Monthly Archives: November 2006

Right Arabists Split on Iran

Posted by Cutler on November 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

If Right Zionists have any chance of salvaging a role for themselves in the Bush administration, they will do so by exploiting to the full factional tensions among Right Arabists.

As “luck” would have it, there are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

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

Right Zionists are clearly aligned with Cheney in this dispute. The personification of this alliance remains David Wurmser, the key Middle East aide in the Office of the Vice President.

The Baker position is represented not only by Baker’s own pronouncements in favor of dialogue with Iran but by several of his key allies including Richard Haass–Baker’s former deputy in the administration of Bush Sr and currently the president of the Council on Foreign Relations–and Ray Takeyh, also at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Takeyh has suggested himself, at least some elements of the House of Saud aim to appease and contain the Iranians.

[T]he Gulf monarchies are eager to accommodate—as opposed to confront—Iran’s power.

Not so Cheney. Cheney may be somewhat isolated within the administration at times, but he remains untouchable. And he has a number of important Right Arabist allies who have long favored a more confrontational approach toward Iran. This include some diplomatic figures with very close ties to the House of Saud–including former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins–and much of the military brass, including former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni, who appeared to be “dovish” on Iraq because they opposed an invasion that set out to establish Iraqi Shiite rule but are more than anything, very hawkish on Iran.

Anti-Iranian Right Arabists–the ones who are most adamently opposed to engagement with the incumbent Iranian regime–are also adamently opposed to any withdrawal of US forces that would strenghten Shiite power in Iraq.

The Cheney, anti-Iranian Right Arabist line was on full display in Nawaf Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping into Iraq.”

One hopes [Bush] won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis…

There is reason to believe that the Bush administration, despite domestic pressure, will heed Saudi Arabia’s advice. Vice President Cheney’s visit to Riyadh last week to discuss the situation (there were no other stops on his marathon journey) underlines the preeminence of Saudi Arabia in the region and its importance to U.S. strategy in Iraq. But if a phased troop withdrawal does begin, the violence will escalate dramatically.

This is Op-Ed is not a Saudi warning to the Bush administration. I agree with those (including Bernhard at Moon of Alabama) who think Nawaf Obaid’s Op-Ed was a warning to the Democrats–although perhaps an unnecessary warning because most members of the Democratic leadership are bluffing in their “redeployment” banter and because many are quite hawkish on Iran.

But the Nawaf Obaid Op-Ed was also part of a Cheney campaign against Baker. That campaign was also on display earlier in the week when an unnamed official leaked word that Iranian-backed Hezbollah was training Sadrists in Iraq.

Ultimately, the split between Right Arabists has less to do with the House of Saud or Iran, as such, than it does with different approaches to Great Power Rivalry.

The Russians

There are signs that the key split over Iran turns on competing approaches to Russia. In this scenario, Cheney considers Iran (and Iraq) the venue for US rivalry with Russia (if not also China). Same goes for Cheney’s approach to the Caspian generally. Cheney is a Russia hawk and the big problem with the incumbent regime in Iran is not its hostility toward Israel but its strategic alliance with Russia.

Baker and Co. favor ongoing cooperation with Russia. Hence, they do not fear engagement with an Iranian regime allied with Russia. The same was true in their approach to Saddam after 1995, when he sought and received strategic support from Russia. For Cheney and Co. the crisis of Iraq was the crumbling of containment brought on by Saddam’s effective courting of the Russians (and the French) in the middle of the Clinton administration.
One urgent question that follows from this scenario: where to position incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates on this score?

One clue might be to trace the position of his mentor and booster, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the company he keeps.

Memo: Stephen Hadley on Maliki

Posted by Cutler on November 29, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

The New York Times is serving as an outlet for some powerful Bush administration messages on Iraq.

First, someone in the intelligence community leaked word to the Times of links between Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.  Did that one come from Right Arabist anti-Iran hawks at the CIA or DIA?  Or did it come from Cheney’s office?  In either event, it was arguably a clear shot at James Baker’s idea of direct dialogue with Iran.

Now, an “administration official” has provided the Times with the full text of an extraordinary Memo by Bush’s National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, reviewing the “political front” of US policy in Iraq and US relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.

Was this memo “leaked” against the wishes of the administration?  Or was it released?  It makes a difference.  As an accurate indicator of administration views, I would give far more weight to a leaked memo than one “approved” for public consumption as part of an initiative of some kind–especially on the eve of Bush’s meeting with Prime Minister Maliki.

Either way, read the full text of the Memo.  It is an incredibly clear, concise discussion of some very big issues.

Here is the stand out section on domestic Iraqi politics (aside from an equally important but passing reference to “the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad”:

Maliki should:…

Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM [Jaish al-Mahdi’s, the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] actors that do not eschew violence…

Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq

[W]e could help [Maliki] form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind…

[S]upport Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists…

If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base:

Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki

Engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.

All of this assumes that Maliki is the guy to do the deed.  The Memo doesn’t really focus on that issue.  But the US policy of seeking a political realignment is the news, whether it proceeds with Maliki or without him.

This political realignment matches on advocated by Charles Krauthammer in a recent column, discussed in a previous post.

Note that Hadley does not think that Sistani has become irrelevant.

Much of the political realignment turns on the idea of splitting the Shia, dumping Sadr, and replacing his bloc with Sunni forces in parliament.

What does this do to the question of regional autonomy in the Shiite south?  Sadr and his bloc oppose SCIRI plans for southern autonomy.  Does this political realignment aim to free Hakim to pursue such a plan?  Or is Hadley convinced that Hakim was bluffing about autonomy and the issue is a dead letter?

Bob Herbert’s War

Posted by Cutler on November 28, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 4 Comments

“We eat and drink while tomorrow they die.” — U2

Bob Herbert’s recent essay, “While Iraq Burns,” deserves comment on this blog for two reasons.

First, because he reiterates a favorite New York Times theme: the War in Iraq requires that Americans renounce unbridled desire and embrace mature responsiblity. I have discussed this theme in previous posts, here and here.

Second, because he invokes the voice of a student at Wesleyan University, the historically “progressive” elite liberal arts college where I am a professor. [A student who called my attention to the Herbert article also noticed that the University, which usually celebrates media attention linked to Wesleyan on its homepage, has thus far opted to skip this prominent depiction of Wesleyan campus sentiment.]

Here is a taste of Herbert’s prophetic jeremiad:

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns…

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war…

With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don’t even think about the war. They’re more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday’s test”…

This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name…

In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…

[T]he burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed…

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support…

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

One could argue that Herbert’s primary concern is the differential sacrifice being made by the “small cadre of volunteers.” Indeed, one might also note that many of these “volunteers” aren’t exactly swimming in disposable income and could use a massive pay hike so that they could join in the shopping fun.

But Herbert doesn’t seem interested in universal shopping as the antidote to inequality. Instead, the real “liberal” aim is universal sacrifice.

This is odd since Herbert sometimes seems to think that US soldiers in Iraq are dying “pointlessly.”

But is Herbert simply demanding that Wesleyan students “care” enough to demand the immediate withdrawal of US troops?

Why, then, invoke the classic “liberal” basis for intervention: the helpless women of Afghanistan Iraq who are increasingly victimized by… the US war machine? No. By “religious extremists” who force “non-Muslim women” to “wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Here is the liberal interventionist call that was always missing in a campaign to oust the secular Baathist government of Iraq! Now Iraq is our kind of mission. We’ll take it from here, Mr. President.

From now on it will be “collective sacrifice” and a “shared burden of responsibility.” Bring back the draft. Let’s fight this war like we fought World War II. Herbert hits all the common themes that Democrats use to prepare the cultural ground for fighting this war better than Bush.

On that basis, I prefer the culture described (accurately, I would argue) by the Wesleyan student quoted by Herbert.

This is a culture of “indifference” that serves as the basis for a new isolationism.

What is the relationship between indifference and an anti-war movement?

As the student says, “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq.” Or die in Iraq.

Herbert tries to suggest that “the Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…” This is the only thing Herbert wrote where I hope (and believe) he is wrong.

The “threshold of tolerance” for US deaths in Iraq is low by historical standards and anti-war activists can only hope it gets lower still. A New York Times inspired “culture of sacrifice,” by contrast, will only raise that threshold.

Impatience is a virtue for the anti-war movement. The advocates of greater US involvement in Iraq are the ones who would have to plead that “so far” US deaths and injuries in Iraq are low by historical standards.
The problem, for Herbert, seems to be that students are thinking only of themselves and do not go “beyond that.”

But what is beyond indifference? No government can fight and win a war on the basis of indifference. It is war that demands something “beyond” indifference: a willingness to fight, die, and accept paternalistic responsibility for the global “Other.”

Herbert focuses his paternalistic spotlight on particular “Others”: “innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies.”

Notice that Herbert doesn’t talk about Iraqis who are blasting the US out of Iraq. No wonder. It would hardly make sense to ask Wesleyan students to “adopt” these rather well armed insurgents as their paternalistic “responsibility.”

Between Herbert’s call for “collective sacrifice” and universal shopping, I’ll take shopping any day of the week.

Arlo Guthrie deserves the last word on the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving:

[T]here’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into
the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out. You know, if
one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.

And that’s what it is , the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and
all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come’s around on the
guitar…

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

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

Act II, Scene 2

Posted by Cutler on November 28, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

If Baker fails in his effort to push the Bush administration toward direct talks with Iran, then we will know that Cheney is still driving this ship.

Some evidence in this regard:

Time magazine:

Vice President Cheney, among others in the White House, is prepared to fight the recommendation about Iran and Syria. “He’s against engagement with Iran and Syria, and he’s very serious about waging policy battles when he disagrees,” one official said.

And Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker:

The main Middle East expert on the Vice-President’s staff is David Wurmser, a neoconservative who was a strident advocate for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Like many in Washington, Wurmser “believes that, so far, there’s been no price tag on Iran for its nuclear efforts and for its continuing agitation and intervention inside Iraq,” the consultant said. But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney’s office “want to end the regime,” the consultant said. “They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran.”

