Saudi Arabia

Indyk of Arabia

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

Martin Indyk wants to save the Arabs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity against Iran is not a hard sell….

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

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

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

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

Saudi Resistance in Lebanon

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

Saudi Resistance in Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In early July, Reuters affirmed the Saudi position:

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

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

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

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

Saudi Resistance in Iraq

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

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

Dreaming of a Crown Prince?

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

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

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

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

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

Zionists and the Saudi Arms Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell to Wurmser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns…

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

Does it mark the end of administration factionalism?

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One note on the substance of US policy going forward:

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

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

This would be a surprising development, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So noted.

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

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

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

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

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

One Crude Benchmark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since then, the original draft has gone nowhere…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petro-Leverage

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

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

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

BN: Categorically yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the “money quote” from Bolton:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Regional Civil War in the Middle East?

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

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

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

Sunni Arab Fear of a US Tilt toward the Shia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Financial Times reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney’s Middle East

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

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

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

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

Cheney: Delivering Justice to the Enemies of Freedom

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

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

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

Saudi Concerns about Iraq

Wright characterizes Saudi concerns:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney: Assuaging Saudi Concerns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Associate Press explains the case:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney is the Iraq War Czar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Proxy War in Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran-Contra, Redux?

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

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

We’ve been here before.

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

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

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

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

Gates explained:

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

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

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

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

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

Iran-Contra, Redux?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rice’s Second Track?

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

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

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

If there is not going to be a “diplomatic” big bang, this may not preclude a different kind of “big bang” in the region.

As Dick Durata of “Blog Simple” noted in a comment to my recent post on Saudi factionalism, Rice’s visit to the Middle East also included a meeting “Prince Bandar and the heads of Jordanian and Egyptian security.”

I had missed that tidbit.  But the confab did catch the attention of several others.

As Rami G. Khouri points out in his Daily Star column, “When Arab Security Chiefs Conduct Foreign Policy,” Rice’s visit to the Middle East operated on two relatively distinct tracks.

Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit.

Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies?…

Rice’s meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications…

Rice’s latest visit to the region included her quest for “moderate Sunni Arabs” who would join the United States and Israel in their face-off against Iran and its Arab allies, alongside her meeting to foster bonding between the US State Department and Arab security establishments.

To say that this meeting went without much publicity is an understatement.  Intelligence Online covered the meeting.  The resulting report appears plausible, but I cannot speak to the validity of the details:

Rice was accompanied on the occasion by CIA director Michael Hayden. Among those in attendance were the heads of the foreign intelligence agencies of Egypt (general Omar Suleiman), Jordan (Mohamed Dahabi) and Saudi Arabia (prince Moqrin bin Abdulaziz) as well as the bosses of the Saudi and United Arab Emirates national security councils, prince Bandar bin Sultan and sheikh Hazaa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

According to Arab diplomatic sources in Amman, the first issue on the agenda concerned relations between Hamas and Syria and Iran. The head of Jordanian intelligence talked of several recent attempts to sneak arms of Iranian origin into Jordan…

[One] theme of the meeting was the danger that Iran posed to the region. The CIA underscored the need to track down Iranian networks operating out of the United Arab Emirates, and particularly out of Dubai, and the other Gulf countries. Hayden also demanded that a special eye be kept on Shi’ite minorities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He also similarly claimed that efforts to limit the flow of Saudi extremists into Iraq left much to be desired. It was agreed that Arab intelligence agencies ought to focus their attention on Iranian military activities in Syria and Lebanon.

Isn’t it possible that these are “Cheney’s Arabs” and Arabists?  The ones who are most eager and willing to join the US and Israel in a challenge to Iranian power?

Bandar is the most obvious name on the list, given the speculations about his direct links to Cheney.

And even as Saudi King Abdullah has been forging links between Abbas and Hamas in Mecca, Jordan’s director of General Intelligence, Mohammed Dahabi, has been ringing alarm bells about Hamas.

CIA director Michael Hayden doesn’t always read as a Cheney guy.  But it was hard to miss his effort to establish his credentials as an Iran hawk when he testified before Congress in November 2006:

In Congressional testimony this month, General Hayden said he was initially skeptical of reports of Iran’s role but changed his mind after reviewing intelligence reports.

“I’ll admit personally,” he said at one point in the hearing, “that I have come late to this conclusion, but I have all the zeal of a convert as to the ill effect that the Iranians are having on the situation in Iraq.”

I do not know that it all adds up to a second track intended to subvert Saudi King Abdullah.  But I wouldn’t bet against the idea.

Trouble with Abdullah

Posted by Cutler on March 30, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In several recent posts (here, here, and here), I have been speculating about growing tensions between King Abdullah and the Bush administration.  At times, I thought I was going pretty far out on a limb.  Turns out… not very far at all.

King Abdullah made big news at the Arab Summit meeting in Riyadh this week with a blast at US policy in Iraq.

“In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war,” Abdullah said.

The King’s remark was also, implicitly, a swipe at the US-backed, Shiite-led Iraqi government.  Needless to say, this did not escape the attention of Iraqi officials:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshayr Zebari on Thursday rejected remarks by Saudi Arabia that the US occupation of Iraq was illegal.

“We don’t think there is an illegal occupation because these forces are present and working according to international resolutions, and are accepted by a representative elected Iraqi government,” Zebari said on the sidelines of the Arab summit being held in Riyadh.

At issue, among other things, is the legitimacy of the new balance of power in Iraq that swept the Sunni Arab minority from power.

Arab League foreign ministers at a side meeting of the summit adopted a resolution that seeks to redress the perceived imbalance in the Iraqi security services and the political establishment.

Again, Iraqi government officials seemed miffed.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, called the League’s decision to call for changes in the Iraqi constitution that would tend to favor Sunni Muslims an “Arab diktat.”

All of this appears to fit well with the idea–suggested in an earlier post–that Abdullah represents a position that is relatively soft on Iran but hard on Iraqi Shiite rule.

It looks like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knows that Abdullah, if not the entire “Faisal” branch of the Saudi royal family, are all but lost to the US.

In an article on the Arab Summit, Helene Cooper of the New York Times doesn’t make any mention of factionalism within the Saudi royal family, but does report that Rice bypassed Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal, turning instead to Adel al-Jubeir, a figure traditionally thought to be closer to Prince Bandar.

“We were a little surprised to see those remarks,” R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told a Senate hearing, referring to the statement by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the opening of an Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday. “We disagree with them.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, who was traveling to Riyadh, an administration official said.

The official said the State Department had resisted going straight to Ms. Rice’s counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, so as to try to lower the temperature of the rhetoric. He said Ms. Rice planned to question Mr. Jubeir about the Saudi monarch’s remarks.

Cooper seems to be overlooking some of the factionalism that runs through all of this.  Consider, for example, Cooper’s depiction of King Abdullah’s relations with Cheney:

In fact, King Abdullah has warned American officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Last fall, as a growing chorus in Washington advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with a diplomatic outreach to the largely Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the leader of the Sunni Arab world, argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred.

Mention of the “warning” about backing Iraqi Sunnis almost certainly refers to a now-famous Washington Post Op-Ed piece by Nawaf Obaid, “Stepping Into Iraq.”

In a previous post on Nawaf Obaid (and again, here), however, I argued that Obaid was almost certainly not representing King Abdullah or his faction within the Saudi royal family.  Indeed, I think a strong case could be made that Obaid was speaking for Prince Bandar, if not Bandar’s father, Saudi Defense Minister Crown Prince Sultan.

If I am correct about the nature of the factional split, the Bandar crowd represents something like the opposite of the Abdullah position: they are hawkish on Iran and potentially reconciled to the prospect of Sistani-led Shiite rule in Iraq.  They are Cheney’s Saudis.

All of which means that at least some in the US may not only be increasingly uncomfortable with Saudi King Abdullah but may also have strong preferences for Crown Prince Sultan.

To borrow a map of Saudi factionalism from Cheney’s Middle East guru, David Wurmser, Crown Prince Sultan allegedly represents something like the “King Fahd” branch of the Saudi family.  Meanwhile, King Abdullah and his allies–Foreign Minister Faisal and former Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki–appear to represent something like the “Faisal” branch of the family.

According to Wurmser, all the trouble stems from the “Faisal” branch of the family.

In the 1970s, there was a previous Saudi King from the “Faisal” branch.  In 1975, he was assassinated, under murky circumstances, by a nephew recently returned from the United States.

A Saudi Snub

Posted by Cutler on March 28, 2007
Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In a prior post, I described indications of increased tension between Saudi King Abdullah and the Bush administration.

Jim Hoagland’s most recent Washington Post column–“Bush’s Royal Trouble“–tends to support such an interpretation.  Hoagland reports on what appears to be a significant Saudi snub.

According to Hoagland’s account, the Saudis may still be split between those, like Prince Bandar, who championed a Cheney-backed “break-their-bones realignment” in the Middle East and those who supported “traditional caution” in regional diplomacy.  But King Abdullah appears to have shifted the balance away from Bandar and Cheney’s realignment:

President Bush enjoys hosting formal state dinners about as much as having a root canal. Or proposing tax increases. So his decision to schedule a mid-April White House gala for Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah signified the president’s high regard for an Arab monarch who is also a Bush family friend.

Now the White House ponders what Abdullah’s sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner signifies. Nothing good…

Abdullah’s reluctance to be seen socializing at the White House this spring reflects two related dynamics: a scampering back by the Saudis to their traditional caution in trying to balance regional forces, and their displeasure with negative U.S. reaction to their decision to return to co-opting or placating foes.

Abdullah gave a warm welcome to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Riyadh in early March, not long after the Saudis pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into accepting a political accord that entrenches Hamas in an unwieldy coalition government with Abbas’s Fatah movement.

“The Saudis surprised us by going that far,” explained one White House official in a comment that reached — and irritated — Saudi officials….

A few months ago, Bandar was championing the confrontational “realignment” approach in Saudi family councils: Iran’s power would be broken, the Syrians would have to give up hegemonic designs on Lebanon, etc., etc….

Part of the royal family was unhappy with [Prince] Bandar’s earlier break-their-bones realignment rhetoric. Abdullah would not want to come to Washington to front for a divided family. He may need more time to patch things.

Among other things, Hoagland’s view appears to lend support to an argument I made in a previous post that Saudi pressure for a political accord between Hamas and Fatah was not supported by the White House, least of all Cheney & Co.

How does Cheney react to Saudi defiance?  It can’t be pretty.

The last time Cheney was confronted with a major breakdown in relations with Saudi Arabia, he launched a war in Iraq.  What will it be this time?

Oh, right… I forgot.

Iran.

Wither Cheney’s Saudis?

Posted by Cutler on March 26, 2007
Iran, Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Saudi King Abdullah does not appear to be cooperating with Vice President Cheney’s plans for the kingdom.

At least, that is what it looks like to those who track what didn’t happen last week. The Saudi monarch announced that there would be no changes in the Saudi cabinet.

Is “no news” good news?

Not for Cheney & Co.

In January 2007 there was considerable speculation that a major cabinet shuffle was in the works:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is considering a major Cabinet reshuffle soon, the first since he ascended to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, diplomats and Saudi media said Monday.

The reshuffle may include key posts such as Foreign Minister, which has been held by Prince Saud al-Faisal for more than 30 years, and the influential Oil Minister, they said….

Saudis who have intimate knowledge of the discussions regarding the possible reshuffle said al-Faisal, who has had health problems, might be replaced by Crown Prince Sultan’s son Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to Washington and current secretary of the National Security Council…

The news of the reshuffle comes a month after the resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal as Saudi ambassador to the United States. His resignation, after just 15 months as ambassador to Washington, sparked speculations about a power rift within the royal family.

If Bandar is, as has been suggested, “Cheney’s Saudi” then King Abdullah has once again defied the American Vice President.

But the King’s refusal to name Bandar Foreign Minister might only represent the tip of the iceberg.  The re-appointment of the Saudi oil minister, Ali Naimi, may also represent a significant snub.

Back on April 26, 2003, the Economist ran a story (“Regime change for OPEC? – Ali Naimi and the problems facing OPEC”) that seemed to suggest that ExxonMobil had been actively pressing for Naimi’s resignation.

[W]ithin Saudi Arabia… well-sourced rumours this week suggested that Mr Naimi is about to be forced out of office…

So, why might the Saudis even think of firing Mr Naimi, who has been their oil minister since 1995? The most plausible explanation is that he has lost a power struggle over the role of foreign investment. For years, a faction led by the foreign minister has been pushing to open up the country’s natural gas and power sectors to foreign money. Even though this would certainly not involve the full privatisation of Saudi oil into foreign hands, Mr Naimi saw this proposal as an attack on his beloved Aramco and fought it tooth and nail.

He may have lost this battle soon after Saddam lost his. It seems that Exxon Mobil’s formidable boss, Lee Raymond, who has long had a testy relationship with Mr Naimi, recently complained via back-door channels to the powers in the House of Saud about the oil minister’s obstructionism on the gas deals – suggesting that investment dollars might flow instead to newly liberated Iraq. If the rumours are indeed true, this prospect appears to have worried the Saudi royals enough for them to move against Mr Naimi.

I have argued that the Saudi “foreign investment” story referenced by the Economist may help explain some of the tension between Cheney and King Abdullah.

Naimi has also presided over the Saudi-backed OPEC oil price hikes of recent years, even as Cheney’s Saudis allegedly want to flood the oil market as part of a campaign to undermine the Iranian regime.

That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, at least for now.  Prepare to pay at the pump.  Abdullah is King.

Abdullah’s Chance and His Critics

Posted by Cutler on March 23, 2007
Arab League, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Saudi King Abdullah is making news with a proposal to revive his 2002 “peace plan” at an Arab League summit set to begin Riyadh on March 28.

In Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column, “Abdullah’s Chance,” he wonders aloud whether Saudi Arabia is becoming “the new Egypt.”

