Cutler’s Blog will return in January 2007. Happy New Year.
Monthly Archives: December 2006
Since November 30, 2006, I’ve been writing posts about a split among Right Arabists regarding Iran.
[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.
These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.
The split is about Iran, to be sure. But it is also about Saudi succession.
In a December 13 post, I speculated on the battle lines and got it wrong.
Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?
And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?
Cheney and the Sudairi Seven
Bandar is Cheney’s man (and vice versa). The rest of the Right Arabist establishment has lined up behind King Abdullah and the Faisal brothers, Turki (until recently Saudi Ambassador to the US) and Saud (currently Saudi Foreign Minister).
Cheney isn’t simply backing Bandar. Bandar–the son of Saudi Crown Prince Defense Minister Sultan–represents the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah.
Cheney’s top Middle East aide, David Wurmser is crystal clear about his preferences within the House of Saud, not to mention his vision for Iraq and Iran. From an article while he was still at the American Enterprise Institute:
To begin to unravel this murky business, it is necessary to go back to the mid-1990s, when a succession struggle was beginning in Saudi Arabia. This struggle pits the octogenarian king, Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz, and his full brothers in the Sudairi branch of the family (especially the defense minister, Prince Sultan) against their half-brother, Crown Prince Abdallah. King Fahd and the Sudairis favor close ties to the United States, while Crown Prince Abdallah prefers Syria and is generally more enamored of pan-Islamic and pan-Arab ideas…
In August, King Fahd fired his director of intelligence, Prince Turki al Faisal… Since the mid-1990s, Turki had anchored the Abdallah faction, and under his leadership Saudi intelligence had become difficult to distinguish from al Qaeda….
More recently, Turki bin Faisal’s full brother, Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal, unleashed his diplomats to write shrill and caustic attacks on the United States, such as the article a few weeks ago by Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in London, Ghazi al Qusaibi, calling President Bush mentally unstable.
The Baker Boys and King Abdullah
Meanwhile, the rest of the Baker Big Oil crowd backs Abdullah, favors dialogue with Iran, etc.
One sign the Baker fidelity to Abdullah came in the case of former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. According to reports (“Saudis Have Had Enough of US Ambassador,” UPI, September 25, 2003):
The U.S. capital is starting to buzz with questions about the early retirement of U.S. Ambassador to Riyadh Robert Jordan, apparently demanded by the Saudis. Jordan, a partner in the Baker, Botts law firm in Texas (as in former Secretary of State James Baker), is an honorary member of the Bush clan and his premature departure is a shock. The State Department has yet to confirm it, though Jordan has told friends that he’s heading back to Texas. His offense was to state too publicly — at private Saudi dinner parties — Washington’s preference for Crown Prince Abdullah to succeed the ailing King Fahd. This supposedly offended Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Jordan also annoyed other Saudis by insisting that any American wife of a Saudi citizen should get embassy or consulate help in marriage disputes and child custody cases.
Add to this the fact that Chas Freeman took swipes at Prince Bandar in 2005, and you can begin to see the outlines of a major split in Washington and Riyadh.
Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says Bandar “has basically been AWOL for years” but had been kept at his post because of “inertia at the top” of the Saudi royal family…
Which Way for the White House?
This split explains quite a bit about the US factional dynamics of the entire war in Iraq.
No wonder the White House Iraq Policy Review is delayed. Bush and Condoleezza Rice have to pick sides. They are both in way over the heads.
The obvious question: can Cheney and the Sudairi Seven triumph over Baker and King Abdullah?
Put differently, can Bush choose Baker and break his ties to Cheney? Or is Cheney too powerful to isolate?
The stakes could not possibly be any higher. The fate of US relations with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia–and Russia–likely hang in the balance.
Saparmurat Niyazov, the President of Turkmenistan, is dead.
Turkmenistan–a Caspian Sea country which contains either the fourth or fifth largest natural gas reserves in the world and considerable oil reserves, as well–is a central site in the “Great Game” of inter-imperialist rivalry being waged between dominant forces within the US and Russia.
And if you care about US policy toward Iran, then the larger context of US-Turkmenistan relations might be of interest.
The gossip side of the news is simple. Niyazov was a nutty authoritarian dictator. The Times Online reports:
Saparmurat Niyazov, the colourful but authoritarian President of Turkmenistan, has died suddenly after 21 years of iron-fist rule which crushed his opposition and created a cult of personality that saw cities and even a meteorite named after him.
Mr Niyazov, who made himself President-for-life in 1999, died early today of a heart attack aged 66, according to a statement by the state-controlled media…
During his rule – extended in an unopposed presidential election in 1990 – he established a bizarre personality cult in which he was styled as Turkmenbashi the Great, or Leader of all Turkmens.
Obsessed with maintaining personal power, he ensured his presence was felt in every corner, commissioning thousands of hoardings and gold statues of himself across the country, as well as plastering his image on the national currency, carpets, vodka bottles and launching his own brand of perfume.
In a symbolic show of his unrestrained authority, the former Soviet leader also renamed the months and days of the week, titling January after himself – Turkmenbashi. His name has been given to a sea port, farms, military units and even to a meteorite.
From the perspective of Great Power Rivalry, however, the key question, is whether he was “our” nutty authoritarian.
Turkmenistan and Iran
Throughout much of the 1990s, the US worked very hard to win Niyazov away from Russian influence.
At first glance, this seemed easy enough. In 1997 Royal Dutch/Shell and Niyazov joined in a partnership to build a pipeline that would avoid Russia by carrying gas through northern Iran (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10):
The Shell group… has responded to an invitation from the Turkmeni president and has agreed to be the lead party in trying to finance and manage the project, said a Shell spokesman in London.
The company believes it won’t run into opposition from Washington…
But Shell did run into opposition from Washington.
Turkmenistan, Iran, and Russia
The October 14, 1997 Jerusalem Post article reported a potential source of the trouble:
[T]he Turkmeni government has expressed its concern at Russia-based Gazprom’s decision to join Total SA in a $2b contract to develop the South Pars gas field in Iran. The Turkmenis fear the contract could prevent it from exporting gas reserves to Turkey.
Russian partnerships in Iran would, in fact, doom the Shell pipeline. The Boston Globe reported the story (“US warns against pipeline going through Iran, but few listen,” March 1, 1998, p.A12):
No one has welcomed the US policy promoting independence from Russia more than Turkmenistan…
Shell officials say they are wary of the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, designed to punish any company that invests more than $ 20 million in Iran. But they also express hope that Washington will soon abandon its efforts to exclude Iran from the Central Asian bonanza…
So do the Turkmens, who spent seven decades as a southern Soviet outpost with their 600-mile-long border with Iran shut tight. They are not about to let someone else tell them to close it again.
“I understand that the US has its interests as a superpower, but we have our interests, and we have to feed our people,” Yolbaz Kepbanov, Turkmenistan’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, said in the capital, Ashkabhad…
Perhaps in the spirit of supporting such independence, when the Iran-Turkmenistan pipeline was announced last July, Washington seemed tacitly to accept the deal.
But the number and scale of the projects involving Iran have increased… Gazprom is planning to develop, along with French and Malaysian companies, a gas field in southern Iran.
As a result, Washington has restated its hard line. “US policy is to oppose all pipelines across Iran,” said a Western diplomat in Ashkhabad. “The Turkmens know the light is red, believe me.” But while Turkmen officials are aware of the US position, they say they are not bothered by it.
“Let the Americans say, ‘Don’t be friends with Iran,’ but we can’t do that, because we are a neutral country,” said Kepbanov, the Foreign Ministry official. “In our eyes, everyone is equal but Iran comes first. . . . We have to cooperate with them.”
The Israeli Connection
The US offered up an alternative–a pipeline under the Caspian Sea that would travel through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, skirting both Russia and Iran.
This so-called “TransCaspian” alternative was actively promoted by an Israeli with very close relations to the regime in Turkmenistan. The Wall Street Journal covered the Israeli angle (“Israeli Is Subtle Player in Central Asia Oil–Ex-Intelligence Agent Advances Western Interests,” April 7, 1999):
A former Israeli intelligence agent… 53-year-old Yosef A. Maiman possesses probably the one key to success in the region: the ear of one of its autocratic leaders. For the past few years, Mr. Maiman has served as the right-hand man on energy matters to President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, home to the world’s third-largest natural-gas reserves.