I have written at length about Wurmser in my ZNet article “Beyond Incompetence.”

Nevertheless, given Cheney’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia I think the more useful ZNet essay for this moment may be “The Devil Wears Persian,” in which I describe the July 2006 Israeli military action in Lebanon as “Act II” of the Bush revolution.

If so, then we may be in fore Act II, Scene 2.  Scene 1 didn’t exactly play out according to Right Zionist plans, although as I noted at the time (here and here) they were quick to blame the failures on the Olmert government.

Since that time, Olmert has changed the composition of his government, adding Avigdor Lieberman–leader of the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party and formerly an aide to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu–to his coalition and handing responsibility for Iran policy to the hardliner.

Now comes the New York Times headline that Hezbollah has been training the Shiite Sadrist Mahdi Army in Iraq.

Hold on to your hats, folks.

Arabists Arrive

Posted by Cutler on November 27, 2006
Right Arabists / No Comments

There are a bunch of signs that the Bush administration might be getting ready to roll out a set of new Right Arabist Middle East initiatives.

1. Cheney in Saudi Arabia, explaining the new deal and asking for help. In exchange, the US is returning to the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track.

2. The key Right Arabist “asset” in Egypt–Mubarak’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman–is back in action, preparing the way for movement on the Palestinian front.

[Hamas political leader Khaled] Meshal arrived in Cairo late Thursday for talks with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, on the prisoner exchange and unity government

His visit was planned for the end of last October, but was postponed for unknown reasons. Arab media outlets speculated that Meshal’s arrival in Cairo signals that Hamas is ready to negotiate on the issue of [kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit’s release, with Egypt brokering a potential deal.

Suleiman’s efforts have resulted in a surprise ceasefire in Gaza. No sign yet of a unity government as Fatah allegedly makes a bid to reclaim the Interior Ministry.

3. C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, is also back in the game. Welch has been pretty quiet since his last effort to coordinate Egyptian mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. That effort went up in smoke with the July 2006 Israeli military campaign in Lebanon.

Welch is praying that the “rejectionists” in Israel and Syria will not undermine him this time. Slim chance. Elliott Abrams is presumably supposed to keep Israeli rejectionists in line. And Syria has already spoken on the issue with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.

Here is Welch’s prayer:

“We’re not making any direct accusations, but let me say that the trends and the record seem to be very clear,” C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said in an interview Wednesday with al-Arabiya Television. “The implication that Syria may be involved is, of course, a very heavy one, but the burden of responsibility that Syria bears not to interfere in the situation in Lebanon could not be more important than at this moment.”

4. Bush on his way to a meeting in Jordan with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. In advance of the meeting, Jordanian King Abdullah has this to say:

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” [Jordanian King] Abdullah said he remained hopeful a summit he will host this week in Amman with President George W. Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will somehow lower the sectarian violence that threatens to push Iraq into all-out civil war.

We hope there will be something dramatic. The challenges, obviously, in front of both of them are immense,” the king said.

Can it be a coincidence that the meeting will take place in Jordan, where some of the obvious potential leaders of a would-be “dramatic” anti-Shiite coup are in waiting? As warnings go, this one to Maliki is hardly subtle.

Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on November 26, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Uncategorized / No Comments

In a June 2006 post, I argued that some Right Arabists are quite hawkish toward Iran.  I also noted that some Right Zionists are quite wary of the motivations and methods of Right Arabists who support regime change in Iran.

The primary Right Arabist venue for regime change in Iraq is the Mujaheddin-e Khalq [MEK, but sometimes called MKO; also the People’s Mojahedin of Iran; also National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)] with support from the Iran Policy Committee.

Just to connect the dots: MEK has support within Iraq, but not from the favorite clients of the Right Zionists.  Instead, the biggest fans of the MEK are ex-Baathists.

No surprise here, since the MEK was very close with the old Baathist regime.

But a recent MEK press release makes the link quite explicit:

NCRI – A meeting initiated by the U.S. Congressmen Bob Filner (D-CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Ed Towns (D-NY) took place during a three-day symposium on Iran and Iraq at the U.S. Congress.

The purpose of this meeting was to examine the negative consequences of the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq and to determine how to support the Iranian opposition – the People’s Mojahedin – based in Ashraf City, Iraq, as the main impediment to the expansion of fundamentalism in this country.

In her message, Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, called on Congress to take the initiative for a firm policy towards Tehran’s regime and to expel it from Iraq.

Dr Saleh Mutlaq, Chairman of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, made a speech by telephone from Iraq, denouncing the mullahs’ efforts to prevent the establishment of a democratic, independent government in Iraq. He also announced his support for the People’s Mojahedin and paid tribute to their actions

Dick Armey, former republican House Majority Leader and chairman of the think-tank FreedomWorks, introduced his 250-page report about Iran, the foreign policy challenges, the solutions and the democratic opposition, in which he collected the positions of American political and legal experts….

Its introduction underlines, as many in the United States and in the world believe, that a regime change in Iran is feasible by supporting the democratic organizations of this country, notably the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

Consequently, following detailed research, the report urges the removal of the PMOI and the National Council of Resistance of Iran from the US State Department terrorism list in order to make this change possible in Iran.

When Right Arabists court ex-Baathists in Iraq, Saleh Mutlaq (also, Saleh Mutlak) is one of the key go to guys.

If the cry is “bring back the Baath,” does this not also imply regime change in Iran?

Coopting Sadr

Posted by Cutler on November 25, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized / No Comments

In the past, I have argued that all US foreign policy factions seem to hate Sadr.  But somebody in the US foreign policy elite thinks Sadr can serve some purpose.

Amidst all the recent attacks on Sadrists and the reprisals, Ed Wong includes this small, cryptic remark in his New York Times reporting:

Some American officials also argue that Mr. Sadr’s engagement in politics is necessary for any hope of a peaceful disarmament of his thousands-strong militia, which has twice rebelled against the American military.

Which American officials make this argument?  Wouldn’t that be interesting to know?  And why would Sadr’s engagement in politics help bring about the disarmament of his militia?

Isn’t this remark a reference to “some” American officials who believe that Sadr might serve as a bulwark against “foreign” influence within his own rank and file?

At least one July 7, 2006 Associated Press report suggested that the US may be trying to distinguish between Sadr and breakaway Shiite militia forces.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants in a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad early Friday, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said…

The U.S. military said the raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum was launched to apprehend “an insurgent leader responsible for numerous deaths of Iraqi citizens.” He was arrested after a gunbattle between Iraqi forces and insurgents, the U.S. said…

U.S. officials did not identify the insurgent leader but residents of the Shiite neighborhood said he was Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The U.S. statement said the militant leader was involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

An Iraqi army officer said the Americans had provided them with a list of names of people to be arrested in Sadr City.

As I commented in a post in early August, Sadr may be willing to preside over the disarming of those elements of his Mahdi Army engaged in sectarian violence.

Reporting in the Financial Times tends to support this analysis:

In a Friday sermon, Mr Sadr challenged Hareth al-Dhari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is probably Iraq’s most influential Sunni institution, to condemn the attacks and forbid his followers from joining organisations such as al-Qaeda that target Shia civilians.

Mr Dhari must “issue a fatwa prohibiting the killing of Shia so as to preserve Muslim blood and must prohibit membership of al- Qaeda or any other organisation that has made [the Shia] their enemies”, Mr Sadr said. If the senior Sunni cleric did so, Mr Sadr said, he would support the revocation of the arrest warrant against him.

Mr Dhari, currently outside Iraq after the government issued a warrant against him for incitement to violence, has said that al-Qaeda practises legitimate “resistance”.

Politicians from the Sadrist movement threatened to pull out of the government if Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, were to go through with a meeting with President George W. Bush scheduled for next week in Jordan.

The Sadrists accuse Washington of putting pressure on Mr Maliki’s government to disarm Shia militias, which they say inhibits their ability to defend themselves against Sunni extremists. The boycott threats may be an attempt to deflect Shia anger away from the Sunni and towards the Americans, a strategy that has been surprisingly effective since the 2003 invasion in limiting reprisals for attacks such as the Thursday blasts.

The attacks appeared to have heightened internal tensions within the movement, whose leadership has consistently called for Iraqi unity but whose rank and file are blamed for a significant proportion, if not the majority, of the thousands of sectarian killings that have taken place over the past nine months.

Mr Sadr issued a statement immediately after the attack calling for restraint and ordering his followers not to carry out any action without consulting the Shia clerical hierarchy. But a significant proportion of his followers believe that their only safety lies in militias such as the Mahdi Army taking the fight to the Wahhabis, or anti-Shia puritans, a category into which an increasing number of Sunnis appear to be lumped.

Who in the US would be most likely to be willing or able to see Sadr as a force for Iraqi unity against sectarian civil war?

Bashar and Baker

Posted by Cutler on November 23, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Syria / No Comments

It would seem that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel–a leading figure from the Lebanese “Cedar Revolution” and a member of a very prominent Maronite Christian family–has undermined James Baker’s plans for engagement with the Syrian regime less likely, at least for now.

The very fact that Baker–along with Tony Blair and some political elites in Israel–were pressing for a dialogue with the Syrian regime makes it all the more surprising that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have chosen this moment to flaunt his capacity for political violence.

There are two related ways of understanding how events might have moved toward a Syrian attack on Gemayel and his alllies in the so-called “March 14” movement.

First, even as Baker and Co. were pressing for engagement with Syria, Right Zionists and US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, were pressing for a tribunal to hear evidence against those allegedly involved in the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In a September 1, 2006 Washington Post column, for example, Charles Krauthammer had this to say about US relations with Syria.

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

And John Bolton was, indeed, aggressive–even as the Russians and Syrians tried to delay an agreement on a the formation of an international tribunal while Syria’s allies pressed for enhanced political power in Lebanon.  According to a November 8, 2006 report in the New York Sun:

The United Nations is pushing for the tribunal to be organized as quickly as possible, even before the completion of the U.N. investigation into the February 2005 Hariri assassination, a U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told The New York Sun yesterday.