Friedman is understandably delighted by the news.  After all, Friedman had a hand in the 2002 peace plan.  At a minimum, he broke the story in his 2002 column, “An Intriguing Signal From the Saudi Crown Prince.”  But, as Friedman immodestly suggested in a radio interview on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR program, “On Point,” he deserves even more credit:

“I’m the guy who, you know, came up with the Abdullah peace plan in an interview with the King of Saudi Arabia” (19:40).

As the initiative comes back into focus, it might be worth situating the place of this scheme within the context of ongoing factional battles in Washington, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

The Abdullah peace plan is properly understood as a diplomatic centerpiece for an “axis” that includes James Baker’s “Right Arabists” in Washington, the “Faisal” faction in Riyadh, and the center-right Kadima crowd in Tel Aviv.

Likely critics of such a plan might include a “rejectionist” axis, led by Vice President Cheney and his “Right Zionist” allies in Washington, the old “Fahd” faction–including Prince Bandar–in Riyadh, and the Likud party in Tel Aviv.

As Eli Lake reports in the Right Zionist New York Sun, Likudniks are already speaking out:

While that appears to be the view of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, other players within the government have been critical of Mr. Olmert’s seeming embrace of the Saudi initiative. In an interview yesterday with the Arutz Sheva news service, a leading Likud member of the Knesset, Yuval Steinitz, attacked the prime minister. “When you mention the other side’s plan and add ‘all is open for negotiation,’ it means that you are not going to stand firm on defensible borders in the Golan Heights or in Judea and Samaria,” he said.

A former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Dore Gold, said: “Those who believe that redividing Jerusalem by advancing the Saudi plan will lower the flames of radical Islamic rage have absolutely no idea of what they are dealing with. Any proposal to give the Hamas government the hope of taking over Jerusalem will shoot up jihadism in the region by giving new hope to Al Qaeda affiliates that Jerusalem is within their grasp.”

The factional “shoe” has yet to drop in Washington.  But it will.  For all the talk of “departing hawks,” Secretary of State Rice is not out of the factional woods just yet.

No word yet from Riyadh, but maybe it would be useful to recall a little-noticed source of vehement dissent that arose when the “Abdullah plan” was first aired back in 2002.

Remember that famous Saudi “hawk”–Nawaf Obaidi–who made news with a Washington Post essay that threatened dramatic Saudi action to thwart Iranian regional ambitions?  In a recent post, I speculated that there might be reasons to link Obaidi to the Bandar crowd.

If so, then it might make sense to recall an extraordinary earlier Op-Ed by Nawaf Obaidi–”
The Israeli Flag in Riyadh?“–published in the Washington Post on March 2, 2002.

Considering the hushed tones of Saudi factionalism, this essay reads like a sweeping broadside against the man who would soon become King!

Will there be an Israeli Embassy next door to the Saudi royal court? Not any time soon.

The recent announcement by Crown Prince Abdullah that Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 borders… reveals the courage and vision of the Saudi leader.  However, to assume that the Saudi crown prince can dictate such an important policy is to gravely misunderstand the situation on the ground. In the Saudi kingdom, consensus is the coin of the realm, and in this case, consensus is going to be extremely difficult to come by.

Saudi Arabia has never been a one-man show, although pundits and policymakers in the West often paint it as a monolithic state. Through nearly a century of existence, leadership has been exercised by balancing the various centers of power in the kingdom: the senior Saudi princes, religious leaders and the public. No one institution has the authority to implement a policy as important as recognizing Israel…

Even if Crown Prince Abdullah is able to gain the support of a majority of the senior leadership of the royal family, opposition among the religious establishment and on the street is deep-seated and adamant. Since the announcement, reaction in the kingdom has wavered between astonishment and dismay…

Disgruntled religious extremists have a history of violence in the kingdom, and their ranks will only grow if the leadership is seen as abandoning long-held Saudi values. Thus, the royal family will be extremely careful about adopting any policy that widens the gap between themselves and their people…

For this reason, it is worth considering the wisdom of the manner in which this proposal was presented… Announcing it over dinner, without any details and to a journalist who is a longtime Saudi critic, only undermined any chance for broad-based Saudi and Arab consensus.

There are lots of flattering words thrown in along the way, but this certainly reads like a shot across the bow.

Does this mean that a possible Obaidi-Bandar faction in Riyadh is actually more hostile to Israel than the Abdullah faction?  No.  Absolutely not.

But it does mean that such a faction likely remains mistrustful of Adbullah’s “one-man show” and that they–along with their rejectionist allies in Washington and Tel Aviv–have a very different vision of the roadmap to a “new” Middle East.

Hersh’s Redirection

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

In his most recent New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” Seymour Hersh tries to make some sense out of US efforts to build a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.  In some respects, the essay runs along the same lines as my own effort to trace the lines of such a redirection in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Hersh also gives a nod to the possibility that the “shift” may be championed by factions within the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel but this theme remains relatively underdeveloped and the refusal to take factionalism more seriously tends to trouble his narrative.

Hersh pins the US strategy on Cheney, Right Zionist Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad.  He sees John Negroponte as a critic and hedges on the role of Condoleezza Rice:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney…

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings…

[T]he echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State.

On Saudi factionalism, Hersh reiterates some of the themes that have been developed in previous posts (here, here, and here)–including the idea that Prince Bandar is the a figure of any such new alignment.  But Hersh hedges his bets on the depths of the Saudi schism:

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed…

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

I think the Turki-Bandar split runs deeper than a personality dispute.  The Turki faction is more dovish on Iran and more hawkish on Israel and, in a US context, the Turki faction is closer to Baker than Cheney.

There are some unruly problems that disrupt Hersh’s attempts to craft a coherent narrative.  Hersh takes up the Saudi-Israeli element of the redirection, but he can’t entirely square the circle:

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations…

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction… Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran…

[T]he Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

Isn’t it possible that the Saudi brokered deal at Mecca between Hamas and Fatah represented more of a triumph for one faction than another?  If the Mecca deal was part of a US initiative, it seems strange that the US was not only dissatisfied with the terms, as Hersh suggests, but was also reportedly caught by surprise by the deal.

There are certainly signs of renewed interest in some quarters for an Israeli-Saudi accord but to judge from the headlines, Prince Turki seems unlikely to emerge as a leading source of such enthusiasm.  Right Zionists are not exactly dancing in the streets.

Hersh’s article focuses well-deserved attention on Saudi involvement in Lebanon, although even here I think he understates the conflict between Bandar’s hawkish approach toward Hezbollah and the Turki faction’s quest for reconciliation in Lebanon.

The biggest question is what a new US-Saudi-Israeli strategic alignment would mean for Iraq.  Hersh’s whole analysis of the “redirection” begins with the question of Iraq:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy.

But Hersh is actually weakest in his attempt to link the “redirection” to the politics of Iraq.  As Hersh suggests, the US initially aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites and marginalized Iraqi Sunnis.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites….

Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

One peculiarity in this story: neoconservative ideologues appear, in Hersh’s telling, at the center of both the move toward Iraqi Shiites and a pro-Sunni redirection designed to counteract the “distress” the pro-Shiite tilt has caused.

Is the assumption that neoconservatives have been distressed by empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority?  I see no sign of that distress, in part because Right Zionists close to Cheney have always argued–and continue to argue–that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority could provide a pro-American balance to both Sunni extremists (including the Turki faction in Saudi Arabia!) and Shiite extremists in Iran.

One might expect that a pro-Saudi tilt in US policy would require rollback of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and the containment of Iran.  This might, in fact, reflect the goals of the Baker-Turki factions.

The restoration of Sunni Arab political power (through an anti-Shiite coup, etc.), however, is decidedly not on the agenda of “neo-conservative ideologues.”  Neither, it seems, is a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hersh knows that the signs of “redirection” in Iraq do not appear to include a retreat from Shiite power.

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

If Hersh knows why “the trends have been in the opposite direction” of those implicit in his sense of the redirection, he isn’t saying.

The Baker and the Turki faction are “irreconcilables” when it comes to Shiite power in Iraq, even as they seek to retain but contain the incumbent regime in Iran.  For this crowd, the “trends” in Iraq continue in the wrong direction.

Hersh, however, may be missing a key piece of the puzzle.  The faction behind the redirection–Cheney, his Right Zionist allies, and Bandar–are very hawkish about the Iranian regime but remain quite hopeful about relations with  Iraqi Shiites, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

The evidence for this is quite clear in the case of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies, if not in the case of Cheney himself.

On the Bandar front, the evidence remains murky.  There are, however, some tantalizing clues.

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

Recall that Obaid made headlines with a November 29, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping Into Iraq” that seemed to threaten Saudi action to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq.  Obaid was fired by Turki after the publication of the Op-Ed.

Does Nawaf Obaid represent Bandar’s views?  That remains a speculative proposition.  Nevertheless, Obaid did appear to suggest that his views had some base of support in Saudi Arabia, if not “the Saudi leadership”:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Is Bandar part of “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions”?  Is Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council a strategic position?

In any event, Obaid’s Op-Ed was actually a condensed version of a larger report–“Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective“–published in connection with his time as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Obaid’s report is long and complex and deserves to be read in full.  Nevertheless, the relevant point in the context of Saudi relations with Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is that the report is, as one might predict, extremely hawkish about the pernicious influence of Iran in Iraq.  The chief recommendations in the report concern preparing for a “worst case scenario” in which Saudi Arabia must aggressively “counter meddling by Iran.”

At the same time, the report includes a very important recommendation that was not part of Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed: “Extend a State Invitation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It is also important for the Saudi leadership to open a meaningful discussion with Grand Ayotollah Ali al- Sistani by extending an invitation to him to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an overture would send a strong positive message – both within the Kingdom and in the region at large – regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Shi’ite community. It would also demonstrate that the Kingdom recognizes Ayatollah al-Sistani’s authority and respects those who regard him as the leading Shi’ite Arab cleric. Ayatollah Sistani is not only the foremost religious figure for Iraqi Shi’ites, but his influence in Iraq’s political sphere is equally as important. An official state visit to Saudi Arabia would reassure the Iraqi Shi’ite community that the Saudi leadership fully acknowledges that they are critical to establishing stability in the country.

Prince Bandar meets David Wurmser.  Welcome to Cheney’s world.

Do They Hate Each Other?

Posted by Cutler on March 05, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Among market watchers, the cover of Time magazine is sometimes viewed as a contrary indicator. By the time any trend reaches the cover, the moment has often passed.

So when Time recently ran a cover about Sunni-Shiite tensions–“Why They Hate Each Other“–my immediate reaction was to predict peace in our time.

Right on cue, Saudi King Abdullah hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a one day summit in Riyadh.

I’ve been writing about ways in which Sunni-Shiite tensions, apart from any self-generating internal logic they may have, also map onto factional fights between Right Zionists and Right Arabists in the US. The was the question at the heart of two ZNet essays, “Beyond Incompetence” and “The Devil Wears Persian.”

More recently, I have also argued that there may be signs that these same factional splits might also map onto some internal political turmoil within the House of Saud.

According to this scenario, Saudi King Abdullah represents a faction seeking to calm regional tensions and foster national reconciliation within the Palestinian Authority, in Lebanon, and, presumably, in Iraq.

Eli Lake of the Right Zionist New York Sun reports that US efforts to rally Sunni regimes against Iran may be facing some significant resistance.

Secretary of State Rice’s “Sunni strategy” is running into trouble.

Her idea was to bolster a ring of moderate Sunni Arab allies as a front-line defense against Iran’s regional ambitions. But the Sunnis don’t appear to be cooperating…

This weekend, Iran’s Holocaust-denying president was fêted by King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch who rules the linchpin Sunni state in Ms. Rice’s attempted anti- Iran alliance. Meanwhile, Iran’s Sunni proxy in Gaza, Hamas, is divvying up key posts with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party in a Palestinian unity government. The negotiations stem from a Saudi-brokered deal forged last month in Mecca, a pact that has worried Israeli leaders and some in Congress because it does not require Hamas explicitly to recognize Israel.

If the Saudis are split on the question of reconciliation with Iran, they are hiding it very well.

Speculation at The Washington Note had earlier focused on Prince Bandar as the figure most likely to back a more aggressive, Cheney-backed Saudi posture in the region.

Rihab Massoud [is]… a close aide of Prince Bandar who served as Charge d’Affaires in the Saudi Embassy in Washington during Bandar’s tenure and frequent absences and who — while formally a Foreign Ministry official — is now on leave to serve as Bandar’s “No. 2″ in his National Security Advisor office…

While reports of how far Bandar has gone in supporting Cheney’s desire for military action vary, insiders report that Bandar has “essentially assured” the Vice President that Saudi Arabia could be moved to accept and possibly support American military action against Iran. Another source reports… that Bandar himself strongly supports Cheney’s views of a military response to Iran.

This is the core of the deep divide between Prince Turki and Bandar — which is also a divide between Foreign Minister Saud and Bandar as well.

The tension is about Iran and how to contain Iran. While Bandar and Rihab Massoud allegedly have affirmed Cheney’s views and are perceived to be Bush administration sycophants, Turki was charting a more realist course for Saudi interests and advising the White House to develop more serious, constructive strategies toward the region…

Bandar’s role is also being celebrated in some Israeli quarters, although these reports depict Bandar as more dove than hawk:

The key figure in Middle Eastern diplomacy is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Arabian National Security Adviser. Bandar is the man behind the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government. He was also active in calming the rival parties in Lebanon, and has tried to mediate between Iran and the U.S. administration…

There are many indications that the prince, who served 22 years as Saudi ambassador to Washington, is behind the quiet slide his country is making toward Israel since the end of the second Lebanon war. In September, Bandar met with Olmert in Jordan. The secret meeting was made public in Israel later.

And yet…

The Cheney faction will not simply disappear.

Iraq may provide the key for Cheney’s revival of Sunni-Shiite tensions. The US appears to embrace a more pronounced tilt toward the Iraqi Shia. The Arab League is barely able to contain its hostility toward the Shiite government in Iraq.