In this role, Mr. Maiman has wittingly or unwittingly furthered the geopolitical goals of both the U.S. and Israel. How? By nudging the Turkmen leader to bypass Russia and Iran in building the country’s main gas-export pipeline.
The race to find a market for Turkmen gas, and a way to get it there, has picked up great speed of late. Mr. Maiman was the behind-the-scenes player in the $2.5 billion agreement that Mr. Niyazov signed in February with PSG International to build an export pipeline between Turkmenistan and Turkey. PSG is a joint venture between Bechtel Enterprises, a unit of Bechtel Group Inc., and General Electric Co.’s finance arm, GE Capital Services. Mr. Maiman acted as the intermediary between the Turkmenis and the U.S. firms.
The contract represents a victory for the U.S. The companies involved are both American. And for Washington, the pipeline deal freezes out Russia and Iran, which Mr. Niyazov had been reluctant to challenge. Russia and Iran quickly denounced the project. In early February, Russian gas monopoly RAO Gazprom teamed up with Italy’s ENI SpA and Dutch financial backer ABN-Amro Holding NV to build a competing gas pipeline across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey…
“This is the Great Game all over,” Mr. Maiman says during an interview in his office in Herzliyah, an Israeli resort town, referring to a late 19th century, three-way contest for control of Central Asia. “Controlling the transport route is controlling the product.”
Israel’s security interests in the region have been furthered, as well. “Maiman is the Israeli-Turkmenistan relationship,” says Shmuel Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director of Commonwealth of Independent States affairs. “He is our ambassador at large. He opens doors and understands the rules of the game.”
For a time, Niyazov seemed to be playing along.
During the US Presidential transition in November 2000, however, the Russians managed to flip Niyazov.
Turkmentistan: “A Lost Cause”
James Dorsey reported (“US Blues as Turkmenistan Opts for Russian Route,” The Scotsman, November 15, 2000, p.10):
Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov appears to have sounded the death knell for US-backed efforts to ensure that Caspian Sea gas is exported to world markets via Turkey rather than Russia.
Mr Niyazov has announced that he has reached agreement with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to sell it up to 30 billion cubic metres of gas next year. “If everything works out, we shall have an agreement by mid-November,” he told the cabinet.
The deal would account for most of Turkmenistan’s gas exports and leave little over for a $ 2 billion, United States-backed TransCaspian pipeline which would have been built from the Central Asian state via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey by a consortium involving the Royal Dutch/Shell Group and a US contractor, Bechtel.
According to a May 2006 report in the Financial Times (“Scramble to Grab central Asia’s Gas,” May 5, 2006, p.3, third-party on-link here):
Lengthy negotiations of a scheme to pipe gas from Turkmenistan across the Caspian to Azerbaijan broke down in the 1990s mainly because Saparmurat Niyazov, the authoritarian Turkmen leader, kept changing the terms. US energy officials now regard Turkmenistan, the central Asian republic with the biggest gas reserves, as “a lost cause“.
A Massive Fight For Power
Will the sudden death of Niyazov allow US officials to salvage this “lost cause”?
As Reuters reports, the Russians are understandably content with the status quo and the incumbent regime:
Russia said it hoped Turkmenistan would stick to Niyazov’s course. “We count on the new Turkmenistan leaders continuing their course and further developing bilateral ties,” top Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told Itar-Tass news agency.
The onus for regime “change” is on the US. Another Reuters report suggests a likely scenario:
“I expect there will be a massive fight for power now in Turkmenistan and it’s likely to take place between pro-U.S. and pro-Russian forces,” said a Russian gas industry source, who declined to be named. “Gas will become the main coin of exchange and the key asset to get hold of.”
For starters, one might learn the name of a key “political prisoner” in Turkmenistan: former Boris Shikhmuradov (also Boris Sheikhmuradov).
Shikhmuradov, former Turkmeni Foreign Minister, was arrested in connection with an alleged 2002 assassination attempt on Niyazov.
Among other things, Shikhmuradov has had good relations with Israel, having visited at the invitation of Yosef A. Maiman to discuss the sale of Turkkmeni natural gas to Israel (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10).
Flynt Leverett’s views on US policy toward Iran are making news.
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett–both former NSC staff member in the Bush administration–co-authored a New York Times Op-Ed calling for a “Grand Bargain” with Iran. According to the Washington Post, the CIA–under pressure from the White House–“ordered two sections concerning U.S. dealings with Iran in his article to be heavily redacted.”
As the Post reports, “As a former CIA official, Leverett is required to submit his writings for pre-publication review.” The controversy concerns White House pressure on the CIA, especially since the agency had already approved publication of a longer version of the article, “Dealing with Tehran: Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options toward Iran,” written for the Century Foundation.
Leverett’s subsequent attacks on the Neocons transformed this establishment Right Arabist into a darling of the anti-war Left. The latest White House move against Leverett only enhances his “street cred.”
What does Leverett’s Century Foundation propose for US-Iran relations? What got him into trouble with the White House? And who are his key opponents?
Leverett’s Grand Bargain
Leverett is as clear as any Right Arabist that, from his perspective, the Iranian regime is waiting for one basic concession from the US as the price for cooperation on the nuclear issue, Iraq, etc.: a security guarantee.
Tehran will require, among other things, a security guarantee from Washington—effectively a commitment that the United States will not use force to change the borders or form of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran—bolstered by the prospect of a lifting of U.S. unilateral sanctions and normalization of bilateral relations.
According to Leverett, the Iranians are holding out for this all-important US guarantee.
[I]t is interesting to note an important difference between the incentives package presented to Iran by the Europeans in August 2005 and the package presented to Tehran by the P-5 and Germany in June 2006…
[T]he August 2005 package contained a number of prospective commitments amounting to an effective security guarantee for the Islamic Republic; because these prospective commitments came only from Europe, they were strategically meaningless from an Iranian perspective.
By contrast, the June 2006 package, which was endorsed by the Bush administration, contained no prospective security guarantees.
I have no independent evaluation of Leverett’s interpretation of Iran’s priorities, but Leverett himself seems to suggest that the Iranians would be fools to exchange anything for such a guarantee. His own report quite confidently asserts that the US has no ability to “use force to change the borders or form of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
[C]oercive approaches to containing the threat of Iranian nuclearization are not likely to work…
Numerous analyses have raised serious doubts that U.S. military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would delay significantly its nuclear development, because of profound uncertainty about the reliability and comprehensiveness of target selection, the possibility that “unknown” facilities are at least as close to producing weapons-grade fissile material as “known” facilities, and the prospect that Tehran could reconstitute its nuclear program relatively rapidly. At the same time, U.S. military action against Iran almost certainly would have profoundly negative consequences for a range of other U.S. interests.
There also is no reasonable basis for believing that the United States could bring about regime change in Iran, either by “decapitating” the Islamic Republic’s leadership in the course of military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or by supporting Iranian opposition groups under the cover of “democracy promotion.” More significantly, it is highly uncertain that regime change could be effected on a strategically meaningful timetable for dealing with the nuclear threat.
Is Leverett hoping that the Iranians are unable read his own report?
Notwithstanding his own doubts about the seriousness of US threats, Leverett is actually quite clear about the specific fears that seem to animate Iranian concerns for a security guarantee. And it is here that Leverett seems to have publicized some things that got him in hot water with the White House.
Since early 2006, Leverett has been speaking publicly about US efforts to establish back channel negotiations with the Iranians after 9/11. In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled “The Gulf Between Us,” Leverett said these diplomatic efforts were disrupted by Bush’s “axis of evil” speech.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan. But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an “axis of evil,” thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.
In his Century Foundation report, however, Leverett concedes that the State of the Union speech was not, in fact, the deal breaker:
Iranian representatives missed the next monthly meeting with U.S. diplomats in protest [at the axis of evil speech], but—in a telling indication of Tehran’s seriousness about exploring a diplomatic opening to the United States—resumed participation in the discussions the following month.