“We’ve got a number of changes we want, but we’re very concerned to move quickly to set up the tribunal,” the American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said yesterday. “We think that’s very important to do as a political signal.”

Presumably, this was not exactly the same “political signal” that James Baker was trying to send to Demascus.

But the Bolton v. Baker split is not the only factional angle to this story.

There may also be a similar split within the Syrian regime itself.

Speculate a bit: Bashar may not have a firm grip on power in Syria.

On the one hand, the US, France, and Saudi Arabia have already cultivated an alternative “government in waiting” prepared to step in at any moment.  This, along with the outreach of figures like James Baker and Tony Blair, make it very attractive for Bashar al-Assad to adopt a moderate approach to regional relations.

On the other hand, if an accord with the US means submitting to an international tribunal then Bashar may be either unable or unwilling to cross that bridge.

In a November 22, 2006 Daily Star editorial, Michael Young makes the point:

The tribunal is Syria’s Achilles heel. Even if a mid-level intelligence operative is accused, the centralized nature of the Syrian system is such that prosecutors will soon end up at the peak of the security apparatus, perhaps reaching into President Bashar Assad’s inner sanctum. The fight over the future of the Syrian regime is taking place now, and the only option Assad might be left with if the process goes through is to rid himself of essential pillars of support. This could be as damaging to him as being held personally responsible for ordering the Hariri hit.

Let’s be more clear: the pillar of support in question is Bashar al-Assad’s own family.

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.

Is Bashar al-Assad seeking to protect his brother-in-law Assaf Shawkat? Or, is Shawkat seeking to protect himself, without the knowledge or approval of the Syrian President?

If US officials believe that Bashar al-Assad is in a battle with Shawkat for control of Syria then Baker will find his way to Damascus, sooner or later.

If US officials believe that Bashar al-Assad has made his peace with Shawkat, then it would not be surprising to wake up to news of a coup in Syria one of these days.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Posted by Cutler on November 21, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

-Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler

All the “adults”–Kissinger, Baker, Brzezinski, Gates, Blair–are working from the same parenting handbook when approaching Bush administration policy toward the Gulf: use your words.

Not surprisingly, Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht is dubious. In the latest missive from his perch at AEI–“Bartering with Nothing“–Gerecht poses some questions about dialogue with Iran.

What can be traded and bargained? What in the world can the United States give the Islamic Republic… that they do not have already?…

Beyond seeing Saddam go down, the most significant gain for the ruling clergy has been the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiite community. The greatest mid- to long-term threat in post-Saddam Iraq to Iran’s ruling mullahs had been the possible triumph of the moderate Shia, led by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who carries on a political tradition that Iran’s leading cleric, Ali Khamenei, detests. Clerics always think about other clerics; Iran’s political priesthood has always worried first about clerical dissent and religious threats to its power. Iraq’s turmoil has been very good for Khamenei and Iraq’s politicized young clergy, who want to upset the traditional, moderate clergy in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf. The chaos in Iraq–the sectarian strife–has nearly neutered Sistani, who tried mightily to prevent the unleashing of Shiite revenge against the Sunni insurgency’s attacks on his flock.

Emphasize “nearly.” If you were the Iranian mullahs, you would want this radicalization of the Iraqi Shia to keep going… With violence, Sistani and the moderate clergy will continue to collapse and the Americans will bleed…

So what does the United States have to offer the Iranian clergy that might tempt them to compromise their interests in Iraq? Well, there is the bomb… [A] true realpolitician would threaten the regime’s most cherished plans–its nuclear program. Yet in the Gates-Brzezinski colloquy on Iran, Gates conceded a nuclear weapon to the clergy. This is an odd position to take before even trying to enter into “negotiations.”…

To enter into a conference–assuming the Syrians and the Iranians would deign to participate–from a position of weakness is to guarantee that you exit weaker than when you went in.

I add only one note to this analysis: it is shared by at least one prominent Right Arabist, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci.

In the 2004 Gates/Brzezinski report on Iran, Carlucci served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, but added a “dissenting view” in an appendix to the report. Carlucci sounds as sober about negotiations with Iran as Gerecht:

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

An interesting note of consensus between a leading Right Zionist and a leading Right Arabist.

Just to be clear, though: neither Carlucci nor Gerecht are likely to agree that it is time to fold ‘em, to walk away, or to run.

Gerecht, at least, has a suggestion:

If for some reason the president feels compelled to try to convene such a conference or bilateral talks with Syria or Iran on Iraq, he would do America’s diplomats a big favor by announcing first that 50,000 new troops are on their way to Mesopotamia and that we intend to slug this out until we win.

Oh, Henry

Posted by Cutler on November 20, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Henry Kissinger’s BBC interview is making headlines that suggest Kissinger has given up on the idea of a US military victory in Iraq.

This is going to get all kinds of folks excited because it seems to imply that Kissinger is ready to wave a white flag and retreat from Iraq. It just isn’t so.

Kissinger is making the big headlines. But Brent Scowcroft is also lowering expectatiosn on Iraq. He was quoted on the front page of the New York Times:

“Things are so difficult and so complicated, it may be beyond anyone’s ability to be successful,” said Brent Scowcroft, a mentor and admirer of Mr. Gates.

But neither of these guys are advocating US withdrawal. Scowcroft made this clear last week. And Kissinger warns that withdrawal would yield catastrophic results that would inevitably draw us right back into the region:

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it’s a very unfortunate situation. But that doesn’t help us, I mean saying that doesn’t help us in the process of extricating ourselves, extricating is clearly a word I don’t like, or of finding a solution which does not make the situation in the region worse, and worse for all of us, that is the big challenge that we’re facing…

ANDREW MARR: Given that, what would you say to all those people who say well let’s bring all the troops home now? What’s the downside of a fast and total withdrawal, both by American and by British troops now?

HENRY KISSINGER: Well if we were to withdraw all the forces without any international understanding and without any even partial solution of some of the problems, the civil war in Iraq will take on even more violent forms and the chief dimensions that are probably exceeding those that brought us into Yugoslavia with military forces, all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised.

So I think a dramatic collapse of Iraq, whatever we think of how the situation was created, would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years, and which would bring us back in one way or another into the region.

None of this is really about the military front. It is about the political front. As always, most of the sharpest debates in Washington have turned on questions of geopolitical strategy, not military tactics.

Consider, for example, Kissinger’s prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq.

Who is he talking about? Is he warning that Iran would be destabilised? Or is he talking about Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even Pakistan?

Today, most of the chatter that is ostensibly about Iraq is really about US policy toward Iran and Iran’s relation to the Gulf–even as Iran’s regional proxy, Hezbollah, flexes its muscles in Lebanon.

Here is Kissinger on Iran, from the BBC interview:

ANDREW MARR: What about the Iranians, Dr. Kissinger, do you envisage any likelihood of Washington opening a new dialogue with President Ahmadinejad given some of the things he’s been saying recently again about Israel?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it would probably be better, first the answer to your question is yes, I believe America has to be in some dialogue with Iran.

But it seems to me the fundamental problem is, does Iran conduct itself as a crusade or as a nation? If Iran is a nation it should be possible to define a relationship in which Iran together with all interested parties contributes to stability in the region, and plays a respected role.

If Iran is a crusade that is trying to overthrow the international system as we know it, which is the way the Iranian president talks, then it will be extremely difficult to come to a negotiated solution.

Here, Kissinger is riffing on a theme he introduced in a July 31, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled, “Next Steps with Iran.”

A modern, strong, peaceful Iran could become a pillar of stability and progress in the region. This cannot happen unless Iran’s leaders decide whether they are representing a cause or a nation — whether their basic motivation is crusading or international cooperation. The goal of the diplomacy of the Six should be to oblige Iran to confront this choice.

Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks — or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability.

The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America — and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six — is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.

In light of this scenario, I think it seemss plausible to think that Kissinger’s BBC prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq is not about the collapse of Iran but the threat Iran poses to Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Pakistan.

What is the US prepared to offer Iran in exchange for becoming “a pillar of stability and progress in the region”? How much of Iraq is on the table? Say, control of southern Iraq?

ANDREW MARR: And do you think there might be, it might be necessary to divide Iraq, for Iraq to come apart in two or three pieces?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think that might be an outcome, but it would be better not to organise it that way on a formal basis.

What happens if “engagement” with Iran fails?

Some Neocons are already sure such engagement is doomed and have their answer: “Bomb Iran.”

What is Kissinger prepared to do if Iran makes the “wrong” choices?

In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Is that Kissinger-speak for “Bomb Iran”?

Syria

Posted by Cutler on November 18, 2006
Syria / 1 Comment

Some Israeli foreign policy figures–chiefly those linked to the Labor Party, including David Kimche–want to try to pry Syria away from Iran.

This idea is also popular with some Right Arabists in the US who want to break the Syrian-Iranian link in order bring Syria back into the Arab fold (recall that Syria backed Iran in the Arab-backed Iraqi war against Iran during the 1980s).

There could be lots of reasons to want to court the Syrians (not all at the expense of Iran). One crucial reason might be oil.

If you want to pipe oil to the Mediterranean from either the Kurdish north of Iraq it would be very helpful to have Syrian support, especially insofar as the Turks not so happy transporting Kurdish oil out of an increasingly independent Kurdistan. Look at a map.

Just a thought.

A Shiite Option?

Posted by Cutler on November 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “era of elections” in Iraq, which began in January 2005, may well be remembered as the time when the US was loosely aligned with Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

The Jaafari and Maliki governments (led by the Shiite “Dawa” party) that have ruled Iraq during the era of elections have been dependent on Sadrist political forces.

A change might be in the works. Not an anti-Shiite coup, exactly. But a move against Maliki and Sadr–led by SCIRI, Dawa’s major Shiite political party rival.

If so, such a simple government re-shuffle would potentially also represent an enormous change in US policy because SCIRI strongly supports the break up of Iraq into three highly autonomous zones each with independent control of oil resources.