The “crackdown” on Sadr city looks very careful. The US-backed “Shiite Option” in Iraq seems to have legs.

Iraq has always been the core of the US attempt to drive a wedge between the Persian Gulf and the Arab Gulf. It looks set to remain so for the foreseeable future.

The 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?

A House Divided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We Need Some Leverage”

Posted by Cutler on January 23, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

When tracing US policy toward Iran, keep one eye on the aircraft carrier groups and one eye on the gas pump.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had this to say about Iran:

Gates said he had told the leaders of U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the Iranians “believe they have the United States at some disadvantage because of the situation in Iraq.”

“To be precise, I told them both that I thought the Iranians were overplaying their hand and that one of the consequences of that is that they have raised real concerns on the part of a number of countries in the region and beyond about their intentions,” he told reporters…

With regard to U.S. failure thus far to achieve stability in Iraq, Gates said, “I think that our difficulties have given them (the Iranians) a tactical opportunity in the short term, but the United States is a very powerful country.”

Asked about the prospects for military conflict with Iran, whose nuclear program is seen by the Bush administration as a growing threat to U.S. interests, Gates said, “There are many courses of action available that do not involve an open conflict with Iran – there’s no need for that.”

Gates said that although he had publicly advocated negotiating with Iran as recently as 2004, he now advises against that.

Right at this moment, there’s really nothing the Iranians want from us,” he said. “And so, in any negotiation right now we would be the supplicant,” asking Iran to stop doing such things as enriching uranium for its nuclear program.

We need some leverage, it seems to me, before we engage with the Iranians,” Gates added.

Gates has come around to the Caspar Weinberger school of dealing with Iran.  In the 2004 report of the Council on Foreign Relations Iran Task Force that Gates co-chaired with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the proposal to engage Iran prompted Weinberger protégé and Task Force member Frank Carlucci to offer a “dissenting view” (published as part of the report, page 49):

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

Hence, the Gates quest for “some leverage.”

Floating Leverage

Sometimes leverage comes in the form of aircraft carriers like the USS John C. Stennis.

The deployment of the USS John C. Stennis to the Middle East will put two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region for the first time since the 2003 Iraq invasion, in a clear response to Iran’s aggressive posture in the region…

“This demonstrates our resolve to do what we can to bring security and stability to the region,” Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said Tuesday…

A second U.S. carrier will significantly boost U.S. air power in the region and serve to remind Iran of American firepower. Its arrival will give the Pentagon two carriers in the region for the first time since 2003, Aandahl said.

After departing Tuesday from its homeport of Bremerton, Wash., the Stennis will stop in San Diego to pick up an air wing of more than 80 planes, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, the Navy said…

The Stennis and its 3,200 sailors lead a strike group consisting of the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, three Navy destroyers – the USS O’Kane, Preble and Paul Hamilton – the submarine USS Key West, the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz, as well as the supply ship USNS Bridge, the Navy said.

Diplomatic Dead Ends

In addition to the naval buildup in the Gulf–and the troop surge in Iraq–there are the more “diplomatic” forms of leverage.

Columnist Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post reports that the search for leverage will not focus on the United Nations:

While Rice was traveling in the Middle East and Europe last week, American allies were being told that Washington would not seek new and tougher Security Council sanctions against Iran, as has been widely expected…

Russia’s unexpectedly strong opposition even to weak sanctions adopted only after months of debate has deepened Bush’s growing disillusionment with President Vladimir Putin.

The American leader is determined not to get caught in “a dead end” at the United Nations, according to U.S. officials.  Bush is said to feel that Putin went back on personal pledges to support meaningful U.N. action in return for Bush’s committing to diplomatic efforts last June.

Petro Leverage

According to Hoagland, the key plan for developing “leverage” in the Gulf depends on the Saudis and oil leverage.

Instead of returning to the United Nations for a new resolution, the administration has launched a broad effort to assemble an economic coalition of the willing to confront Iran. Trade, investment and the price of oil are the primary targets Washington chose for this coalition.

The idea of trade and investment “sanctions” have long been championed by Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But the oil leverage is the central strategic element in the new “campaign” for leverage.

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

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

High oil  prices have always benefited Iranian leverage in the region.  Saudi leverage has always stemmed from its ability to flood the market and wait for other oil exporting countries to cry uncle.

The role of Bandar in this campaign is crucial because it goes to the heart of a long-term factional fight within the House of Saud, as Hoagland well understands.

Divisions within the Saudi royal family over how to handle Iran also should be handled with care, not bluster, by Washington.

Recall that the divisions within the Saudi royal family recently surfaced in late November with the publication of an op-ed by Nawaf Obaid.  Obaid explicitly endorsed the oil threat and seemed to claim to speak for Bandar:

Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region

[Saudi King] Abdullah may decide to strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high prices. The result would be to limit Tehran’s ability to continue funneling hundreds of millions each year to Shiite militias in Iraq and elsewhere.

Until recently, King Abdullah and oil minister Ali Nuaimi (also, Ali Naimi) have been seen as supporting the oil price spike.  But Naimi, in particular, might have been “moved” by recent chatter about a cabinet shuffle that would remove him from the oil ministry.

Iranian Endgame

Perhaps the goal, in this quest for leverage, is to establish the preconditions for engagement with the regime.

For now, the folks like Richard Perle, still hoping that US leverage would be used to destabilize the regime itself, appear frustrated with the Bush administration.

Perle expressed astonishment at the lack of support granted by the West to Iranian opposition movements who wish to overthrow the regime of the Ayatollahs.

“I’m not convinced that we have a lot of time. Given the peril that would result, its astonishing to me that we do not now have a serious political strategy with Iran,” he said, adding he thought regime change is “the only significant effective way” to deal with the Iranian threat.

“If we continue on our current course, we have only a military option. So what I’m urging, and this should have happened a very long time ago, is that we make a serious effort to work with the internal (Iranian) opposition,” Perle said.

Any “leverage” that Gates can find may make Perle’s case for him.  The internal opposition is showing some early signs of renewed activity.

[UPDATE: those hoping to exacerbate tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran can only be pleased by the confrontation playing out on the streets of Lebanon.

The clash over Lebanon may represent one locus of disagreement within the Saudi royal family.  Saudi King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal have both worked hard to heal the breach between Hezbollah and the Saudi-backed Hariri/Siniora crowd in Lebanon.  Meanwhile, over at the Telegraph Bandar is mentioned as a link between the Saudis and CIA efforts to undermine Hezbollah.]

Between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Posted by Cutler on January 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Are the Saudis and the Iranians patching things up, even as the US tries to foment regional tension between Sunnis and Shiites in order to build US support for an aggressive policy toward Iran?

The headlines certainly suggest as much.  Reuters reports:

Iran asked Saudi Arabia to help ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States as Washington held out the possibility of “engagement” with Tehran if it changed tack in Iraq.

A letter was delivered by [Ali Larijani] Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator to the Saudi King from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Saudi official said on Monday. The official said Iran wanted Saudi leaders to relay a goodwill message to Washington.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has subsequently denied the report and called “baseless” the claim that Iran asked Riyadh to mediate between Iran and the US.

But the real problem with the “detente” scenario may be that it assumes that foreign policy is directed by a unified actor each of the three countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.  It would likely be far more accurate to say that some Saudis and some Iranians want to patch things up, even as some in the US press for a more aggressive policy toward Iran.

Factional Iran

The factions in Iran are complex, but most reports that bother to even note the possibility of internal fissures make clear that Ali Larijani represents an Iranian faction that favors improved relations with the Saudis.  The Reuters report about the Iranian Foreign Ministry, for example, presents Larijani as a factional player:

Larijani’s visit came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, as part of a Middle East tour. Rice and other U.S. leaders have put a fresh emphasis on checking Iran’s influence in Iraq and elsewhere.

Larijani’s visit, said Iranian political scientist Nasser Hadian-Jazy, “is a counter move to what Secretary Rice is going to do to unite the Arabs against Iran.”

But he said it also shows the renewed influence of moderate conservatives, like Larijani, amid growing public criticism of Ahmadinejad and his anti-U.S. speeches that are seen to have exacerbated tensions, particularly over the nuclear file.

Some politicians and officials say Larijani and other moderate officials are frustrated by Ahmadinejad, who they say has provoked confrontation and made it more difficult for Iran to secure what it calls its “nuclear rights”.

“In a calm and quiet atmosphere, Iran can neutralise America’s pressure on its atomic work. Fiery speeches worsen the situation,” said one official, who asked not to be identified because of sensitivity of the issue.

Ahmadinejad may not be the most powerful figure in Iran, where the final say rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Western diplomats say his provocative public tone has helped drive a tougher line.

Factional United States

The outline of key factional lines within the US represent a split among Right Arabists with figures like James Baker and Flynt Leverett eager to find a way to do business at least some element of the incumbent regime in Iran and Right Arabists like James Akins who are very hawkish on Iran.

Along with his Right Zionist advisor David Wurmser, Cheney is undeniably hawkish on Iran, as he made clear in his recent interview with Fox News.

WALLACE: What’s the message that you’re sending to Iran? And how tough are you prepared to get?

CHENEY: Well, I think it’s been pretty well-known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq. And the president has responded to that, as you suggest. I think it’s exactly the right thing to do.

And Iran’s a problem in a much larger sense. They have begun to conduct themselves in ways that have created a great deal of tension throughout the region. If you go and talk with the Gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried, partly because of the conduct of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who appears to be a radical, a man who believes in an apocalyptic vision of the future and who thinks it’s imminent.

At the same time, of course, they’re pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons. They are in a position where they sit astride the Straits of Hormuz, where over 20 percent of the world’s supply of oil transits every single day, over 18 million barrels a day.

They use Hezbollah as a surrogate. And working through Syria with Hezbollah, they’re trying to topple the democratically elected government in [Lebanon]. Working through Hamas and their support for Hamas in Gaza, they’re interfering in the peace process.

So the threat that Iran represents is growing, it’s multi- dimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.

Factional Saudi Arabia

The most difficult factional battle to trace–on Iran and much else–is surely the struggle within the Saudi regime.  Transparency is minimal and open source news analysis is surely inadequate and often simplistic.

The hypothesis that most recently made news as that Cheney and Prince Bandar–and perhaps Crown Prince Sultan–were joined in a hawkish alliance regarding Iran while Saudi King Abdullah–along with Foreign Minister Prince Saud and former Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki–favored a more conciliatory approach toward Iran.

It is difficult, at the moment, to find much sunlight between Saudi royal factions.  On his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Ali Larijani met with all the key players, including Bandar.  And according to official Iranian news, the Iranian Ambassador to Iran recently had an audience with Bandar’s father, Crown Prince Sultan.

Still, I suspect that the factionalism remains.  An Associated Press report from January 8, 2007 speculated that tensions would re-appear by March because King Abdullah was expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle that would go to the heart of some of the battles for power within the Kingdom.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is considering a major Cabinet reshuffle soon, the first since he ascended to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, diplomats and Saudi media said Monday.

The reshuffle may include key posts such as foreign minister, which has been held by Prince Saud al-Faisal for more than 30 years, and the influential oil minister, they said…

“It is up to the (king) to decide, and no one has the right to talk about that except him,” Crown Prince Sultan was quoted as saying in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which is owned by the Saudi royal family. “What he decides is good for all.”

It is rare for a royal family member to even refer to such an issue publicly and was viewed as a significant hint that changes are coming…

Saudis who have intimate knowledge of the discussions regarding the possible reshuffle said al-Faisal, who has had health problems, might be replaced by Crown Prince Sultan’s son Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to Washington and current secretary of the National Security Council. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The Saudi independent Internet news service, Elaph… said veteran Oil Minister Ali Naimi is among those expected to leave their posts. Naimi, 67 and an oil engineer, has been in his job for more than a decade…

The royal family and government leaders are believed to be deeply divided over how to handle the growing crisis in Iraq and Iran’s increasing regional influence.

If speculation about factional lines are correct, then the selection of Prince Bandar as Foreign Minister and the departure of Oil Minister Ali Naimi will both mark major victories for the factions most closely aligned with Cheney.

Taken together, these events would tend to undermine any spirit of detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Many questions remain, but at least one concerns Iraq.  Would Bandar’s faction support a Shiite Iraq under the influence of Sistani, or would he demand–as his price for cooperation on Iran–the restoration of Sunni rule under an extra-constitutional “national salvation government,” i.e., an anti-Shiite coup?

For the record, I would not rule out the probability of a Bandar-Sistani axis.

Cheney vs Baker in the House of Saud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?

Answer: No.

Cheney and the Sudairi Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Baker Boys and King Abdullah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Way for the White House?

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney, Baker, and the House of Saud

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooper reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?

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

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

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

True Believer, Indeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably won’t press for elections anytime soon.

All of which goes toward two important points:

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

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

It isn’t so in Iran or Syria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krauthammer: We Must Pretend

Posted by Cutler on September 01, 2006
Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Keep hope alive.

That seems to be the thrust of a Charles Krauthammer essay–“Hezbollah’s ‘Victory’“–in today’s Washington Post.

The hope in question? Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution. As I noted in a previous post (and again, here), the Cedar Revolution was, in many respects, dead upon arrival when the latest hostilities broke out between Israel and Lebanon.

Some of Krauthammer’s article is, by its own estimate, simply wishful thinking:

We must pretend that Security Council Resolution 1701 was meant to be implemented and exert unrelieved pressure on behalf of those Lebanese — a large majority — who want to do the implementing.

At least Krauthammer implicitly acknowledges that there is no real prospect of UN forces disarming Hezbollah.

But Krauthammer also engages in some “analysis” that may also represent a kind of wishful thinking. He insists that the Cedar Revolution–a revolution in Lebanese politics–retains intact:

True, under the inept and indecisive leadership of Ehud Olmert, Israel did miss the opportunity to militarily destroy Hezbollah and make it a non-factor in Israel’s security, Lebanon’s politics and Iran’s foreign policy…

Nonetheless…

Hezbollah’s political gains within Lebanon during the war have proved illusory. As the dust settles, the Lebanese are furious at Hezbollah for provoking a war that brought them nothing but devastation — and then crowing about victory amid the ruins.