The bilateral channel on Afghanistan continued for another year, until the eve of the Iraq war, but it became clear the Bush administration was not interested in a broader, strategic dialogue with Iran. Indeed, the administration terminated the channel in May 2003, on the basis of unproven and never pursued allegations of the involvement of Iran-based al Qaeda figures in the May 12, 2003, bomb attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
This claim is followed up by a crucial footnote:
The possibility of al Qaeda figures finding refuge in Iran was an issue that administration hardliners regularly used to undermine expanded tactical cooperation between Tehran and Washington. In the course of the U.S.-Iranian dialogue over Afghanistan, U.S. officials exhorted their Iranian counterparts to take steps to prevent al Qaeda and Taliban operatives from seeking sanctuary in Iran. In response, Iran deployed additional security forces to its border with Afghanistan and took several hundred fugitives into custody; the identities of these individuals were documented to the United Nations. In 2002, a number of these individuals, of Afghan origin, were repatriated to the new, post-Taliban Afghan government; others, of Saudi origin, were repatriated to Saudi Arabia. In the same year, a group of senior al Qaeda figures managed to find their way from Afghanistan into Iran, most likely via longstanding smuggling and human trafficking routes into Iran’s Baluchistan province.
In response to U.S. concerns, Tehran eventually took these individuals into custody and, in the spring of 2003, offered to exchange them for a small group of senior commanders among the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) cadres in Iraq. Even though the MEK has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State, the administration refused to consider any such exchange.
In other words, the deal breaker was neither Bush’s axis of evil speech nor Iranian links to al Qaeda. The deal breaker, according to Leverett’s account, was the US refusal to turn over MEK cadres in Iraq.
Leverett’s central allegation is that the US drew a line in the sand by refusing to remove the MEK “threat” to the security of the Iranian regime. White House fears, notwithstanding, this story has long been part of the public chatter. David Ignatius wrote a column about the whole affair, citing Flynt Leverett, back on July 9, 2004.
I have no independent evaluation of the so-called “threat” posed by the MEK, but I note with some interest that Leverett’s own account unintentional emphasizes the fact that both the Iranians and “hardliners” in the US seem to think the threat is a serious and valuable bargaining chip.
Who is Hitting Flynt Leverett?
Are Flynt Leverett’s White House antagonists folks who continue to hope that the MEK can provide useful leverage for dealing with the Iranian regime?
If so, it certainly matters who is trying to hit him.
According to Leverett’s Century Foundation report, Cheney provides the core of the opposition:
A… camp, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his most important advisers, is strongly opposed to anything resembling a grand bargain and favors a more coercive approach to Iran policy.
This isn’t really surprising.
But more recently Leverett has named others when talking about White House attempts to silence him. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Speaking to reporters Monday, Leverett speculated that senior NSC officials, such as deputy national security advisors Elliott Abrams or Meghan L. O’Sullivan, had authorized their subordinates to intervene.
Mention of Elliott Abrams is no surprise. No love lost there. But Meghan L. O’Sullivan is no Right Zionist. She comes to the White House via Richard Haass and the Council on Foreign Relations. Herself a target of Right Zionists, she has solid Right Arabist credentials.
Until he went to work in the Bush administration, David Wurmser was Middle East fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and his views were quite public.
Once on Cheney’s staff, however, David Wurmser hasn’t said much of anything public. It has always been tempting to read Meyrav Wurmser’s public pronouncements as some kind proxy for the prevailing views of David Wurmser, if not the Office of the Vice President as a whole.
Meyrav Wurmser’s interview is extremely pessimistic, not about Iraq or the Middle East, but about the factional politics of the Bush administration. The tone offered up is not the outlook of a person whose partner is about to win control of the ship of state.
In any event, if Meyrav Wurmser’s Ynetnews interview is any indication of David Wurmser’s influence, however, it looks highly unlikely that his so-called “Shiite Option” will be adopted as a result of the ongoing White House Iraq Policy Review.
Indeed, Meyrav Wurmser suggests that most of the Neocons are already gone and “there are others who are about to leave” (including David Wurmser? or Elliott Abrams? both?).
This is not a cautious interview. Interviewer and interviewee are so blunt about so many issues that I wondered if the interview was a fake. Instead, it appears to be the opening salvo in a post-Wurmser Bush administration.
Either way, here are some of the key sections of the interview (there are sections on Israel’s military action in Lebanon that lend support to propositions from previous posts here and here, but the selections below are the ones focused on Iraq):
YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did you, in practice, bring about the war in Iraq?
MEYRAV WURMSER: “We expressed ideas, but the policy in Iraq was taken out of neocon hands very quickly. The idea was that America has a war on terror and that the only actual place for coping with it is in the Middle East and that a fundamental change would come through a change in leadership. We had to start somewhere.
“The objective was to change the face of the Middle East. But it was impossible to create a mini-democracy amidst a sea of dictatorships looking to destroy this poor democracy, and thus, where do insurgents in Iraq come from? From Iran and Syria.”
YITZHAK BENHORIN: Should they have been conquered?
MEYRAV WURMSER: “No. There was a need for massive political action, of threats and pressure on these governments, financial pressure, for example. The sanctions on Syria were nothing. There was a period of time when the Syrians were afraid that they were next. It would have been possible to use this momentum in a smarter way. There’s no need to go in militarily.”
YITZHAK BENHORIN: Your people held senior positions in the Pentagon. Didn’t Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith implement your theories?
MEYRAV WURMSER: “The final decisions were no in their hands. In the Pentagon, the decisions were in the hands of the military, and the political leadership had a lot of clashes with the military leadership.”
YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the military leadership ask for more soldiers in Iraq?
MEYRAV WURMSER: “Rumsfeld prevented that. He was a failure. The State Department opposed the neocons’ stances. Also John Bolton, who is also part of the family, and was no. 4 at the State Department under Colin Powell, was incapable of passing decisions…
“Powell curbed our ideas and they did not pass. There was a lot of frustration over the years in the administration because we didn’t feel we were succeeding.
“Now Bolton left (the UN – Y.B.) and there are others who are about to leave. This administration is in its twilight days. Everyone is now looking for work, looking to make money… We all feel beaten after the past five years… We miss the peace and quiet and writing books…
“When you enter the administration you have to keep your mouth shut. Now many will resume their writing… Now, from the outside, they will be able to convey all the criticism they kept inside.”
YITZHAK BENHORIN: In the meantime you left the US inside Iraq?
MEYRAV WURMSER: “We did not bring the US into Iraq in such a way. Our biggest war which we lost was the idea that before entering Iraq we must train an exile Iraqi government and an Iraqi military force, and hand over the rule to them immediately after the occupation and leave Iraq. That was our idea and it was not accepted.”
The only “news” here is probably the prediction that other members of “the family” are “about to leave.” The idea that the “administration is in its twilight days” certainly seems to suggest that there will no big new initiatives from the Right Zionist playbook in 2007.
Meyrav Wurmser writes as if James Baker was now running the White House. Or, at least, as if any push back against Baker does not represent any particular fidelity to the ideas of “the family.”
SOMEONE in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office has gotten everybody on this city’s holiday party circuit talking, simply by floating an unlikely Iraq proposal… that Washington should stop trying to get Sunnis and Shiites to get along and instead just back the Shiites, since there are more of them anyway and they’re likely to win in a fight to the death. After all, the proposal goes, Iraq is 65 percent Shiite and only 20 percent Sunni…
Unnamed government officials with knowledge in the matter say the proposal comes from his office, but they stop short of saying it comes from Mr. Cheney himself…
[S]omewhere deep inside the Beltway, someone has laid out the intellectual basis for the Shiite option…
An even more far-fetched offshoot of the [plan] is floating around… It holds that America could actually hurt Iran by backing Iraq’s Shiites…
This is all very important, etc. even though Cooper predicts that the Shiite Option “most likely not going anywhere.”
Why all the mysterious references to “someone” without ever venturing a guess? Why does Cooper refuse to even speculate that David Wurmser–who handles the Middle East portfolio on Cheney’s National Security staff–is the special “someone” promoting this option?
