she fled Iran in August of 1979 for Israel.”

Reja News which withholds its source continues: “It is said that she was the architect of AIPAC’s conference two years ago, which met under the slogan of ‘Now Is The Time to Stop Iran,’ suggesting a review of all avenues to confront Iran’s nuclear programs. This conference’s motto, ‘Iran, the Point of Understanding Between US and Israel,’ tried to review ways for coordinating Israel and US efforts to apply pressure on Islamic Republic of Iran. George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Cinton, John Bolton, Ihud Ulmert and Amir Perez were some of the speakers in this conference. It is said that the decision of war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah was reached in this conference.”

Esfandiari did participate in an AIPAC policy conference back in 2004 where she joined Philo Dibble on a panel entitled, “Revolution From Within: Can the Iranian People Reclaim the Republic?”  Maybe somebody who was there could say how Esfandiari (and Dibble) answered the question.

As for Shaul Bakhash, I have previously noted that as a member of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce on Iran (co-chaired by Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski), Bakhash formally dissented from the main conclusions of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce Report , “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Bakhash appeared to be speaking, like Cheney, about bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.

I wish to stress that support for dialogue and diplomatic and economic relations between Iran and the United States does not imply acquiescence in the violation by the Iranian government of the civil rights and liberties of its own citizens. Some Iranians understandably fear that relations with the United States will reinforce the status quo and therefore regime durability in Iran. In fact, any study of Iranian history over the last century and more suggests that interaction with the outside world greatly accelerates, rather than hinders, the pace of internal political change. I believe enmeshing Iran with the international community, expanding trade, and improving economic opportunity and the conditions for the growth of the middle class will strengthen, not weaken, the democratic forces in Iran.

Are the Iranians right to be nervous about a “velvet revolution”?

I’ll believe that the US has adopted a policy of populist regime change when I see the accompanying Right Zionist jubilation.

Who’s Afraid of the Shiite Wolf?

Posted by Cutler on May 11, 2007
Iraq / 3 Comments

The Sadrist MPs within the Iraqi Government are circulation legislation calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.  Sort of.

Not surprisingly, some anti-war critics are quick to hail it as “a hugely significant development.”

Juan Cole puts the breathless chatter about the withdrawal petition in some helpful context.

The Washington Post story by Joshua Partlow leads with a quote from a Sadrist MP that hardly seems like an audacious call to arms:

“We haven’t asked for the immediate withdrawal of multinational forces; we asked that we should build our security forces and make them qualified, and at that point there would be a withdrawal,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a member of parliament allied with the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters drafted the bill. “But no one can accept the occupation of his country.”

Am I the only one who thinks the Sadrist seem pretty tame?  Does Moqtada al-Sadr really give Cheney nightmares?

On the contrary, Right Zionists seem pretty pleased with their Shiite allies these days.  As I noted in a previous post, Reuel Marc Gerecht over at the American Enterprise Institute has been expecting Iraqi demands for US withdrawal and does not seem particularly fazed by them:

As a Shiite-led democracy grows, the calls for an American withdrawal will increase. Which is fine. Iraqi nationalism is vibrant among the Shiites, especially those who are religious. And democracy in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, is unlikely to be particularly affectionate toward the United States. Iraqi democracy is much more likely to free American soldiers to go home than is chaos in Mesopotamia.

So, that must mean that everyone is now on the same page about US withdrawal, right?

Nope.

The folks who brought us this war–and intentionally brought Shiites to power in Iraq–have done what they wanted to do in Iraq.  They have opened Pandora’s Box and are now prepared to watch as Iraqi Shiite power change the balance of power in the region.

But there are some folks in Washington who remain quite worried about US withdrawal.

Who are they?

Surprise!  They include some of the most high-profile critics of that war–Right Arabist figures like General Anthony Zinni.  Why?  Not a sudden lack of moral courage.  The issue is geopolitical, not moral.  Zinni and the Right Arabists need US forces to stay in order to help close Pandora’s Box and contain Shiite regional power.

Zinni spoke about US military withdrawal during a recent appearance on CNN:

BLITZER: All right. So now the U.S. is there. What do you do now?…

ZINNI: Well, first of all, it’s the right man. Dave Petraeus is exceptional, and I think our ambassador there, Ryan Crocker, another exceptional individual. We have the right people on the ground.

I think what we haven’t done, though, is we haven’t talked about the broader strategic — or strategy that we need for the region. We need to reconstruct a collective security arrangement that’s been destroyed in the region. We need to think through how we would establish a containment strategy, setting the conditions for what our troops would do, what they wouldn’t do in here. Even if this current strategy works, either way we’re going to fall back in to some containment, but it’s foolish to believe we’re going to leave.

BLITZER: What would happen if, as a lot of Democrats want right now, by the end of next March, early April, combat forces are out of Iraq?

ZINNI: Well what can happen, this could become a base for extremists. We could have the sectarian violence spill over into the region. Iranian influence could grow, and their hegemonic designs could create a situation that’s worse.

BLITZER: So, what you’re saying, as bad as the situation is right now, there’s plenty of opportunity for it to get a whole lot worse?

ZINNI: Absolutely. Anyone that knows this region knows that.

BLITZER: So, realistically, general — and you’ve spent a long time studying that part of the world, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf area — how long do you believe U.S. combat forces are going have to be deployed to Iraq, at least for the time being? How long do you envisage they’ll going to be stuck there?

ZINNI: Well, I think you’re going to see a presence. Now, I can see that presence may be moving down, but I think for five to seven years you’re going to see a presence.

Now, much of that may be less on the combat troops, more on the advisers, security assistance down the road. Some of it will be troops in the adjoining countries where we have allies to help contain it. And look at the broader strategic requirements in the region.

Right Zionists are now and have always been sweet on the Shiites and hostile toward Sunni Arab regional domination.

Right Arabists are now and have always been sweet on Sunni Arab regional hegemony and totally hostile to Shiite power.

The US is in trouble in Iraq for a thousand reasons, but one of those reasons is that the US foreign policy establishment has been and continues to be working toward entirely different, mutually exclusive goals in Iraq.

It would be difficult, to be sure, to fight a war with one hand tied behind your back.  It has to quite a bit more difficult, if not impossible, to fight a war with one hand battling the other hand.

Cheney Was Not Moved

Posted by Cutler on May 09, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

The Associated Press offers this account of Cheney’s visit to Iraq:

Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that Iraq remains a dangerous place, a point underscored by a thunderous explosion that rattled windows in the U.S. Embassy where he spent most of the day.

Cheney spoke less than an hour after an explosion could be heard in the U.S. Embassy where he spent most of the day. Windows rattled and reporters covering the vice president were briefly moved to a more secure area.

Said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride: “His meeting was not disturbed and he was not moved.”

McBride was presumably commenting on the vice president’s whereabouts rather than his mood.

Cheney was undoubtedly in Iraq to move rather than be moved.  A transcript from Cheney’s press briefing certainly gives the impression that the vice president pressed the Iraqis to make progress on Khalilzad’s old “benchmarks.”

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. You said you were impressed by the responses that you heard from Prime Minister Maliki and his colleagues. Did they offer any specific commitments, particularly time commitments, in moving forward on some of the specific measures that you and other American officials have talked about; namely, hydrocarbon law, de-Baathification, provincial elections and constitutional reform?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe that Prime Minister Maliki plans an address to the parliament this week on many of these issues – [cough] excuse me – and, of course, it’s a political process that depends upon action by their legislative body. And but as I say, I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I’d seen previously.

Is Cheney unhappy with Maliki?  Did Cheney threaten to dump Maliki, casting an eye toward “Saddam without a Mustache“?

I have my doubts.  As I have previously noted (here and here), some of Cheney’s would-be Right Zionist allies have recently declared themselves quite satisfied with Maliki.

Nevertheless, as the Washington Post recently suggested, there are allegedly at least three outstanding “political” issues:

Re-Baathification: Khalilzad pushed very hard for re-Baathification.  Does Cheney care?  Not if his thinking in any way matches that of Reuel Marc Gerecht at the American Enterprise Institute.

Oil: Yes, I think Cheney wants to hydrocarbon law passed.  But here the primary obstacle may not be Maliki so much as Kurdish resistance to the bill’s centralization of control.

Constitutional Reform:  The most contentious issues here seem to involve Kurdish regional autonomy and Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution which includes provisions for a referendum on control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.  Here again, Kurds represent the major source of resistance to constitutional revisions.  Sadrists and Sunnis stand united in opposition to Article 140 and Kurdish control of Kirkuk.

All of which suggests that if anyone in Iraq is pressing for the parliament to take a vacation, the Kurds would be the most likely slackers.

Where Have You Gone, George Tenet?

Posted by Cutler on May 08, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

George Tenet’s biggest Iraq “mistake” was arguably not that he stayed around too long but that he didn’t stay around long enough.

I know, I know.  Tenet is being roundly criticized for, among other things, his failure to resign in protest when he saw “ideology” driving the US invasion of Iraq.

If, however, you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with General Anthony Zinni when he tells CNN that the Neocons “didn’t think through what the aftermath would bring. They made some bad decisions on the move. Again, we all know that disbanding the army, debaathification… brought about all the problems we see now…”

If you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with “Leftists” like Robert Dreyfuss that the US should have stuck with the Baathists…

If you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with Council on Foreign Relations figures like Ray Takeyh who have a very clear idea of a “Plan B”: “Benign Autocracy is the Answer for Iraq“…

If you are that kind of anti-war critic, then Tenet didn’t stay around long enough.

Tenet’s job was to install a “benign autocracy” under the appointed leadership of long-time CIA favorite, ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.

Tenet did so in late May 2004.  Tenet then resigned almost immediately.  Mission accomplished, Right Arabist style.

The problem, however, is that after the November 2004 election, the Bush administration went ahead with a year of elections–over the objections of figures outside the administration, like Brent Scowcroft–that handed power to Iraqi Shiites and left Allawi in the dust.

Tenet wasn’t there to preserve Allawi’s “Saddamism without Saddam.”

If you are that kind of anti-war critic, then Tenet quit too soon.

Kirkuk: Too Many American Friends?

Posted by Cutler on May 03, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

Geopolitical chess is a complicated affair.

Sometimes there are too many enemies: circumstances demand that one enemy is prioritized and “lesser” evils are often reconstituted as the enemy of my enemy, i.e., my (provisional) friend.

The US-Soviet alliance against Germany in World War II is the canonical case.  Similarly, I have noted that Cheney, for example, may at some point feel obligated to choose between antipathy toward Iran and Russia.

Sometimes, however, there are too many friends: circumstances demand that one friend is prioritized and the “lesser” friend is sacrificed at the altar of the paramount friendship.

In the current moment, the US appears to have “too many friends” in Northern Iraq: Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are both considered “strategic allies.”  Both parties, for example, are pressing the United States to pick a side in their battle for control of the city of Kirkuk and its vast oil resources.

David Ignatius made the point in a recent Washington Post column:

The Bush administration has tried to finesse the problem, hoping to keep two friends happy: The Kurds have been America’s most reliable partner in Iraq, while the Turks are a crucial ally in the region. But in recent weeks, this strategy has been breaking down.

There are at least two contentious issues: the idea of a “referendum” to determine the political fate of Kirkuk and the degree of “regional autonomy” in the new hydrocarbons law.

Turkey opposes Kurdish autonomy (i.e., favors the “integrity” of the centralized Iraqi state) and consequently opposes both the referendum and regional control of oil.

If push comes to shove, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt has threatened to intervene militarily in Kurdish-dominated Northern Iraq.

On the related referendum and the oil questions, one might imagine that the US would tend to squeeze the Kurds, not the Turks.

Where is the dilemma?

Ignatius identifies one key Kurdish asset: “U.S. hopes for long-term military bases in Kurdistan.”

Be that as it may, Turkey is, among things, absolutely central to US efforts to thwart Russian monopolistic control of energy pipelines.

One key Bush administration “diplomat” on this front is Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.  Bryza leads the fight against Russian energy giant, Gazprom.

In a February 2007 roundtable with Turkish journalists, Bryza explained the nature of the US-Turkey strategic energy relationship in relation to Russia and the Caspian:

So on energy security… [one thing] we did that was really substantial was our partnership in Caspian energy which obviously meant Bakhu-Tblisi-Ceyhan which many people thought would never happen, and meant the South Caucasus gas pipeline which is about to open.

Today what we want to do is build on those pipelines, expand the corridor that currently exists for natural gas and make it a major one, a big one, a transit route that will help Europe diversify its gas supply so that it doesn’t feel so much monopoly pressure from one direction. Our goal is not to have a confrontation with GazProm, but our goal is to increase competition, healthy commercial competition which in the long run is good for everybody, including for GazProm itself, by the way. The key to making all that work is helping the Azerbaijani Government work with investors to expand gas production in Azerbaijan as quickly as possible to make sure gas is available to fill the pipelines that will go from Turkey to Greece and Italy, as well as [the Nabucco] pipeline from Turkey to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria.

In that same interview, Bryza was cagey but still relatively clear about US policy on the Kirkuk referendum:

Question: Are you saying that if you allow the Kirkuk Referendum to go ahead, you’re going to put your signature to divide the country into three, at least, different countries or nations, whatever you name it. So do you agree with the Turkish vision in that?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: When the referendum in Kirkuk would take place is not determined, right?

Question: It is determined in the Constitution. It will happen before the end of this year.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: Or will it? Who knows if it will. Will it actually? I don’t know if it will.

Question: What does the U.S. think about Turkey’s position on it? Do you agree with the Turkish assessment on Kirkuk? If the referendum goes ahead it is going to be leveraged to divide the country or the Kurds.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: The way I would answer that is to say that our goal, as President Bush just said, is to maintain a unified Iraq. Anything you hear to the contrary, any pundits or political speculation, whether they be people in power or out of power, to the contrary, is false. Our policy is to support a unified Iraq. We understand how sensitive, how dangerous the situation in Kirkuk is.

The Governments of the United States and Turkey and Iraq, and Baghdad, I mean, share a common vision when it comes to Kirkuk in terms of not wanting that situation to lead to the breakup of Iraq, right? And wanting there to be a way to resolve the difficult property questions and demographic issues that are what’s really fueling the political fire in Kirkuk.

So on timing, et cetera, I don’t have anything else to say. And if you really want to get down into the details of that, please talk to our Iraq policy people. But in general I can say we do share the Turkish society and government’s vision that if Kirkuk is not managed properly it can become a terrible problem that works against our shared goal of maintaining a unified Iraq. That’s our goal. We’ve got to do that.

Did Cheney give a more straightforward promise to Turkish Gen. Yaşar Büyükanit when the two leaders met in February?  I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

When Turkey came to Bryza for support on the hydrocarbons law, Bryza offered up what appeared to be a vague response:

“One: We completely understand why Turkey is uncomfortable,” said Bryza. “Two: we unequivocally favor Iraq’s territorial integrity, which President [George W.] Bush reiterated in his recent speech on Iraq. Three: the hydrocarbon law was not written by us but by a sovereign state that is Iraq.”

The “third” leg of that answer is, presumably, meant to deflect criticism.  But given the massive US involvement in drafting that law, Bryza’s answer seems intended as a way to call attention provisions of the law that favor the Turkish position.

And, undoubtedly, this helps explain recent news, first announced by Al Jazeera and now reiterated by the New York Times, that the Kurds are balking at the terms of the new law.

Ed Wong of the New York Times has actually been reporting on Kurdish discontent for some time.

Shiites and Turkey are united on the centralization provisions of the hydrocarbons law.

If the US is going to squeeze the Kurds on this one, then Sunni political forces constitute a crucial swing vote.

Edward Wong and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times report that Sunni Arab parliamentarians look set to stand with the Kurds:

Contributing a further layer of complication, a Sunni Arab legislator said Wednesday evening that the main Sunni Arab bloc, which has 44 legislative seats, objected to any discussion of the law in Parliament at this time. “Acceleration in presenting it is inappropriate since the security condition is not encouraging,” said the legislator, Saleem Abdullah. He said Sunni Arabs were also worried that the law would give foreign companies too large a role in the country’s oil industry. Sunni Arab political leaders supported cabinet approval of the draft law, but appear ambivalent now.

This is, shall we say, a very strategic ambivalence…

Biden’s War

Posted by Cutler on May 01, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Happy May Day! I’ll be brief because this is labor’s day for reinvigorating the cultural battle for less work.

Senator Joseph Biden made an April 29, 2007 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Set aside, for the moment, Biden’s assertions about the future (“all of us have been arguing… in both parties, that you’re going to have to leave forces behind in Iraq”).

Biden’s most interesting comments concern the past. Biden’s explanation and justification for the invasion gets to some of the “truth” behind the lies:

[W]e were talking then about whether or not we could keep the pressure of the international community on Iraq to stay in the box we had them in. And remember, you had the French and others say the reason all those children were dying in Iraq, the reason why hospitals didn’t have equipment is because of what we, the United States, were doing, imposing on Iraq these sanctions. And that was the battle. The battle was do we lift these sanctions or do we in fact increase the sanctions? And everyone at the time was talking about—from the secretary of state to even the president—that this was to demonstrate to the world the president of the United States had the full faith and credit of the United States Congress behind him to put pressure on the rest of the world to say, “Hey, look, you lift the sanctions, you’re—we’re going to be on our own here. Don’t lift the sanctions. Get the inspectors back in.” That was the context of the debate, to be fair about it…

MR. RUSSERT: But you said Saddam was a threat. He had to be…

SEN. BIDEN: He was a threat.

MR. RUSSERT: In what way?

SEN. BIDEN: The threat he presented was that, if Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon—not by building it, by purchasing it. I also believed he was a threat in that he was—every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of—after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating. Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t. The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not. And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening. They were pulling away. They were saying, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe we should lift the no-fly zone. Maybe we should lift the sanctions.” That was the context.

In light of recent controversies over George Tenet’s new book, At the Center of the Storm, and his sense of the origins of the invasion plan, it might be worth noting that Biden’s justification for the invasion is not very different from the one offered, on the eve of the invasion, by Right Zionist Richard Perle over at the Project for a New American Century:

“Let’s be candid about it. France has found a way of dealing with Saddam Hussein that simply wouldn’t work for the United States because it entails a degree of cooperation that is not acceptable for us. The commercial relationship between France and Saddam’s regime is on hold owing to the sanctions but I think it’s clear that the moment the sanctions are removed there is a pipeline of contracts that would be promulgated and they’re important for France. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, they’re important for France. It’s my understanding that the Total contract with Saddam is worth $40 billion to $60 billion…. So there are commercial interests and for those people who accuse the United States in being interested in oil in this matter, I submit to you that our interest in oil is in purchasing it on the world market. That could best be accomplished by lifting the sanctions, hardly by going to war against Saddam Hussein. The French interest in the promulgation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious.