Hezbollah is under renewed attack — in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, as well as by many Lebanese, including influential Shiite academics and clan leaders. The Arabs know where their interests lie. And they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.

So, here is the old hope: Arab-Iranian tension will allow Israel to play the Arabs against Iran.

How is that going, so far? Wishful thinking?

In Lebanon, I see know sign that Hezbollah has been politically weakened, and Krauthammer doesn’t offer much support for such a claim:

Even before the devastation, Hezbollah in the last election garnered only about 20 percent of the vote, hardly a mandate. Hezbollah has guns, however, and that is the source of its power. But now even that is threatened.

Of course, this is a bit of sophistry. The real issue is not Hezbollah’s political support nationally, but among Lebanese Shiites. Here, I would wait to see evidence that they have any less of a mandate than they did before the recent fighting began. Surely it would be a major strategic error to undermine Hezbollah’s grassroots support in southern Lebanon. Does Krauthammer really belive that the primary source of Hezbollah’s political power comes from the barrel of a gun?

But there is the neighborhood, as Krauthammer says: “Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt” etc.

Here, I would also propose that some caution is in order. Krauthammer’s analysis rests on some tenuous assumptions.

He insists that “The Arabs know where their interests lie.” True enough. But his emphasis is on Iran: “they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.”

If we are talking about the Saudis, it might be worth noting that they have two relatively distinct “interests”–one relating to Syria and one to Iran.

Most of the heat that initially sparked the Cedar Revolution was between the Saudis and Syria, not Iran. The issue was not the disarmament of Hezbollah, but control of the Lebanese Presidency–specifically, Syria’s move to have Lebanese President Lahoud remain in office for a third term–and, implicitly, control of the economy.

On this front, the sparks have once again begun to fly. There are live tensions between the Saudis and the Syrians and–as I noted in a previous post–these tensions may have become worse since the end of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

Right Zionists in the US, like the Saudis, have little patience for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Krauthammer wants to keep the heat on the Syrian President:

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

Likewise, Right Zionists like James Woolsey were clear at the start of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah that he was ready to take the fight to Syria. At the time, Woolsey told Fox News,

I think we ought to execute some air strikes against Syria, against the instruments of power of that state, against the airport…

At least part of the trouble–for Krauthammer and Woolsey–is that Right Zionists aren’t running the whole show in Israel.

Shimon Peres is part of the Olmert government. And Peres-aligned Zionists want to open a dialogue with Syria, presumably in an effort to pry Syria away from Iran.

See, for example, the essay by Ron Pundak of the Peres Center entitled “There Is Someone to Talk To.”

For a similar perspective, see the recent essay by Dennis Ross–“A Cease-fire Reality: Dealing with Syria“–in the Washington Post.

The Bush administration, which has expressed an interest in weaning Syria away from Iran, won’t be able to do that without talking to the Syrians.

Moreover, there is far more evidence of current Saudi tension with Syria than there is of current Saudi tension with Iran.

True, the Saudis are certainly supportive of US efforts to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But Iran’s priority in Lebanon is Hezbollah and as I noted in a previous post, the Saudis–and their proxy in Lebanon, the Siniora government–made peace with Hezbollah back in January.

Krauthammer says that “Hezbollah” is under renewed attack in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt. Most of the media reports that received attention in the US were about Syria–not Iran or Hezbollah–coming under renewed attack in such newspapers.

If the Peres crowd is hoping to pry Syria away from Iran, the Saudis may be trying to pry Iran–and Hezbollah–away from Syria. Indeed, this has been a risk for the Syrians since the advent of Saudi-Syrian tensions.

Where are the signs of Saudi-Iranian tensions? Immediately after the ceasefire took hold in Lebanon–amidst a veritable shouting match between Syria and Saudi Arabia–Saudi King Abdullah hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for a meeting in Jeddah.

Did you hear lots of shouting and name-calling after that meeting? I didn’t.
Did you see Saudi Kind Abdullah welcome the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to Jeddah? Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see the Saudis roll out the red carpet for the Syrians.

The “hope” for Right Zionists, if there is any, would seem to be in the future of Saudi-Syrian tensions. I’m not sure the Saudis are actually spoiling for a battle with Iran right now.

Have I missed the signs of the times?

Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Posted by Cutler on August 16, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Can’t we all just get along? At least the “rejectionists”?

I have in mind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Likudnik Dore Gold who find common ground in their analysis of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Here is an Associated Press report on Assad’s speech from Tuesday, August 15, 2006:

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad yesterday said that America’s plan for a “new Middle East” collapsed after Hezbollah’s successes in fighting against Israel…

“The result was more failure for Israel, its allies and masters,” he said.

On the same day, Dore Gold was a guest on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal (no transcript is available on-line; transcription is my own; citation is minutes and seconds into Washington Journal program). Gold was just as clear as Assad. He said Israel required a period of “tremendous introspection” and “self-criticism” because the “goals” of the campaign in Lebanon “were not reached” (40:37).

Both Assad and Gold contrasted the recent failures with with Israel’s 1982 campaign.

Assad explained,

Bashar said this war revealed the limitations of Israel’s military power.

In a 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli forces surrounded Beirut within seven days of invading, he said.

“After five weeks it [Israel] was still struggling to occupy a few hundred metres.”

“From a military perspective, it [the battle] was decided in favour of the resistance [Hezbollah]. Israel has been defeated from the beginning,” Bashar said.

“They [Israelis] have become a subject of ridicule.”

Gold made a similar point, emphasizing that “air platforms” can tackle long-range missiles coming from Lebanon, but ground troops are required to deal with the “greater challenge” of short-range rockets:

In Israel’s Lebanon War of 1982, northern Israel was struck by Katusha rockets, launched not by Hezbollah but by the PLO.

At that time, Israel invaded Lebanon with three divisions and within 48 hours all Katusha rocket fire from southern Lebanon into northern Israel had been terminated” (46:32).

The blame will probably fall hardest on Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. According to Time, Halutz was quoted on July 14th saying,

“In this day and age, with all the technology we have, there is no reason to start sending ground troops in.”

As the campaign wore on, Halutz began to change his tune. On July 21, 2006 the Jerusalem Post quoted Halutz:

You cannot plant a flag in the ground with an F-16.”

Even then, however, the Israeli Cabinet apparently rejected the call by Halutz for significant ground troops. According to a July 27 Jerusalem Post report:

[T]he security cabinet decided on Thursday against significantly widening the IDF’s operations in southern Lebanon, rejecting a recommendation by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to escalate the offensive against Hizbullah…

As a result of the cabinet decision, the IDF said the operation in Lebanon… would retain its current format, according to which brigade and battalion-level forces – not division-level as Halutz had requestedcarry out pinpoint incursions on specific targets.

Whatever the actual source of the Israeli failure, the Syrian and Iranian victory dances are in full swing.

(Needless to say, Dore Gold is not celebrating the Israeli defeat–although his allies in the Likud party will certainly try to make political hay in Israel from the need for political “introspection” and “self-criticism” in light of the Kadima party’s responsibility for military failure.)

Assad: Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Syrian President Bashar Assad is not only celebrating victory over Israel. He is also going out of his way to snipe at other players in the region. A UPI report entitled “Assad Slams Lebanon Foes,” suggests that Assad used his speech to attack elements of the Lebanese government:

Syrian President Bashar Assad has snapped at anti-Syria Lebanese groups, accusing them of complicity with Israel in the war against Hezbollah.

In a speech Tuesday… Assad made it a point to brand as “traitors” the so-called “March 14″ gathering of multi-sectarian Lebanese groups opposed to Damascus…

Assad accused his Lebanese opponents of having encouraged Israel to wage war on pro-Syria Hezbollah in order “to boost their political stance” on the international level…

Assad… said the role of anti-Damascus groups is to salvage the Israeli governmentwhich was embarrassed by its defeat at Hezbollah’s hands.

They will do that either by provoking strife in Lebanon to move the crisis from inside Israel to the Lebanese scene or by forcing the disarmament of Hezbollah’s resistance,” Assad said.

Furthermore, the Boston Globe carries and Associated Press report that says Assad also implicitly attacked Arab regimes–like Saudi Arabia and Egypt–that criticized the initial Hezbollah raids into Israel:

In his speech, Assad lashed out at Arab regimes that criticized Hezbollah for capturing two Israeli soldiers July 12 and setting off the war. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan — all US allies — opposed Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the conflict.

We do not ask anyone to fight with us or for usBut he should at least not adopt the enemy’s views,” Assad said.

Oqab Sakr, a Lebanese analyst, said Assad’s remarks were tantamount to “a final divorce from the Arab regimes and a full marriage with Iran.”

Quite a bit is riding on whether Oqab Sakr is correct in his assertion that Assad has initiated “final divorce” proceedings from Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

It is the notion of such a divorce that leads Juan Cole to suggest that in these attacks,

Al-Asad is playing into Israel’s hands

[He] seems to want to pit Hizbullah against the reformers. But that is exactly what the Israeli hardliners were hoping for, as well.

According to the Boston Globe article, Assad has already prompted an Egyptian backlash:

A front page editorial in a state-run Egyptian newspaper derided Assad’s speech–a rare overt criticism by one Arab government of another. Al-Gomhuria daily scoffed at Assad, saying he was celebrating “a victory scored by others.”

“You should be prepared now for political and economic pressure put on you because of this speech,” it said.

Assad’s bold tone is intended to cement his earlier political victories in Lebanon–discussed in previous posts here and here.

If Assad is risking a backlash, it will not likely emerge independently from Lebanese political officials like Prime Minister Siniora or Lebanese MP Saad Hariri. They may have the will to battle Syria and disarm Hezbollah, but they almost certainly lack the power to do so.

Unless, that is, they have the support of the Saudis. Hariri and Siniora will both take their cue directly from the Saudis.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Daily Star reported that Siniora was under pressure from Hezbollah–back in January 2006–to declare that “the resistance is not a militia.”

At first, Siniora resisted.  According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

Shortly thereafter, however, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdel-Aziz Khoja was quoted in the Daily Star as saying,

[Saudi Arabia] is proud of Hizbullah’s achievements,” adding that the “disarmament is an internal issue and should be resolved by the Lebanese.”

In almost no time, Siniora reversed himself and the Lebanese government officially declared that Hezbollah was a resistance movement, not a militia (presumably meaning it would not have to be disarmed under the terms of UN Resolution 1559). Hezbollah promptlly ended its boycott of the Lebanese government. On February 2, 2006 the BBC reported:

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told the Lebanese parliament on Thursday that Hezbollah had always been considered a resistance movement.

“We have never called and will never call the resistance by any other name but the resistance and it is a national resistance and we will not use any other expression to describe it but national resistance,” he said.

Then, as now, Siniora will take his cue from the Saudis.

So, in turn, will the French–who seem unlikely to put much into a multinational force unless Hariri and Siniora are prepared to disarm Lebanon.

According to the Financial Times:

French officials on Tuesday insisted Paris would resist leading a bolstered international force in southern Lebanon without Lebanese government assurances that Hizbollah, the militant Shia group, would be disarmed.

Paris’ requirements were spelled out on the eve of Wednesday’s visit by Philippe Douste-Blazy, French foreign minister, to Beirut – a visit likely to prove pivotal in deciding the fate of the multinational UN force proposed to police the fragile ceasefire between Hizbollah and Israel.

Officials in Beirut made clear that the army would not clash with Hizbollah and risk provoking internal conflict. Late on Monday, Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defence minister, told the local LBC television that the army had no intention of disarming Hizbollah in the south.

He suggested that Hizbollah understood that weapons could no longer be visible in the buffer zone, but said that if troops came across missiles they would not take them away.

Much, then, depends on the Saudis. Presumably, the future of the “marriage” (between Iran and Syria, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the other) is the main topic today when the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki meets in Jeddah today with Saudi Arabia’s King Abudullah.

Would love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

Status Quo Ante

Posted by Cutler on August 14, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / No Comments

A Wall Street Journal editorial–entitled “Status Quo Ante“–sums up what I take to be the disappointment of Right Zionists.

Ever since war broke out last month on the Israeli-Lebanese frontier, the Bush Administration has said it wouldn’t tolerate a return to the “status quo ante,” in which Hezbollah behaved as a power unto itself within the Lebanese state. Yet after reading the text of the U.N. Security Council’s cease-fire resolution adopted unanimously on Friday, we’d say the “status quo ante” is nearly what we’ve got.

And perhaps worse than that, because Hezbollah has now shown it can battle Israel to a military draw. The new resolution does call for disarming Hezbollah, just as resolution 1559 previously did, but without saying who will do it. Presumably that task is intended for the Lebanese Army, which is supposed to occupy the parts of southern Lebanon from which Hezbollah launched its attacks on Israel. But Lebanon’s army is a weak force, consciously undermined over the years of Syrian occupation, and is largely Shiite. There’s reason to doubt it will be able to disarm Hezbollah’s still-powerful Shiite military.

That just about says it all. If the point of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon was to disarm Hezbollah, that goal has proven elusive and–given the state of Lebanon’s politics–looks unlikely to be met any time soon.

Yesterday’s news of an impasse in the Lebanese Cabinet (discussed in a prior post)–where Hezbollah ministers balk at any move by the government of Prime Minister Siniora to disarm Hezbollah–is an exact replica of a similar crisis that began in December 2005.

According to the Daily Star, ministers from the two Shiite factions–Amal and Hezbollah–began a boycott of the Cabinet on December 12, 2005. At that time, they reportedly demanded, as a condition for their continued participation in government, that Lebanon send a letter to the UN Security Council saying that the Lebanese government had fulfilled the conditions of UN Resolution 1559..

Lebanon’s governmental crisis faced new complications Monday, with Christian ministers refusing one of the conditions set by the Shiite ministers to return to Cabinet. Talking to The Daily Star, Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis said his party, the Lebanese Forces, was not about to accept addressing the UN Security Council with a letter saying that the internal part of Resolution 1559 was implemented.

