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.
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?