Foreign Policy Factions

The Flip in the Flop

Posted by Cutler on March 08, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is a relief rally underway that is celebrating the overdue but still welcome maturation of a suddenly contrite Bush administration.

Consider, for example, the Washington Post column by David Ignatius entitled, “After the Rock, Diplomacy.”

The Bush administration… seems to be bending… This conversion is long overdue…

[T]he administration seems to be tacking back toward the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which Bush appeared to dismiss back in December. Bush’s top aides have concluded that they made a mistake in seeming to reject the Baker-Hamilton report and announcing their troop surge a month later as if it were an alternative. In the process, they set back hopes for a bipartisan policy on Iraq — something officials now regret…

The final areas in which the administration is rediscovering diplomacy are its dealings with China and Russia.

One can find this same theme developed in a Los Angeles Times news story by Paul Richter, “White House Foreign Policy Has Shifted.”

Beset by dangers abroad and rivals at home, the Bush administration has embarked on a broad adjustment of its foreign policy in hopes of using its final two years to improve a record now widely viewed as a failure.

Since January, an administration known for stubbornly holding to its positions has launched a new Mideast peace initiative and reopened diplomatic channels with North Korea, Syria and Iran. And as President Bush arrives today in Brazil, he brings a new approach to Latin America…

“There’s a little more than a year and a half before the election, and they recognize that they’re in a hole,” said James Dobbins, a former diplomat and Bush administration envoy now at Rand Corp. “They’re bowing to reality and abandoning prior positions…. They’re looking for a variety of ways to demonstrate that they’re still relevant and still have room for accomplishment.”

Not so fast.

I have two concerns about this relief rally.

First, because it tends to reinforce the false notion that the Bush administration has hitherto stubbornly held to its positions. As I have suggested in a previous post, the Bush administration put the flip in flip-flop. At this point it goes without saying that they also put the flop in flip-flop.

One question for future consideration: how much did the flip create the flop? In other words, how much of the instability in Iraq is a result of particular policies held to stubbornly and how much is a result of an inability to act effectively because there were no particular policies pursued consistently.

Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to retain Sunni Arab authoritarian rule in Iraq, replacing Saddam Hussein with an ex-Baathist. Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to immediately transfer sovereignty to the Shiite majority, and let unfettered “democracy” run its course. But these are now entirely hypothetical questions. The US did not consistently pursue either of these options and the result in Iraq is not something that can be said to have “worked.”

Second, the notion of the maturation of the Bush administration misses the central role of factional struggle in the flip-flopping of the administration. In other words, the issue is rarely one of administration officials who experience a change of heart. Rather, the pattern of policy change seems to reflect a change in the balance of power among competing factions within the administration.

Did the North Korean deal reflect a victory for a faction that is, among other things, dovish on China? You bet.

Did the Cheney faction have a change of heart? Give me a break.

The same goes for Russia, Iraq, Iran, and just about everything else.

Until the factionalism is no longer a factor, it would be extremely naive to consider any policy move made by this administration as decisive.

The battles continue. Nothing has been decided. There is no decider.

[UPDATE: Jim Hoagland’s column in today’s Washington Post–“What Has Happened to Dick Cheney?“–addresses the question of administration factionalism and comes to a strikingly different conclusion:

Is the vice president losing his influence…?

[With regard to the “VP’s… internal policy defeats”]… what goes up must come down.

Reports of a new defeat lie ahead for the hard line on Iran and Syria that is associated with Cheney’s office…

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice… is credited by administration sources with having told Bush in January that he should devote his final two years in office to seeking diplomatic agreements with North Korea and Iran and an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. That account emphasizes that Rice is not simply outflanking Cheney in intermittent internal policy battles but has won full agreement and support from the president on the strategic goals and methods she and her diplomats are pursuing.

This remains to be confirmed by events. But it is clear that Bush has always been much more the decision maker than the Cheney-as-puppeteer image conveyed.

The Libby trial revealed serious splits between Cheney and Bush’s political team…

However… Cheney will not resign over the president’s refusal to take his advice. The only force that could drive him to that dramatic step would be that unshakable sense of loyalty to Bush, who desperately now needs a vice president in stable physical, emotional and political health. That is the equation you want to be watching.

I’m not inclined to quibble with the idea that Bush and Rice are tight. Nor would I dispute that fact that at some key moments in some key meetings Bush actually makes some big decisions (say, for example, the decision to invade Iraq!). But I think Bush lacks the courage of his own convictions, if not the intellectual depth to anticipate the consequences of his decisions. He is in over his head. And this has allowed all factional players to sandbag, sabotage, and undermine the Oval Office when it has suited them.

At times, the Cheney crowd has had the President’s ear and the so-called “Realists” have functioned as a beltway insurgency. Today, it looks like the Cheney faction will be forced to play that role. But the battle lines have not been blurred, no factions have conceded defeat, and the window of the Office of the Vice President is not a particularly vulnerable battlefield position from which to take shots as a factional sniper or saboteur.

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?

The Incompetence of Others

Posted by Cutler on January 24, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / No Comments

I have been content to leave most of the discussion of the “Plame/Libby” case to others, especially National Journal reporter Murray Waas–especially via his blog–and to Swopa over at Needlenose.  For background, check out the Wikipedia entry.

Until the opening day of the trial, the Libby case looked set to be an occasion for critics to celebrate the fact that at least one leading administration official was going to be held accountable for something related to the war in Iraq.  I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, is on trial for perjury.

Now, however, it looks like the trial may shed some light on one major axis of Bush administration factional politics–what Waas calls “an inherent division… between the OVP [Office of the Vice President] and the White House staff.

Here is how Michael Isikoff of Newsweek is reporting the opening of the trial:

Libby, it was widely thought by legal experts, was going to be the good soldier. He would play it safe at his trial in order to preserve his options; mainly, if convicted, to seek a presidential pardon before Bush leaves office.

