Iran

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.

David Wurmser: A Very Medieval Sort of Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from Harnden’s news article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The US Occupation of Iraq (blog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s Wurmser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll buy that for a dollar.

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

Learning to Love Tehran?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unless it is the bomb that is going to drop.

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.

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.

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Neocon” Split

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

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

Right Zionists: Stick with Maliki

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

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

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

Unipolarists: Dump Maliki

Unipolarists may have given lip service to those ideas.

No longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet Little Lies

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

But Krauthammer’s essay requires two little lies.

Cleansing” the 80 Percent Solution

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

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

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

Here is Gerecht on the 80 percent solution:

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

Here is Ajami:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

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

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

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

I know, it is crazy.

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

Not to worry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And their friends in Iran.

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

Remembering Cheney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is also the substance of US foreign policy.

It’s about the war, stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Post series makes almost no mention of Iraq!

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

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

The other 3 parts say less about Iraq.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you not met the Wurmsers?

You really should.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

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

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

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

Readers of this blog need no introduction to David Wurmser.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Podhoretz on the split:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does Podhoretz also represent the views of Wurmser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unclear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And where is Cheney himself in all this?

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

The US Loses its Civil War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2007
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Palestinian Authority / 1 Comment

Back in April, amidst growing tension and factional fighting in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, I pointed out that the US was, indirectly, a party to the conflict insofar as the Bush administration was providing support to Fatah security forces.

At that time, Haaretz reported (available via the Daily Times of Pakistan) on disagreements over US and Israeli support for Fatah.  The disagreement ostensibly concerned differing assessments of the strength of Fatah relative to Hamas.

The Americans believe that strengthening Abbas loyalists and deploying them in friction points along the north of the strip and Philadelphi route in Rafah will eventually improve the security situation.

Western officials who studied the battle near the Karni crossing last Tuesday concluded, contrary to the IDF’s assessment, that Abbas’ forces had performed well despite their losses and had succeeded in warding off a larger Hamas force. They found that Hamas had not won a decisive victory in the battles in the Strip and urged taking steps to strengthen the pro-Abbas forces…

[Israeli] Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh is the main advocate for helping to strengthen the Abbas loyalists

The IDF believes that Hamas has a considerable advantage over Fatah in the confrontation with Fatah in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas men are trained, equipped and more resolved than their Fatah counterparts, even if the latter outnumber them in weapons,” an IDF source said.

Ephraim Sneh was earlier quoted in the Washington Post, defending Israeli support for Fatah:

“The idea is to change the balance, which has been in favor of Hamas and against Fatah. With these well-trained forces, it will help right that imbalance.”

Now, Sneh appears to be have suffered a double loss.

Within the Israeli Labor Party, Sneh is closely aligned with the outgoing Defense Minister and party leader, Amir Peretz.  In the most recent Labor Party primary, Peretz backed Ami Ayalon who subsequently lost the bid for party leadership to Ehud Barak.

Will Ehud Barak endorse Sneh’s dangerous game?

Sneh’s strategy appears to be crumbling.  Hamas appears to be winning decisive victories against Sneh’s Fatah allies.

In fighting today, Hamas continued its near-complete armed takeover of the Gaza Strip and seized the southern town of Rafah, according to witnesses and security officials allied with the rival Fatah faction.

In Gaza City, two out of four key Fatah-controlled security compounds have fallen to Hamas…

Earlier, Mr Abbas ordered his best troops to strike back at Hamas Islamists as they tightened their grip on Gaza.

The decision by Mr Abbas, who is backed by the west, to commit the presidential guard came as Hamas said it captured the Gaza City security compound. Until now the US-financed presidential guard has been told to maintain a defensive posture against what appear to be coordinated attacks by Hamas.

Hamas’s seizure of the base would deal a severe blow to Fatah and Mr Abbas…

The Council on Foreign Relations, among others, is already describing the emergence of “Hamastan.”

Having helped trigger the confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, Washington is now hoping its go-to-guy in Egypt, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman can persuade Hamas to stand down, even as victory appears imminent.  Good luck with that.

As I have previously suggested, the US has tried to exploit civil war in Gaza as part of a proxy war between the US and Iran.

It is for this reason that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has suggested that the fall of Gaza to Hamas would have “regional implications.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that Cairo is allegedly pointing fingers at Iran.

According to the report, Cairo blamed external elements with igniting the fighting, hinting that Iran was behind the escalation in Gaza…

In an interview with the London based Al-Hayat , senior Fatah official Samir Mashharawi was more explicit in his claims that both Syria and Iran were behind Hamas’ attempted coup. In the interview, cited by Israel Radio, Mashharawi claimed that the two countries had transferred millions of Dollars to Hamas, and that the Islamic group was using the money against the Palestinians people in trying to establish a “Hamas state” in the Gaza Strip.

Is Iran rising to the challenge?  Perhaps.  Hamas certainly is.  But it was the US-backed Fatah forces who were first deployed into “friction points” to try to escalate tensions in Gaza.

That is looking increasingly like a major blunder.

In the battle between Sneh and the IDF, the defense establishment looks like the winner:

The defense establishment is to hold meetings next week in an effort to prepare recommendations for a new policy in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of what seems to a Hamas conquest of the area.

The general assessment in the Israel Defense Forces is that there is a new reality in the Strip and that Hamas has defeated Fatah in the battle for power.

Israeli political sources said Wednesday that the Hamas takeover requires that Israel reexamine its ties with the Gaza Strip, and whether it will continue its economic ties, the infrastructure links – providing of fuel and electricity from Israel.

Sneh’s US-backed plan to use Fatah forces against Hamas may have been a cynical and naive gambit, but the IDF is unlikely to adopt a softer line.

Barak may want to prop up Olmert’s government.  But a Hamas victory in Gaza will surely bolster the position of Israeli hawks, not least Likud leader Benjamin Netanhahu.

If so, then the proxy war in Gaza may quickly become a far more explosive regional civil war in the Middle East.

One Crude Benchmark

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In October 2006, former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad introduced American “benchmarks” for measuring the success of the Iraqi government.

Some of those benchmarks drew inspiration from the Right Arabist critique of the pro-Shiite tilt in US policy, especially Khalilzad’s demands for “reform” of the de-Baathification process (i.e., re-Baathification) and for new provincial elections to reverse the consequences of the Sunni Arab boycott.

Two benchmarks related directly to oil: passage of the US-backed “hydrocarbons law” and constitutional reform related a promised referendum on Kurdish control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Today, it looks increasingly likely that the Shiite-led government in Iraq will do the Bush administration’s bidding on the oil front, but not those measures designed to reverse Shiite political dominance.

A New York Times article by Damien Cave prepares readers for this outcome:

[M]any Iraqi and American officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year…

[T]he oil law appears the most likely, officials said.

Notwithstanding some grumbling from abroad, I suspect the oil law will, indeed, pass the Iraqi parliament.  This is clearly the one “benchmark” that matters to the entire Bush administration.  It has the strong support of the Sistani-backed Shiite oil minister, Hussein Shahristani.

Indeed, I think the path toward passage of the oil law was likely cleared a bit with the recent removal of the Iraqi parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

At the same time, re-Baathification looks like a dead letter.

Cave’s New York Times article suggests that Iraqi Shiites have rejected Khalilzad’s re-Baathifying “Reconciliation and Accountability Law.”

[A]n aide to the reclusive cleric [Sistani] confirmed that there was “a general feeling of rejection” about the proposal.

Since then, the original draft has gone nowhere…

Iraqi officials said they were working on a compromise law… primarily a softer alternative…

It remains unclear how much support the proposal could attract. Mr. Falluji, the Sunni lawmaker, said the prime minister did not fully support reconciliation with former Baathists — a suspicion also harbored by some American officials.

In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Prime Minister Maliki gives only lukewarm lip service in support of re-Baathification:

From the outset, I committed myself to the principle of reconciliation, pledged myself to its success. I was determined to review and amend many provisions and laws passed in the aftermath of the fall of the old regime, among them the law governing de-Baathification. I aimed to find the proper balance between those who opposed the decrees on de-Baathification and others who had been victims of the Baath Party. This has not been easy, but we have stuck to that difficult task.

Provincial elections in places like Babil would undermine Shiite political dominance and look increasingly unlikely.

There is no constitutional change required for a Kirkuk referendum and the US has refused to say much about whether or not it is willing to buck a broad range of Turks, Sunni Arabs, and Sadrist Shiite Arabs in order to go ahead with the referendum.  I tend to think the US will pressure the Kurds to drop the idea of a referendum.

According to Cave’s report, the Iraqi Shiite government is far from committed to swift constitutional reform.

“We have not committed to doing it by September,” [Sheik Humam Hamoudi, one of three committee chairmen and a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council] said. “Maybe the American Congress has made such a commitment, but we have not.”

The real question, at this point, is not where the Iraqi Shiite government stands, but where the Bush administration stands in relation to Khalilzad’s original benchmarks.

Most Western political officials in Iraq and Washington publicly refuse to discuss a Plan B… Many have turned their attention toward risky local alliances with insurgents or former insurgents who say they will fight Al Qaeda.

Is the Bush administration still playing from the Right Arabist playbook, hoping for restoration of Sunni Arab political power?  Or has the administration “signed on” with the Right Zionist “Shiite Option” in Iraq?

It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Maliki seems to think he has some significant enemies, but they are “mediated” through regional tensions.  His Op-Ed makes clear that Maliki thinks himself pulled between Iran and the Arab League, even as he tries to appear neutral:

Our conflict, it should be emphasized time and again, has been fueled by regional powers that have reached into our affairs…

We have reached out to those among our neighbors who are worried about the success and example of our democratic experiment, and to others who seem interested in enhancing their regional influence…

Our message has been the same to one and all: We will not permit Iraq to be a battleground for other powers. In the contests and ambitions swirling around Iraq, we are neutral and dedicated to our country’s right to prosperity and a new life…

Maliki’s reference to those “worried about… our democratic experiment” is clearly to the Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.  His reference to those “interested in enhancing their regional influence” is clearly about Iran.

In Washington, Right Arabists remain resistant to the “democratic experiment” in Iraq; Right Zionists are ultimately committed toward the enhanced “regional influence” of [a reconstructed] Iran.

The question, now as always, is the battle between Right Arabists and Right Zionists in Washington.

The Playbook for Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on June 07, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud…

But does the Left have to choose sides in the internal politics of Iraq?

Robert Dreyfuss seems to think so.

In his latest missive at The American Prospect, he argues (again) that withdrawal demands re-Baathification in Iraq and fierce resistance to Iran.

Last February, Representative Jim McDermott of Washington organized an extraordinary Capitol Hill event. By teleconference, McDermott brought five Iraqi members of the 275-member parliament together with a dozen or so members of Congress to discuss the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations. All five Iraqi parliamentarians called for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, along with urgent steps to help end the civil war, restore Iraq’s old army, accommodate the dissolved Baath party, and rebuild the shattered economy…

Two weeks ago, I spent several hours with Mohammed al-Daini, a member of the parliament, who was visiting Washington. “The Maliki government is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said…

“When you weaken Iran’s influence in Iraq, it will also weaken Maliki’s government.” Daini told me. “The Maliki government is using Iranian intelligence to get rid of its opponents.” Indeed, many Iraqi leaders, especially the Sunni Arabs, were alarmed by the May 25 U.S.-Iran talks, fearing an American deal with Iran to carve up Iraq. Following the U.S.-Iran meeting, the Baath party of Iraq — which plays a key role in support of the armed resistance — warned that the United States and Iran are determined to eliminate Iraq’s “Arab identity,” adding: “The U.S.-Iranian alliance is the number one enemy of Iraq and of the Arab nation.”

In the end, if and when the United States reconciles itself to a withdrawal from Iraq, the path to stability will be found in a nationalist government constituting most or all of the emerging “national salvation” coalition. It’s possible that the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy can come to that understanding on their own.

(Note to White House: somebody should tell Cheney about “the U.S.-Iranian alliance.”  He and his staff appear to be off message.  Also, let Cheney know that so-called “realists”–not his “Neocon” allies–now control U.S. foreign policy.)

As I have suggested previously, Dreyfuss takes his cues from the Right Arabist playbook written by his friend James Akins.

Assume for the moment that Dreyfuss is actually motivated by a desire to see the swift withdrawal of US troops from Iraq (leaving aside the fact that Dreyfuss was a committed Iran hawk long before there were US troops in Iraq).

It is far from obvious that Right Arabists, focused as they have always been on the “path to stability” in Iraq, are the most likely allies in the battle to bring US troops home from Iraq.

I have previously argued that the opposite might even be true: Right Zionists committed to Shiite political dominance in Iraq might be more inclined to “allow” US withdrawal than Right Arabists who have always known that restoration of the old Sunni Arab political elite would require ongoing and expanded military occupation.

The same point was made (for different reasons) by Dan Senor, former spokesman for Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Realists on Iraq.”

it has often been said that the president got into Iraq because he disregarded advice from the true regional experts: foreign-policy “realists” who put together the Gulf War I coalition and counseled President George H.W. Bush against regime change; “moderate” Sunni Arab Governments; and the U.S. intelligence community.

But what if today these groups were actually advising against an American withdrawal?…

Consider Brent Scowcroft, dean of the Realist School, who openly opposed the war from the outset and was a lead skeptic of the president’s democracy-building agenda. In a recent Financial Times interview, he succinctly summed up the implication of withdrawal: “The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution.”

And here is retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Centcom Commander and a vociferous critic of the what he sees as the administration’s naive and one-sided policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East: “When we are in Iraq we are in many ways containing the violence. If we back off we give it more room to breathe, and it may metastasize in some way and become a regional problem. We don’t have to be there at the same force level, but it is a five- to seven-year process to get any reasonable stability in Iraq.”

A number of Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors also opposed the war as well as the U.S. push for liberalizing the region’s authoritarian governments. Yet they now backchannel the same two priorities to Washington: Do not let Iran acquire nukes, and do not withdraw from Iraq…

It would be one thing if only the architects of the Bush policy and their die-hard supporters opposed withdrawal. But four separate groups of knowledgeable critics–three of whom opposed going into Iraq–now describe the possible costs of withdrawal as very high.

If the Realists, neighboring Arab regimes, our intelligence community and some of the most knowledgeable reporters all say such a course could be disastrous, on what basis are the withdrawal advocates taking their position?

Senor’s final question should be addressed directly to Robert Dreyfuss.

The answer, however, has more to do with the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement than with taking sides in an intramural imperialist battle between Right Zionists and Right Arabists over the preferred mix of proxy forces able to police US imperial interests in the Middle East.

George Shultz: Eminence Grise?

Posted by Cutler on June 05, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Is Cheney all alone out there?

Back in April, Bob Schieffer referenced Cheney’s alleged “isolation” in an interview with the vice president on Face the Nation.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Reid, who you mentioned earlier, the Democratic leader, said that he thought that President Bush had become more isolated over Iraq than Richard Nixon was during Watergate. You were around during those days.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I was.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think that’s true?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I do not. I think that’s a ridiculous notion.

SCHIEFFER: It’s a ridiculous notion?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Yes.

SCHIEFFER: Do you feel you have become more isolated?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I don’t think so. I spend as much time as I can, get out and–and do other things, be it home in Wyoming or, yesterday, I managed to go shopping with my daughter for birthday presents for granddaughters. But I, you know, I obviously spend most of my time on the job.

Of course, Schieffer did not follow up to press Cheney on whether he felt politically isolated.

In a January 2007 Newsweek interview, however, Cheney did allude to the distance between himself and the “Baker/Scowcroft” wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment:

Richard Wolffe: [There has been] criticism from Scowcroft about not knowing you anymore—people have got quite personal, people you worked with before. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t have some reaction.

CHENEY: Well, I’m vice president and they’re not.

The real question is whether Cheney has any allies within the larger foreign policy establishment.

One has to go all the way back to the start of the campaign to elect George W. Bush to recall that there was once another major figure from the foreign policy establishment behind the throne of George W. Bush: George P. Shultz.

When the Bush “campaign” unveiled its foreign policy team to the public in February 1999, Cheney was considered a key adviser.  The other major player was George Shultz.

Mr. Bush… consults with two unofficial senior advisers, Richard B. Cheney, President Bush’s secretary of defense, and George P. Shultz, Mr. Reagan’s secretary of state.

Jim Lobe has suggested that Shultz is “an eminence grise of the Bush administration” and the Wall Street Journal named Shultz as the “Father of the Bush doctrine.”  And yet, he never joined the administration and he has avoided much of the scrutiny and criticism associated with Bush foreign policy.

As honorary co-chair of the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger, Shultz has supported the most hawkish administration positions on the framing of the “war on terror” and Iraq, providing justifications for the war before and after the invasion.

Bob Woodward made news by reporting that Cheney frequently consults with Kissinger.  But Kissinger and Shultz appear to speak with one voice in defense of the administration’s political goals in Iraq.

The most urgent question, going forward, is how Shultz positions himself on Iran.

Shultz hasn’t said much publicly about Iran.

The place to watch on Iran policy may not only be the American Enterprise Institute but the “Iran Democracy Project” at Shultz’s Hoover Institution.

Looking at Hoover Institution chatter about Iran, one finds something less than a full-throated endorsement of military intervention.

Indeed, one finds support for containment, diplomacy, and “a principled long-term quest for
peaceful regime change
.”

Does this less-than-fully hawkish outlook on Iran shed some light on forces guiding the current course of US policy?

If Cheney is as hawkish on Iran as he is rumored to be, then he may be feeling more isolated than ever.

Wurmser: Outed or Ousted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney: Beyond Hypocrisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something changed.  Cheney closely aligned himself with Right Zionists.

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, these are merely speculations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically, Caspian Sea fish.

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

Petro-Leverage

Posted by Cutler on May 25, 2007
Iran, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked about Arab-Iranian tensions in the Gulf:

FT: Does the fear many Arab regimes feel for Iran create a strategic opportunity for Israel?

BN: Categorically yes.

So, how much fear do Arab regimes feel for Iran?

It probably depends on the regime.  But I would argue that Saudi King Abdullah is not playing Netanyahu’s game.

The clearest sign of Saudi support to the Iranian regime is the current price of oil.

As I noted in a January 2007 post, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland reported that the Bush administration was seeking to use oil as a weapon to leverage concessions from Iran:

The campaign received a big boost last week when it became clear that Saudi Arabia is finally worried enough about Iran to use oil as a weapon against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saudi oil minister Ali Nuaimi publicly opposed Iranian calls for production cuts by the OPEC cartel to halt a decline that has taken crude oil from $78 a barrel in July to just above $50 a barrel last week.

The Saudis have enough reserve production capacity to swing OPEC prices up and down at will. Their relatively small population gives them a flexibility in postponing revenue gains that populous Iran lacks. Nuaimi’s pronouncement, although cast as a technical matter that had nothing to do with politics, seemed to give teeth to recent warnings issued in private by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, that the kingdom will now respond to Iranian hostility with its own confrontational tactics.

That was way back in January.  Today, the price of crude is back up to new highs.

Some of that is a “geopolitical premium” paid because of rising tensions between the US and Iran.  But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the price hike is also a consequence of OPEC–especially Saudi–policy.

Two years ago when gasoline prices in the U.S. surged to the then-lofty level of $2 a gallon, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries sprang into action, seeking to provide relief by pledging to boost oil production.

Now, with gasoline topping an average of $3.20 a gallon nationwide, OPEC officials say they see no reason to open the oil spigot wider.

The Journal article emphasizes OPEC jealously over the profits of American oil refiners.  I suspect there is something more geopolitical in the Saudi refusal to flood the markets with crude.

An Associated Press report suggests that Iran is one of the key beneficiaries of current OPEC policy:

Consistently high oil prices over the past few years have left Iran awash in petroleum money.

The current price of oil is Saudi King Abdullah’s gift to the Iranian regime.

Petro-leverage, under the circumstances, only go so far.

There are only two other forms of leverage: floating leverage (USS John C. Stennis) and political leverage (the threat of a so-called “velvet revolution”).

After that, there is only US accommodation and an alliance with the incumbent regime.

John Bolton made headlines recently by suggesting that the US “attack” Iran.

Here is the “money quote” from Bolton:

Mr Bolton said: “It’s been conclusively proven Iran is not going to be talked out of its nuclear programme. So to stop them from doing it, we have to massively increase the pressure.

“If we can’t get enough other countries to come along with us to do that, then we’ve got to go with regime change by bolstering opposition groups and the like, because that’s the circumstance most likely for an Iranian government to decide that it’s safer not to pursue nuclear weapons than to continue to do so. And if all else fails, if the choice is between a nuclear-capable Iran and the use of force, then I think we need to look at the use of force.”

Most of the attention has focused on Bolton’s support for the “use of force.”  But the real story may be the way Bolton talks about “regime change.”  He talks about “bolstering opposition groups and the like” but then doesn’t even seem able to convince himself that the end game of “regime change” is actually in the cards.

Instead, Bolton appears to suggest that the threat of regime change would convince “an Iranian government to decide that it’s safer not to pursue nuclear weapons.”

Is that “an” (eternal) Iranian government that would make that decision?  Or is it the (incumbent) Iranian government?

Cheney may have already decided that it is the (incumbent) Iranian government.

Confrontation with Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 24, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran / No Comments

The news is awash in stories about rising tensions between the US and Iran.  Reuters reports on US naval maneuvers in the Gulf and accompanying jitters in the oil market.

So, maybe the US is heading for a military confrontation with Iran.

I doubt it.  Here is Israeli Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the subject in an interview with the Financial Times:

[Y]ou can reserve the military option, preferably by the US, which has the means to do so. But that should be a last resort, because it is far too complicated.

Maybe the US is leading the way toward a “velvet revolution” in Iran.

I doubt it.  Those who most wish it were so discount the possibility.  Here is Right Zionist Michael Ledeen on recent reports that the White House authorized the CIA to undertake covert operations to undermine the Iranian regime:

[I]t’s a typical CIA product: the opposite of a serious program. You don’t need a secret disinformation operation; instead, we need an effective, public, information effort, including a VOA Farsi Service that entertains criticis of the mullahs more than their apologists, and administration spokesthings who talk about the grisly repression of the Iranian people carried out by the regime. Above all, four little words “we support regime change” would be a great way to start. And those words should come from the White House or Foggy Bottom. So far, we’ve got the secretary of state saying she doesn’t want regime change, just “better behavior” from the mullahs….

[T]his sort of leak invariably comes from people trying to kill the program. My guess is that CIA doesn’t want to do ANYTHING mean to the mullahs, and so they are trying to sabotage their own silly program.

The nuclear issue is in the news, but the nuke story is only a proxy for a larger geo-political story.  As hawks on both sides recognize, nobody really cares about the nukes, as such.

Not surprisingly, an Iranian official recently asserted as much:

Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) for International Affairs Javad Vaeedi [said], “Iran’s access to nuclear technology is not the problem of the US or the West. Iran’s attaining a geostrategic position is their problem.”

More surprising, at least on the surface, is that Right Zionists like Michael Rubin over at the American Enterprise Institute tend to agree that the real issue is the current geostrategic orientation of the regime.  A nuclear Iran allied with Israel and the United States might continue to be a concern for Arab regimes (as the Iranian nuclear program was under the Shah).  But it would be far less threatening for a figure like Rubin:

A democratic Iran might not abandon its nuclear program, but neither would it sponsor anti-American terrorism, undercut the Middle East peace process or deny Israel’s right to exist. Democratization, therefore, can take the edge off the Iranian threat.

All of which goes to saying that the real question on the table right now is whether the US can “flip” Iran and change its geostrategic orientation.

All through the 1980s, Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen thought this was urgent work.

During the 1990s, Cheney clearly favored an opening with Iran, in part to enhance US leverage in its Great Power rivalry with Russia.

Are we seeing a return to that older Cheney?

If so, will his Right Zionist allies follow his lead?  Or will they accuse him of “selling out Israel” by cutting a deal with an “unreconstructed” anti-Zionist regime in Iran?

US-Iranian Make-Up Sex

Posted by Cutler on May 23, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Does anybody remember what Kissinger and the Chinese were saying about each other right before Nixon arrived in China?

[This is not a rhetorical question.  I have no idea, but would appreciate some guidance.]

I’m trying to figure out if there is any precedence for the current dance between Iran and the US in which two parties appear to rattle sabers all the way up to the moment they embrace as the oldest of friends.

Robin Wright captures the nutty spirit of the moment in her Washington Post article, “Tehran Detains 4th Iranian American Before Talks.

Is the idea here that the intensity of the “make-up sex” improves with the bitterness of the prior strife?

Or, are the key players playing to domestic factional politics, trying to distract their own hardliners and rejectionists even as they lurch toward mutual embrace?

Consider, for example, the Associated Press report that accompanied Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing of the US-Iranian dialogue:

Iran’s supreme leader gave his backing Wednesday to U.S.-Iran talks about Iraq’s security. But he took a tough line, insisting the meeting will deal only with fixing American policies in Iraq, not changing Iran’s.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s harsh tone appeared aimed at quieting criticism by hard-liners over the planned meeting in Baghdad with the United States

Khamenei said Iran agreed to the “face-to-face negotiation” to “remind the U.S. of its responsibilities and duties regarding security” and “give them an ultimatum.” He did not specify what the ultimatum was.

“The talks will only be about the responsibilities of the occupiers in Iraq,” he said during a speech to a group of clerics in Mashhad city, about 620 miles northeast of Tehran, according to state-run television.

As I noted in a previous post, some “anonymous” American officials in Baghdad and Washington have adopted an equally hawkish posture ahead of talks with Iran.  [Update: Also, there continue to be rumors that the White House has authorized covert action to destabilize the Iranian regime.]

Vice President Cheney and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appear to be drawing from the same play book.  [It makes sense; they both appear to be “supreme leader” even though neither is actually president.]  Cheney has given his blessing to the US-Iranian talks, even as he recently did some very serious saber rattling from the deck of the USS John C. Stennis.

Nevertheless, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker seems to be tasked with preparing the ground for what he has called “a whole new era” in the Gulf.

[The Iranians] have an extensive relationship with Iraq, but pretty clearly, from our perspective, not all aspects of it are helpful and some of them are positively dangerous. I mean, their support for militias, their involvement in the development and transfer of EFPs that are killing our forces, these are not good things, not from a U.S. point of view and not from an Iraqi point of view. But that’s why I made the point I did about the, kind of the difference we see between the articulation of Iran’s policy interests and goals, which again track pretty closely with ours, and then what they’re actually doing on the ground. It would be a very good thing if they brought their actions more into alignment with their words.

We have no problem with a close relationship between Iran and Iraq. What we do have a problem with is Iranian behavior in Iraq that is again counter to what we want to see, what the Iraqi government and people want to see and indeed counter to some of their own stated interests. That’s what we want to see change. But you know, Iran and Iraq —Iraq’s longest border is with Iran. They’re neighbors forever, for better or for worse; for a very long time it’s been for worse. No country has suffered more, with the exception of Iraq itself, from Saddam’s regime than the Iranians. There is an opportunity here for them, I think, to move into a whole new era in a relationship with a stable, secure, democratic Iraq that threatens none of its neighbors, including Iran. But, you know, to get there they need to start doing some more constructive things than they have.

Jim Hoagland’s recent column in the Washington Post noted the persistence of rumors that the US would seek to restore Sunni Baathist by supporting a coup against the Shiite government in Iraq.

Washington [would take serious risks] by strong-arming the admittedly faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki out of office and replacing Maliki with a U.S.-anointed Iraqi savior.

Arab allies are urging such a course on Bush and would not object to U.S. military action against Iran. There is growing concern in Baghdad that Washington is developing a “Plan B” that involves both hitting Iran and ousting Maliki…

Some in Iran–including Mohammad Javad Larijani, brother of Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani–reportedly share similar concerns about US intentions.

Perhaps this helps explain the “leak” of a classified US plan by Crocker and David Petraeus that affirms US support for Prime Minister Maliki.

Ann Scott Tyson reports in the Washington Post:

The classified plan, scheduled to be finished by May 31, is a joint effort between Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American general in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. More than half a dozen people with knowledge of the plan discussed its contents…

The plan is… designed to shore up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though some U.S. commanders regard him as beholden to narrow sectarian interests….

“Maliki is the chosen vehicle; he’s the one-trick pony,” Dodge said in an interview from London. “Everyone recognizes that the success or failure [of U.S. policy] would be delivered through the office of the prime minister” and there is no discussion in Baghdad of removing him, he said.

Message to Iran: the US is sticking with the “Shiite Option” in Iraq.

Cheney’s Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Is the US preparing the way for a decisive pro-Shiite alliance with both the Iraqi Shiites and the incumbent Iranian regime?  Or is it preparing the way for a confrontation with Iran?

By some accounts, Iraqi Shiites are currently facilitating a diplomatic opening between the US and Iran.

Stratfor offers the following interpretation of recent events:

Iraq’s most senior Shiite politician, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, was in Iran on May 21 to undergo medical treatment after being rushed to the United States for testing a few days earlier. But it is unlikely that his trip is actually health-related; rather, al-Hakim flew to Iran from the United States to deliver the U.S. response to Tehran’s proposed framework for negotiations at the first direct public U.S.-Iranian meeting over Iraq, to be held in Baghdad on May 28….