Resolution 1559 calls for, among other things, the disarmament of Hizbullah and Palestinian militias, but the Lebanese government had said the issue should be solved through internal dialogue.

However, addressing a letter to the UN indicating that Lebanon has fully implemented 1559 has emerged as one of the main demands of the ministers of Hizbullah and the Amal Movement to end their 15-day-long boycott of Cabinet meetings and to resume their duties.

At first, Prime Minister Siniora dug in his heals–at least in part to appease UN Security Council–especially, the United States. According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

The spokesperson said that: “Such a statement would mean that UN resolution 1559 had already been implemented and thus put Lebanon in a state of confrontation with the Security Council.”

It was at this moment that the Saudis and Syrians met in January 2006 to try to patch things up.

At first, Siniora balked when the Saudis began to push accomodation with Syria and Hezbollah. According to a Daily Star article (“Lebanon Cool at Saudi Plan on Syria Ties,” January 18, 2006; unavailable on-line):

The Saudi plan made public this week seeks to patch up Syrian-Lebanese differences since the February killing of a Lebanese ex-prime minister in which a U.N. probe has implicated Syrian officials. More bombings have followed the assassination.

“This (Saudi) paper does not meet Lebanese ambitions,” Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora told reporters. “We see that there are steps that need to be stressed, beginning with the security situation and the need to stop the killing machine.”…

“To be precise on this subject, these are Syrian ideas that Prince Saud al-Faisal carried, there is no Arab initiative yet,” Siniora said.

Before long, however, Siniora was recalled to Saudi Arabia for a friendly visit and quickly changed his tune. According to a Daily Star article (“Siniora Sees Primary Role for Saudis,” February 15, 2006; unavailable on-line):

During his one-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday to revive Arab mediation efforts, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora reiterated that Saudi Arabia “was and will still be the main support for Lebanon.” Siniora has been meeting with Arab officials such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, both of whom have proposed the Arab initiative to “ease the tensions between Lebanon and Syria.”

The initiative is now being revived after it was thwarted when it was leaked last month to the leaders of the March 14 Forces, who viewed it as a “Syrian initiative that wants to restore Syria’s control on Lebanon.”

The revivial of the Saudi initiative took the wind out of any effort to disarm Hezbollah–and, not coincidentally, probably helped dull the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

According to the Associated Press:

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

After the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, the pressure on Shawkat seemed diminished. According to another Associated Press report, the UN pushed back the deadline for concluding the investigation.

Chief investigator Serge Brammertz, earlier reported to the Security Council that progress was being made but he refused to repeat accusations that top Syrian officials with links to President Bashar Assad were responsible.

It would seem that the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah have done little to change any of this.

Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledges that the Lebanese government may not have the power to disarm Hezbollah, even if it had the will to do so.

As to the will to disarm Hezbollah, that remains fragile at best. With its most recent retreat from participation in the Cabinet, Hezbollah is calling the bluff of Prime Minister Siniora.

One recent report from an Israeli source, Ynetnews, suggests some signs of political will among pro-Saudi Lebanese politicians to take on Hezbollah. But I can find no confirmation of the quotes from other news sources and it seems like slim pickings–as the analyst suggests:

We will obtain revenge against those who got Lebanon entangled,” Saad Hariri said fearlessly, while Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Hizbullah of working for Iranian and Syrian interests, and not in the favor of Lebanon.

The Druze, the Sunni Muslims, some of the Maronite Christians, and maybe even some of the Shiites are lying in wait for Nasrallah,” explained Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon.

There is no doubt that they will hurl accusations at him for wreaking havoc in Lebanon, and there is no doubt that the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons will be raised.

But nonetheless, it still seems that there is no one who can disarm Hizbullah apart from Nasrallah himself. And southern Lebanon is the organization’s ‘home.’ It is reasonable to assume that it will do everything to rehabilitate and arm itself,” he added.

Only Nasrallah can disarm Nasrallah. Seems unlikely to me. How about you?

[Update…]

Just watched “Team Freedom” (Bush, Cheney, Rice) gather for a press conference to discuss the “Freedom Program” in the Middle East. Notwithstanding a lot of Right Zionist rhetoric, it was clearly a concession speech. At one point, in a response to a question about claims that Hezbollah won Bush said, “If I were Hezbollah I would claim victory, too.” Of course, he meant that everybody always tries to spin the news to their own advantage. But it was a telling statement. I don’t have a transcript yet, but there was also lots of talk about how “difficult” the battle against terror can be.

I think it might not be possible to overstate the importance of this defeat for the Bush administration. Either it marks a very new moment in US relations with Israel–and will undermine all future efforts to by Right Zionists to argue that Israel can help the US police the Middle East–or it will prompt the Bush administration to redouble its commitment to never lose again. I predict the former. This defeat is a far greater disappointment to Right Zionists than just about anything that has happened on Sistani’s watch in Iraq.

One final thought on the likelihood of anyone disarming Hezbollah now.

How about the French?

Not so much…

Here is the New York Times report:

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, told Le Monde on Saturday that the purpose of the enlarged Unifil would not include the disarming of Hezbollah by force. “We never thought a purely military solution could resolve the problem of Hezbollah,” he said. “We are agreed on the goal, the disarmament, but for us the means are purely political.”

That is the kind of immediate backtracking from the resolution that worries the Israelis, and which they say justifies their continuing military offensive to push Hezbollah back beyond the Litani, because they do not believe that the Lebanese Army, even with Unifil, will do it.

A Foreign Ministry official pointed out that it was Mr. Douste-Blazy who, in Beirut, called Iran “a force for stability in the region” when Europe is trying, with the United States, to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

Lebanese PM to Iran: Over the Limit

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are some important signals–quite mixed right at the moment–coming from Lebanon about the balance of power in Beirut.

First, the news from Saturday, August 12th that the Lebanese Cabinet unanimously approved the UN cease-fire plan. The Associated Press reported:

Lebanon’s Cabinet accepted the U.N. cease-fire plan to halt fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters on Saturday, moving the deal a step closer to implementation, the prime minister said.

It was a unanimous decision, with some reservations,” Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said in announcing Lebanon’s acceptance of the resolution after a four-hour Cabinet meeting.

Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fneish, minister of hydraulic resources, said the two members of the Islamic militant group who are part of the Cabinet expressed reservations. Particular concern was raised over an article in the resolution that “gives the impression that it exonerates Israel of responsibility for the crimes” and blames Hezbollah for the monthlong war, he said.

Maybe the reservations were about the balance of responsibility and blame. But I tend to doubt it.

Today (Sunday, August 13th), Lebanese unanimity looks far more fragile and the reason seems to turn two very important and related issues: disarming hezbollah and deploying the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon.

According to reports, Hezbollah has now dug in its heels on the all-important issue of disarmament. Here is the latest report from Reuters:

A Lebanese cabinet meeting set for Sunday has been postponed because of divisions over whether to discuss the disarmament of Hizbollah guerrillas, a government source said.

Hizbollah had some observations over … the discussion of their disarmament,” the source said…

On July 27 the cabinet approved a Lebanese seven-point plan that among other things called for weapons to remain only in the hands of Lebanese authorities…

A U.N. Security Council resolution to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah calls for the “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than the Lebanese state.”

This has been a sticking point–especially for Hezbollah and Iran–all along.

Indeed, if anyone was looking for signs of Saudi-Iranian tension, this is the place to look.

After the July 27th seven-point plan was approved, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Beirut for talks. According to a report in the Daily Star, Mottaki was clear about his own reservations about “initiatives proposed so far” (i.e., the Siniora seven-point plan) at that time:

“We believe that the initiatives proposed so far by the various parties to achieve a cease-fire are divided into two parts,” said Mottaki.

He added: “The first part includes a halt to the Zionist attack, and any other item which would gather a consensus from all Lebanese.”

The second part would include all the items which “do not enjoy the approval of all parties, and this would be solved through future negotiations.”

Needless to say, the disarmament of Hezbollah constitutes the central “item” for Iran that does not “enjoy the approval of all parties.”

Mottaki’s implicit criticism brought a sharp rebuke from Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. According to Stratfor:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki “went over the limit” in implying he had reservations about Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s seven-point plan to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Siniora told the French-language newspaper L’Orient Le Jour in an interview published Aug. 4. During his recent visit to Beirut, Mottaki had said there was no rush to discuss questions beyond an immediate cease-fire.

As I have suggested in a previous post, it is not a great stretch to consider Siniora as a Lebanese proxy of the Saudis.

Right Zionists would like nothing better than to see this split widen into a full blown conflict.

Who Killed the Cedar Revolution?

Posted by Cutler on August 11, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

George Ball, in his canonical 1992 Right Arabist book The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel, 1947 to the Present (hereafter, PA), argues that the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon had two objectives.

At a minimum, Israel wanted to undermine the PLO as a political force in Lebanon. Likewise today, only with Hezbollah playing the role of the PLO (the distinction is mainly important because it has significant implications for the reaction of the Arab world; the PLO could rely on far greater support from Gulf Arabs than Hezbollah).

But, Ball insists, Israel’s “first objective” was accompanied by its second:

“the installation of a minority Maronite Christian government to rule over a Lebanese protectorate which would conclude a separate peace with Israel” (PA, p.120).

Ball calls this second objective the “grand design” that dates at least as far back as David Ben-Gurion’s 1948 diary entry cited by Ball:

“the weak link in the Arab coalition is Lebanon… A Christian state must be established whose southern border will be the Litani. We shall sign a treaty with it” (PA, p.120).

As regards the current situation, a very similar “dual objective” position has been outlined by Dore Gold in his July 17 brief regarding the outbreak of fighting with Hezbollah, “The Opening Round of Iran’s War Against the West.”

Gold elaborates the specifics regarding a “first objective”:

So what should be the aims of the entire Western alliance – including Israel – in the current conflict? The chief goals are: First, full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that call for the complete dismantling of Hizballah and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israel-Lebanon border instead. Second, the removal of all Iranian forces and equipment from Lebanese territory, along with any lingering Syrian presence.

But Gold goes on to suggest that the contours of a contemporary “grand design.”

At the same time, there is a need to recognize that this is a regional war. Iran is seeking to dominate Iraq, particularly its southern Shia areas – the provinces where British troops are deployed – and hopes to encircle both Israel and the Sunni heartland of the Arab world. Syria is Iran’s main Arab ally in this effort. There is no question that Iran’s main aim is to dominate the oil-producing areas by agitating the Shia populations of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Defeating Iran’s opening shot in this Middle Eastern war is not just Israel’s interest, but the collective interest of the entire civilized world.

There are at least two things worth mentioning in reference to Gold’s grand design. First, unlike the 1982 Israeli invasion described by Ball–which aimed to court Lebanese Shia animosity toward Sunni and PLO political domination–the current “design” is intended to court Sunni Arab animosity toward Hezbollah, Syrian, and Iranian political domination in Lebanon.

Second, Gold’s “design” has not necessarily been adopted by the incumbent Israeli government. Gold is a Netanyahu Likudnik. Labor party Zionists like David Kimche who favor negotiations with Syria were relieved when the Likuk party–which refused to join Sharon in the formation of the “centrist” Kadima party–did relatively poorly in the most recent Israeli election.

Indeed, there are signs that the Right Zionists (neocons; US Likudniks) may be closer to power in Washington than they are in Israel. This may account for some of the recent tension between the Right Zionists in Washington and the government of Israel.

See, for example, an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “US Neocons Hoped Israel would Attack Syria.”

The White House, and in particular White House advisors who belong to the neoconservative movement, allegedly encouraged Israel to attack Syria as an expansion of its action against Hizbullah, in Lebanon. The progressive opinion and news site ConsortiumNews.com reported Monday that Israeli sources say Israel’s “leadership balked at the scheme.”

See, also, Charles Krauthammer’s criticism of the Olmert government, noted in a previous post.

War As Politics?
In his account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, George Ball suggests,

“Israeli leaders knew that timing was of the essence. Lebanon was required to elect a new president by August 23, 1982, and the IDF had to be in Beirut before that… Israel’s problem was to find, or create, an ‘internationally recognized provocation’…” (PA, p.122).

Back in ’82, Ball reports “a terrorist group obligingly furnished Israel with at least a shadowy casus belli by shooting in the head an Israeli envoy post in London” (PA, p.123).

In 2006, the July 12 Hezbollah raid furnished the casus belli.

The Israeli response to the Hezbollah raid is not merely “disproportionate,” however. It involves ambitious goals that seek to go beyond a return to the “status quo ante,” as Secretary Rice said at the start of the crisis.

So if the Hezbollah raid was the “manifest” trigger, what was the “latent” trigger, in terms of long-term Right Zionist “grand designs”?

Can the current war be either divorced from–or worse, at odds with–an Israeli agenda for the long-term contours of Lebanese politics?

One increasingly popular view is that the Israeli military tactics have actually undermined Israel’s political objectives. This perspective finds some support in an important Newsweek article, “Now Comes the Next War.”

Soon comes its next fight—a postwar political reckoning. Whether the [Hezbollah] party emerges from the current conflict weaker or stronger—and stronger seems the answer now—it will then have to battle the country’s other political, religious and ethnic groups for the soul and identity of Lebanon…

This face-off will transcend borders, for it is a microcosm of the wider struggle in the Middle East. On one side is the American-led West and Israel, with some very quiet Arab allies; on the other is the movement to affirm an Arab-Iranian-Islamist identity…

Even now, the military clash is largely a political war of wills, deterrence and resistance, at least in Hizbullah’s view. Holding out for a month and emerging to negotiate a ceasefire represents, to many, a considerable victory. Yet within Lebanon itself, the fighting has both accelerated and camouflaged deep political tensions.

