Daily Archives: June 28, 2006

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.”