But no sooner did he start his opening statement Tuesday morning than defense lawyer Ted Wells shocked the courtroom and all but tossed the “pardon strategy” out the window. Seeking to rebut Fitzgerald’s contention that Libby had lied about his knowledge of Plame’s CIA employment in order to save his job with Cheney, Wells shot back: “Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job in the Bush administration. He was concerned about being set up, he was concerned about being made the scapegoat”…

[The trial] has raised the prospect that the Libby trial will now turn into a horror show for the White House, forcing current and former top aides to testify against each other and revealing an administration that has been in turmoil over the Iraq war for more than three years

Wells contended, it was Rove—the political strategist—who had to be protected at all costs. He was, Wells said, “the lifeblood of the Republican Party” and the man George W. Bush absolutely needed for the coming re-election campaign. Indeed, after [then-press secretary Scott] McClellan issued a public statement exonerating Rove of any involvement in the leak (a statement that turned out three years later to be false), Cheney and Libby huddled about the matter. McClellan had cleared Rove but at that point had said nothing about Libby, leaving the implication that Libby had leaked but Rove hadn’t. Cheney personally wrote a note, an excerpt of which Wells read to the jury and highlighted by displaying on an audio-visual machine during his opening statement: “Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others,” Cheney’s note read.

The translation, according to Wells: The vice president was not going to allow Karl Rove to be protected and Libby to be sacrificed…

The opening statements underscored what many had already suspected: that Cheney—who is slated to be called to testify by the defense—will be a crucial witness in the trial…

Let the shooting begin.

Cheney does not appear likely to hang Libby out to dry.  Here is a part of the transcript of a recent Cheney interview with Fox News.

WALLACE: Your former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, goes on trial this coming week on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury…

CHENEY: He’s a friend. He’s a good man. He is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever known…

WALLACE: Is he honest?
CHENEY: I believe he’s one of the more honest men I know. He’s a good man. And I obviously appreciate very much his service on my staff over the years and have very high regard for him and his family…

WALLACE: Given the fact that it now turns out that Libby wasn’t the one who first leaked the name of Valerie Plame, what do you think of the fact that he’s the only one who’s being prosecuted in this case?

CHENEY: I have strong views on the subject, but I’m not going to talk about it…

WALLACE: But there’s nothing that you have heard, nothing that you have read that shakes your confidence in Scooter Libby’s integrity?

CHENEY: That’s correct.

That would seem to raise the specter of an open-air split between Cheney and the White House.

I have suggested that there are probably several layers of substantive, policy elements to this split, as well.

The Libby trial may illuminate a split between Cheney and Rove in ways that help make some sense of the rhythm of Bush administration foreign policy.

Among other things, my sense is that the “muddle-with-a-surge-on-top” that emerged from the White House “Iraq Policy Review” reflected an unwillingness or inability to reconcile the James Baker approach to Iraq and the Cheney faction.

But most of all, I wonder what it might mean for the White House to try to marginalize a sitting Vice President who does not serve at the pleasure of the President.

Back in the Ford administration, Rumsfeld reportedly nudged Nelson Rockefeller off the 1976 re-election ticket.  But that hardly serves as a precedent for the current situation.  Nobody is arguing that the Constitution guarantees the Vice President a spot on the next political ticket.  It does, however, guarantee the Vice President formal autonomy as an elected official.

I do not think Cheney will actually move into the “opposition.”  This would be untenable for the White House.  At the level of factional politics, Cheney may ultimately have his way–in Iraq and elsewhere.

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.

All Quiet on the Political Front

Posted by Cutler on June 20, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Right Arabists (so-called Realists) seem to be calling the shots at every turn and the Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq who tend to yell the loudest at the first sign of a Right Zionist tilt to Bush administration policy continue to be very quiet.

The stability of the political process looks impressive, although it will surely be tested by one or more possible scenarios.

First, the government of national unity would be tested by any serious attempt by US forces to crush the Sunni insurgency, such as the plan that AEIs Frederick Kagan presumably offered to President Bush during their recent meeting.

Juan Cole notes something like a news blackout on allegedly massive counter-insurgency operations in Baghdad and Ramadi right now. According to a New York Times report, US military officials deny that a Falluja-style assault is in the works.

Some Sunni Arab leaders have said they are worried that American forces may be preparing an offensive in Ramadi meant to wipe out the insurgent groups that have taken control of much of the city, similar to the November 2004 assault on Falluja by the Marines.

An American military official in Baghdad said on Sunday that no such offensive was planned. “We’re trying to separate the insurgents from the rest of the people,” the official said. “There are a lot of rumors flying around that people think it’s another Falluja. It’s not.”

One reason to believe these reports: Sunni Arab political leaders are, thus far, quiet. It would be difficult for them to remain so in the face of a major assault.

Second, any attempt to negotiate Constitutional changes will almost certainly re-open the sectarians wounds that have been sutured by the Maliki government.

Third, the Maliki government could be tested by more sectarian violence or intra-Shiite factionalism in Basra.

Until then, one cannot fail to notice that Iraqi politics look very calm right now. Pretty impressive, given the Haditha revelations, etc.

On Haditha: Funny how quiet imperialism becomes in the US when the Right Arabist political establishment has been restored to power and no longer has any use for the anti-war Left. Recall the extraordinary political outcry in 2004 from US political elites over Abu Ghraib during the era when Right Zionists were still running the show. Now compare that political storm to the muted themes (“clouds” and “contradictions” seem to be the watchwords at the New York Times) that have accompanied revelations about the Haditha massacre.

Where is Richard Lugar and his outrage? Silence.

Biden Time

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Does Senator Joe Biden think that his party is so irrelevant that he can champion views on Iraq that seem completely contradictory without anybody knowing or caring?

Biden, in case you have missed it, has been all over the media in recent days arguing for appeasing Iraq’s Sunni Arab political forces even as he simultaneously champions regional autonomy for Iraqi Shiites and Kurds. In other words, he is essentially trying to woo Sunni Arabs and antagonize them at the same time. Along the way, he manages to support both of the visions for Iraq that have generated fierce factional antagonisms withing the Bush administration.

Here is Biden on the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS last night:

[E]verybody agrees three things have to happen for us to be able to leave and leave success behind, that is a stable government. You’ve got to do something about the militia, and you’ve got to purge the existing, trained Iraqis of these sectarian thugs.

Secondly, what you got to do, is you got to get the Sunnis to buy in. That’s why our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it, to provide for the opportunity to get the Sunnis to buy in by giving them a larger piece of the action.

And, three, you’ve got to keep the neighbors out.

Biden has reproduced these three bullet points on CNN, MSNBC, and in a press release.