[Joseph Biden–incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–is also a strong supporter of the break up of Iraq. Did the mid-term election results help generate a change in US policy relative to the idea of partition?]
Partition would mark the “end of Iraq” as an Arab nation and would dramatically tilt the regional balance of power away from a Sunni Arab Gulf and toward a Shia Gulf.

Right Zionist Charles Krauthammer advocates such an Iraqi government re-shuffle in a November 17, 2006 Washington Post column, “Why Iraq is Crumbling.”

Last month American soldiers captured a Mahdi Army death squad leader in Baghdad — only to be forced to turn him loose on order of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Two weeks ago, we were ordered, again by Maliki, to take down the barricades we had established around Sadr City in search of another notorious death squad leader and a missing American soldier.

This is no way to conduct a war. The Maliki government is a failure

Fortunately, however, the ruling Shiites do not have much internal cohesion. Just last month two of the major Shiite religious parties that underpin the Maliki government engaged in savage combat against each other in Amarah.

There is a glimmer of hope in this breakdown of the Shiite front. The unitary Shiite government having been proved such a failure, we should be encouraging the full breakup of the Shiite front in pursuit of a new coalition based on cross-sectarian alliances: the more moderate Shiite elements (secular and religious but excluding the poisonous Sadr), the Kurds and those Sunnis who recognize their minority status but are willing to accept an important, generously offered place at the table.

Such a coalition was almost created after the latest Iraqi elections. It needs to be attempted again.

The clashes in Amarah mentioned by Krauthammer were between two Shiite militias, Sadr’s Mahdi Army and SCIRI’s Badr Brigades.

And the coalition that was “almost created” after the last Iraqi elections was the one that the US pushed at the time: a government run by SCIRI with Abdil al-Mahdi (also Adel Abdel Mahdi, Abdel Mahdi, or Adil Abdul Mahdi) as Prime Minister.

A February 19, 2006 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “The Shiite Choice,” seemed mystified by the US preference for al-Mahdi:

U.S. diplomats seemed to favor Mr. Mahdi for some reason. But unlike Sciri, Mr. Jaafari and his Dawa Party don’t seem dependent on Tehran and are unquestionably indigenous Iraqi patriots.

The Dawa Party–especially in alliance with Sadr–represented a vote of confidence in Iraqi nationalism. Mahdi and Sciri, by contrast, raises the specter of a tilt toward Tehran.

The Journal editorial also notes that Mahdi lost “the permanent nod by a single vote” within the council of the ruling Shiite alliance.

Krauthammer has now offered an unambiguous endorsement of a SCIRI-led Shiite government.

It would be an enormous surprise if the Bush administration actually embraced the idea.

Why? Because the “SCIRI Option” is, in essence, “Plan A” for Iraq, as originally outlined by the Neoconservatives.

With Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, out at the Pentagon and Robert Gates and the Baker Commission preparing for power, it would seem easy enough to dismiss Krauthammer’s call for a new government as revealing about the Neocons, but irrelevant for a Bush administration replete with Right Arabists.

But then comes a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed by Laura Rozen entitled “Unleash the Shiites?” (thanks b) that claims some support for this option within the Bush administration:

This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward…

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option…

[T]he strategy could drive Iraq’s Sunni tribes to align themselves more closely with Al Qaeda. And it seems certain to further alienate Iraq’s Sunni neighbors and erstwhile U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan — while strengthening Iran’s hand in Iraq.

Combine this speculation with the Monica Duffy Toft Washington Post Op-Ed on the “Shiite option,” discussed in a previous post, and one begins to reconsider the death of the Right Zionist plans for Iraq.

On the assumption that personnel is politics, Right Zionists have been quite demoralized by the appointment of Robert Gates.

If Right Zionists are losing influence in Washington, however, it is possible that their favored “proxies” in Baghdad will render the Right Zionists victors in absentia.

If so, then the recent victories began with the extraordinary Iraqi parliamentary vote which established the framework for the creation of a massive, autonomous Shiite region in the oil-rich south of Iraq.

During the session, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani — the parliament speaker, a Sunni Arab belonging to one of the boycotting parties — announced that quorum had been reached and called for a vote. He then left the chambers to join the walkout, handing over his duties to his Shiite deputy, Khaled al-Attiya.

Did al-Mashhadani defy the Right Arabist US Ambassador? If so, was he not implicitly doing the bidding of Right Zionists?

At the time, the vote was taken by some observers to represent a loss for the Bush administration.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

A frontal rebuke to Right Arabists, yes.

A frontal rebuke to Right Zionists? Maybe not.

[Add to this the following potentially huge news:

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani declared on state television late Thursday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most outspoken defenders of Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs after the U.S.-led invasion.

This would represent an extraordinary break with prior US attempts to court the Sunni minority.

Bolani’s roots are not with SCIRI, but they are with Shiites who favor regional autonomy and who have backed efforts to help the Badr Brigades win control away from rival militias in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

More signs of a reinvigorated SCIRI-led Shiite option?]

Our Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

When was the last time that competing US foreign policy factions backed different sides in a civil war? (Not a rhetorical question). What are the consequences?These questions are sparked by two somewhat obscure Op-Eds.

The more pominent of the two was published by Harvard’s Monica Duffy Toft in the Washington Post and entitled “Iraq is Gone. Now What?

Toft, whose website notes that her research is funded by the conservative Smith Richardson Foundation, argues that it is too late to hope for political reconciliation in Iraq. Civil war being what it is, it is now time to ask, “Which side are you on?” Which side within that civil war?

Some 3 1/2 years after the U.S. invasion, most scholars and policy analysts accept that Iraq is now in a civil war…

A negotiated settlement is what the United States has attempted to implement for the past two years in Iraq, and it is failing

Military victories, by contrast, historically result in the most stable outcomes.

[T]he United States is now faced with an awful choice: leave and allow events to run their course or lend its dwindling support to one or more of the emerging states.

If it supports the Kurds and Shiites — the two peoples most abused under Hussein, most betrayed by the United States since 1990 and, as a result, the two most worthy of our support on moral grounds — it risks alienating important regional allies: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. On the other hand, doing the right thing (supporting the Shiites) also means doing the most practical thing, which is ensuring a stable peace and establishing long-term prospects for democracy and economic development. As a bonus, it is possible that U.S. support of the Shiite majority might pay diplomatic dividends as regards Iran’s impending nuclearization.

If the United States supports the Sunnis, it will be in a position very close to its Vietnam experience: struggling to underwrite the survival of a militarily untenable, corrupt and formerly brutal minority regime with no hope of gaining broader legitimacy in the territory of the former Iraq.

Moreover, even if successful, supporting the Sunnis — in effect the incumbents in what was until recently a brutal dictatorship — will result in a much greater likelihood of future war and regional instability (not to mention authoritarianism), even with a formidable U.S. military presence (and the less-than-formidable U.S. presence has already become politically untenable in the United States).

I may be going out on an interpretive limb here, but I read Toft to be signing on in support of the Shiites in the Iraqi civil war. Yes?

I’m not sure how much Toft’s vote matters, but I find it interesting that she is picking sides.

On the flip side of the American civil war over Iraq is an Op-ed whose status seems a bit shakey. It is an essay entitled “Why We Must Embrace the Sunnis.” Allegedly authored by “Tim Greene” it first appeared on the website of “Global Politician.” It appears to have been withdrawn from the site, although the cache is available and it was picked up on third party sites before it disappeared from Global Politician.

Why track down such an obscure publication?

First, because the author, “Tim Greene,” is identified in the following way:

Tim Greene is Chief of the Anti-terrorism training section under the U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) at Camp Muwaqqar, Amman. Tim is currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.

A very interesting job. ICITAP is an interesting shop, to say the least.

Anyway, Tim Greene has written a rabidly anti-Shiite tract, even as he apparently sits in Jordan where some of the obvious potential leaders of a would-be anti-Shiite coup are in waiting.

It is evident – from this man on the ground – that the Shiites cannot govern, the militias are in revenge mode and will never be disarmed or disbanded by a Shiite leader, and they are spreading their chaos more and more throughout the country. Iran meanwhile is loving each and every minute of it and even supporting Shiites financially, with training and with weapons (helpfully smuggled across the border).

With this continued ruling of the country by Shiite parties and militias we will see the entire Middle East region destabilize more and more. In my opinion it is the beginning of an ethnic war… a holy war that has to be controlled now by whatever force and relationships are necessary to control it…

Shiite religious clerics, starting with the top Ayatollah Ali Khomeini of Iran and down to Ali Sistani, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim and Moqtada Al-Sadr could control the Shiite militias and death squads if they wanted to. All that has to happen is for Khomeini to order a cessation – ordering Sistani who will then hand the order down to Hakim and Sadr.
(The Shiites are after all extremely loyal to their religious clerics. Whatever they say is the truth, regardless of reality, fact or fiction.)

Alas, that order will never come, because they don’t want it to come. They will issue a fatwa (death order) and jihad (holy war) against the US and Coalition Forces and the Sunni ethnic population before they ever help us get control through Shiite religious ties.

So yes, the Shiites should expect the US and Coalition governments to shift their support and now is the time to do that. Although it will prove difficult to change positions, to take down the militias and get back peace and security in Iraq, the Sunnis are the group to lead us to the required balance for that “victory”, I am confident.

So, there you have it. A civil war. Or two civil wars: one in Iraq; one in Washington.

Which Side Are You On?

The Democrats and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on November 13, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

New York Times headline: “Democrats Push for Troop Cuts Within Months.” Reuters: “U.S. Democrats say will push for Iraq withdrawal

So, were the Republicans right all along? Do leading Democratics really want to “cut and run” after all?

Would that it were so.

The most prominent voice cited by the Times is that of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee. What is Levin actually saying?

“We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months,” Mr. Levin said in an appearance on the ABC News program “This Week.” In a telephone interview later, Mr. Levin added, “The point of this is to signal to the Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over and that they are going to have to solve their own problems.”