When Iran relayed its terms for the talks, it did so by having an Iranian official hand-deliver the proposal to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker; this took place during a three-minute meeting on the sidelines of the May 4 international conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A version of that report was also leaked to a Saudi paper in an attempt to placate the Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia) that are wary of any U.S.-Iranian accommodation on Iraq. Because of the sensitive nature of U.S.-Iranian communications, the Bush administration chose to use al-Hakim as a conduit for transmitting its response.

The US-Iranian dialogue is, as noted by Stratfor, “sensitive” because Sunni Arab forces are wary of a US “tilt” toward a Shia Gulf.

Indeed, Sunni Arab suspicions seem to grow more pronounced with each passing day.

IraqSlogger has translated a recent interview with Saleh al-Mutlak, previously celebrated by Secretary of State Rice for taking positions that represented “considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership.”

Mutlak seems to fear the US and Iran are already de facto allies in Iraq:

In general, US policy towards Iran is vague, and unclear, and there are those who believe that the controversy is agreed upon, and is not a real controversy.

And in the result that the goals that Iran seeks in Iraq, they are the same goals that America seeks. Iran wants a weak Iraq, and fragmented to a certain extent, and this is an American goal. And whether there is coordination on this matter or not, they are walking on the same path and (towards the same) goal.

At the same time, Mutlak is critical of Sunni Arab neighbors for abandoning Sunni Arab Iraq to Iranian political dominance.

Unfortunately, the Arab countries, and at the forefront of them the neighboring countries are remiss with regards to Iraq, as they, at least have even not moved to stop the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

All of this suggests that the US is, indeed, tilting toward a Shia Gulf.

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the Bush administration is united in its policies toward Iran.

According to a report by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian, some US officials–all anonymous–are still speaking in very hawkish terms about Iran and its role in Iraq.

“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”

So, who are the remaining Iran hawks?

Right Zionists like Richard Perle remain quite hawkish about Iran and are very hostile toward dialogue with the Iranian regime, but do they have friends in the administration calling the shots on Iraq and Iran?

Cheney is the most likely ally, but he appears to be supporting the diplomatic discussions with Iran.

He recently explained his position to reporters:

QUESTION: Is it possible to both have a hard line on Iran, as you did on the aircraft carrier, and talk with them about Iraq? But are you still both going in different directions?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: They’re separate issues. The President made clear the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors — focused on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.

Not exactly the warmest words of greeting, but neither is it a critique of the diplomatic opening.

Moreover, Robin Wright at the Washington Post suggests that Cheney has been instrumental in facilitating the “medical care” for al-Hakim that has taken him to the US and Iran.

Vice President Cheney played a role in arranging for Hakim to see U.S. military doctors in Baghdad, who made the original diagnosis, and for the current medical treatment in Houston, the sources said.

If Cheney is facilitating dialogue between the US and Iran, then who is busy screaming about Iran to Simon Tisdall at the Guardian?

There are, of course, Right Arabist Iran hawks from the worlds of diplomacy (i.e., James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee) and within the military brass (i.e., Zinni and others).

Steven Clemons suggests that “Bush is allowing Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice to play good cop, bad cop with the Iranians.”

So, which cop is bluffing?

Is this the start of a “beautiful relationship” between the US and Iran?  Or is this the prelude to a policy of regime change?

Either way, my bet is that Cheney doesn’t leave office without trying to go beyond containment.

A Regional Civil War in the Middle East?

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

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

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

Sunni Arab Fear of a US Tilt toward the Shia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Financial Times reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney’s Middle East

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

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

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

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

An Iraqi Shiite “Readjustment”?

Posted by Cutler on May 18, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Something is brewing in the world of US-Shiite relations, but I confess that the contours of any shift remain very murky.

As noted in my previous post, there has been increased chatter about tensions between Iraqi Shiites and the Iranian regime.  Reuters reported:

Iraq’s biggest Shi’ite party on Saturday pledged its allegiance to the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a move that would distance it from Shi’ite Iran where it was formed.

Party officials told Reuters on Friday… the party had been close to Sistani for some time, but a two-day conference on Baghdad that ended on Friday had formalized relations with the influential cleric.

“We cherish the great role played by the religious establishment headed by Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali al-Sistani … in preserving the unity of Iraq and the blood of Iraqis and in helping them building a political system based on the constitution and law,” said Rida Jawad al-Takki, a senior group member, who read out the party’s decisions to reporters…

Officials said the party, which was formed in Iran in the 1980s to oppose Saddam, had previously taken its guidance from the religious establishment of Welayat al Faqih, led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

Anne Barnard of the Boston Globe followed up with additional talk of popular Iranian Shiite support for Sistani.

At the governmental level, the US has been urging and predicting such an Iraqi Shiite shift for some time.  In January 2007 press briefing, Zalmay Khalilzad described a “readjustment” underway among Iraqi Shiites:

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think the Iraqis are going through a readjustment process – and by Iraqis I mean different political forces. There is no problem in terms of understanding between us and the Prime Minister. In the past, before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, a number of groups opposed to the regime operated from outside Iraq and they developed relations with some of the institutions and organizations of the neighboring states that supported them, and those are almost invariably security institutions. But now Iraqi is in a different place. It is a state that some of those people who were opposed are now in the government and there cannot be and there should not be relations with security institutions of neighboring states that work against the interests of this new Iraq; that attack Coalition forces, Iraqis, undermine the stability of Iraq.

Right Zionists celebrated news that such a “readjustment” might have led to a rift between Iraqi Shiite politicians and the Iranian regime.  FrontPage predicted the US was “Turning the Corner in Iraq“:

[B]ad news for Iran is the seismic shift of Iraq’s largest political party away from Iran…

In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi’a faith….

And yet, the signs do not all run in the same direction.

First, the FrontPage writer, Steve Schippert proposes that some sober “caution” is in order:

While it is difficult to understate the significance of the monumental shift within Iraq, it should also be recognized that the decision to transform the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq into simply the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council was not arrived at with unanimity.  Nor was it arrived at without heated debate.  As well, many of the SCIRI party’s elected government officials have ties and allegiances to Iran that are unlikely to simply evaporate overnight.

The factional lines within SCIRI/SIIC are not clear, but IraqSlogger cast doubt on the entire story of an Iraqi Shiite shift:

The media bureau of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, formerly SCIRI, issued a statement late Saturday correcting what it described as “dubious remarks attributed to senior SCIRI officials” and “inaccurate analysis” made by media outlets, referring to reports that the party would distance itself from neighboring Iran.

It can be difficult for any leader to deal with organizational factionalism, but SCIRI/SIIC leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim seems to be taking it all very hard.

The Associated Press is reporting that al-Hakim is suddenly on his way to the US:

The leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite political party has left for the United States for medical checkups after complaining of exhaustion and high blood pressure, two officials said Friday.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim flew to the United States on Wednesday, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official, who works at al-Hakim’s office, declined to give further details. But a senior member of the Shiite leader’s party, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, said al-Hakim was suffering from fatigue and high blood pressure.

Maybe he will also use his time in the US to “clarify” the position of his party, in light of the current confusion and the prospect of factional divisions.

And, finally, there is the question of the alleged rivalry between Sistani, on the one hand, and Khameini and the incumbent Iranian regime, on the other.

According to recent reports, Sistani has welcomed upcoming talks between the US and the Iranian regime:

Planned talks between the United States and Iran in Baghdad are “the first promising step for free and direct bilateral talks” between the two adversaries, a cleric close to Iraqi Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said on Friday.

In his Friday sermon in a Najaf mosque, Shia Imam Sadr Eddin al- Qabanji expressed hope that the Iranian-US talks would lead to peace between the US and Iran…

Right Zionists love Sistani.  But not all Right Zionists seem to share Sistani’s enthusiasm for US-Iranian diplomacy.

Richard Perle, in particular, seems pretty bitter about the prospect of US talks with Iran:

Richard Perle offered a withering assessment of the president’s impotence at a meeting of the Hudson Institute in New York, saying American foreign policy is being applied by an out-of-control State Department….

“We have already seen a change in policy towards Iran,” he said. “It is now firmly back in the hands of the Department of State.”

Ultimately, Right Zionists are committed to the restoration of the old US-Israeli-Iranian strategic alliance.  The question is whether that could ever mean peace with the incumbent Iranian regime or only peace with “eternal Iran.”

Perhaps al-Hakim will be discussing that very question during his visit to the United States.

Dreyfuss: Learning to Love the Neocons?

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq / 1 Comment

The Left has lots of ways of talking about what is “wrong” with the Iraq war.  Some are likely to endure more than others.

There are claims, for example, that the invasion was morally wrong (an oil grab, an imperialist imposition, etc.).

There are also claims that that the invasion was strategically wrong (the Neocons were incompetent, naive, ideological).

Debate among those who make arguments about strategic calculations turn on a few major issues.

The Sunni Insurgency:

Neocons arguably failed to anticipate the Sunni insurgency.

Cheney conceded that point back in June 2006.

Q Do you think that you underestimated the insurgency’s strength?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think so.

Of course, Cheney has taken heat for adding, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered.”   Rumsfeld, too, suggested that nobody anticipated the insurgency’s strength.  This is nonsense.  Cheney and Rumsfeld chose to discount the threat of the insurgency.

One might even predict that the greater “wrong” here is not strategic butmoral.”

What if Cheney and Rumsfeld did anticipate a Sunni insurgency but thought that the US could “win dirty” by allowing Shiites and Kurds to “cleanse” Iraq of Sunni resistance?

Remember Rumsfeld:

Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.

Wasn’t Rumsfeld already talking about winning dirty?  His Right Zionist allies were always prepared to win dirty.  Remeber Reuel Marc Gerecht: “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?

Indeed, Right Zionists (Fouad Ajami and Gerecht) are feeling optimistic today precisely because they think the US has already started to win dirty.

Handing Iraq to Iran:

Other critics have suggested that the Neocon incompetence handed Iraq to Iran.

The leading “Left” critic on this score has been long-time Iran hawk, Robert Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss has frequently “exposed” the “Secrets of the US-Shiite Alliance” and lamented the disastrous creation of “Iran’s Iraq.”  He has also penned vicious attacks on Iraq’s leading Shiite political figures, denounced “Bush’s Shiite Gang in Iraq“:

So the question is: when will [we] hear the Bush administration’s top officials start calling the Shiite fundamentalist regime in Baghdad “Islamofascists”? So far, they’s applied that term only to the Iraqi resistance, tarring the Sunni-led insurgency by painting them as led by Al Qaeda-style terrorists, when in fact that they are mostly Iraqi nationalists, Baathists, and ex-military men. Their main grievance is that the United States is handing Iraq over to Iran. I’d say they’re right.

Now, however, he seems to be changing his tune.  The change does not appear to be based on a reconsideration of the morality of playing the “Devil’s Game” so much as a reconsideration of the strategic viability of the same Neocon strategy I discussed in my article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

The Dreyfuss reversal is a blog post entitled, “Iraq’s Influence in Iran.”

Before the war in 2003, the neocons’ fervent hope was that Najaf, the Iraqi holy city, would rise to eclipse Qom, the Iranian clerical center, helping to undermine the rule of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Since then, Iran’s influence in Iraq has appeared far greater than vice versa. But a Boston Globe article suggests that the effects are being felt both ways….

This is interesting, and deserves further investigation. Certainly, Iraq and Iran influence each other, and in many ways. So far, it seems, Iran’s influence in Iraq is greater than the other way around, although the possibility of clerical opposition to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is growing. Some of that, at least, could be tied to Iraqi ayatollahs, including Sistani, in concert with dissident Iranian clerics such as Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who challenged the political theory of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Dreyfuss has penned articles attacking Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen not only on the basis that they were morally suspect but also on the basis that they simply had no idea what they were talking about.  Now, Dreyfuss finds the consequences of Ledeen’s war in Iraq “interesting.”

That is a step toward acknowledging that when dealing with Right Zionists, we are in a realm “beyond incompetence.”

As I have previously discussed, there are critics (Swopa at Needlenose) who have been utterly dismissive of the notion of tension between Najaf and Qom.

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true. Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Juan Cole’s interpretation of this issue has always left me confused.  On the one hand, Cole wrote a July 2005 article in Salon entitled, “The Iraq War is Over, And the Winner Is… Iran.”

On the other hand, I have also previously noted that Cole’s adamant insistence (in agreement with Right Zionist strategists) that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is not close to the regime in Iran.  Indeed, when Professor Cole listed his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005, number five was as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

Am I alone in being amazed that four years after the US invasion of Iraq there has never been a full airing of this issue, even among Left critics of the war?

If, as Dreyfuss suggests, there might prove to be something “interesting” about the strategic consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, then Left “critics” might at some point contemplate abandoning their posts as armchair imperial strategists and find a different anti-imperialist basis for opposing the US war in Iraq.

Putin’s Caspian Coup, Cheney’s Iran Plan

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

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

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

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

Instead of bypassing Russia, Nazarbayev bypassed Cheney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications for Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney: Delivering Justice to the Enemies of Freedom

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

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

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

Saudi Concerns about Iraq

Wright characterizes Saudi concerns:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney: Assuaging Saudi Concerns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Associate Press explains the case:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading the Map Correctly in Israel

Posted by Cutler on May 04, 2007
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria / No Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is under pressure for his execution of the so-called “Second Lebanese War.”  Tens of thousands of protestors rallied in Israel, calling for Olmert to resign.

The protests are politically “vague” about the substance of the critique of Olmert, but insofar as Netanyahu and his Right Zionist allies are highly critical of Olmert’s execution of the war, the protests may bolster the case against Olmert.

Back in 2006, I wrote several posts describing Right Zionist dismay (here and here) with Olmert’s “cautious” execution of the battle in Lebanon.

The most “candid” Right Zionist critique of Olmert, however, comes from Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute who–along with her husband, David Wurmser–is part of the “family” of Right Zionists allied with Cheney.  In an extraordinary December 2006 interview, Meyrav Wurmser was very explicit about Right Zionist frustration with Olmert:

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Hizbullah defeated Israel in the war. This is the first war Israel lost,” Dr. Wurmser declares…

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Is this a popular stance in the [US] administration, that Israel lost the war?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Yes, there is no doubt. It’s not something one can argue about it. There is a lot of anger at Israel.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: What caused the anger?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “I know this will annoy many of your readers… But the anger is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians. Instead of Israel fighting against Hizbullah, many parts of the American administration believe that Israel should have fought against the real enemy, which is Syria and not Hizbullah.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the administration expect Israel to attack Syria?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “They hoped Israel would do it. You cannot come to another country and order it to launch a war, but there was hope, and more than hope, that Israel would do the right thing. It would have served both the American and Israeli interests.

The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space… They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its strategic and important ally should be hit.”

“It is difficult for Iran to export its Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran, that it would have weakened it and changes the strategic map in the Middle East.

“The final outcome is that Israel did not do it. It fought the wrong war and lost. Instead of a strategic war that would serve Israel’s objectives, as well as the US objectives in Iraq. If Syria had been defeated, the rebellion in Iraq would have ended”…

“No one would have stopped you. It was an American interest. They would have applauded you. Think why you received so much time and space to operate. Rice was in the region and Israel embarrassed her with Qana, and still Israel got more time. Why aren’t they reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Now, is this Likudnik critique of Olmert shared by organizers of the anti-Olmert rallies?

No.

It is instructive to note that the rally has been attacked from both the Israeli  “Left” and “far-Right.”  If the far-Right is to be believed, the rally is–like the rebellion by Olmert’s own Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni–part of a centrist effort to get Olmert out as Prime Minister, but to salvage the Kadima-led coalition government and preempt calls for new elections.

Why?  Because new elections could well result in the election of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.

If Cheney is going to have another pass at war against Syria this summer, then the clock is ticking for snap elections.

The Israeli Labor party will be under pressure to quit the Kadima-led government, but it appears to be scrambling to find a way to forestall demands for a fresh election any time soon.  This may become increasingly difficult, however, if Olmert survives in office until late May when Labor party primaries may force the leadership to split with Kadima.  The Economist explains:

Though the Labour primary is an internal vote among party members, from whom Mr Peretz has more support than among the public, most bets are on Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and army chief of staff, or Ami Ayalon, an ex-admiral and domestic intelligence chief. Mr Ayalon has already said he will pull Labour out of the coalition if he wins, almost certainly forcing an election. If, on the other hand, Mr Barak gets in, his dilemma will be whether to stay on as defence minister and share the flak with Mr Olmert, or risk an election race against the right-wing Likud party.

Cheney has a (Right Zionist) plan for the Middle East.  Act II of that plan was supposed to begin last summer.  It failed.

If Netanyahu is restored to office, Cheney may find himself with allies “reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

Needless to say, the clock is ticking.

Or, from the perspective of Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen, “Faster, please.”

Is Rice Really Nice?

Posted by Cutler on April 26, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Russia / 1 Comment

In a recent post on Cheney, Iran, and the whole “British hostage” affair, I asked whether Cheney might not have sabotaged an Iranian-American quid pro quo that would have involved the release, by the United States, of the “Irbil Five”–Iranians held by the US in Iraq.

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release. But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them. At least not yet…

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

That was April 11th.

Yesterday, Michael Ledeen offered up some gossip that appears to confirm these suspicions, beginning with Ledeen’s discussion of a news story by Robin Wright in the Washington Post:

[A] story written… by one of Secretary Rice’s favorite journalists, Robin Wright of the Washington Post… said:

After intense internal debate, the Bush administration has decided to hold on to five Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents (sic) captured in Iraq, overruling a State Department recommendation to release them, according to U.S. officials.

I’ve been told that “intense internal debate” is exactly right–it was one of the most contentious debates in quite a while. Wright reports that Vice President Cheney led the charge against Rice’s position, and I am told that Secretary of Defense Gates was equally adamant. This is reinforced by a statement by General Petraeus, to the effect that we intended to keep them and keep interrogating them as long as we had food and they had things to say. Moreover, I am told that the intensity of the debate was due to the fact that Rice was not merely recommending the release of the Iranians, but had informed the mullahs that we would release them.

On the Iranian front, then, it certainly looks like Cheney and Gates leading the hawkish faction with Rice working to open diplomatic avenues.

The mystery here is Rice.  In an April 22, 2006 analysis, the Financial Times (subscription required) suggested that Rice was looking increasingly “realist” in her positions.

To judge from Ledeen’s anger (and Perle’s earlier accusations), one could imagine that Rice is something less than a Neocon “true believer.”

And yet…

The record is uneven, even on Iran.  On the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon?  Rice looks pretty hawkish.

And then there is Rice on Russia.  On missile systems in Europe, Rice doesn’t appear particularly dovish.

Perhaps there is an underlying logic to all this, but it escapes me.

A Proxy War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on April 25, 2007
Iran, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

The Financial Times is reporting that the “military wing” of Hamas has declared an end to a five-month-old ceasefire with Israel.

Be that as it may, however, the “news” of the day is best understood as the collapse of the Saudi-backed ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah.

Battles within the Palestinian Authority look increasingly like proxy wars between Vice President Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

If King Abdullah’s “Mecca Agreement” aimed to pressure Fatah to end its attacks on Hamas and develop new power-sharing mechanisms in cooperation with the Hamas-led government, the White House has been working overtime to undermine King Abdullah’s efforts.

US efforts have centered on bolstering the power of Fatah’s Gaza strongman, Muhammad Dahlan.  During the factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas in late 2006 and early 2007, Hamas accused Dahlan of conspiring to undermine the Hamas government.

“Dahlan is leading a group of Fatah members who are trying to topple the Hamas government on orders from the Israelis and Americans,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “The American-Zionist scheme is aimed at eliminating the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance groups and forcing the Palestinians to make political concessions.”

If King Abdullah pulled the rug out from under Dahlan’s efforts, the US wasted little time moving to bolster Fatah’s forces.  According to Reuters, that effort has been led by White House envoy Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton.

With Iranian help, Hamas forces are expanding fast and getting more sophisticated weapons and training than those under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s control, according to the U.S. security coordinator.

U.S. Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton said Hamas’s growing military strength, if left unchecked, would erode Abbas’s already limited ability to enforce any ceasefire in the Gaza Strip…

Sources familiar with the Bush administration’s deliberations said a revised spending plan would be submitted… [providing] aid to Abbas’s presidential guard…

In his first act after swearing in the new government, Abbas appointed Hamas’s long-time foe, Mohammad Dahlan, as national security adviser, angering the Islamist movement.

[I]n fierce fighting before Abbas agreed to join the unity government, Hamas’s Executive Force and armed wing were beating their Fatah rivals, Dayton said, according to two sources familiar with his comments.

By the end of March, the Bush administration finalized the details of the US funding plan.

The United States plans to provide $59 million to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential guard and support his new national security adviser, a long-time foe of Hamas…

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the money for Abbas and security adviser Mohammad Dahlan was meant to fuel divisions among Palestinians and undercut the unity government formed by the ruling Hamas Islamists and Abbas’s Fatah faction.

The White House got its cash and Abbas took the bait.  On April 12, 2006 Reuters reported:

Forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are getting newer bases at home and more advanced training abroad for an expanded security role that could put them on a collision course with militants…

Western and Palestinian officials said Abbas’s goal was to create a Palestinian “gendarmerie,” a force trained in military tactics that operates in civilian areas and is capable of carrying out police duties, restoring law and order, and enforcing any existing and future agreements with Israel.

In addition to basic training conducted at facilities in the West Bank city of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, about 500 men loyal to Abbas’s Fatah faction recently crossed from Gaza into Egypt for more advanced instruction in police tactics, Western security officials said.

Hundreds of members of Abbas’s presidential guard will take similar courses in the coming months at a facility in Jordan as part of a $59.4 million U.S. security program that received a green light from Congress this week….

Palestinian sources say Dahlan was personally coordinating the training programs and seeking additional assistance.

The Mecca Accord now looks set to crumble as the “compromise” technocrat chosen as Interior Minister has complained about at Dahlan’s growing influence.

A struggle to control Palestinian security forces escalated on Monday when the obscure bureaucrat named by rival factions as a compromise choice of interior minister submitted his resignation after just six weeks.

Hani al-Qawasmi was persuaded to stay on in the job by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and attended the weekly cabinet meeting.

But the day’s turbulence put a spotlight on deep differences within the unity government that Haniyeh’s Hamas Islamists and the secular Fatah movement…

In his role as interior minister, Qawasmi was supposed to oversee the security services. But President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah appointed Mohammad Dahlan, one of Hamas’s main rivals, to serve as national security adviser…

A government official said the dispute with Qawasmi centered on the role of internal security chief Rashid Abu Shbak, an Abbas loyalist who has assumed effective control over the security forces within the Interior Ministry.

Some Palestinian analysts saw the growing clout of Abu Shbak and Abbas’s appointment of Dahlan as national security adviser as a bid to sideline Qawasmi and minimize his control over the security services, which are mostly loyal to Fatah.

For those keeping score in the running battle between Saudi King Abdullah and Vice President Cheney, the “Mecca Accord” should have been coded as a “surprise” victory for Abdullah.

The White House has been quietly at work on several fronts to reverse this victory.

Code the coming clashes between Fatah and Hamas as a victory for Cheney.

Iran-Contra, Redux?

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

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

We’ve been here before.

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

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

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

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

Gates explained:

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

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

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

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

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

Iran-Contra, Redux?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t happen.

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

Nothing quite so dramatic has yet unfolded in 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the muddle continues.

And so does “Cutler’s Blog.”

Iranian Quid Pro Quo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is Cheney and US relations with Iran.

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

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

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

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

Indisputably the winners in Iran were the hardliners.

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

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

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

During the “negotiations,” an Iranian diplomat held in Iraq was released, feeding speculation of dealmaking.

The Iranians hinted at a deal after the British were released:

Tehran has called on London to respond to its release of 15 UK naval personnel with a gesture of good will, indicating it wants Britain’s help to free five Iranians held in Iraq and ease concerns about its nuclear programme.

“We played our part and we showed our good will,” Rasoul Movahedian, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, told the Financial Times, in his first interview since the crisis began. “Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way.”

There has been speculation that Tehran’s decision to free the 15 was linked to the fate of the Iranians held by the US since January.

This sparked fear among Iran hawks on the Right that the Bush administration had agreed to the link in a scandalous quid pro quo.

Eli Lake at the New York Sun reported, “America May Free Iranians Taken in Iraq” and the editorial page decried signs of a deal.

Where is Cheney?

In an interview with ABC News Radio, Cheney was asked about a quid pro quo:

Q Do you think there was any quid pro quo for their release?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don’t know.

Q Do you think there should have been?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t think there should have been…

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release.  But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them.  At least not yet.  And, according to the Financial Times the Iranians are pissed.

Iran’s frustration has been gradually building over the lack of progress in releasing five Iranians seized by US forces from Tehran’s consular building in Arbil, northern Iraq, on January 11. The case has become for Iran a disturbing sign of hostile US intentions, both over Tehran’s role in Iraq and its nuclear programme…

“We are not responsible for [the detained Iranians],” one Iraqi source said. “The realpolitik of today’s Iraq is different and [the Iranians] know it for sure.”…

Iran’s hopes for the release of the “Arbil Five” blossomed last week both with the freeing of Jalal Sharafi, a senior Iranian diplomat, two months after he was kidnapped in Baghdad apparently by Iraqi special forces, and with Iran’s release of 15 British sailors and marines detained since March 23.

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

In addition to questions of influence, there remains the issue of Cheney’s goals regarding Iran.

I note with interest that some of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies continue to be very frustrated by US policy toward Iran.  Right Zionists have always thought of populist regime change as the top priority in Iran.  But Cheney’s potential influence appears to offer little hope to Right Zionists that US policy is moving decisively in this direction.

In a recent interview, Richard Perle seems nearly inconsolable:

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

If Cheney is preparing the way for a “political strategy” of populist regime change in Iran, he appears to be keeping it from some of his best friends.

Rice’s Second Track?

Posted by Cutler on April 02, 2007
Iran, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently flew to the Middle East.  In terms of “diplomacy,” however, Rice appears to have been phoning it in.

“My approach has been, I admit, careful. It’s been step-by-step. I’ve not been willing to try for the big bang,” Rice said after her meetings Sunday. “To take the time to talk to the parties on the basis of the same questions and the same issues is well worth the time . . . and I won’t promise you that I won’t have to do that again before we can even move the process even further forward.”

If there is not going to be a “diplomatic” big bang, this may not preclude a different kind of “big bang” in the region.

As Dick Durata of “Blog Simple” noted in a comment to my recent post on Saudi factionalism, Rice’s visit to the Middle East also included a meeting “Prince Bandar and the heads of Jordanian and Egyptian security.”

I had missed that tidbit.  But the confab did catch the attention of several others.

As Rami G. Khouri points out in his Daily Star column, “When Arab Security Chiefs Conduct Foreign Policy,” Rice’s visit to the Middle East operated on two relatively distinct tracks.

Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit.

Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies?…

Rice’s meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications…

Rice’s latest visit to the region included her quest for “moderate Sunni Arabs” who would join the United States and Israel in their face-off against Iran and its Arab allies, alongside her meeting to foster bonding between the US State Department and Arab security establishments.

To say that this meeting went without much publicity is an understatement.  Intelligence Online covered the meeting.  The resulting report appears plausible, but I cannot speak to the validity of the details:

Rice was accompanied on the occasion by CIA director Michael Hayden. Among those in attendance were the heads of the foreign intelligence agencies of Egypt (general Omar Suleiman), Jordan (Mohamed Dahabi) and Saudi Arabia (prince Moqrin bin Abdulaziz) as well as the bosses of the Saudi and United Arab Emirates national security councils, prince Bandar bin Sultan and sheikh Hazaa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

According to Arab diplomatic sources in Amman, the first issue on the agenda concerned relations between Hamas and Syria and Iran. The head of Jordanian intelligence talked of several recent attempts to sneak arms of Iranian origin into Jordan…

[One] theme of the meeting was the danger that Iran posed to the region. The CIA underscored the need to track down Iranian networks operating out of the United Arab Emirates, and particularly out of Dubai, and the other Gulf countries. Hayden also demanded that a special eye be kept on Shi’ite minorities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He also similarly claimed that efforts to limit the flow of Saudi extremists into Iraq left much to be desired. It was agreed that Arab intelligence agencies ought to focus their attention on Iranian military activities in Syria and Lebanon.

Isn’t it possible that these are “Cheney’s Arabs” and Arabists?  The ones who are most eager and willing to join the US and Israel in a challenge to Iranian power?

Bandar is the most obvious name on the list, given the speculations about his direct links to Cheney.

And even as Saudi King Abdullah has been forging links between Abbas and Hamas in Mecca, Jordan’s director of General Intelligence, Mohammed Dahabi, has been ringing alarm bells about Hamas.

CIA director Michael Hayden doesn’t always read as a Cheney guy.  But it was hard to miss his effort to establish his credentials as an Iran hawk when he testified before Congress in November 2006:

In Congressional testimony this month, General Hayden said he was initially skeptical of reports of Iran’s role but changed his mind after reviewing intelligence reports.

“I’ll admit personally,” he said at one point in the hearing, “that I have come late to this conclusion, but I have all the zeal of a convert as to the ill effect that the Iranians are having on the situation in Iraq.”

I do not know that it all adds up to a second track intended to subvert Saudi King Abdullah.  But I wouldn’t bet against the idea.