These talking points are not particularly different from the current “Right Arabist” policies being pursued by Zalmay Khalilzad. Hence the nod to the “great job” Khalilzad is doing.These talking points are quite different, however, from Biden’s simultaneous endorsement (discussed in a previous post) of regional autonomy for Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish minorities.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, what do you say to the growing number of your fellow and sister Democrats who are saying, “Hey, it’s time to set a date certain to get America out of there, get the troops out of there”? What do you say to them?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I’m saying setting a date is not a plan. I’m not suggesting that Senator Lugar agrees with the plan I put forward, but I laid out a clear, precise plan as to how I think we should proceed, by giving more breathing room to the various sectarian groups, by sharing the oil revenue, by amending the constitution

This “clear, precise plan” is hardly the stuff of Right Arabist strategy in Iraq. Take, for example, Senator Lugar, Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who appeared with Biden on the News Hour:

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, are you on board for the Biden plan?…

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I think it should be carefully considered, but my own view is that the best option is still to try to find a unified Iraq

I think that Turks will be very nervous about Kurds heading toward more independence under those situations… quite apart from Sunnis that might hook up with Sunnis in Saudi Arabia… the Wahhabi-types that could be very dangerous for the conclusion for all of this…

Biden’s plan drew similar criticism from Anthony Cordesman in a May 9, 2006 New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem.”

[T]here is no way to divide Iraq that will not set off fights over control of oil. More than 90 percent of Iraq’s government revenues come from oil exports. The Sunni Arab west has no developed oil fields and thus would have no oil revenues…

And with Iraqi Sunnis cut out of oil money, Arab Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be forced to support them, if only to avoid having the Islamist extremists take over this part of Iraq.

Iran, of course, would compete for the Iraqi Shiites. The Kurds have no friends: Turkey, Iran and Syria would seek to destabilize the north…

[A quick detour: “The Kurds have no friends” Is it my imagination or did Anthony Cordesman just “wipe Israel off the map”? For better or worse, Israel has long aligned itself with Kurdish forces.]

Biden and Gelb responded to Cordesman’s criticism in a May 11, 2006 letter to the New York Times (subscription required):

[Cordesman] says our proposal cuts the Sunni Arabs out of oil money. But as we wrote, our plan would constitutionally guarantee Sunnis 20 percent of all oil revenues. Right now, they are guaranteed nothing.

Our suggested oil guarantee would also give Sunnis a major incentive to fight the insurgents and accept the regionalism we propose and Iraq’s constitution allows.

You will have to ask Iraqi Sunnis for yourself if they find Biden’s promise of “20 percent of all oil revenues” sufficient “incentive to fight the insurgents,” but I have yet to find any Right Arabists (including Lugar) who find in this clarification a basis for signing on to Biden’s regionalism plan.

It is worth noting, however, that Biden’s insistence here on exisiting provisions of the Iraqi constitution runs agains the grain of his News Hour praise for Khalilzad: “our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it.”

What were the changes that Khalilzad introduced days ahead of the October 2005 ratification vote? Khalilzad’s own October 12, 2005 press release is quite clear:

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad praised Iraqi political leaders for agreeing to last-minute compromises on the language of the country’s proposed constitution. The changes are aimed at forging broader consensus ahead of the October 15 constitutional referendum.

“As Iraqis prepare to vote their consciences in the coming referendum, leaders who have led the democratic process and leaders who have boycotted it have decisively settled their differences and joined together to announce, ‘Vote yes for Iraq’s constitution,’” Khalilzad said in an October 12 statement…

One agreed change would allow for the new Council of Representatives to review the document and propose changes…

This provision was important to Sunni Arab negotiators who feel that they were under-represented on the constitutional drafting committee…

Other changes include language emphasizing the unity of the Iraqi state and highlighting its ties to the Arab world.

Two new clauses state that membership in the former regime’s Ba’ath Party is not an adequate basis for referral of an individual to the courts and that the new Council of Representatives shall establish a committee to ensure that the de-Ba’athification program is carried out in a just, fair and objective manner. Sunni Arab negotiators insisted on these provisions to ensure that their constituents, many of whom were rank-and-file members of the party, are not unjustly prosecuted.

How can Biden praise Khalilzad’s constitutional amendments that won some Sunni Arab buy in only by promising the “unity of the Iraqi state” even as Biden continues to support regional autonomy?

Senator Biden: which side are you on?

At a minimum, let us pray that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee understands that his current talking points represent two antagonistic approaches to US policy in Iraq–approaches that have hitherto appeared as mutually exclusive to the Right Zionist and Right Arabist factional forces that have battled for position since the start of the Bush administration, to say nothing of forces on the ground in Iraq and the entire Gulf region.

All in Favor of National Unity?

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions / 1 Comment

In a prior post, I wondered whether Bush administration factionalism–between Right Zionists (aka Neocons) and Right Arabists (aka Realists)–had given way to a government of national unity in Washington. Does everyone in DC support US Ambassador Khalilzad’s attempts to incorporate Sunni Arab forces into an Iraqi “government of national unity”?

There are no signs of any cracks inside the Bush administration itself. If there are Right Zionists upset about all this (David Wurmser in Cheney’s office?), they aren’t making public their concerns.

Outside the Bush administration, there has been at least one dissent: a June 12, 2006 editorial from the Right Zionist New York Sun entitled “Beware of Reconciliation.”

Prime Minister al-Maliki will unveil, following the slaying of al-Qaeda’s Zarqawi, new details of Iraq’s national reconciliation process. That comes against the backdrop of Mr. al-Maliki’s decision last week to release some 2,500 Sunni political prisoners and his naming of a Sunni defense minister and a Shiite interior minister, unconnected to ethnic militias.

We have a certain reserve about this… It’s one thing to seek reconciliation between the country’s ethnic factions. But the gushing over these gestures echoes the hosannas that greeted Secretary Rice’s bow to Iran. Iraq’s leaders have invited its country’s saboteurs into the tent of government almost since Paul Bremer announced the demolition of Saddam’s parasitic army.

It was on Mr. Bremer’s watch that we briefly placed a Saddam-era general, Jasim Mohammed Saleh, in charge of Falluja, where he paraded with his Ba’athist uniform and medals. Under Prime Minister Allawi’s brief regime in 2004, former Ba’athist colonels and generals were hired into the state’s new intelligence service and police by his hand picked intelligence chief, Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani.

Only seven months ago, in Cairo, there was a meeting between Iraq’s elected legislators and the representatives of terrorists who had been seeking to kill them. And just as the Arab League had been pressing for this “reconciliation” in December, they are now involving themselves with yet another conference to bring “all sides” together

Re-inviting the leaders and spokesmen of those who have sought from the beginning to plunge Iraq into this hellish kind of war holds out the impression that an amnesty or reprieve from the forces of civilization may yet await them. Better these barbarians remember the Nazi peace-seeker, Hess. When he parachuted into Britain, he was imprisoned – and he died in prison decades later….