Before the war, just over half the Lebanese said they supported Hizbullah’s role as an armed resistance group that deterred Israeli attacks. Two weeks after the fighting started, more than 85 percent of Lebanese in one poll said they supported Hizbullah’s military attacks against Israel. This included 80 percent of Christians, a figure that was obviously inflated by anger against Israel for its savage attacks against all parts of Lebanon, not just Hizbullah strongholds in the south.

Joshua Landis over at Syria Comment has been quoted along similar lines in the Los Angeles Times.

The decision by President Bush not to support the Lebanese government’s plea for a cease-fire, even though that government has been backed by the United States, has dealt a further blow to public feelings about the U.S. in the region.

Members of the governing bloc in the Lebanese parliament, led by Saad Hariri, “are the most pro-American Arabs in the Middle East. They have promised, ‘America will protect us if we stand against Syria,’ ” said Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Now Israel is “blowing the hell out of them, and America isn’t taking one step to protect them,” Landis said. “The whole Arab world is going to look and see that Hariri has been sacrificed on the altar of Israeli power.…”

The most important thing to know about Saad Hariri is not that he is “the most pro-American” Arab in the Middle East, but that he is the most pro-Saudi Arab in Lebanon.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the father of Saad Hariri. It was the murder of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 that focused a powerful spotlight on Saudi-Syrian rivalry over political and economic control of Lebanon, especially once Saudi Arabia pushed Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

For Right Zionists, the murder of Hariri established the conditions for a dramatic realignment of Lebanese politics by prying Saudi Arabia away from Syrian and Iranian political forces in Lebanon. In the so-called “Cedar Revolution” Right Zionists hoped to establish and support an alliance between Lebanon’s pro-Saudi Sunni Arab political forces–now led by Saad Hariri and Rafik Hariri’s former aide (and current Lebanese Prime Minister) Fouad Siniora–and the traditional anti-Syrian Christian (and Druze) opposition that Israel has always courted.

If that alliance–the so-called “March 14 Forces,” named for the day in 2005 when there were huge anti-Syrian rallies in Beirut one month after Mr Hariri’s assassination–was strong and steady prior to the Israeli invasion, then it would be difficult to discern what plausible Israeli advantages might have been anticipated on the basis of the invasion.

Although it is far from certain that the invasion will in any way help the “March 14 Forces,” Israel might have had good reason to fear that prior to the Hezbollah raid, Saudi Arabia was doing everything within its power to paper over Saudi-Syrian tensions in Lebanon and to re-align pro-Saudi forces in Lebanon with pro-Syrian forces and Hezbollah.

Setting aside some fo the important details of Saudi involvement in Lebanon after the murder of Hariri, it is clear that by January 2006 a Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was in the works.

According to news reports (here and here) and commentary (esp. that of Pat Lang, here, and–for a different interpretation–that of Tony Badran, here) the deal was sealed at a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi Kind Abdullah in January 2006.

As Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis suggested at that time,

Now, Washington will have to deal with the Kingdom. If the “kowtow” was convincing, Abdullah et al will not want their “satellite” disturbed much more.

It is into this context–not the full-flowering of the Cedar Revolution–that Israel intervened.

Will the Israeli invasion “save” the Cedar Revolution and reinvigorate Saudi-Syrian tension? It may be too early to say for sure, but the chances look increasingly slim.

Did the Israeli invasion “kill” the Cedar Revolution? No. It was already dead.

The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 17, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I noted that the Hezbollah raid on Israel seemed to anger Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak almost as much as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In subsequent days, the depth of “official” Arab hostility toward Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran has become big news.

The New York Times (“Militia Rebuked by Some Arab Countries“) and the Washington Post (“Strikes Are Called Part of a Broad Strategy“) take note of official Arab reaction to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah.

The possibility of Arab-Iranian rivalry has not escaped the notice of Israeli officials, either. Shimon Peres had this to say on CNN’s Larry King Live as King was concluding an interview:

KING: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, always good to see you. We’ve had…

PERES: I want to say one thing, Larry. Even the Arabs, this time — thank you.

KING: Go ahead. Whatever you wanted to add.

PERES: Yes, I wanted to add that, for the first time, the Arab countries, many of them, if not most of them, are calling for Hezbollah to stop it. The Lebanese government is asking for the same. It never happened before. And we feel that we’re doing the right thing, and we shall not permit the devil to govern our destinies or our region.

KING: Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, now Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Wonder of wonders, the “devil” is not Arab. The “devil” is Persian.

Swopa over at Needlenose goes so far as to link the idea of a new Arab/Zionist axis against Iran to the pro-Sunni Arab tilt of US policy in Iraq.

I am not sure that Right Zionists have abandoned the hope of a regional alliance with the “Najaf” Shiites aligned with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. But that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to try to simultaneously exploit both sides of any Arab/Iranian rivalry they can find.

The Bush Revolution, Part II: A Little Something for the Arabs

In my reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally, as a kind of Right Zionist playbook, I noted that Wurmser wrote about “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. One way of looking at this “dual rollback” plan is to think of it as a two act play:

The invasion of Iraq is Act One of the Bush Revolution: Sunni Arab rule in Iraq is destroyed and the US turns to the country’s Shiite majority as a new “client.” Arab regimes are nervous and angry.

Act Two may is just beginning (please return to your seats and ignore Time magazine which seems to have mistaken the “intermission” for the end of the show).

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran and in this scene Arab officials presumably play a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran.

On Lebanon:

The drama unfolding in Lebanon centers on the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia. There has been long-standing tension between Saudi Arabia and Syria over control of Lebanon. In many respects, the Saudis perceived the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a Syrian attack on their interests in Lebanon. Hariri–like Israel and the US–wanted Syria out of Lebanon.

Today, Hariri’s son continues in his father’s footsteps. Stratfor reports:

Saad al-Hariri, current leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community, is headed to Riyadh on July 16 for talks on the building conflict between Israel and the militant Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s actions, which have led to the verge of a major war with Israel, threaten the interests of the al-Hariris. Saudi Arabia, as a principal behind the al-Hariri clan, is concerned about Iran’s advances deeper into the region.

The Saudis and Hariri will have to weigh the risks and advantages of allowing Israel to wage war against their common enemy, Hezbollah. Will Hariri return from Riyahd with instructions to back Hezbollah’s uprising against Israel, or to keep his mouth shut, let Israel do its work, and prepare to inherit Lebanon?

So far, he has been critical of Israel, although his language has been somewhat ambiguous. The Daily Star reports:

A clear Arab stand should be taken on this Israeli aggression against Lebanon,” [Hariri]… said Saturday. “Lebanon should not be left as a battlefield for everyone, and Israel must know that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but in fact a resisting state and that Israel is the enemy.”

The key line is that Lebanon “should not be left as a battlefield for everyone,which presumably includes Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah as much as it does Israel.

Gilbert Achcar makes the point quite well:

Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel’s calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah

To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel’s diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel’s determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society — Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanonto crush Israel’s main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves.

We’ll see. There is an obvious risk for Israel that its aggression will inflame the “Arab street” and force Arab “officials”–including anti-Syrian Lebanese Christians and Sunnis–to rally around Hezbollah, etc.

On Palestine (aka Jordan):

The drama unfolding in Gaza may not really have much to do with Gaza. Right Zionists may not have a particularly complex plan for Gaza. The only real plan is to divide Gaza and the West Bank and help deliver the latter to King Abdullah in Jordan.

Right Zionists are reviving the old plan–last championed by George Shultz in the late 1980s–for Jordan to take over the West Bank.

The most prominent champion of such a plan is Meyrav Wurmser–whose husband is David Wurmser (see above). Wurmser announced a “Paradigm Shift” in the New York Sun today:

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process. That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests...

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition.

This plan has been circulating in Right Zionist circles. See, for example, the March 2003 Middle East Quarterly article, “Re-energizing a West Bank-Jordan Alliance.”

Hamas’s landslide victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is the latest sign of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) failure. The collapse of the West Bank into civil chaos and jihadist control would pose a security dilemma not only for Israel but also for Jordan. It is a scenario that increasingly occupies the Jordanian government’s strategic thinking…

King Abdullah has signaled a willingness to reengage in West Bank affairs. In the most significant Jordanian intervention in the West Bank since July 1988, Abdullah began in March 2005 to enlist new recruits for the Jordan-based and influenced Badr security forces (also known as the Palestinian Liberation Army) for possible deployment to parts of the West Bank…

Marouf al-Bakhit, at the time Jordan’s ambassador to Israel and, subsequently, the kingdom’s prime minister, elaborated that the Jordanian government hoped to play a more active role in the West Bank.[25] On the eve of Zarqawi’s attack, former prime minister Adnan Badran told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Jordan could no longer sit idle “with its arms crossed and watch what transpires in Palestine because it influences what happens in Jordan for better or worse”[26]

In March 2005, the Jordanian government made clear its willingness to alter the traditional peace process paradigm. On the eve of the March 2005 Arab League summit in Algiers, Jordanian foreign minister Hani al-Mulki called for a “regional approach” to Middle East peacemaking along the lines of the 1991 Madrid peace conference. This set the stage for King Abdullah’s proposal at the summit, in which he called for a broader and more creative approach.[27]

The Jordanian leadership appears increasingly willing to play a direct role…

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But not unimportant to know just what kind of “thinking” Right Zionists are doing these days…

“Who are the Good Guys?”

Posted by Cutler on June 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In a recent dispatch, Robert Dreyfuss writes:

[I]t’s at least worth asking: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Iraq? Are the good guys the U.S. troops fighting to impose American hegemony in the Gulf? Are the good guys the American forces who have installed a murderous Shiite theocracy in Baghdad?…

Dreyfuss goes on to answer his own question:

[T]here’s at least as much good on their side as on ours, if not more.

Note, however, that “their side” does not simply mean the “Iraqi” side. The Iraqi side, after all, includes a “murdersous Shiite theocracy.” These, it would seem, are “not” the folks with “as much… if not more” good on their side. No, the folks with more good on their side, according to Dreyfuss, are the Baathists and former military leaders of Iraq.

That raises, once again, the question of a dialogue with the Iraqi insurgents. For the past year, off and on, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has conducted secret talks with the resistance and has openly made a distinction between Zarqawi-style jihadists and former Baathists and military men…

Still, whether one thinks the resistance fighters are good guys, or bad guys that we need to talk to, the left, the antiwar movement, and progressives don’t have to wait for Zal Khalilzad. The time for talking to Iraq’s Baath, former military leaders, and Sunni resistance forces is here.

It is commonplace to favor talks with the Baathist resistance. Even some Right Zionist have embraced the idea. See, for example a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Amnesty for Insurgents? Yes” by Charles Krauthammer.

Insurgencies can be undone by being co-opted. And that is precisely the strategy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given that his life is literally on the line in making such judgments, one should give his view some weight.

Dreyfuss, meanwhile says nothing about the “murderous” record of the Baathists, but goes out of his way to take the moral high ground in relation to “murderous” Shiites.

Why the double standard? Why so soft on Baathists and hard on Shiites?

It is a perspective that matches perfectly with the anti-Shiite outlook of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Right Arabists like James Akins–a regular Dreyfuss informant–are extremely hawkish about Iran.

Where is Dreyfuss on Iran? Funny you should ask. He has a new article about US policy toward Iran–“Next We Take Tehran“–in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.

Unlike his erstwhile ally James Akins, Dreyfuss remains–at present–dovish on Iran. And, in a refreshing acknowledgement that Neocons are not the only folks who make US foreign policy, Dreyfuss takes a broad brush in criticizing US policy toward Iran.

Of course, the idea of the Persian Gulf as an American lake is not exactly new. Neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, “realists” typified by Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker, and liberal internationalists in the mold of President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, mostly agree that the Gulf ought to be owned and operated by the United States, and the idea has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy under presidents both Republican and Democratic.

At least in spirit (if not historical particulars), this is probably the best Dreyfuss line I’ve read because it represents a great break with his otherwise overly narrow focus on the Neocons. In the very next paragraph, however, Dreyfuss walks right back into that political corner of his:

But if the administration’s goals are congruent with past U.S. policy, its methods represent a radical departure. Previous administrations relied on alliances, proxy relationships with local rulers, a military presence that stayed mostly behind the scenes, and over-the-horizon forces ready to intervene in a crisis. President Bush has directly occupied two countries in the region and threatened a third. And by claiming a sweeping regional war without end against what he has referred to as “Islamofascism,” combined with an announced goal to impose U.S.-style free-market democracy in southwest Asia, he has adopted a utopian approach much closer to imperialism than to traditional balance-of-power politics.

This paragraph is a train wreck.

Are “traditional balance-of-power politics” actually so different from “imperialism”? At best, one could argue that there are tactical differences between an imperialism that operates through direct occupation and one that relies on alliances and proxy relationships with local rulers.

If this distinction actually matters to Dreyfuss, then he should be prepared to acknowledge that in the factional battles over Iraq, at least, Right Zionists always advocated–and have been criticized for advocating–reliance on indirect rule by Shiite proxy forces with a relatively “light” military presence over the horizon. By contrast, Right Arabists have always insisted that any regime change effort in Iraq would require at least 500,000 US troops and an occupation that would last years or decades.

Here, for example, is a leading Right Arabist, General Anthony Zinni, talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

We made a mistake in not understanding that after our invasion there would have to be a period of occupation. As a matter of fact, friends of mine who were planners in the workup were told not to use that word. But that’s denying reality. We had to have a period, much like we had in Japan and Germany at the end of World War II, where we controlled things

But we believed that the Iraqi people could take this upon themselves right away. We did it without the kind of, again, law and order and control in there.

The “we” that made that made that alleged “mistake” were the Right Zionists. Right Zionists like Douglas Feith, however, speak of the opposite “mistake”–the one made by Right Arabists. Feith told the Washington Post:

First, the United States missed the opportunity before the war to train enough Kurds and other Iraqi exiles to assist the U.S. military, he said. “That didn’t happen in the numbers we had hoped,” he said…

Even more important, Feith said, was the reluctance among some U.S. officials to transfer power early on to an Iraqi government and dismantle the U.S. occupation authority, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer.