Trouble with Abdullah

Posted by Cutler on March 30, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In several recent posts (here, here, and here), I have been speculating about growing tensions between King Abdullah and the Bush administration.  At times, I thought I was going pretty far out on a limb.  Turns out… not very far at all.

King Abdullah made big news at the Arab Summit meeting in Riyadh this week with a blast at US policy in Iraq.

“In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war,” Abdullah said.

The King’s remark was also, implicitly, a swipe at the US-backed, Shiite-led Iraqi government.  Needless to say, this did not escape the attention of Iraqi officials:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshayr Zebari on Thursday rejected remarks by Saudi Arabia that the US occupation of Iraq was illegal.

“We don’t think there is an illegal occupation because these forces are present and working according to international resolutions, and are accepted by a representative elected Iraqi government,” Zebari said on the sidelines of the Arab summit being held in Riyadh.

At issue, among other things, is the legitimacy of the new balance of power in Iraq that swept the Sunni Arab minority from power.

Arab League foreign ministers at a side meeting of the summit adopted a resolution that seeks to redress the perceived imbalance in the Iraqi security services and the political establishment.

Again, Iraqi government officials seemed miffed.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, called the League’s decision to call for changes in the Iraqi constitution that would tend to favor Sunni Muslims an “Arab diktat.”

All of this appears to fit well with the idea–suggested in an earlier post–that Abdullah represents a position that is relatively soft on Iran but hard on Iraqi Shiite rule.

It looks like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knows that Abdullah, if not the entire “Faisal” branch of the Saudi royal family, are all but lost to the US.

In an article on the Arab Summit, Helene Cooper of the New York Times doesn’t make any mention of factionalism within the Saudi royal family, but does report that Rice bypassed Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal, turning instead to Adel al-Jubeir, a figure traditionally thought to be closer to Prince Bandar.

“We were a little surprised to see those remarks,” R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told a Senate hearing, referring to the statement by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the opening of an Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday. “We disagree with them.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, who was traveling to Riyadh, an administration official said.

The official said the State Department had resisted going straight to Ms. Rice’s counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, so as to try to lower the temperature of the rhetoric. He said Ms. Rice planned to question Mr. Jubeir about the Saudi monarch’s remarks.

Cooper seems to be overlooking some of the factionalism that runs through all of this.  Consider, for example, Cooper’s depiction of King Abdullah’s relations with Cheney:

In fact, King Abdullah has warned American officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Last fall, as a growing chorus in Washington advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with a diplomatic outreach to the largely Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the leader of the Sunni Arab world, argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred.

Mention of the “warning” about backing Iraqi Sunnis almost certainly refers to a now-famous Washington Post Op-Ed piece by Nawaf Obaid, “Stepping Into Iraq.”

In a previous post on Nawaf Obaid (and again, here), however, I argued that Obaid was almost certainly not representing King Abdullah or his faction within the Saudi royal family.  Indeed, I think a strong case could be made that Obaid was speaking for Prince Bandar, if not Bandar’s father, Saudi Defense Minister Crown Prince Sultan.

If I am correct about the nature of the factional split, the Bandar crowd represents something like the opposite of the Abdullah position: they are hawkish on Iran and potentially reconciled to the prospect of Sistani-led Shiite rule in Iraq.  They are Cheney’s Saudis.

All of which means that at least some in the US may not only be increasingly uncomfortable with Saudi King Abdullah but may also have strong preferences for Crown Prince Sultan.

To borrow a map of Saudi factionalism from Cheney’s Middle East guru, David Wurmser, Crown Prince Sultan allegedly represents something like the “King Fahd” branch of the Saudi family.  Meanwhile, King Abdullah and his allies–Foreign Minister Faisal and former Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki–appear to represent something like the “Faisal” branch of the family.

According to Wurmser, all the trouble stems from the “Faisal” branch of the family.

In the 1970s, there was a previous Saudi King from the “Faisal” branch.  In 1975, he was assassinated, under murky circumstances, by a nephew recently returned from the United States.

Wither Cheney’s Saudis?

Posted by Cutler on March 26, 2007
Iran, Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Saudi King Abdullah does not appear to be cooperating with Vice President Cheney’s plans for the kingdom.

At least, that is what it looks like to those who track what didn’t happen last week. The Saudi monarch announced that there would be no changes in the Saudi cabinet.

Is “no news” good news?

Not for Cheney & Co.

In January 2007 there was considerable speculation that a major cabinet shuffle was in the works:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is considering a major Cabinet reshuffle soon, the first since he ascended to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, diplomats and Saudi media said Monday.

The reshuffle may include key posts such as Foreign Minister, which has been held by Prince Saud al-Faisal for more than 30 years, and the influential Oil Minister, they said….

Saudis who have intimate knowledge of the discussions regarding the possible reshuffle said al-Faisal, who has had health problems, might be replaced by Crown Prince Sultan’s son Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to Washington and current secretary of the National Security Council…

The news of the reshuffle comes a month after the resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal as Saudi ambassador to the United States. His resignation, after just 15 months as ambassador to Washington, sparked speculations about a power rift within the royal family.

If Bandar is, as has been suggested, “Cheney’s Saudi” then King Abdullah has once again defied the American Vice President.

But the King’s refusal to name Bandar Foreign Minister might only represent the tip of the iceberg.  The re-appointment of the Saudi oil minister, Ali Naimi, may also represent a significant snub.

Back on April 26, 2003, the Economist ran a story (“Regime change for OPEC? – Ali Naimi and the problems facing OPEC”) that seemed to suggest that ExxonMobil had been actively pressing for Naimi’s resignation.

[W]ithin Saudi Arabia… well-sourced rumours this week suggested that Mr Naimi is about to be forced out of office…

So, why might the Saudis even think of firing Mr Naimi, who has been their oil minister since 1995? The most plausible explanation is that he has lost a power struggle over the role of foreign investment. For years, a faction led by the foreign minister has been pushing to open up the country’s natural gas and power sectors to foreign money. Even though this would certainly not involve the full privatisation of Saudi oil into foreign hands, Mr Naimi saw this proposal as an attack on his beloved Aramco and fought it tooth and nail.

He may have lost this battle soon after Saddam lost his. It seems that Exxon Mobil’s formidable boss, Lee Raymond, who has long had a testy relationship with Mr Naimi, recently complained via back-door channels to the powers in the House of Saud about the oil minister’s obstructionism on the gas deals – suggesting that investment dollars might flow instead to newly liberated Iraq. If the rumours are indeed true, this prospect appears to have worried the Saudi royals enough for them to move against Mr Naimi.

I have argued that the Saudi “foreign investment” story referenced by the Economist may help explain some of the tension between Cheney and King Abdullah.

Naimi has also presided over the Saudi-backed OPEC oil price hikes of recent years, even as Cheney’s Saudis allegedly want to flood the oil market as part of a campaign to undermine the Iranian regime.

That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, at least for now.  Prepare to pay at the pump.  Abdullah is King.

Cheney and Iran

Posted by Cutler on March 21, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

What is the relationship between Cheney and Iran?

In a March 20, 2007 New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof describes the VP as “Iran’s Operative in the White House.”

Is Dick Cheney an Iranian mole?

Consider that the Bush administration’s first major military intervention was to overthrow Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, Iran’s bitter foe to the east. Then the administration toppled Iran’s even worse enemy to the west, the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

You really think that’s just a coincidence? That of all 193 nations in the world, we just happen to topple the two neighboring regimes that Iran despises?

Moreover, consider how our invasion of Iraq went down. The U.S. dismantled Iraq’s army, broke the Baath Party and helped install a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. If Iran’s ayatollahs had written the script, they couldn’t have done better — so maybe they did write the script …

We fought Iraq, and Iran won. And that’s just another coincidence?

Kristof, it seems, is joking.

O.K., O.K. Of course, all this is absurd. Mr. Cheney isn’t an Iranian mole…

Mr. Cheney harmed American interests not out of malice but out of ineptitude. I concede that they honestly wanted the best for America, but we still ended up getting the worst.

I have no problem stipulating a lot of ineptitude in the Bush administration, starting at the top.  But I have also warned–in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–that the simplistic charge of ineptitude can lead one to underestimate opponents.  This is almost certainly the case when thinking about Cheney and geopolitical strategy.

So, without suggesting that there is any transparency about Cheney’s current thinking about Iran, it might be worth recalling that Cheney was not always an Iran hawk, especially when it came to thinking about Russia and the Caspian Sea.

Dick Cheney, chief executive officer of Dallas-based Halliburton Co. and former U.S. defense secretary, argued Wednesday the U.S. policy toward Iran hampers another American effort, to encourage Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the other countries in the Caspian region to act independently of Moscow.

Policies against Iran interfere with our policy of independence for the Caspian nations,” Cheney said. (“U.S. moves to foil Iran pipeline; Kazakhs seek loans for alternate routes,” The Houston Chronicle, November 20, 1997, p.2)

A lot has changed since then.  Among other things, Cheney’s potential overtures to Iran in 2000 were blocked by the Israel lobby in the US Congress.

But Cheney has certainly not lost his focus the urgency of “our policy of independence for the Caspian nations.”  Some of that has meant working mightily to construct energy pipelines that bypass Russia and Iran.  But some of it has also meant preparing the way–one way or another–for a new dawn in US-Iranian relations, all at the expense of Russian influence in the Caspian.

Indeed, according to Cheney’s own calendar, the time is coming near:

“I think we’d be better off if we in fact backed off those [Iran] sanctions . . . didn’t try to impose secondary boycotts on [Australian] companies like BHP trying to do business over there,” he told the Business Sunday program.

For several years BHP has been discussing a 2400km natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Iran to Turkey but has been reluctant to commit to the project for fear of US reprisals…

“I think the [hawkish] Iranian policy the US is following is also inappropriate, frankly,” he said.

“I think we ought to begin to work to rebuild those relationships with Iran . . . it may take 10 years but it’s important that we do that.”  (“BHP pipeline should not face US sanctions, says Cheney,” The Australian, April 20, 1998, p.35.)

It may take ten years.  Hmmm.  That gives him until April 20, 2008.  Mark your calendars.

Cheney and the Neocons

Posted by Cutler on March 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

If there is any daylight to be found between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies–and I’m not sure if there is–look to the Russia-Iran axis as the source of the split.

The alliance between Russia and Iran also provides a foundation for the alliance between Cheney and Right Zionists.

Insofar as a split develops between Russia and Iran, however, Right Zionists would likely to try to bring Russia into the anti-Iranian camp.  For Cheney and other Russia hawks, the temptation would be to bring Iran into the anti-Russian camp.

The possibility of such a split has become far more likely in recent days, as Russia has distanced itself from Iran’s nuclear program.

Public Enemy #1: Iran or Russia?

For the most part, Right Zionists join Cheney in his hawkish approach to Russia.  Richard Perle, for example, took the lead back in 2003 in demanding that Russia should be thrown out of the G8.  And Right Zionists are very well represented in campaigns that castigate Russia for its war in Chechnya.

But there are several countervailing tendencies that might make Right Zionists go “wobbly” on Russia.  One is Iran.

For Right Zionists, the Iran Question–as a threat and an opportunity–arguably trumps the Russia Question.

Can the same be said for Cheney?

Cheney’s approach to regional actors like Iran, Iraq, and much of Central Asia mirrors Teddy Roosevelt’s approach to Great Power rivalry a century ago: battles were fought in places like the Philippines, but the War was with another empire, i.e., Spain.

Cheney is focused on Great Power rivalries with China and Russia.  Iraq and Iran are pawns in the Great Game.

Right Zionists are, not surprisingly, focused on Israel and its neighborhood.  Russia and the US are, in effect, viewed as pawns in a Zionist game.  For much of its history, the Zionist movement has proven itself adept in courting Great Powers and making them compete for its loyalty.

So, what happens when hawks are forced to choose between Iran and Russia?  It depends on the hawk.

Zionists Go “Wobbly” on Russia

The most high profile sign of a major shift on Russia among Zionists in the US came in February when Congressman Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, visited Moscow and turned heads with a dramatic flip-flop on Russia.  As one media source suggested in reference to the Lantos visit, “the hitherto staunch critic of Russia” had now embarked on a path of “good will and appeasement to Russia” (Natalia Leshchenko, “U.S. Promises to Lift Trade Restrictions with Russia,” Global Insight Daily Analysis, 21 February 2007).

Even as Washington was reeling from Putin’s anti-American speech in Munich, Lantos found nothing but blue skies ahead for US-Russian relations.  A report from Kommersant tells the story of the Lantos conversion:

In 2003, Mr. Lantos set the tone for the discussions of the Yukos affair in the US, and at that time he was one of the authors of the congressional resolution that called on the US President to bar Russia from the G8. Thus far this year, Mr. Lantos has already at least twice confirmed his reputation as the “bad cop” when it comes to Russia, first by accusing Russia and China of throwing up “constant roadblocks” to the resolution of the Iranian nuclear question, and second by sending a letter to the State Department in which he called on the department to include the sentence “Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are political prisoners” in its annual human rights report.   In his letter, Mr. Lantos wrote that the former Yukos executives “are imprisoned not for any crime that they committed but for their political activities, which threatened Putin’s totalitarian regime.”

Tom Lantos arrived in Moscow soon after President Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich, which was followed by more harsh anti-American rhetoric from the Russian leadership that has caused many to comment on the threat of a return to Cold War-era relations between the two countries. However, his visit has not caused the scandal predicted by many observers. [State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev] Konstantin Kosachev, who spoke with his American colleague for more than an hour, told Kommersant that his impression of Mr. Lantos during their conversation was entirely positive… In reply to a question from Kommersant about whether they had discussed the Yukos affair, the problems of democracy, or other Russian domestic issues, Mr. Kosachev said that such questions had not come up. “He did not bring up those subjects, and so we didn’t either,” he explained, adding, “I liked Mr. Lantos’ attitude. He had a lot to say about how Russia and the US are on the same side of the barricade, and that the problem is that in many cases they have not yet arrived at mutual understanding when confronting threats and challenges that they both face.”

With his trip to Moscow, Mr. Lantos appears determined to shed the image of Russia’s “chief persecutor.” Yesterday he captured the interest of Russian journalists by promising that at his press conference today he will make “an important statement, one that will have historical significance for Russian-American relations.” Kommersant has learned that the surprise up his sleeve is thought to be a statement of America’s readiness to repeal the infamous Jackson-Vanick Amendment, which has hobbled trade relations between the two countries ever since it was introduced by Congress at the height of the Cold War. Thus, America’s “chief persecutor” of Russia may well become Russia’s “chief savior.”

A column in RIA Novosti described as “sensational” the announcement by Lantos that he would, indeed, support the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, thereby facilitating Russia’s WTO entry.  [The “Jackson” in the Jackson-Vanik amendment is Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the late Senator from Boeing/Washington, also mentor in the 1970s of two young Right Zionist staff aides, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz].

An Associated Press report included remarkable quotes from a Lantos press conference in Moscow:

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday he would call for the removal of Russia from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has restricted bilateral trade and remained a key irritant in relations between Moscow and Washington.

It’s time to put behind us this relic of the Cold War,” Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said at a news conference. “I will spare no effort to bring this about and I have every expectation that I will be successful.”

Moscow has long urged the United States to abolish the Jackson-Vanik amendment tying Russia’s trade status to whether it freely allows Jewish emigration…

In what appeared to be an attempt to strike a conciliatory note, Lantos said Putin’s [Munich] statement was a “fully understandable” attempt to demonstrate that his country, a former superpower, was resurgent after years of post-Soviet demise and stressed that Putin’s criticism should not stand in the way of the two countries’ cooperation.

The United States and Russia have far too many common interests and long-term goals,” Lantos said… “We certainly will not allow… [Putin’s Munich] speech to stand in the way of our very positive attitude towards Russia and our future cooperation.

What was the cost, for Putin, of all this “appeasement” from Lantos?

The answer appears to have arrived on February 19 while Lantos was in Moscow: Russia’s retreat from Iran’s nuclear program.

A source in Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom told Reuters it was obvious the timetable for the Bushehr plant needed to be “corrected” because Tehran had not made payments for the work for more than a month.

Moscow had been due to start nuclear fuel deliveries for the plant in March, ahead of the reactor’s planned September start. It was unclear how long the delay would be. Moscow has already pushed back completion several times, citing technical reasons…

Atomstroiexport, the Russian state company in charge of the Bushehr work, said existing U.N. sanctions against Iran were also contributing to the delays because of a trading ban on certain atomic equipment.

“There are certain obstacles affecting our work in Bushehr,” said spokeswoman Irina Yesipova. “Because of the embargo a number of third countries declined to supply equipment (to Iran). That’s why Russian producers have to provide all the equipment all of a sudden. It’s a tough situation.”

Right Zionists took note and suddenly began to elaborate the potential joys of diplomacy.  When the news broke, Cliff May had this to say over at the National Review Online:

If ever there was a time for skillful diplomacy, this is it. The focus should be on Russia. Whatever his faults (and they are many) Putin can be made to see that Russia’s future should not be as the junior, infidel partner to an aggressive, expansionist, radical Islamist, nuclear-armed Iran.

Russia Hawks Go Wobbly on Iran

Even as some Right Zionists were cooing over the prospect of a US-Russian axis against Iran, Russia hawks in the Bush administration–focused on Caspian Sea energy politics–were arguably going “wobbly” on Iran.

Consider, for example, the case of Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Within the Bush administration, Bryza is one of the figures responsible for finding ways to break Russia’s leverage as a supplier of natural gas to Europe and its monopoly control over energy routes out of the Caspian Sea.  Iran looms large as both a source of fuel and a potential route for natural gas from Turkmenistan.

Bryza’s recent interview with Turkish Daily News speaks volumes about his priorities when it comes to Russia and Iran:

[T]he planned Nabucco [pipeline] raises hopes for providing Europe with natural gas from Central Asia, not Russia. It is set to run through Turkey to Vienna via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. However there are concerns that the Azerbaijan gas fields are not yet suitable for extraction.

I don’t know if Nabucco needs a lot of help from America and Europe, but we are all for it,” said Bryza.

“Nabucco needs good, clear gas production from Azerbaijan. We believe that within five to 10 years this could be achieved and Azerbaijan could be producing enough gas”…

Asked whether the United States felt apprehensive about Russian state-owned Gazprom’s tactics, Bryza said that the United States stood for a free, competitive market.

“Gazprom is a monopoly,” he emphasized, “and monopolies behave as monopolies. We don’t like monopolies…

In recent statements President Putin raised the possibility of a Russia-Iran agreement on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) model. Bryza said it was hard to tell if these were empty threats, adding, “I think the Iranians have proved themselves to be difficult associates”…

“Although President Bush has said that no option is off the table, I don’t think a [U.S.] attack on Iran is likely. Our policy is to change the behavior of the Iranian government through diplomacy, not to change the regime,” stated Bryza.

That kind of talk is enough to drive Right Zionists–committed, as they remain, to popular insurrection and regime change in Iran–into fits of rage.

Is it also enough to allow some daylight between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies?

Hersh’s Redirection

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

In his most recent New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” Seymour Hersh tries to make some sense out of US efforts to build a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.  In some respects, the essay runs along the same lines as my own effort to trace the lines of such a redirection in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Hersh also gives a nod to the possibility that the “shift” may be championed by factions within the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel but this theme remains relatively underdeveloped and the refusal to take factionalism more seriously tends to trouble his narrative.

Hersh pins the US strategy on Cheney, Right Zionist Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad.  He sees John Negroponte as a critic and hedges on the role of Condoleezza Rice:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney…

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings…

[T]he echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State.

On Saudi factionalism, Hersh reiterates some of the themes that have been developed in previous posts (here, here, and here)–including the idea that Prince Bandar is the a figure of any such new alignment.  But Hersh hedges his bets on the depths of the Saudi schism:

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed…

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

I think the Turki-Bandar split runs deeper than a personality dispute.  The Turki faction is more dovish on Iran and more hawkish on Israel and, in a US context, the Turki faction is closer to Baker than Cheney.

There are some unruly problems that disrupt Hersh’s attempts to craft a coherent narrative.  Hersh takes up the Saudi-Israeli element of the redirection, but he can’t entirely square the circle:

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations…

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction… Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran…

[T]he Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

Isn’t it possible that the Saudi brokered deal at Mecca between Hamas and Fatah represented more of a triumph for one faction than another?  If the Mecca deal was part of a US initiative, it seems strange that the US was not only dissatisfied with the terms, as Hersh suggests, but was also reportedly caught by surprise by the deal.

There are certainly signs of renewed interest in some quarters for an Israeli-Saudi accord but to judge from the headlines, Prince Turki seems unlikely to emerge as a leading source of such enthusiasm.  Right Zionists are not exactly dancing in the streets.

Hersh’s article focuses well-deserved attention on Saudi involvement in Lebanon, although even here I think he understates the conflict between Bandar’s hawkish approach toward Hezbollah and the Turki faction’s quest for reconciliation in Lebanon.

The biggest question is what a new US-Saudi-Israeli strategic alignment would mean for Iraq.  Hersh’s whole analysis of the “redirection” begins with the question of Iraq:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy.

But Hersh is actually weakest in his attempt to link the “redirection” to the politics of Iraq.  As Hersh suggests, the US initially aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites and marginalized Iraqi Sunnis.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites….

Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

One peculiarity in this story: neoconservative ideologues appear, in Hersh’s telling, at the center of both the move toward Iraqi Shiites and a pro-Sunni redirection designed to counteract the “distress” the pro-Shiite tilt has caused.

Is the assumption that neoconservatives have been distressed by empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority?  I see no sign of that distress, in part because Right Zionists close to Cheney have always argued–and continue to argue–that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority could provide a pro-American balance to both Sunni extremists (including the Turki faction in Saudi Arabia!) and Shiite extremists in Iran.

One might expect that a pro-Saudi tilt in US policy would require rollback of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and the containment of Iran.  This might, in fact, reflect the goals of the Baker-Turki factions.

The restoration of Sunni Arab political power (through an anti-Shiite coup, etc.), however, is decidedly not on the agenda of “neo-conservative ideologues.”  Neither, it seems, is a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hersh knows that the signs of “redirection” in Iraq do not appear to include a retreat from Shiite power.

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

If Hersh knows why “the trends have been in the opposite direction” of those implicit in his sense of the redirection, he isn’t saying.

The Baker and the Turki faction are “irreconcilables” when it comes to Shiite power in Iraq, even as they seek to retain but contain the incumbent regime in Iran.  For this crowd, the “trends” in Iraq continue in the wrong direction.

Hersh, however, may be missing a key piece of the puzzle.  The faction behind the redirection–Cheney, his Right Zionist allies, and Bandar–are very hawkish about the Iranian regime but remain quite hopeful about relations with  Iraqi Shiites, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

The evidence for this is quite clear in the case of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies, if not in the case of Cheney himself.

On the Bandar front, the evidence remains murky.  There are, however, some tantalizing clues.

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

Recall that Obaid made headlines with a November 29, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping Into Iraq” that seemed to threaten Saudi action to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq.  Obaid was fired by Turki after the publication of the Op-Ed.

Does Nawaf Obaid represent Bandar’s views?  That remains a speculative proposition.  Nevertheless, Obaid did appear to suggest that his views had some base of support in Saudi Arabia, if not “the Saudi leadership”:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Is Bandar part of “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions”?  Is Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council a strategic position?

In any event, Obaid’s Op-Ed was actually a condensed version of a larger report–“Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective“–published in connection with his time as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Obaid’s report is long and complex and deserves to be read in full.  Nevertheless, the relevant point in the context of Saudi relations with Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is that the report is, as one might predict, extremely hawkish about the pernicious influence of Iran in Iraq.  The chief recommendations in the report concern preparing for a “worst case scenario” in which Saudi Arabia must aggressively “counter meddling by Iran.”

At the same time, the report includes a very important recommendation that was not part of Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed: “Extend a State Invitation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It is also important for the Saudi leadership to open a meaningful discussion with Grand Ayotollah Ali al- Sistani by extending an invitation to him to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an overture would send a strong positive message – both within the Kingdom and in the region at large – regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Shi’ite community. It would also demonstrate that the Kingdom recognizes Ayatollah al-Sistani’s authority and respects those who regard him as the leading Shi’ite Arab cleric. Ayatollah Sistani is not only the foremost religious figure for Iraqi Shi’ites, but his influence in Iraq’s political sphere is equally as important. An official state visit to Saudi Arabia would reassure the Iraqi Shi’ite community that the Saudi leadership fully acknowledges that they are critical to establishing stability in the country.

Prince Bandar meets David Wurmser.  Welcome to Cheney’s world.

It’s the Regime, Stupid

Posted by Cutler on March 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

US policy toward Iran is so much in the news, but the stakes for various players in Washington have rarely been less transparent.

So much of the focus has been framed as one of nuclear non-proliferation: how can the US stop Iran from acquiring nukes?

I would not be the first to note the haunting symmetry between the invocation of Iraqi WMDs and the urgency of a strident non-proliferation agenda ahead of the US invasion and the current focus on Iranian non-proliferation.

Iran hawks are quick to point out a key difference: Iran’s nuclear program is the real deal. For many liberal hawks, Iran becomes one more occasion to bash the Bush administration. Having cried wolf in Iraq, they risk making us complacent about the real threat of Iran.

My interest in the focus on Iranian nukes has more to do with a somewhat different link to the earlier focus on Iraqi WMDs. Both appear to represent a kind of bureaucratic compromise referenced by Paul Wolfowitz.

Indeed, as with Iraq, it would seem that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) have always had a very different set of priorities than other Iran hawks. Right Zionists do fear that the Iranian regime will acquire nukes. But their preferred solution–today as always–is regime change rather than nuclear non-proliferation.

One corollary: after regime change, the prospect of Iranian nukes in a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran are not perceived as a threat. As Michael Rubin has insisted, “democratization” in Iran can “take the edge off the Iranian threat.”

Indeed, for some Right Zionists and Iranian dissidents the administration’s emphasis on nukes is a source of considerable frustration.

All of which goes to say that Right Zionists are Iran hawks. But they do not aim to contain or defeat Iran, they aim to win Iran.

Michael Ledeen at AEI says as much in his latest missive in which he criticizes the Bush administration for “excessive timorousness with regard to Iran.” But then he comes to the point that distinguishes Right Zionists not only from the Bush administration’s halting diplomatic initiatives but also, perhaps, from Cheney’s own brand of bellicose hawkishness :

The proper strategy toward Iran is non-violent regime change, of the sort that was accomplished to the ruin of the Soviet Empire. Military attack against Iran would be a mistake, indeed it would constitute a tragic admission of the utter failure of the United States and her allies to conceive and conduct a serious Iran policy over the course of nearly three decades. Political support for the tens of millions of Iranians who detest their tyrannical leaders is both morally obligatory and strategically sound.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, also at AEI, is considerably less hostile to a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But like Ledeen, Gerecht is a strident advocate of regime change in Iran and has argued in the past that the former is quite compatible with the latter:

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

For Gerecht, however, the real key to Iran has always been Iraq. He returns to this theme in his most recent essay, “The Myth of the Moderate Mullahs.” The title is arguably quite ironic: Gerecht seeks to dispel the myth of the moderate Iranian “mullahs” (especially Rafsanjani) but the argument ends with a celebration of moderate Iraqi “mullahs.”

The American presence in Iraq… gives Iraqi Shiites a non-Iranian option, particularly in the face of the Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shia.

If the United States can develop a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis, Iraq’s Shiite clergy may grow more independent and open in its internal debates about proper governance and its own role in an Iraqi democracy. Friendly and dependent Iraqi groups like SCIRI may fairly quickly become difficult for Tehran. Right now, SCIRI has no firm idea of what it is. It has had no test of its democratic commitment. It doesn’t really know what its relationship will be with Iraq’s moderate senior clergy in Najaf. This process of discovery for SCIRI, and for other Shiites in Iraq, may come with speed if the Sunni violence can be checked. This could go badly for Tehran.

This has always been the hope of Right Zionist support for the war in Iraq.

One way to gauge how much sway Right Zionists–and the AIPAC crowd meeting in Washington–continue to have in the Bush administration is to seek signs of the one thing Gerecht has always demanded: “a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis.”

Some argue that a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis is simply not possible. Gerecht doesn’t believe that. But he also thinks the US hasn’t even been trying to achieve that aim since September 2003. Instead, the emphasis has been on incorporation and reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunnis.

Gerecht hasn’t yet said whether he thinks the “surge” marks a departure from this policy. We’ll see. I’m not sure General Petraeus is in Gerecht’s corner on this one.

Meanwhile, it is far less difficult to discern how much sway the AIPAC crowd has with Dem Zionists.

Top U.S. House Democrats have frozen their attempt to limit President Bush’s authority to take military action against Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the leadership decided on Monday to back down from presenting a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats and other pro-Israel lawmakers had argued for the change in strategy.

So much for the Democrats.

Reconcilables & Irreconcilabes

Posted by Cutler on March 09, 2007
Arab League, Iran, Iraq / No Comments

In his first press briefing as Commander of the “Multi-National Force” in Iraq, General David Petraeus offered up what appeared to be a clear and sensible approach to the right mix of political cooptation and military muscle in Iraq:

In an endeavor like this one, the host nation and those who are assisting it obviously are trying to determine over time who are the irreconcilables and who are the reconcilables. And they’re on either end of the sectarian spectrum, of ethnic spectrums, political spectrums and so forth. And of course, what the government is trying to do, what those supporting the government are trying to do are to split the irreconcilables from the reconcilables and to make the reconcilables part of the solution rather than a continuing part of a problem, and then dealing with the irreconcilables differently. And that is certainly what the government of Iraq is doing and what those who are supporting the government of Iraq — what the coalition is also doing, in very, very early stages.