What one cannot imagine is a parley with the agents of the foreign powers committed to ethnic cleansing and the collapse of the very government issuing the invitations going out this week. With these factions even the idea of negotiations holds its own kind of danger.

That is–in one tidy package–a strident defense of the old Right Zionist agenda for Iraq and a critique of Right Arabist re-Baathification, sponosored by the Arab League.

The real question is simply this: does anyone in government share these views anymore? Or are the Right Zionists howling in the wilderness?

A Quiet Reception for new Interior Minister Bolani

Posted by Cutler on June 09, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel / 6 Comments

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s appointment of Jawad Bolani as Iraq’s new Interior Minister has, thus far, been received with little if any protest from politicians who might be expected to be skeptical about Bolani’s political profile.

A report by Ferry Biedermannin in the Financial Times (my favorite newspaper) appears under the headline “Infighting Ensnares New Cabinet Appointees” but the article doesn’t really support that theme.

The new ministers – Jawad Bolani at interior and Abdel Kader Jassim al-Mifarji at defence – were immediately caught up in political infighting as some politicians criticised them for being too close to the main Shia and Sunni blocs.

If “some politicians criticised” the appointment of Bolani, Biedermannin fails to deliver up money quotes that would have illustrated the claim. Biedermannin explains why some politicians might criticize Bolani:

Mr Bolani was one of the preferred choices of the dominant but divided Shia United Iraqi Alliance. The Interior Ministry is seen as particularly sensitive because of accusations that the ranks of its security forces have been infiltrated by Shia militias who have been responsible for some of the sectarian violence against Sunni.

So where are the harsh quotes from key Sunni leaders about how Bolani’s appointment will inflame sectarian tensions and push Iraq closer to civil war? There are none. Here is what Biedermannin offers, instead:

Some politicians doubted that the new ministers will be able to tackle the various sectarian groups decisively. It depended on the “strength of the minister”, in relation to the party that had supported his appointment, said Falah Naqib, who was interior minister in the brief government of Iyad Alawi in 2004. The new ministers will need at least three months before any judgment could be made, he said.

Oh, snap! Ouch! Falah Naqib is bringing the heat!… Not so much.

There is only one more quote in the whole article:

The independent Sunni member of parliament Mithal al-Alusi said he had voted for the new ministers without much enthusiasm “because Iraq needs a government”. He said he was less worried about the ministers themselves than about the likelihood that their ministries would be sectarian bastions.

That’s deep.

A quick detour about Alusi. Mithal al-Alusi is an odd duck. Basically, Iraq’s only known pro-Israel Sunni Arab politician and the object of considerable adoration from Thomas Friedman (subscription required). My favorite Alusi article is one published in the Detroit Free Press by Nancy A. Youssef of Knight Ridder under the headline “Iran now enemy No. 1, Sunnis say: Fears fhift from Israel to Shi’ite nation next door“:

Sunni Muslims have begun to ask: Is Israel really Iraq’s enemy or is it neighboring Iran?

Sunnis are often not comfortable talking openly about Israel, especially in a region where most Arabs won’t refer to it by name and blame Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians. But privately, many have said Israel has not done anything lately to harm them, but Iran has…

While campaigning for a seat in the new parliament, Mithal al Alusi called for stronger ties between Israel and Iraq, and he appears to have won. He said some Iraqis are warming to a stronger relationship with Israel, in part because they are frightened of Iran’s influence. “They are afraid of Iran’s extremist political system,” he said.

It is not hard to see why I would find this particularly interesting. It is the “pro-Sunni” mirror image of the regional “balance of power” strategy that Right Zionists developed as the rationale for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraq’s Shiite majority. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Is this “Plan B” for Right Zionists in case the Shiite-Israeli alliance falls through?

Anyway, returning to the new Maliki government: So far, at least, those who shorted the market in “national unity” are scrambling to cover losses. Of course, it is only one day–and a day overshadowed by the big news of Zarqawi’s death. But wouldn’t you score this a surprising victory for “national unity” politics?

Zarqawi and Zion

Posted by Cutler on June 08, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 4 Comments

Looks like news from the “war on terror” we are fighting “over there” in Iraq is about to temporarily distract Americans from doing battle “here” with the gay insurgents (insurgents? terrorists? dead-enders?) allegedly waging “war” on the institution of marriage.

Insurgent Leader Zarqawi Killed in Iraq.” If the headlines prove to be correct and Abu Musab Zarqawi–Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq–has been killed by US forces in a raid on a house north of Baquba, this marks a perverse kind of setback for Right Zionists visions of the war in Iraq. 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.

One of the most important battles within the Iraq war has been the struggle to define the central axis of conflict. According to the first axis–call it the nationalist axis–the US has been fighting in Iraq against a national liberation army defending itself against imperialist occupation. Along this axis, the signature moment might be the April 2004 rebellionsimultaneous and sometimes coordinated–of Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and Shiite insurgents (Sadr’s Mahdi Army) in Najaf. Along the nationalist axis, any fissures between Shiite and Sunni melts into a unified national resistance to foreign occupation. Not surprisingly, Right Arabists within the US foreign policy establishment prefer to think in terms of the nationalist axis because at the level of policy it tends to commend a resolution: give the insurgents their country back. Bring back the Baathists. Return the country to its rightful owners.

According to the second axis–call it the sectarian axis–the US has been fighting a regional war on terror by tilting the regional balance of power away from Sunni extremists and the Sunni Arab dominated regimes with which they are aligned and toward the region’s embattled Shiites. Along this axis, the signature moment might be the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra. This bombing shifted the axis toward a war between Sunni terrorists and oppressed Shiites. As Adel Abdul Mahdi, a leader of the Shiite SCIRI party, so aptly put it after the bombing: This is as 9/11 in the United States.” The logic of the bombing was to put Shiites and Americans in the same boat.

Nobody did more to identify, build and maintain the significance of Sunni/Shiite split–the sectarian axis–than Abu Musab Zarqawi. 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. If he is gone. For Right Zionists, Zarqawi is really an indespensible enemy. As Zarqawi’s allies might say: the US may have killed Zarqawi, but it has not yet dismantled the sectarian axis.