“But there’s a second French attitude that I think we have to come to grips with and understand and that is the desire on the part of France to build the European Union as a counterweight to the United States. Counterweight is the term most frequently employed by the French, by Chris Patten in Brussels and by others. For a long time the United States and France have been allies. Good allies. Vital to each other’s security at many times in our history and never in the period in which we were allies who supported one another did either of us think of describing the other as a counterweight. A relationship that can be described by the term counterweight is not a relationship of alliance”…

“Well, I don’t think we have the luxury of changing priorities from one day to the next. There was a review of Iraq policy underway on September 11th and the administration hadn’t decided at that point what to do, but one thing was very clear: the consensus behind the sanctions which had become the central element of western United Nations strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein was crumbling. France and Russia had already indicated they were opposed to continuing the sanctions. The French wanted to weaken the sanctions regime. The so-called smart sanctions policy of the United States was really a response to the eroding support for those sanctions and it was very clear that if something wasn’t done that Saddam was going to emerge the survivor who had outlasted the United Nations….So it was urgent to deal with Iraq, and we set on a course of dealing with Iraq.

The specific “crisis” that generated the US invasion of Iraq was the collapse of the sanctions regime, understood in terms of Great Power Rivalry, was “not acceptable to us.”

All that remains, it would seem, is to understand the contours of US policy after the invasion, i.e., the geopolitical rationale for de-Baathification (rather than, say, “grabbing” Iraq but maintaining Baathist rule).

Cheney is the Iraq War Czar

Posted by Cutler on April 30, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are signs that 2007 may be shaping up to be one of those audacious, off-election-cycle Bush administration years in the tradition of 2003 (invasion and de-Baathification of Iraq) and 2005 (successive pro-Shiite elections in Iraq).

The governing Shiite coalition in Iraq is growing increasingly strident.  According to the Washington Post and the New York Times, Iraqi Shiites appear to be stalling parliamentary passage of the Right Arabist “benchmarks” (re-Baathification, constitutional revisions, provincial elections) generated by former American Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

Shiites are backing centralization of Iraq’s oil industry, reflected in the draft of the hydrocarbons law, but this is less a concession to Sunni Arab sentiment than a significant blow to Kurdish demands for autonomy.

(Turkey is obviously in a huff about the Kurdish autonomy and tensions are high with the US, but Maliki’s Shiite coalition and Turkey’s strident generals can surely find common ground in opposition to Kurdish control of Kirkuk.  Didn’t Cheney say as much to Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen.Yaşar Büyükanit when the two met in February?).

Maliki is even moving against some of the Sunni security forces, including some of those favored by fiercely anti-Sadrist Right Arabist elements of the US military brass.

It is surely no coincidence that Right Zionists in Washington are warming to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Maliki (see my posts here and here) just as Maliki has been snubbed by Saudi King Abdullah.

At the same time, the US-Saudi relationship looks increasingly tense.  A New York Times profile of Prince Bandar ran under the strange headline, “A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush is Sounding Off-Key.”

The figure who undoubtedly sounds “off-key” to Cheney is Saudi King Abdullah.

The Times profile on Bandar painted an accurate picture of an “Ambassador” who no longer speaks for his country.

Prince Bandar… may no longer be able to serve as an unerring beacon of Saudi intent.

“The problem is that Bandar has been pursuing a policy that was music to the ears of the Bush administration, but was not what King Abdullah had in mind at all,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel who is now head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Of course it is ultimately the king — and not the prince — who makes the final call on policy.

In any ordinary country, it would go without saying that the King, not the Ambassador, makes policy.  But Bandar is not merely a civil servant.

Instead, he is a son of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at a time when the future of Saudi royal succession remains a matter of considerable speculation.

If National Security Council Adviser Stephen Hadley is having trouble finding someone willing to serve as Iraq War Czar the reason is not difficult to discern: Vice President Cheney already has the job.

Is Rice Really Nice?

Posted by Cutler on April 26, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Russia / 1 Comment

In a recent post on Cheney, Iran, and the whole “British hostage” affair, I asked whether Cheney might not have sabotaged an Iranian-American quid pro quo that would have involved the release, by the United States, of the “Irbil Five”–Iranians held by the US in Iraq.

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release. But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them. At least not yet…

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

That was April 11th.

Yesterday, Michael Ledeen offered up some gossip that appears to confirm these suspicions, beginning with Ledeen’s discussion of a news story by Robin Wright in the Washington Post:

[A] story written… by one of Secretary Rice’s favorite journalists, Robin Wright of the Washington Post… said:

After intense internal debate, the Bush administration has decided to hold on to five Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents (sic) captured in Iraq, overruling a State Department recommendation to release them, according to U.S. officials.

I’ve been told that “intense internal debate” is exactly right–it was one of the most contentious debates in quite a while. Wright reports that Vice President Cheney led the charge against Rice’s position, and I am told that Secretary of Defense Gates was equally adamant. This is reinforced by a statement by General Petraeus, to the effect that we intended to keep them and keep interrogating them as long as we had food and they had things to say. Moreover, I am told that the intensity of the debate was due to the fact that Rice was not merely recommending the release of the Iranians, but had informed the mullahs that we would release them.

On the Iranian front, then, it certainly looks like Cheney and Gates leading the hawkish faction with Rice working to open diplomatic avenues.

The mystery here is Rice.  In an April 22, 2006 analysis, the Financial Times (subscription required) suggested that Rice was looking increasingly “realist” in her positions.

To judge from Ledeen’s anger (and Perle’s earlier accusations), one could imagine that Rice is something less than a Neocon “true believer.”

And yet…

The record is uneven, even on Iran.  On the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon?  Rice looks pretty hawkish.

And then there is Rice on Russia.  On missile systems in Europe, Rice doesn’t appear particularly dovish.

Perhaps there is an underlying logic to all this, but it escapes me.

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.

Birthday Blogging

Posted by Cutler on April 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

“Cutler’s Blog” is one year old today.

The first post examined the “decision” of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside amidst considerable pressure from Washington.

By some measures, it looks like the political process hasn’t changed much in a year.

One year ago, Bush administration Right Arabists were busy trying to curb Shiite power and woo the Sunni minority back into the political process.

This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered that same message to Baghdad.  The Washington Post reports:

Gates on Friday called the Baghdad security plan “a strategy for buying time for progress toward justice and reconciliation.”

He urged Iraq’s parliament to pass legislation on provincial elections, the exploitation of the country’s vast oil resources, the status of former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein and other issues before the lawmakers recess this summer. “These measures will not fix all of the problems in Iraq, but they will manifest the will of the entire government of Iraq to be a government for all the people of Iraq in the future,” he said.

In April 2006, however, the US managed to oust Jaafari only to settle for his deputy, Prime Minister Maliki.

One year later, Maliki–like Jaafari–retains some independence from the Washington’s Right Arabists.

Asked how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had responded, Gates said Maliki had reminded him that the parliament is independent, suggesting he could make no assurances on the legislation.

Hasan Suneid, a lawmaker and adviser to Maliki, said the Iraqi government would like to see both the oil legislation and de-Baathification proposal pass, but at their own pace. “These demands are already Iraqi demands,” he said. “The most important thing is to achieve discussion of these plans. Time is irrelevant.”

The “independence” of the Shiite political establishment should not be exaggerated, but neither should it be viewed as an unmitigated disaster for Washington’s political establishment.

The beleaguered Right Zionists (i.e., Neocons) have little left to show for themselves in Washington (save for David Wurmser and John Hannah in Cheney’s office and Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, and perhaps a smattering of lesser figures).

But unlike Washington’s Right Arabists, some Right Zionists–most recently, Fouad Ajami–are quite pleased by signs of Shiite power and Shiite independence from Right Arabist Washington.

What I cannot figure out, one year later, is how this story ends.

Will “facts on the ground” in Baghdad force Right Arabist Washington to come to terms with Shiite power in Iraq?  Or will Right Arabist Washington lose patience with Iraqi Shiites and force an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

I would not have predicted that the current political “muddle” could have gone on as long as it has.

At one point in the last year, it looked as though James Baker’s Right Arabists were preparing for a clean sweep in Washington.

It didn’t happen.

And then there were signs that 2007 might tilt dramatically toward Shiite power in Iraq and Right Zionist influence in Washington, courtesy of Vice President Cheney.

Nothing quite so dramatic has yet unfolded in 2007.

The political meaning of the surge remains highly ambiguous and the additional US forces will not be in place until June.

If Shiite power in Iraq is linked to regime change in Iran–the original Right Zionist plan for “Dual Rollback”–then there are few signs such a plan has any legs in Washington (to say nothing of its chances in Tehran).

As I noted in a recent post, Right Zionists like Richard Perle feel utterly betrayed by US policy toward Iran.  Here is Perle:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Perle has any friends in high places, they are now as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.

The Washington Times reported this week that some Democrats are trying to “out hawk” the Bush administration on Iran:

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, criticized the administration for not taking action under the Iran Sanctions Act.

That law requires imposing sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in one year in Iran’s energy sector.

Mr. Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs terrorism, nonproliferation and trade subcommittee, included a list of foreign companies that have invested millions or more than $1 billion in Iranian energy.

Although the administration may say the deals may not go through or the full extent of the investments will not be realized, “it strains credulity to say that no single $20 million investment has occurred in Iran in the past decade driving any calendar year,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is that the State Department refuses to find evidence of the investments that would trigger the act because they do not want to find evidence of such investments.”

But even Dem Zionists seem to be split on how to proceed.  California Congressman Tom Lantos–traditionally a great friend of Israel–reaching out to Russia, Syria, and even Iran.

So, the muddle continues.

And so does “Cutler’s Blog.”

One Happy Neocon

Posted by Cutler on April 13, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Looking for a happy Neocon in Washington?

You are unlikely to find one at the World Bank, where former US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz is under pressure to resign.

Instead, the happiest Neocon in Washington appears to be long-time Wolfowitz associate Fouad Ajami.

Like Senator John McCain, Ajami is just back from Iraq and has been all over the media sharing his new-found optimism about Iraq.

It wasn’t always thus.  Having offered up glowing predictions on the eve of the US invasion, Ajami seemed to concede failure in May 2004 with a New York Times Op-Ed that declared “The Dream is Dead.”

Let’s face it: Iraq is not going to be America’s showcase in the Arab-Muslim world… If some of the war’s planners had thought that Iraq would be an ideal base for American primacy in the Persian Gulf, a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world, that notion has clearly been set aside.

We are strangers in Iraq, and we didn’t know the place. We had struggled against radical Shiism in Iran and Lebanon in recent decades, but we expected a fairly secular society in Iraq (I myself wrote in that vein at the time). Yet it turned out that the radical faith — among the Sunnis as well as the Shiites — rose to fill the void left by the collapse of the old despotism.

More recently, however, Ajami has been publishing relatively upbeat Wall Street Journal Op-Ed essays, including his April 11, 2007 piece “Iraq in the Balance,” expressing “cautious optimism” about Iraq.

Traveling “in the company of the Shia politician Ahmed Chalabi” and armed protection, Ajami toured Baghdad.

[T]he sense of deliverance, and the hopes invested in this new security plan, are palpable…

The essay was published before a recent bombing of the Iraqi Parliament killed several Iraqi MPs and prompted the US to concede that even the Green Zone is not safe.  And it comes before the word that the US will extend the tours of those serving in Iraq.

Ultimately, however, Ajami’s optimism is not grounded in a naive hope of swift US military success in Iraq (although Ajami can certainly sling that hash with the best of those accused of reading from a White House script).

Instead, Ajami’s optimism appears to be grounded in a far more cold-hearted (if still potentially incorrect) calculation: Shiite vengeance has done what the US refused to do–break the back of the Sunni insurgency.

In other words, Iraq is (or has been) in the throes of a sectarian civil war, but in the words of Charles Krauthammer, Iraq is “A Civil War We Can Still Win.”

What some might call “ethnic cleansing” in Baghdad, Ajami calls victory:

In retrospect, the defining moment for Mr. Maliki had been those early hours of Dec. 30, when Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows…

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad. The great flight from Baghdad to Jordan, to Syria, to other Arab destinations, has been the flight of Baghdad’s Sunni middle-class. It is they who had the means of escape, and the savings.

Whole mixed districts in the city–Rasafa, Karkh–have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts. This was the tragic logic of the campaign of terror waged by the Baathists and the jihadists against the Shia; this was what played out in the terrible year that followed the attack on the Askariya shrine of Samarra in February 2006. Possessed of an old notion of their own dominion, and of Shia passivity and quiescence, the Sunni Arabs waged a war they were destined to lose.

No one knows with any precision the sectarian composition of today’s Baghdad, but there are estimates that the Sunnis may now account for 15% of the city’s population. Behind closed doors, Sunni leaders speak of the great calamity that befell their community. They admit to a great disappointment in the Arab states that fed the flames but could never alter the contest on the ground in Iraq. No Arab cavalry had ridden, or was ever going to ride, to the rescue of the Sunnis of Iraq…

Now the ground has shifted, and among the Sunnis there is a widespread sentiment of disinheritance and loss.

The Mahdi Army, more precisely the underclass of Sadr City, had won the fight for Baghdad.

In other words, the Chalabi-Ajami Right Zionist crew that put its faith in the Iraqi Shia have not been disappointed by the decision.

The disappointment has been in Washington.  And if Ajami continues to fear anything, it is the Bush administration:

The Americans have given birth to this new Shia primacy, but there lingers a fear, in the inner circles of the Shia coalition, that the Americans have in mind a Sunni-based army, of the Pakistani and Turkish mold, that would upend the democratic, majoritarian bases of power on which Shia primacy rests. They are keenly aware, these new Shia men of power in Baghdad, that the Pax Americana in the region is based on an alliance of long standing with the Sunni regimes. They are under no illusions about their own access to Washington when compared with that of Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and the smaller principalities of the Persian Gulf. This suspicion is in the nature of things; it is the way of once marginal men who had come into an unexpected triumph.

In truth, it is not only the Arab order of power that remains ill at ease with the rise of the Shia of Iraq. The (Shia) genie that came out of the bottle was not fully to America’s liking. Indeed, the U.S. strategy in Iraq had tried to sidestep the history that America itself had given birth to. There had been the disastrous regency of Paul Bremer. It had been followed by the attempt to create a national security state under Ayad Allawi. Then there had come the strategy of the American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, that aimed to bring the Sunni leadership into the political process and wean them away from the terror and the insurgency.

Mr. Khalilzad had become, in his own sense of himself, something of a High Commissioner in Iraq, and his strategy had ended in failure; the Sunni leaders never broke with the insurgency. Their sobriety of late has been a function of the defeat their cause has suffered on the ground; all the inducements had not worked.

We are now in a new, and fourth, phase of this American presence. We should not try to “cheat” in the region, conceal what we had done, or apologize for it, by floating an Arab-Israeli peace process to the liking of the “Sunni street.”…

For our part, we can’t give full credence to the Sunni representations of things. We can cushion the Sunni defeat but can’t reverse it. Our soldiers have not waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against Sunni extremists to fall for the fear of some imagined “Shia crescent” peddled by Sunni rulers and preachers.

The Neocons began to lose control of US policy in Iraq as early as September 2003.  They have never been completely eclipsed in Washington, least of all in the Office of the Vice President.

Ultimately, the “(Shia) genie” in Iraq remains the ace in the hole for Right Zionists.

Students of the Sunni insurgency might well argue that Ajami is blowing smoke when he says that the Mahdi Army has won the fight for Baghdad.  At one level, Ajami is simply repeated the old hope that he is witnessing the “last throes” of the Sunni insurgency.  There is good reason for skepticism.

No matter.  The significance of the Ajami text is not in the adequacy of its predictions about Baghdad but in the content and direction of its political investments.

Ajami has produced an “unflinching” Right Zionist defense of the 80 Percent Solution.

Does Washington support the 80 Percent Solution?

Ajami is not sure.  In his January 2007 Op-Ed “The American Iraq,” he expressed cautious optimism about Washington:

[I]n recent months our faith in democracy’s possibilities in Iraq has appeared to erode, and this unnerves the Shia political class… [T]here was that brief moment when it seemed as though the “realists” of the James Baker variety were in the midst of a restoration. The Shia (and the Kurds) needed no deep literacy in strategic matters to read the mind of Mr. Baker. His brand of realism was anathema to people who tell their history in metaphors of justice and betrayal. He was a known entity in Iraq; he had been the steward of American foreign policy when America walked away, in 1991, from the Kurdish and Shia rebellions it had called for. The political class in Baghdad couldn’t have known that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would die on the vine, and that President Bush would pay these recommendations scant attention. The American position was not transparent, and there were in the air rumors of retrenchment, and thus legitimate Iraqi fears that the American presence in Baghdad could be bartered away in some accommodation with the powers in Iraq’s neighborhood.

These fears were to be allayed, but not put to rest, by the military “surge” that President Bush announced in recent days. More than a military endeavor, the surge can be seen as a declaration by the president that deliverance would be sought in Baghdad, and not in deals with the rogues (Syria and Iran) or with the Sunni Arab states. Prime Minister Maliki and the coalition that sustains his government could not know for certain if this was the proverbial “extra mile” before casting them adrift, or the sure promise that this president would stay with them for the remainder of his time in office.

Ajami–like Maliki–might still have his doubts about President Bush.  But if push comes to shove between Bush and Maliki, Ajami’s commitments are crystal clear:

Mr. Maliki will not do America’s bidding, and we should be grateful for his displays of independence.

Sadr’s Iraqi Nationalism

Posted by Cutler on April 09, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Some news headlines are suggesting that Moqtada al-Sadr, who has called his followers out into the streets for mass demonstrations, is now calling for “violence” against the US.  Others suggest a more ambiguous call to “fight” the US.

So, is this the long-awaited renewal of a clash between Sadr and the US?

Maybe, but I seriously doubt it.

The Sadrist demonstrations in Iraq are more likely an attempt by the Mahdi Army leadership to deflect criticism from within its own ranks.

The call for the demonstrations was made following Sunni attacks on Shiite neighborhoods at the end of March.

Sadr’s refusal to endorse a violent response to the sectarian bloodletting can easily be interpreted by his own ranks as a refusal to retaliate against the Sunni sources of violence.

To cover his flank, Sadr must try to shift the focus from a sectarian axis to a nationalist axis.

This is no easy task, but it helps explain the decidedly nationalist flavor of the theater promoted by Sadr in late March:

Al-Sadr’s statement calling for a demonstration was read aloud by a senior member of al-Sadr’s movement, Sheikh Suhail al-Iqabi, on Friday in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood and elsewhere in Iraq…

“Hoist Iraqi flags atop homes, apartment buildings and government departments to show the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, and that you reject the presence of American flags and those of other nations occupying our beloved Iraq.”

All of this underscores one of the difficulties of the US-Sadrist embrace.

Assume, for the moment, that Sadr would prefer to have his own forces “go to ground” and allow the US “surge” in Baghdad those Sunni forces that attack Shiite slums.

Such a move puts Sadr at the mercy of the US and its ability to protect his own ranks.

The late March attacks on Sadr city demonstrated to Sadr’s own ranks the risks of depending on US forces for security.

Sadr doesn’t have many good options.  He can unleash a sectarian thirst for vengeance within his own ranks or he can rely on the Americans for security against Sunni terror, even as he tries to reach out across the sectarian divide to (ultimately) form a united front against US occupation.