Part of the task, it appears, is to discern how many “reconcilables” there are in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. In response to a National Public Radio question about the role of the Madhi Army, Petraeus replied:

Well, you know, ultimately, that’s a question for — truly for the Iraqi government, for its authorities and certainly its security force leaders.

You know, many of our — of the coalition countries have a variety of auxiliary police or other functions. The challenge, of course, is that some of these organizations have participated in true excesses, and they have been responsible, some of them, some the extremist elements of them — and I think that the challenge has been to determine, you know, how do you incorporate those who want to serve a positive — in a positive way, and as neighborhood watches, let’s say, but unarmed in our own communities, but without turning into something much more than that?

Lest this kind of talk be perceived as part of a Shiite tilt in US policy toward Iraq, Petraeus also went out of his way to stress the importance of even-handed approach that would reach out to reconcilables of all kinds:

With respect, again, to the — you know, the idea of the reconcilables and the irreconcilables, this is something in which the Iraqi government obviously has the lead. It is something that they have sought to — in some cases, to reach out. And I think, again, that any student of history recognizes that there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq

A political resolution of various differences, of this legislation, of various senses that people do not have a stake in the success of the new Iraq, and so forth, that is crucial. That is what will determine in the long run the success of this effort. And again, that clearly has to include talking with and eventually reconciling differences with some of those who have felt that the new Iraq did not have a place for them, whereas I think, again, Prime Minister Maliki clearly believes that it does, and I think that his actions will demonstrate that, along with the other ministers.

All of this would surely be easier if reconcilables and irreconcilables wore name tags. But irreconcilables are not born, they are produced, forged in the heat of political battle. To what terms must would-be reconcilables reconcile themselves? What are the red lines that produce new irreconcilables?

It appears that this question will likely be answered in a regional, rather than a local, context.

To listen to the Arab League, for example, is to realize that some of the “irreconcilables” appear to be Sunni Arab regimes who continue to resist the terms on offer from the “new” Iraq created by the US and its Shiite allies in Iraq.

The Iraqi government… should redraft the constitution and rescind laws that give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds, Arab foreign ministers said in a statement Sunday.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also hinted that Arab governments may take their recommendations on stemming the violence in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council if the government’s efforts to end the crisis fail.

Sunday’s statement was the strongest sign yet from the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab governments in the Middle East that they blame the Iraqi government for the country’s sectarian strife…

In the statement, the ministers set forth several recommendations they want the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consider before they give their full support to a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq that is scheduled to start Saturday in Baghdad…

The ministers also called for revoking an Iraqi law that dismissed senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party from the government

In addition, they called on the Iraqi government to disband Shiite militias, end armed demonstrations and decide on a specific timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Moussa went a step further in his comments, suggesting the U.N. Security Council should demand the reforms suggested by the Arab ministers.

“In my opinion, the mechanism (for ending the strife) should be through the Security Council, without that there will no solution,” Moussa told reporters after Sunday’s meeting.

It seems to me that the message here is simple enough: the Arab League states could definitely be counted as reconcilables, at least once the UN Security Council intervenes in Iraq, redrafts the constitution, embraces re-Baathification, disarms the Shiites, and sends the US packing.

Oh, but wait. These conditions appear to have aroused some concern in Shiite quarters. Shocking, really. It is almost as if there is some risk that producing Sunni Arab reconcilables could simultaneously produce Shiite irreconcilables.

Iraq’s Shiite leaders expressed anger Thursday at criticism leveled against them by the top Arab League official, warning that such remarks could overshadow this weekend’s regional conference to ease the security crisis in Iraq…

In a statement Thursday, the United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shiite bloc in parliament, said Moussa’s comments amounted to “flagrant interference in Iraq’s internal affairs” and “ignored the march of the Iraqi people to build a free and democratic state.”

“At the same time we hope that the regional conference due to be held in Baghdad in March 10 will not be shadowed by such stands” and will not have a “negative impact” on efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis, the statement said.

During a press conference Thursday, the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, also denounced Moussa’s comments, saying they could provoke “sedition and disputes among Iraqi people.”

“We hope that the Arab League will not be part of any dispute or quarrel inside Iraq that might encourage some parties to take some Arab countries to their sides to accomplish their political desires,” al-Attiyah said…

[Moussa’s] comments have reinforced Shiite fears that Iraq’s Sunni neighbors will try to use the conference to pressure them into concessions to the Sunni minority that the Shiites would find unacceptable.

Wow. Petraeus made it sound so easy.

German Gas

Posted by Cutler on March 07, 2007
Germany, Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia / No Comments

So many enemies, so little time.

It cannot be easy to be Dick Cheney.  When your list of enemies gets long enough, you are inevitably asked to compromise and support the lesser evil.

For Cheney, the challenge is to keep both Iran and Russia in the crosshairs at the same time.

Take Germany, for example.

The German appetite for natural gas makes Russia and Iran attractive trading partners.

The Russian option is championed by Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream and has the active support of ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

As suggested by an article in Business Week, the former chancellor–now on the Gazprom payroll–retains influence within the Merkel administration.

The German ex-chancellor caused a furore at home when he took the lucrative Gazprom job in 2005 just weeks after brokering the pipeline deal at government level. Current chancellor Angela Merkel has backed the pipe, but has frostier relations with Russia’s Mr Putin, once described by Mr Schroeder as a “crystal-clear democrat”…

But the ex-chancellor also showed glimpses of the canny pragmatism that characterised his foreign policy while still in power and which continues to function inside the German government in the person of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – Mr Schroeder’s ex-cabinet chief.

The “canny pragmatism” mentioned above refers to Schroeder’s question, implicitly directed at Vice President Cheney:

Where are the alternatives to Russia?” Mr Schroeder asked in the context of soaring EU gas imports, mentioning Algeria, Libya, Qatar, Nigeria and international pariah Iran. “You have to think if this would be politically better than Russia. My view…is that as far as security and stability of supply goes, Russia is the best option.”

Schroeder’s reference to Iran is not merely an exercise in hypothetical speculation.  Spiegel Online reports that the German energy giant E.on is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas.  The Iranian initiative is depicted as a move to break German dependence on Russia.

German energy giant E.on has confirmed it is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas — although Germany is currently discussing further sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program with its allies.

Germany has for years been talking about diversifying its natural gas supplies to reduce over-reliance on Russia. But the solution currently being considered by German energy utility E.on may end up being just as controversial — the company wants to buy gas from Iran.

Berlin has become increasingly skeptical about the reliability of Russia as an energy supplier as Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas company in charge of most of Siberia’s vast reserves, has repeatedly flexed its muscles in price spats with Russia’s neighbors. But E.on’s interest in Iran comes just as the international community is discussing further sanctions on Tehran for its controversial nuclear program.

So, Vice President Cheney: Is Russia the lesser evil?  Or is Iran?

Cheney’s answer (like Clinton’s): BTC.

One can only hope that the gas arrives in time for the American Eagle to free the German Adler from the clutches of the Russian Bear and the Persian Lion.

What is Kazakhstan’s inner animal, anyway?  I don’t remember Borat ever having mentioned it…

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)

The Ice in Rice

Posted by Cutler on February 17, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

To my knowledge, nobody has explicitly linked the Saudi-brokered “unity government” deal between Fatah and Hamas to Saudi royal factionalism.  And I’ve seen no news reports to suggest that any royals have criticized the deal.

Give it time.

The US response to the deal–signaled by Secretary of State Rice in comments earlier this week as she departed for the region–was quite icy.

This is not a White House initiative sponsored by the office of the Vice President.  These are not Cheney’s Saudis.  These are Baker’s Saudi’s.

The unity deal between Fatah and Hamas appears to mark a major victory for “unreconstructed,” Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.   By some accounts, Saudi King Abdullah appears to neither to have pressed for nor received many “pro-Zionist” concessions from Hamas, least of all the recognition of Israel or the renunciation of violence as a tool in the struggle.  Others suggest Hamas may have given a nod toward implicit recognition.

Overall, the Mecca agreement appears to represent a successful Saudi effort to undermine the Bush administration’s Fatah-backed war against the Hamas government.

Regional reconciliation is, in essence, a Baker/Abdullah initiative.  And it aims to include all players–including Putin–in the classic Right Arabist collaborative initiative.

Regional rivalry is the Cheney plan.

So, has Cheney lost his Saudi’s?  Or are they just laying low and deferring to Abdullah for the moment.

The Cheney plan provides for a “regional realignment” that explicitly links the US, Israel and the Saudis in confrontational alliance to battle Iran and Syria via proxy wars within the Palestinian Authority (support for Mahmoud Abbas in a civil war with Hamas), Lebanon (support for Fouad Siniora in a civil war with Hezbollah), and Iraq (support for a campaign against alleged Iranian influence), if not support for an outright military confrontation against Iran itself.

So far, the Saudis royal family appears to be trying to hold together amidst US pressure to pick a side.

How long will that last with Cheney working overtime to cultivate Saudi allies?

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.

Friedman’s Own War in Iran

Posted by Cutler on February 02, 2007
Iran / 2 Comments

In a column back in June 2003 entitled “Because We Could,” Thomas Friedman conceded,

I have to admit that I’ve always been fighting my own war in Iraq.

In other words, Friedman had his own reasons for supporting a US invasion of Iraq but acknowledges that these reasons did not necessarily coincide with the reasons the Bush administration went to war.

Nothing has changed as the Bush administration goes to work on Iran.  Thomas Friedman is fighting his own war in Iran.

In most respects, Friedman’s war in Iran runs parallel to Cheney’s war, as it has in Iraq.

In a previous post, I suggested that Cheney’s Saudi allies might be preparing to launch an oil war on Iran by flooding the market and driving down the price of oil until the Iranian regime either cried uncle (as it seemingly did when the Saudis dropped the price of oil in the late 1980s under Reagan and the late 1990s under Clinton) or collapsed in the face of internal, populist unrest.

Friedman is an ardent supporter of this strategy.  In his February 2, 2007 column–The Oil-Addicted Ayatollahs–Friedman writes:

I’d like to focus on how the Soviet Union was killed, in part, by its addiction to oil, and on how we might get leverage with Iran, based on its own addiction…

By the early 1980s, though, oil prices had started to sink — thanks in part to conservation efforts by the U.S… Oil prices and production kept falling as Mr. Gorbachev tried reforming communism, but by then it was too late…

In 2005, Bloomberg.com reported, Iran’s government earned $44.6 billion from oil and spent $25 billion on subsidies — for housing, jobs, food and 34-cents-a-gallon gasoline — to buy off interest groups. Iran’s current populist president has further increased the goods and services being subsidized.

So if oil prices fall sharply again, Iran’s regime will have to take away many benefits from many Iranians, as the Soviets had to do. For a regime already unpopular with many of its people, that could cause all kinds of problems and give rise to an Ayatollah Gorbachev. We know how that ends. “Just look at the history of the Soviet Union,” Professor Mau said.

In short, the best tool we have for curbing Iran’s influence is not containment or engagement, but getting the price of oil down in the long term with conservation and an alternative-energy strategy. Let’s exploit Iran’s oil addiction by ending ours.

Friedman is not new to this line of thinking.  In an earlier column–“Fill ‘Er Up Dictators“–Friedman wrote:

Bring the price of oil down to $30 and guess what happens: All of Iran’s income goes to subsidies. That would put a terrible strain on Ahmadinejad, who would have to reach out to the world for investment. Trust me, at $30 a barrel, the Holocaust isn’t a myth anymore.

I’m proposing that most of Friedman’s analysis is not like Cheney’s strategy.  It is Cheney’s strategy.

With one exception: Friedman’s special function is to bring the liberals along by aligning the war on Iran to an environmental politics of conservation and alternative energy.  In this, Friedman is fighting his own war on Iran.

It wasn’t conservation that brought down the price of oil in the 1980s or the 1990s.  And Cheney isn’t counting on the Green Party to hit the Iranians.  Cheney is counting on the House of Saud to flood the oil market.

There is a likely relationship between bringing the price of oil down and conservation.  An inverse relationship.

High oil prices make all kinds of energy alternatives (including conservation) viable.  Cheap oil puts the shine back on the old gas guzzling SUV.

Friedman knows that Cheney’s effort to hit the Iranians with low oil prices–the “real” war on Iran–will actually destroy any recent momentum toward energy efficiency, energy alternatives, and conservation.

So Friedman veers off from the Cheney war to fight his own: combine low market prices for oil with high oil taxes on oil consumption.  From “Fill ‘Er Up Dictators”:

[W]e don’t want the price of gasoline to go down in America just when $3 a gallon has started to stimulate large investments in alternative energies…

[W]e still need to make sure, either with a gasoline tax or a tariff on imported oil, that we keep the price at the pump at $3 or more — to stimulate various alternative energy programs, more conservation and a structural shift by car buyers and makers to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

You can propose an oil price crash to hurt Iran.  You can propose an oil price hike in the form of gasoline tax to support energy innovation.  But the two proposals run in opposite directions.

Friedman’s very “real” foreign policy–the one that is closely aligned with Cheney’s foreign policy–demands a collapse in oil prices.  His fantasy oil policy demands the exact opposite.

Friedman’s support for an oil price war on Iran will help rally liberal hawks for Cheney’s war and then leave them high and dry when Friedman is subsequently shocked, shocked to find that the whole affair leads to less conservation and less innovation because, alas, there was no political appetite–least of all from the White House–for his petroleum tax.

If the Saudis drop the price of oil, it may or may not have the predicted consequences in Iran.  But it will certainly diminish the pressure for energy innovation.

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?

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.

“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.

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.

Turkmenbashi

Posted by Cutler on December 21, 2006
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan / No Comments

Saparmurat Niyazov, the President of Turkmenistan, is dead.

Turkmenistan–a Caspian Sea country which contains either the fourth or fifth largest natural gas reserves in the world and considerable oil reserves, as well–is a central site in the “Great Game” of inter-imperialist rivalry being waged between dominant forces within the US and Russia.

And if you care about US policy toward Iran, then the larger context of US-Turkmenistan relations might be of interest.

The gossip side of the news is simple. Niyazov was a nutty authoritarian dictator. The Times Online reports:

Saparmurat Niyazov, the colourful but authoritarian President of Turkmenistan, has died suddenly after 21 years of iron-fist rule which crushed his opposition and created a cult of personality that saw cities and even a meteorite named after him.

Mr Niyazov, who made himself President-for-life in 1999, died early today of a heart attack aged 66, according to a statement by the state-controlled media…

During his rule – extended in an unopposed presidential election in 1990 – he established a bizarre personality cult in which he was styled as Turkmenbashi the Great, or Leader of all Turkmens.

Obsessed with maintaining personal power, he ensured his presence was felt in every corner, commissioning thousands of hoardings and gold statues of himself across the country, as well as plastering his image on the national currency, carpets, vodka bottles and launching his own brand of perfume.

In a symbolic show of his unrestrained authority, the former Soviet leader also renamed the months and days of the week, titling January after himself – Turkmenbashi. His name has been given to a sea port, farms, military units and even to a meteorite.

From the perspective of Great Power Rivalry, however, the key question, is whether he was “our” nutty authoritarian.

Turkmenistan and Iran

Throughout much of the 1990s, the US worked very hard to win Niyazov away from Russian influence.

At first glance, this seemed easy enough. In 1997 Royal Dutch/Shell and Niyazov joined in a partnership to build a pipeline that would avoid Russia by carrying gas through northern Iran (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10):

The Shell group… has responded to an invitation from the Turkmeni president and has agreed to be the lead party in trying to finance and manage the project, said a Shell spokesman in London.

The company believes it won’t run into opposition from Washington…

But Shell did run into opposition from Washington.

Turkmenistan, Iran, and Russia

The October 14, 1997 Jerusalem Post article reported a potential source of the trouble:

[T]he Turkmeni government has expressed its concern at Russia-based Gazprom’s decision to join Total SA in a $2b contract to develop the South Pars gas field in Iran. The Turkmenis fear the contract could prevent it from exporting gas reserves to Turkey.

Russian partnerships in Iran would, in fact, doom the Shell pipeline. The Boston Globe reported the story (“US warns against pipeline going through Iran, but few listen,” March 1, 1998, p.A12):

No one has welcomed the US policy promoting independence from Russia more than Turkmenistan…

Shell officials say they are wary of the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, designed to punish any company that invests more than $ 20 million in Iran. But they also express hope that Washington will soon abandon its efforts to exclude Iran from the Central Asian bonanza…

So do the Turkmens, who spent seven decades as a southern Soviet outpost with their 600-mile-long border with Iran shut tight. They are not about to let someone else tell them to close it again.

“I understand that the US has its interests as a superpower, but we have our interests, and we have to feed our people,” Yolbaz Kepbanov, Turkmenistan’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, said in the capital, Ashkabhad…

Perhaps in the spirit of supporting such independence, when the Iran-Turkmenistan pipeline was announced last July, Washington seemed tacitly to accept the deal.

But the number and scale of the projects involving Iran have increasedGazprom is planning to develop, along with French and Malaysian companies, a gas field in southern Iran.

As a result, Washington has restated its hard line. “US policy is to oppose all pipelines across Iran,” said a Western diplomat in Ashkhabad. “The Turkmens know the light is red, believe me.” But while Turkmen officials are aware of the US position, they say they are not bothered by it.

“Let the Americans say, ‘Don’t be friends with Iran,’ but we can’t do that, because we are a neutral country,” said Kepbanov, the Foreign Ministry official. “In our eyes, everyone is equal but Iran comes first. . . . We have to cooperate with them.”

The Israeli Connection

The US offered up an alternative–a pipeline under the Caspian Sea that would travel through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, skirting both Russia and Iran.

This so-called “TransCaspian” alternative was actively promoted by an Israeli with very close relations to the regime in Turkmenistan. The Wall Street Journal covered the Israeli angle (“Israeli Is Subtle Player in Central Asia Oil–Ex-Intelligence Agent Advances Western Interests,” April 7, 1999):

A former Israeli intelligence agent… 53-year-old Yosef A. Maiman possesses probably the one key to success in the region: the ear of one of its autocratic leaders. For the past few years, Mr. Maiman has served as the right-hand man on energy matters to President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, home to the world’s third-largest natural-gas reserves.

In this role, Mr. Maiman has wittingly or unwittingly furthered the geopolitical goals of both the U.S. and Israel. How? By nudging the Turkmen leader to bypass Russia and Iran in building the country’s main gas-export pipeline.

The race to find a market for Turkmen gas, and a way to get it there, has picked up great speed of late. Mr. Maiman was the behind-the-scenes player in the $2.5 billion agreement that Mr. Niyazov signed in February with PSG International to build an export pipeline between Turkmenistan and Turkey. PSG is a joint venture between Bechtel Enterprises, a unit of Bechtel Group Inc., and General Electric Co.’s finance arm, GE Capital Services. Mr. Maiman acted as the intermediary between the Turkmenis and the U.S. firms.

The contract represents a victory for the U.S. The companies involved are both American. And for Washington, the pipeline deal freezes out Russia and Iran, which Mr. Niyazov had been reluctant to challenge. Russia and Iran quickly denounced the project. In early February, Russian gas monopoly RAO Gazprom teamed up with Italy’s ENI SpA and Dutch financial backer ABN-Amro Holding NV to build a competing gas pipeline across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey…

This is the Great Game all over,” Mr. Maiman says during an interview in his office in Herzliyah, an Israeli resort town, referring to a late 19th century, three-way contest for control of Central Asia. “Controlling the transport route is controlling the product.”

Israel’s security interests in the region have been furthered, as well. “Maiman is the Israeli-Turkmenistan relationship,” says Shmuel Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director of Commonwealth of Independent States affairs. “He is our ambassador at large. He opens doors and understands the rules of the game.”

For a time, Niyazov seemed to be playing along.

During the US Presidential transition in November 2000, however, the Russians managed to flip Niyazov.

Turkmentistan: “A Lost Cause”

James Dorsey reported (“US Blues as Turkmenistan Opts for Russian Route,” The Scotsman, November 15, 2000, p.10):

Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov appears to have sounded the death knell for US-backed efforts to ensure that Caspian Sea gas is exported to world markets via Turkey rather than Russia.

Mr Niyazov has announced that he has reached agreement with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to sell it up to 30 billion cubic metres of gas next year. “If everything works out, we shall have an agreement by mid-November,” he told the cabinet.

The deal would account for most of Turkmenistan’s gas exports and leave little over for a $ 2 billion, United States-backed TransCaspian pipeline which would have been built from the Central Asian state via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey by a consortium involving the Royal Dutch/Shell Group and a US contractor, Bechtel.

According to a May 2006 report in the Financial Times (“Scramble to Grab central Asia’s Gas,” May 5, 2006, p.3, third-party on-link here):

Lengthy negotiations of a scheme to pipe gas from Turkmenistan across the Caspian to Azerbaijan broke down in the 1990s mainly because Saparmurat Niyazov, the authoritarian Turkmen leader, kept changing the terms. US energy officials now regard Turkmenistan, the central Asian republic with the biggest gas reserves, as a lost cause“.

A Massive Fight For Power

Will the sudden death of Niyazov allow US officials to salvage this “lost cause”?

As Reuters reports, the Russians are understandably content with the status quo and the incumbent regime:

Russia said it hoped Turkmenistan would stick to Niyazov’s course. “We count on the new Turkmenistan leaders continuing their course and further developing bilateral ties,” top Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told Itar-Tass news agency.

The onus for regime “change” is on the US. Another Reuters report suggests a likely scenario:

“I expect there will be a massive fight for power now in Turkmenistan and it’s likely to take place between pro-U.S. and pro-Russian forces,” said a Russian gas industry source, who declined to be named. “Gas will become the main coin of exchange and the key asset to get hold of.”

For starters, one might learn the name of a key “political prisoner” in Turkmenistan: former Boris Shikhmuradov (also Boris Sheikhmuradov).

Shikhmuradov, former Turkmeni Foreign Minister, was arrested in connection with an alleged 2002 assassination attempt on Niyazov.

Among other things, Shikhmuradov has had good relations with Israel, having visited at the invitation of Yosef A. Maiman to discuss the sale of Turkkmeni natural gas to Israel (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10).

Flynt Sets a Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leverett’s Grand Bargain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leverett’s Revelations

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

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

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

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

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

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

This claim is followed up by a crucial footnote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Hitting Flynt Leverett?

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

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

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

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

This isn’t really surprising.

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

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

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

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

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

The Enemy of Cheney’s Enemy

Posted by Cutler on December 15, 2006
Iran, Russia / No Comments

Vice President Cheney talks tough on Iran.  Vice President Cheney talks tough on Russia.

How would Cheney talk if he were forced to choose between confrontation with Iran and confrontation between Russia?

The most obvious answer is that Cheney will do everything in his power to avoid having to make that choice.  Two recent news stories not show that Cheney is very effective at keeping both regimes in the crosshairs without capitulating to either.  But one might also hint at Cheney’s response if forced to choose: Cheney’s paramount target is Russia.

The first news story concerns US efforts to pass a UN resolution on Iranian sanctions.  Here is how the Right Zionist New York Sun reported the story:

Despite the departure of its ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, America is drawing fire at the U.N. Security Council. Several council members accused Washington’s U.N. representatives yesterday of provoking anger in an undiplomatic manner, possibly harming negotiations on a resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council had just wrapped up a debate on Lebanon and the Ivory Coast last night and some members were planning a separate discussion on Iran when an American representative, William Brencick, raised the issue of recent human rights violations in Belarus, a Russian neighbor and ally.

His remarks prompted the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, to storm out of the meeting, saying he would not join the talks on Iran and that he needed “some time for reflection” and had “decided to relax a bit.” Asked why the consultations on Iran should not take place as scheduled, he said, “Because I said so.”

Brencick’s invocation of Belarus was part of a far larger Cheney-led initiative to pry former Soviet republics away from Russian influence.

The Financial Times helps put the Belarus story in the context of Great Power Rivalry, in which the US is trying to exploit tensions between Russia and Belarus.

Russia is set to deal a double blow to the economy of one of its closest allies – potentially making life much more difficult for the man the US has called “Europe’s last dictator”.

[Bu] pressing for Belarus to pay much more for its natural gas, Moscow… could sharply reduce or wipe out the $4bn-plus effective annual subsidy Russia provides to Belarus, which has helped Alexander Lukashenko, its authoritarian president, deliver higher wages and living standards to his 10m people.

That, say analysts, could make it harder to sustain the support that saw Mr Lukashenko re-elected last March to a third presidential term with 82 per cent of the vote – albeit in a poll international observers condemned as below international standards. It could also drive a wedge between countries with close cultural and historic links….

This is a sharp turnaround from nine months ago, when Russian president Vladimir Putin was criticised for being one of the few world leaders to congratulate Mr Lukashenko on his controversial election victory. It is the more surprising since Russia and Belarus signed agreements in the mid-1990s on creating a political and economic union, including a common currency and union constitution.

Analysts from both countries suggest Moscow is penalising Mr Lukashenko for not delivering on pledges of closer integration with Russia, including the currency union and selling half of Beltransgaz, the Belarusian gas distributor, to Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant. Beltransgaz controls the gas export pipeline to western Europe…

The Belarus president now has a difficult choice. He is loath to cede a half-share to Russia in Beltransgaz, which one western diplomat calls Belarus’s “sacred cow”.
But even a limited gas price increase could render much of the country’s largely state-owned industry uncompetitive – and handing over the Beltransgaz stake would probably only delay Russia’s demands for a higher gas price.

In terms of the UN resolution on Iran, the “Belarus” affair implies that the effort to court Russian participation in the US-led UN effort to isolate Iran will not be allowed to interfere with ongoing battles US efforts to undermine Russian control of the former Soviet republics.

The second news story concerns a similar battle over the fate of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

As the Financial Times reports, Russia is threatening to cut off natural gas supplies to Georgia.  Georgia has two possible alternative sources of natural gas that would help break the Russian hold on Georgia.

The first alternative source of natural gas, as the Financial Times reports, is a new 690km gas pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan that will provide Georgia with gas that does not travel through Russian territory.

For Cheney, this is the key alternative.  However, it may not be sufficient to meet Georgian gas needs.

The other major Georgian alternative source of natural gas is Iran.

If the Baku gas proves insufficient, Cheney would have to choose between his quest to keep Georgia from Russia and his quest to keep Georgia from Iran.

Reports from Cheney’s recent meetings with the Georgian Prime Minister seem to indicate that if push comes to shove, Cheney may blink on Iran.

At present Georgia is in talks with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran on gas supplies to the republic. The United States is against long-term strategic partnership between Tbilisi and Teheran in the natural gas sphere, however, does not rule out possible supplies of Iranian gas to Georgia in the event of force majeure as it happened in late January due to an explosion on a gas pipeline in North Ossetia.

A Regnum News Agency report makes it clear, however, that the US would obviously rather not have to make this choice:

“We have been working on the question of receiving natural gas from alternative sources. First of all, we shall accomplish talks with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Only after that, if it is necessary, we shall continue our talks with Iran,” Zurab Nogaideli declared. “But the only thing is clear: Georgia will not be left without gas in winter,” the prime minister said.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza expressed his hope talking to reporters in Washington that Georgia would receive enough natural gas from the Azerbaijani Shah Deniz gas field, and it will not have to import gas from Iran. “We comprehend that Georgia can find itself in a difficult situation, and we are interested that the country will not be left without natural gas. We know, Georgia has been conducting talks with the neighboring countries, Azerbaijan and Turkey on the question of receiving additional amount of gas. I think, this amount of gas will be enough not to import gas from Iran,” Matthew Bryza said.

Keep an eye on this story.  It may say quite a bit about Cheney’s priorities.

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.

Cheney, Gates, and the Great Game

Posted by Cutler on December 12, 2006
Iran, Russia / No Comments

The signs of Bush administration resistance to the Baker Iraq Study Group plan grow ever more obvious.

I have been arguing that this represents a battle between two figures–Cheney and Baker–neither of whom are accurately described as Right Zionists or Neocons and both of whom are usually thought of as close to the Saudis.

So what gives?

I have proposed (here and here) that the split is over Iran and, in a larger sense, differences about Russia.

Baker favors diplomatic “engagement” with Iran and Russia. Cheney, I propose, looks at Iran through the lens of Great Power Rivalry for influence and sees the Iranian-Russian alliance as a threat to US efforts to grab influence in the regions around the former Soviet Union.

One small piece of a larger puzzle in this regard:

The administration of Bush Sr. is usually considered to have avoided or controlled much of the factional conflicts that have ravaged the current Bush administration. One exception concerns US responses to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On this issue, a factional split developed featuring Cheney and Robert Gates on one side and Bush Sr, Scowcroft, and Baker on the other.