I mean, it is not like it is a big secret. Wurmser published a whole book way back in 1999–entitled Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (AEI Press) that “laid out the intellectual basis for the Shiite option.”
That book serves as the backbone for my ZNET article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”
Why no name? Is Cooper afraid of mentioning that Wurmser is a prominent Right Zionist?
How would Cheney talk if he were forced to choose between confrontation with Iran and confrontation between Russia?
The most obvious answer is that Cheney will do everything in his power to avoid having to make that choice. Two recent news stories not show that Cheney is very effective at keeping both regimes in the crosshairs without capitulating to either. But one might also hint at Cheney’s response if forced to choose: Cheney’s paramount target is Russia.
The first news story concerns US efforts to pass a UN resolution on Iranian sanctions. Here is how the Right Zionist New York Sun reported the story:
Despite the departure of its ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, America is drawing fire at the U.N. Security Council. Several council members accused Washington’s U.N. representatives yesterday of provoking anger in an undiplomatic manner, possibly harming negotiations on a resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran.
The Security Council had just wrapped up a debate on Lebanon and the Ivory Coast last night and some members were planning a separate discussion on Iran when an American representative, William Brencick, raised the issue of recent human rights violations in Belarus, a Russian neighbor and ally.
His remarks prompted the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, to storm out of the meeting, saying he would not join the talks on Iran and that he needed “some time for reflection” and had “decided to relax a bit.” Asked why the consultations on Iran should not take place as scheduled, he said, “Because I said so.”
Brencick’s invocation of Belarus was part of a far larger Cheney-led initiative to pry former Soviet republics away from Russian influence.
The Financial Times helps put the Belarus story in the context of Great Power Rivalry, in which the US is trying to exploit tensions between Russia and Belarus.
Russia is set to deal a double blow to the economy of one of its closest allies – potentially making life much more difficult for the man the US has called “Europe’s last dictator”.
[Bu] pressing for Belarus to pay much more for its natural gas, Moscow… could sharply reduce or wipe out the $4bn-plus effective annual subsidy Russia provides to Belarus, which has helped Alexander Lukashenko, its authoritarian president, deliver higher wages and living standards to his 10m people.
That, say analysts, could make it harder to sustain the support that saw Mr Lukashenko re-elected last March to a third presidential term with 82 per cent of the vote – albeit in a poll international observers condemned as below international standards. It could also drive a wedge between countries with close cultural and historic links….
This is a sharp turnaround from nine months ago, when Russian president Vladimir Putin was criticised for being one of the few world leaders to congratulate Mr Lukashenko on his controversial election victory. It is the more surprising since Russia and Belarus signed agreements in the mid-1990s on creating a political and economic union, including a common currency and union constitution.
Analysts from both countries suggest Moscow is penalising Mr Lukashenko for not delivering on pledges of closer integration with Russia, including the currency union and selling half of Beltransgaz, the Belarusian gas distributor, to Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant. Beltransgaz controls the gas export pipeline to western Europe…
The Belarus president now has a difficult choice. He is loath to cede a half-share to Russia in Beltransgaz, which one western diplomat calls Belarus’s “sacred cow”.
But even a limited gas price increase could render much of the country’s largely state-owned industry uncompetitive – and handing over the Beltransgaz stake would probably only delay Russia’s demands for a higher gas price.
In terms of the UN resolution on Iran, the “Belarus” affair implies that the effort to court Russian participation in the US-led UN effort to isolate Iran will not be allowed to interfere with ongoing battles US efforts to undermine Russian control of the former Soviet republics.
The second news story concerns a similar battle over the fate of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
As the Financial Times reports, Russia is threatening to cut off natural gas supplies to Georgia. Georgia has two possible alternative sources of natural gas that would help break the Russian hold on Georgia.
The first alternative source of natural gas, as the Financial Times reports, is a new 690km gas pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan that will provide Georgia with gas that does not travel through Russian territory.
For Cheney, this is the key alternative. However, it may not be sufficient to meet Georgian gas needs.
The other major Georgian alternative source of natural gas is Iran.
If the Baku gas proves insufficient, Cheney would have to choose between his quest to keep Georgia from Russia and his quest to keep Georgia from Iran.
Reports from Cheney’s recent meetings with the Georgian Prime Minister seem to indicate that if push comes to shove, Cheney may blink on Iran.
At present Georgia is in talks with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran on gas supplies to the republic. The United States is against long-term strategic partnership between Tbilisi and Teheran in the natural gas sphere, however, does not rule out possible supplies of Iranian gas to Georgia in the event of force majeure as it happened in late January due to an explosion on a gas pipeline in North Ossetia.
A Regnum News Agency report makes it clear, however, that the US would obviously rather not have to make this choice:
“We have been working on the question of receiving natural gas from alternative sources. First of all, we shall accomplish talks with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Only after that, if it is necessary, we shall continue our talks with Iran,” Zurab Nogaideli declared. “But the only thing is clear: Georgia will not be left without gas in winter,” the prime minister said.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza expressed his hope talking to reporters in Washington that Georgia would receive enough natural gas from the Azerbaijani Shah Deniz gas field, and it will not have to import gas from Iran. “We comprehend that Georgia can find itself in a difficult situation, and we are interested that the country will not be left without natural gas. We know, Georgia has been conducting talks with the neighboring countries, Azerbaijan and Turkey on the question of receiving additional amount of gas. I think, this amount of gas will be enough not to import gas from Iran,” Matthew Bryza said.
Keep an eye on this story. It may say quite a bit about Cheney’s priorities.
News media coverage of the Bush administration’s Iraq Policy Review has focused on the possibility of a dramatic turn in US policy in Iraq that would feature a retreat from efforts to court the Sunni Arab insurgency and a full-throated support for a “Shiite Option.” In many ways, this would actually mark a return to the original Right Zionist plan for post-invasion Iraq.
A dramatic move of this kind would be explosive in the Middle East and this probably explains some of careful focus on the timing of any dramatic announcement. According to the White House, the “new strategy”–like the old “new strategies”–will arrive in 2007, an odd-numbered year when political insulation in the US is at its peak.
The delay from a pre-Christmas release is also likely a result of some ongoing factional resistance to such a bold move. Condoleezza Rice is reportedly ringing alarm bells about the Shiite Option:
Some members of the administration, including some in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, have argued that the administration needs to provide clear support to a strong Shiite majority government, but the State Department, led by Condoleezza Rice, views that as a recipe for perpetual civil war.
While we wait, I have been trying to suggest that there is a Russian angle in the new factionalism and it turns on relations between Russia and Iran.
The Baker crowd favors engagement with Iran. Neither an alliance between Iran and Russia nor animosity between Iran and Israel is a bar for the Baker faction. The clearest recent statement of support for this position arrives courtesy of Brent Scowcroft and his December 12, 2006 interview with the state-run Russian News Agency:
DMITRY BOBKOV: General Scowcroft, I remember when we met last year you mentioned there was no appropriate dialog between the U.S. and Russia. Since that time U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has made a famous speech in Vilnius, Lithuania where he criticized Russia’s domestic policy and the lack of freedom. Do you think that Russia is currently moving in the right direction?
SCOWCROFT: I think that the situation with U.S. – Russia relations has not gotten better since we talked last year; indeed, it’s probably gotten worse. I think we still suffer badly from the lack of regular dialog. In analyzing the Russian policy, the Russian government tends not to explain its actions very well. It simply comes out and does things, and then leaves people to figure out what they have in mind. That’s not useful in developing understanding. How long it will last, I don’t know. As we said last time, bureaucracy exists on both sides; neither the U.S. bureaucracy nor Russian bureaucracy has developed any affinity for the other. It’s still a suspicious relationship. For a time under the George W. Bush administration our bilateral relationship worked OK because the two leaders had a good personal relationship. Now that’s not so good anymore. But potentially there is something to hold this relationship together. There are many big issues around the world and our policies are not opposed to each other. Actually, they are congruous. And therefore there is potential for cooperation on areas like North Korea, Iran and many other areas. I think there are two serious problems in our partnership. One is the situation of democracy in Russia and the other concerns the southern border region of Russia. In both we are deeply suspicious of each other’s motives. When we see Russia intervening in Georgia or Ukraine or other places we tend to say that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union. When we intervene and praise democracy development in Georgia, Ukraine and so on, the Russians say we use democracy as an excuse to penetrate and drive them off.