Ironically, the call for April 9 anti-American nationalist demonstrations may represent the clearest sign yet that Sadr is still placing his bet on the hope of security provided by the US.  

One way to underscore the difficulty of Sadr’s position is to simply consider the extraordinarily long odds of that bet.

The US has, thus far, been hard pressed to protect Shiites from Sunni terror.  And there appear to be limits to the Sunni appetite for a united front with Shiites so long as the Shia are seen to have inherited Iraq, courtesy of the US occupation.

Sadr’s best chance for Sunni-Shiite unity is to foment an Arab backlash against Kurdish efforts to make a grab for Kirkuk.

Perhaps this is the political unconscious of the Iraqi nationalism on display, courtesy of Sadr.

The US-Russian War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on April 04, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Was the US invasion of Iraq was an opening salvo in a US-Russian war?

According to such a scenario, the “crisis” that led some in the Bush administration to press for an invasion of Iraq was not WMDs, a terror threat, domestic repression of Shiites and Kurds, etc.  The crisis came when Saddam began to slip out of his “sanctions” cage by shacking up in 1997 with Russian oil giant, Lukoil, for an agreement for the development of the giant West Qurna field.

So, have those most concerned to keep Iraq from Russia managed to do so?

Not yet.

Lukoil–and its American partner, ConocoPhillips, which owns a minority share in Lukoil–are still eager to try to get back in the game.

An April 2 Reuters report details a campaign by Lukoil and the Russian foreign ministry to insure that Lukoil doesn’t get shut out:

Russia’s top oil producer LUKOIL… signed a partnership deal with the foreign ministry on Monday and said it counted on its support as it prepares for talks to revive a giant oil deal in Iraq.

LUKOIL and the ministry said in a statement that the deal, the first of its kind in Russia, aims to support LUKOIL’s projects abroad, defend the firm’s interests by diplomatic means and facilitate the firm’s meetings abroad…

“Our company is entering new regions, including politically unstable regions. We will especially need support of the ministry in Iraq,” Interfax news agency quoted LUKOIL chief executive Vagit Alekperov as saying at a signing ceremony which was closed to reporters from foreign media organisations.

Nevertheless, Lukoil may have reason to worry that the proposed Iraqi oil legislation will leave the Russians out in the cold.

Much of the chatter in the US has been about the “scandal” of proposed “production sharing agreements” in the hydrocarbons law.  These are said to offer up the prospect of a massive money grab by the Oil Majors by coming very close to “privatizing” Iraqi oil.

That gets folks in the US all excited about the ways in which the US invasion of Iraq was all about the spread of neo-liberal market ideology.

When the so-called “Left” thinks about these issues, it misses the Great Power battle and sees only a struggle between the forces of statist justice and market greed.  Christian Parenti, for example, deserves props for noticing that the new Iraqi oil law is not all about privatization.  He even mentions that the Lukoil deal will be restructured.  But he appears to be comforted rather than alarmed by the implications:

Nor does the proposed oil law simply serve Iraq up on a plate to the oil giants. One London-based oil analyst who expected a more decentralized and free-market law called it “bloody confused.” On key questions of foreign investment and regional decentralization versus centralized control, the law is vague but not all bad

The draft law will leave ownership of the oil in state hands….

Indeed, the new law does not mention PSAs and it stipulates that firms will have to negotiate on a field-by-field basis.

The law will restructure the oil industry in other important ways: It will appoint a Federal Oil and Gas Council led by the prime minister to oversee all future contracts as well as review existing deals. Those agreements include the five contracts signed by the Kurdish Regional Government and six outstanding PSAs signed between Saddam Hussein and a mix of companies–most notably Lukoil of Russia, Total of France, the China National Petroleum Corporation and Italy’s Eni.

A single state-owned Iraqi National Oil Company will be reconstituted under central government control.

So close.  And, yet, so far.

The “scandal” may not be American market ideology in Iraq.  The real scandal may be the US move to nationalize some key elements of the Iraqi oil industry in an effort to thwart Russian (and French) ambitions.

Platts Oilgram News offered up this analysis of the Iraqi hydrocarbons law (Faleh al-Khayat, “New Iraqi oil law to open upstream sector; Gives powers to rejuvenated national company,” March 6, 2007):

The final draft of Iraq’s long-awaited oil and gas law opens up the country’s prized upstream sector to private, local and foreign investors for the first time since the 1970s, but appears to give more powers to a revived national oil company to manage current producing fields and giant undeveloped discoveries.

Platts has obtained the final draft of the law in Arabic, dated February 15 and approved by the Council of Ministers February 26, along with annexes classifying the oil fields and blocks to be opened up…

The law, now awaiting approval by parliament, re-establishes the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), which was disbanded in 1987…

INOC will operate Iraq’s producing fields, numbering 27, and, significantly, the partially developed fields of Majnoon, Halfaya, Nahr BinUma, Suba and Luhais, Tuba, and the whole of the giant West Qurna field. The ousted regime of Saddam Husssein had given France’s Total the right to negotiate exclusively a production sharing contract for the giant fields of Majnoon and Nahr Bin Umar. Saddam’s government also signed in 1997 an agreement with a Lukoil-led consortium to develop the West Qurna field, but the agreement was later terminated.

The inclusion of these fields under INOC’s direct responsibility would exclude foreign companies from any production sharing role and limit them to service or management contracts.

All of which amounts to saying that the Russians may get back into Iraq via the West Qurna field, but it will have to operate under the terms of the national oil company under the political control of the Iraqi government.  The same goes for France which would lose its “production sharing contract” agreed with Saddam Hussein’s government.

Some of the Russian press seems to agree that the terms of Iraqi hydrocarbons law are designed to hurt Russian interests.  Kommersant published a story, “Lukoil to Be Stripped Off A Field In Iraq“:

Russia’s oil blockbuster, LUKOIL, could be stripped off a field in Iraq, lentar.ru reported. The government of that country has presented to parliament a bill implying revision of crude oil agreements concluded in time of Saddam Hussein.

If passed, the bill advocated by today’s government of Iraq will hit two companies of Russia. One of them is LUKOIL that is developing the West Qurna-2 field, the second is Stroitransgaz that has a geological exploration contract for the fourth block of the West Desert, Vremia Novostei reported.

Under the bill that lobbies the U.S. interests, 51 fields and 65 exploration blocks will be split into four categories. The first one will include 27 fields that are currently developed, while the second category will specify the fields with proven reserves located near the fields of the first category. The remaining fields will form the third category and the forth category will be represented by exploration blocks.

Predictably, the fields of the first two categories, including West Qurna-2, will pass under control of the national oil company of Iraq that is being created now.

If the US invasion of Iraq was part of a Great Power battle with Russia, then the key decision on the Iraqi hydrocarbons law may have been to renationalize those Iraqi oil fields that were set to fall into the hands of Russia and France.

Sistani’s Smack Down

Posted by Cutler on April 02, 2007
Iraq / 2 Comments

Shiite Cleric Opposes Return of Baathists in Iraq

It could be a whole new ball game, friends.

The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq has rejected an American-backed proposal to allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to government service, an aide to the cleric said today…

“The office of Grand Ayatollah Sistani is deeply concerned about the new law,” the aide said…

The comments from the ayatollah’s office came a day after Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite and head of the de-Baathification commission, met with the cleric in Najaf. Mr. Chalabi has opposed any serious attempt to roll back the purging of former Baathists from government. After the meeting on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi said at a news conference that Ayatollah Sistani was aware of the law and had told Mr. Chalabi that it “would not be the final one and there would be other drafts.”

Some critics of the Bush administration will celebrate Sistani’s smack down. Here is the thing to remember: among those “critics” will be most of the Neo-cons/Right Zionists who championed de-Baathification in the first place.

Every time the Right Zionists look like they are down for the count in Washington, Sistani gives them a new lease on life in Baghdad.

It happened in 2004 when he demanded elections, overruling the Scowcroft crowd of Right Arabists in Washington that warned against elections, pressed for re-Baathification, and championed ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.

David Wurmser, Gerecht, Perle, and others (Cheney!?) put their faith in Sistani. Can he be said to have disappointed them?

Right Zionists have had their disappointments (and plenty of enemies, to be sure!), but almost all of the disappointments have originated in Washington.  In Iraq, Right Zionists have enemies (i.e., the entire Sunni insurgency, elements of a Sadrist Shiite insurgency, etc.), but few disappointments.

The first “Cutler’s Blog” reader to link to a Right Zionist celebrating Sistani’s proclamation wins…

Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab political elite is already in full revolt. More from the New York Times:

News of the rejection today drew harsh criticism from Sunni Arab leaders.

“In my opinion, our country is now one led by the clerics, and the new political process in Iraq is made to allow those clerics and religious parties to govern Iraq,” said Salim Abdullah, a legislator from the main Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament. “The Iraqis will feel the consequences of that.”

“The Iraqi government is using wilayat al-faqih,” he said, angrily invoking the term that refers to the style of clerical governance popularized by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.

Officials from the secular party of Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, also expressed profound disappointment. Mr. Allawi said in an interview last month that the religious Shiites were using the de-Baathification process to unjustly purge members of his party from public office. Mr. Allawi, a Shiite who is a former Baathist, has said that the Sunni-led insurgency will continue as long as former members of the Baath Party are shut out of significant positions in the government.

Ibrahim al-Janabi, a legislator and senior aide to Mr. Allawi, said today that the lobbying of Ayatollah Sistani by Shiites like Mr. Chalabi “is the weapon of losers.”

I do not envy poor Ryan Crocker, the newly arrived Arabist US ambassador to Iraq. He was all set to inherit Zalmay Khalilzad’s re-Baathification policy. Now, he may inherit the wind.

[Update: Reuters reports that a Beirut-based “spokesman” for Sistani has cast doubt on the veracity of Sistani’s rejection of the de-Baathification bill:

“What some news agencies said quoting who they described as an aide to Sayyed Sistani about his position on the de-Baathification Law was not true,” Hamed al-Khafaf, who is based in Beirut, said in a statement…

“We are surprised by attempts trying to get (the Shi’ite clerical establishment) involved in a case which is the speciality of constitutional organisations,” Khafaf said, without saying what Sistani’s position was on the law.

Ed Wong’s New York Times article quoted “an aide” and reported on “comments from the ayatollah’s office,” but offered no names.  Maybe the whole affair was nothing more than a Chalabi-inspired fabrication.  We’ll see.]

Trouble with Abdullah

Posted by Cutler on March 30, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In several recent posts (here, here, and here), I have been speculating about growing tensions between King Abdullah and the Bush administration.  At times, I thought I was going pretty far out on a limb.  Turns out… not very far at all.

King Abdullah made big news at the Arab Summit meeting in Riyadh this week with a blast at US policy in Iraq.

“In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war,” Abdullah said.

The King’s remark was also, implicitly, a swipe at the US-backed, Shiite-led Iraqi government.  Needless to say, this did not escape the attention of Iraqi officials:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshayr Zebari on Thursday rejected remarks by Saudi Arabia that the US occupation of Iraq was illegal.

“We don’t think there is an illegal occupation because these forces are present and working according to international resolutions, and are accepted by a representative elected Iraqi government,” Zebari said on the sidelines of the Arab summit being held in Riyadh.

At issue, among other things, is the legitimacy of the new balance of power in Iraq that swept the Sunni Arab minority from power.

Arab League foreign ministers at a side meeting of the summit adopted a resolution that seeks to redress the perceived imbalance in the Iraqi security services and the political establishment.

Again, Iraqi government officials seemed miffed.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, called the League’s decision to call for changes in the Iraqi constitution that would tend to favor Sunni Muslims an “Arab diktat.”

All of this appears to fit well with the idea–suggested in an earlier post–that Abdullah represents a position that is relatively soft on Iran but hard on Iraqi Shiite rule.

It looks like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knows that Abdullah, if not the entire “Faisal” branch of the Saudi royal family, are all but lost to the US.

In an article on the Arab Summit, Helene Cooper of the New York Times doesn’t make any mention of factionalism within the Saudi royal family, but does report that Rice bypassed Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal, turning instead to Adel al-Jubeir, a figure traditionally thought to be closer to Prince Bandar.

“We were a little surprised to see those remarks,” R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told a Senate hearing, referring to the statement by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the opening of an Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday. “We disagree with them.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, who was traveling to Riyadh, an administration official said.

The official said the State Department had resisted going straight to Ms. Rice’s counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, so as to try to lower the temperature of the rhetoric. He said Ms. Rice planned to question Mr. Jubeir about the Saudi monarch’s remarks.

Cooper seems to be overlooking some of the factionalism that runs through all of this.  Consider, for example, Cooper’s depiction of King Abdullah’s relations with Cheney:

In fact, King Abdullah has warned American officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Last fall, as a growing chorus in Washington advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with a diplomatic outreach to the largely Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the leader of the Sunni Arab world, argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred.

Mention of the “warning” about backing Iraqi Sunnis almost certainly refers to a now-famous Washington Post Op-Ed piece by Nawaf Obaid, “Stepping Into Iraq.”

In a previous post on Nawaf Obaid (and again, here), however, I argued that Obaid was almost certainly not representing King Abdullah or his faction within the Saudi royal family.  Indeed, I think a strong case could be made that Obaid was speaking for Prince Bandar, if not Bandar’s father, Saudi Defense Minister Crown Prince Sultan.

If I am correct about the nature of the factional split, the Bandar crowd represents something like the opposite of the Abdullah position: they are hawkish on Iran and potentially reconciled to the prospect of Sistani-led Shiite rule in Iraq.  They are Cheney’s Saudis.

All of which means that at least some in the US may not only be increasingly uncomfortable with Saudi King Abdullah but may also have strong preferences for Crown Prince Sultan.

To borrow a map of Saudi factionalism from Cheney’s Middle East guru, David Wurmser, Crown Prince Sultan allegedly represents something like the “King Fahd” branch of the Saudi family.  Meanwhile, King Abdullah and his allies–Foreign Minister Faisal and former Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki–appear to represent something like the “Faisal” branch of the family.

According to Wurmser, all the trouble stems from the “Faisal” branch of the family.

In the 1970s, there was a previous Saudi King from the “Faisal” branch.  In 1975, he was assassinated, under murky circumstances, by a nephew recently returned from the United States.

Hersh’s Redirection

Posted by Cutler on March 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In his most recent New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” Seymour Hersh tries to make some sense out of US efforts to build a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.  In some respects, the essay runs along the same lines as my own effort to trace the lines of such a redirection in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Hersh also gives a nod to the possibility that the “shift” may be championed by factions within the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel but this theme remains relatively underdeveloped and the refusal to take factionalism more seriously tends to trouble his narrative.

Hersh pins the US strategy on Cheney, Right Zionist Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad.  He sees John Negroponte as a critic and hedges on the role of Condoleezza Rice:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney…

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings…

[T]he echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State.

On Saudi factionalism, Hersh reiterates some of the themes that have been developed in previous posts (here, here, and here)–including the idea that Prince Bandar is the a figure of any such new alignment.  But Hersh hedges his bets on the depths of the Saudi schism:

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed…

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

I think the Turki-Bandar split runs deeper than a personality dispute.  The Turki faction is more dovish on Iran and more hawkish on Israel and, in a US context, the Turki faction is closer to Baker than Cheney.

There are some unruly problems that disrupt Hersh’s attempts to craft a coherent narrative.  Hersh takes up the Saudi-Israeli element of the redirection, but he can’t entirely square the circle:

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations…

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction… Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran…

[T]he Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

Isn’t it possible that the Saudi brokered deal at Mecca between Hamas and Fatah represented more of a triumph for one faction than another?  If the Mecca deal was part of a US initiative, it seems strange that the US was not only dissatisfied with the terms, as Hersh suggests, but was also reportedly caught by surprise by the deal.

There are certainly signs of renewed interest in some quarters for an Israeli-Saudi accord but to judge from the headlines, Prince Turki seems unlikely to emerge as a leading source of such enthusiasm.  Right Zionists are not exactly dancing in the streets.

Hersh’s article focuses well-deserved attention on Saudi involvement in Lebanon, although even here I think he understates the conflict between Bandar’s hawkish approach toward Hezbollah and the Turki faction’s quest for reconciliation in Lebanon.

The biggest question is what a new US-Saudi-Israeli strategic alignment would mean for Iraq.  Hersh’s whole analysis of the “redirection” begins with the question of Iraq:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy.

But Hersh is actually weakest in his attempt to link the “redirection” to the politics of Iraq.  As Hersh suggests, the US initially aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites and marginalized Iraqi Sunnis.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites….

Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

One peculiarity in this story: neoconservative ideologues appear, in Hersh’s telling, at the center of both the move toward Iraqi Shiites and a pro-Sunni redirection designed to counteract the “distress” the pro-Shiite tilt has caused.

Is the assumption that neoconservatives have been distressed by empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority?  I see no sign of that distress, in part because Right Zionists close to Cheney have always argued–and continue to argue–that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority could provide a pro-American balance to both Sunni extremists (including the Turki faction in Saudi Arabia!) and Shiite extremists in Iran.

One might expect that a pro-Saudi tilt in US policy would require rollback of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and the containment of Iran.  This might, in fact, reflect the goals of the Baker-Turki factions.

The restoration of Sunni Arab political power (through an anti-Shiite coup, etc.), however, is decidedly not on the agenda of “neo-conservative ideologues.”  Neither, it seems, is a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hersh knows that the signs of “redirection” in Iraq do not appear to include a retreat from Shiite power.

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

If Hersh knows why “the trends have been in the opposite direction” of those implicit in his sense of the redirection, he isn’t saying.

The Baker and the Turki faction are “irreconcilables” when it comes to Shiite power in Iraq, even as they seek to retain but contain the incumbent regime in Iran.  For this crowd, the “trends” in Iraq continue in the wrong direction.

Hersh, however, may be missing a key piece of the puzzle.  The faction behind the redirection–Cheney, his Right Zionist allies, and Bandar–are very hawkish about the Iranian regime but remain quite hopeful about relations with  Iraqi Shiites, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

The evidence for this is quite clear in the case of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies, if not in the case of Cheney himself.

On the Bandar front, the evidence remains murky.  There are, however, some tantalizing clues.

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

Recall that Obaid made headlines with a November 29, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping Into Iraq” that seemed to threaten Saudi action to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq.  Obaid was fired by Turki after the publication of the Op-Ed.

Does Nawaf Obaid represent Bandar’s views?  That remains a speculative proposition.  Nevertheless, Obaid did appear to suggest that his views had some base of support in Saudi Arabia, if not “the Saudi leadership”:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Is Bandar part of “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions”?  Is Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council a strategic position?

In any event, Obaid’s Op-Ed was actually a condensed version of a larger report–“Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective“–published in connection with his time as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Obaid’s report is long and complex and deserves to be read in full.  Nevertheless, the relevant point in the context of Saudi relations with Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is that the report is, as one might predict, extremely hawkish about the pernicious influence of Iran in Iraq.  The chief recommendations in the report concern preparing for a “worst case scenario” in which Saudi Arabia must aggressively “counter meddling by Iran.”