Here is one way way Bush Sr. and Scowcroft describe the split in their memoir A World Transformed (page 541):

The next day there was a long NSC meeting over future strategy toward the Soviet Union, focusing on whether we should support a breakup…

Cheney called for a more ‘aggressive’ approach. He argued that we had more leverage than we thought and if we simply reacted we could miss opportunities… He suggested we pick up one of Bob Gates’ ideas to establish consulates in all the republics… ‘We ought to lead and shape the events.’ This, of course, would have been a thinly disguised effort to encourage the breakup of the USSR. Scowcroft countered that our aid program was premised on a strong center… ‘That’s an example of old thinking,’ protested Cheney. Baker urged we continue to try to prop up the center…

‘But what should we be doing now to engage Ukraine?’ asked Cheney. ‘We are reacting.’ Scowcroft observed that Cheney’s premise was that we would be dealing with fifteen or sixteen independent countries. ‘The voluntary breakup of the Soviet Union is in our interest,’ argued Cheney.

For figures like Cheney, the problem with the Soviet Union was not merely “Communism.” It was Russian Empire. The axiomatic premise is not Cold War ideology but the “Great Game” of Great Power Rivalry.

Cheney has been playing it that way. Not so Baker.

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.

Russian Rice

Posted by Cutler on December 08, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Someone powerful in Washington is pushing back against the Baker plan and there is a bit of a scramble to figure out who is leading the rejectionist faction. In a previous post, I pointed to Cheney as a key factor. William Kristol told Newsweek he thinks that Bush himself is the last Neocon.

David Sanger of the New York Times tries out a new theory today: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the quiet leader of the rejectionist faction.

According to Sanger, the issues at the heart of Rice’s rebuke the Iraq Study Group recommendations regarding diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.

I’m not sure Sanger has the goods to make this idea stick, although it is certainly interesting to reflect on Rice’s role.

On Syria, Sanger offers up a key Baker quote that currently appears only in the Times:

At a midday meeting with reporters on Thursday, Mr. Baker insisted… [the US] should try to “flip the Syrians”…

If you can flip the Syrians you will cure Israel’s Hezbollah problem,” Mr. Baker said Thursday, noting that Syria is the transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah. He said Syrian officials told him “that they do have the ability to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist,” and added, “If we accomplish that, that would give the Ehud Olmert a negotiating partner.”

The idea–also popular with some Israeli politicians–is to pry Syria away from its regional alliance with Iran and return Damascus to the Arab fold.

Sanger doesn’t exactly have Rice taking shots at this idea, but he does report some muttering from Rice aides:

Ms. Rice remained publicly silent, sitting across town in the office that Mr. Baker gave up 14 years ago. She has yet to say anything about the public tutorial being… delivered in a tone that drips with isn’t-this-obvious…

Aides to the 52-year-old Ms. Rice say she is acutely aware that there is little percentage in getting into a public argument with Mr. Baker, the 76-year-old architect of the first Bush administration’s Middle East policy. But Thursday, as President Bush gently pushed back against some of Mr. Baker’s recommendations, Ms. Rice’s aides and allies were offering a private defense, saying that she already has a coherent, effective strategy for the region.

She has advocated “deepening the isolation of Syria,” because she believes much of the rest of the Arab world condemns its efforts to topple Lebanon’s government, they said…

The Rice quote about the isolation of Syria is from October 2005 (“Despite Warnings, U.S. Leans on Syria,” Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2005; no on-line link available).  Plenty has happened since then, not all of which points toward the isolation of Syria.  Nevertheless, the recent assassination of Pierre Gemayal certainly might have revived tensions between Washington and Syria, to the detriment of Baker’s diplomatic track.

On Iran, Sanger’s attempt to discern a split between Rice and Baker seems even weaker.

[I]n seeking to isolate Iran, [Rice aides] said, she hopes to capitalize on the fears of nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan that Iran seeks to dominate the region, with the option of wielding a nuclear weapon.

How different is this from Baker’s own approach toward Iran?  Is Baker above capitalizing on Arab fears?  Aren’t these fears a primary motivation for Baker’s diplomatic initiative regarding Iran?

And, how far is Rice from Baker on Iran?  Sanger doesn’t mention that Rice led the way what was billed as a major “opening” toward dialogue with Iran.

Nevertheless, I think Sanger might be on to something.

Baker and Rice are hardly carbon copies.  Perhaps the best way to trace the difference is to recall that the key figure who recruited Rice into the Bush administration was not Baker or even Brent Scowcroft, but George Shultz who worked with Rice at his Stanford University “Hoover Institution.”

Leading figures at the Hoover Institution and Baker’s public policy shop at Rice University differ on many issues, including Israel and Iran.  In terms of Condoleezza Rice, however, perhaps the most important differences between Baker and Shultz concern Russia–Condoleezza’s area of expertise.

Shultz’s Hoover Institution is quite hawkish about Russia.  And, as I noted in a previous post, this may have considerable importance when teasing out differences between Rice and Baker, not to mention Cheney and Baker.

The Gates

Posted by Cutler on December 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

The Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Robert Gates provided an interesting insight into the mind of a Right Arabist who supported the US invasion of Iraq:

I certainly supported the decision to go into Iraq in 2003, and not just because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction… It was clear that the sanctions were weakening, and I had no doubt in my mind that once the sanctions were removed by the U.N. — and it looked like the French and the Russians and others were moving in that direction — that Saddam, if he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, would move quickly to try and obtain them…

And so once the sanctions were lifted, there was no doubt in my mind that he would strive to get a nuclear weapon. He clearly hadn’t changed his spots in the slightest, and so that’s the reason that I supported the decision to go in…

As clear a statement on the Great Power Rivalry explanation for war in Iraq as I’ve seen.

Why call Gates a Right Arabist? Because of his critique of de-Baathification:

[In terms of] problems that I think were created — the first was the demobilization of the Iraqi army…

I think if we had widely advertised the fact that soldiers who returned to their barracks would continue to be paid, they would have a way to take care of their families, that we wouldn’t have had several hundred thousand people who knew how to use weapons, had weapons and were unemployed, out on the streets.

A third example, I think, was the extreme de-Ba’athification policy, frankly, looking at it from a distance… [We] didn’t really appreciate the fact that every schoolteacher and power plant operator, for the most part in Iraq, had to be a member of the Ba’ath Party to get the job, and that they, in terms of being a threat to our interests or a threat to a democratic Iraq — they weren’t necessarily that, but it was the people at the top of the pyramid that were the problem. And so a few more hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of work, people who actually knew how to make some things work and who might have had a stake in keeping things together.

No notion here of a regional tilt in the balance of power toward the Iraqi Shia.

Who, then, invited Abdel Aziz al-Hakim to the White House?

Who supports the so-called “80 percent solution“?

Who is tamping down expectations for Wednesday’s Baker-Hamilton report?

With Bolton out, the only Right Zionist is Elliott Abrams. And Abrams doesn’t manage the Iraq portfolio.

Who is left?

Cheney.

As one Wall Street Journal essay inquired, “At a Pivotal Moment, Where is Mr. Cheney?

[A]bsent from nearly all public discussion… is Mr. Cheney, though he is as closely associated with White House policy on Iraq, the Pentagon, intelligence and other headline post-9/11 security topics as Mr. Bush himself. Since the elections that shifted Washington’s balance of power to responsibility shared with the Democrats, Mr. Cheney has taken a low profile. He joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday to meet with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, as Reuters reports, and made it to the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony Sunday night. His mission to Riyadh last week came at the request of Saudi King Abdullah, who wished to discuss how Iraq was destabilizing the region, the Journal reported. But there was nothing public on Mr. Cheney’s itinerary before, during or after the trip, and that has been his recent MO. He hasn’t withdrawn a pre-election vow that the administration would move “full speed ahead” with its Iraq policy whatever the outcome at the polls. And Mr. Bush doesn’t appear to have publicly addressed Mr. Cheney’s responsibilities since a terse affirmation at a post-election news conference that the vice president would indeed stay on.

It would be difficult to imagine otherwise. Some serious internal administration disputes have come out amid the reams of reportage and dozens of books over the past six years, but Messrs. Bush and Cheney have largely appeared to speak and think as one. Now, as Washington and the rest of the world ponder just how much Mr. Bush is willing to modify his strategy for Iraq, the most illustrative telltale may be Mr. Cheney.

So, what are the telltale signs?

Michael Ledeen is as excited as he has been since 2003.

Any connection?

There Goes the Neighborhood

Posted by Cutler on December 04, 2006
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

When Democrats look around for a way to criticize the Bush administration on the war in Iraq without taking a stand on some of the tougher political issues involved, they have often adopted a page from the standard Right Arabist playbook: bring in Iraq’s neighbors.

Outgoing UN General Secretary Kofi Annan has recently adopted and promoted the idea of an international conference.The idea of dialogue seems so innocuous that liberals in the US might have been a bit surprised to learn that several Iraq politicians have rejected the idea.

The “latent” meaning of the international conference idea is rendered clear by the partisan responses emerging in Iraq.

The key political opponents of the international conference are Shiite leaders, including SCIRI’s Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and–allegedly–Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They are joined by leading Kurdish figures, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

These political forces represent the “80 percent solution” that originally animated Right Zionist policy in Iraq.

The International Conference represents one element in a long-term Right Arabist push back against the 80 percent solution.

Hence, it has won the support of Iyad Allawi–the ex-Baathist long favored by Bush administration Right Arabists and the figure appointed as first Iraqi Prime Minister by the US and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi–along with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

These Iraqi battle lines have been at the core of US policy since the end of Operation Desert Storm.

The central question right now is balance of power within the Bush administration regarding these competing forces.

How do you read the tea leaves?

Where does Iran fit in all this?

Annan and James Baker endorse a dialogue that includes not only Saudis and Jordanians, but also Iran and Syria. Does an international conference represent a tilt toward Iran? Or an instrument designed to contain Iran?

Likewise, does the 80 percent solution represent a tilt toward Iran? Or is it a major step toward a US policy of regime change in Iran?

What does it mean that Hakim rejects the international conference and presumably welcomes the 80 percent solution?

Does Hakim represent a tilt toward the incumbent Iranian regime? Or does Hakim serve Sistani and represent an in independent Iraqi Shiite position that shifts the center of gravity from away from the Iranian city of Qom and toward the Iraqi city of Najaf?

[Update: a bunch of sources–Informed Comment, Missing Links, and Robert Dreyfuss at TomPaine.com–are all reporting that another prominent ex-Baathist, Saleh Mutlaq, is joining Iyad Allawi in supporting Annan’s international conference.

No surprise here.  The bigger news is that all three sources are also saying that Mutlaq (also Salih al-Mutlak) and Moqtada al-Sadr have agreed to join together in a new nationalist parliamentary front on the basis of common opposition to the US military occupation and to the breakup of Iraq into relatively autonomous regions with control of new oil field development.  All of the sectarian violence has functioned to shift the axis from an anti-US nationalist insurgency toward a sectarian axis that pits Shiiites and Sunnis against each other.  Sadr and Mutlak represent an effort to restore the nationalist, anti-occupation axis.
Finally, a word on Robert Dreyfuss.  Notwithstanding his impressive “progressive” credentials (The Nation, Mother Jones, The American Prospect), I am more convinced than ever that his writing about the war in Iraq is fundamentally flawed because it adopts the perspective of Right Arabist imperialists.

In the past, he has articulated what appeared to be a particularly “amoral” perspective on the regime of Saddam Hussein, as when he celebrated the idea that the US would “Bring Back the Baath.”

Now, however, he adopts a shrill and deeply moralistic tone as the Bush administration once again flirts with Iraqi Shiites, describing the upcoming Washington  visit of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim as “Bush’s Meeting with a Murderer.”

The Left can either be moralistic and idealistic about foreign policy or it can be cynical, amoralistic and “realistic” about foreign policy.  But to deploy these discourses so unevenly, however, smacks of rank hypocrisy.  Dreyfuss has become nothing more than a pawn for one side of an intra-imperialist factional game.]

Russia, Iran, and Israel

Posted by Cutler on December 01, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

When Great Powers compete, you win.

Rivalry between Russia and the United States, according to this scenario, should lead both Great Powers to actively court states like Iran, offering various incentives, including cakes and Bibles. The constraints imposed by inter-imperialist rivalry, then, would make it very difficult for the US to adopt harsh, punishing policies toward Iran as these efforts would only benefit Russian influence in Iran.

Countries like Iran–the “targets” of such competition–presumably delight in the enhanced leverage afforded in a multi-polar world. The more fierce the rivalry, the greater the charm offensive.

And, in fact, there are some very intense Russia hawks within the US who adopt precisely this approach toward US-Iranian relations.

If you want to see an amazing list of Russia hawks, check out bi-partisan list of signatories to the “Open Letter” published in the Moscow Times in September 2004. The letter warns:

President Putin’s foreign policy is increasingly marked by a threatening attitude towards Russia’s neighbors and Europe’s energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire, and by a refusal to comply with Russia’s international treaty obligations.

If Russia hawks are united against the threat of Russian empire, they are quite divided on what this might mean for US relations with Iran.

Some Russia hawks explicitly endorse the strategy of courting Iran in an effort to pry it away from Russia.

Within the United States, the split among Russia hawks is most clearly evident within the halls of the conservative Hudson Institute. The Hudson Institute is united in its hawkish analysis of Russian imperial ambitions.

So intense is the anti-Putin sentiment over at the Hudson Institute that some of the think tank’s scholars approach Putin’s role in Beslan the same way conspiratorial thinkers in the US think about Bush’s role in 9/11. An uncanny resemblance, really: “The Russian authorities may have deliberately allowed the terrorists to take over the school in order to have an excuse to destroy them.”

Hudson Institute Splits on Iran

On the side of wooing Iran stands Hudson Senior Fellow, Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.).

Odom has made big news in anti-war circles for announcing, in no uncertain terms, that the US shouldcut and run” in Iraq.

In Hudson Institute articles, he has also emphasized a very “dovish” approach toward Iran:

[T]he U.S. must informally cooperate with Iran in areas of shared interests. Nothing else could so improve our position in the Middle East. The price for success will include dropping U.S. resistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as cutting and running, but it is no less essential. That’s because we do share vital common interests with Iran. We both want to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban (Iran hates both). We both want stability in Iraq (Iran will have influence over the Shiite Iraqi south regardless of what we do, but neither Washington nor Tehran want chaos). And we can help each other when it comes to oil: Iran needs our technology to produce more oil, and we simply need more oil.

Accepting Iran’s nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely benefits. Moreover, its nuclear program will proceed whether we like it or not. Accepting it might well soften Iran’s support for Hezbollah, and it will definitely undercut Russia’s pernicious influence with Tehran.

One of the distinguishing characteristics about Odom’s approach to Great Power rivalry is that his charm offensive toward Iran also includes some tough love for Israel:

Most people are dealing with the symptoms, but we’re not dealing with the fundamental problems. I suggest that if we’re going to deal with Israel, they have to listen to us and follow what we say. They need to stop using the Old Testament as though it’s a property deed. The Mohawk Indians have a better claim on Manhattan than they do on the West Bank.

My hunch is that this kind of talk doesn’t go down so well with other Hudson Institute fellows, especially Senior Fellow, Meyrav Wurmser, the Director of the Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy.

Meyrav Wurmser is one of the most hawkish Likudnik Zionist voices on the US scene. She is also married to another Right Zionist, David Wurmser. David Wurmser once held the comparable “Middle East Policy” position at another conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Today, he is the chief Middle East Policy aide to Vice President Cheney.

For Right Zionists, wooing Iran is not an option.

If you want to know why some Russia hawks are unwilling to court Iran, the best explanation may be found in their relation to the Israel Lobby.

Cheney may once have wanted to court Iran with carrots rather than punish with sticks. But that strategy has been consistently blocked by the Israel lobby and its demand for sanctions.

Shorn of the opportunity to woo the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia, Cheney will turn to the only remaining strategy, short of handing Iran to the Russians: regime change in Iran.

He will run into resistance from all those who favor engagement with Russia and Russia hawks who want to court Iran.

Cheney may be pretty isolated in his approach. Trouble is, he is also untouchable.

Right Arabists Split on Iran

Posted by Cutler on November 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

If Right Zionists have any chance of salvaging a role for themselves in the Bush administration, they will do so by exploiting to the full factional tensions among Right Arabists.

As “luck” would have it, there are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

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

Right Zionists are clearly aligned with Cheney in this dispute. The personification of this alliance remains David Wurmser, the key Middle East aide in the Office of the Vice President.

The Baker position is represented not only by Baker’s own pronouncements in favor of dialogue with Iran but by several of his key allies including Richard Haass–Baker’s former deputy in the administration of Bush Sr and currently the president of the Council on Foreign Relations–and Ray Takeyh, also at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Takeyh has suggested himself, at least some elements of the House of Saud aim to appease and contain the Iranians.

[T]he Gulf monarchies are eager to accommodate—as opposed to confront—Iran’s power.

Not so Cheney. Cheney may be somewhat isolated within the administration at times, but he remains untouchable. And he has a number of important Right Arabist allies who have long favored a more confrontational approach toward Iran. This include some diplomatic figures with very close ties to the House of Saud–including former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins–and much of the military brass, including former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni, who appeared to be “dovish” on Iraq because they opposed an invasion that set out to establish Iraqi Shiite rule but are more than anything, very hawkish on Iran.

Anti-Iranian Right Arabists–the ones who are most adamently opposed to engagement with the incumbent Iranian regime–are also adamently opposed to any withdrawal of US forces that would strenghten Shiite power in Iraq.

The Cheney, anti-Iranian Right Arabist line was on full display in Nawaf Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping into Iraq.”

One hopes [Bush] won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis…

There is reason to believe that the Bush administration, despite domestic pressure, will heed Saudi Arabia’s advice. Vice President Cheney’s visit to Riyadh last week to discuss the situation (there were no other stops on his marathon journey) underlines the preeminence of Saudi Arabia in the region and its importance to U.S. strategy in Iraq. But if a phased troop withdrawal does begin, the violence will escalate dramatically.

This is Op-Ed is not a Saudi warning to the Bush administration. I agree with those (including Bernhard at Moon of Alabama) who think Nawaf Obaid’s Op-Ed was a warning to the Democrats–although perhaps an unnecessary warning because most members of the Democratic leadership are bluffing in their “redeployment” banter and because many are quite hawkish on Iran.

But the Nawaf Obaid Op-Ed was also part of a Cheney campaign against Baker. That campaign was also on display earlier in the week when an unnamed official leaked word that Iranian-backed Hezbollah was training Sadrists in Iraq.

Ultimately, the split between Right Arabists has less to do with the House of Saud or Iran, as such, than it does with different approaches to Great Power Rivalry.

The Russians

There are signs that the key split over Iran turns on competing approaches to Russia. In this scenario, Cheney considers Iran (and Iraq) the venue for US rivalry with Russia (if not also China). Same goes for Cheney’s approach to the Caspian generally. Cheney is a Russia hawk and the big problem with the incumbent regime in Iran is not its hostility toward Israel but its strategic alliance with Russia.

Baker and Co. favor ongoing cooperation with Russia. Hence, they do not fear engagement with an Iranian regime allied with Russia. The same was true in their approach to Saddam after 1995, when he sought and received strategic support from Russia. For Cheney and Co. the crisis of Iraq was the crumbling of containment brought on by Saddam’s effective courting of the Russians (and the French) in the middle of the Clinton administration.
One urgent question that follows from this scenario: where to position incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates on this score?

One clue might be to trace the position of his mentor and booster, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the company he keeps.

Act II, Scene 2

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

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

Some evidence in this regard:

Time magazine:

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

And Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold on to your hats, folks.

Iran Hawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know When to Fold ‘Em

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

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

-Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerecht, at least, has a suggestion:

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

Oh, Henry

Posted by Cutler on November 20, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Henry Kissinger’s BBC interview is making headlines that suggest Kissinger has given up on the idea of a US military victory in Iraq.

This is going to get all kinds of folks excited because it seems to imply that Kissinger is ready to wave a white flag and retreat from Iraq. It just isn’t so.

Kissinger is making the big headlines. But Brent Scowcroft is also lowering expectatiosn on Iraq. He was quoted on the front page of the New York Times:

“Things are so difficult and so complicated, it may be beyond anyone’s ability to be successful,” said Brent Scowcroft, a mentor and admirer of Mr. Gates.

But neither of these guys are advocating US withdrawal. Scowcroft made this clear last week. And Kissinger warns that withdrawal would yield catastrophic results that would inevitably draw us right back into the region:

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it’s a very unfortunate situation. But that doesn’t help us, I mean saying that doesn’t help us in the process of extricating ourselves, extricating is clearly a word I don’t like, or of finding a solution which does not make the situation in the region worse, and worse for all of us, that is the big challenge that we’re facing…

ANDREW MARR: Given that, what would you say to all those people who say well let’s bring all the troops home now? What’s the downside of a fast and total withdrawal, both by American and by British troops now?

HENRY KISSINGER: Well if we were to withdraw all the forces without any international understanding and without any even partial solution of some of the problems, the civil war in Iraq will take on even more violent forms and the chief dimensions that are probably exceeding those that brought us into Yugoslavia with military forces, all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised.

So I think a dramatic collapse of Iraq, whatever we think of how the situation was created, would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years, and which would bring us back in one way or another into the region.

None of this is really about the military front. It is about the political front. As always, most of the sharpest debates in Washington have turned on questions of geopolitical strategy, not military tactics.

Consider, for example, Kissinger’s prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq.

Who is he talking about? Is he warning that Iran would be destabilised? Or is he talking about Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even Pakistan?

Today, most of the chatter that is ostensibly about Iraq is really about US policy toward Iran and Iran’s relation to the Gulf–even as Iran’s regional proxy, Hezbollah, flexes its muscles in Lebanon.

Here is Kissinger on Iran, from the BBC interview:

ANDREW MARR: What about the Iranians, Dr. Kissinger, do you envisage any likelihood of Washington opening a new dialogue with President Ahmadinejad given some of the things he’s been saying recently again about Israel?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it would probably be better, first the answer to your question is yes, I believe America has to be in some dialogue with Iran.

But it seems to me the fundamental problem is, does Iran conduct itself as a crusade or as a nation? If Iran is a nation it should be possible to define a relationship in which Iran together with all interested parties contributes to stability in the region, and plays a respected role.

If Iran is a crusade that is trying to overthrow the international system as we know it, which is the way the Iranian president talks, then it will be extremely difficult to come to a negotiated solution.

Here, Kissinger is riffing on a theme he introduced in a July 31, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled, “Next Steps with Iran.”

A modern, strong, peaceful Iran could become a pillar of stability and progress in the region. This cannot happen unless Iran’s leaders decide whether they are representing a cause or a nation — whether their basic motivation is crusading or international cooperation. The goal of the diplomacy of the Six should be to oblige Iran to confront this choice.

Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks — or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability.

The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America — and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six — is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.

In light of this scenario, I think it seemss plausible to think that Kissinger’s BBC prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq is not about the collapse of Iran but the threat Iran poses to Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Pakistan.

What is the US prepared to offer Iran in exchange for becoming “a pillar of stability and progress in the region”? How much of Iraq is on the table? Say, control of southern Iraq?

ANDREW MARR: And do you think there might be, it might be necessary to divide Iraq, for Iraq to come apart in two or three pieces?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think that might be an outcome, but it would be better not to organise it that way on a formal basis.

What happens if “engagement” with Iran fails?

Some Neocons are already sure such engagement is doomed and have their answer: “Bomb Iran.”

What is Kissinger prepared to do if Iran makes the “wrong” choices?

In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Is that Kissinger-speak for “Bomb Iran”?

Cheney and the Israel Lobby

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

A new musing on some old news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s a vice president to do?

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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

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

And then there is the whole Russia question.

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

Haass Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a military strike on Iran:

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

Not endorsed. (Not ruled out, either).

On democratic regime change in Iran:

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

Ok, then. What’s left?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights omitted from the Op-Ed:

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

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

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

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

Baker’s Iraq Study Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same risk. Same neighbors. Same Baker.

Iran Plan?

Posted by Cutler on October 07, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The “Iran Question” makes my head hurt.

The reason has been pretty clear since the ’06 Lebanon War. You can see early signs of turbulence in my ZNet essay “The Devil Wears Persian.”

“Dual rollback” is a two act play:

Act One: Target Iraqi regional power, with the acquiescence of Iran.

Act Two is just beginning….

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran. Arab officials are cast in a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran…

Right Zionists will find that they have powerful allies… in Washington (Right Arabists) — the very folks who worked most diligently against them during Act One.

[T]he emergence of a new Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis against Iran will almost certainly mean that dissent — facilitated by Right Arabists during Act One — will prove far more difficult during Act Two.

Dissent may prove more difficult. So, too, analysis.

Act II?

Any “Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis” against Iran (“Act II”) would muddy all the factional lines from Act I that have served as guideposts for understanding the contours of the Bush administration.

A case in point of potentially muddied factional lines: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s most recent trip to the Middle East.

There has been considerable media speculation that Rice went to the region in an effort to build support for a united front against Iran.

Take, for example, Jon Leyne’s BBC news analysis, “Iran Behind Rice’s Mid-East Tour.”

Why did Condoleezza Rice come to Israel and the West Bank earlier this week?

Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran.
[S]tate department counsellor Philip Zelikow seemed to give the game away in an address to a Washington think tank on 15 September.

“For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to co-operate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.”

No mention of Iran, but the implication is clear.

See similar speculation by Ehsan Ahrari here.

As I noted in a previous post, speculation of this type has increased dramatically with news of a secret Saudi-Israeli summit to discuss Iran.

As Eli noted in a comment to a previous post, this scenario has generated considerable enthusiasm among “Dem Zionists” like MJ Rosenberg at the Huffington Post.

Or, Act I?

My head starts hurting right about here. The cognitive dissonance I am feeling probably has its source in a comparable dissonance I detect in Right Zionist circles.

Take, for example, Michael Ledeen’s recent essay, “Cognitive Dissonance: The Bush Administration on Iran.” It is an elaborate critique of Condoleezza Rice and her most recent statements on Iran from an interview with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal.

[Condoleezza Rice] hopes sanctions will have an effect on Iranian officials who “do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they’re headed toward.” Stephens, shocked that Rice apparently thinks there are legitimate interlocutors in power in Tehran, presses her, and she responds, “I do not believe we’re going to find Iranian moderates… The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?”

As Stephens dryly remarks, there are lots of Iranian “reasonables.” They comprise upwards of 80 percent of the population. But we are not supporting them; instead we are dithering around in negotiations designed by Europeans whose greatest fear is not Iranian terrorism, but American action in the Middle East. And when Secretary Rice starts talking about diplomacy, there is a change in focus. She’s no longer talking about the war, she’s talking about the nuclear program.

In short, she has no serious intention of challenging the Tehran regime…

It is impossible not to be struck by the cognitive dissonance between this interview and the many speeches by the president in which he has all but called for regime change in Iran.

If this be “Act II,” then Ledeen does not appear to be on board.

One reason Ledeen is not on board is that Rice is “talking about the nuclear program” while he wants to talk about regime change.

Iranian nukes and Iranian regime change are potentially very different questions. They are mostly unrelated (Right Zionists who favor regime change wouldn’t much mind a nuclear Iran once it is pro-Western).

The nuke and regime change issues may also be at odds with one another if all the talk about Iranian nukes helps the Iranian regime consolidate its popularity among Iranian nationalists.

This difference–between nukes and regime change–not only marks a division between Right Zionists and Right Arabists, but between Right Zionists and Neocon Unipolarists.

Like Ledeen, Michael Rubin also seems unimpressed by the direction of US policy. He has had nothing good to say about Rice’s visit to the Middle East. Writing on the NRO blog, Rubin complained that Rice sold out Egyptian dissidents and the whole “Bush Doctrine.”

Rubin doesn’t seem to think that Rice’s attempts to curry favor with Arab regimes is part of some Right Zionist game plan for a united front against Iran.

Indeed, at this point, one is hard pressed to find Right Zionists discussing recent Bush administration Middle East policy in the same enthusiastic tone that marked the Lebanon War.

At the time of the Lebanon War in July 2006, Right Zionists like Dore Gold wrote about an “Opening Round” in a battle between Iran and the West.

But that “Gold” opportunity–to the extent that it ever existed–was slammed shut by the failure of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon.

Where does that leave Act II?

If the Rice trip to the Middle East was a “second round” in Act II, somebody forgot to tell the Right Zionists.

Where is the evidence of Neocon enthusiasm?

This is not a rhetorical question. I am asking: has anyone seen any signs?

If the Right Zionists are disgruntled, are the “Unipolarists” more hopeful?

Or is it just Dem Zionists?

As Michael Rubin says,

It’s almost as if Kerry won and named Nicholas Burns is Undersecretary of State.

Dem Zionists” and Right Arabists.

[LATER: If “Act II” requires Right Zionists to court “Arab moderates” in search of a united front against Iran, would this actually extend so far as to tolerate an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

Or is all the talk of a coup in Iraq simply an older story: the denouement of “Act I,” the eclipse of Right Zionist influence, and the triumph of the old Right Arabist establishment.]

A Really Lame Duck

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

There is talk these days of a Republican “perfect storm” that threatens to drown the reckless rightwing crew that have been steering the ship of state since 9/11.

If so, then the mid-term elections should result in huge losses for the Republicans and set the course for a great reversal in 2008. Hence the clocks counting down the days of the Bush Presidency.

Maybe this is a perfect storm.

But we may be in for a rough ride. And the Democrat’s GPS is on the blink.