Levin’s approach is fundamentally tactical. There is no retreat here. Levin proposes to threaten the Iraqi government with US military withdrawal in order to maximize US political leverage in Iraq.

Set aside, for the moment, the bizarre spectacle of an occupying army threatening to withdrawal from a country in which the vast majority of the population allegedly favors a US withdrawal.

As the New York Times article makes clear, Levin is bluffing:

In the interview after his television appearance today, Mr. Levin said that any resolution about troop reductions in the next session of Congress would not include detailed benchmarks mandating how many troops should be withdrawn by specific dates.

And, now that the mid-term election campaigning is over, the White House is perfectly willing to acknowledge that Levin isn’t really saying anything they do not support.

The White House signaled a willingness to listen to the Democrats’ proposals, with Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, saying in two television appearances that the president was open to “fresh ideas” and a “fresh look.”…

“You know, we’re willing to talk about anything,” he said on “This Week.” “I don’t think we’re going to be receptive to the notion there’s a fixed timetable at which we automatically pull out, because that could be a true disaster for the Iraqi people. But what we’ve always been prepared to do, and remain prepared to do, is indeed what Senators Levin and Biden were talking about, is put pressure on the Iraqi government to take over themselves.”

What does Levin aim to accomplish with all this “pressure” on the Iraqi government?

The position was most clearly articulated in Levin’s June 19, 2006 “sense of the Congress” amendment regarding Iraq policy, the full text of which is available here.

Sectarian violence has surpassed the insurgency and terrorism as the main security threat in Iraq, increasing the prospects of a broader civil war which could draw in Iraq’s neighbors…

Iraq’s security forces are heavily infiltrated by sectarian militia…

The current open-ended commitment of United States forces in Iraq is… a deterrent to the Iraqis making the political compromises and personnel and resource commitments that are needed for the stability and security of Iraq…

[T]he Iraq Government should promptly and decisively disarm the militias and remove those members of the Iraqi security forces whose loyalty to the Iraq Government is in doubt…

As John McCain understands, there is a simpler way of saying all that.

Appearing on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” Mr. McCain said that “the present situation is unacceptable,”…

Emphasizing the importance of breaking the back of the Mahdi Army, the militia allied with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. McCain said the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, “has to understand that we need to put down Sadr, and we need to take care of the Mahdi Army, and we need to stop the sectarian violence that is on the increase in a non-acceptable level.”

Or, as McCain said last week: “al-Sadr has to be taken out.”

Thank heavens. The “moderates” have taken control in Washington.

Here is the blood thirsty war cry of Vice President Cheney from a pre-election, October 30, 2006 interview:

Q: …And I also want to ask you, in that same vain of American toughness in winning the war, this guy al Sadr is still out there. There’s been a warrant for his arrest for three years. His death squads, his militias, they’re killing rival Shias, they’re killing Sunnis. They tried to plot to take over the interior department in Baghdad. Why is he still on the loose? A lot of people say, why don’t we rub out al Sadr? Why don’t we take him into custody? That would be a sign of winning.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we’ve moved — obviously, we took the chief bad guy in Saddam Hussein, and he’s on trial now…

Q But al Sadr stays out there —

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well —

Q — capture.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: He is — obviously speaks for a significant number of Iraqis, has a strong following.

Is it me, or do the “moderates” seem a little trigger happy now that the election has passed?

Maybe that is because they aren’t really “moderate” about Iraq. They are simply bi-partisan in their radical approach to the war in Iraq.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Right Arabists to bring the troops home.  If they are going to try to put the Shiite “genie” back in the bottle with an anti-Shiite coup, they are going to have a lot of killing to do.
Here is a recent Brent Scowcroft interview from Turkey:

Question: You were opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Do you feel vindicated now that we see chaos there? How do you see the situation as it is today and what do you see for the future?

Scowcroft: No, I don’t have any feeling of satisfaction. Regardless of how we got there, we are there, and it is a difficult situation. Far more difficult than the administration expected. And it will be increasingly hard to stay in because it has become an unusually important issue in domestic U.S. politics. But I think we have to stay and try and manage the situation to get some kind of a resolution where we can have an Iraq that is relatively stable.

The Right Arabists will not withdraw from Iraq.

And, just for the record, they will not embrace Biden’s partition plan (no surprise here):

Question: The notion of dividing Iraq along Ottoman lines is being voiced by some in Washington. Do you think this idea will capture the imagination of the U.S. people who clearly want to see a way out of what is evidently a growing mess?…

Scowcroft: There are serious people that have advocated this. For me it is inconceivable.

It is depressing to acknowledge, but one possible scenario is that Rumsfeld was dumped to make way for someone willing to forget about “military transformation” and “force protection” and do the dirty deed that Rumsfeld refused to do: send more troops.

A pity that this has the look of a concession to “critics” who demanded nothing less.

Ellen Willis, 1941-2006

Posted by Cutler on November 10, 2006
Uncategorized / 3 Comments

Ellen WillisEllen Willis died on Thursday, November 9, 2006.

Parents may not always want to proudly claim their children and it is only right that children often rebel. But if I were to name my intellectual and political parents, they would be Stanley Aronowitz and Ellen Willis.

Ellen’s Left

One simple, if simplistic, way of mapping divisions in the political world is to picture a two-by-two table with four cells representing different political tendancies: along one “economic” axis exists a spectrum that runs from “Capital” to “Labor.” A second “cultural” axis runs along a spectrum from “Communitarian” to “Libertarian.”

It is pretty easy to fill in the cells on the Right:

Capital/Libertarian: the radical, free market, anti-regulatory Right. Fill in with Cato Institute, etc.

Capital/Communitarian: the pro-business and culturally conservative Right. Think of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

The Left is more difficult.

Isn’t it tempting to put the entire Left into the Labor/Communitarian cell? After all, the “Left” has been, for the most part, defined by its Communitarian and/or Collectivist impulses. Leftists are, almost by definition, critics of Capital and its culture of decadence, perversity, and sin. No?

When I try to draw this map on the board in a classroom, students are often stumped by the final empty space, unable to name anyone who belongs in the Labor/Libertarian terrain.

Since the culturally conservative backlash of the 1980s, that space has been occupied and preserved almost single-handedly by Ellen Willis.

Nobody was better at exposing authoritarianism on the Left or tracing hidden utopianism on the Right.

If you haven’t read anything written by Ellen Willis, you might start with her critique of Thomas Frank or her essay, “The Mass Psychology of Terrorism.”

At some point, though, you have got to read “Towards a Feminist Sexual Revolution” (originally published in Social Text, Vol. 11, No. 3, Fall 1982, pp. 3-21.) It is an extraordinary manifesto for a gender politics that embraces sexual freedom and cultural radicalism.

The obituary published in the New York Times quotes Ellen saying that her “deepest impulses are optimistic.” The political and intellectual roots of that optimism is in Ellen’s axiomatic commitments to the socio-psychological insights of Wilhelm Reich. Ellen was the rightful heir to the legacy of Reich and his deeply anti-fascist political views on pleasure, culture and freedom.

In Ellen Willis, I have lost a mentor and a friend.

I fear that the Left has lost something more: its greatest champion of freedom and pleasure.

Against the War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 09, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 1 Comment

In a previous post, I proposed that the Financial Times might provide interesting coverage of the election:

[V]otes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Here is Ed Luce from the Financial Times on Wednesday, in an article entitled “Iraq War Decimates Republican Vote“:

Whether they were representing districts in America’s traditionally liberal north-east, in the more embattled swing states of the Midwest, along the ideologically pragmatic states of the west or even in conservative districts south of the Mason-Dixon line, Republican incumbents were punished for their association with President George W. Bush’s unpopular war in Iraq…

The principal story of the 2006 mid-term elections is that voters were driven by their opposition to the war in Iraq,” said Charlie Cook, whose Cook political report is widely read among pundits in Washington. “This was not a vote for the Democrats so much as against President Bush and against the war in Iraq.”

Financial Times, old faithful.

Bush to Neocons: Game Over

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Uncategorized / 3 Comments

So, Rumsfeld is out. Robert Gates is in.

I have a few quick thoughts, just for starters.

On Gates

Notwithstanding some interesting and complicated questions about his relationship to the mysterious William Casey, CIA director during the Reagan Administration, Gates is mostly known as a “pure and simple” Right Arabist. (Of course, the same might once have been said about Rumsfeld and Cheney).

As a member of the Baker Iraq Study Group, Gates has already come under fire from Right Zionists like Michael Rubin for favoring engagement with–rather than regime change in–Iran.

[Update: for a sense of Gates on Iran, see his work as co-chair (with Zbigniew Brzezinski) of a Council on Foreign Relations task force, including a July 2004 report entitled “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Perhaps the best place to start reading is the section on “Additional and Dissenting Views” toward the end of the report.  If Gates is a “moderate” on Iran, it is because the report disappoints Iran hawks and doves.  A figure like Shaul Bakhash fears that the call for engagement may be perceived as a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.  For an old Chevron executive like Richard Matzke–always eager to do business with the Iranian regime–the report is overly alarmist in its depiction of the incumbent regime.]

When he was nominated by Bush Sr. to be Director of Central Intelligence in 1991, the Guardian had the following profile of him (Simon Tisdall, “The CIA’s New Chameleon,” May 16, 1991):

[H]is nomination is not without paradox, and certainly not without controversy. According to a former, senior CIA agent who maintains close links with the organisation, the selection has caused nothing short of “gloom” in the operations branch… “He is viewed by people as a bureaucratic back-stabber, a Casey man. He rose through the ranks by staying in Washington and playing games.”

His more public image is indeed that of the consummate Washington insider. After 25 years with the CIA and the National Security Council, Gates, now 47, rose to become deputy national security adviser, Gen Brent Scowcroft’s right-hand man

According to Washington sources, Gates owes much to Casey, who elevated him to deputy director in 1986. Subsequently he is said to have become the protege of General Scowcroft, who strongly supported his nomination.