At the same time, the report includes a very important recommendation that was not part of Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed: “Extend a State Invitation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It is also important for the Saudi leadership to open a meaningful discussion with Grand Ayotollah Ali al- Sistani by extending an invitation to him to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an overture would send a strong positive message – both within the Kingdom and in the region at large – regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Shi’ite community. It would also demonstrate that the Kingdom recognizes Ayatollah al-Sistani’s authority and respects those who regard him as the leading Shi’ite Arab cleric. Ayatollah Sistani is not only the foremost religious figure for Iraqi Shi’ites, but his influence in Iraq’s political sphere is equally as important. An official state visit to Saudi Arabia would reassure the Iraqi Shi’ite community that the Saudi leadership fully acknowledges that they are critical to establishing stability in the country.

Prince Bandar meets David Wurmser.  Welcome to Cheney’s world.

It’s the Regime, Stupid

Posted by Cutler on March 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

US policy toward Iran is so much in the news, but the stakes for various players in Washington have rarely been less transparent.

So much of the focus has been framed as one of nuclear non-proliferation: how can the US stop Iran from acquiring nukes?

I would not be the first to note the haunting symmetry between the invocation of Iraqi WMDs and the urgency of a strident non-proliferation agenda ahead of the US invasion and the current focus on Iranian non-proliferation.

Iran hawks are quick to point out a key difference: Iran’s nuclear program is the real deal. For many liberal hawks, Iran becomes one more occasion to bash the Bush administration. Having cried wolf in Iraq, they risk making us complacent about the real threat of Iran.

My interest in the focus on Iranian nukes has more to do with a somewhat different link to the earlier focus on Iraqi WMDs. Both appear to represent a kind of bureaucratic compromise referenced by Paul Wolfowitz.

Indeed, as with Iraq, it would seem that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) have always had a very different set of priorities than other Iran hawks. Right Zionists do fear that the Iranian regime will acquire nukes. But their preferred solution–today as always–is regime change rather than nuclear non-proliferation.

One corollary: after regime change, the prospect of Iranian nukes in a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran are not perceived as a threat. As Michael Rubin has insisted, “democratization” in Iran can “take the edge off the Iranian threat.”

Indeed, for some Right Zionists and Iranian dissidents the administration’s emphasis on nukes is a source of considerable frustration.

All of which goes to say that Right Zionists are Iran hawks. But they do not aim to contain or defeat Iran, they aim to win Iran.

Michael Ledeen at AEI says as much in his latest missive in which he criticizes the Bush administration for “excessive timorousness with regard to Iran.” But then he comes to the point that distinguishes Right Zionists not only from the Bush administration’s halting diplomatic initiatives but also, perhaps, from Cheney’s own brand of bellicose hawkishness :

The proper strategy toward Iran is non-violent regime change, of the sort that was accomplished to the ruin of the Soviet Empire. Military attack against Iran would be a mistake, indeed it would constitute a tragic admission of the utter failure of the United States and her allies to conceive and conduct a serious Iran policy over the course of nearly three decades. Political support for the tens of millions of Iranians who detest their tyrannical leaders is both morally obligatory and strategically sound.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, also at AEI, is considerably less hostile to a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But like Ledeen, Gerecht is a strident advocate of regime change in Iran and has argued in the past that the former is quite compatible with the latter:

It’s much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic’s loss to America–and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory–would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching… It’s likely that an American attack on the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us.

For Gerecht, however, the real key to Iran has always been Iraq. He returns to this theme in his most recent essay, “The Myth of the Moderate Mullahs.” The title is arguably quite ironic: Gerecht seeks to dispel the myth of the moderate Iranian “mullahs” (especially Rafsanjani) but the argument ends with a celebration of moderate Iraqi “mullahs.”

The American presence in Iraq… gives Iraqi Shiites a non-Iranian option, particularly in the face of the Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shia.

If the United States can develop a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis, Iraq’s Shiite clergy may grow more independent and open in its internal debates about proper governance and its own role in an Iraqi democracy. Friendly and dependent Iraqi groups like SCIRI may fairly quickly become difficult for Tehran. Right now, SCIRI has no firm idea of what it is. It has had no test of its democratic commitment. It doesn’t really know what its relationship will be with Iraq’s moderate senior clergy in Najaf. This process of discovery for SCIRI, and for other Shiites in Iraq, may come with speed if the Sunni violence can be checked. This could go badly for Tehran.

This has always been the hope of Right Zionist support for the war in Iraq.

One way to gauge how much sway Right Zionists–and the AIPAC crowd meeting in Washington–continue to have in the Bush administration is to seek signs of the one thing Gerecht has always demanded: “a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis.”

Some argue that a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis is simply not possible. Gerecht doesn’t believe that. But he also thinks the US hasn’t even been trying to achieve that aim since September 2003. Instead, the emphasis has been on incorporation and reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunnis.

Gerecht hasn’t yet said whether he thinks the “surge” marks a departure from this policy. We’ll see. I’m not sure General Petraeus is in Gerecht’s corner on this one.

Meanwhile, it is far less difficult to discern how much sway the AIPAC crowd has with Dem Zionists.

Top U.S. House Democrats have frozen their attempt to limit President Bush’s authority to take military action against Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the leadership decided on Monday to back down from presenting a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats and other pro-Israel lawmakers had argued for the change in strategy.

So much for the Democrats.

Reconcilables & Irreconcilabes

Posted by Cutler on March 09, 2007
Arab League, Iran, Iraq / No Comments

In his first press briefing as Commander of the “Multi-National Force” in Iraq, General David Petraeus offered up what appeared to be a clear and sensible approach to the right mix of political cooptation and military muscle in Iraq:

In an endeavor like this one, the host nation and those who are assisting it obviously are trying to determine over time who are the irreconcilables and who are the reconcilables. And they’re on either end of the sectarian spectrum, of ethnic spectrums, political spectrums and so forth. And of course, what the government is trying to do, what those supporting the government are trying to do are to split the irreconcilables from the reconcilables and to make the reconcilables part of the solution rather than a continuing part of a problem, and then dealing with the irreconcilables differently. And that is certainly what the government of Iraq is doing and what those who are supporting the government of Iraq — what the coalition is also doing, in very, very early stages.

Part of the task, it appears, is to discern how many “reconcilables” there are in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. In response to a National Public Radio question about the role of the Madhi Army, Petraeus replied:

Well, you know, ultimately, that’s a question for — truly for the Iraqi government, for its authorities and certainly its security force leaders.

You know, many of our — of the coalition countries have a variety of auxiliary police or other functions. The challenge, of course, is that some of these organizations have participated in true excesses, and they have been responsible, some of them, some the extremist elements of them — and I think that the challenge has been to determine, you know, how do you incorporate those who want to serve a positive — in a positive way, and as neighborhood watches, let’s say, but unarmed in our own communities, but without turning into something much more than that?

Lest this kind of talk be perceived as part of a Shiite tilt in US policy toward Iraq, Petraeus also went out of his way to stress the importance of even-handed approach that would reach out to reconcilables of all kinds:

With respect, again, to the — you know, the idea of the reconcilables and the irreconcilables, this is something in which the Iraqi government obviously has the lead. It is something that they have sought to — in some cases, to reach out. And I think, again, that any student of history recognizes that there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq

A political resolution of various differences, of this legislation, of various senses that people do not have a stake in the success of the new Iraq, and so forth, that is crucial. That is what will determine in the long run the success of this effort. And again, that clearly has to include talking with and eventually reconciling differences with some of those who have felt that the new Iraq did not have a place for them, whereas I think, again, Prime Minister Maliki clearly believes that it does, and I think that his actions will demonstrate that, along with the other ministers.

All of this would surely be easier if reconcilables and irreconcilables wore name tags. But irreconcilables are not born, they are produced, forged in the heat of political battle. To what terms must would-be reconcilables reconcile themselves? What are the red lines that produce new irreconcilables?

It appears that this question will likely be answered in a regional, rather than a local, context.

To listen to the Arab League, for example, is to realize that some of the “irreconcilables” appear to be Sunni Arab regimes who continue to resist the terms on offer from the “new” Iraq created by the US and its Shiite allies in Iraq.

The Iraqi government… should redraft the constitution and rescind laws that give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds, Arab foreign ministers said in a statement Sunday.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also hinted that Arab governments may take their recommendations on stemming the violence in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council if the government’s efforts to end the crisis fail.

Sunday’s statement was the strongest sign yet from the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab governments in the Middle East that they blame the Iraqi government for the country’s sectarian strife…

In the statement, the ministers set forth several recommendations they want the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consider before they give their full support to a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq that is scheduled to start Saturday in Baghdad…

The ministers also called for revoking an Iraqi law that dismissed senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party from the government

In addition, they called on the Iraqi government to disband Shiite militias, end armed demonstrations and decide on a specific timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Moussa went a step further in his comments, suggesting the U.N. Security Council should demand the reforms suggested by the Arab ministers.

“In my opinion, the mechanism (for ending the strife) should be through the Security Council, without that there will no solution,” Moussa told reporters after Sunday’s meeting.

It seems to me that the message here is simple enough: the Arab League states could definitely be counted as reconcilables, at least once the UN Security Council intervenes in Iraq, redrafts the constitution, embraces re-Baathification, disarms the Shiites, and sends the US packing.

Oh, but wait. These conditions appear to have aroused some concern in Shiite quarters. Shocking, really. It is almost as if there is some risk that producing Sunni Arab reconcilables could simultaneously produce Shiite irreconcilables.

Iraq’s Shiite leaders expressed anger Thursday at criticism leveled against them by the top Arab League official, warning that such remarks could overshadow this weekend’s regional conference to ease the security crisis in Iraq…

In a statement Thursday, the United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shiite bloc in parliament, said Moussa’s comments amounted to “flagrant interference in Iraq’s internal affairs” and “ignored the march of the Iraqi people to build a free and democratic state.”

“At the same time we hope that the regional conference due to be held in Baghdad in March 10 will not be shadowed by such stands” and will not have a “negative impact” on efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis, the statement said.

During a press conference Thursday, the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, also denounced Moussa’s comments, saying they could provoke “sedition and disputes among Iraqi people.”

“We hope that the Arab League will not be part of any dispute or quarrel inside Iraq that might encourage some parties to take some Arab countries to their sides to accomplish their political desires,” al-Attiyah said…

[Moussa’s] comments have reinforced Shiite fears that Iraq’s Sunni neighbors will try to use the conference to pressure them into concessions to the Sunni minority that the Shiites would find unacceptable.

Wow. Petraeus made it sound so easy.

The Flip in the Flop

Posted by Cutler on March 08, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is a relief rally underway that is celebrating the overdue but still welcome maturation of a suddenly contrite Bush administration.

Consider, for example, the Washington Post column by David Ignatius entitled, “After the Rock, Diplomacy.”

The Bush administration… seems to be bending… This conversion is long overdue…

[T]he administration seems to be tacking back toward the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which Bush appeared to dismiss back in December. Bush’s top aides have concluded that they made a mistake in seeming to reject the Baker-Hamilton report and announcing their troop surge a month later as if it were an alternative. In the process, they set back hopes for a bipartisan policy on Iraq — something officials now regret…

The final areas in which the administration is rediscovering diplomacy are its dealings with China and Russia.

One can find this same theme developed in a Los Angeles Times news story by Paul Richter, “White House Foreign Policy Has Shifted.”

Beset by dangers abroad and rivals at home, the Bush administration has embarked on a broad adjustment of its foreign policy in hopes of using its final two years to improve a record now widely viewed as a failure.

Since January, an administration known for stubbornly holding to its positions has launched a new Mideast peace initiative and reopened diplomatic channels with North Korea, Syria and Iran. And as President Bush arrives today in Brazil, he brings a new approach to Latin America…

“There’s a little more than a year and a half before the election, and they recognize that they’re in a hole,” said James Dobbins, a former diplomat and Bush administration envoy now at Rand Corp. “They’re bowing to reality and abandoning prior positions…. They’re looking for a variety of ways to demonstrate that they’re still relevant and still have room for accomplishment.”

Not so fast.

I have two concerns about this relief rally.

First, because it tends to reinforce the false notion that the Bush administration has hitherto stubbornly held to its positions. As I have suggested in a previous post, the Bush administration put the flip in flip-flop. At this point it goes without saying that they also put the flop in flip-flop.

One question for future consideration: how much did the flip create the flop? In other words, how much of the instability in Iraq is a result of particular policies held to stubbornly and how much is a result of an inability to act effectively because there were no particular policies pursued consistently.

Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to retain Sunni Arab authoritarian rule in Iraq, replacing Saddam Hussein with an ex-Baathist. Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to immediately transfer sovereignty to the Shiite majority, and let unfettered “democracy” run its course. But these are now entirely hypothetical questions. The US did not consistently pursue either of these options and the result in Iraq is not something that can be said to have “worked.”

Second, the notion of the maturation of the Bush administration misses the central role of factional struggle in the flip-flopping of the administration. In other words, the issue is rarely one of administration officials who experience a change of heart. Rather, the pattern of policy change seems to reflect a change in the balance of power among competing factions within the administration.

Did the North Korean deal reflect a victory for a faction that is, among other things, dovish on China? You bet.

Did the Cheney faction have a change of heart? Give me a break.

The same goes for Russia, Iraq, Iran, and just about everything else.

Until the factionalism is no longer a factor, it would be extremely naive to consider any policy move made by this administration as decisive.

The battles continue. Nothing has been decided. There is no decider.

[UPDATE: Jim Hoagland’s column in today’s Washington Post–“What Has Happened to Dick Cheney?“–addresses the question of administration factionalism and comes to a strikingly different conclusion:

Is the vice president losing his influence…?

[With regard to the “VP’s… internal policy defeats”]… what goes up must come down.

Reports of a new defeat lie ahead for the hard line on Iran and Syria that is associated with Cheney’s office…

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice… is credited by administration sources with having told Bush in January that he should devote his final two years in office to seeking diplomatic agreements with North Korea and Iran and an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. That account emphasizes that Rice is not simply outflanking Cheney in intermittent internal policy battles but has won full agreement and support from the president on the strategic goals and methods she and her diplomats are pursuing.

This remains to be confirmed by events. But it is clear that Bush has always been much more the decision maker than the Cheney-as-puppeteer image conveyed.

The Libby trial revealed serious splits between Cheney and Bush’s political team…

However… Cheney will not resign over the president’s refusal to take his advice. The only force that could drive him to that dramatic step would be that unshakable sense of loyalty to Bush, who desperately now needs a vice president in stable physical, emotional and political health. That is the equation you want to be watching.

I’m not inclined to quibble with the idea that Bush and Rice are tight. Nor would I dispute that fact that at some key moments in some key meetings Bush actually makes some big decisions (say, for example, the decision to invade Iraq!). But I think Bush lacks the courage of his own convictions, if not the intellectual depth to anticipate the consequences of his decisions. He is in over his head. And this has allowed all factional players to sandbag, sabotage, and undermine the Oval Office when it has suited them.

At times, the Cheney crowd has had the President’s ear and the so-called “Realists” have functioned as a beltway insurgency. Today, it looks like the Cheney faction will be forced to play that role. But the battle lines have not been blurred, no factions have conceded defeat, and the window of the Office of the Vice President is not a particularly vulnerable battlefield position from which to take shots as a factional sniper or saboteur.

Surge or Power Failure?

Posted by Cutler on March 07, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

In early February, as the US was preparing to inaugurate its “surge” in Baghdad, I asked some questions about the mission and goals of any such surge.

At that time, I asked:

Is the US trying to use American soldiers to protect Shiite and Sunni populations from each other in the name of National Reconciliation?

Good luck with that.

My skepticism about the likelihood of American soldiers being able to protect the Shiite population–if one could stipulate population protection as the major goal–was grounded in the fear that there would be days like these:

Suicide bombers… and gunmen firing out of passing cars, turned preparations for a Shiite Muslim religious celebration into a day of carnage on Tuesday. At least 109 Shiite pilgrims were killed and more than 200 wounded with the death toll continuing to rise.

The attacks demonstrated that Sunni militants could still inflict grave damage inside or outside the capital even as the American-backed Baghdad security plan entered its fourth week. The attacks immediately drew Shiite calls for reprisals.

The surge is focused on a Baghdad crackdown and these attacks occurred in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq.  But political consequences will almost certainly registered in Baghdad.  Indeed, if the surge was meant to protect Shiite populations, prevent Shiite reprisals in Baghdad, and achieve national reconciliation (an admittedly big if), then the success of a each major attack on Shiites marks the failure of the surge.

There are other ways of explaining the goals for the surge that are not defined in terms of population protection and do not involve national reconciliation–for example, the surge might ultimately aim more specifically to launch a big counter-insurgency push against the Sunni insurgency, an anti-Shiite coup, or a two-front war on Sunni and Shiite rejectionists.

But if the mission was to have US troops provide security for Iraqi Shiites… well…

Good luck with that.

Comments

Posted by Cutler on March 05, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

For the last couple of weeks, the “Comments” option has been turned off on the blog.  This was an glitch and I think the problem has been remedied. It was never my intent to cut off conversation. On the contrary, I welcome comments and discussion from all readers.

Do They Hate Each Other?

Posted by Cutler on March 05, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Among market watchers, the cover of Time magazine is sometimes viewed as a contrary indicator. By the time any trend reaches the cover, the moment has often passed.

So when Time recently ran a cover about Sunni-Shiite tensions–“Why They Hate Each Other“–my immediate reaction was to predict peace in our time.

Right on cue, Saudi King Abdullah hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a one day summit in Riyadh.

I’ve been writing about ways in which Sunni-Shiite tensions, apart from any self-generating internal logic they may have, also map onto factional fights between Right Zionists and Right Arabists in the US. The was the question at the heart of two ZNet essays, “Beyond Incompetence” and “The Devil Wears Persian.”

More recently, I have also argued that there may be signs that these same factional splits might also map onto some internal political turmoil within the House of Saud.

According to this scenario, Saudi King Abdullah represents a faction seeking to calm regional tensions and foster national reconciliation within the Palestinian Authority, in Lebanon, and, presumably, in Iraq.

Eli Lake of the Right Zionist New York Sun reports that US efforts to rally Sunni regimes against Iran may be facing some significant resistance.

Secretary of State Rice’s “Sunni strategy” is running into trouble.

Her idea was to bolster a ring of moderate Sunni Arab allies as a front-line defense against Iran’s regional ambitions. But the Sunnis don’t appear to be cooperating…

This weekend, Iran’s Holocaust-denying president was fêted by King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch who rules the linchpin Sunni state in Ms. Rice’s attempted anti- Iran alliance. Meanwhile, Iran’s Sunni proxy in Gaza, Hamas, is divvying up key posts with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party in a Palestinian unity government. The negotiations stem from a Saudi-brokered deal forged last month in Mecca, a pact that has worried Israeli leaders and some in Congress because it does not require Hamas explicitly to recognize Israel.

If the Saudis are split on the question of reconciliation with Iran, they are hiding it very well.

Speculation at The Washington Note had earlier focused on Prince Bandar as the figure most likely to back a more aggressive, Cheney-backed Saudi posture in the region.