Cheney Gone Wild

One of the frightening things about Cheney is that he seems live as though his heart [sic] might go at any minute. No future political plans. No aspirations beyond the current administration.

Cheney’s permanent lame duck status has given him an unusual level of insulation from the kind of “political” accountability that derives from the commodification of politics–polling, the next election cycle, etc.

The result has been an unusually high level of “ideological” and ambitious foreign policy, to say the least.

Thus far, however, one might imagine that these tendencies have been qualified, to some extent, by Karl Rove and the Republican party Congressional leadership who do have an eye on the next election.

This, at least, is the conclusion of the ideologues. See, for example, Norman Podhoretz on the role of “politics” in slowing the pace of the Bush revolution.

At least until the mid-term elections.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol offers hope to the so-called “ideologues”: after the mid-terms, everything is possible.

Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

More US casualties.

(During the interview, Kristol does begin to say that he would “support” an increase in US casualties. This should come as no real surprise given his devotion to the cultural politics of “sacrifice”).

This may be wishful thinking on Kristol’s part.

But what if Kristol is right?

What if Rove is restraining the Neocons because of his long-standing recognition of the powerful, “new isolationism” that runs through US political culture?

Will the passing of the mid-term elections release the Neocons from Rove’s shackles?

If so, then this is actually the calm before the storm.

What if the gathering storm includes a dramatic move to finish out the administration with “rollback” in Iran?

Would it be an enormously risky move that would almost certainly generate extraordinary instability?

Yes.

But “with any luck,” the Democrats will be left holding that bag.

And they will finally deliver the political culture of sacrifice for which Kristol has been pining but which Rove has been unwilling to deliver.

Iran: Who “Sexed Up” the Intel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Wash

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

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

Right Zionists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iraqi Partition: A Test of Iranian Influence?

Posted by Cutler on September 25, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Iraqi political elites have been wrangling over the issue of “regional autonomy” since early September when SCIRI introduced its push for the recognition of an autonomous southern Shiite region.

If the SCIRI move is viewed as part of an Iranian bid for power, then the battle lines that have formed over this issue may say something about the future of Iranian influence in Iraq.

An Iranian Push for Iraqi Shiite Autonomy?

Is Hakim acting as an agent of Iranian influence in this instance? I have no independent basis, at this time, for evaluating the “accusation.”

I do note, however, that Stratfor‘s September 6, 2006 report–“Iraq: Tehran’s Shiite Autonomy Solution” (subscription required)–does not hesistate to level the charge:

Combining existing provinces into federal zones would allow Tehran and its Shiite allies in Iraq to wield greater power over the Iraqi state by creating an additional layer of government…

SCIRI — led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who also heads the UIA — is the most powerful and pro-Iranian component of the UIA…

By rearranging the provinces into autonomous federal zones along the lines of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, the pro-Iranian Shia have found a way to consolidate their gains over power and the oil resources in the south. The Iraqi Shia and their Iranian patrons are trying to make regional autonomy the rule rather than an exception limited to the Kurds.

Iraq: America’s Gift to Iran? (Beats a Cake and a Bible)

Ever since the US “helped” Iraqi Shiites win political control of Iraq (formally, at least), critics have been accusing the Bush administration of essentially turning Iraq over to Iran.

The charge of aiding Iran is one of the chief arguments behind the notion of Bush administration “incompetence.” After all, the Bush administration is clearly hawkish on Iran. So the enhancement of Iranian influence would have to be an unintended consequence of foolish “democratization” dreams.

Right Zionists were ready with a response: Iraqi Shiites are no friends of the Iranian regime. Michael Ledeen, for example, predicted in the New York Sun at the start of the war:

If we understand this war correctly, the Iraqi Shi’ites will fight alongside us against the Iranian terrorists, for the Iraqis want freedom, and they know they will not get any from the mullahs in Tehran.

I have previously written about the Right Zionist idea of a so-called Najaf-Qom rivalry (especially here). The notion prompted Swopa at Needlenose to comment on Cutler’s Blog:

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true.Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Given what he has said elsewhere about the vacuity of Iraqi sovereignty, I doubt that Swopa would say that the “Shiite parties” have now “cemented their control over Iraq.”

Nevertheless, with the current impasse over the issue of “partition,” we may now be at a moment when Sistani and the Iranians may have to settle their differences, one way or the other.

Needless to say, the Sunni political establishment is extremely hostile to any partition schemes. But, as the Washington Post and other media outlets have been reporting, several key Shiite forces have joined Sunni politicians in opposing an autonomous southern Shiite (let alone a Kurdish region in the north, based in Kirkuk).

Sadr is opposed. And, according to a Gulf News report, both the Shiite Fadhila/Virtue party and the Karbala-based forces of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani are also opposed. None of this is shocking: each of these groups include militias that have clashed with SCIRI’s “Badr Brigades” militia.

So, in some respects, the key “swing” factor may turn out to be Sistani.

Where is Sistani?

The big, recent headline is that Sistani has essentially “retired.” We’ll see. I have my doubts.

The key partisans in the debate over partition certainly still seem to think Sistani matters.

The Kurds–who favor autonomy for Shiites as a way of enhancing their own autonomy leverage–were quick to suggest that Sistani supports partition. According to a Kurdish press report,

A representative of the revered Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah al-Sistani has told Muslims attending Friday prayers in the southern city of Nasiriya that the Islamic faith sanctions federalism, and that it is the correct system of government for Iraq.

“Federalism is a form of governance that has had a place in the history of Islam and which it allows,” said Mohammed Baqir al-Nasiri.

But the Sunni opposition also claimed to have Sistani on its side. According to a September 13, 2006 report in the Washington Post,

[Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mahmoud] Mashhadani said Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, had ordered Shiite politicians to back off from the plan in order to prevent bitter infighting.

So, which is it?

Maybe it is too soon to say. The most recent news–a Washington Post article entitled, “Iraqi Parties Reach Deal Postponing Federalism“–is that the legislature may vote later this week on a resolution, but even an affirmative vote would essentially delay any actual autonomy moves until 2008.

Maybe this goes to Swopa’s point that any differences between Sistani and Iran will be settled later.

It may be worth noting, however, that Sistani’s key ally in the government–Hussein al-Shahristani, the Oil Minister–has been pushing back against autonomy moves.

Most recently, he questioned the validity at Kurdish oil deals. According to the Financial Times,

Hussein al-Shahristani, the oil minister, was quoted by the state-run al-Sabaah newspaper as saying: “The ministry isn’t committed to oil investment contracts signed in the past . . . by officials of the government of the Kurdistan region which were announced as contracts for investment and the development of oil fields”…

The latest dispute comes as Iraq’s parliamentarians on Sunday agreed to begin debate on the issue of federalism, but said they would delay the creation of any new autonomous areas for at least 18 months.

Can Shahristani’s move against the Kurds be taken as indicative of Sistani’s view of partition, more generally?

Is the delay of Hakim’s autonomy move a sign that Iraqi Shiites–along with Sunnis–will, in fact, resist Iranian influence in Iraq?

How will Hakim and Iran respond to the failure of the autonomy push?

Right Arabists: A Hawkish Turn on Iran

Posted by Cutler on September 22, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / No Comments

This may seem like a strange time to predict that Right Arabists have taken a “hawkish” turn on Iran.

After all, was it not two days ago (Wednesday, September 20, 2006) that the Right Arabist establishment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) gathered–amidst howls of protest from Jewish and Zionist quarters–to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Where is the “hawkish” turn? The downgrading of the meeting from a “dinner” to ” light hors d’oeuvres on the side”? [The New York Times carefully reported of the hors d’oevres, “Mr. Ahmadinejad never touched them.”]

The invitation, notwithstanding, Ahmadinejad himself seems to have noted a somewhat surprisingly hawkish turn at the meeting. The Times quotes his concluding remarks to the CFR:

“At the beginning of the session, you said you were an independent group,’’ he said. “But almost everything that I was asked came from a government position.’’

Evidence of a “hawkish” turn among Right Arabists comes, not from the CFR meeting but from the recent pronouncements of Ray Takeyh, the CFR’s Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies.

By way of introduction, one might note that back in September 2003 Takeyh penned (with Nikolas Gvosdev) one of the most candid Right Arabist manifestos published on Iraqi politics, “Benign Autocracy is Answer for Iraq.”

The best that the United States can hope for is to encourage the rise of liberal autocracies that… while still maintaining close ties with the United States…

Instead of quixotic democratic schemes, Washington should create a strong central government in Baghdad, one that is responsive to its citizens but also capable of regulating local rivalries and is insulated from popular pressure.

The United States should select an efficient new leadership capable of initiating market and other reforms while also managing popular discontent with American policies…

Saddamism without Saddam, one might say.

While Takeyh may be more candid than some, his concerns are the standard concerns of Right Arabists.

Consider, for example, a September 18, 2006 Newsday essay–“New Sectarian Threats Rip Middle East“–published by Takeyh with his CFR colleague Charles A. Kupchan.

The strategic landscape of the Middle East is changing yet again as the emergence of a “Shia Crescent” running from Tehran to Beirut awakens a new sectarian divide. This earthquake began with America’s invasion of Iraq, a move that installed a Shia regime in Baghdad…

The intensifying rivalry between Shia and Sunnis promises to make an already volatile Middle East even more unstable. A new sectarian divide could sow domestic strife throughout the region, including in some of America’s key allies. Although predominantly Sunni, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has a large and restive Shia population in its eastern province. Bahrain, host to America’s Fifth Fleet, and Kuwait, a bastion of pro-American conservatism, both have sizable Shia populations.

As I suggested in my essay “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” such Right Arabist fears are longstanding.

It was precisely these concerns about “the emergence of a ‘Shia Crescent’ running from Tehran to Beirut” that led Right Arabist in the Reagan administration to “tilt toward” Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Likewise, it was the 1991 Shiite (and Kurdish) uprising against Saddam that led Right Arabists in the first Bush administration to prop up the Iraqi regime after expelling Saddam from Kuwait.

For Right Arabists like Takeyh, the catastrophic decision of the current Bush administration to push for “democracy” in Iraq has empowered Iran, just as Right Arabists long predicted.

In September 19, 2006 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Takeyh elaborated the point.

On September 12, a momentous event took place in Tehran. Iraq’s new premier, Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran eager to mend ties with the Islamic Republic. The atmospherics of the trip reflected the changed relationship, as Iranian and Iraqi officials easily intermingled, signing various cooperative and trade agreements and pledging a new dawn in their relations. It must seem as cold comfort to the hawkish Bush administration with its well-honed antagonism toward the Islamic Republic that it was its own conduct that finally alleviated one of Iran’s most pressing strategic quandaries. In essence, the American invasion of Iraq has made the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue even more difficult…

The ascendance of the Shiites maybe acceptable to the Bush administration with its democratic imperatives, but the Sunni monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the presidential dictatorships of Egypt and Syria are extremely anxious about the emergence of a new “arch of Shiism.” At a time when the leading pan-Arab newspapers routinely decry the invasion of Iraq as an U.S.-Iranian plot to undermine the cohesion of the Sunni bloc, the prospects of an elected Shiite government in Iraq being warmly embraced by the Arab world seems remote.

A Search for Common Ground with Iran

Nevertheless, Takeyh’s fears have, until now, been tinged with hope for finding common ground with Iran.

In January 2006, for example, Takeyh argued that Iran had reason to share his commitment to a strong, centralized government in Iraq. In an International Herald Tribune Op-Ed published with Charles A. Kupchan, Takeyh argued,

The United States and Iran have many common interests in Iraq, providing a unique opportunity for Tehran and Washington to edge toward normalization. Tehran, like Washington, is keenly interested in avoiding a civil war and sustaining Iraq as a unitary state. Iranian elites support a democratic Iraq, fully aware that consensual arrangements for power-sharing among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are vital to Iraq’s survival…

Iran’s seminaries, clerics, politicians and businessmen hold powerful sway over elites in Baghdad as well as local leaders. Tehran’s interest in preventing the fragmentation of Iraq gives it reason to encourage all Shiite parties, including the independent militias, to work with the central government and resist secessionist temptations.

Those hopes appear to have been dashed by the recent Shiite push for regional autonomy in Iraq. On September 11, 2006 the International Herald Tribune reported,

Over the weekend, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is close to Iranian leaders, renewed his call for a massive eight-province southern autonomous region, stretching from Kut to Basra, that would include much of the country’s Shiite population and oil wealth. Such a step, he suggested, is necessary to protect Shiites against a return to despotism.

As Takeyh conceded in a September 14, 2006 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered

Iraq is not going to have a strong central government. Iraqi constitution itself recognizes that Iraq will have strong provisional governments and a weak central government. In the future in ideal terms… contending federal enclaves would come together in the central government… But the future of Iraq as envisioned by the constitution and as developments on the ground are moving is likely to be a state with strong provinces and a weak central government.

Containment, Not Regime Change

Notwithstanding his alarm at the growing power of Iran and his disappointment regarding Iranian influence in Iran, it is important to note the ways in which Takeyh’s posture toward Iran–however hawkish it may now become–remains fundamentally different from that of Right Zionists and Neoconservative Unipolarists.

As I have argued in several previous posts (here, here, here, and here, for starters), Right Zionists are hawkish toward the incumbent regime–what they call “official Iran.” But in the long run, Right Zionists are not at all “anti-Iranian.” Indeed, they dream of restoring US and Israeli alliances with a strong, post-revolutionary regime, grounded in what they call “eternal Iran.”

For Right Zionists, regime change is the essential–if missing–ingredient US policy toward Iraq.

Not so Right Arabists like Takeyh.

Back in the 1970s, Right Arabists criticized US reliance on the Shah to police the Persian Gulf because they feared that the US-Iranian alliance under Nixon and Kissinger was an attempt to tilt the balance of power away from the US-Saudi alliance.

The last thing Right Arabists want to see is a restoration of a powerful US-Iranian alliance.

Takeyh said as much in his recent Senate testimony where he rejected reconciliation, proposing instead a “model of engagement” for containing Iranian regional power.

In essence, this model of engagement does not seek reconciliation between the two antagonists

The proposed engagement strategy appreciates Iran’s resurgence and seeks to create a framework for limiting the expressions of its power. The purpose of engagement is not to resolve all outstanding issues or usher in an alliance with the Islamic Republic…

As such engagement becomes a subtle and a more effective means of containment.

Indeed, in his Newsday essay, Takeyh insisted,

[T]he Bush administration’s top priority must be containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran: Unipolarists vs. Right Zionists

Posted by Cutler on September 20, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 1 Comment

What’s the matter with Iran?

Let me rephrase that: What, exactly, is the Bush administration’s problem with Iran? What are the administration’s grievances and what are the likely remedies?

As usual, the answers may depend on a prior question: who is running this show?

I’m far from convinced that the so-called “neoconservatives” are steering the ship of state. But let’s map their grievances and remedies, just in case.

Norman Podhoretz recently noted,

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

Where Iran is concerned, those neoconservatives who oppose military action, and detect no possibility of even relatively free elections there, have instead placed their hopes in an internal insurrection that would topple the mullocracy and replace it with a democratic regime. They also keep insisting that the failure of this long-predicted insurrection to materialize is largely the fault of the Bush administration, whose own failure to do everything in its power to help the democratic opposition is in their eyes a blatant betrayal of the Bush Doctrine.

On this account, Richard Perle, one of the most influential of the neoconservatives, is furious with the president (in whose administration he formerly served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board). “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)” reads the headline of a piece he recently published in the Washington Post. Here Mr. Perle charges that Mr. Bush has “chosen to beat . . . an ignominious retreat” by yielding to the State Department’s wish “to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.” In thereby betraying the promises of his own doctrine, Mr. Perle adds, the president has crushed the hopes that his “soaring speeches” had once aroused in the young democratic dissidents of Iran.

Am I the only one who thinks Podhoretz is distancing himself from the “internal insurrection” camp? Something about how they “keep insisting” on the same thing they have “long-predicted,” notwithstanding its “failure” to materialize. Wouldn’t Podhoretz find less dismissive ways of writing this sentence if he thought an internal insurrection was likely?

Later in his essay, Podhoretz returns to the issue of Iran in order to respond to Perle’s charge that Bush is now appeasing the regime through diplomacy, but he never responds to the charge that an internal insurrection might be in the offing if only the Bush administration would embrace Iranian dissidents.

Podhoretz and his son-in-law, White House NSC staffer Elliott Abrams, are likely on the same page in this regard.

Note, for example, the public disappointment expressed by the “democratic dissidents” who recently attended a White House confab on Iran, co-hosted by Abrams and the State Department’s Nicholas Burns.

There was virtually no discussion of… US plans to give millions of dollars to Iranian pro-democracy activists. Instead the agenda was dominated by Iran’s nuclear programme, and the US diplomatic approach at the United Nations to stop it. “They are obsessed with the nuclear issue,” commented one Iranian.

Either Abrams was biting very hard on his tongue during this meeting–subordinating himself to Burns without a public fight–or Abrams and Burns agree that the regime change/popular insurrection idea is dead.

Regarding the confrontation over Iranian nukes, Podhoretz denies that Bush has blinked.

To me (pace Richard Perle), it has seemed more likely that he has once again been walking the last diplomatic mile… The purpose… is… to show that the only alternative… is military action.

Robert Kagan–a neoconservative who has not given up on Mr. Bush–puts this well in describing the negotiations as “giving futility its chance.”… [O]nce having played out the diplomatic string, Mr. Bush will be in a strong political position to say, along with Senator John McCain, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb–and not just to endorse that assessment but to act on it.

Needless to say, a ritualized walk down the diplomatic path will not necessarily put the Bush administration in a “strong political position” internationally. It did not do so in the case of Iraq. And, if Chirac has anything to say about it, the same will hold true in the case of Iran.

The emphasis on nukes, rather than internal insurrection, may be the most instructive element here.

The neoconservative split over Iran hinges on divergent priorities with the so-called “neoconservative” movement.

Unipolarists

There is a neoconservative camp–call them “Unipolarists” after Charles Krauthammer’s famous 1990 Foreign Affairs essay, “The Unipolar Moment“–for whom battles with countries like Iraq and Iran are most important for the way in which they project American power around the world. As such, the real targets are not only the oil-rich states and Arab street. Unipolarists also favor massive demonstrations of American power and resolve as a shot across the bow of potential “Great Power” rivals including France, Russia, and especially China.

Unipolarists include Krauthammer, but also William Kristol. Indeed, the unipolarist vision was a primary inspiration for Kristol’s “Project for A New American Century.”

It must also be said–although it is not said often enough–that the patron saint of unipolarists is Senator John McCain, as much as it is George W. Bush. Back in 2003, the Washington Post called Kristol a “champion of John McCain during the 2000 primaries.”

Both Kristol and McCain have, at various times, criticized Rumsfeld for favoring “military transformation” (and force protection?) over “boots on the ground.” Boots on the ground are presumably essential for a “New American Century.”

For Unipolarists, military action in Iran is urgent–even if highly risky–because the US cannot possibly afford to back down from any challenge if it has any chance of beating back Great Power antagonists. Chinese and Russian engagement with Iran actually precludes the possibility of a US compromise with the Iranian regime. Even if Unipolarists might have wanted to find a way of engaging Iran at some point during the 1990s, Chinese and Russian efforts to curry favor with the Iranian regime represent an implicit challenge to US power so long as US policy was, for better or worse, isolation of the regime.

Right Zionists

The “neo-conservatives” I identify as Right Zionists have a somewhat different profile than the Unipolarists. As I explained in my profile of Right Zionists, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” this faction of the neo-conservative movement is primarily focused on the strategic position of Israel within the Middle East.

Needless to say, most Unipolarists are also Zionists. But there is a difference in emphasis between the two camps and this difference helps explain the split regarding Iran.

At the heart of Right Zionist interest in Iran is the so-called “Doctrine of the Periphery” whereby Israel seeks to build regional alliances by promoting and exploiting divisions between hegemonic Sunni Arab nationalist rulers and various peripheral populations–Persians, Turks, Kurds, etc. who might be willing to collude with Israel against a common enemy.

Iran under the Shah figured prominently in this scenario and the fall of the Shah represented a crisis for the Doctrine of the Periphery. Israel lost an ally in the Shah, but whatever the tensions between “official Iran” of the Shiite revolution and Israel, Right Zionists have never renounced the hope of restoring an alliance with “eternal Iran.”

For Right Zionists, the possibility of Arab-Persian rivalry for control of the Gulf makes Iran and indispensible ally.

A populist insurrection in Iran offers the prospect–for Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen at AEI–of restoring a powerful (even nuclear) US- and Israel-aligned Iran to its proper place in the Gulf: as a rival to Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the Gulf.

The Neo-conservative Split on Iran

At present, Unipolarists have essentially accepted that Iran is an enemy of the US (and Israel) and seek to beat the regime into submission–either through the use of military force or threats of the use of military force.

Right Zionists, however, accept that Iran is currently an enemy of Israel. Unlike those who want to beat Iran and vanquish the enemy, Right Zionists need to win “eternal” Iran as an ally.

A weak, isolated Iran may be the endgame for Unipolarists–and Right Arabists.

Not so for Right Zionists.

As it happens, the key split in the Bush administration right now is probably between Unipolarists bent on military confrontation and Right Arabists committed to diplomatic containment of a relatively weak revolutionary regime.

For now, the Right Zionists–and their dreams of a populist, pro-“Western” insurrection–appear to be out of the running.

Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Posted by Cutler on August 16, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Can’t we all just get along? At least the “rejectionists”?

I have in mind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Likudnik Dore Gold who find common ground in their analysis of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Here is an Associated Press report on Assad’s speech from Tuesday, August 15, 2006:

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad yesterday said that America’s plan for a “new Middle East” collapsed after Hezbollah’s successes in fighting against Israel…

“The result was more failure for Israel, its allies and masters,” he said.

On the same day, Dore Gold was a guest on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal (no transcript is available on-line; transcription is my own; citation is minutes and seconds into Washington Journal program). Gold was just as clear as Assad. He said Israel required a period of “tremendous introspection” and “self-criticism” because the “goals” of the campaign in Lebanon “were not reached” (40:37).

Both Assad and Gold contrasted the recent failures with with Israel’s 1982 campaign.

Assad explained,

Bashar said this war revealed the limitations of Israel’s military power.

In a 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli forces surrounded Beirut within seven days of invading, he said.

“After five weeks it [Israel] was still struggling to occupy a few hundred metres.”

“From a military perspective, it [the battle] was decided in favour of the resistance [Hezbollah]. Israel has been defeated from the beginning,” Bashar said.

“They [Israelis] have become a subject of ridicule.”

Gold made a similar point, emphasizing that “air platforms” can tackle long-range missiles coming from Lebanon, but ground troops are required to deal with the “greater challenge” of short-range rockets:

In Israel’s Lebanon War of 1982, northern Israel was struck by Katusha rockets, launched not by Hezbollah but by the PLO.

At that time, Israel invaded Lebanon with three divisions and within 48 hours all Katusha rocket fire from southern Lebanon into northern Israel had been terminated” (46:32).

The blame will probably fall hardest on Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. According to Time, Halutz was quoted on July 14th saying,

“In this day and age, with all the technology we have, there is no reason to start sending ground troops in.”

As the campaign wore on, Halutz began to change his tune. On July 21, 2006 the Jerusalem Post quoted Halutz:

You cannot plant a flag in the ground with an F-16.”

Even then, however, the Israeli Cabinet apparently rejected the call by Halutz for significant ground troops. According to a July 27 Jerusalem Post report:

[T]he security cabinet decided on Thursday against significantly widening the IDF’s operations in southern Lebanon, rejecting a recommendation by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to escalate the offensive against Hizbullah…

As a result of the cabinet decision, the IDF said the operation in Lebanon… would retain its current format, according to which brigade and battalion-level forces – not division-level as Halutz had requestedcarry out pinpoint incursions on specific targets.

Whatever the actual source of the Israeli failure, the Syrian and Iranian victory dances are in full swing.

(Needless to say, Dore Gold is not celebrating the Israeli defeat–although his allies in the Likud party will certainly try to make political hay in Israel from the need for political “introspection” and “self-criticism” in light of the Kadima party’s responsibility for military failure.)

Assad: Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Syrian President Bashar Assad is not only celebrating victory over Israel. He is also going out of his way to snipe at other players in the region. A UPI report entitled “Assad Slams Lebanon Foes,” suggests that Assad used his speech to attack elements of the Lebanese government:

Syrian President Bashar Assad has snapped at anti-Syria Lebanese groups, accusing them of complicity with Israel in the war against Hezbollah.

In a speech Tuesday… Assad made it a point to brand as “traitors” the so-called “March 14″ gathering of multi-sectarian Lebanese groups opposed to Damascus…

Assad accused his Lebanese opponents of having encouraged Israel to wage war on pro-Syria Hezbollah in order “to boost their political stance” on the international level…

Assad… said the role of anti-Damascus groups is to salvage the Israeli governmentwhich was embarrassed by its defeat at Hezbollah’s hands.

They will do that either by provoking strife in Lebanon to move the crisis from inside Israel to the Lebanese scene or by forcing the disarmament of Hezbollah’s resistance,” Assad said.

Furthermore, the Boston Globe carries and Associated Press report that says Assad also implicitly attacked Arab regimes–like Saudi Arabia and Egypt–that criticized the initial Hezbollah raids into Israel:

In his speech, Assad lashed out at Arab regimes that criticized Hezbollah for capturing two Israeli soldiers July 12 and setting off the war. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan — all US allies — opposed Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the conflict.

We do not ask anyone to fight with us or for usBut he should at least not adopt the enemy’s views,” Assad said.

Oqab Sakr, a Lebanese analyst, said Assad’s remarks were tantamount to “a final divorce from the Arab regimes and a full marriage with Iran.”

Quite a bit is riding on whether Oqab Sakr is correct in his assertion that Assad has initiated “final divorce” proceedings from Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

It is the notion of such a divorce that leads Juan Cole to suggest that in these attacks,

Al-Asad is playing into Israel’s hands

[He] seems to want to pit Hizbullah against the reformers. But that is exactly what the Israeli hardliners were hoping for, as well.

According to the Boston Globe article, Assad has already prompted an Egyptian backlash:

A front page editorial in a state-run Egyptian newspaper derided Assad’s speech–a rare overt criticism by one Arab government of another. Al-Gomhuria daily scoffed at Assad, saying he was celebrating “a victory scored by others.”

“You should be prepared now for political and economic pressure put on you because of this speech,” it said.

Assad’s bold tone is intended to cement his earlier political victories in Lebanon–discussed in previous posts here and here.

If Assad is risking a backlash, it will not likely emerge independently from Lebanese political officials like Prime Minister Siniora or Lebanese MP Saad Hariri. They may have the will to battle Syria and disarm Hezbollah, but they almost certainly lack the power to do so.

Unless, that is, they have the support of the Saudis. Hariri and Siniora will both take their cue directly from the Saudis.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Daily Star reported that Siniora was under pressure from Hezbollah–back in January 2006–to declare that “the resistance is not a militia.”

At first, Siniora resisted.  According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

Shortly thereafter, however, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdel-Aziz Khoja was quoted in the Daily Star as saying,

[Saudi Arabia] is proud of Hizbullah’s achievements,” adding that the “disarmament is an internal issue and should be resolved by the Lebanese.”

In almost no time, Siniora reversed himself and the Lebanese government officially declared that Hezbollah was a resistance movement, not a militia (presumably meaning it would not have to be disarmed under the terms of UN Resolution 1559). Hezbollah promptlly ended its boycott of the Lebanese government. On February 2, 2006 the BBC reported:

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told the Lebanese parliament on Thursday that Hezbollah had always been considered a resistance movement.

“We have never called and will never call the resistance by any other name but the resistance and it is a national resistance and we will not use any other expression to describe it but national resistance,” he said.

Then, as now, Siniora will take his cue from the Saudis.

So, in turn, will the French–who seem unlikely to put much into a multinational force unless Hariri and Siniora are prepared to disarm Lebanon.

According to the Financial Times:

French officials on Tuesday insisted Paris would resist leading a bolstered international force in southern Lebanon without Lebanese government assurances that Hizbollah, the militant Shia group, would be disarmed.

Paris’ requirements were spelled out on the eve of Wednesday’s visit by Philippe Douste-Blazy, French foreign minister, to Beirut – a visit likely to prove pivotal in deciding the fate of the multinational UN force proposed to police the fragile ceasefire between Hizbollah and Israel.

Officials in Beirut made clear that the army would not clash with Hizbollah and risk provoking internal conflict. Late on Monday, Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defence minister, told the local LBC television that the army had no intention of disarming Hizbollah in the south.

He suggested that Hizbollah understood that weapons could no longer be visible in the buffer zone, but said that if troops came across missiles they would not take them away.

Much, then, depends on the Saudis. Presumably, the future of the “marriage” (between Iran and Syria, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the other) is the main topic today when the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki meets in Jeddah today with Saudi Arabia’s King Abudullah.

Would love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

Lebanese PM to Iran: Over the Limit

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are some important signals–quite mixed right at the moment–coming from Lebanon about the balance of power in Beirut.

First, the news from Saturday, August 12th that the Lebanese Cabinet unanimously approved the UN cease-fire plan. The Associated Press reported:

Lebanon’s Cabinet accepted the U.N. cease-fire plan to halt fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters on Saturday, moving the deal a step closer to implementation, the prime minister said.