Whatever the merits, for US empire, of direct occupation v. indirect rule through local proxies and/or the mistakes made, it is clear which imperial faction advocated which strategy in Iraq: Right Arabists favored US rule through direct, long-term occupation; Right Zionists favored US rule through local (Shiite and Kurdish) proxies.

Meanwhile, in the case of Iran, nobody within the foreign policy establishment has advocated direct military occupation. All of the big fights have been about three different options: peaceful diplomacy, military air strikes, or regime change led by proxy forces.

Bush administration Iran policy–like its policy toward Iraq–is based on “balance of power” politics. There is nothing new or utopian about it. What is new–and Dreyfuss won’t acknowledge–is that his old Right Arabist friends don’t talk like peaceniks about Iran.

There is a ton of unacknowledged history of Right Arabist/Right Zionist factionalism in all this. It was, after all, the Eisenhower administration–perhaps the US administration most clearly dominated by Right Arabists–that rejected the joint UK-French-Israel effort to topple an Arab nationlist leader, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Peaceniks, to be sure. But it was that same administration that gave the green light for a US-led covert operation for a coup against a Persian nationalist leader, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Who are the “bad” buys on Iran policy? Do Right Zionists support regime change in Iran? You bet. Is there at least “as much” bad “if not more” on the Right Arabist side when it comes to Iran? Ask former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins.

Right Arabists as Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on June 28, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Pop Quiz:

An article from the Associated Press reports the following:

A group of former senior government officials called on the Bush administration Thursday to adopt an official policy of regime change” in Iran on the grounds that the country poses a threat to U.S. security.

The Iran Policy Committee, formed a month ago in an effort to influence government policy toward Iran , said in a statement that Tehran’s Islamic government “is not likely to be turned from its threatening behavior by policies that emphasize negotiations.”…

The 30-page committee statement, released at a news conference, said that unless working with the Iranian people leads to regime change in Tehran, “the pace of nuclear weapons development might leave Washington with what the committee believes is the least desirable option of waging military strikes against Iran.”

Question: who is behind this group?
Not sure? Let me give another hint.

The “Iran Policy Committee” supports an Iranian exile-led opposition group called the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK, but sometimes called MKO). Here is a recent depiction of the group by one of its many critics:

Within the United States, MKO members tell Congressmen, their staffs, and other policymakers what they want to hear: That the MKO is the only opposition movement capable of ousting the unpopular and repressive Islamic Republic. They are slickWell-dressed and well-spoken representatives of MKO front organizations approach American writers, politicians, and pundits who are critical of the regime.

Has to be the Neocons, right? Sounds just like the Right Zionists. And the critic sounds just like a Right Arabist–could be General Zinni again, who famously slammed Chalabi and his Iraqi exile group as silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London.”

Guess again.

First, the critic quoted above is none other than Right Zionist Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

Second, the founding co-chairman of the “Iran Policy Committee”–James Akins–is about as far as you can get from a Right Zionist. James Akins is the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and one of the deans of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

What is a guy like Akins doing leading a group of Iran hawks?

In previous posts (here and here), I have noted the fact that Right Zionists are hostile to the current incumbent Iranian regime (so-called “official Iran”) but are very committed to the regional power of Iran (“eternal Iran”) as a country able to balance the power of Arab nationalism in the Gulf. More to the point, in terms of James Akins, Right Arabists are hostile to both “official Iran” and to “eteneral Iran”–that is, they are hostile to the regional power of Iran–precisely because they support Arab hegemony in the Gulf.

In the 1970s when Iran was allied with the US, it was pretty easy to distinguish between Right Arabists and Right Zionists. Right Zionists were delighted by growing Iranian regional power and the emergent triangle of US, Israeli, and Iranian relations. Right Arabists made no secret of their opposition to Iran’s growing regional power under the Shah.

Henry Kissinger was as responsible as any one person could be for the US tilt toward Iran in the early 1970s. It is over Iran and Saudi Arabia that James Akins clashed so famously with Kissinger. In an interview with 60 Minutes (discussed in Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1980), Akins claimed that Kissinger supported oil price hikes that benefited Iran over the objections of Saudi Arabia. Akins also claims (Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2004) that Kissinger gave him the boot when Akins spoke out against US plans to seize Saudi oil fields.

In April 1975, America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, sent a confidential cable to Washington denouncing as “criminally insane” an idea then being floated in the media: America should seize Saudi oil fields to break an Arab oil cartel and ensure a supply of cheap energy to fuel the U.S. economy.

Scoffing at the bravado of what he called America’s “New Hawks,” he warned that any attempt to take Arab oil by force would lead to world-wide fury and a protracted guerrilla war. This “could bring only disaster to the United States and to the world,” he wrote.

His 34-page cable, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, did not go down well in Washington. The idea of invading Saudi Arabia wasn’t the work of cranks but of senior policy makers. Discussion of a military strike never got beyond the preliminary planning stage, but the idea terrified the Saudis, who laid plans to booby-trap oil wells.

A few months after sending his cable, Mr. Akins was out of a job. He believes that his memo, which stoutly defended the Saudis’ right to control their oil, “was basically the cause of my being fired.”

This story has also been recounted by Robert Dreyfuss in his essay “The Thirty-Year Itch” in which Akins describes the invasion of Iraq as essentially part of this old battle:

“It’s the Kissinger plan,” says James Akins, a former U.S. diplomat. “I thought it had been killed, but it’s back.”

On the question of Iraq, Akins has been an outspoken critic of Right Zionists. No surprise here. The Saudis opposed Right Zionist plans for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraqi Shiites; so did Akins.

It is on this basis that a Right Arabist establishment figure like Akins also found common ground with Left anti-war writers like Robert Dreyfuss, a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Interviews with Akins provided Dreyfuss with lots of juicy quotes for his extended attacks on Right Zionist policy in Iraq and Akins puffed Devil’s Game on the back jack of the book.

In “Beyond Incompetence,” I criticized Dreyfuss:

because all of his political firepower is directed at the “neocon-dominated” United States, his critique is completely neutralized in those instances where Right Arabists have managed to regain some influence over Iraq policy. Dreyfuss pins everything on the idea that Right Zionists are dominating US policy. It legitimizes his uncritical embrace of Right Arabist perspectives on Iraq.

In a December 2004 comment, for example, Dreyfuss finds evidence of considerable Right Zionist panic, expressed by “leading neocon strategist” Max Singer, that Right Arabists were winning greater influence over Iraq policy. “What world is Singer living in?” asks Dreyfuss. “The United States is supporting the Sunnis and Baathists? Course not.”

More recently, Dreyfuss has acknowledged that the balance in US policy might have shifted back toward the Right Arabists. In an article sub-titled “Bring Back the Baath,” Dreyfuss reports on “U.S.-Baath Talks.”

“What the United States ought to have done two years ago — namely, make a deal with the resistance and its core Baathist leadership — might, after all, be happening. It is unclear how far up the food chain in the Bush administration this effort goes, but it appears that a desperate Ambassador Khalilzad has realized the importance of forging ties to the Baath party… That’s all good….”

If Dreyfuss feels awkward about declaring the increasingly Right Arabist inclinations of a Republican administration “all good,” he certainly hides it well.

Dreyfuss is disarmed by his adoption of Right Arabist talking points. Nowhere is this more evident that in his coverage of Iran.

In a Nation article entitled “Still Dreaming of Tehran,” (written with Laura Rozen), Dreyfuss once again turns to his Right Arabist friends–this time, “Chas Freeman, who served as US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War and a leading foe of the neocons”–to expose Right Zionist hawkish plans for Iran.

In a way, the neocons’ Iran project is very similar to the early phase of their Iraq one. It includes a steady drumbeat of threats and warnings, Washington lobbying, a media offensive and support for exile groups–in Iran’s case a mishmash that combines supporters of Khomeini’s grandson; Reza Pahlavi, the son of the fallen Shah, and the Iranian monarchists; and the Mujaheddin e-Khalq (MEK), a 3,800-strong exile force based in Iraq.

Dreyfuss seems unaware or unconcerned that at least one of his Right Arabist friends–James Akins–is the one leading support for the Iranian MEK exile force.

Why do Right Arabists favor a group like MEK and why do Right Zionists attack the group?

A June 25, 2006 Washington Post “guide to the leading Iranian activists in town” entitled “Iran on the Potomac,” and written by Dreyfuss co-author Laura Rozen describes the MEK:

[T]he National Council of the Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, an anti-regime militant group supported for years by Saddam Hussein.

With the advent of the Iran-Iraq war, the MEK alligned itself with Iraq and integrated itself into the broader regional Arab resistance to Iranian power. In other words, the MEK is an Arab-aligned force for regime change in Iran.

Right Zionists desperately want regime change in Iran, but they oppose two hawkish Right Arabist options for achieving that change. One is the attempt–profiled in a previous post–to cultivate Arab Iranian secessionist impulses in the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzistan (previously known as “Arabistan”). The other is Right Arabist sponsorship of MEK.

Dreyfuss likes to counterpose the Neocon hawks to “the realists’ more conciliatory strategy” that favors ” a quiet dialogue with Tehran.” Quiet and conciliatory. Yep, that must be the nearly-pacifist “realists.”

The essential point, beyond assembling a map of Washington policy positions regarding Iran, is that Right Arabists can be hawks, too. Listen to the Akins group:

Iran is emerging as the primary threat against the United States and its allies: Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, continuing support for and involvement with terrorist networks, publicly-stated opposition to the Arab-Israel peace process, disruptive role in Iraq, expansionist radical ideology, and its denial of basic human rights to its own population are challenges confronting U.S. policymakers.

James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee bang war drums, champion regime change, and sponsor democracy missions just like the Right Zionists when such things serve in the interest of Right Arabist goals. They may talk like doves in debates over Iraq, but Iran is a different matter.

Right Zionists and Right Arabists are merely two rival imperialist factions within the foreign policy establishment. Those who take sides within that intra-imperialist battle are playing a “devil’s game.”

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.

Ledeen and Zarqawi

Posted by Cutler on June 19, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In an earlier post, “Zarqawi and Zion,” I argued that Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen represent an ideological mirror image of Zarqawi because they both wanted to fight the same war, albeit on opposite sides.  Both wanted to make Iraq the central battleground of a regional war over the balance of power in the Gulf.  Right Zionists favor a Persian Gulf dominated by Shiites and Zarqawi sought to preserve the Arab Gulf as a stronghold of Sunni power.

All of this seems so unlikely, however, when reading Michael Ledeen’s June 16, 2006 article, “Nonsense: Don’t Read What You Are into the Big Document of Iraq” about the “the much ballyhooed document found in Iraq and published with great gravitas all over the world.”  The document in question–that is, an English translation provided to the media by Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie–is HERE.

Here is the part that Ledeen seems to find upsetting/laughable:

[T]he whole thrust of the document is that Iran is a sweet innocent, actually an ally of the United States in Iraq, and that the terrorists should do everything possible to foster conflict between Iran and the Americans.

Ledeen begins his column with a question lots of folks have asked when his name comes up:

“So how exactly do you figure out when something is real, and when it’s a deception?”

Good question.  His conclusion, in this instance:

I think the Iranians put out this sort of nonsense so that we’ll have trouble figuring out what’s real. And by the way, it wasn’t found in Zarqawi’s house, contrary to the triumphant announcement from the office of the Iraqi prime minister. So it’s certainly not a Last Testament. It’s just nonsense.

Why does Ledeen go so far out his way to claim that the US-backed government in Iraq and the government in Iran has perpetrated a massive deception?  Surely it is not because he doesn’t wish it were true.  Ledeen is the most strident advocate of such an alliance between the United States and Iran.

The disagreement between Zarqawi and Ledeen was that Zarqawi thought this alliance was already in the works while Ledeen has been frustrated by the slow pace of such an alliance.  Ledeen’s most common refrain? Faster Please.

The “Big” posthumously published Zarqawi document was not the first time that Zarqawi “allegedly alleged” that Ledeen’s regional vision had already been consummated.

In early June 2006 Zarqawi allegedly lashed out at Lebanon’s Iran-backed, Shiite Hizbollah movement:

The head of the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called Thursday for the disarmament of the Lebanese Shiite fundamentalist movement Hezbollah, according to an audio message posted on the Internet.Zarqawi accused Hezbollah of serving as a “shield protecting the Zionist enemy (Israel) against the strikes of the mujahedeen in Lebanon,” in an apparent reference to Sunni Arab militants loyal to the Al-Qaeda network.

“Why should Hezbollah be exempt from the… Taef accords” which brought an end to fighting in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, a voice purporting to be Iraq’s most wanted man asked in the lengthy audio message whose authenticity could not be verified.

Hezbollah is an independent state inside Lebanon… It puts forth lying slogans about Palestinian liberation when in fact it serves as a security wall (for Israel) and prevents Sunnis from crossing its borders.”

As the Telegraph commented at the time of these reports,

[Zarqawi] strangely echoed Israeli and western demands by denouncing Hizbollah as “an independent state inside Lebanon” and demanded that it should be disarmed.

For Ledeen, the only real problem with this characterization is that it is premature.  Right Zionists have not yet managed to achieve the long-term goal of aligning Lebanon’s Shiites with Israel.

Don’t take my word for it, though.  Here is David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East expert, on the subject (from his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally, profiled in my article “Beyond Incompetence“):

“Liberating the centers of learning in Najaf and Karbala in the wake of Saddam’s demise would offer the region and the West a chance to…reinstate the traditional dynamic among Lebanon’s ShiitesPrying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian Revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shiite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balanceA collapse of Iraq’s Baathism could be the catalyst for the implosion of Assad’s regime in Syria and, though the Shiite community, of the Islamic revolution in Iran as well.”

The problem, for Ledeen, is that Zarqawi was jumping the gun, so to speak.