Rihab Massoud [is]… a close aide of Prince Bandar who served as Charge d’Affaires in the Saudi Embassy in Washington during Bandar’s tenure and frequent absences and who — while formally a Foreign Ministry official — is now on leave to serve as Bandar’s “No. 2″ in his National Security Advisor office…

While reports of how far Bandar has gone in supporting Cheney’s desire for military action vary, insiders report that Bandar has “essentially assured” the Vice President that Saudi Arabia could be moved to accept and possibly support American military action against Iran. Another source reports… that Bandar himself strongly supports Cheney’s views of a military response to Iran.

This is the core of the deep divide between Prince Turki and Bandar — which is also a divide between Foreign Minister Saud and Bandar as well.

The tension is about Iran and how to contain Iran. While Bandar and Rihab Massoud allegedly have affirmed Cheney’s views and are perceived to be Bush administration sycophants, Turki was charting a more realist course for Saudi interests and advising the White House to develop more serious, constructive strategies toward the region…

Bandar’s role is also being celebrated in some Israeli quarters, although these reports depict Bandar as more dove than hawk:

The key figure in Middle Eastern diplomacy is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Arabian National Security Adviser. Bandar is the man behind the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government. He was also active in calming the rival parties in Lebanon, and has tried to mediate between Iran and the U.S. administration…

There are many indications that the prince, who served 22 years as Saudi ambassador to Washington, is behind the quiet slide his country is making toward Israel since the end of the second Lebanon war. In September, Bandar met with Olmert in Jordan. The secret meeting was made public in Israel later.

And yet…

The Cheney faction will not simply disappear.

Iraq may provide the key for Cheney’s revival of Sunni-Shiite tensions. The US appears to embrace a more pronounced tilt toward the Iraqi Shia. The Arab League is barely able to contain its hostility toward the Shiite government in Iraq.

The “crackdown” on Sadr city looks very careful. The US-backed “Shiite Option” in Iraq seems to have legs.

Iraq has always been the core of the US attempt to drive a wedge between the Persian Gulf and the Arab Gulf. It looks set to remain so for the foreseeable future.

The Score

Posted by Cutler on March 02, 2007
Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

A little score keeping.  No surprises, but some helpful guideposts:

1. Rice’s Diplomatic Outreach to Iran: Right Zionists… very upset; Right Arabist establishment… quite delighted.

2. Cheney’s visit to Pakistan: definitely looking like a crackdown on the Taliban (about which I was initially skeptical).  There are some signs that Russia and the US are both competing for the loyalty of the so-called “Tajik clique” that currently “governs” Afghanistan.

3. A pro-Shiite Tilt in Iraq: more howls of protest from the pro-Sunni political elite.

Mr. Negroponte, I Presume

Posted by Cutler on February 28, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Syria / No Comments

It may be time to abandon all talk of “the Bush administration.”  What we have in Washington are two Bush administrations at war with each other.

There is, of course, the Cheney administration, spoiling for a fight with Iran and sweet on the Shiites of Iraq.

Then there is the other administration.  Call it the “establishment” Right Arabist” of the administration.  That is the one that yesterday resurrected the Baker-Hamilton Report and announced plans to support diplomatic discussions with Iran and Syria.

The last time the Bush administration “blinked” on Iran in June 2006, Right Zionists like Richard Perle blamed Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice.

It detracts little from Rice’s influence in the administration to suggest that the “establishment” wing of the administration also received some reinforcement with the formal arrival–also yesterday–of John Negroponte as Deputy Secretary of State, Rice’s number two at Foggy Bottom.

The North Korea deal that so unsettled John Bolton was probably the first sign of a new “establishment” offensive.  Now comes Iran.

The Right Zionists have not yet weighed in about the news of the diplomatic initiative with Iran and Syria, but it won’t be long before the battle is joined.

Still, all is not lost for the Right Zionists.  There is, of course, still Cheney and his wing of the administration.

And–surprise!–things are looking up in the Senate where Dem Zionists are reliably hawkish on Iran and Syria.

Just for kicks, check out Michael Ledeen’s effusive praise for Democrat Senator Carl Levin:

Carl Levin, NeoCon [Michael Ledeen]

Read it twice, I had to. But Carl Levin has endorsed my longstanding proposal to go after terrorist training camps and weapons assembly facilities in Syria and Iran.

Carl Levin, you say?

Yeah, Carl Levin, the newly minted neocon from Michigan. My kinda guy. Just read it and cheer. It’s from hearings yesterday:

SEN CARL LEVIN (D-MI): “Now, in terms of the weapons coming in from Syria, those weapons that you’ve described as coming in from Syria and perhaps other Sunni neighbors are killing our troops. Do we have a plan to address the Syrian weapon source — of killings of our troops?”

JOHN MCCONNELL, Director of National Intelligence: “Sir, I know the military is working that border area to close it down from not only weapons but also jihadists coming in —”

LEVIN: “It’s more than just — we’re trying to close down the Iranian border area too. The problem is that these weapons are coming from a state which is — doesn’t recognize Israel either, just like Iran doesn’t. We’ve got to try to stop weapons coming into Iraq from any source that are killing our troops. I agree with the comments about trying to stop them coming in from Iran, I think we have to try stop them that are going to the Sunni insurgents as well as to the Shia. I was just wondering, does the military have a plan to, if necessary, to go into Syria to go to the source of any weapons coming from Syria? That are going to Sunni insurgents? That are killing our troops? … I think we ought to take action on all fronts including Syria and any other source of weapons coming in, obviously Iran is the focus – but it shouldn’t be the sole focus.”

(Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 02/27/07)

A Shiite Tilt?

Posted by Cutler on February 27, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Those trying to discern any implicit political tilt to the Baghdad security plan should not be satisfied by White House professions of (and demands for) political neutrality and even handedness.

Instead, the best way to trace the contours of US policy is to listen for the howls of protest.

Here comes one now, and it suggests a pro-Shiite tilt.  Here is the Associated Press story:

The most prominent Sunni in Iraq’s fragmented government said Monday that the United States is going to have to come up with a “Plan B” if the current crackdown fails to stem the violence in the capital.

Tariq al-Hashemi, the Sunni vice president, also warned that the Shiite-led government has no choice but to use force against sectarian militias, even though it may be too late to keep them from resuming killings and kidnappings when the Baghdad security crackdown ends…

The option of a political solution failed, and there is no choice now for the government except to use force against these militias – but it’s too late,” he said…

“Up to now, legal procedures have not been observed,” al-Hashemi said. “The human rights of Iraqis have not been respected as they should be. In this regard, this (security) plan is being implemented in the same way the previous ones were. This is surely regrettable.”

At the same time, he said efforts to lure Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms was “moving at the speed of turtles” because the Shiite parties are reluctant “to bring them into the political process.”

“They view the resistance as a terror group that is no different from al-Qaida and that’s the problem we are facing now,” he said of the Shiites.

Clear & Present Dangers

Posted by Cutler on February 12, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism / No Comments

The US is beating the drums for war with Iran.  The news is full of chatter about the emergent US-Sunni Arab alliance against Iran, discussed last summer in my ZNet essay, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

In the last few days, however, the Bush administration has focused on allegations that Iran is supplying deadly weapons used against US forces in Iraq.  The New York Times started the cycle of coverage with a Michael Gordon article that has already generated well-deserved criticism.

Now, major news outlets are reporting on a “long-awaited” presentation of more alleged evidence that Iran has been supplying lethal weapons to Iraqi Shiites.  Both the New York Times and the Washington Post carried news of this unusual “briefing.”  The Post describes the circumstances of the briefing:

The officials said they would speak only on the condition of anonymity, so the explosives expert and the analyst, who would normally not speak to the news media, could provide information directly. The analyst’s exact title and full name were not revealed to reporters. The officials released a PowerPoint presentation including photographs of the weaponry, but did not allow media representatives to record, photograph or videotape the briefing or the materials on display.

Why does it seem like the Bush administration doesn’t want to be pinned down on this one?

Let’s stipulate, if only for the sake of argument, that the allegations are true.  What does it imply about Iraq?  That Iraqi Shiites represent the greatest threat to US forces in Iraq?

Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht argues that Iraqi Shiite militias are not the central problem in Iraq:

Our role now is to stop the radicalization on the Shia side–and you can only do this by breaking the back of the [Sunni] insurgency, something we’ve diligently avoided doing since the fall of 2003. And it’s worthwhile to repeat: They, not the Shia militants, are responsible for the vast majority of American dead and wounded.

One might argue that Iraq Shiite militias are now the greatest threat to Iraqi political stability and national reconciliation, as the Pentagon recently suggested.  Even if that were true, however… even if the US were in Iraq primarily to help achieve national reconciliation… it would still be a very big leap to suggest that Iran is the greatest threat to US troops.

The Bush administration seems determined to “reveal” details about Iran’s efforts to foment violence in Iraq.  What it actually reveals, along the way, is something about the way it views public opinion regarding US foreign policy.  In the case of Iran, as in Iraq, the Bush administration assumes that there is absolutely no appetite for “foreign entanglements” or military adventures unless American lives are (allegedly) directly threatened.

Even when the Bush administration has “intelligible” (if not morally defensible) imperialist ambitions, it feels compelled to develop arguments that focus on immediate threats to US personnel rather than geo-political strategy.

The new “intelligence” on Iran tells us less about Iran than it does about Bush administration views regarding the popular political legitimacy of US empire.

Right Arabist Paul Pillar makes a similar point to Laura Rozen in the National Journal.  [Note: the excerpt on Rozen’s blog leaves off the final part of the Pillar quote about the “more legitimate” concern about the Iranian nuclear threat… As I’ve argued before, many Right Arabists have a soft spot for a hard line on Iran.]

Even if this PowerPoint presentation eventually gets made public … what does this show us as to where Iran is really coming from?” [former National Intelligence Council Middle East analyst Paul] Pillar asked. “What is the larger significance? Even if Iranian assistance to an Iraqi group is proven to everyone’s satisfaction, the [administration’s] policy never rested on that. The policy [is being driven by a] much larger sense of Iran as the prime bete noire in the region, and that is why the administration is trying to put together these coalitions with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Sunni states, that we’ve been reading about. None of this hinges [on the Iran dossier]. We are not going to call this off if we can’t prove that Iran is furnishing munitions to Iraqi groups…

It is just one more thing — along with the nuclear issue, which is really more legitimate in a basic kind of way — [in the administration’s case that] Iran is doing nasty things, therefore it’s appropriate to beat the drum about Iran. That’s what it’s come down to.”

Geopolitical strategy may be the underlying basis for US policy in the Gulf.  But the Bush administration seems convinced the American people don’t think it is worth the effort.

Hence, the necessary centrality in all cases of an immediate risk, however twisted or convoluted the argument.

The Bush administration, for all its bellicosity, has internalized the anti-imperialist “new isolationism” of the American public.

Rogue JAM

Posted by Cutler on February 08, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

One day after the official “launch” of the Baghdad surge and crackdown, here come the (earliest and totally preliminary) answers to the questions about US policy in Iraq:

Target #1: “Rogue” elements of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi Army.  Reuters has the details:

U.S. and Iraqi forces detained Iraq’s deputy health minister on Thursday, a senior member of a radical Shi’ite political group, in the first major sign that a security crackdown in Baghdad was under way.

The U.S. military, without naming anyone, said a senior Health Ministry official had been detained on suspicion of infiltrating rogue members of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia into the ministry.

Ministry officials and witnesses said deputy Health Minister Hakim Zamili, from Sadr’s movement, was detained during the raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on the Health Ministry in Baghdad.

“He is suspected of funding rogue JAM through large-scale employment of militia members,” a U.S. military statement said, using the acronym for the militia.

BBC even has Zamili’s picture.

So, if this is “rogue” rage, where is the “official” Sadrist movement?

Here is the Financial Times on that rather urgent question:

Last August, this correspondent observed US troops search one of the [health] complex’s buildings and arrest guards whom they believed may have hidden kidnap victims inside.

Later in the nearby battalion headquarters, the Iraqi commander to whom the captives had been transferred was besieged by phone calls from his superiors demanding the men be let go.

Sadrists say that Mr Sadr himself has directed his followers not to confront the US military or the Iraqi government, although this policy may be tested by such a high-profile arrest.

Right.  So, has Sadr been coopted by the Cheney crowd?  Or is he simply lying low.  Is the US moving ahead with a pre-approved program of helping Sadr gain control of his own “unruly” rank and file?  Or is the US spoiling for a fight with Sadr, using this high-profile arrest to draw the Sadrists into a confrontation?

WTF

Posted by Cutler on February 07, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

Right now, I only have questions about US policy in Iraq.

1. Is the US preparing for a big counter-insurgency push against the Sunni insurgency?

The Haifa Street battles and the downing of several US helicopters by what appear to be Sunni insurgent forces tend to make it seem that the US is returning to the aggressive anti-Sunni moves from the summer of 2003.

At the same, Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post has been saying that Prime Minister Maliki and his Shiite governing coalition opposed the surge because they really only wanted the US to get out of the way so the Shia could complete the “ethnic cleansing” of Sunni Baghdad.

If Shiite power–the so-called “80 Percent Solution”–is the aim, why not simply “release” the Shia?

2. Is the US preparing to take on Sadr and the Shiite militias?

Recent attacks on senior Sadrist figures seems to point in that direction.

At the same time, the US continues to stand by Maliki even as he appears to be quite dependent on Sadr.

If the goal is to try to close “Pandora’s box” and restore Sunni minority control, why not back a Sunni coup and “release” a proto-Baathist attack on the Shia?

3. Is the US trying to use American soldiers to protect Shiite and Sunni populations from each other in the name of National Reconciliation?

Good luck with that.

4. Is the US preparing for a two-front war against Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency?

Please…

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?

War and Pizza

Posted by Cutler on January 27, 2007
Iraq, Isolationism / 2 Comments

No religious ideology can survive without the ritualistic repetition of a catechism.

I can think of no other explanation for the fact that the editorial page of the New York Times constantly hammers away at the same moralistic themes that are undoubtedly already familiar to readers but which presumably only become articles of faith through regular recitations.

The sacred only lives through sacrifice, responsibility, productivity, and work. In a nutshell, the so-called Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. The valorization and celebration of sacrifice–as an end unto itself; as synonymous with all that is Good–is the core of the New York Times editorial catechism.

I’ve posted about this before, on “holy” days of the secular calendar, especially September 11th and Thanksgiving.

The sacrificial motif provides the ideological unity behind any sign of editorial diversity at the NY Times.

Sacrifice is tie that binds the hearts of both pro-war and anti-war columnists.

In one recent column–“Make Them Fight All of Us“–Thomas Friedman criticizes Bush and Cheney for an effete, unmanly approach to war. It seems they don’t understand what a real “surge” is all about:

Mr. President, you want a surge? I’ll surge. I’ll surge on the condition that you once and for all enlist the entire American people in this war effort

But the way you have fought this war – with our pinkie – is contemptible…

Put down that pinkie! Presumably, a real surge requires something more.

[I]f the rest of the world saw all of us sacrificing to win this war, we might actually be able to enlist them to help a little…

Friedman is hardly new to the sacrifice theme. Here, for example, is “Learning From Lance” from July 2005.

What I find most impressive about [Lance] Armstrong [and his cycling team]… [is] their abilities to meld strength and strategy – to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow – seem to be such fading virtues in American life

Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that’s the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.

The anti-war crowd at the NY Times draws from the same playbook, as if anti-war mobilization were necessarily identical to pro-war mobilization. Check out Andrew Rosenthal from August 31, 2006.

Or Bob Herbert’s recent essay on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Lost Voice of Protest” (also here):

[N]ot enough voices of protest are being raised…The anger quotient is much too low. You can’t stop America’s involvement in a senseless war… if your greatest passion is kicking back with pizza and beer and tuning in to “American Idol.”

As it happens, there are voices of protest being raised in Washington today and that is all to the good.

Of course, some of those good people were apparently misled by the signs on the buses in DC that said, “Free Shuttle to the Mall.” A simple misunderstanding.

But I cannot see why it is that liberal anti-war critics at the Times can’t keep there hands off my pizza, beer, and television. And my salted peanuts.

Presumably, one of the reasons to go out and make all those fine speeches is to get on TV (or at least C-SPAN) and sway public opinion against the war. But the vast majority of Americans are already opposed to this war. They like pizza and do not like war. Where is the conflict?

Herbert invokes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and he is surely right to claim King for his cause. Like Herbert, King was a communitarian moralist. Herbert writes:

And too many black Americans are willing and even eager to see themselves in the culturally depraved lineup of gangsters, pimps and whores.

Dr. King would be 78 now, and I can’t believe that he would be too thrilled by what’s going on. In his view: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

But isn’t there something to be said for those who passively reject? After all, much of King’s tactical répertoire involved passive resistance. Moralistic rhetoric aside, King often located specific forms of leverage in the refusal to participate. Exhibit A: the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

What would it mean to begin by identify all the specific ways in which an unacceptable status quo is preserved through active participation. Just to get the ball rolling, I propose two major areas where there is enormous leverage–and far more pleasure–in passive resistance than in active participation: work and war.

Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? Too busy with the gangsters, pimps and whores, I guess.

A soldier named Daniel Caldwell said it well in the Washington Post: “I want to go back and play my PlayStation.”

Forget work. Forget war. Pass the beer and pizza.

Divided From This Moment

Posted by Cutler on January 26, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The easiest time to be an Iraq war critic is when the US has faced both Sunni and a Shiite uprisings, as it did in April 2004. At such times it appears that the US has precious few Iraqi allies–apart from collaborating Kurds.

At the same time, there are at least two very different and potentially incompatible positions from which to hit the Bush administration during such periods.

Some critics, including Right Arabists of the Baker/Scowcroft variety, want the US to try to coopt the Sunni insurgency and help restore Sunni Arab rule in Iraq, even if by extra-constitutional means (i.e., a coup by Sunni opposition forces in Jordan).

Other critics, including Right Zionists of the David Wurmser/Reuel Marc Gerecht variety, want the US to do the opposite: to crush the Sunni insurgency in order to woo Shiites–including those loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr–and use popular democracy to tilt the balance of power in Iraq toward Shiite political dominance.

After inaugurating the war along Right Zionist lines in early 2003, the Bush administration has essentially waffled between these two alternatives ever since.

At one point in late December 2006, it appeared that the Bush administration was going to move decisively one way or the other.

Bush’s January 10, 2006 was a “flop,” however because it appeared to stick with the muddle in the middle, sticking with Zalmay Khalilzad’s “national reconciliation” project, along with a troop surge. As a result, critics of all stripes are having a field day because after all the deliberations and debate, the Bush administration appears to be “staying the course.”

Here is the strange part: there seem to be signs that the Bush administration is actually changing course with an increasingly dramatic tilt toward the Iraqi Shia–the so-called “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Doctrine.”

But they seem quite reluctant to say so. Why? Why is it that the Bush administration has never come clean about its tilt toward the Shia?

Of course, the simple reason is that they don’t want to “confess” to such a plan because some very powerful forces oppose a tilt toward the Shia.