Bush Administration Right Zionists: Dead or Alive?

Posted by Cutler on May 31, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq / 5 Comments

Has news of the death of the Neocons been greatly exaggerated?

In some respects, the eclipse of the Neocons is an old story. As I suggested in a prior post, many Neocons decided long ago they had been sold out by the Bush administration’s failure of imperial nerve.

Since at least September 2003, the basic Bush administration political program in Iraq–echoed in today’s Washington Post column by Fareed Zakaria, “A Political Path out of Iraq“–has been to try to put the Shiite genie back in the bottle. As Zakaria suggests, this implies wooing the Sunni minority that was marginalized by the agressive de-Baathification program initiated in May 2003 at the start of the formal US occupation of Iraq.

Co-opting the majority of the Sunnis is the simplest way [Prime Minister] Maliki can cripple the insurgency…

[Maliki] will have to address the core Sunni demand: an end to the de-Baathification process, which has thrown tens of thousands of Sunnis out of jobs and barred them from new ones. Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, a Kurd, told me that “the time has come for us to be courageous enough to admit that there were massive mistakes in de-Baathification.” The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, argued similarly, saying that “de-Baathification has to evolve into reconciliation with accountability.” Khalilzad added that Prime Minister Maliki supported the notion that de-Baathification “has to focus on individuals who are charged with specific crimes, not whole classes and groups of people.” If so, it would mark a major and positive shift in policy.

This “shift in policy” marks a sharp rebuke to the Neocon agenda in Iraq. On the basis of this defeat and others (failure to support democratization in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, etc.), Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times has pronounced the Neocon patient dead in his May 29 article, “Neo-cons Question Bush’s Democratisation Strategy” and–following Neocons Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute–Dinmore lists the cause of death as suicide.

Rubin and Pletka ask:

Is it possible that the administration is questioning the wisdom of promoting democracy as a long-term solution to U.S. national security woes? “Realists” suggest that the president has finally woken up and smelled the coffee. They say democracy gave us an Islamist government in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine. It could give us the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Heaven knows what it would spawn in China or Libya. Better the devil you know.

But there is no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking. The president continues to believe his own preaching, but his administration has become incapable of making the hard choices those beliefs require.

Everyone is grateful to Rubin and Pletka for the “straight man” set up: “no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking”? Was there ever any sign the White House did any strategic thinking? (As irresistable as that line may be, I think the White House did quite a bit of strategic thinking on the road to war in Iraq.)

Where, exactly, should one draw the line between the “president,” the “White House,” and “his administration”?

One place to draw the line might be the State Department. The careful observers over at Whirled View find ample evidence (here and here) of so-called “Realist” influence over at State, including the new Iran desk.

If only the president continued to believe his own preaching, that would be one thing. But the “White House” presumably includes the Office of the Vice President. Do Rubin and Pletka really think Cheney remains an ally?

There are some signs they may be right. If so, the Neocons might live to see another day. Dinmore filed his story on the death of the Neocons only to report in today’s Financial Times that Bush and Blair have met with Right Zionist (aka Neocon) Iranian exiles:

US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, have received separate background briefings from Iranian opposition activists, including one visitor to the White House on Tuesday who caused a storm earlier this month by reporting Iran had passed a law requiring Jews to wear special identification.

Contacts at such a high level with Iranian opposition activists are likely to raise concerns in Tehran while the US and UK lead diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel programme.

White House officials said Amir Taheri, a London-based former editor, was among a group of experts invited to discuss Iraq and the region with Mr Bush. Mr Taheri is well known for his support of the war in Iraq and regime change in Iran.

You shall know them by their agents: Taheri is represented by Neocon public relations firm Benador Associates, home of Right Zionist all-stars.

So, is this just Bush throwing a bone to Neocons in the dog house? Or is this the “White House”–i.e., the Office of the Vice President–sending out the word: Game On.

NeoCons and Dem Zionists: “Not Stunningly Different”

Posted by Cutler on May 30, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions / 1 Comment

Right Zionists in the US are examining political options for 2008. “Exhibit A” in this regard is Robert Kagan’s column “If Power Shifts in 2008“–the subtitle of which is “A Democrat Might Not be as Different as You Would Think”–from May 28 issue of the Washington Post.

Kagan is co-founder, with William Kristol, of the Neocon/Right Zionist “Project for a New American Century.”

Kagan has hardly given up all hope of a friendly Republican administration after Bush. McCain remains the key to that vision for Kagan:

Republicans could nominate someone capable of winning broad Democratic support, which would partly address the debilitating national divide on foreign policy.

But Kagan is hedging his bets. The central issue for Kagan is not simply the prospect of a Democrat victory in 2008 but the implications for US foreign policy:

Lately [the Democracts are] starting to show signs of life and could still take the reins again if the right Democrat won in 2008. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing. No one can claim any more that the old Clinton foreign policy team is less competent than the Republicans who succeeded it.

Kagan’s criticism of Bush administration “competence” is a partisan bone to the Democrats, in case you missed it. Less clear, however, are the Democrat “signs of life.” What could Kagan mean? He doesn’t mean the polling numbers since the whole question that interests Kagan concerns policies adopted after a Democrat victory: would “signs of life” would appear IF “the right a Democrat won in 2008.”

What are the signs of life? Hard to know, since Kagan is vague. Maybe Kagan has in mind Senator Joe Biden and his recent nod toward the old Right Zionist plan for “decentralization” of Iraq, discussed here.

There is no question of the Democrats being sufficiently Zionist for Kagan. The only real concern for Kagan is the mix of “soft power” diplomacy and hard power interventionism.

Soft power will go only so far in dealing with problems such as North Korea and Sudan.

On Iran, though, he gives a small nod toward negotiations:

A smarter negotiating strategy toward Iran might or might not make a difference in stopping its weapons program.

On the whole, Kagan is quite optimistic about Dem Zionists in ’09.

If the Democrats did take office in 2009, their approach to the post-Sept. 11 world would be marginally different but not stunningly different from Bush’s. And they would have to sell that not stunningly different set of policies to their own constituents.

The significance of this last line should not be missed: given Bush’s lousy poll numbers, Kagan seems to suggest that it might be better to have the Democrats selling the Iraq war than sniping at it. Democrats could more effectively co-opt and contain anti-war sentiment in the US.

The key point is simply that an electoral tilt toward the Democrats cannot be equated with a defeat for Kagan and Co.

Regional Rivalry: Persian Gulf or Arab Gulf?