It was a unanimous decision, with some reservations,” Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said in announcing Lebanon’s acceptance of the resolution after a four-hour Cabinet meeting.

Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fneish, minister of hydraulic resources, said the two members of the Islamic militant group who are part of the Cabinet expressed reservations. Particular concern was raised over an article in the resolution that “gives the impression that it exonerates Israel of responsibility for the crimes” and blames Hezbollah for the monthlong war, he said.

Maybe the reservations were about the balance of responsibility and blame. But I tend to doubt it.

Today (Sunday, August 13th), Lebanese unanimity looks far more fragile and the reason seems to turn two very important and related issues: disarming hezbollah and deploying the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon.

According to reports, Hezbollah has now dug in its heels on the all-important issue of disarmament. Here is the latest report from Reuters:

A Lebanese cabinet meeting set for Sunday has been postponed because of divisions over whether to discuss the disarmament of Hizbollah guerrillas, a government source said.

Hizbollah had some observations over … the discussion of their disarmament,” the source said…

On July 27 the cabinet approved a Lebanese seven-point plan that among other things called for weapons to remain only in the hands of Lebanese authorities…

A U.N. Security Council resolution to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah calls for the “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than the Lebanese state.”

This has been a sticking point–especially for Hezbollah and Iran–all along.

Indeed, if anyone was looking for signs of Saudi-Iranian tension, this is the place to look.

After the July 27th seven-point plan was approved, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Beirut for talks. According to a report in the Daily Star, Mottaki was clear about his own reservations about “initiatives proposed so far” (i.e., the Siniora seven-point plan) at that time:

“We believe that the initiatives proposed so far by the various parties to achieve a cease-fire are divided into two parts,” said Mottaki.

He added: “The first part includes a halt to the Zionist attack, and any other item which would gather a consensus from all Lebanese.”

The second part would include all the items which “do not enjoy the approval of all parties, and this would be solved through future negotiations.”

Needless to say, the disarmament of Hezbollah constitutes the central “item” for Iran that does not “enjoy the approval of all parties.”

Mottaki’s implicit criticism brought a sharp rebuke from Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. According to Stratfor:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki “went over the limit” in implying he had reservations about Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s seven-point plan to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Siniora told the French-language newspaper L’Orient Le Jour in an interview published Aug. 4. During his recent visit to Beirut, Mottaki had said there was no rush to discuss questions beyond an immediate cease-fire.

As I have suggested in a previous post, it is not a great stretch to consider Siniora as a Lebanese proxy of the Saudis.

Right Zionists would like nothing better than to see this split widen into a full blown conflict.

Khalilzad on Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on August 12, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The New York Times includes an article today entitled “U.S. Ambassador Says Iran is Inciting Attacks.” I bring it up primarily because it relates directly to my recent post–“Keyser Söze in Sadr City“–and the notion that recent US raids in Sadr city are aimed at a “splinter” group of Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The Times reports:

The Shiite guerrillas behind the recent attacks are members of splinter groups of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia created by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalilzad said.

The splinter groups have ties to Iran, which is governed by Shiite Persians, and to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Arab militia in Lebanon that has been battling Israel for a month, the ambassador added.

There is evidence that Iran is pushing for more attacks, he said, without offering any specifics. But he acknowledged that there was no proof that Iran was directing any particular operations by militias here

Despite the recent attacks by the splinter groups, Mr. Khalilzad insisted that the most powerful Shiite leaders in Iraq had not yet pushed for more violence against the Americans, even though Iran would like them to. That includes Mr. Sadr, he said.

“Generally the Shia leadership here have behaved more as Iraqi patriots and have not reacted in the way that perhaps the Iranians and Hezbollah might want them to,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

All of which goes to my prior speculation about “Sadr’s own complicity in a purge of more radical, anti-US Sadrist factional players.

It should also be noted that Khalilzad has frequently tried to advance “Right Arabist” goals during his tenure as US Ambassador in Iraq. I would note that his desire to pin US troubles in Sadr City directly to Iran–even as he acknowledged that there was “no proof” of this–certainly does little to challenge my argument–in a previos post–that in the current context, many Right Arabists are as “hawkish” on Iran as Right Zionists.

As the Times article suggests,

Mr. Khalilzad’s comments also reinforce the observations of some analysts that the rise of the majority Shiites in Iraq, long oppressed by Sunni Arab rulers, is fueling the creation of a “Shiite crescent” across the Middle East, with groups in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon working together against common enemies, whether they be the United States, Israel or Sunni Arab nations.

Just to be clear: that is the whole ball of wax–Act Two of the Bush Revolution–in a nutshell.  The “United States, Israel [and] Sunni Arab nations” fighting against “common enemies” of a “Shiite crescent.”

Cutler’s Blog: Back August 7th

Posted by Cutler on July 21, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon / 4 Comments

As I prepare for a two-week hiatus, I have to wonder how things will look by August 7th when Cutler’s Blog returns.

Israeli Ground troops in Lebanon: As I write, Israel appears to be preparing to send ground troops into Lebanon.  Apparently, the idea is to create a 20-mile “buffer” between Hezbollah and the Israeli border, although I just saw John Bolton on Fox News saying that 20-miles isn’t nearly enough given the reach of Hezbollah rockets.  Oh boy.

International/UN force in Lebanon: It looks like there will be an international force of some kind but it will come only after the US thinks Israel has “done all it can do” unilaterally.  I see no reason to believe, however, that such an international force will actually have a different mandate than Israeli ground troops.  The key point is that there are no major international players (apart from Syria and Iran; and possibly the Sadrist-backed government of Iraq!) who actually oppose the disarming, dismantling, and/or destruction of Hezbollah.  The French and the Saudis, in particular, want this no less than the Israelis.  There are only two reasons why the current offensive would turn from an Israeli action into a multinational force: either because Israel has completed its mission or, more likely, because the Israeli mission becomes politically unsustainable and requires the cover of multinational legitimacy.

Syria: I would not be stunned to return August 7th to a new regime in Syria.  This could happen in one of two ways: either President Bashar Al-Asad does a “Qaddafi” and switches sides (“get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” as our President says; very unlikely, but not impossible) or he is unseated in a US-backed coup.  Let us be clear, the parties to that coup are totally in place and would essentially represent a return of the “old guard” that was marginalized in the transition from Hafez to Bashar.  The key figure in this coup would be former Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim KhaddamThe coup option is in such plain view to all that this may, in fact, be sufficient to move Bashar.

Iran: I expect the Iranian regime will be in power when I return (not really a daring bet).  But the Iranian regime will be on the front burner and in the hot seat for some time.  A military option–by the US or Israel–remains a low probability, but I wouldn’t be so foolish as to rule it out as a possibility with the current folks running the show in Washington and Jerusalem.  In the longer term, I continue to think that the long-term agenda–especially among Right Zionists in Washington, but also within Right Arabist circles–is regime change in Iran.  But it will take some time before anyone in the US foreign policy establishment is ready to make a serious drive in that direction.

I look forward to comparing notes August 7th… Until then, hold onto your seats!

Iraqi Shiites and Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on July 20, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The New York Times reports the big news of the Shia Crescent (or the Shia Croissant, preferred by French Canadians) that connects Iraqi politics with the crisis in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush’s position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

So, the loss of the Iraqi Shia would surely be among the most dangerous geo-political consequence of what I have described as “Act Two” of the Bush Revolution in which the US “unites” Israeli and Arab client regimes against a common enemy, Iran.

The risk is implicit in the very idea of “dual rollback” in Iran and Iraq. The US-led attack on Iraq won Iranian acquiescence, but risked alienating Sunni Arab clients worried about an emergent “Shia Crescent” in the region.
Now, any move on Iran–and/or its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah–may win Sunni Arab acquiescence but threatens to alienate Shiites in Iraq.

Or, at least, the most pro-Iranian Shiites in Iraq.

Right Zionist strategists who favored Shiite power in Iraq–including majority-rule elections, etc.–have repeatedly suggested that intra-Shiite rivalry between the Iraqi clerical tradition of Najaf and the revolutionary Iranian clerics in Qom would allow the US to retain an alliance with Najaf, even as it worked to undermine the Qom-backed Iranian regime.

For one example among many, see Michael Ledeen’s recent article “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid” in which he suggests:

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Some analysts I respect quite a bit–including Swopa in a comment on this blog–have suggested that the notion of intra-Shiite rivalry is highly overrated.

This much seems clear: Maliki isn’t going to help Right Zionists exploit any intra-Shiite rivalry. How far will he go in his dissent? Would he actually try to call Iraqi Shiites onto the streets? Unclear. But his statement calling on the Arab League to step up to the plate seems to have more to do with embarrassing Arab officials than actually using his own leverage (such as it is) with Iraqi Shiites.

What about other Shiite leaders?

Sadr is an obvious candidate. He has played the anti-US insurgent before. He has aligned himself in the past with the Lebanese leadership of Hezbollah. And, as the New York Times notes, his father was very close to a revolutionary cleric in Qom, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri.

The New York Times article reports:

An Iraq-born cleric now living in the Iranian holy city of Qum, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri called in an Internet posting for Muslim warriors to support the “mujahedeen of Lebanon,” saying that “the battle is all of Islam against all of the nonbelievers,” according to a translation by the SITE Institute, which tracks Internet postings by Islamic militants.

But the affinity between Haeri and Sadr should not be overstated. Back in April of 2004 when Sadr was in full revolt, Haeri allegedly pressured him to end his uprising. He may have cut Sadr’s funding. In any event, Sadr seems to have been angered by the attempt to make him a pawn in an Iranian geostrategic game designed to curry favor with the US at that moment. The Sadrist movement in Iraq appears to have been steering his own ship since that time.

The New York Times article does mention that Sadr has had some harsh words about the Israeli attack on Lebanon:

The militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose followers play a crucial role in the government, said last Friday that Iraqis would not “sit by with folded hands” while the violence in Lebanon raged.

No uprising yet. (Indeed, given US raids on his Mahdi army, the lack of an anti-US Sadrist uprising is quite surprising). Keep an eye on this one.

Finally, there is the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. It is to Sistani that Right Zionists have always looked. He may not go out of his way to help the US strike out against Iran and Iranian proxies, but he may also try to sit out any protest.

The New York Times says Sistani has so far remained silent. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In the city of Najaf, Sadruddin Qubanchi, an influential Shiite cleric loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, declared Israel’s actions unacceptable and unjustified.

Israel is conducting an armed invasion of Lebanon in every sense of the word,” Qubanchi told worshipers. “This cannot be ignored by the international community.”

Not yet a call to arms. But much will depend on Israeli action in Lebanon.

A case could be made–and Right Zionist David Wurmser has tried to make it–that Sistani would have an interest in anything that might pry Lebanese Shiites from Iranian influence.

It seems difficult to believe, however, that there is anything Israel is doing in Lebanon right now that will pry Lebanese Shiites away from Hezbollah and/or Iranian influence. [This is a somewhat different question than whether Israel will also alienate Lebanese Christians and Sunnis… also a real possibility.] Whatever else one might say about the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, it hardly looks like a war for the “hearts and minds” of Lebanese Shiites.

Place your bets…

NeoCon Anger at Bush?

Posted by Cutler on July 19, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I try to make sense of the news, but this one I just don’t get:

The Washington Post has published a front-page Michael Abromowitz article today entitled, “Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush’s Foreign Policy.”  The lead quote in the article goes to Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute:

“It is Topic A of every single conversation…

I don’t have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration.”

To be more specific, Abromowitz is talking about alleged neoconservative fury:

In fact, it has been Bush’s willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment — which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more “multilateral” diplomacy in concert with allies — that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive “neoconservatives” who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.

So, whence the fury at the administration?  What are we talking about here?

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

Iran and North Korea.  Ok.  I can see that.  There are examples of that fury coming from AEI folks like Michael Rubin.  From June.  An old story.  It makes this Abromowitz article something like an overdue profile of neoconservative (i.e., Right Zionist) anger at the Bush administration decision to make diplomatic overtures to Iran.   Like a neoconservative lamentation for Time’s declaration of the end of “Cowboy” foreign policy.

But did the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute actually express “fury” or perceive unwarranted “timidity” or “confusion” about the “urgent new” problem–“the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah”?  No way.  Not a chance.

When did Abromowitz conduct the “interviews”?  Did the Post dig up this story from the June files?

Is Abromowitz trying to makes it seem like neocons think Bush’s refusal to engage or take action in Lebanon reflects timidity and/or confusion?  If so, he is playing a game and will surely be corrected in short order by the Right Zionists.

Current Bush administration inactivity–delay in sending an envoy, refusal to call for a ceasefire, refusal to back Kofi Annan’s efforts to cobble together an international force–is not timidity but bold–if implicit–support for an extraordinarily aggressive Israeli policy in Lebanon.

Bush’s reaction to Israel’s move to destroy Hezbollah will earn him eternal plaudits from neocon pundits.  Abromowitz is blowing smoke.

The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 17, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I noted that the Hezbollah raid on Israel seemed to anger Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak almost as much as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In subsequent days, the depth of “official” Arab hostility toward Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran has become big news.

The New York Times (“Militia Rebuked by Some Arab Countries“) and the Washington Post (“Strikes Are Called Part of a Broad Strategy“) take note of official Arab reaction to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah.

The possibility of Arab-Iranian rivalry has not escaped the notice of Israeli officials, either. Shimon Peres had this to say on CNN’s Larry King Live as King was concluding an interview:

KING: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, always good to see you. We’ve had…

PERES: I want to say one thing, Larry. Even the Arabs, this time — thank you.

KING: Go ahead. Whatever you wanted to add.

PERES: Yes, I wanted to add that, for the first time, the Arab countries, many of them, if not most of them, are calling for Hezbollah to stop it. The Lebanese government is asking for the same. It never happened before. And we feel that we’re doing the right thing, and we shall not permit the devil to govern our destinies or our region.

KING: Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, now Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Wonder of wonders, the “devil” is not Arab. The “devil” is Persian.

Swopa over at Needlenose goes so far as to link the idea of a new Arab/Zionist axis against Iran to the pro-Sunni Arab tilt of US policy in Iraq.

I am not sure that Right Zionists have abandoned the hope of a regional alliance with the “Najaf” Shiites aligned with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. But that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to try to simultaneously exploit both sides of any Arab/Iranian rivalry they can find.

The Bush Revolution, Part II: A Little Something for the Arabs

In my reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally, as a kind of Right Zionist playbook, I noted that Wurmser wrote about “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. One way of looking at this “dual rollback” plan is to think of it as a two act play:

The invasion of Iraq is Act One of the Bush Revolution: Sunni Arab rule in Iraq is destroyed and the US turns to the country’s Shiite majority as a new “client.” Arab regimes are nervous and angry.

Act Two may is just beginning (please return to your seats and ignore Time magazine which seems to have mistaken the “intermission” for the end of the show).

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran and in this scene Arab officials presumably play a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran.

On Lebanon:

The drama unfolding in Lebanon centers on the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia. There has been long-standing tension between Saudi Arabia and Syria over control of Lebanon. In many respects, the Saudis perceived the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a Syrian attack on their interests in Lebanon. Hariri–like Israel and the US–wanted Syria out of Lebanon.

Today, Hariri’s son continues in his father’s footsteps. Stratfor reports:

Saad al-Hariri, current leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community, is headed to Riyadh on July 16 for talks on the building conflict between Israel and the militant Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s actions, which have led to the verge of a major war with Israel, threaten the interests of the al-Hariris. Saudi Arabia, as a principal behind the al-Hariri clan, is concerned about Iran’s advances deeper into the region.

The Saudis and Hariri will have to weigh the risks and advantages of allowing Israel to wage war against their common enemy, Hezbollah. Will Hariri return from Riyahd with instructions to back Hezbollah’s uprising against Israel, or to keep his mouth shut, let Israel do its work, and prepare to inherit Lebanon?

So far, he has been critical of Israel, although his language has been somewhat ambiguous. The Daily Star reports:

A clear Arab stand should be taken on this Israeli aggression against Lebanon,” [Hariri]… said Saturday. “Lebanon should not be left as a battlefield for everyone, and Israel must know that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but in fact a resisting state and that Israel is the enemy.”

The key line is that Lebanon “should not be left as a battlefield for everyone,which presumably includes Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah as much as it does Israel.

Gilbert Achcar makes the point quite well:

Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel’s calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah

To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel’s diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel’s determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society — Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanonto crush Israel’s main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves.

We’ll see. There is an obvious risk for Israel that its aggression will inflame the “Arab street” and force Arab “officials”–including anti-Syrian Lebanese Christians and Sunnis–to rally around Hezbollah, etc.

On Palestine (aka Jordan):

The drama unfolding in Gaza may not really have much to do with Gaza. Right Zionists may not have a particularly complex plan for Gaza. The only real plan is to divide Gaza and the West Bank and help deliver the latter to King Abdullah in Jordan.

Right Zionists are reviving the old plan–last championed by George Shultz in the late 1980s–for Jordan to take over the West Bank.

The most prominent champion of such a plan is Meyrav Wurmser–whose husband is David Wurmser (see above). Wurmser announced a “Paradigm Shift” in the New York Sun today:

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process. That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests...

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition.

This plan has been circulating in Right Zionist circles. See, for example, the March 2003 Middle East Quarterly article, “Re-energizing a West Bank-Jordan Alliance.”

Hamas’s landslide victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is the latest sign of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) failure. The collapse of the West Bank into civil chaos and jihadist control would pose a security dilemma not only for Israel but also for Jordan. It is a scenario that increasingly occupies the Jordanian government’s strategic thinking…

King Abdullah has signaled a willingness to reengage in West Bank affairs. In the most significant Jordanian intervention in the West Bank since July 1988, Abdullah began in March 2005 to enlist new recruits for the Jordan-based and influenced Badr security forces (also known as the Palestinian Liberation Army) for possible deployment to parts of the West Bank…

Marouf al-Bakhit, at the time Jordan’s ambassador to Israel and, subsequently, the kingdom’s prime minister, elaborated that the Jordanian government hoped to play a more active role in the West Bank.[25] On the eve of Zarqawi’s attack, former prime minister Adnan Badran told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Jordan could no longer sit idle “with its arms crossed and watch what transpires in Palestine because it influences what happens in Jordan for better or worse”[26]

In March 2005, the Jordanian government made clear its willingness to alter the traditional peace process paradigm. On the eve of the March 2005 Arab League summit in Algiers, Jordanian foreign minister Hani al-Mulki called for a “regional approach” to Middle East peacemaking along the lines of the 1991 Madrid peace conference. This set the stage for King Abdullah’s proposal at the summit, in which he called for a broader and more creative approach.[27]

The Jordanian leadership appears increasingly willing to play a direct role…

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But not unimportant to know just what kind of “thinking” Right Zionists are doing these days…

Beirut to Baghdad

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The big news story of the day is the Israeli strikes against Lebanon. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Israel bombed Beirut’s airport early today and sent troops and tanks deep into Lebanon after guerrillas from the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a meticulously planned border raid.

It was Israel’s first major offensive in Lebanon in six years

Many in the US will join the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, in criticizing Israel for “a disproportionate act of war” against Lebanon, especially in light of Israel’s massive, 2-week-old, ongoing offensive in Gaza sparked by a June 25 raid by Hamas.

Hamas, however, seems less focused on or surprised by Israel’s disproportionate reprisals than Hezbollah’s “heroic” border raid. According to the Kuwait Times

Hamas political bureau member Mohammad Nazzal told Reuters the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was a “heroic operation” and would help a campaign to free 1,000 Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, Israelis are also focused on Hezbollah’s border raid and they are outraged.

More surprising, however, the raid also seems to have upset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to press reports,

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also indirectly criticized Syria, suggesting it disrupted his country’s attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release. Hamas was subjected to “counter-pressures by other parties, which I don’t want to name but which cut the road in front of the Egyptian mediation and led to the failure of the deal after it was about to be concluded,” Mubarak said in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Massai newspaper published yesterday.

Egyptian “attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release” were undertaken at the behest of the Bush administration, specifically David Welch. Welch is the former US ambassador to Egypt and currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Near Eastern Affairs is traditionally the center of Right Arabist influence in the foreign policy establishment.

In return for his cooperation, Mubarak may have looked forward to easier relations with the US and a green light from the US to position his son, Gamal, as his successor.

Welch’s deal had been rumored in Israel, but it was not popular there. According to The Forward:

[P]rior to the abduction of two more soldiers near the Lebanon border… one of Olmert’s closest allies in the Cabinet suggested that a kind of retroactive prisoner swap could be in the works.

“The release of the kidnapped soldier will be a must. The moment that Qassam rocket fire also stops, we will enter a period of quiet, at the end of which it will be possible to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture,” Israel’s internal security minister, Avi Dichter, said at a conference in Tel Aviv. “This is something that Israel has done in the past and that can serve it in the future as well.”

The remarks were relayed internationally, prompting Dichter to say he had been misunderstood and Olmert’s office to deny a deal was in the offing.

But the Welch deal was undermined by the “counter pressures” on Hamas by the “other parties” that “cut the road” out from under Welch and Mubarak.

According to Bloomberg News, Dennis Ross—a Clinton administration Middle East envoy—faulted Welch for his reliance on Mubarak.

Ross said the U.S. has put too much faith in Egypt’s ability to mediate Shalit’s release…

Rather, the U.S. needs to talk most urgently to Syria, which hosts Hamas’s leadership and facilitates Hezbollah operations. Hezbollah’s attack yesterday “is obviously part of a coordinated effort to help Hamas,” Ross said. “And now there’s a risk of a wider escalation, and the address for all of this goes back to Damascus.”

The Welch initiative in Egypt was, in essence, an “Arab” response to the end of the Hamas ceasefire and the massive Israeli response.

The opening of a second front—sparked by the Hezbollah raid—has consequences in the Middle East and in the US.

In the Middle East, it has allowed Iran and Syria to undermine Arab control of the Palestinian resistance. As luck would have it, Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa and Iranian top nuclear diplomat Ali Larijani were together in Damascus for a press conference. Kuwait Times reports:

“When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people resistance is necessary,” Larijani said.

The Hezbollah raid also allows Iran to display some of its regional leverage amidst US attempts to isolate the Iranian regime at the UN.

In the US, the opening of a Hezbollah front shifts the factional center of gravity within the Bush administration where Welch shares the Israel/Palestine portfolio with Elliott Abrams, the Right Zionist White House as Deputy National Security Adviser.

The shift of focus toward Hezbollah moves the spotlight from Welch and his Egyptian allies to Elliott Abrams and his Israeli allies.

A spokesman for Elliott Abrams and the National Security Council put the blame squarely on Iran and Syria, gave Israel a “green light” for intervention, and made an appeal for Lebanon to cut its ties to Iran and Syria.

Reuters reports:

“We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hezbollah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence,” Jones added…”Hezbollah terrorism is not in Lebanon’s interests,” Jones said…
“This attack demonstrates that Hezbollah’s continued impunity to arm itself and carry out operations from Lebanese territory is a direct threat to the security of the Lebanese people and the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.”

As Juan Cole has suggested, Israeli intervention in Lebanon has the potential of spilling over into Iraq.

[H]ard line Shiites like the Sadr Movement and the Mahdi Army are close to Hizbullah. Israel’s wars could tip Iraq over into an unstoppable downward spiral.

A Sadrist uprising already seemed likely after US-backed raids in Sadr City last week and Israeli brutality toward the Shiites of southern Lebanon could certainly generate a response among the Shiites of southern Iraq.

If Right Zionists in the US support Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas and terrorize the population of Gaza, it does not follow that they favor a parallel track amongst the Shiites of southern Lebanon.

David Wurmser—the Right Zionist who presumably still serves as Cheney’s Middle East expert on his national security staff—had quite a bit to say about the Shiites of southern Lebanon in his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally:

“[A] shift of the Shi’ite center of gravity [from Iran] toward Iraq has larger, regional implications. Through intermarriage, history, and social relations, the Shi’ites of Lebanon have traditionally maintained close ties with the Shi’ites of Iraq. The Lebanese Shi’ite clerical establishment has customarily been politically quiescent, like the Iraqi Shi’ites. The Lebanese looked to Najaf’s clerics for spiritual models [until it was transformed into a regional outpost for Iranian influence]. Prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shi’ite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balance and to whittle away at Syria’s power” (TA, p.107, 110).

Do Right Zionists still hold out the hope of “prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away” from Iran?

If so (I have my doubts), much will depend on the nature of Israeli retaliation. If Israel tries to slaughter the Lebanese Shiite population, it won’t have much hope of “prying them” away from Iran or Syria.

News reports thus far (morning, July 13) are mixed. The New York Sun reported:

[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] immediately called up 6,000 reservists yesterday and put into effect plans for an extended incursion into southern Lebanon, which has long hosted Hezbollah terrorists. The intention appeared to be to dismantle the extensive network of terrorist bases and persuade the Beirut government to meet international calls to disarm the group once and for all.

Israeli forces went on the attack, targeting bridges, communication towers, military bunkers, and other facilities. At least two Lebanese civilians were reported to have been killed in the attacks.

On the other hand, there are reports that the most high-profile Israeli retaliation in Lebanon includes a naval blockade and a bombing campaign against Beirut’s airport, both of which serve to cut the ties that link Lebanon with Iran and Syria.

An attempt to pry Lebanese Shiites from Iran?

Good luck with that…

Arabists and Iran

Posted by Cutler on July 06, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

Robert Kaplan is surely a strange bird–ideologically, at least.  In truth, I cannot really make heads or tales of his politics.  It is only tempting to care about his politics because he was one of the “critics” that Bush recently brought in for a discussion about the war.

Kaplan takes an extreme form of the Right Arabist preference for status-quo strongmen and has done so repeatedly since September 11th.  On October 14, 2001, he penned a Wall Street Journal Op-ed entitled, “Don’t Impose Our Values: Stability is more important than democracy in the Mideast.”

When [Iraq] is decapitated, it will leave a vacuum that could unleash a regional war. In countries such as Iraq… entire intellectual classes have been wiped out over the decades, leaving only Islamists and sectarian nationalists to inherit the void. That is why the surest path toward more open societies in these countries is not some overnight experiment in democracy… but moderate military regimes representing the interests of merchant communities that span sectarian lines…

Status quo monarchies and enlightened dictatorships may serve our purposes better than weak and unstable democratic regimes. 

Similarly, March 2, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “We Can’t Force Democracy.”

Imperfect these rulers clearly are, but to think that who would follow them would necessarily be as stable, or as enlightened, is to engage in the kind of speculation that leads to irresponsible foreign policy. Recall that those who cheered in 1979 at the demise of the shah of Iran got something worse in return. The Saudi Arabian royal family may be the most reactionary group to run that country, except for any other that might replace it. It is unclear what, if anything, besides the monarchy could hold such a geographically ill-defined country together.

Nevertheless, in an April 17, 2006 Los Angeles Times Op-ed, “Haunted by Hussein, Humbled by Events,” Kaplan describes himself as having been “an early supporter of the invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

What was that all about?  Hard to say.  It almost seems to have been personal.  In his most hawkish, pre-invasion, pro-invasion article, “Slave State: Why Saddam is Worse Than Slobo,” he mentions:

I had my passport taken away from me for ten days by the Iraqi security police in 1986.

As he acknowledges in his “Haunted by Hussein” article,

[M]y earlier support [for the war]… was…based on firsthand experiences in Iraq.

Must have really pissed him off to have his passport taken away.

In any event, he has this little rhetorical bridge he uses to reconcile his pro-war position and his otherwise principled appreciation for enlightened dictatorship.  In his “We Can’t Force Democracy” Op-ed, he writes:

In the case of Iraq, the state under Saddam Hussein was so cruel and oppressive it bore little relationship to all these other dictatorships. Because under Hussein anybody could and in fact did disappear in the middle of the night and was tortured in the most horrific manner, the Baathist state constituted a form of anarchy masquerading as tyranny.

Everybody got that?

Forgive me this long, tortured discussion of a figure I think is somewhere between totally ridiculous and incredibly frightening (I hear he and the President got on quite well during their recent confab).

My point is to say that in 1993, just before he became famous for his book on the Balkans (Clinton was seen holding a copy) he published a book entitled, “The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite.”  I find the politics of the book inconsistent when not simply inscrutable, but when looking for a label to give the Bush administration faction that so vehemently opposed the idea of terminating Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq, Kaplan’s “Arabists” seemed to fit.

Although I tend to be somewhat dubious about giving too much explanatory weight to the “romance”–relative to say, the “geo-politics” or the alleged “lucre”–in accounting for Arabist commitments, the committments seem real and enduring.

The feature I find most intriguing–for the current “Iranian” moment–is the perspective of Arabists on the future of Iran.

In his book, Kaplan recalls a phrase: “Scratch an Arabist and you’ll find an anti-Iranian.”

I think there is plenty of evidence for this in contemporary foreign policy discussions about the Gulf.

In an October 14, 2005 Middle East Policy Council symposium entitled, “A Shia Crescent: What Fallout for the U.S.?,” Council President Charles Freeman–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a Right Arabist if there has ever been one–opened with the following remarks:

[T]he Saudis… are concerned about… the possibility of Iranian domination of a weak and divided Shi’a-dominated Iraq. In a recent visit to the region, in fact, I found a dominant concern in the Gulf countries to be the possibility that the United States, by intervening as we did in Iraq, may inadvertently be creating a Shi’a crescent in the northern tier of the Arab world, which could offer Iran unique opportunities that it has not had for many years, to exercise a dominant role, and to exercise that role in ways that may be destabilizing to others.