Do they think folks like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft won’t notice if the policy is never declared? Do they think Sunni Arabs in Iraq won’t notice? Do they think King Abdullah of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, or Egyptian President Mubarak won’t notice? Do they think Americans would notice (or care?) about such things? I don’t get it.

Here are some signs of the (unstated) tilt toward the Iraqi Shia:

US counter-insurgency efforts in Baghdad are, thus far, focusing on Sunni insurgents. The Haifa Street operations that I mentioned in an earlier post have continued.

US relations with Muqtada al-Sadr appear to be improving as the UK and US forces actively court political leaders in Sadr City and appear ready to coopt the Shia militia as part of a security plan to protect Shiites from sectarian attacks.

Iraqi Sunni politicians have taken notice and the spirit of “national reconciliation” in the Iraqi parliament is being seriously challenged. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Iraq’s Shiite prime minister exchanged heated words with a Sunni Arab lawmaker over the country’s new security plan, leading parliament to temporarily suspend a raucous debate and Iraqi television to halt its coverage…

The parliamentary clash took place as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki presented his arguments in favor of the U.S.-backed security plan he called a “strategy to impose the law.” The plan would leave no havens for militants, regardless of religious or political affiliations, he told lawmakers.

“Some say this plan targets Sunnis or Shiites. The fact is this plan targets all who stand in the way of the law,” Maliki said.

Sheik Abdel Nasser Janabi, a Sunni Arab cleric and legislator from a region south of Baghdad notorious as the “triangle of death,” responded by protesting a major sweep by U.S. and Iraqi troops Wednesday through Haifa Street, a Sunni neighborhood near the Green Zone that is dominated by anti-government militants. Sporadic blasts continued Thursday in the area where more than 30 gunmen have been killed in fierce fighting, Iraqi officials said.

Janabi demanded that security forces lift their cordon around the area, insisting to loud protests from the Shiite-dominated chamber that “there are no terrorists in Haifa Street.”

“Aren’t there terrorists in Sadr City or Shula?” he said, referring to two Shiite militia strongholds.

Janabi accused Maliki’s administration of purging Sunni Arabs from the government, arresting pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia and imposing politically motivated death sentences, a possible reference to the execution last month of former President Saddam Hussein.

“We cannot trust this premiership,” Janabi said, as the shouting escalated around him.

Maliki retorted, “All I could tell our brother the sheik is that he will trust in this premiership once we present his file and hold him accountable for it.” As Shiite legislators loudly applauded, he said, “One hundred fifty kidnapped individuals in his area — why doesn’t he talk about that?”

Mahmoud Mashadani, parliament speaker and a Sunni, interrupted the exchange, chiding Maliki for making “unacceptable” accusations and adding with heavy sarcasm that “the security plan will be very successful because you people are divided from this moment.”

Has the US now “picked a winner” in Iraq’s civil war? Is it prepared to ally itself fully with Iraqi Shiites?

If so, listen for more howls of protest from Right Arabists. And smug smiles from Right Zionists.

Cheney’s 2007 State of the Union Address

Posted by Cutler on January 25, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Iraq / No Comments

The day after George W. Bush stood before the US Congress, Vice President Cheney delivered his 2007 State of the Union Address on CNN.

Much of it goes to show that Cheney continues to be committed to his original interest in the Wurmser-Gerecht outlook on Iraq.

Iraq, Great Power Rivalry, & The Collapse of Containment

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: [Saddam Hussein] was being contained as we all know —

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: He was not being contained. He was not being contained, Wolf.

BLITZER: — by the no-fly zones in the north and the south.

CHENEY: Wolf, the entire sanctions regime had been undermined by Saddam Hussein. He had –

BLITZER: But he didn’t have stockpiles of weapons of —

CHENEY: – corrupted the entire effort to try to keep him contained. He was bribing senior officials of other governments. The oil-for-food program had been totally undermined, and he had, in fact, produced and used weapons of mass destruction previously, and he retained the capability to produce that kind of stuff in the future.

BLITZER: But that was in the ’80s.

CHENEY: You can go back and argue the whole thing all over again, Wolf, but what we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do; the world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq, there’s a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government, Saddam has been brought to justice and executed, his sons are dead, his government is gone and the world is better off for it.

The Shiite Option & the Najaf-Qom Rivalry

BLITZER: How worried are you of this nightmare scenario, that the U.S. is building up this Shiite-dominated Iraqi government with an enormous amount of military equipment, sophisticated training, and then in the end, they’re going to turn against the United States?

CHENEY: Wolf, that’s not going to happen. The problem that you’ve got –…

BLITZER: Here’s the problem that I see, and tell me if I’m wrong — that he seems to be more interested right now, the Prime Minister of Iraq, in establishing good relations with Iran and Syria than he is with moderate Arab governments, whether in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

CHENEY: I just think you’re wrong, Wolf. He’s been working with all of them. They’re all in the neighborhood. He’s got to develop relationships with all of them, and he is.

BLITZER: Because he’s a Shia, and these moderate Arab governments are Sunni.

CHENEY: He’s also an Iraqi. He’s not a Persian. There’s a big difference between the Persians and the Arabs, although they’re both Shia. You can’t just make the simple statement that he’s Shia, therefore he’s the enemy. The majority of the population in Iraq is Shia. And for the first time, we’ve had elections, and majority rule will prevail there. But the notion that somehow the effort hasn’t been worth it, or that we shouldn’t go ahead and complete the task, is just dead wrong.

On a related note: the Cheney-Bandar Saudi oil war on Iran is very much in the news.  It is all the buzz on NBC and at the World Economic Forum.

The Incompetence of Others

Posted by Cutler on January 24, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / No Comments

I have been content to leave most of the discussion of the “Plame/Libby” case to others, especially National Journal reporter Murray Waas–especially via his blog–and to Swopa over at Needlenose.  For background, check out the Wikipedia entry.

Until the opening day of the trial, the Libby case looked set to be an occasion for critics to celebrate the fact that at least one leading administration official was going to be held accountable for something related to the war in Iraq.  I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, is on trial for perjury.

Now, however, it looks like the trial may shed some light on one major axis of Bush administration factional politics–what Waas calls “an inherent division… between the OVP [Office of the Vice President] and the White House staff.

Here is how Michael Isikoff of Newsweek is reporting the opening of the trial:

Libby, it was widely thought by legal experts, was going to be the good soldier. He would play it safe at his trial in order to preserve his options; mainly, if convicted, to seek a presidential pardon before Bush leaves office.

But no sooner did he start his opening statement Tuesday morning than defense lawyer Ted Wells shocked the courtroom and all but tossed the “pardon strategy” out the window. Seeking to rebut Fitzgerald’s contention that Libby had lied about his knowledge of Plame’s CIA employment in order to save his job with Cheney, Wells shot back: “Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job in the Bush administration. He was concerned about being set up, he was concerned about being made the scapegoat”…

[The trial] has raised the prospect that the Libby trial will now turn into a horror show for the White House, forcing current and former top aides to testify against each other and revealing an administration that has been in turmoil over the Iraq war for more than three years

Wells contended, it was Rove—the political strategist—who had to be protected at all costs. He was, Wells said, “the lifeblood of the Republican Party” and the man George W. Bush absolutely needed for the coming re-election campaign. Indeed, after [then-press secretary Scott] McClellan issued a public statement exonerating Rove of any involvement in the leak (a statement that turned out three years later to be false), Cheney and Libby huddled about the matter. McClellan had cleared Rove but at that point had said nothing about Libby, leaving the implication that Libby had leaked but Rove hadn’t. Cheney personally wrote a note, an excerpt of which Wells read to the jury and highlighted by displaying on an audio-visual machine during his opening statement: “Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others,” Cheney’s note read.

The translation, according to Wells: The vice president was not going to allow Karl Rove to be protected and Libby to be sacrificed…

The opening statements underscored what many had already suspected: that Cheney—who is slated to be called to testify by the defense—will be a crucial witness in the trial…

Let the shooting begin.

Cheney does not appear likely to hang Libby out to dry.  Here is a part of the transcript of a recent Cheney interview with Fox News.

WALLACE: Your former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, goes on trial this coming week on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury…

CHENEY: He’s a friend. He’s a good man. He is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever known…

WALLACE: Is he honest?
CHENEY: I believe he’s one of the more honest men I know. He’s a good man. And I obviously appreciate very much his service on my staff over the years and have very high regard for him and his family…

WALLACE: Given the fact that it now turns out that Libby wasn’t the one who first leaked the name of Valerie Plame, what do you think of the fact that he’s the only one who’s being prosecuted in this case?

CHENEY: I have strong views on the subject, but I’m not going to talk about it…

WALLACE: But there’s nothing that you have heard, nothing that you have read that shakes your confidence in Scooter Libby’s integrity?

CHENEY: That’s correct.

That would seem to raise the specter of an open-air split between Cheney and the White House.

I have suggested that there are probably several layers of substantive, policy elements to this split, as well.

The Libby trial may illuminate a split between Cheney and Rove in ways that help make some sense of the rhythm of Bush administration foreign policy.

Among other things, my sense is that the “muddle-with-a-surge-on-top” that emerged from the White House “Iraq Policy Review” reflected an unwillingness or inability to reconcile the James Baker approach to Iraq and the Cheney faction.

But most of all, I wonder what it might mean for the White House to try to marginalize a sitting Vice President who does not serve at the pleasure of the President.

Back in the Ford administration, Rumsfeld reportedly nudged Nelson Rockefeller off the 1976 re-election ticket.  But that hardly serves as a precedent for the current situation.  Nobody is arguing that the Constitution guarantees the Vice President a spot on the next political ticket.  It does, however, guarantee the Vice President formal autonomy as an elected official.

I do not think Cheney will actually move into the “opposition.”  This would be untenable for the White House.  At the level of factional politics, Cheney may ultimately have his way–in Iraq and elsewhere.

“We Need Some Leverage”

Posted by Cutler on January 23, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

When tracing US policy toward Iran, keep one eye on the aircraft carrier groups and one eye on the gas pump.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had this to say about Iran:

Gates said he had told the leaders of U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the Iranians “believe they have the United States at some disadvantage because of the situation in Iraq.”

“To be precise, I told them both that I thought the Iranians were overplaying their hand and that one of the consequences of that is that they have raised real concerns on the part of a number of countries in the region and beyond about their intentions,” he told reporters…

With regard to U.S. failure thus far to achieve stability in Iraq, Gates said, “I think that our difficulties have given them (the Iranians) a tactical opportunity in the short term, but the United States is a very powerful country.”

Asked about the prospects for military conflict with Iran, whose nuclear program is seen by the Bush administration as a growing threat to U.S. interests, Gates said, “There are many courses of action available that do not involve an open conflict with Iran – there’s no need for that.”

Gates said that although he had publicly advocated negotiating with Iran as recently as 2004, he now advises against that.

Right at this moment, there’s really nothing the Iranians want from us,” he said. “And so, in any negotiation right now we would be the supplicant,” asking Iran to stop doing such things as enriching uranium for its nuclear program.

We need some leverage, it seems to me, before we engage with the Iranians,” Gates added.

Gates has come around to the Caspar Weinberger school of dealing with Iran.  In the 2004 report of the Council on Foreign Relations Iran Task Force that Gates co-chaired with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the proposal to engage Iran prompted Weinberger protégé and Task Force member Frank Carlucci to offer a “dissenting view” (published as part of the report, page 49):

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

Hence, the Gates quest for “some leverage.”

Floating Leverage

Sometimes leverage comes in the form of aircraft carriers like the USS John C. Stennis.

The deployment of the USS John C. Stennis to the Middle East will put two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region for the first time since the 2003 Iraq invasion, in a clear response to Iran’s aggressive posture in the region…

“This demonstrates our resolve to do what we can to bring security and stability to the region,” Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said Tuesday…

A second U.S. carrier will significantly boost U.S. air power in the region and serve to remind Iran of American firepower. Its arrival will give the Pentagon two carriers in the region for the first time since 2003, Aandahl said.

After departing Tuesday from its homeport of Bremerton, Wash., the Stennis will stop in San Diego to pick up an air wing of more than 80 planes, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, the Navy said…

The Stennis and its 3,200 sailors lead a strike group consisting of the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, three Navy destroyers – the USS O’Kane, Preble and Paul Hamilton – the submarine USS Key West, the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz, as well as the supply ship USNS Bridge, the Navy said.

Diplomatic Dead Ends

In addition to the naval buildup in the Gulf–and the troop surge in Iraq–there are the more “diplomatic” forms of leverage.

Columnist Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post reports that the search for leverage will not focus on the United Nations:

While Rice was traveling in the Middle East and Europe last week, American allies were being told that Washington would not seek new and tougher Security Council sanctions against Iran, as has been widely expected…

Russia’s unexpectedly strong opposition even to weak sanctions adopted only after months of debate has deepened Bush’s growing disillusionment with President Vladimir Putin.

The American leader is determined not to get caught in “a dead end” at the United Nations, according to U.S. officials.  Bush is said to feel that Putin went back on personal pledges to support meaningful U.N. action in return for Bush’s committing to diplomatic efforts last June.

Petro Leverage

According to Hoagland, the key plan for developing “leverage” in the Gulf depends on the Saudis and oil leverage.

Instead of returning to the United Nations for a new resolution, the administration has launched a broad effort to assemble an economic coalition of the willing to confront Iran. Trade, investment and the price of oil are the primary targets Washington chose for this coalition.

The idea of trade and investment “sanctions” have long been championed by Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But the oil leverage is the central strategic element in the new “campaign” for leverage.

The campaign received a big boost last week when it became clear that Saudi Arabia is finally worried enough about Iran to use oil as a weapon against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saudi oil minister Ali Nuaimi publicly opposed Iranian calls for production cuts by the OPEC cartel to halt a decline that has taken crude oil from $78 a barrel in July to just above $50 a barrel last week.

The Saudis have enough reserve production capacity to swing OPEC prices up and down at will. Their relatively small population gives them a flexibility in postponing revenue gains that populous Iran lacks. Nuaimi’s pronouncement, although cast as a technical matter that had nothing to do with politics, seemed to give teeth to recent warnings issued in private by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, that the kingdom will now respond to Iranian hostility with its own confrontational tactics.

High oil  prices have always benefited Iranian leverage in the region.  Saudi leverage has always stemmed from its ability to flood the market and wait for other oil exporting countries to cry uncle.

The role of Bandar in this campaign is crucial because it goes to the heart of a long-term factional fight within the House of Saud, as Hoagland well understands.

Divisions within the Saudi royal family over how to handle Iran also should be handled with care, not bluster, by Washington.

Recall that the divisions within the Saudi royal family recently surfaced in late November with the publication of an op-ed by Nawaf Obaid.  Obaid explicitly endorsed the oil threat and seemed to claim to speak for Bandar:

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

[Saudi King] Abdullah may decide to strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high prices. The result would be to limit Tehran’s ability to continue funneling hundreds of millions each year to Shiite militias in Iraq and elsewhere.

Until recently, King Abdullah and oil minister Ali Nuaimi (also, Ali Naimi) have been seen as supporting the oil price spike.  But Naimi, in particular, might have been “moved” by recent chatter about a cabinet shuffle that would remove him from the oil ministry.

Iranian Endgame

Perhaps the goal, in this quest for leverage, is to establish the preconditions for engagement with the regime.

For now, the folks like Richard Perle, still hoping that US leverage would be used to destabilize the regime itself, appear frustrated with the Bush administration.

Perle expressed astonishment at the lack of support granted by the West to Iranian opposition movements who wish to overthrow the regime of the Ayatollahs.

“I’m not convinced that we have a lot of time. Given the peril that would result, its astonishing to me that we do not now have a serious political strategy with Iran,” he said, adding he thought regime change is “the only significant effective way” to deal with the Iranian threat.

“If we continue on our current course, we have only a military option. So what I’m urging, and this should have happened a very long time ago, is that we make a serious effort to work with the internal (Iranian) opposition,” Perle said.

Any “leverage” that Gates can find may make Perle’s case for him.  The internal opposition is showing some early signs of renewed activity.

[UPDATE: those hoping to exacerbate tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran can only be pleased by the confrontation playing out on the streets of Lebanon.

The clash over Lebanon may represent one locus of disagreement within the Saudi royal family.  Saudi King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal have both worked hard to heal the breach between Hezbollah and the Saudi-backed Hariri/Siniora crowd in Lebanon.  Meanwhile, over at the Telegraph Bandar is mentioned as a link between the Saudis and CIA efforts to undermine Hezbollah.]

The Axis of Irbil

Posted by Cutler on January 20, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

When the US detained several groups of Iranian officials in late December and mid-January, the whole affair seemed to simply be part of a larger media campaign of anti-Iranian rhetoric from the Bush administration. The raid that resulted in the mid-January detention of five Iranians coincided with Bush’s January 10, 2007 speech in which he asserted,

Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

The raids that led to the mid-January detentions were undoubtedly part of the larger media campaign that also included bellicose remarks from Vice President Cheney.

More recently, however, Eli Lake at the Right Zionist New York Sun has raised the ideological stakes with reporting on the detainees now being dubbed The Irbil Five by the editorial page of that paper.

Lake’s report includes two new claims about the Irbil Five. The first claim is that there is–surprise!–factional fighting within the Bush administration about how to deal with the Iranians.

The American government is deadlocked on the issue of whether to allow five Iranians captured last Wednesday in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to return home, according to three administration officials…

On one side of the bureaucratic debate are the CIA and the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau. According to one administration official familiar with the debate, they argue that the prolonged detention of the suspected Quds force operatives will provoke a further escalation with Iran and scuttle the Iraqi government’s plan to help secure Baghdad with American soldiers. On the other side of the debate are the Pentagon’s special operations office, the Marines, and the Army — which have pleaded that the captured Iranians are too great a danger to American forces to return to Iran.

This split is interesting, if not altogether surprising. If true, it tends to confirm the idea that much of the uniformed military brass in the US is decided hawkish about Iran. Lake doesn’t mention Cheney as a player in this factional fight. That seems unlikely.

But Lake drops a bomb toward the end of his report:

One intelligence official who has seen much of the early reporting on the Irbil raid said yesterday that it linked the Iranians to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army operations in Kirkuk as well as anti-Kurdish operations from Ansar al-Sunna. Ansar al-Sunna is an outgrowth of the defeated Ansar al-Islam, a Qaeda-affiliated Sunni organization that tried to assassinate one of Iraq’s deputy prime ministers, Barham Salih.

This reference to Sadr’s role in Kirkuk raises some very serious issues that I discussed in a prior post: Sadr is no friend of the Kurds.

The idea of an alliance between Iran, Sadr’s Mahdi army, and Ansar al-Sunna is an extremely explosive charge. It appears to be linked to other related accusations from the Right Zionist Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A recent report by Soner Cagaptay and Daniel Fink presses the Sadr-Sunni link.