This is a swipe at Cheney, who has always led the campaign to intervene to grab power in Russia’s old imperial sphere of influence.
DMITRY BOBKOV: Should Russia also start to participate in solving the Iraq problem?
SCOWCROFT: I would say yes. Because here again we have a common interest in the region. We’d like stability there. Instability doesn’t serve either one of our interests.
Apart from the Baker-Scowcroft faction, there is also a faction that fears the Russian alliance with Iran much more than Iranian-Israeli animosity and so favors engagement with Iran as a way to pry the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia.
Cheney, on the other hand, represents a factional alliance between Right Zionists (like his key Middle East aide, David Wurmser) and Russia hawks. For this coalition, the US can neither engage the incumbent Iranian regime nor leave it to Russia. The only solution is to win Iran for the US and Israel and keep it from Russia.
This points to the old Right Zionist notion that Iraqi Shiites will actually be allied with the US in a Shiite-led movement to overthrow the Iranian regime.
And already–right on cue–there are the first signs of Right Zionist excitement over the prospect of undermining the incumbent Iranian regime from within.
This strategy will put Saudi Arabia in an extremely awkward position. On the one hand, there are surely signs of Saudi-Iranian hostility over a host of issue, including Lebanon. A US-backed Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran is hardly out of the question, at least in the short term.
On the other hand, the Saudis also surely know that any Right Zionist quest for reconstructing the “Eternal Iran” is, in the last instance, only a prelude to the formation of a pro-US Shia Crescent that would ultimately transform the Arab Gulf into a Persian Gulf and devour the Saudi dynasty itself.
In a November 30, 2006 post, I suggested the following:
[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.
These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.
Today’s New York Times article by Helene Cooper–“Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq“–seems to suggest that the Saudi split may indeed be part of the story.
Along the way, Cooper sheds light on a number of significant developments regarding US-Saudi relations.
The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who told his staff on Monday that he was resigning his post, recently fired Nawaf Obaid, a consultant who wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post two weeks ago contending that “one of the first consequences” of an American pullout of Iraq would “be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”
Mr. Obaid also suggested that Saudi Arabia could cut world oil prices in half by raising its production, a move that he said “would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high oil prices.” The Saudi government disavowed Mr. Obaid’s column, and Prince Turki canceled his contract.
But Arab diplomats said Tuesday that Mr. Obaid’s column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to an American pullout from Iraq.
And, Cooper also makes news by reporting new details on the substance of Cheney’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah in late November:
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.
Abdullah is opposed to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran. That idea was floated by James Baker. So what ever happened to James Baker’s famous intimacy with the Saudi Royal family?
One answer is that a Cheney-Baker split reflects a split in the house of Saud:
In Riyadh, there was a sense of disarray over Prince Turki’s resignation that was difficult to hide. A former adviser to the royal family said that Prince Turki had submitted his resignation several months ago but that it was refused. Rumors had circulated ever since that Prince Turki intended to resign, as talk of a possible government shake-up grew.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister and Prince Turki’s brother, has been in poor health for some time. He is described as eager to resign, with his wife’s health failing, too, just as the United States has been prodding Saudi Arabia to take a more active role in Iraq and with Iran.
The former adviser said Prince Turki’s resignation came amid a growing rivalry between the ambassador and Prince Bandar, who is now Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser. Prince Bandar, well known in Washington for his access to the White House, has vied to become the next foreign minister.
“This is a very high-level problem; this is about Turki, the king and Bandar,” said the former adviser to the royal family. “Let’s say the men don’t have a lot of professional admiration for each other.”
Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?
And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?
Or has Cheney decided that the Bandar/Bush branch of the Saudi Royal family–the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah–has lost the battle for control of Saudi Arabia?
Was Cheney’s trip to Riyadh was a farewell visit? Did Cheney tell King Abdullah that he was backing the Shiite Option in Iraq?
The last time Prince Turki resigned abruptly was on September 4, 2001, exactly one week before the September 11 attacks. Mark your calendars.
The signs of Bush administration resistance to the Baker Iraq Study Group plan grow ever more obvious.
I have been arguing that this represents a battle between two figures–Cheney and Baker–neither of whom are accurately described as Right Zionists or Neocons and both of whom are usually thought of as close to the Saudis.
So what gives?
Baker favors diplomatic “engagement” with Iran and Russia. Cheney, I propose, looks at Iran through the lens of Great Power Rivalry for influence and sees the Iranian-Russian alliance as a threat to US efforts to grab influence in the regions around the former Soviet Union.
One small piece of a larger puzzle in this regard:
The administration of Bush Sr. is usually considered to have avoided or controlled much of the factional conflicts that have ravaged the current Bush administration. One exception concerns US responses to the breakup of the Soviet Union.
On this issue, a factional split developed featuring Cheney and Robert Gates on one side and Bush Sr, Scowcroft, and Baker on the other.
Here is one way way Bush Sr. and Scowcroft describe the split in their memoir A World Transformed (page 541):
The next day there was a long NSC meeting over future strategy toward the Soviet Union, focusing on whether we should support a breakup…
Cheney called for a more ‘aggressive’ approach. He argued that we had more leverage than we thought and if we simply reacted we could miss opportunities… He suggested we pick up one of Bob Gates’ ideas to establish consulates in all the republics… ‘We ought to lead and shape the events.’ This, of course, would have been a thinly disguised effort to encourage the breakup of the USSR. Scowcroft countered that our aid program was premised on a strong center… ‘That’s an example of old thinking,’ protested Cheney. Baker urged we continue to try to prop up the center…
‘But what should we be doing now to engage Ukraine?’ asked Cheney. ‘We are reacting.’ Scowcroft observed that Cheney’s premise was that we would be dealing with fifteen or sixteen independent countries. ‘The voluntary breakup of the Soviet Union is in our interest,’ argued Cheney.
For figures like Cheney, the problem with the Soviet Union was not merely “Communism.” It was Russian Empire. The axiomatic premise is not Cold War ideology but the “Great Game” of Great Power Rivalry.
Cheney has been playing it that way. Not so Baker.
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments
The New York Times is scrambling to make sense of the failed Realist coup that was supposed to accompany the publication of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group report.
One early Times effort pitted Condoleezza Rice as the leader of the anti-Baker faction.
More recently, the Times tries out a few other approaches in an article entitled, “Report on Iraq Exposes a Divide within the G.O.P.”
One approach emphasizes the role of domestic Republican politics and cites a Wesleyan colleague, Douglas Foyle:
No matter what positions they take today, all Republicans would prefer that the 2008 elections not be fought on the battleground of Iraq, said Douglas Foyle, professor of government at Wesleyan University.
“They don’t want the 2008 presidential and Congressional campaign to be about staying the course,” Professor Foyle said. “That’s where the calculus of Bush and the Republicans diverge very quickly. Everyone is thinking about the next election, and Bush doesn’t have one.”
Other voices in the article also alleged that the Baker Report is supposed to function as cover for “cut and run” Republicans:
Bill Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard and a leading advocate of the decision to invade Iraq, said: “In the real world, the Baker report is now the vehicle for those Republicans who want to extricate themselves from Iraq…”
But Kristol knows that the conflict is not simply about the audacity of a lame duck and the cautiousness of those “thinking about the next election.” As Kristol suggests, the emphasis on domestic politics only goes so far in explaining the split within the Republican party. After all, says Kristol, one of the most prominent “rejectionists” is also the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2008, John McCain:
“McCain is articulating the strategy for victory in Iraq. Bush will have to choose, and the Republican Party will have to choose, in the very near future between Baker and McCain.”
The Times authors also seem to discard the electoral politics explanation that pits lame duck hawks against pandering doves:
Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, rejected the major recommendations of the group because they did not present a formula for victory. Mr. McCain, hoping to claim the Republican mantle on national security issues, has staked out a muscular position on Iraq, calling for an immediate increase in American forces to try to bring order to Baghdad and crush the insurgency.