The question is: What policy toward Iran follows from this Right Arabist concern?  How best to marginalize the regional power of Iran?

In Iraq, the answer seems relatively simple: restoration (in various forms and by various means) of Sunni Arab power.

In Iran itself, however, the answer seems less clear.

As I noted in a previous post, at least one significant Right Arabist–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins–thinks regime change is the preferred path.

Akins may be a bit far out on a limb, however.  Although I have found no Right Arabists critical of Akins, I have also found little evidence of comparable hawkishness among other prominent Right Arabists (including Charles Freeman).

Many of the published comments–old and new–tend to support diplomatic engagement with the current regime.  For example, Richard Murphy–another former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia–took a moderate tone in a May 28, 2003 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Richard Murphy: [T]here’s certainly disagreements between some of the neo-conservatives who have been quite prominent in the Pentagon ranks, and the… I would call it the mainstream in State that is uncomfortable, uneasy about this talk of confronting Iran now that they have watched what happened in Iraq, they will learn the lesson of Iraq…

I don’t see any interest in Washington in launching a military attack on Iran – in discouraging Iran from a nuclear weapons program, in bringing Iran to turn over any Qaeda operatives who may be getting sanctuary in Iran – that is the interest, but not in doing it by means of a military attack…

It is certainly not Government policy to destabilise Iran, but there are elements in Washington who wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see the end of the regime there.

And they point to the evidence of the dissatisfaction with the Iranian regime, on the part of the youth of the unemployed, of the women of Iran, and some of them seem to be calculating that it is so unstable that a bit of rhetoric now and then might turn things around.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: But it is still a high-risk strategy? It could have unintended consequences?

RICHARD MURRAY: Absolutely, absolutely, and sober voices are stating that very clearly, and I repeat it is not policy to move frontally against Iran, but it is still on the President’s list of the Axis of Evil states, as you know.

Is it possible that Akins regime change agenda represents more of a hedge against Right Zionists than anything else?

If the Bush administration is going to support the Right Zionist goal of regime change in Iran, then Right Arabists had better be prepared to influence the process of change and the profile of any new regime.

And yet, wouldn’t a Right Arabist be even more content to have Iran contained, weakened, under a permanent cloud of suspicion, and relatively isolated–as the current regime would be under a UN inspection program, for example–than to have Iran serve as an “American project” that might ultimately provide a real alternative to US reliance on incumbent Arab regimes?

Qom-ic Relief

Posted by Cutler on July 03, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

One of the things that first grabbed my attention about Right Zionist policy toward Iraq was their plan for exploiting various rivalries, splits, and fissures within the Gulf for the purpose of achieving a broad re-alignment of alliances in the region, especially in relation to the region’s Shiites.

By many measures, the Right Zionists are now pretty marginal players in the Bush administration Iraq policy machine (the same cannot be said of the Israel/Palestine portfolio where Elliott Abrams still serves as Deputy National Security Advisor). However, there has been–to my knowledge–no purge in the Office of the Vice President where David Wurmser presumably still serves as a top Middle East aide.

During his time at the American Enterprise Institute, Wurmser was the most articulate advocate for exploiting Sunni-Shiite rivalries (i.e., Iraqi civil war) and intra-Shiite factionalism to achieve “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s successor at AEI, Reuel Gerecht, contintued to publish on this theme after Wurmser entered the Bush administration.

Now, Michael Ledeen has once again raised the issue in his latest article, “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid.”

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Ledeen continues to write as an embattled outsider frustrated that Right Zionist views are ignored within the intelligence community and among policymakers. Is this merely a convenient cover for Right Zionist influence? Maybe. But a case could also be made that there are Iraq policy folks–Right Arabists–who care not one bit about intra-Shiite factionalism.

Right Arabists are far more upset about any “Shiite cresent” in the Gulf than they are about which Shiites bloc is the emergent regional force. Right Arabists in the US have long shared Saudi misgivings about rising Shiite power. This fear pre-dates the Iranian revolution.

Any distinction between Qom and Najaf (if there is one) only matters to Right Zionists who want to use Iraq’s “Najaf” Shiism to undermine Iran’s “Qom”-based Shiism and restore a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran as a strategic pillar to offset US reliance on Arab regimes.

For Ledeen (and for many fearful Right Arabists) Iranian influence in Iraq is undeniable. In this view, Iran is already fighting that intra-Shiite civil war by undermining the stability of the US-backed, Najaf-Shiite Iraqi government.

For Right Zionists, however, the key is Iraqi influence in Iran. Wurmser, Gerecht, and others have been counting on Najaf to wage war on Qom. If Ledeen sees any signs of this, he isn’t sharing them. There is only the wish for such a two-sided civil war:

[W]e are involved in a regional war that cannot be won by playing defense in Iraq alone.

Faster, please.

In other words, it is time for Sistani to take the battle to the Iranians. We’ll see, I guess.

I have mentioned in previous posts (also here) that I don’t think the Right Zionists are really all that excited about using the Nuke issue to whip up a war frenzy.

First, unlike Right Arabists who fear nukes in the hands of any Iranian regime, Right Zionists only fear nukes in the hands of an Iran that is hostile to the US.

Second, Right Zionists are primaily interested in regime change in Iran and there isn’t much about a nuke stand-off that favors regime change. If anything, it allows the Iranian regime to use “nuclear nationalism” as an anti-imperialist populist credo to consolidate domestic legitimacy.

Now, Ledeen has come right out and said it (I love it when they do that…):

We are wrongly focused on the Iranian nuclear threat, which is obviously worth worrying about, but this excessively narrow focus has distracted us from the main threat, which is terrorism. The mullahs are not going to nuke our fighters in Iraq; they are going to kill as many as they can on the ground with IEDs, suicide terrorists, and assassins. And we have given them a free hand in this murderous campaign instead of unleashing political war against them in their own country. We hear lots of talk from the president and the secretary of state, but there is no sign of the sort of aggressive support we should be giving to the forces of freedom inside Iran.

Ledeen sees “no sign” of such a campaign. Maybe there is no such US campaign. Maybe it is covert. Either way, Ledeen’s own analysis would imply that such a campaign would depend at least as much on Iraqi Shiite forces–like a fatwa from Sistani. There is, as yet, no sign of that campaign.

“Who are the Good Guys?”

Posted by Cutler on June 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In a recent dispatch, Robert Dreyfuss writes:

[I]t’s at least worth asking: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Iraq? Are the good guys the U.S. troops fighting to impose American hegemony in the Gulf? Are the good guys the American forces who have installed a murderous Shiite theocracy in Baghdad?…

Dreyfuss goes on to answer his own question:

[T]here’s at least as much good on their side as on ours, if not more.

Note, however, that “their side” does not simply mean the “Iraqi” side. The Iraqi side, after all, includes a “murdersous Shiite theocracy.” These, it would seem, are “not” the folks with “as much… if not more” good on their side. No, the folks with more good on their side, according to Dreyfuss, are the Baathists and former military leaders of Iraq.

That raises, once again, the question of a dialogue with the Iraqi insurgents. For the past year, off and on, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has conducted secret talks with the resistance and has openly made a distinction between Zarqawi-style jihadists and former Baathists and military men…

Still, whether one thinks the resistance fighters are good guys, or bad guys that we need to talk to, the left, the antiwar movement, and progressives don’t have to wait for Zal Khalilzad. The time for talking to Iraq’s Baath, former military leaders, and Sunni resistance forces is here.

It is commonplace to favor talks with the Baathist resistance. Even some Right Zionist have embraced the idea. See, for example a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Amnesty for Insurgents? Yes” by Charles Krauthammer.

Insurgencies can be undone by being co-opted. And that is precisely the strategy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given that his life is literally on the line in making such judgments, one should give his view some weight.

Dreyfuss, meanwhile says nothing about the “murderous” record of the Baathists, but goes out of his way to take the moral high ground in relation to “murderous” Shiites.

Why the double standard? Why so soft on Baathists and hard on Shiites?

It is a perspective that matches perfectly with the anti-Shiite outlook of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Right Arabists like James Akins–a regular Dreyfuss informant–are extremely hawkish about Iran.

Where is Dreyfuss on Iran? Funny you should ask. He has a new article about US policy toward Iran–“Next We Take Tehran“–in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.

Unlike his erstwhile ally James Akins, Dreyfuss remains–at present–dovish on Iran. And, in a refreshing acknowledgement that Neocons are not the only folks who make US foreign policy, Dreyfuss takes a broad brush in criticizing US policy toward Iran.

Of course, the idea of the Persian Gulf as an American lake is not exactly new. Neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, “realists” typified by Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker, and liberal internationalists in the mold of President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, mostly agree that the Gulf ought to be owned and operated by the United States, and the idea has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy under presidents both Republican and Democratic.

At least in spirit (if not historical particulars), this is probably the best Dreyfuss line I’ve read because it represents a great break with his otherwise overly narrow focus on the Neocons. In the very next paragraph, however, Dreyfuss walks right back into that political corner of his:

But if the administration’s goals are congruent with past U.S. policy, its methods represent a radical departure. Previous administrations relied on alliances, proxy relationships with local rulers, a military presence that stayed mostly behind the scenes, and over-the-horizon forces ready to intervene in a crisis. President Bush has directly occupied two countries in the region and threatened a third. And by claiming a sweeping regional war without end against what he has referred to as “Islamofascism,” combined with an announced goal to impose U.S.-style free-market democracy in southwest Asia, he has adopted a utopian approach much closer to imperialism than to traditional balance-of-power politics.

This paragraph is a train wreck.

Are “traditional balance-of-power politics” actually so different from “imperialism”? At best, one could argue that there are tactical differences between an imperialism that operates through direct occupation and one that relies on alliances and proxy relationships with local rulers.

If this distinction actually matters to Dreyfuss, then he should be prepared to acknowledge that in the factional battles over Iraq, at least, Right Zionists always advocated–and have been criticized for advocating–reliance on indirect rule by Shiite proxy forces with a relatively “light” military presence over the horizon. By contrast, Right Arabists have always insisted that any regime change effort in Iraq would require at least 500,000 US troops and an occupation that would last years or decades.

Here, for example, is a leading Right Arabist, General Anthony Zinni, talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

We made a mistake in not understanding that after our invasion there would have to be a period of occupation. As a matter of fact, friends of mine who were planners in the workup were told not to use that word. But that’s denying reality. We had to have a period, much like we had in Japan and Germany at the end of World War II, where we controlled things

But we believed that the Iraqi people could take this upon themselves right away. We did it without the kind of, again, law and order and control in there.

The “we” that made that made that alleged “mistake” were the Right Zionists. Right Zionists like Douglas Feith, however, speak of the opposite “mistake”–the one made by Right Arabists. Feith told the Washington Post:

First, the United States missed the opportunity before the war to train enough Kurds and other Iraqi exiles to assist the U.S. military, he said. “That didn’t happen in the numbers we had hoped,” he said…

Even more important, Feith said, was the reluctance among some U.S. officials to transfer power early on to an Iraqi government and dismantle the U.S. occupation authority, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer.

Whatever the merits, for US empire, of direct occupation v. indirect rule through local proxies and/or the mistakes made, it is clear which imperial faction advocated which strategy in Iraq: Right Arabists favored US rule through direct, long-term occupation; Right Zionists favored US rule through local (Shiite and Kurdish) proxies.

Meanwhile, in the case of Iran, nobody within the foreign policy establishment has advocated direct military occupation. All of the big fights have been about three different options: peaceful diplomacy, military air strikes, or regime change led by proxy forces.

Bush administration Iran policy–like its policy toward Iraq–is based on “balance of power” politics. There is nothing new or utopian about it. What is new–and Dreyfuss won’t acknowledge–is that his old Right Arabist friends don’t talk like peaceniks about Iran.

There is a ton of unacknowledged history of Right Arabist/Right Zionist factionalism in all this. It was, after all, the Eisenhower administration–perhaps the US administration most clearly dominated by Right Arabists–that rejected the joint UK-French-Israel effort to topple an Arab nationlist leader, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Peaceniks, to be sure. But it was that same administration that gave the green light for a US-led covert operation for a coup against a Persian nationalist leader, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Who are the “bad” buys on Iran policy? Do Right Zionists support regime change in Iran? You bet. Is there at least “as much” bad “if not more” on the Right Arabist side when it comes to Iran? Ask former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins.

Right Arabists as Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on June 28, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Pop Quiz:

An article from the Associated Press reports the following:

A group of former senior government officials called on the Bush administration Thursday to adopt an official policy of regime change” in Iran on the grounds that the country poses a threat to U.S. security.

The Iran Policy Committee, formed a month ago in an effort to influence government policy toward Iran , said in a statement that Tehran’s Islamic government “is not likely to be turned from its threatening behavior by policies that emphasize negotiations.”…

The 30-page committee statement, released at a news conference, said that unless working with the Iranian people leads to regime change in Tehran, “the pace of nuclear weapons development might leave Washington with what the committee believes is the least desirable option of waging military strikes against Iran.”

Question: who is behind this group?
Not sure? Let me give another hint.

The “Iran Policy Committee” supports an Iranian exile-led opposition group called the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK, but sometimes called MKO). Here is a recent depiction of the group by one of its many critics:

Within the United States, MKO members tell Congressmen, their staffs, and other policymakers what they want to hear: That the MKO is the only opposition movement capable of ousting the unpopular and repressive Islamic Republic. They are slickWell-dressed and well-spoken representatives of MKO front organizations approach American writers, politicians, and pundits who are critical of the regime.

Has to be the Neocons, right? Sounds just like the Right Zionists. And the critic sounds just like a Right Arabist–could be General Zinni again, who famously slammed Chalabi and his Iraqi exile group as silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London.”

Guess again.

First, the critic quoted above is none other than Right Zionist Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

Second, the founding co-chairman of the “Iran Policy Committee”–James Akins–is about as far as you can get from a Right Zionist. James Akins is the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and one of the deans of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

What is a guy like Akins doing leading a group of Iran hawks?

In previous posts (here and here), I have noted the fact that Right Zionists are hostile to the current incumbent Iranian regime (so-called “official Iran”) but are very committed to the regional power of Iran (“eternal Iran”) as a country able to balance the power of Arab nationalism in the Gulf. More to the point, in terms of James Akins, Right Arabists are hostile to both “official Iran” and to “eteneral Iran”–that is, they are hostile to the regional power of Iran–precisely because they support Arab hegemony in the Gulf.

In the 1970s when Iran was allied with the US, it was pretty easy to distinguish between Right Arabists and Right Zionists. Right Zionists were delighted by growing Iranian regional power and the emergent triangle of US, Israeli, and Iranian relations. Right Arabists made no secret of their opposition to Iran’s growing regional power under the Shah.

Henry Kissinger was as responsible as any one person could be for the US tilt toward Iran in the early 1970s. It is over Iran and Saudi Arabia that James Akins clashed so famously with Kissinger. In an interview with 60 Minutes (discussed in Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1980), Akins claimed that Kissinger supported oil price hikes that benefited Iran over the objections of Saudi Arabia. Akins also claims (Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2004) that Kissinger gave him the boot when Akins spoke out against US plans to seize Saudi oil fields.

In April 1975, America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, sent a confidential cable to Washington denouncing as “criminally insane” an idea then being floated in the media: America should seize Saudi oil fields to break an Arab oil cartel and ensure a supply of cheap energy to fuel the U.S. economy.

Scoffing at the bravado of what he called America’s “New Hawks,” he warned that any attempt to take Arab oil by force would lead to world-wide fury and a protracted guerrilla war. This “could bring only disaster to the United States and to the world,” he wrote.

His 34-page cable, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, did not go down well in Washington. The idea of invading Saudi Arabia wasn’t the work of cranks but of senior policy makers. Discussion of a military strike never got beyond the preliminary planning stage, but the idea terrified the Saudis, who laid plans to booby-trap oil wells.

A few months after sending his cable, Mr. Akins was out of a job. He believes that his memo, which stoutly defended the Saudis’ right to control their oil, “was basically the cause of my being fired.”

This story has also been recounted by Robert Dreyfuss in his essay “The Thirty-Year Itch” in which Akins describes the invasion of Iraq as essentially part of this old battle:

“It’s the Kissinger plan,” says James Akins, a former U.S. diplomat. “I thought it had been killed, but it’s back.”

On the question of Iraq, Akins has been an outspoken critic of Right Zionists. No surprise here. The Saudis opposed Right Zionist plans for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraqi Shiites; so did Akins.

It is on this basis that a Right Arabist establishment figure like Akins also found common ground with Left anti-war writers like Robert Dreyfuss, a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Interviews with Akins provided Dreyfuss with lots of juicy quotes for his extended attacks on Right Zionist policy in Iraq and Akins puffed Devil’s Game on the back jack of the book.

In “Beyond Incompetence,” I criticized Dreyfuss:

because all of his political firepower is directed at the “neocon-dominated” United States, his critique is completely neutralized in those instances where Right Arabists have managed to regain some influence over Iraq policy. Dreyfuss pins everything on the idea that Right Zionists are dominating US policy. It legitimizes his uncritical embrace of Right Arabist perspectives on Iraq.

In a December 2004 comment, for example, Dreyfuss finds evidence of considerable Right Zionist panic, expressed by “leading neocon strategist” Max Singer, that Right Arabists were winning greater influence over Iraq policy. “What world is Singer living in?” asks Dreyfuss. “The United States is supporting the Sunnis and Baathists? Course not.”

More recently, Dreyfuss has acknowledged that the balance in US policy might have shifted back toward the Right Arabists. In an article sub-titled “Bring Back the Baath,” Dreyfuss reports on “U.S.-Baath Talks.”

“What the United States ought to have done two years ago — namely, make a deal with the resistance and its core Baathist leadership — might, after all, be happening. It is unclear how far up the food chain in the Bush administration this effort goes, but it appears that a desperate Ambassador Khalilzad has realized the importance of forging ties to the Baath party… That’s all good….”

If Dreyfuss feels awkward about declaring the increasingly Right Arabist inclinations of a Republican administration “all good,” he certainly hides it well.

Dreyfuss is disarmed by his adoption of Right Arabist talking points. Nowhere is this more evident that in his coverage of Iran.

In a Nation article entitled “Still Dreaming of Tehran,” (written with Laura Rozen), Dreyfuss once again turns to his Right Arabist friends–this time, “Chas Freeman, who served as US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War and a leading foe of the neocons”–to expose Right Zionist hawkish plans for Iran.

In a way, the neocons’ Iran project is very similar to the early phase of their Iraq one. It includes a steady drumbeat of threats and warnings, Washington lobbying, a media offensive and support for exile groups–in Iran’s case a mishmash that combines supporters of Khomeini’s grandson; Reza Pahlavi, the son of the fallen Shah, and the Iranian monarchists; and the Mujaheddin e-Khalq (MEK), a 3,800-strong exile force based in Iraq.

Dreyfuss seems unaware or unconcerned that at least one of his Right Arabist friends–James Akins–is the one leading support for the Iranian MEK exile force.

Why do Right Arabists favor a group like MEK and why do Right Zionists attack the group?

A June 25, 2006 Washington Post “guide to the leading Iranian activists in town” entitled “Iran on the Potomac,” and written by Dreyfuss co-author Laura Rozen describes the MEK:

[T]he National Council of the Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, an anti-regime militant group supported for years by Saddam Hussein.

With the advent of the Iran-Iraq war, the MEK alligned itself with Iraq and integrated itself into the broader regional Arab resistance to Iranian power. In other words, the MEK is an Arab-aligned force for regime change in Iran.

Right Zionists desperately want regime change in Iran, but they oppose two hawkish Right Arabist options for achieving that change. One is the attempt–profiled in a previous post–to cultivate Arab Iranian secessionist impulses in the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzistan (previously known as “Arabistan”). The other is Right Arabist sponsorship of MEK.

Dreyfuss likes to counterpose the Neocon hawks to “the realists’ more conciliatory strategy” that favors ” a quiet dialogue with Tehran.” Quiet and conciliatory. Yep, that must be the nearly-pacifist “realists.”

The essential point, beyond assembling a map of Washington policy positions regarding Iran, is that Right Arabists can be hawks, too. Listen to the Akins group:

Iran is emerging as the primary threat against the United States and its allies: Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, continuing support for and involvement with terrorist networks, publicly-stated opposition to the Arab-Israel peace process, disruptive role in Iraq, expansionist radical ideology, and its denial of basic human rights to its own population are challenges confronting U.S. policymakers.

James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee bang war drums, champion regime change, and sponsor democracy missions just like the Right Zionists when such things serve in the interest of Right Arabist goals. They may talk like doves in debates over Iraq, but Iran is a different matter.

Right Zionists and Right Arabists are merely two rival imperialist factions within the foreign policy establishment. Those who take sides within that intra-imperialist battle are playing a “devil’s game.”

Iran: Perle of Wisdom

Posted by Cutler on June 26, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq / 3 Comments

Richard Perle has once again entered the fray over US policy toward Iran. His June 25, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)” makes for interesting reading for several reasons.

Perle’s essay confirms that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) consider themselves increasingly marginal within the Bush administration, at least in terms of foreign policy in the Gulf. Perle insists that the “diplomatic establishment” over at the State Department is once again driving the ship of state.

[O]n May 31, the administration offered to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

How is it that Bush, who vowed that on his watch “the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands,” has chosen to beat such an ignominious retreat?…

[In 2003] Bush blinked and authorized the E.U.-3 to approach Tehran with proposals to reward the mullahs if they promised to end their nuclear weapons program.

During these three years, the Iranians have advanced steadily toward acquiring nuclear weapons, defiantly announcing milestones along the way. At the end of May, with Ahmadinejad stridently reiterating Iran’s “right” to enrich the uranium necessary for nuclear weapons, the administration blinked again.

Perle also suggests that one can trace the balance of power within the Administration by watching Condoleezza Rice. As a disciple of Brent Scowcroft–Perle’s ideological nemesis–Rice was always an unlikely ally for Right Zionists. During her time in the White House, however, the Right Zionists were delighted to discover in Rice a fellow traveler.

Now, Rice seems lost to Right Zionists like Perle. She has been recaptured by the foreign policy establishment.

Proximity is critical in politics and policy. And the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice’s influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of — and increasingly represents — a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.

None of this is really news–and there are some signs that on Iraq, for example, Rice started to retreat by September 2003 when she brought in Robert Blackwill to run a White House Iraq Stabilization Group, well before she moved to the State Department. Nevertheless, it confirms the basic outlines of administration factionalism.

If Perle thinks he has allies in the administration, he isn’t naming names. Obviously, Cheney and Rumsfeld loom large here. The New York Times account of the Iran policy reversal suggests that Cheney blinked, too.

There was strong opposition from the White House, particularly from Vice President Dick Cheney, according to several former officials.

Cheney was dead set against it,” said one former official who sat in many of those meetings. “At its heart, this was an argument about whether you could isolate the Iranians enough to force some kind of regime change.” But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside

Any other interpretation has Rice handing the Vice President a defeat. I find that unlikely, if only because Cheney would have little reason to remain silent about his opposition to a policy if the Bush sided with Rice against Cheney. Perle says if you want to know why the President blinked, “Ask Condi.” Better still, “Ask Cheney.”

Perle is upset that the Bush administration has taken a step toward a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear impasse. However, it is important to note that Perle does not advocate a military solution. In fact, after criticizing the Bush administration for blinking on the nuclear issue, he–like many other Right Zionists–drops the bomb (as an issue…) and takes up regime change. Right Zionists like Perle don’t want to talk about Nukes. The real issue, for Right Zionists, is regime change.

Here is the section of the Op-Ed where Perle changes the subject:

The new policy, undoubtedly pitched to the president as a means of enticing the E.U.-3 to support ending Iran’s program, is likely to diminish pressure on Iran and allow the mullahs more time to develop the weapons they have paid dearly to pursue.

No U.S. administration since 1979 has had a serious political strategy regarding Iran…

After this line, it is all regime change. Here is a sample:

The failure of successive U.S. administrations, including this one, to give moral and political support to the regime’s opponents is a tragedy. Iran is a country of young people, most of whom wish to live in freedom and admire the liberal democracies that Ahmadinejad loathes and fears.

On this score too, however, Perle complains that the State Department has the upper hand:

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) tried two weeks ago to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would have increased the administration’s too-little-too-late support for democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department opposed it, arguing that it “runs counter to our efforts . . . it would limit our diplomatic flexibility.”

From this perspective, it certainly looks as though the Right Zionists have been defeated by the “diplomatic establishment” in Washington. (Is there room for a little bit of irony in the fact that thanks to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the power of the “Israel Lobby” is proclaimed and publicized amidst serious policy defeats for Right Zionists in Washington?)

Has prior Right Zionist influence within the Bush administration (say, 9/11 to September 2003) changed the balance of power in the Gulf? If so, then Right Zionists may be victors in absentia.

Just to be clear: in at least one Right Zionist playbook–David Wurmser’s Tyranny’s Ally (profiled HERE)–the basis for regime change in Iran is not overt US policy but the anti-regime influence of Iraqi Shiites–specifically, Sistani and the Najaf clerical establishment.

Plenty of Right Zionists have been jettisoned from the Bush administration. To my knowledge, however, David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of the Vice President. And Sistani now runs Iraq–re-Baathification and insurgent amnesty, notwithstanding. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Note well: I claim no knowledge about the alleged anti-regime sentiments of Sistani or the Najaf clerical establishment. I only know that Right Zionists have made claims about such sentiments and I have yet to hear a discussion by critics who would challenge this view. On the contrary, I note–as I have in a previous post–that at least one prominent scholar who frequently clashes with Right Zionists, Juan Cole, has (perhaps unwittingly) bolstered this Right Zionist analysis.

In his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005 Professor Cole listed number five 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.

Where is the discussion of this crucial issue?

Zarqawi and Zion, Affirmed

Posted by Cutler on June 20, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

In a previous post–one seen by more readers than any other, thanks to the Right Zionists at Frontpage who graciously included me in their diatribe, “The Left and the Death of Zarqawi“–I argued:

At the level of ideology, Zarqawi was best understood as the perfect foil for Right Zionists like David Wurmser who think of Iraq as the front line of a regional war. Zarqawi is the mirror image of Wurmser.

I also made the following prediction:

Zarqawi may have hated Zionists, but his importance in Iraq was that he also hated Shiites. It was in the mind of Zarqawi–like the mind of Wurmser–that Zionists and Shiites were united. Right Zionists will not shed a tear for Zarqawi, but they may miss him when he is gone.

Actually, I was wrong. Right Zionists have now actually shed a tear for Zarqawi in an extraordinary June 26, 2006 Lee Smith Weekly Standard article called “Sects and Death in the Middle East.” It is a eulogy in the truest sense:

For over half a century, Arab leaders from Nasser to Nasrallah have all sounded the same note–we Arabs are in a battle to the death against Israel, the United States, the West, colonialism, etc. Zarqawi broke that pact. We Sunnis are Arabs, said Zarqawi, but you lot are Shia and we will kill you….

Zarqawi tapped into the id of the region, the violent subterranean intra-Arab hatreds that no one wants to look at very closely, neither locals nor foreigners, because the picture it paints is so dauntingly gruesome that it suggests the Middle East will be a basket case for decades to come…

Certainly not all Sunni Arabs approved of Zarqawi’s tactics, but many agreed that someone had to put the Shiites back in their place lest they misunderstand what is in store for them once the Americans leave.

Last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah famously warned of a Shiite crescent–a sphere of influence running from Iran to Lebanon–and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has accused Shiites of being more loyal to Iran than the countries they live in. And these are the heads of the two major Arab states that are almost devoid of Shiites. Feelings run even higher elsewhere in the region. In Saudi Arabia, the mere existence of Shiites in the Eastern Province threatens not only the kingdom’s primary source of income, oil, but also the very legitimacy of Wahhabi rule. After all, as true Wahhabis, shouldn’t they be converting or killing Shiites, as the founder of the country, Ibn Saud, once insisted?

To your average Joe Sunni, then, it’s good that Osama bin Laden kills Americans. And it’s wonderful that the Palestinian groups kill Israelis. But Zarqawi was the man in the trenches who went after the heretics that Sunni Arabs all actually have to live with every day, and have successfully kept in their place for a millennium now, and don’t ever want overturning the scales…

But to downplay sectarian issues is to risk misunderstanding the real problems in Iraq. There are already scores of books and articles detailing how the Bush team screwed up the war or the postwar occupation, some written by former administration employees, others the mea culpas of self-described onetime true believers… The problem in Iraq is Iraq. More broadly speaking, it is the problem of Arab society. ..

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Zarqawi made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that a more “even-handed approach” toward the Israeli-Palestinian crisis will not really defuse tensions in the Middle East…

The world looks like a different place thanks to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for without him the obtuse, the partisan, and the dishonest would still have room to talk about root causes and such stuff and reason away mass murder and sectarian fear and loathing. Zarqawi clarified things.

Wow! If the Weekly Standard had called and asked me to serve as ghost writer for a Right Zionist profile of Zarqawi, I would never have had the nerve to put it as clearly and succinctly as that! Let’s read one of those paragraphs one more time, just for fun–this time with feeling:

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Well, Ok then.