On January 14, in a rare show of unity, Sunni and Shiite Arab, Turkmen, and Christian Iraqis gathered at a conference in Ankara to denounce Kurdish plans to incorporate Kirkuk, the capital of Iraq’s at-Tamim province, into the Kurdish region…

Muqtada al-Sadr has not wasted any time in organizing Shiite Arabs expelled by the Kurds. The Iraqi constitution fails to address what is to happen to Shiite families settled by Saddam in Kirkuk—most of whom have now lived in Kirkuk for more than a generation, and have no homes to return to—as well as those families who came to Kirkuk as labor migrants. These Shiite Arabs expelled by the Kurds have accepted a helping hand from Sadr and now support him. Meanwhile, Shiite Turkmens alienated by the main Turkmen party, the Iraqi Turkmen Front, whose leadership has been traditionally comprised of Sunni Turkmens (around half of Iraqi Turkmens are Shiites) have also been recruited by Sadr. The Shiite militias first appeared to confront growing Kurdish control over Kirkuk with the arrival of Sadr’s Mahdi Army in 2004. Their activity began with intimidating Shiite residents into remaining in Kirkuk. This has since escalated into attacks against Kurds. Neighborhood Shiite groups are also responsible for perpetrating acts of violence against Kurds.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda affiliates such as Ansar al-Sunna are known to be helping and recruiting Sunni Arabs and even traditionally secular Sunni Turkmens—most of whom have been expelled from Kirkuk by the Kurds. Kirkuk has witnessed increased al-Qaeda presence. The majority of the twenty suicide bombings perpetrated in Kirkuk from July to October 2006 are presumably the work of al-Qaeda affiliates.

While Iraq has experienced increased sectarian tension between Shiite and Sunni groups since the February 22, 2006, bombing of the Askariya shrine, ironically, in Kirkuk, these groups have been united in their opposition to Kurdish political designs for the city.

The whole idea of Sadrist links with Iran have always seemed complex to me. He had early support from Ayatollah Haeri in the Iranian city of Qom, but that relationship has seemed rocky at times.

Nevertheless, if I were going to give any credence to the idea of a broad Sadrist network that includes Iran it would seem at least as likely that the chief target of that alliance would be Kurds in Kirkuk as it would be Sunnis in Baghdad.

Turkey has made no secret of its opposition to Kurdish control of Kirkuk.

Does Iran really fear the Kurds?

Many Kurdish leaders appear to have relatively good relations with Iran.

Within the US, however, there are Iran hawks who are certainly hoping to drive a wedge between Iran and the Kurds.

See, for example, a recent Jamestown Foundation report that includes a glowing profile of the Party for Freedom and Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), the anti-Iranian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

As the confrontation between Iran and the West escalates, international attention has increasingly focused on Tehran’s internal vulnerability. In particular, analysts point out that Iran’s “imperial” past has resulted in ethnic Persians—who make up scarcely half of Iran’s 80 million people—holding disproportionate power, wealth and influence. If the crisis with Iran escalates further, Iran’s neglected and often resentful Kurdish, Azeri and Arab minorities may increasingly play a key role in global events. At the forefront will likely be Iran’s Kurds, and chief among them PJAK, which for nearly a decade has worked to replace Iran’s theocratic government with a federal and democratic system, respectful of human rights, sexual equality and freedom of expression.

Are the tensions in Kirkuk insufficient to ignite tensions between Sadrists and the Kurds? If so, one “creative” way to get something going might be to send Kurdish forces to Baghdad as part of a crackdown on Sadr City.

Thankfully, nobody would ever dream of anything like that!

My question: is there a strategic aim here, apart from universal chaos?

The “looming crisis” of Kirkuk would tend to isolate the Kurds against an alliance that could united Iraqi Shiites, Iraqi Sunni Arabs, Turkey, Iran, all the major countries of the Sunni Arab bloc.

This can hardly be a recipe for Kurdish success.

Perhaps it is intended to foster Iraqi and regional unity, albeit over the bloodied “corpse” of Kurdish Kirkuk.

Sadr: Confrontation or Cooptation?

Posted by Cutler on January 19, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

In a prior post, I noted that Reuel Marc Gerecht over at the Right Zionist American Enterprise Institute was quite adamant that the US should not inaugurate a new, aggressive counter-insurgency campaign with direct confrontation with Sadr.

It now appears that the US (and Prime Minister Maliki) has gone ahead–pace Gerecht (and Cheney?)–and launched a crackdown on Sadr’s organization, including at least one high level leader.  CNN is reporting:

In an overnight raid, Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops captured a top aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in eastern Baghdad, the militia’s spokesman told CNN Friday.

The spokesman said Sheikh Abdul al-Hadi Darraji — the director of Sadr’s main offices in Sadr City — was arrested at a mosque in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Belediyat, just outside Sadr City.

A U.S. military statement Friday did not name Darraji specifically but did announce U.S. and Iraqi forces had arrested a “high-level, illegal armed group leader” blamed for kidnapping, torturing and killing Iraqi civilians while heading an “illegal armed group punishment committee.”

In addition, the “armed group leader” is suspected of working with “death squad commanders” and armed group cells that practice sectarian revenge killings in Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Wednesday that security forces in recent days cracked down on the Mehdi Army. He said 400 arrests were made.

The last time the US moved against a top aide to Sadr, back in April 2004, the capture sparked a Shiite uprising in Baghdad.

At several points in 2006, the US has been to the brink of a renewed confrontation with Sadr.  But each move has been short-circuited.

Is the US now courting a full confrontation with Shiite Baghdad?  If so, it is not hard to imagine how a Shiite rebellion might ensue and how this uprising, in turn, might lead the US and some elements of the Sunni political elite to call for the formation of a “national salvation government”–an anti-Shiite coup–to quell the unrest and “restore order.”

In another scenario, Sadr himself has given the green light for Maliki’s move against Sheikh Abdul al-Hadi Darraji, not only to appease the US but also to let US forces battle rogue forces within his own Mahdi Army militia.

The US is suggesting that Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji has links to Abu Diraa, the figure I have been calling the Keyser Söze of Sadr City.  The Associated Press makes the link:

“The suspect allegedly leads various illegal armed group operations and is affiliated with illegal armed group cells targeting Iraqi civilians for sectarian attacks and violence,” [a military] statement read, adding he was believed to be affiliated with Baghdad death squad commanders, including Abu Diraa, a Shiite militia leader who has gained a reputation for his brutality.

The AP story also includes a threat from Sadrists in Najaf of a violent backlash:

Abdul-Razzaq al-Nidawi, an al-Sadr aide in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, demanded that al-Darraji and other detainees from the cleric’s movement, be released and called for demonstrations after the weekly Friday prayer services.

“America is playing with fire and our patience is beginning to fade,” he said. “This savage barbarian act will not pass peacefully.”

But Reuters reports that the Sadrists disavowed a violent response:

The U.S. military said in a statement that Iraqi special forces backed by American advisers seized an unnamed man they described as a death squad leader wanted for kidnap, torture and murder and linked to fugitive Shi’ite warlord Abu Deraa.

Aides to Sadr said the man held was Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, a prominent media spokesman for their movement. An official in Sadr’s political office branded his detention a deliberate “provocation” but said they would not respond with violence.

Gerecht has suggested that Sadr “may play along.”  But that idea was predicated on a US campaign that began by targeting the Sunni insurgency, not the Shia of Sadr City.

This move against al-Darraji makes it seem like the point of the “surge” is to take on the Shia.  Even at the level of appearances, this move could provoke a Shiite backlash–a rebellion that extends beyond the control of Muqtada al-Sadr.

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…

Between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Posted by Cutler on January 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Are the Saudis and the Iranians patching things up, even as the US tries to foment regional tension between Sunnis and Shiites in order to build US support for an aggressive policy toward Iran?

The headlines certainly suggest as much.  Reuters reports:

Iran asked Saudi Arabia to help ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States as Washington held out the possibility of “engagement” with Tehran if it changed tack in Iraq.

A letter was delivered by [Ali Larijani] Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator to the Saudi King from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Saudi official said on Monday. The official said Iran wanted Saudi leaders to relay a goodwill message to Washington.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has subsequently denied the report and called “baseless” the claim that Iran asked Riyadh to mediate between Iran and the US.

But the real problem with the “detente” scenario may be that it assumes that foreign policy is directed by a unified actor each of the three countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.  It would likely be far more accurate to say that some Saudis and some Iranians want to patch things up, even as some in the US press for a more aggressive policy toward Iran.

Factional Iran

The factions in Iran are complex, but most reports that bother to even note the possibility of internal fissures make clear that Ali Larijani represents an Iranian faction that favors improved relations with the Saudis.  The Reuters report about the Iranian Foreign Ministry, for example, presents Larijani as a factional player:

Larijani’s visit came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, as part of a Middle East tour. Rice and other U.S. leaders have put a fresh emphasis on checking Iran’s influence in Iraq and elsewhere.

Larijani’s visit, said Iranian political scientist Nasser Hadian-Jazy, “is a counter move to what Secretary Rice is going to do to unite the Arabs against Iran.”

But he said it also shows the renewed influence of moderate conservatives, like Larijani, amid growing public criticism of Ahmadinejad and his anti-U.S. speeches that are seen to have exacerbated tensions, particularly over the nuclear file.

Some politicians and officials say Larijani and other moderate officials are frustrated by Ahmadinejad, who they say has provoked confrontation and made it more difficult for Iran to secure what it calls its “nuclear rights”.

“In a calm and quiet atmosphere, Iran can neutralise America’s pressure on its atomic work. Fiery speeches worsen the situation,” said one official, who asked not to be identified because of sensitivity of the issue.

Ahmadinejad may not be the most powerful figure in Iran, where the final say rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Western diplomats say his provocative public tone has helped drive a tougher line.

Factional United States

The outline of key factional lines within the US represent a split among Right Arabists with figures like James Baker and Flynt Leverett eager to find a way to do business at least some element of the incumbent regime in Iran and Right Arabists like James Akins who are very hawkish on Iran.

Along with his Right Zionist advisor David Wurmser, Cheney is undeniably hawkish on Iran, as he made clear in his recent interview with Fox News.

WALLACE: What’s the message that you’re sending to Iran? And how tough are you prepared to get?

CHENEY: Well, I think it’s been pretty well-known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq. And the president has responded to that, as you suggest. I think it’s exactly the right thing to do.

And Iran’s a problem in a much larger sense. They have begun to conduct themselves in ways that have created a great deal of tension throughout the region. If you go and talk with the Gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried, partly because of the conduct of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who appears to be a radical, a man who believes in an apocalyptic vision of the future and who thinks it’s imminent.

At the same time, of course, they’re pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons. They are in a position where they sit astride the Straits of Hormuz, where over 20 percent of the world’s supply of oil transits every single day, over 18 million barrels a day.

They use Hezbollah as a surrogate. And working through Syria with Hezbollah, they’re trying to topple the democratically elected government in [Lebanon]. Working through Hamas and their support for Hamas in Gaza, they’re interfering in the peace process.

So the threat that Iran represents is growing, it’s multi- dimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.

Factional Saudi Arabia

The most difficult factional battle to trace–on Iran and much else–is surely the struggle within the Saudi regime.  Transparency is minimal and open source news analysis is surely inadequate and often simplistic.

The hypothesis that most recently made news as that Cheney and Prince Bandar–and perhaps Crown Prince Sultan–were joined in a hawkish alliance regarding Iran while Saudi King Abdullah–along with Foreign Minister Prince Saud and former Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki–favored a more conciliatory approach toward Iran.

It is difficult, at the moment, to find much sunlight between Saudi royal factions.  On his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Ali Larijani met with all the key players, including Bandar.  And according to official Iranian news, the Iranian Ambassador to Iran recently had an audience with Bandar’s father, Crown Prince Sultan.

Still, I suspect that the factionalism remains.  An Associated Press report from January 8, 2007 speculated that tensions would re-appear by March because King Abdullah was expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle that would go to the heart of some of the battles for power within the Kingdom.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is considering a major Cabinet reshuffle soon, the first since he ascended to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, diplomats and Saudi media said Monday.

The reshuffle may include key posts such as foreign minister, which has been held by Prince Saud al-Faisal for more than 30 years, and the influential oil minister, they said…

“It is up to the (king) to decide, and no one has the right to talk about that except him,” Crown Prince Sultan was quoted as saying in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which is owned by the Saudi royal family. “What he decides is good for all.”

It is rare for a royal family member to even refer to such an issue publicly and was viewed as a significant hint that changes are coming…

Saudis who have intimate knowledge of the discussions regarding the possible reshuffle said al-Faisal, who has had health problems, might be replaced by Crown Prince Sultan’s son Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to Washington and current secretary of the National Security Council. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The Saudi independent Internet news service, Elaph… said veteran Oil Minister Ali Naimi is among those expected to leave their posts. Naimi, 67 and an oil engineer, has been in his job for more than a decade…

The royal family and government leaders are believed to be deeply divided over how to handle the growing crisis in Iraq and Iran’s increasing regional influence.

If speculation about factional lines are correct, then the selection of Prince Bandar as Foreign Minister and the departure of Oil Minister Ali Naimi will both mark major victories for the factions most closely aligned with Cheney.

Taken together, these events would tend to undermine any spirit of detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Many questions remain, but at least one concerns Iraq.  Would Bandar’s faction support a Shiite Iraq under the influence of Sistani, or would he demand–as his price for cooperation on Iran–the restoration of Sunni rule under an extra-constitutional “national salvation government,” i.e., an anti-Shiite coup?

For the record, I would not rule out the probability of a Bandar-Sistani axis.

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.

Which Way Forward in Iraq?

Posted by Cutler on January 10, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

The preview of the Iraq Policy Review seemed to indicate that the Bush administration was thinking of the new “Way Forward” in Iraq as consistent with efforts to woo Sunni political forces into government, even as the US tried to isolate Muqtada al-Sadr and crackdown on the Shiite militias of Sadr City.  Here is the preview from the Washington Post‘s Robin Wright:

The centerpiece of the political plan is the creation of a national reconciliation government that would bring together the two main Shiite parties with the two largest Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The goal is to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite militia and head of a group that has 30 seats in parliament and five cabinet posts.

But it seems as though the “Way Forward” may actually mark more of a shift.  And that shift may have already begun.

I have in mind the operation, initiated by US forces, to take control of Haifa Street.  Here is the Washington Post report:

The fighting in the area began four days ago, when Iraqi soldiers killed 30 insurgents after uncovering what was described as an unauthorized checkpoint, according to a Defense Ministry spokesman. Pearson said Iraqi army commanders asked for U.S. assistance after insurgents killed several Iraqi soldiers two days ago.

At 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, about 400 U.S. troops from the Stryker Brigade rolled toward Haifa Street, meeting up with Iraqi army units along the way.

They arrived about 5:30 a.m. In the pre-dawn darkness, the joint forces took control of the buildings surrounding Tallil Square, a key target of the operation.

“We showed up in their living room for breakfast,” Pearson said. About 7 a.m., the trouble began. “As soon as the sun came up, the insurgents began shooting,” he said.

“We started taking it from all sides,” [Sgt. Israel] Schaeffer recalled.

From rooftops and doorways, the gunmen fired AK-47 assault rifles and machine guns. Snipers also were targeting the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. U.S. soldiers started firing back with 50-caliber machine guns mounted on their Stryker armored vehicles. They used TOW missiles and Mark-19 grenade launchers. The F-15 fighter jets strafed rooftops with cannons, while the Apaches fired Hellfire missiles. But the insurgents kept fighting.

“They were able to coordinate mortars at us. They were able to execute well-aimed shots from the cover of buildings,” said Capt. Robert Callaghan, who was coordinating air support for the operation. “There were mortar rounds that went off close to our vehicle. It was difficult to concentrate on my job.”

Schaeffer was surprised. He was accustomed to the hit-and-run tactics that the insurgents typically have used over the past few months.

“We fired a TOW missile into a building,” he said. “A few minutes later we started taking fire again from the building. Normally, that would have pretty much ended the whole engagement. They were fighting pretty persistently.”

“The terrain was in their favor,” he added. “It is about as defensible a terrain as you can get.”

Sounds like urban counter-insurgency.  In a Sunni neighborhood.

Are Sunni political leaders–especially the ones the Bush administration are supposedly courting–on board with the new “way forward”?

Not so much.

In a statement, the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party described the 50 killed as “innocent citizens.” It asserted that Sunnis on Haifa Street were “under siege” by Shiite militias backed by the Iraqi army.

The Iraqi Islamic Party.  Isn’t that the party–led by White House visitor and Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi that was supposed to form the Sunni backbone of the new “moderate” government the Bush administration was trying to promote to beat back Sadr?

Add, on top of that, the fact that the military brass is backing off from a confrontation with Sadr himself:

Odierno said U.S. forces would leave dealing with Sadr to Iraqi authorities. “I’m not sure we take him down,” he said.

“There are some extreme elements (of the Mehdi Army) … and we will go after them. I will allow the government to decide whether (Sadr) is part of it or not. He is currently working within the political system.”

What does it all add up to?

The Shiite Option after all?

Too early to tell.  Stay tuned.

Lettuce and Pickles

Posted by Cutler on January 09, 2007
Iraq / 3 Comments

Iraqi oil is back in the news.

The most recent flurry of chatter was prompted by an article in the Independent on Sunday entitled, “The Future of Iraq: The Spoils of War.”

The central focus of the article is on a draft hydrocarbons law that has the Iraqi oil industry operate under production sharing agreements or PSAs that provide very generous terms of international oil companies.

An article in the Turkish Daily News suggests that the PSA terms in the draft law will be extraordinarily generous:

According to the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) system to be invoked by the draft, companies will have the right to retain 75 percent of their annual income from Iraqi oilfields, until they match their oil production costs. After then they will be able to pocket 20 percent of the annual income. Experts point to the fact that this is double normal market rates.

The Iraqi oil story is extremely import, but the “news” is not the PSA system.  I discussed negotiations over PSA terms in a couple of October posts (here and here).  Greg Muttittt and others made news with the PSA story back in November 2005 with a report entitled “Crude Designs.”

The centrality of oil to US plans in Iraq cannot be overstated.  I have always liked Chomsky’s way of framing that part of the story:

[W]e are under a rigid doctrine in the West, a religious fanaticism, that says we must believe that the United States would have invaded Iraq even if its main product was lettuce and pickles… Well, you know, if you have three gray cells functioning, you know that that’s perfect nonsense. The U.S. invaded Iraq because it has enormous oil resources, mostly untapped, and it’s right in the heart of the world’s energy system.

The problem, however, has always been and continues to be for the Bush administration to get the domestic Iraqi politics and regional geo-politics aligned in such a way to get the deals done and the oil flowing.

On this score, it should be noted that a draft law–even if adopted by the current Iraqi parliament–does not yet constitute “success.”  Here is one sober industry reaction (Simon Wardell, “Draft Oil Law: New Iraqi Law Will Reportedly Allow Large-Scale Investment by Western Oil Majors,” Global Insight Daily Analysis, January 8, 2007):

[T]he legislation is just the first of several steps which will be required before any wells are sunk. The security situation still presents a major challenge which no major is currently willing to face. While deals may be struck, they will be contingent upon an improvement in the security situation. There will also be major risks in pouring capital into Iraq’s oil sector due to the political instability. Even if the security picture improves, governments may change, and the status of PSAs may come under question at a later date, as they have in Russia. The lack of a political consensus in Iraq makes this risk more significant

The crux of the matter is that the political stability favored, if not required, by the Oil Majors was critically upset the day in May 2003 that the Bush administration adopted its de-Baathification policy and thoroughly undermined by the three major votes of 2005 that handed political power to Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds.