Posted by Cutler on May 25, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

The US invaded Iraq, but the target was Saudi Arabia–at least among Rigth Zionists within the Bush administration. Iraq is the central pivot for the regional balance of power in the Gulf. On the western shores of the Gulf sits Saudi Arabia. To the East, Iran. Iraq, in the North, is the tip of the triangle. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by a Sunni Arab minority, the Gulf is an Arab Gulf. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by its Shiite majority (loyal to a Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani), the balance of power in the Gulf tips toward a Persian Gulf.

The US invasion–and more specifically, the all-important decision to destroy the Baathist military state that guaranteed Sunni minority rule–tipped the balance toward a Persian Gulf. It is for this reason that the war has provoked hostility from Saudi Arabia (and other Arab regimes like Egypt and Jordan)–and Right Arabist friends of Saudi Arabia in Washington.

I mention all this for two reasons. First, no dynamic is more important for understanding what the war in Iraq–including all the post-war political wrangling–has been about.

Second, the “Saudi Question” regarding Iraq (leaving aside, for the moment, the equally important “Iranian Question”) has recently received some media attention from the Los Angeles Times and discussion by Juan Cole at Informed Comment, here and here.

According to the LA Times,

A stark dilemma lies before the rulers of this desert kingdom: how to insulate their land from the sectarian fighting in neighboring Iraq yet find a way to counter Iran’s swelling influence there.

Though Saudi rulers might prefer to avoid involvement in Iraq, there is a growing sense here that of all the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the most likely to be sucked in if the violence doesn’t slow. A host of ideas, virtually all of them controversial, are swirling around Riyadh, including funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and improving ties with Iran.

This dilemma is not new. It is the same dilemma that determind the end of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. On the one hand, the Saudis had no love for Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, they could not support a Shiite uprising in Iraq. The result: Saudis pressed the US to leave Saddam in power and then spent the better part of a decade trying to initiate a Baathist coup to oust Saddam with the help of ex-Baathist figures like Iyad Allawi. (The best source on all this remains Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s outstanding book on Iraq in the 1990s, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein).

One very strange feature of the LA Times article: there are plenty of quotes supporting the notion that one of the “ideas…swirling around Riyadh” is “funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.” Indeed, I think this may constitute more than merely an “idea” at this point. But the article doesn’t include even one talking head that actually suggests “improving ties with Iran.” Hmmm. Just a journalistic/political flourish on the part of reporter Megan Stack?

It should also be said–if it isn’t already obvious–that Right Zionists cleary intended to have the US invasion of Iraq tip the regional balance of power away from Saudi Arabia.

And what about the “Iranian Question”? Did the US intend to tip the regional balance of power toward Iran? Yes and no. It depends on which Iran you mean, as suggested by a recent Financial Times report on US relations with Iran:

Speaking about US plans to spend more than $75m (€58m, £40m) on promoting democratic change in Iran, Alberto Fernandez, head of the US State Department’s press and public diplomacy for the Middle East, set out how the US sees Iran’s duality. Like night and day, he said, Iran was divided between – “official Iran” (the regime) and “eternal Iran” (the people).

When the US invaded Iraq, its target was also “official Iran” but its goal was “eternal Iran.” Regime change in Iran depends on sharpening the distinction between the two.  Right Zionist aren’t expecting much help in this regard from the $75m to be spent by the Right Arabists over at the State Department.  Nor do they favor a military invasion.  For regime change–pitting “eternal Iran” against “official Iran”–Right Zionists are counting on a clarifying fatwa from a certain Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani.

I’m waiting for that shoe to drop. How about you?

Meyerson’s Neo-Cons

Posted by Cutler on May 24, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 9 Comments

Harold Meyerson’s column in today’s Washington Post, “For Neocons, the Irony of Iraq,” provides an excellent example of the kind of thinking that leads critics of the war in Iraq down a blind alley. He chastises neocons for two key failures. First, they betrayed their own “law and order” tradition.

Irving Kristol initiated neoconservatism at least partly in revulsion at the disorder of John Lindsay’s New York. Now his son William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the single leading proponent (going back to the mid-1990s) of invading Iraq, has helped convert neoconservatism into a source of a disorder infinitely more violent than anything that once disquieted his dad.

Just to be clear: is this supposed to be a “progressive” critique of the neocons? The effect, so far as I can tell, is to feed a notion that US failures in Iraq are, in part, a failure to really kick butt in Iraq. More war, please. Hence the re-hash of the old Shinseki critique.

The sharpest irony was their stunning indifference to the need for civic order. When the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, said that the occupation would require many hundreds of thousands of troops to establish and maintain the peace, he was publicly rebuked by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the administration’s foremost neocon, and quickly put out to pasture.

There is a real danger here. The “Left” calls for more troops…Hmmm. Careful what you ask for. Just a hunch, but if the US had put 500,000 troops on the ground at the start of the war and still faced an insurgency, much of the “Left” would have been just as happy to suggest (rightly so) that US brutality–fed by an obsessive concern for law and order at the expense of popular demands for freedom–was to blame for that insurgency. You can’t win friends at the point of a gun, we would say.

Meyerson’s second charge is that neocons–let’s call them Right Zionists–failed to understand the basic contours of Iraqi society.

[Kristol] and his fellow war proponents ignored all credible information on the actual Iraq and promised an Eden more improbable than anything that ’60s liberals ever imagined. “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America,” he told National Public Radio listeners in the war’s opening weeks, “that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s been almost no evidence of that at all,” he continued. “Iraq’s always been very secular.”

This point is crucial. There is no denying that Kristol was floating this line. And there is no way to know whether or not he believed his own rhetoric. However, as I suggested in my ZNet article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” not all neo-conservatives were ignorant of Shiite/Sunni relations. Indeed, many neo-cons/Right Zionists were quite keen to exploit the domestic rivalry between Shiite and Sunni forces in Iraq as a key basis for changing the balance of power in the region.