In Iraq, Scowcroft and the Right Arabists are hardly sympathetic to the idea of Shiite rule. Does the Gates nomination mark a restoration for Right Arabist policies in Iraq? A harsh crackdown on Sadr? An anti-Shiite coup?

I was far from certain that Bush’s flirtation’s with James Baker’s Iraq Study Group were genuine. I would say that the Gates nomination tends to suggest that these overtures to the Right Arabists were genuine.

Game over for the Bush administration Neocons.

And Cheney?

So, where does all this leave Cheney? I can think of three different pathways for the Vice President in all this:

1, Cheney is about to resign. He will find a reason (health, etc.) and make way for a Vice President (McCain?) who will then use the next to years to prepare for a 2008 run for the White House.

2. Cheney continues to support the Right Zionist position in Iraq, Iran, etc. and will now function as an extremely powerful dissident, sniping at the President for betraying the “freedom agenda,” etc. I find this highly unlikely.

3. Cheney has returned to his former life as a Right Arabist. Rumsfeld was “allowed” to resign in order to pave the way for a decisive policy shift toward re-Baathification, “stability” in Iraq, a government of national salvation, etc. The former policies will forever be linked to Rumsfeld who will take the fall, providing cover for his “young” Padawan, Richard B. Cheney.

I think the third pathway is the one upon which we have now embarked.

On the Democrats

Prior to the election, I emphasized the likely continuities between Bush administration Right Zionist policies in Iraq and Dem Zionist inclinations.

If, however, the Bush administration is returning to the policies of the administration of George H.W. Bush, then Dem Zionists may actually play the role of a true “opposition” movement, much as they did when they battled Right Arabists at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

At this point, many on the Left will feel compelled to decide between backing the Bush administration and rediscovering their own affinities with the Right Zionists.

Better to stay clear of what remains an intra-imperialist factional battle.

Bring the troops home. Now.

Israel, Iraq and the Elections

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

Were the midterm elections a referendum on the Right Zionist (aka “neocon”) war in Iraq?

Maybe. But as I’ve previously noted, the Democrats not particularly reliable opponents of Right Zionist policies in Iraq. The most strident critics of Right Zionist war aims in Iraq continue to be Republicans–specifically, the folks I call Right Arabists.

How will the midterm elections influence these battles?

With the control of the Senate still unclear at this writing, the broad contours of power have yet to be determined. Nevertheless, some of the details are clear.

Matthew E. Berger of the Jerusalem Post has written two articles that help map the terrain. The first report is an October 26, 2006 article entitled, “Is there an ally in the House?” and the second is from November 2, 2006 entitled, “Who’s good for the Jews?”

The October article makes some important points about areas to watch, given Democratic leadership in the House:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader who would become speaker of the House, is a strong pro-Israel supporter…

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, is in line to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee if the Democrats win. But some rumblings suggest other lawmakers – namely Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) – may bypass him because of Lantos’ support for the Iraq war. Privately, congressional aides say Lantos has been reassured by Pelosi that he will get the chairmanship; both men are considered strong backers of the Jewish state.

The more intriguing scenario rests on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) is in line to chair it. He has been an occasional critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and their influence over Middle East policy. But at the same time, pro-Israel advocates say he has been more than willing to cede issues to his subcommittee leaders, and the new foreign operations subcommittee chair would be Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a strong, proactive Israel backer.

Among House Democrats, most of the policy differences are measured within a broad, pro-Israel consensus. I guess one might keep an eye on David Obey.

If there is real “news” from the Senate race, it requires a little digging.

The headline story is that in places like Rhode Island, Democratic challengers defeated Republican incumbents. It looks, on the surface at least, like a rejection of Bush, Cheney and the “neocon” war.

Look more closely.

Incumbent Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee was a Right Arabist critic of the Neocons.

Just to get a flavor for his views, have a look at a Providence Journal Op-Ed he published on January 20, 2004 entitled, “Foes of ‘land for peace’ Put Mideast Peace at Risk” (registration required):

IN OCTOBER, I traveled with a delegation to Iraq. While in Mosul and Baghdad, I asked about Arabic graffiti we saw scrawled here and there. The answer from our escort was “Oh, a lot of it is crazy stuff about Israel — such as ‘Israel is taking over Iraq.’ The extremists use the Palestinian cause a lot in their propaganda.”…

[I]t is logical to conclude that the “global jihad” is intensified greatly by the dispute over this land... [T]he peace process has been at a dead stop. Why is that?

Two recent events have been especially perplexing. Vice President Dick Cheney just hired as his Mideast adviser a fervent foe of “land for peace,” David Wurmser. His selection is a staggering disappointment to those of us who support the road map.

Second, there was barely a whisper of repudiation from anyone in the Bush administration when Gen. William G. Boykin was found to have appeared publicly in uniform making inflammatory statements disparaging the Islamic religion.

Back in 2002 when the Republicans took control of the Senate, Chafee also grabbed the chairmanship of a key Senate Foreign Relations committee, the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs responsible for oversight of Iraq, Iran, etc, displacing the Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, an Iraq hawk and the ranking Republican who was then in line for the gavel.

Here is the Roll Call report from January 29, 2003 entitled “Chafee Gets Key Gavel” (no online link):

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), the only Senate Republican to have voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, is poised to take the gavel of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Middle East policy.

The Rhode Island moderate’s selection to helm the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs came as a surprise to some panel observers, who had thought as recently as last Thursday that the gavel would go to Sen. Sam Brownback (R).

It would be a mistake to overstate the importance of such a subcomittee chairmanship. But every little bit counts and the defeat of Lincoln Chafee can hardly be interpreted as a defeat for Right Zionists like David Wurmser.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. We’ll see if she gets the gavel.

Where does Boxer stand on Israel?

Chalabi and Re-Baathification

Posted by Cutler on November 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

Gideon Rachman, the “official” blogger of the Financial Times, recently ran into Ahmed Chalabi in London and it prompted a recollection of Chalabi’s role in the US invasion of Iraq.

Rachman notes a change in Chalabi’s “program” these days:

[I]n one significant respect, Chalabi’s message now differs markedly from that of his original neo-con sponsors. While they are clearly itching to take on Iran, Chalabi is urging reconciliation. He argues that the Iranians would be willing to play a positive role in stabilising Iraq, if Iran could be assured that the new Iraq would not then be used as base to attack them. Chalabi wants to convene a regional peace conference and worries that – “Iraq is being turned into a battleground between Iran and the United States.” But even though a respectable crowd turned out to see Chalabi today, I have the feeling that the man’s audience is dwindling away.

Chalabi has reinvented himself any number of different times, including one recent incarnation as an ally of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Perhaps feeling his audience “dwindling away,” Chalabi may be reinventing himself in an even more dramatic way as a champion of re-Baathification!

A Washington Post article–“Proposal Would Rehire Members of Hussein’s Party“–reports the following:

A high-ranking commission of Iraq’s Shiite-led government said Monday it had prepared a draft law that could return tens of thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to their government jobs…

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, said in an interview that the commission had drafted a law for parliament that would give 1.5 million former Baathists who “excommunicate” themselves from the party the option of returning to their former government jobs or drawing a pension for their past employment…

Lami said 3,000 or so top former Baathists would be given their pensions but would not be allowed to resume government employment. And about 1,500 high-level former Baathists would be barred from ever resuming their jobs or drawing a pension.

This has all the markings of a Chalabi move.  Chalabi has always been the most ardent supporter of the “Commission for de-Baathification.”  And who is Lami? An article in Al Hayat from February 23, 2005, republished by the BBC on February 24, 2005 (no on-line link) identifies Lami in this way:

“Ali Faysal al-Lami [is a] member of the Shi’i Political Bureau and the political coordinator of the group in the United Iraqi Alliance that supports the nomination of Iraqi National Congress Leader Ahmad al-Chalabi to the post of prime minister.”

It would appear that Chalabi is now courting the Baathist insurgency.  Presumably, he has the strong support of US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in this regard.

One wonders, however, if his Right Zionist friends are similarly prepared to adopt such a conciliatory approach to the “old guard” Sunni Arab Baathist ruling elite.   If so, this would be far more significant that all the pseudo-self-criticism that has been making news of late.

Iraq, Vietnam and Democrats

Posted by Cutler on November 06, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I have been pretty relentlessly negative (here, here, here, here and here, for example) about the significance of any Democrat mid-term victories, at least in terms of the war in Iraq.

I stand by that analysis. As some Neocons themselves appear to understand, the Democratic party is not fundamentally opposed to the Neocon war in Iraq.

There are, however, a few additional points to consider.

First, votes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Will the mainstream media emphasis focus on the anti-war “No” vote or the Democrat victory?

In Connecticut, for example, the Democrat Senate primary several months ago was a clear referendum on the war and Ned Lamont won as an anti-war candidate. While Lamont will probably hold all the votes he won in the primary, Joe Lieberman, running as an “independent Democrat” will probably trounce Lamont in the general election, if only because Republicans gagged their own candidate and backed Lieberman, even as the Democrats party hedged its bets by promising to preserve Lieberman’s seniority if elected. Lieberman then made his seniority a bread-and-butter campaign issue.

In this instance, the story will correctly focus on a Democrat, pro-war victory.

In other cases, however, the spin may focus on the implicit, popular, anti-war “No,” rather than the highly ambiguous Democrat “Yes.”

If so, then a media feedback loop might help make the election an occasion to reinforce popular anti-war sentiment.

I take some comfort in the fact that Marshall Wittmann is worried about his newly adopted party. Wittmann, a Kristol/McCain Neocon who ostensibly “left the GOP” for the right wing of the Democratic Party, predicted that something like what I’m calling a “productive misunderstanding” might emerge from the mid-term elections.

Speaking to Byron York of the National Review for a September 11, 2006 article (full text available online from a third party) written in the aftermath of the Lamont primary victory, Wittmann seemed to fear the worst.