This leads to the second approach adopted by the New York Times article, one that emphasizes the role of ideological factionalism:
A document that many in Washington had hoped would pave the way for a bipartisan compromise on Iraq instead drew sharp condemnation from the right, with hawks saying it was a wasted effort that advocated a shameful American retreat.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described the report as a “strategic muddle,” Richard Perle called it “absurd,” Rush Limbaugh labeled it “stupid,” and The New York Post portrayed the leaders of the group, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic member of Congress, as “surrender monkeys”…
The choice Mr. Kristol is describing reflects a longstanding Republican schism over policy and culture between ideological neoconservatives and so-called realists. Through most of the Bush administration, the neoconservatives’ idea of using American military power to advance democracy around the world prevailed, pushed along by Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld.
Of course, it is true that the so-called Neoconservatives–aka Right Zionists–have been howling about the Baker Report.
The problem with this explanation of the new factionalism, however, is that most of the actual so-called “ideological neoconservatives”–including Richard Perle–were long ago purged from the administration (if not Congress) and Right Arabists occupy key posts in the White House, the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass.
So, if the Right Zionists are pleased to observe some White House “push back” against Baker, they are cheering from the side-lines, largely in absentia.
Perhaps the only meaningful exceptions–now that Bolton is gone–are Elliottt Abrams and a Right Zionist named David Wurmser. The key to Wurmser’s protected status, if there is any, is that he works in the Office of the Vice President.
But Cheney himself doesn’t exactly fit the profile of an “ideological neoconservative”–least of all on the basis of the skewed definition offered up by the Times (“using military power to advance democracy around the world”). Just check out Cheney in Kazakhstan to appreciate the gap. Cheney is hardly a promoter of democracy for its own sake; not quite a “true believer.” And, historically at least, not a particularly reliable Right Zionist.
Cheney is the leader of the rejectionist faction. But to what end?
The new factionalism is only indirectly about the Gulf, although it is about energy politics. The key split increasingly looks like a battle between competing approaches to Russia, with Iran, Iraq, and Israel hanging in the balance.
The Washington Post has published the latest installment of Robin Wright’s reporting on the Bush administration’s Iraq Policy Review and the New York Times has a report on the hydrocarbon law negotiations in Iraq.
If Wright has the factional story correct, the White House Iraq Policy Review is looking increasingly like Cheney’s Right Zionist answer to James Baker’s Right Arabist Iraq Study Group Report.
The central “news” of Wright’s article–entitled “Iraq Strategy Review Focusing On Three Main Options“–is that she identifies Cheney as leader of the faction supporting the so-called “Shiite Option” or the “80 Percent Solution.” Here is Wright:
Vice President Cheney’s office has most vigorously argued for the “80 percent solution,” in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq’s largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown.
Let us stipulate that Cheney’s concern for the Shiite is not humanitarian. It is “strategic” and represents a return to the Right Zionist “Plan A” that dominated the early days of the US invasion of Iraq. The heart of that plan has been a shift in the regional balance of power away from Sunni Arab dominance and toward a “reconfigured,” pro-American Shiite Crescent.
At the heart of any Shiite option has always been Grand Ayatollah Sistani and, to a lesser extent, SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.
Hakim was recently in Washington for meetings with administration officials. It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall for those sessions. One topic that surely made the agenda: Hakim’s position on regional autonomy for southern Iraq and the implications of autonomy for the future of oil field development in Iraq.
Hakim and the Hydrocarbons Law
It may be no coincidence that only days after Hakim’s visit to Washington, Ed Wong reports in the New York Times that Iraqis are “near” a deal on the hydrocarbons law. Wong writes as if the Kurds have opened a path toward reconciliation:
Iraqi officials are near agreement on a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population, Iraqi and American officials say.
If enacted, the measure, drafted by a committee of politicians and ministers, could help resolve a highly divisive issue that has consistently blocked efforts to reconcile the country’s feuding ethnic and sectarian factions. Sunni Arabs, who lead the insurgency, have opposed the idea of regional autonomy for fear that they would be deprived of a fair share of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and Kurdish north…
At the start of the talks, the Kurds fought to ensure that regional governments have the power to collect and distribute revenues from future fields, Iraqi and American officials said. They also proposed that revenues be shared among the regions based on both population and crimes committed against the people under Mr. Hussein’s rule. That would have given the Kurds and Shiites a share of the oil wealth larger than the proportions of their populations.
But the Kurds dropped those demands, said Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister who is a Kurd and the chairman of the committee.
The only problem is that the distribution of revenues has not been the key sticking point in recent months. The contentious issue is control over new oil field development. Have the Kurds backed down on that issue?
No, says Wong in the New York Times:
The major remaining stumbling block, officials said, concerns the issuing of contracts for developing future oil fields. The Kurds are insisting that the regions reserve final approval over such contracts, fearing that if that power were given to a Shiite-dominated central government, it could ignore proposed contracts in the Kurdish north while permitting them in the Shiite south, American and Iraqi officials said…
[T]he Kurds are still holding out on the issue of oil contracts, arguing that the Constitution guarantees the regions absolute rights in those matters.
So what has changed? What motivates the Wong report if the Kurds have not removed the major remaining stumbling block?
The Shiites and the Bush administration may be preparing to overrule the Kurds. Specifically, SCIRI’s Hakim seems to have abandoned his prior commitments to regional autonomy, at least with regard to the crucial issue of control over new oil field development.
On the drafting committee, Sunni Arabs have allied with the Shiites against the Kurds, who have sought to maintain as much regional control as possible over the oil industry in their autonomous northern enclave. Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed de facto independence since 1991, when the American military established a no-flight zone above the mountainous region to prevent raids by Saddam Hussein.
Wong has buried the big news: Shiites have allied with Sunni Arabs on the issue of Iraqi national unity (no news that Sunni Arabs oppose the Kurds on this issue…).
That helps clear the way for Cheney to embrace a Shiite Option in Iraq. Forget James Baker. Get ready for a really lame duck.
Someone powerful in Washington is pushing back against the Baker plan and there is a bit of a scramble to figure out who is leading the rejectionist faction. In a previous post, I pointed to Cheney as a key factor. William Kristol told Newsweek he thinks that Bush himself is the last Neocon.
David Sanger of the New York Times tries out a new theory today: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the quiet leader of the rejectionist faction.
According to Sanger, the issues at the heart of Rice’s rebuke the Iraq Study Group recommendations regarding diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.
I’m not sure Sanger has the goods to make this idea stick, although it is certainly interesting to reflect on Rice’s role.
On Syria, Sanger offers up a key Baker quote that currently appears only in the Times:
At a midday meeting with reporters on Thursday, Mr. Baker insisted… [the US] should try to “flip the Syrians”…
“If you can flip the Syrians you will cure Israel’s Hezbollah problem,” Mr. Baker said Thursday, noting that Syria is the transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah. He said Syrian officials told him “that they do have the ability to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist,” and added, “If we accomplish that, that would give the Ehud Olmert a negotiating partner.”
The idea–also popular with some Israeli politicians–is to pry Syria away from its regional alliance with Iran and return Damascus to the Arab fold.
Sanger doesn’t exactly have Rice taking shots at this idea, but he does report some muttering from Rice aides:
Ms. Rice remained publicly silent, sitting across town in the office that Mr. Baker gave up 14 years ago. She has yet to say anything about the public tutorial being… delivered in a tone that drips with isn’t-this-obvious…
Aides to the 52-year-old Ms. Rice say she is acutely aware that there is little percentage in getting into a public argument with Mr. Baker, the 76-year-old architect of the first Bush administration’s Middle East policy. But Thursday, as President Bush gently pushed back against some of Mr. Baker’s recommendations, Ms. Rice’s aides and allies were offering a private defense, saying that she already has a coherent, effective strategy for the region.
She has advocated “deepening the isolation of Syria,” because she believes much of the rest of the Arab world condemns its efforts to topple Lebanon’s government, they said…
The Rice quote about the isolation of Syria is from October 2005 (“Despite Warnings, U.S. Leans on Syria,” Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2005; no on-line link available). Plenty has happened since then, not all of which points toward the isolation of Syria. Nevertheless, the recent assassination of Pierre Gemayal certainly might have revived tensions between Washington and Syria, to the detriment of Baker’s diplomatic track.