William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan, two prominent neo-conservatives, insist that their book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, “wears its heart on its sleeve” (p.ix). They present a relentless critique of “a narrow realpolitik that defined America’s vital interests in terms of oil wells, strategic chokepoints and regional stability” (p.viii). Even as they celebrate “creating democracy in a land that for decades has known only dictatorship” (p.ix), they make no mention of — and seem utterly oblivious to — the prospect of Iraqi democracy emboldening Shiites in Iraq, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

Kristol and Kaplan may be “Boy Scouts”…or maybe they simply find it convenient to appear good-hearted and bumbling, as Chomsky warned. Either way, not all neo-conservatives wear their merit badges or their heart on their sleeve. The neo-conservative movement is hardly monolithic; there have been many fissures and splits along the way. The crucial point, however, is that some key neo-conservatives are as committed to cold-hearted Machiavellian Realpolitik as any so-called “realist.” The battle dividing the Bush administration in Iraq is between two factions of Realpolitik strategists.

Indeed, as Achcar has recently noted, “in some neo-con circles” there is actually support for the same scenario feared most by Chomsky’s realists: “some kind of Shia state controlling the bulk of Iraq’s oil” that would align itself with Iranian Shiites and “unleash” Shiite power in the whole area, “including the Saudi Kingdom where the main oil producing area is inhabited by a Shia majority.” To assume that evidence of neo-conservative support for de-Baathification in Iraq represents a simple blunder by naïve and incompetent Wilsonian idealists is, at best, a misunderstanding — at worst, a serious underestimation — of neo-conservative visions for US foreign policy.

To suppose that Right Zionists didn’t understand the Sunni/Shiite politics of Iraq is foolishness and is not supported by the record.

Consider, for example, David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (hereafter, TA). Wurmser published Tyranny’s Ally while serving as a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank long identified with neo-conservative foreign policy analysis. After his time at AEI, Wurmser moved on to service within the Bush administration, most recently serving as Middle East expert in the office of Vice President Richard Cheney. Published in 1999, the book is a Machiavellian tour de force — and a blueprint for US policy in the Middle East. There are striking parallels between the policies endorsed in Wurmser’s book and those enacted by the Bush administration at the start of the US war in Iraq.

Wurmser directly confronts so-called “realist” fears regarding Shiite power in Iraq.

“The ensuing chaos of any policy that generates upheaval in Iraq would offer the oppressed, majority Shi’ites of that country an opportunity to enhance their power and prestige. Fear that this would in turn enable Iran to extend its influence through its coreligionists has led Britain and the United States, along with our Middle Eastern allies, to regard a continued Sunni control of Iraq as the cornerstone for stability in the Levant. Saudi Arabia in particular fears that any Shi’ite autonomy or control in Iraq will undermine its own precarious stability, because an emboldened Shi’ite populace in Iraq could spread its fervor into Saudi Arabia’s predominantly Shi’ite northeastern provinces. The Saudi government also fears that this upheaval could spread to predominantly Shi’ite Bahrain, or to other gulf states with large Shi’ite minorities.” (TA, p.73)

It is simply not plausible that Meyerson could know about Wurmser and still think of Bill Kristol as the best measure of Right Zionist “preparedness” to play a very high-stakes game with Iraqi domestic politics.

Khalilzad and Iran

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

How to read this Khalilzad opening to Iran in todays news?

In an interview with The Associated Press in the U.S. Embassy Annex in Baghdad, Khalilzad said talks with Iran about Iraq could not have taken place earlier because the United States did not want to leave anyone under the impression that Iran and the United States “got together to decide the government in Iraq.”

“But we have said publicly, and that remains our position, we’d be prepared to consider talking with them once the government of national unity is formed,” he said. He declined to specify how talks might begin, saying only, “There are channels for communicating.”…

There have been reports that a prior effort by Khalilzad to open a dialogue with Iran in March of this year met with opposition from within the administration. The source of that opposition–and its meaning–remains unclear.

One might have supposed that the opposition to a dialogue with Iran came from hawks who favor regime change over dialogue with the incumbent regime. Khalilzad’s official explanation for prior hesitation to open such a dialogue–that the US didn’t want to leave anyone with the impression that the US and Iran “got together to decide the government of Iraq”–sends a very, very different message.

Who might get the impression that the US and Iran were carving up the region for their mutual benefit? Well, the Iraqi population for starters.  And/or the Sunni Arab regimes who fear that the US tilt to Shiite Iraq is part of a broader tilt away from Sunni Arab regional domination.

Does this mean that now the US is now prepared to more openly facilitate a regional alliance between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites? Does anyone believe that those most afraid of such an alliance (Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc.) will be comforted by the fact that the US and Iran did not formally get together to decide the government of Iraq?

Neocons and Zionists

Posted by Cutler on May 18, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions / 9 Comments

The debate sparked by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s essay, “The Israeli Lobby,” continues unabated. Stephen Zunes has recently offered up a long rebuttal. In a previous essay, Zunes noted,

As the official rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq—that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction” which threatened the national security of the United States and that the Iraqi government had operational ties to al-Qaida—are now widely acknowledged to have been fabricated, and the back-up rationalization—of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq—is also losing credibility, increasing attention is being given as to why the U.S. government, with broad bipartisan support, made such a fateful decision.

He then proposes several explanations in an effort to bat them away. One of the more interesting:

“Pro-Israel Jewish neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and others were among the key architects of the policy of ‘preventative war’ and were the strongest advocates for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.”

This hardly seems controversial at this point. But Zunes goes out of his way to issue the following denial:

[W]hile a number of prominent neoconservative intellectuals are of Jewish background, they have tended not to be religious nor have they, despite their support for the current right-wing Israeli government, been strongly identified as Zionists.

Zunes doth protest too much. I’d prefer to take the word of Norman Podhoretz, one of the “grandpas” of the neo-conservative movement, as cited in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.” Podhoretz rejects the idea that all neoconservatives are Jewish, but then confirms…

“it is certainly true that all neo-conservatives are strong supporters of Israel”

Those unwilling to acknowledge this simple point have little chance of understanding the neo-conservatives or their vision of post-Saddam Iraq. It is for this reason that I suggest we cut right to the chase and call the neocons by a name that actually describes their politics; they are Right Zionists.  (“Right” Zionists because they are Republicans, unlike most Zionists who are Democrats–Dem Zionists who provided and continue to provide the “broad bipartisan support” for the US invasion of Iraq).

There is more to understanding this war than understanding Right Zionists. I agree with Zunes on at least one crucial point:

the most prominent backers of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney—are neither Jewish nor prone to put the perceived interests of Israel ahead of that of the United States.

I suspect that–my own efforts notwithstanding–we have only begun to understand the stakes for Rumsfeld and Cheney.

Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney

Posted by Cutler on May 12, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

My ZNet article–“Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–is an abridged version of a longer essay. The longer paper includes an explanation–quite speculative in most respects–for the fact that Rumsfeld and Cheney have served as leaders of a Right Zionist war in Iraq. This warrants explanation because Rumsfeld/Cheney have not always appeared to be the most reliable allies for such a project. Indeed, I review some indications that both were previously thought of by Right Zionists and Right Arabists as reliable Right Arabists. So, what changed?

A further question–even more important for understanding current US policy toward Iraq and Iran–is whether Rumsfeld and Cheney remain aligned with Right Zionists. Alas, the following excerpt does not attempt to answer that crucial question.

“Finding Cheney/Rumsfeld”

By Jonathan Cutler, Wesleyan University, May 12, 2006

In the history of Republican foreign policy factionalism, there seems to have been two major defections from the Right Arabist camp: Vice-President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In prior administrations, Rumsfeld and Cheney—Rumsfeld’s protégé in the Ford White House—fought side by side with Right Arabists. In the US invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld have drawn considerable fire from former allies on the Arabist Right. Any effort to explain the influence Right Zionist strategies at the start of the US invasion of Iraq must take account of the anomalous roles played by Cheney and Rumsfeld.

The timing and significance of any break between Cheney and Rumsfeld, on the one side, and the Right Arabists, on the other, will likely remain a matter of speculation for some time to come. For now, the record remains sketchy. Rumsfeld served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense in the administration of Gerald Ford, but he stayed out of government during the early Reagan administration. However, as the “Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service” reminded readers of its website in December 2003—Rumsfeld came back to the White House to help Reagan overcome Zionist opposition to the sale of AWACS to the Saudis. Similarly, the “American Israel Public Affairs Committee” has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale. And it was Rumsfeld who helped Reagan’s Arabists “tilt” the US toward Iraq in 1983 and 1984 when he traveled to Baghdad as special U.S. Middle East envoy and met with Saddam Hussein.

Somewhere along the way to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld ran into trouble with the Right Arabist crowd. Brent Scowcroft could not have been more explicit than he was in an October 2005 interview with the New Yorker.

The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney… I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore… I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons.

More specifically, Scowcroft speculates that Cheney has been persuaded by the idea—rejected by Scowcroft, but attributed by him to Princeton professor Bernard Lewis—that “one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick.” Continue reading…

A “Government of National Unity” in Washington?

Posted by Cutler on May 11, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 5 Comments

There have been times, especially in recent months, when Bush administration foreign policy factionalism looked like a thing of the past. Remember the good old days when Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld seemed locked in enormously weighty and bitter battles over the shape of US foreign policy in the Middle East? Nowadays, Condi Rice and Rumsfeld spar for fun over Rice’s acknowledgement that there might have been thousands of tactical errors made in Iraq, but then they take it all back with a “government of national unity” joint visit to Iraq.

“We just want to make sure there are no seams between what we’re doing politically and what we’re doing militarily. Secretary Rumsfeld and I are going to be there together because a lot of the work that has to be done is at that juncture between political and military,” Rice said.

For a while it looked like neither faction really had the energy to do battle on behalf of any kind of “Right Zionist” (aka “neocon”) or “Right Arabist” (so-called “realist”) vision for Iraq. Can’t we all just get along?

Or maybe the Right Arabists have simply won the day. Wolfowitz, Feith, and Libby are gone. If Khalilzad was once thought to be close to Right Zionists who favored Iraqi de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment, you wouldn’t know it from his extraordinary efforts as US Ambassador. His work on behalf of former Baathists and his willingness to risk war with Iraqi Shiites–not exactly moves lifted from the Right Zionist playbook. Rumsfeld is under seige from the Right Arabist military brass. And James Baker–a leading Right Arabist from the Bush Sr era–has been brought back (via Congress, but allegedly with White House support) to help manage Iraq.

Sure, Right Zionist David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of Vice President Cheney and Elliott Abrams still serves at the pleasure of Condi Rice. But they are “merely” deputies; maybe they prefer to stay close to power rather than resign as a matter of principle.

The abrupt departure of Porter Goss from the CIA might be about any number of things (including poker), but it may also represent another power grab by the Right Arabists. The Weekly Standard certainly fears as much.

We’re inclined to side with Goss in this dispute. But we are concerned that Goss left, or was eased out, for reasons of greater policy significance. And if this is the case, Goss’s leaving is not a good sign. Goss is a political conservative and an institutional reformer. He is pro-Bush Doctrine and pro-shaking-up-the-CIA.

John Negroponte, so far as we can tell, shares none of these sympathies. Negroponte is therefore more in tune with large swaths of the intelligence community and the State Department. If Negroponte forced Goss out… then Goss’s departure will prove to have been a weakening moment in an administration increasingly susceptible to moments of weakness.

This isn’t exactly triumphalist talk from the Right Zionist camp. The selection of Negroponte’s deputy–Michael Hayden–has brought howls of protest from those who see his selection as a move against Rumsfeld.

So, by some measures, the Right Zionists don’t count for much any more in the Bush administration. Many–like Michael Rubin and Barbara Lerner–long ago moved into the “opposition” once they saw their dreams for Iraq overrun by Right Arabists in Washington.

Funny thing, though: Re-Baathification in Washington looks far more advanced than it does in Baghdad. So long as Sistani moves from victory to victory, Right Zionists continue to be pleased with political results on the ground in Iraq, even as they lick their wounds back in Washington. In his recent Weekly Standard essay, “The Sistani Paradox: Building a democracy with the Ayatollahs We Have,” Duncan Currie writes:

Whether we like it or not, devout Muslims–not, alas, liberal secularists–offer the best hope for salvaging Iraq’s democratic experiment, because they represent broad swathes of Iraqi opinion… Ayatollah Sistani may be an imperfect vehicle for achieving our goals. (It is indeed depressing what passes for a “progressive” in the Muslim Middle East.) But he is a robust democrat who condemns terrorism and fervently wants to breach Islam’s separation from the modern world. In the great struggle of our time, that surely places Sistani on the side of the angels.

There was a time when one could claim that the “personnel is political” in Washington’s war in Iraq. Back then, the rise and fall of Right Zionist influence was measured by personnell decisions within the Bush administration. That time may have passed. Iraqi Shiites are a rising force in the Gulf and they will not be easily repressed. Right Zionists opened pandora’s box in Iraq. It is far from clear that Right Arabists will be able to close it, even as they move from victory to victory back in Washington.