“It’s going to drive the Democratic presidential primaries to the left on national security and the Iraq War,” says Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, “and it’s going to make it difficult for anyone to stand by their decision to vote to authorize the war.” The rise of netroots anger, Wittmann adds, will “send the message that centrist hawks are unwelcome in the Democratic party,” which could affect the party for years to come…

“While the Republicans may be forced to reform themselves after the ’06 elections, the Democrats will be emboldened and not inclined to change, so the weaknesses that were evident in the ’04 campaign will never be addressed,” says Marshall Wittmann. “The paradox of ’06 is that the Republicans could be forced to get their act together while the Democratic Left will be completely reinforced by the results.”

We’ll see. I’m not sure that the Democratic Left, such as it is, will manage to run Wittmann and the Democratic Leadership Council out of the party. It isn’t even clear that Wittman really believes this. His professed “fears” about the Democratic party may simply be Wittmann preparing the way for his inevitable decision to return to the Republican party in time for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Finally, I have a question for those who know more about Vietnam and the Democratic Party:

What prepared the way for an anti-war challenge to a Democrat war in Vietnam back in the Johnson years?

My fear, today, is that the Democrats will be more effective than the Republicans at mobilizing popular support for the war.

The Johnson years tell a different story, don’t they?

As the Democrats return to positions of power, we need to review the history of the progressive de-legitimation of Johnson’s war.

How to prepare the way for a critique of “our” war (the one inherited by “competent” Democrats who presumably don’t allow for easy but narrow critiques of Halliburton/Bechtel cronyism and corruption, etc.)?

My hunch is that “Anybody But Bush” isn’t going to cut it.

Be Afraid

Posted by Cutler on November 05, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 4 Comments

Some important dynamics of the war in Iraq have been influenced, if not driven, by Washington politics. The mid-term elections and the coming Democratic victories will mark another turning point.

But do not expect cut and run. The next two years are likely to mark a major intensification of the war in Iraq and a renewal of the Neocon project.

Here is a time line that helps explain why:

2002 Midterms: Prior to the 2002 mid-term elections, the Bush administration sends lots of mixed signals about policy in the Middle East and alienates Right Zionists with Cheney’s tour of the Arab world.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2002 elections out of the way, the Bush administration moves toward its most strident Right Zionist policies with the invasion of Iraq and a radical program of de-Baathification in Iraq.

2004 Presidential Elections: Ahead of the 2004 elections, Rove allegedly demands “no war in ’04” and the Bush administration appears to moderate its policy in Iraq, appointing an ex-Baathist as its first Prime Minister, reversing previous de-Baathification orders, and handing Fallujah to a Baathist military officer. Brent Scowcroft predicts that a second term will see diminished Neocon power.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2004 elections out of the way, the Bush administration reverses course and reinvigorates the Neocon project, launching a massive assault on Fallujah and sponsoring three major votes–elections in January and December 2005 and the constitutional referendum in October 2005–that alienate Sunni Arabs and empower the Shiite and Kurdish populations.

2006 Midterms: The Bush administration welcomes the formation of an Iraq Study Group led by Realist/Right Arabist James Baker and suggests that it is willing to consider all kinds of tactical changes, including quiet chatter about an anti-Shiite coup.

Neocon Aftermath: It is too early to fill in the blanks regarding the Neocon Aftermath of the 2006 midterms. But one can imagine the basic outlines: hang Saddam, further alienate Sunni Arabs through US support for Shiite regional autonomy via a new hydrocarbons law, renew push toward regime change in Iran, etc?).

The general pattern of pre-election hesitancy and post-election audacity looks set to continue.

Exhibit A: Dick Cheney vows “full speed ahead” in Iraq:

It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue what we think is right,” Cheney said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not running for office. We’re doing what we think is right.”

“I think it’ll have some effect perhaps in the Congress,” he said of the election’s outcome, “but the president’s made clear what his objective is. It’s victory in Iraq. And it’s full speed ahead on that basis. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Won’t 2006 be different? After all, one might argue, the other elections resulted in Republican victories and this time the Democrats are going to win.

Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the Dems win both the House and Senate.

What will the Democrats do?

The Los Angeles Times quotes Marshall Wittmann, the figure who perfectly embodies the common ground that unites John McCain/Bill Kristol Neocons and Dem Zionists:

“It will be a new day,” said Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who is now with the moderate Democratic Leadership Council. “The real factor [Bush] has to fear is a collapse of support among Republicans, as well as Democrats.”

Some analysts, including Wittmann, expect that Democrats would use any new leverage to push Bush to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; his ouster has been demanded by a growing list of Republicans as well as Democrats.

I do not think they will manage to get Bush to dump Rumsfeld. No matter. The real issue is that Congressional pressure from some leading Democrats will be based on a bi-partisan McCain-inspired critique of Rumsfeld for not sending enough troops to win. The Democrat “critique” will function as a demand for more trooops.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol recently suggested that after the mid-terms, everything would be possible. Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

Neocons: Abandon Ship!

Posted by Cutler on November 04, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

On the eve of the mid-term elections, an impressive gaggle of Neocons have finally jumped ship.

The news comes in the form of a widely discussed, partially published Vanity Fair article where they collectively pile on with criticism of the war in Iraq.

This is big news, but there are two issues that will almost certainly get lost in the media frenzy.

First, this is not a Neocon (aka Right Zionist) apology. The Vanity Fair article is entitled, “Neo Culpa,” but that is highly misleading. Richard Perle and others interviewed for the article are conceding defeat in the factional battle with Right Arabists. They are not accepting responsibility for defeat or chaos in Iraq.

Here is Perle:

“The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.… At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.”

That is a slap at Right Arabists, plain and simple.

Michael Rubin is even more explicit about the critique of the Right Arabist position:

The president’s actions, Mr Rubin said, had been “not much different from what his father did on February 15 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up and then had second thoughts and didn’t do anything once they did.”

The second issue is that the Neocons have long been frustrated with the execution of the war and have long known that they faced serious opposition within the administration.

Previously, however, most held their tongues.

As Barbara Lerner wrote in May 2006,

In 2006, as the bloodshed in Iraq persisted and the regional situation deteriorated, I stopped criticizing our policies in Iraq for the same reason many other conservatives have lately been reluctant to do so: for fear of adding weight to a Leftist alternative that is even worse. Of course we can’t just cut and run in Iraq.

So, what has changed? Are they now prepared to cut and run?

Not a chance.

The timing of this story–rather than its content–provides the real news here. The Neocon critique of the Bush administration is, in essence, a very late prediction about the mid-term elections. The Neocons understand that the Bush administration is going down and they are already positioning themselves to help write the Dem Zionist script.

The issue is not whether the Neocons will influence the election, as Steve Clemons suggests they might. The Neocons have decided the election is over.
The point is that they are building the case for a Democrat position that argues Rumsfeld never sent enough troops, etc.

The key missive here comes from Robert Kagan, who argues that the Dems will perform well as the part of war in Iraq.

The Neocons are “neo” because some of them were once Democrats from the hawish, Zionist, “Scoop” Jackson wing of the party.  Kagan is surely correct.  The Democrats will “take it from here” Mr. President.

Gerecht vs. Galbraith

Posted by Cutler on November 03, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

As noted in a previous post, the New Republic Online has sponored a debate between Peter Galbraith, the leading advocate of Iraqi partition, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading Right Zionist at AEI.

Galbraith made his case and now Gerecht has offered his response.

The importance of this debate is that Zionists are split between those like Galbraith whose primary political “investment” in Iraq has always been with the Kurds and those like Gerecht for whom the Iraqi Shia constitute the political foundation for the US project in Iraq.

On the Kurdish question, Gerecht offers Galbraith his sympathy but little more.

It would be enormously unwise for Iraq’s Kurds to exchange de facto independence with an explicit declaration of national sovereignty… But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that the Kurds… can pull this off and sustain their de facto Kurdish republic. That’s as far as you go, Peter.

In truth, Kurdistan is probably as far as Peter wants to go.  Readers of Galbraith’s book, The End of Iraq, will find that aside from his passionate attachment ot the Kurds, Galbraith is otherwise quite sympathetic to the Right Arabist critique of US policies that empower the Iraqi Shia.

Gerecht essentially notes as much in his response to Galbraith:

You… regularly err in your association of the Iraqi and Iranian Shia, implying a growing subservience of the former to the latter. In all probability, the distance between the two–even with Iran’s closest Shia allies in Iraq–is going the other way as the Arab Shia gain more self-confidence and fear the Sunni Arabs less.

Gerecht is surely right about Galbraith, who never acknowledges the Right Zionist hope of facilitating and exploiting divisions between Najaf–the home of Iraqi Shiite clerical authority–and Qom–home to the Iranian clerical establishment.

It is also interesting to note that in November 2006, Gerecht remains committed to the dream of Iraqi Shiite power as something distinct from Iranian power, if not as a potential challenge to Iranian power.

The most interesting part of Gerecht’s debate with Galbraith has nothing to do with his critique of Galbraith and the Kurds, however.  It turns on Gerecht’s view of Shiite moves to establish an autonomous region in Southern Iraq, including the oil-rich city of Basra.

It is a dubious proposition to suggest that the efforts of Abdul Aziz Al Hakim and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) for a large autonomous region in the south means that Hakim, SCIRI, and others who have backed this plan have given up on the idea of one Iraq, particularly one Arab Iraq. They haven’t. Hakim is after a power base. Such an entity doesn’t represent for him–or for any other Shia that I can find–a geographic expression of a serious religious or regional affection. The autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas are not quite in this camp, but that’s a completely different issue from what Hakim has advanced. Many Shia, both religious and secular, have liked the autonomy idea, since it gives them a redoubt where the Arab Sunnis can no longer interfere….

It’s important to remember that this idea of a Shia zone was developed in 2004, at a time when the Shia were still fearful of the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors. They had not yet thrown off the Saddam-era fear of a Sunni return to power or of the possibility that the Arab Sunnis–through their greater martial virtue and communal discipline–could slaughter their way back to power. When Hakim first met with President Bush in Washington after the liberation, he stressed the need for the United States to stay the course in Iraq.