On Iran, Sanger’s attempt to discern a split between Rice and Baker seems even weaker.
[I]n seeking to isolate Iran, [Rice aides] said, she hopes to capitalize on the fears of nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan that Iran seeks to dominate the region, with the option of wielding a nuclear weapon.
How different is this from Baker’s own approach toward Iran? Is Baker above capitalizing on Arab fears? Aren’t these fears a primary motivation for Baker’s diplomatic initiative regarding Iran?
And, how far is Rice from Baker on Iran? Sanger doesn’t mention that Rice led the way what was billed as a major “opening” toward dialogue with Iran.
Nevertheless, I think Sanger might be on to something.
Baker and Rice are hardly carbon copies. Perhaps the best way to trace the difference is to recall that the key figure who recruited Rice into the Bush administration was not Baker or even Brent Scowcroft, but George Shultz who worked with Rice at his Stanford University “Hoover Institution.”
Leading figures at the Hoover Institution and Baker’s public policy shop at Rice University differ on many issues, including Israel and Iran. In terms of Condoleezza Rice, however, perhaps the most important differences between Baker and Shultz concern Russia–Condoleezza’s area of expertise.
Shultz’s Hoover Institution is quite hawkish about Russia. And, as I noted in a previous post, this may have considerable importance when teasing out differences between Rice and Baker, not to mention Cheney and Baker.
The Iraq Study Group Report has been released. I’m not at all convinced that it represents the advent of a Realist (Right Arabist) coup in Washington, as initially predicted. There seems to be plenty of “push back” against it from some quarters within the Bush administration.
Even if none of it fails to become official policy, the Report does represent what Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Thomas Ricks call “The Realist Manifesto” and so deserves to be read and archived for what it reveals about Right Arabist positions on US policy in the Gulf.
There are a few key sections that represent key consitutive elements of Right Arabist views on the proper domestic contours of Iraqi politics. There is no “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Solution” in this report.
National reconciliation is essential to reduce further violence and maintain the unity of Iraq.
U.S. forces can help provide stability for a time to enable Iraqi leaders to negotiate political solutions, but they cannot stop the violence—or even contain it—if there is no underlying political agreement among Iraqis about the future of their country.
The Iraqi government must send a clear signal to Sunnis that there is a place for them in national life. The government needs to act now, to give a signal of hope. Unless Sunnis believe they can get a fair deal in Iraq through the political process, there is no prospect that the insurgency will end.
To strike this fair deal, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people must address several issues that are critical to the success of national reconciliation and thus to the future of Iraq.
Steps for Iraq to Take on Behalf of National Reconciliation
RECOMMENDATION 26: Constitution review. Review of the constitution is essential to national reconciliation and should be pursued on an urgent basis. The United Nations has expertise in this field, and should play a role in this process.
RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.
The report provides some detailed discussion of oil politics in Iraqi “national reconciliation.” As I indicated in a previous post, Right Arabists favor Iraqi unity and centralized control over new oil field development.
Here is a section entitled, “The Politics of Oil,” that lays out the specific political link between sectarian tensions and the domestic battle for future control of Iraqi oil.
The politics of oil has the potential to further damage the country’s already fragile efforts to create a unified central government.
The Iraqi Constitution leaves the door open for regions to take the lead in developing new oil resources. Article 108 states that “oil and gas are the ownership of all the peoples of Iraq in all the regions and governorates,” while Article 109 tasks the federal government with “the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields.”
This language has led to contention over what constitutes a “new” or an “existing” resource, a question that has profound ramifications for the ultimate control of future oil revenue. Senior members of Iraq’s oil industry argue that a national oil company could reduce political tensions by centralizing revenues and reducing regional or local claims to a percentage of the revenue derived from production.
However, regional leaders are suspicious and resist this proposal, affirming the rights of local communities to have direct access to the inflow of oil revenue. Kurdish leaders have been particularly aggressive in asserting independent control of their oil assets, signing and implementing investment deals with foreign oil companies in northern Iraq. Shia politicians are also reported to be negotiating oil investment contracts with foreign companies.
On this issue, the Iraq Study Group has taken a clear stand:
RECOMMENDATION 28: Oil revenue sharing. Oil revenues should accrue to the central government and be shared on the basis of population. No formula that gives control over revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is compatible with national reconciliation.
Headlines about the Report tend to be focused on the call for international diplomacy. But all of this international efforts are, in essence, geared toward achieving the domestic “reconciliation” goals articulated above. Because these goals are meant to curb Shiite and Kurdish ambitions, relative to the Sunni population, the international diplomatic proposals have already met with considerable opposition from Shiite and Kurdish political leaders, even as they have been welcomed by Sunnis and ex-Baathists.
In many respects, this manifesto could have been written before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is nothing particularly new about the Right Arabist line adopted in the Report. The “news” would have been that this line was now uncontested official policy.
On that front, it was–at best–a slow news day.
The Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Robert Gates provided an interesting insight into the mind of a Right Arabist who supported the US invasion of Iraq:
I certainly supported the decision to go into Iraq in 2003, and not just because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction… It was clear that the sanctions were weakening, and I had no doubt in my mind that once the sanctions were removed by the U.N. — and it looked like the French and the Russians and others were moving in that direction — that Saddam, if he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, would move quickly to try and obtain them…
And so once the sanctions were lifted, there was no doubt in my mind that he would strive to get a nuclear weapon. He clearly hadn’t changed his spots in the slightest, and so that’s the reason that I supported the decision to go in…
As clear a statement on the Great Power Rivalry explanation for war in Iraq as I’ve seen.
Why call Gates a Right Arabist? Because of his critique of de-Baathification:
[In terms of] problems that I think were created — the first was the demobilization of the Iraqi army…
I think if we had widely advertised the fact that soldiers who returned to their barracks would continue to be paid, they would have a way to take care of their families, that we wouldn’t have had several hundred thousand people who knew how to use weapons, had weapons and were unemployed, out on the streets.
A third example, I think, was the extreme de-Ba’athification policy, frankly, looking at it from a distance… [We] didn’t really appreciate the fact that every schoolteacher and power plant operator, for the most part in Iraq, had to be a member of the Ba’ath Party to get the job, and that they, in terms of being a threat to our interests or a threat to a democratic Iraq — they weren’t necessarily that, but it was the people at the top of the pyramid that were the problem. And so a few more hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of work, people who actually knew how to make some things work and who might have had a stake in keeping things together.
No notion here of a regional tilt in the balance of power toward the Iraqi Shia.
Who, then, invited Abdel Aziz al-Hakim to the White House?
Who supports the so-called “80 percent solution“?
Who is tamping down expectations for Wednesday’s Baker-Hamilton report?
With Bolton out, the only Right Zionist is Elliott Abrams. And Abrams doesn’t manage the Iraq portfolio.
Who is left?
As one Wall Street Journal essay inquired, “At a Pivotal Moment, Where is Mr. Cheney?”
[A]bsent from nearly all public discussion… is Mr. Cheney, though he is as closely associated with White House policy on Iraq, the Pentagon, intelligence and other headline post-9/11 security topics as Mr. Bush himself. Since the elections that shifted Washington’s balance of power to responsibility shared with the Democrats, Mr. Cheney has taken a low profile. He joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday to meet with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, as Reuters reports, and made it to the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony Sunday night. His mission to Riyadh last week came at the request of Saudi King Abdullah, who wished to discuss how Iraq was destabilizing the region, the Journal reported. But there was nothing public on Mr. Cheney’s itinerary before, during or after the trip, and that has been his recent MO. He hasn’t withdrawn a pre-election vow that the administration would move “full speed ahead” with its Iraq policy whatever the outcome at the polls. And Mr. Bush doesn’t appear to have publicly addressed Mr. Cheney’s responsibilities since a terse affirmation at a post-election news conference that the vice president would indeed stay on.
It would be difficult to imagine otherwise. Some serious internal administration disputes have come out amid the reams of reportage and dozens of books over the past six years, but Messrs. Bush and Cheney have largely appeared to speak and think as one. Now, as Washington and the rest of the world ponder just how much Mr. Bush is willing to modify his strategy for Iraq, the most illustrative telltale may be Mr. Cheney.