From the perspective of the foreign policy establishment, the preferred path for political stability in Iraq was then and continues to be benign dictatorship under Sunni minority control.

The proper model for a simple US oil grab is the Libya deal, not Iraq.  Saddamism without Saddam.

So the Bush administration has been scrambling to construct some kind of political stability, not only within Iraq but within the region, that would allow the oil to flow.

The News from Kurdistan

One key sticking point has been the locus of control over new oil field development within Iraq.  In other words, who gets to sign the contracts?

The Kurds have always hoped to win control for the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq–and to include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk within that regional entity.

The news of an oil “breakthrough” in Iraq is mostly on the Kurdish front.

Shiite forces abanonded the Kurds on this issue.

Now, the Kurds appear to have conceded the point.

In late December 2006, the Kurdish Globe reported:

Oil has been a major issue dividing Kurdish and Iraqi authorities in post-war Iraq. KRG says it is constitutionally allowed to drill for oil in areas under its control, but Iraqi oil officials have threatened that KRG’s oil deals will not be “valid.”

Most of the oil wells are in southern Iraq, and the oil law allows KRG to talk with companies and make deals for oil production,” [Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan] Barzani said…

According to preliminary agreements between the KRG and federal authorities, a representative from the Baghdad government will attend talks between the KRG and oil firms. Once the KRG reaches a deal with a company to drill for oil in Kurdistan, the contract will be sent to Baghdad for assessment and approval by an Iraqi government committee. The contract will then be returned to the KRG and it will have 60 days to sign it…

“There needs to be some criteria according to which the (oil) contracts are investigated so as to know if there is any corruption in the deals or to what extent the company will implement its obligations,” Barzani said.

Note well: this is Barzani’s concession speech and it will not likely be greeted with thunderous applause in Kurdistan.  Barzani’s two justifications for centralized control–that most of the wells are in southern Iraq (and therefore a source of wealth for Kurds only under centralization) and that central authorities need to be able to investigate corruption–are very thin fig leaves, given the history of Kurdish demands for autonomy.  Look for an internal Kurdish split that would challenge Barzani for “selling out” the Kurds.

The Kurdish concession has regional implications insofar as Turkey has been firm in its opposition to Kurdish autonomy.  Indeed, just as the Kurds were conceding the point, Kirkuk oil began to flow in the pipeline to Turkey’s port of Ceyhan.  Perhaps it is no coincidence.

Note, too, that the future of Kurdish control of Kirkuk also looks increasingly fragile, with John McCain now leading a campaign to delay a referendum on Kirkuk that would likely establish Kurdish control of the city.

In the last instance, these Kurdish concessions are part of a larger campaign to restore centralized national political control in Iraq.

On the oil front, centralization is likely intended to appease Sunni rejectionists.  It will also please Muqtada al-Sadr who is a strident critic of Kurdish control of Kirkuk and of decentralization, more generally.  Is Sadr willing to trade privatization (i.e., production sharing agreements) for centralization?

If so, then the US will have effectively exploited the threat of Kurdish regional PSAs to extract comparable concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

Same as It Ever Was

Posted by Cutler on January 08, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

Bush’s Iraq Policy Review looks set to announce that on the political front in Iraq there will be no change, even as the administration contemplates a military escalation.

After floating some very radical ideas for abandoning “national reconciliation” and outreach to Iraqi Sunni insurgents–the so-called “80 percent Solution“–the Bush administration now appears to be ready for more of the same.

Robin Wright of the Washington Post reports:

During its two-month interagency review, the Bush administration has struggled the most to come up with proposals to jump-start the stalled political process in Iraq, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats. The fate of the revised strategy will be determined as much by new movement on Iraq’s combustible political front as by success on the battlefield, administration officials said.

But the emerging package looks slim and, absent last-minute additions, appears to be more of the same, according to sources who have been briefed.

The centerpiece of the political plan is the creation of a national reconciliation government that would bring together the two main Shiite parties with the two largest Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The goal is to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite militia and head of a group that has 30 seats in parliament and five cabinet posts.

To ensure participation of Sunni moderates, the Bush administration is pressing the Maliki government to take three other major steps: Amend the constitution to address Sunni concerns, pass a law on the distribution of Iraq’s oil revenue and change the ruling that forbids the participation of former Baath Party officials.

Been there.  Done that.

Or, more to the point: Been there.  Tried to do that.  Was blocked by Grand Ayatollah Sistani who allegedly refused to allow the US to marginalize Sadr.

Little wonder, with word that the US is determined to pursue this course, that Sadr has gone to meet with Sistani for clarification and confirmation of support.

So, is the US prepared to move without the blessing of Sistani?  Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, the same old political battles will certainly accompany the proposed escalation on the security front.

The military brass is spoiling for a fight with Shiite militias, if not Sadr himself.  Here is the Washington Post report on the political contours of the US military surge:

A top U.S. commander in Iraq said Sunday that previous attempts to halt sectarian killings in Baghdad had failed in part because of a shortage of Iraqi troops and a tight focus on Sunni Arab neighborhoods, and that those lessons would be incorporated into a new strategy to slow the violence in the capital.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the number two commander in Iraq, declined to discuss a proposed surge of thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad, saying he preferred to wait for President Bush to outline the policy. But he said he wanted his forces to begin with a push against both Sunni and Shiite fighters

“You have to go after both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods,” he said. “Together Forward was mostly focused on Sunni neighborhoods, and we’ve got to do both.”

Reuters suggests that Odierno hedges a bit on Sadr and the Mahdi Army:

Odierno said U.S. forces would leave dealing with Sadr to Iraqi authorities. “I’m not sure we take him down,” he said.

“There are some extreme elements (of the Mehdi Army) … and we will go after them. I will allow the government to decide whether (Sadr) is part of it or not. He is currently working within the political system.”

The military brass consistently emphasized a split between Sadr and his followers.

In any event, some of Prime Minister Maliki’s aides are already throwing cold water on Odierno’s plan for a more balanced security crackdown in Baghdad.

Hassan al-Suneid, a key aid and member of al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, said the Iraqi leader had committed 20,000 soldiers to the operation that would call upon American troops and airpower only when needed…

Al-Suneid, who is also a member of parliament, said the new drive to free Baghdad from the grip of sectarian violence would focus initially on Sunni insurgent strongholds in western Baghdad.

Indeed, the Shiite appetite for a decidedly sectarian form of counter-insurgency seems undiminished.  As Robert Collier reports in the San Francisco Chronicle:

For their part, Shiite hard-liners also say they support reconciliation efforts. But in interviews with The Chronicle, they called for U.S. officials to stop advocating the inclusion of Sunnis and to give military backing to a full-scale Shiite offensive in Sunni areas. These Shiites described their opponents as “takfiri Baathists,” combining the term for Sunni religious extremists with the name of Hussein’s secular-leaning party — two groups that most outside observers say are often at each other’s throats.

“The American government must give the Iraqi government complete sovereignty, which means that the Iraqi army will have the authority to strike the takfiri Baathists with an iron hand, without any interference from the Americans,” said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigade, a Shiite militia that has been largely incorporated into the Interior Ministry and, along with al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, is widely blamed for death-squad attacks on Sunnis.

Many al-Sadr followers, including the Mahdi Army, appear markedly more sectarian than their leader.

As I noted in a previous post, there are competing conceptions about the purpose of a military “surge” in Iraq.

The Shiite visions for Baghdad articulated in Robert Collier’s report seem to have more in common with Reuel Marc Gerecht’s views on counter-insurgency than with Odierno’s.

Right Zionists like Gerecht are still looking for “victory” in Iraq.  [Update: new Gerecht essay emphasizes his basis for hope, albeit not on the basis of the path set to be adopted by the White House.]

Odierno, not so much.  Reuters reports:

U.S. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, in charge of combat forces in Iraq, said on Sunday U.S. commanders had offered several recommendations and some did not involve more troops….

He also sought to play down U.S. public expectations of what could be achieved over insurgents, saying an overwhelming “77-7″ win — to use a sports metaphor — “ain’t going to happen“.”It’s a different concept. There will be no victory parade when we leave here. There never was going to be,” he said.

Oh.

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.

Negroponte’s New Job

Posted by Cutler on January 04, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Intelligence Czar John Negroponte will leave his post to become Deputy Secretary of State, the State Department’s second-ranking official.

It is too early to know why Negroponte is accepting a demotion, but speculation runs along some familiar lines.

The New York Times suggests that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has essentially recruited Negroponte for the job:

[A]dministration officials say Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been trying to recruit him to bring more Iraq expertise to her office…

Negroponte’s move to the State Department has been rumored for months. Rice was pushing to bring Negroponte in as her deputy…

The move may be a sign that the administration is looking for more sweeping changes to its Iraq strategy…

It might be more accurate to say Rice is trying to add more “heft” to her office in the hope of winning a factional battle for the direction of Iraq strategy.

Negroponte is going to State in order to help Rice battle Cheney, and perhaps prepare to take over the reins should Rice depart Foggy Bottom.

Here is one account of the factional battle lines from a December 5, 2006 Insight Magazine article:

The White House has been examining a proposal by James Baker to launch a Middle East peace effort without Israel.

The peace effort would begin with a U.S.-organized conference, dubbed Madrid-2, and contain such U.S. adversaries as Iran and Syria….

“As Baker sees this, the conference would provide a unique opportunity for the United States to strike a deal without Jewish pressure,” an official said. “This has become the most hottest proposal examined by the foreign policy people over the last month.”

Officials said Mr. Baker’s proposal, reflected in the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, has been supported by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. The most controversial element in the proposal, they said, was Mr. Baker’s recommendation for the United States to woo Iran and Syria.

The “heft” in all this is to take on Cheney.  Seymour Hersh reported in his late November 2006 New Yorker essay, “The Next Act“:

A retired four-star general who worked closely with the first Bush Administration told me that… [for] Scowcroft, Baker, the elder Bush… [the issue] is how to preserve the Republican agenda. The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice”—the Secretary of State—“a chance to perform.” The combination of Scowcroft, Baker, and the senior Bush working together is, the general added, “tough enough to take on Cheney. One guy can’t do it.”

It seems like Negroponte’s new job is to help take on Cheney.

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.

Back in 2007

Posted by Cutler on December 29, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Cutler’s Blog will return in January 2007.  Happy New Year.

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?

2007: A Year of Living Dangerously

Posted by Cutler on December 14, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

News media coverage of the Bush administration’s Iraq Policy Review has focused on the possibility of a dramatic turn in US policy in Iraq that would feature a retreat from efforts to court the Sunni Arab insurgency and a full-throated support for a “Shiite Option.”  In many ways, this would actually mark a return to the original Right Zionist plan for post-invasion Iraq.

A dramatic move of this kind would be explosive in the Middle East and this probably explains some of careful focus on the timing of any dramatic announcement.  According to the White House, the “new strategy”–like the old “new strategies”–will arrive in 2007, an odd-numbered year when political insulation in the US is at its peak.

The delay from a pre-Christmas release is also likely a result of some ongoing factional resistance to such a bold move.  Condoleezza Rice is reportedly ringing alarm bells about the Shiite Option:

Some members of the administration, including some in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, have argued that the administration needs to provide clear support to a strong Shiite majority government, but the State Department, led by Condoleezza Rice, views that as a recipe for perpetual civil war.

An anti-Shiite coup might still win out against the Shiite Option, although reports suggest otherwise.  It is more than a little difficult to predict.

While we wait, I have been trying to suggest that there is a Russian angle in the new factionalism and it turns on relations between Russia and Iran.

The Baker crowd favors engagement with Iran.  Neither an alliance between Iran and Russia nor animosity between Iran and Israel is a bar for the Baker faction.  The clearest recent statement of support for this position arrives courtesy of Brent Scowcroft and his December 12, 2006 interview with the state-run Russian News Agency:

DMITRY BOBKOV: General Scowcroft, I remember when we met last year you mentioned there was no appropriate dialog between the U.S. and Russia. Since that time U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has made a famous speech in Vilnius, Lithuania where he criticized Russia’s domestic policy and the lack of freedom. Do you think that Russia is currently moving in the right direction?

SCOWCROFT: I think that the situation with U.S. – Russia relations has not gotten better since we talked last year; indeed, it’s probably gotten worse. I think we still suffer badly from the lack of regular dialog. In analyzing the Russian policy, the Russian government tends not to explain its actions very well. It simply comes out and does things, and then leaves people to figure out what they have in mind. That’s not useful in developing understanding. How long it will last, I don’t know. As we said last time, bureaucracy exists on both sides; neither the U.S. bureaucracy nor Russian bureaucracy has developed any affinity for the other. It’s still a suspicious relationship. For a time under the George W. Bush administration our bilateral relationship worked OK because the two leaders had a good personal relationship. Now that’s not so good anymore. But potentially there is something to hold this relationship together. There are many big issues around the world and our policies are not opposed to each other. Actually, they are congruous. And therefore there is potential for cooperation on areas like North Korea, Iran and many other areas. I think there are two serious problems in our partnership. One is the situation of democracy in Russia and the other concerns the southern border region of Russia. In both we are deeply suspicious of each other’s motives. When we see Russia intervening in Georgia or Ukraine or other places we tend to say that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union. When we intervene and praise democracy development in Georgia, Ukraine and so on, the Russians say we use democracy as an excuse to penetrate and drive them off.

This is a swipe at Cheney, who has always led the campaign to intervene to grab power in Russia’s old imperial sphere of influence.

DMITRY BOBKOV: Should Russia also start to participate in solving the Iraq problem?

SCOWCROFT: I would say yes. Because here again we have a common interest in the region. We’d like stability there. Instability doesn’t serve either one of our interests.

Apart from the Baker-Scowcroft faction, there is also a faction that fears the Russian alliance with Iran much more than Iranian-Israeli animosity and so favors engagement with Iran as a way to pry the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia.

Cheney, on the other hand, represents a factional alliance between Right Zionists (like his key Middle East aide, David Wurmser) and Russia hawks.  For this coalition, the US can neither engage the incumbent Iranian regime nor leave it to Russia.  The only solution is to win Iran for the US and Israel and keep it from Russia.

This points to the old Right Zionist notion that Iraqi Shiites will actually be allied with the US in a Shiite-led movement to overthrow the Iranian regime.

And already–right on cue–there are the first signs of Right Zionist excitement over the prospect of undermining the incumbent Iranian regime from within.

This strategy will put Saudi Arabia in an extremely awkward position.  On the one hand, there are surely signs of Saudi-Iranian hostility over a host of issue, including Lebanon.  A US-backed Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran is hardly out of the question, at least in the short term.

On the other hand, the Saudis also surely know that any Right Zionist quest for reconstructing the “Eternal Iran” is, in the last instance, only a prelude to the formation of a pro-US Shia Crescent that would ultimately transform the Arab Gulf into a Persian Gulf and devour the Saudi dynasty itself.

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.

Cheney’s Shiite Oil Patch

Posted by Cutler on December 09, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

The Washington Post has published the latest installment of Robin Wright’s reporting on the Bush administration’s Iraq Policy Review and the New York Times has a report on the hydrocarbon law negotiations in Iraq.

If Wright has the factional story correct, the White House Iraq Policy Review is looking increasingly like Cheney’s Right Zionist answer to James Baker’s Right Arabist Iraq Study Group Report.

The central “news” of Wright’s article–entitled “Iraq Strategy Review Focusing On Three Main Options“–is that she identifies Cheney as leader of the faction supporting the so-called “Shiite Option” or the “80 Percent Solution.”  Here is Wright:

Vice President Cheney’s office has most vigorously argued for the “80 percent solution,” in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq’s largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown.

Let us stipulate that Cheney’s concern for the Shiite is not humanitarian.  It is “strategic” and represents a return to the Right Zionist “Plan A” that dominated the early days of the US invasion of Iraq.  The heart of that plan has been a shift in the regional balance of power away from Sunni Arab dominance and toward a “reconfigured,” pro-American Shiite Crescent.

At the heart of any Shiite option has always been Grand Ayatollah Sistani and, to a lesser extent, SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

Hakim was recently in Washington for meetings with administration officials.  It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall for those sessions.  One topic that surely made the agenda: Hakim’s position on regional autonomy for southern Iraq and the implications of autonomy for the future of oil field development in Iraq.

Hakim and the Hydrocarbons Law

It may be no coincidence that only days after Hakim’s visit to Washington, Ed Wong reports in the New York Times that Iraqis are “near” a deal on the hydrocarbons law.  Wong writes as if the Kurds have opened a path toward reconciliation:

Iraqi officials are near agreement on a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population, Iraqi and American officials say.

If enacted, the measure, drafted by a committee of politicians and ministers, could help resolve a highly divisive issue that has consistently blocked efforts to reconcile the country’s feuding ethnic and sectarian factions. Sunni Arabs, who lead the insurgency, have opposed the idea of regional autonomy for fear that they would be deprived of a fair share of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and Kurdish north…

At the start of the talks, the Kurds fought to ensure that regional governments have the power to collect and distribute revenues from future fields, Iraqi and American officials said. They also proposed that revenues be shared among the regions based on both population and crimes committed against the people under Mr. Hussein’s rule. That would have given the Kurds and Shiites a share of the oil wealth larger than the proportions of their populations.

But the Kurds dropped those demands, said Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister who is a Kurd and the chairman of the committee.

The only problem is that the distribution of revenues has not been the key sticking point in recent months.  The contentious issue is control over new oil field development.  Have the Kurds backed down on that issue?

No, says Wong in the New York Times:

The major remaining stumbling block, officials said, concerns the issuing of contracts for developing future oil fields. The Kurds are insisting that the regions reserve final approval over such contracts, fearing that if that power were given to a Shiite-dominated central government, it could ignore proposed contracts in the Kurdish north while permitting them in the Shiite south, American and Iraqi officials said…

[T]he Kurds are still holding out on the issue of oil contracts, arguing that the Constitution guarantees the regions absolute rights in those matters.

So what has changed?  What motivates the Wong report if the Kurds have not removed the major remaining stumbling block?

The Shiites and the Bush administration may be preparing to overrule the Kurds.  Specifically, SCIRI’s Hakim seems to have abandoned his prior commitments to regional autonomy, at least with regard to the crucial issue of control over new oil field development.

On the drafting committee, Sunni Arabs have allied with the Shiites against the Kurds, who have sought to maintain as much regional control as possible over the oil industry in their autonomous northern enclave. Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed de facto independence since 1991, when the American military established a no-flight zone above the mountainous region to prevent raids by Saddam Hussein.

Wong has buried the big news: Shiites have allied with Sunni Arabs on the issue of Iraqi national unity (no news that Sunni Arabs oppose the Kurds on this issue…).

Combine this with word in the Financial Times that the oil majors appear to have leveraged a commitment to Production Sharing Agreements and you have a new ball game in Iraqi politics.

That helps clear the way for Cheney to embrace a Shiite Option in Iraq.  Forget James Baker.  Get ready for a really lame duck.