Today, the statements of Hakim to pay attention to are those that depict the United States as an obstacle to an effective counterinsurgency. (Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki has made similar allusions.) It’s a good bet that Hakim and others in SCIRI now believe that they can more effectively handle the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors on their own, since they are not restrained by America’s humane rules of engagement. For what the Sunnis have done, these Shia, who now perhaps represent a majority of the community, intend a horrific vengeance.

From this point on in the Gerecht essay, his focus turns away from the partition question and toward a vision of full-blown civil war that would consume Iraq and the entire Gulf if the United States withdraws.  This is amounts to a concise restatement of Gerecht’s previously published, longer response to the idea of US withdrawal from Iraq.

At least two questions emerge from Gerecht’s discussion of the SCIRI bid for autonomy.

First, the idea of Shiite autonomy in the south may originate in 2004, but it was only beginning in August 2006 that Hakim made a largely successful push for legislatition that would authorize the formation of such a region.  Why the 2006 push?

Maybe Hakim still fears “a Sunni return to power,” in the form of a US-backed anti-Shiite coup.

Second, what to make of Gerecht’s reference to the “autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas” as a “completely different issue” from what Hakim has advanced.

Gerecht is silent about his own opinions regarding the autonomy-loving people of Basra.  My hunch is that these are not “his” people–his money continues to be on Hakim, Sistani, etc., whom he considers Iraqi nationalists.

In terms of the larger issue of partition, it might be worth noting that it was in Basra that big oil was presumably supposed to find common cause with Right Zionist plans for the breakup of Iraq.

This was central issue in previous posts on the political contours of Basra.

The dream of Shiite autonomy in Basra was most clearly–and favorably–sketched in a February 27, 2005 James Glanz article in New York Times entitled “Iraq’s Serene South Asks, Who Needs Baghdad?

[I]f no inconsiderable number of people here have their way, the provinces of the south, home to rich oil reserves but kept poor by Saddam Hussein, will soon become a separate country, or at least a semi-autonomous region in a loosely federal Iraq. The clear southern preference for profit over politics could make it a place where foreign companies willing to invest hard cash are able to do business.

‘’Quite a few people prefer to be separated, because they are disappointed,’’ said Sadek A. Hussein, a Basra native who is a professor in the college of agriculture at the University of Basra, and who speaks with the mildness characteristic of southern Iraq. The trait is refreshing in itself, in a country better known for its firebrands, chatterboxes and just plain loudmouths

And Zuhair Kubba, a board member of the Basra Chamber of Commerce, said that, in contrast to the xenophobia dogging other regions of Iraq, Basra’s history made it likely to welcome foreign investment.

‘’They have a port, and being a port, they have experience with foreigners,’’ said Mr. Kubba, a follower of the largely pacifist and apolitical Sheikhi branch of Shiite Islam, whose holiest cleric, Sayyed Ali Al-Mousawi, is based in a Basra mosque.

Some foreign companies, including Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that is repairing parts of Iraq’s oil industry under American government contracts, are already listening. The company is moving its center of operations from the insurgency-ridden streets of Baghdad to the south, said Ray Villegas, a general manager for the company, and not just to be closer to its field work, which is mainly in the south.

‘’This is the place you want to be,’’ Mr. Villegas said. ‘’It’s much different down here. You have flat open land, so you have a lot of visibility. We don’t have the day-to-day traffic problems that you experience up in Baghdad, so the opportunity is much less for insurgents to act.’’

Most of all, he said, ‘’we’ve found that the Iraqis here are much more willing and accommodating to approach the Americans.’’

All of this was a dream that subsequently devolved into Shiite factional warfare.

Gerecht suggests that Hakim’s talk of Shiite autonomy is a completely different issue than the old dream of autonomy for Basra.  It is not Hakim’s dream.  It is not Gerecht’s dream.

How about Kellogg, Brown & Root?

I suggested in a previous post that international oil companies were most likely uninterested in the breakup of Iraq, except insofar as the threat of partition could be used to leverage more lucrative oil deals from Sunni and Shiite nationalists in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
The only exception would be a pact between the oil majors and the “autonomy-loving people of Basra.”

If such a pact is in the works, however, it isn’t getting a lot of public attention–apart from that provocative James Glanz New York Times article of February 2005.

Is everyone sure that dream is dead and buried?

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Posted by Cutler on November 02, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a previous post, I suggested that the primary function of high-profile proposals to facilitate the breakup of Iraq was to leverage attractive terms for international oil companies in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
Be that as it may, it may be helpful to recall where various foreign policy factions stand on the “partition” question.

Right Arabists

Right Arabists have never supported the breakup of Iraq.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft had to choose between the “breakup” of Iraq and the restoration of Saddam Hussein.

They chose Saddam Hussein over “breakup.”

As Bush and Scowcroft noted in their 1998 memoir, A World Transformed (p.489):

[N]either the United States nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Breaking up the Iraqi state would pose its own destabilizing problems.

Today, Right Arabists like Anthony Cordesman remain unalterably opposed to the breakup of Iraq.

Right Zionists

In making the case for toppling Saddam, Right Zionists were inevitably drawn into a debate with Right Arabists over the probability and desirability of the breakup of Iraq.

William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan, writing in their 2003 book The War Over Iraq (p.97), hedge on the issue of Iraqi unity:

[Secretary of State Colin] Powell and others have argued that if the United States alienates central Iraq’s Sunnis… Iraq could be plunged into chaos… But predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are… questionable…

If anything, one could argue that the aim of Iraqi unity may run counter to the aim of Iraqi stability… [M]ake Iraq a federation… A central government in Baghdad would still control most of the levers of Iraqi power, but each ethnic community would be granted limited powers of self-government…

AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht also hedges in a June 2004 essay, “Democratic Revolution in Iraq?“:

Given the regular pummeling of the Kurds by Sunni Arabs in modern Iraq, the Kurdish desire for considerable autonomy is sensible and morally compelling. There has been no bad blood between Arab Shiites and the Kurds, but the latter are well aware that a centralized Iraqi state will empower Arabs. And the Shiites have probably been the staunchest defenders of Iraqi nationalism. Sistani will not allow the Kurds to retain the authority that the Transitional Administrative Law, the interim constitution, would give them.

There is no easy answer to this. Ultimately, the Kurds have to weigh the risks and gains of independence. Washington ought not to abandon them. But it should encourage them to seek political compromises and constitutional protections that circumscribe but do not nullify the principle of one-man, one-vote. The Kurds are unlikely to find a more thoughtful Shiite Arab counterpart than Ayatollah Sistani, who in the history of Shiism can only be called a democratic revolutionary.

Others at AEI, however, are more sympathetic to the breakup of Iraq. John Yoo, for example, penned a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed in August 2005 entitled, “A United Iraq–What’s the Point?

[C]an Iraq really exist as one nation?

The Kurds and Shiites negotiated the draft charter, the Sunnis are left to take it or leave it, and the whole affair has literally papered over deep divisions about regional autonomy, oil revenues, Islamic law and more.

By demanding one new Iraqi state, the U.S. and its allies are… spending blood and treasure to preserve a country that no longer makes sense as a state, and to keep together people who only want to be separate. Iraqis might get closer to democracy, and the U.S. might get closer to its goals in the Middle East, if everyone would jettison the fiction of a unified, single Iraq.

Dem Zionists

Traditionally, liberal Democrats are the most prominent defenders of the breakup of Iraq.

I noted as much in a May 2006 post.

Senator Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb have published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:

America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.

There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:

“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (”U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)

Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.

The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.

His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.

Right Zionists vs. Dem Zionists

Notwithstanding some obvious affinities between Right Zionist and Dem Zionist proposals for US policy in Iraq, there appears to be an escalating war of words between Right Zionists and Dem Zionists on the issue of partition.

At one recent United States Institute of Peace panel discussion on Iraq (available online in a C-Span video recording of the event, at 1:07:21), AEI’s Michael Rubin questioned the motivations of partition advocates like Galbraith, suggesting that it is “easy to argue for the breakup of Iraq, especially if you are paid by the Kurdistan Regional Government” or “if you have significant interests in some Norwegian oil companies” that have signed oil development agreements with the Kurds. Rubin sugggest that it was important to “look a little bit more into motivations of some of these breakup theories.”

So, too, Reuel Marc Gerecht is poised take on the Dem Zionists. The New Republic Online is hosting an online debate between Peter Galbraith and Gerecht. The Galbraith contribution to the debate was posted November 1, 2006 and the Gerecht reply is set to be posted November 2, 2006. Should be interesting!

The White House

In the factional battles over the breakup of Iraq, George W. Bush has weighed in on the question. In an October 20, 2006 Fox News interview, Bush made the case against partition, although he hedged on the more general question of federalism.

O’REILLY: How about dividing it into three? Kurds autonomous region, Sunni autonomous, Shia autonomous and pay them oil revenues to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I strongly — I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I think that will increase sectarian violence. I think that will make it more dangerous — and so does Prime Minister Maliki with whom I spoke today… on the point you brought up about dividing the country in three, he rejected that strongly. He thought that was a bad idea, and I agree with him. I think — federalism is one thing, in other words, giving a balance between regional government and central government, but dividing is basically saying there will be three autonomous regions will create, Bill, a situation where Sunnis and Sunni nations and Sunni radicals will be competing against Shia radicals and the Kurds will then create problems for Turkey and Syria and you have got a bigger mess than we have at this point in time which I believe is going to be solved.

If the Bush administration is actually seeking to preserve Iraqi unity, then the recent parliamentary vote on a measure elaborating procedures for the establishment of autonomous regions–supported by the Kurds and some Shiites–was a major slap in the face of a Right Arabist White House.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

The SCIRI push for a Shiite “super-region” in the South may be a frontal rebuke to President Bush, insofar as he has assumed the mantle of the Right Arabist faction.

It cannot, for all that, be scored a “loss” for those Right Zionists and/or Dem Zionists who find reason to celebrate the termination of Sunni Arab hegemony in Iraq, if not yet the whole of the Middle East.