Ledeen may be right that the incumbent regime in Iran has done everything possible to find common ground with Arab regimes.  Hence recent news out of Iran that the current regime has very warm relations with Saudi Arabia and that both countries seek to ease tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Right Zionists at Middle East Media Research Institute (where Meyrav Wurmser–married to David Wurmser, cited above–served as Executive Director) are quick to note the longer-term basis for Arab hostility to Iranian nuclear ambitions.  That is for another day, however, when Right Zionists can once again support an Iranian nuclear program.  Until then, they must explain how Arab hostility toward Israel has led some to offer qualified support for the incumbent Iranian regime.

For Right Zionists, everything turns on regime change in Iran.  Then comes the new regional balance of power against which Zarqawi fought.  Zarqawi died fighting a war that Ledeen thinks has barely begun.  Hence Ledeen: faster please.

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.

Tehran Tilt

Posted by Cutler on June 12, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

What is the Bush administration up to in Iran? And what, if anything, does it have to do with the fate of Neoconservative/Right Zionist foreign policy initiatives?

The first thing to note is that “open source” (media-based) analysis of Bush administration policy toward Iran has been complicated by lots of mixed signals. It wasn’t long ago that all the chatter was about impending nuclear strikes on Iran. Remember that? It was only about two months ago that Seymour Hersh published “The Iran Plans” in the April 17, 2006 issue of the New Yorker.

Now fast forward to the June 1, 2006 New York Times report by David Sanger, “For Bush, Talks With Iran Were a Last Resort.”

After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice…

[A]fter five years of behind-the-scenes battling within the administration, Mr. Bush finally came to a crossroads at which both sides in the debate over Iran — engagers and isolaters, and some with a foot in each camp — saw an advantage in, as one senior aide said, “seeing if they are serious.”…

But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside
In the end, said one former official who has kept close tabs on the debate, “it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box” of trying talks.

A little more than a week later, Right Zionist (so-called Neocon) verdicts are in. Over at the American Enterprise Institute, the reviews are quite negative. The Forward quotes AEI’s Michael Rubin:

“The administration can’t have it both ways. They can’t embrace the regime and still talk about liberty for the Iranian people,” said Iran analyst Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank widely associated with the push for regime change in Iraq. A former Pentagon official, Rubin added that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “can spout whatever platitudes she wants to spout, but at this point, when it comes to liberty and freedom, she has no credibility.”

In a Weekly Standard missive, Rubin suggests, “the Bush administration is in full retreat” even as “rich Saudi and Persian Gulf financiers work to consolidate the region as a jihadist base.”

AEI’s Michael Ledeen also seems unhappy. In his recent National Review Online column “Iran Connects the Dots,” Ledeen slams the idea of Iran diplomacy.

The intelligence community was savaged after 9/11 for its failure to connect the dots, and it would be truly embarrassing, and very dangerous, to leave the Iranian dot out there apart from the rest of the network we have uncovered and shattered. A week ago Director of National Intelligence Negroponte gave a very interesting interview to the BBC in which he reiterated what everybody knows: ‘(the Iranians) are the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world.’

So how come we’re not going after them?

And for those who think the recent ‘we’ll-talk-if-you-stop-enrichment’ gambit was some sort of master diplomatic stroke, consider this: it turns out that the Iranians have actually increased their enrichment program.

There is no escape from the necessity of bringing down the mullahcracy, for they will keep killing our people and our friends.

It may be worth noting, however, that Reuel Marc Gerecht–also at AEI–seems not to have chimed in yet on the Rice initiative. One Gerecht missive in the Weekly Standard–published before Rice announcement of a shift toward direct talks with the Iranians–predicts that such an initiative would fail.

Even if the secretary still has strong “realist” instincts–she is, after all, a disciple of Brent Scowcroft, Bush One’s national security adviser, and she is surrounded in the State Department by foreign service officers who live to negotiate–it won’t matter. The Iranians won’t play ball.

But Gerecht also seems less certain than Rubin or Ledeen about the immediate prospects for regime change in Iran.

No matter what happens, it is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians–which is the Bush administration’s current game plan–isn’t likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn’t the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

Gerecht’s pessimism regarding regime change in Iran seems like a retreat from some of his earlier confidence.

And then there are prominent Neocon figures like Charles Krauthammer who–as I noted in a previous post–have been more forgiving of the Bush administration’s attempt at diplomacy.

There is probably something to the Forward headline that suggests, “Bush Overture To Iran Splits Israel, Neocons.”

The basis of any such split may center on the best way for the US to rebuild its alliance with Iran. By contrast, Right Arabists–including many who talk very tough on Iran–do not favor any serious US alliance with Iran and did not support the US tilt toward Iran during the 1970s. For reasons that I have explained in previous posts and in my ZNet article–“Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–Right Zionists favor a tilt toward Shiite power–and an assault on Sunni Arab power–in the Gulf; Right Arabists oppose such a shift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get the point. No mention of the liberty of Iranians or the mullahcracy here. The significance is not that Ledeen is caught changing his position. The reals significance is that Ledeen may not actually have changed his central goal–a US alliance with Iran.

So, the real question is why isn’t the current prospect of dialogue with Iran the culmination of Right Zionist regional ambitions? The US is, after all, contemplating a tilt toward Iran–having already empowered Shiites in Iraq. Are those real Right Zionist tears in the eyes of Rubin and Ledeen?

If so, the tears are probably shed on account of tactical, not strategic defeats.

Here is the tactical question: Any Bush administration dialogue with Iran will be with Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani, one of the two figures Ledeen identified as an advocate of “improved relations” back in 1988. Rafsanjani successfully pushed aside the other leading figure–Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri–who now sits in Iran under house arrest. When Ledeen dismisses dialogue with Rafsanjani and advocates regime change, what he really means is that he has now taken sides within the Shiite revolution: He favors Montazeri, not Rafsanjani.

Take a look, for example, at the transcript of this Brit Hume Fox News interview with Michael Ledeen from May 1, 2002 (I couldn’t find a copy on-line. Link anyone?):

HUME: Now, we look from this country at Iran. And we see it pretty much through a glass darkly. We see these statements coming out of their leading religious figure who outranks and has more power than any of the secular leaders there. And we think, uh oh, this is getting worse over there. Is it?

LEDEEN: No, it’s getting better because the people really are in insurrection, virtual insurrection, against the regime right now. What Supreme Leader Khomeini is reacting to with all these speeches in the last couple of days is a fatwa issued by probably the most respected religious leader in the country, Ayatollah Montazeri.

HUME: Now, I’ve heard of him, the Ayatollah Montazeri, or Montazeri as we American hicks sometimes are prone to say. Is not Khomeini the ranking leader, though? Isn’t he the guy with the title?

LEDEEN: Khomeini runs the country. He runs the government.

HUME: Right. And so Montazeri has standing by virtue of what?

LEDEEN: By his religious authority and his apparent saintliness and the respect of the people. And he’s been voted by the other ayatollahs to be the grandest of the so-called grand ayatollahs. So, he sits atop that whole religious structure, even though he sits atop it at home under house arrest.

HUME: And what did he say? He said — he issued a fatwa, a religious decree, last week saying that suicide terrorism was in absolute violation of the rules of Islam and that people who practiced suicide terrorism, instead of going to heaven with the 72 virgins, would go to hell, where for all eternity they would have to repeat their suicide.

HUME: And the importance of this beyond the clerical disagreement between two mullahs?

LEDEEN: No, it’s a division within the religious authorities within the country. And Montazeri is aiming it far beyond the boundaries of Iran. He is aiming it at the Islamic world entirely.

HUME: So his word would be heard across Islam?

LEDEEN: Yes. And it was coordinated with other ayatollahs, Iranian Shiite ayatollahs living in Europe. So, it wasn’t just restricted to Iran.

HUME: We never heard a word about it here.

LEDEEN: No, it’s not reported. I mean, it was reported in one or two Iranian publications. And here and there, you can find it on the web. But it was not picked up here.

HUME: And we Americans should regard this as a consequential event because of what consequences?

LEDEEN: But it shows that the authority that’s being claimed by the tyrants in Tehran is not being enforced and that the people of Iran, including some of the most important religious leaders, are in open rebellion against that regime. And we should support them.

Next thing to look for, if the dialogue with Rafsanjani breaks down? How about talk of a budding alliance between Montazeri in Iran and Sistani in Iraq?

[Update: Ledeen’s full-throated, June 7, 2006 criticism of Bush administration “appeasement” of Iran is HERE]

Killing Me Softly: A Soft Landing for Sunni Arabs?

Posted by Cutler on June 02, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In looking at Washington’s political inclinations in post-Saddam Iraq, I have argued for a factional interpretation that pits Right Arabists (so-called Realists) against Right Zionists (so-called Neocons). If, at first, the US moved aggressively to empower Iraqi Shiites and undermine the political power of Iraq’s Sunni minority, I suggested that this should be coded as a victory for Right Zionists. I still hold to that view.

At least as early as September 2003, however, there seemed to be signs of a serious effort by Right Arabists to win back control of US policy in Iraq. One popular marker was the decision to bring in Robert Blackwill to run the Iraq Stabilization Group, viewed at the time as an attempt to marginalize Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his Right Zionist deputies. One of the great observers of this process–the alleged eclipse of the Neocons and rally of the Realists–has been Jim Lobe who has been tracking the details of the story without fail for several years now.

I offer, for your consideration, however, a modest–less factional–interpretation of Bush administration policy that, if plausible, would indicate no real loss of influence for Right Zionists. The source of this analysis is Vali Nasr, on the occasion of his being named the newest adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

I have posted below some extended excerpts of Nasr’s March 26, 2006 remarks (how much, if anything, has changed since these remarks were made?) about Iran, Iraq, and Arab regional hegemony. Let’s start, however, with the key “less factional” amendment to the usual analysis of US policy in Iraq.

ultimately there are winners and there are losers out of Iraq, not only in Iraq, but across the region. The Shi’as won and the Kurds won, and the Sunnis lost. And if Iraq continues, ultimately when there’s a balance, for Shi’as the glass will be half full, and for the Sunnis the glass will be half empty. And the U.S. has tried to sort of—has been trying to give the Sunnis, if you would, a soft landing, at the same time as it’s—in Iraq it’s trying to hold the hand of the Shi’as being ascendent…

But at some point, we’re not going to be able to do this, and actually, we’re reaching that point, that ultimately in Iraq, and then across the region, there is going to be a winner and a loser. And there is an enormous amount of effort, particularly by regional leaders, to try to influence Washington in this regard. I mean here, for instance, in the council, I think when last year the Saudi foreign minister essentially called for the U.S. to change its tactics and be much more amenable to Sunnis is indicative of that.

Has US Ambassador Khalilzad been trying to close “pandora’s box” (re-Baathification, curbing Shiite influence, etc.) and reverse US policy in Iraq? Or is he merely trying to provide a “soft landing” to Sunnis in the region, even as the Right Zionist tilt toward the Shia proceeds as planned?

Here are more of Nasr’s remarks. The full transcript is available HERE and is well worth reading.

I would like to sort of raise a number of issues that—in a way of generating discussion with regard to the impact that Iraq has had, at least in terms of changing the balance of power in the region, and introducing in a major way a new factor into the regional dynamics, which is the Shi’a power, not only in Iraq, but actually as a regional phenomenon. I mean, often people don’t consider that about half the population between Lebanon and Pakistan are Shi’a. And around the Persian Gulf, by most counts, about 80 percent of the population are Shi’a. And the Shi’as themselves would always like to point out that wherever there’s oil, there’s Shi’a essentially. (Laughter.)

Now, this has been seen as both a new phenomenon, a threat, or an opportunity. King Abdullah of Jordan referred to the Shi’a Crescent, the first time in a major way, as at threat, essentially, to the established powers in the region and therefore, by implication, he suggested, to the United States…

But what we are seeing is a bit more complicated. Namely, we’re—what we’re seeing is that there is possibility for change everywhere in the region. In other words, the mantra is not a centralized revival or empowerment of the Shi’as, as happened with Iran’s efforts in the 1970s, but the replication of what many in the region refer to as the Sistani model, namely, one man, one vote; call for pluralism; call for power-sharing; call for redistribution of power, which in every—most cases, as it was in Iraq, it will benefit the Shi’as. Where they’re a majority or a plurality, as in Lebanon or Bahrain, they can expect to gain control. Where they’re a minority, as in Pakistan, across the Persian Gulf in Saudi Arabia, they’re likely to get a lot more than what they have right now.

And this notion of a sort of an enveloping, cascading Shi’a call and achievement of power is based on not just a political dynamic, but what has happened after Iraq and often we don’t take note of is the much bigger cultural, economic and religious ties that have been spawned since 2003 and are now sort of the underbelly of this movement…

The—in many regards, at least in the short run, the relations between Iraqi Shi’as and Iranian Shi’as is going to be less defined by objective connections between them, as it’s going to be defined by the Sunni threat that is perceived. Iranians view it differently in terms of what the—the rise of al Qaeda in the region and rise of salafism and jihadism means, but for Iraqi Shi’as it’s very clear that the prospects or possibility of a Sunni restoration or a continuation of insurgency at the pace that it has been occurring and the vehemence that we saw at the Askariya shrine bombing overrides any Arab Iranian divisions that they proceed with Iran.

And in fact, many Iraqi Shi’as would say that there are two pillars to the Shi’a position in Iraq, and considering one can say this is true of everywhere in the region, but more so in Iraq. One is the United States, and one is Iran. And in many regards that’s the reason why many Shi’a politicians have been lobbying for an Iranian-American dialogue because the more these two pillars move away from each other, the more difficult it will be for Iraqi Shi’as to maintain their position…

I think Ibrahim Ja’afari is the first Shi’a leader that the U.S. has dealt with in some way since the Iranian Revolution. And even Ja’afari’s ability to influence, to impact U.S. policy, U.S. thinking, is not comparable to the regional powers, who essentially are arguing against the Shi’a empowerment in the region—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and the like…And I think, you know, not everybody in the region laments the fact that there was de-Ba’athification or the destruction of the Iraqi army. I think the Shi’as and the Kurds were very happy with the destruction of the Sunni officer class…

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?

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?

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…