So, what are the telltale signs?
Michael Ledeen is as excited as he has been since 2003.
When Democrats look around for a way to criticize the Bush administration on the war in Iraq without taking a stand on some of the tougher political issues involved, they have often adopted a page from the standard Right Arabist playbook: bring in Iraq’s neighbors.
Outgoing UN General Secretary Kofi Annan has recently adopted and promoted the idea of an international conference.The idea of dialogue seems so innocuous that liberals in the US might have been a bit surprised to learn that several Iraq politicians have rejected the idea.
The “latent” meaning of the international conference idea is rendered clear by the partisan responses emerging in Iraq.
The key political opponents of the international conference are Shiite leaders, including SCIRI’s Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and–allegedly–Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They are joined by leading Kurdish figures, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
These political forces represent the “80 percent solution” that originally animated Right Zionist policy in Iraq.
The International Conference represents one element in a long-term Right Arabist push back against the 80 percent solution.
Hence, it has won the support of Iyad Allawi–the ex-Baathist long favored by Bush administration Right Arabists and the figure appointed as first Iraqi Prime Minister by the US and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi–along with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
These Iraqi battle lines have been at the core of US policy since the end of Operation Desert Storm.
The central question right now is balance of power within the Bush administration regarding these competing forces.
How do you read the tea leaves?
Where does Iran fit in all this?
Annan and James Baker endorse a dialogue that includes not only Saudis and Jordanians, but also Iran and Syria. Does an international conference represent a tilt toward Iran? Or an instrument designed to contain Iran?
Likewise, does the 80 percent solution represent a tilt toward Iran? Or is it a major step toward a US policy of regime change in Iran?
What does it mean that Hakim rejects the international conference and presumably welcomes the 80 percent solution?
Does Hakim represent a tilt toward the incumbent Iranian regime? Or does Hakim serve Sistani and represent an in independent Iraqi Shiite position that shifts the center of gravity from away from the Iranian city of Qom and toward the Iraqi city of Najaf?
[Update: a bunch of sources–Informed Comment, Missing Links, and Robert Dreyfuss at TomPaine.com–are all reporting that another prominent ex-Baathist, Saleh Mutlaq, is joining Iyad Allawi in supporting Annan’s international conference.
No surprise here. The bigger news is that all three sources are also saying that Mutlaq (also Salih al-Mutlak) and Moqtada al-Sadr have agreed to join together in a new nationalist parliamentary front on the basis of common opposition to the US military occupation and to the breakup of Iraq into relatively autonomous regions with control of new oil field development. All of the sectarian violence has functioned to shift the axis from an anti-US nationalist insurgency toward a sectarian axis that pits Shiiites and Sunnis against each other. Sadr and Mutlak represent an effort to restore the nationalist, anti-occupation axis.
Finally, a word on Robert Dreyfuss. Notwithstanding his impressive “progressive” credentials (The Nation, Mother Jones, The American Prospect), I am more convinced than ever that his writing about the war in Iraq is fundamentally flawed because it adopts the perspective of Right Arabist imperialists.
In the past, he has articulated what appeared to be a particularly “amoral” perspective on the regime of Saddam Hussein, as when he celebrated the idea that the US would “Bring Back the Baath.”
Now, however, he adopts a shrill and deeply moralistic tone as the Bush administration once again flirts with Iraqi Shiites, describing the upcoming Washington visit of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim as “Bush’s Meeting with a Murderer.”
The Left can either be moralistic and idealistic about foreign policy or it can be cynical, amoralistic and “realistic” about foreign policy. But to deploy these discourses so unevenly, however, smacks of rank hypocrisy. Dreyfuss has become nothing more than a pawn for one side of an intra-imperialist factional game.]
Bush administration factionalism seems to have returned, although media coverage thus far makes it very difficult to discern the contours of the debate and the key factional players.
On November 13, 2006, the Washington Post published an Op-Ed by a relatively unknown figure, Monica Duffy Toft, who argued that the US should pick a winner in the Iraqi civil war and–at least as I interpreted the article–US money should be on the Shia.
I also noted at the time that there were still many anti-Shiite voices arguing the opposite, including an author named Tim Greene, identified as 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–currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.
At the same time, this Op-Ed “civil war” between Monica Duffy Toft and Tim Greene was also playing out at a much higher level in Washington.
The locus of at least some of the new factionalism seems to surround a series of “secret” Veteran’s Day meetings, first reported by Robin Wright on November 15, 2006 in the Washington Post. The meetings resulted in the launch of a formal “Iraq Policy Review,” distinct from James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and a military review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On November 16th, Laura Rozen published an Op-Ed in Los Angeles Times that cited unnamed sources suggesting that one option under consideration was a “tilt toward the Shiites,” and–implicitly, at least–an abandonment of efforts to court the Sunni insurgency. Rozen reported that the “Shiite option” was one proposed in a paper authored by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Although Rozen does not identify her sources, it is interesting that she does appear to have talked to Monica Duffy Toft who is quoted in Rozen’s article.
That same day, there was also news from Iraq that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Interior Ministry had issued an arrest warrant for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and one of the central figures linked to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
About ten days later, on November 27, 2006 came news that another key insurgency figure–Izzat Ibrahim, Saddam’s former deputy–had publicly urged insurgents to reject US reconciliation efforts.
It was also at this time that the first signs began to emerge of a Bush administration split over James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and its call for direct dialogue with the incumbent regime in Iran.
Exhibit A in the sniper attacks on Baker’s Group was an extraordinary November 27, 2006 New York Times article that featured an unnamed “intelligence official” linking Iraq’s Sadrist Mahdi Army to Iran via Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Exhibit B was offered up in a November 28, 2006 Washington Post article by Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks:
[I]n a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead “pick a winner” in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. “That’s the price you’re going to have to pay,” he said…
And, this same intelligence official appears to have also talked to David Ignatius about the “pick a winner” approach and seems to be the same figure making allegations about the Sadr-Hezbollah-Iran link. This from the Wright and Ricks Post article:
The intelligence official said that he “never saw any evidence” that Sadr’s organization sent personnel to Lebanon this summer to fight against Israel, but said he had heard talk that some were sent there to be trained by Lebanese members of Hezbollah, an organization funded by Iran’s Shiite government.
He said there was evidence that the Iranian government this year had escalated its efforts inside Iraq.
“The whole year, yes, it has stepped up,” he said. “More training in and out of Iraq. More coordination with Hezbollah. More advisers.”
So, the key point here is that the so-called “Shiite option” is decidedly not a pro-Iranian option in the mind of the faction that wants the US to pick a Shiite winner.
If this plan is on the table again, it marks one more flip-flop on Iraq that seems to move to the rhythm of domestic US politics and confirms my pre-mid-term election sense that the final two years of the Bush administration might be the most dangerous of all.
David Ignatius named the so-called “80 percent option” back in November 2004, just after the Presidential election. What followed was the year of the Shiite–US-backed Iraqi elections in January 2005, a constitutional referendum in October 2005, and another election in December 2005, all of which enhanced the political power of Iraqi Shiites.
All of this took place over the objections of Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft who warned against elections in Iraq.
Today, however, there are complications and confusing signs regarding the factional politics of the 80 percent option.
Zelikow the Zelig
On the one hand, there is the November 28, 2006 abrupt resignation of Philip Zelikow, a top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a figure touted in the media as a Scowcroft-style Realist, i.e., a Right Arabist.
His resignation could easily be read as a protest against the Shiite option.
On the other hand, in a December 1, 2006 Washington Post article, Robin Wright–the Washington Post reporter most closely associated with the entire story of the Iraq Policy Review, the Shiite option, and the decision to back away from negotiations with Sunni insurgents–says that Zelikow is the author of the Shiite option plan and, presumably the leader of the faction championing such a plan.
The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.
The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed…
Some insiders call the proposal the “80 percent” solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people…
State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow, author of the proposal, argued that the United States has compromised its prospects of success by reaching too far, according to the sources.
At the same time, Wright reports that the “Zelikow” proposal has met with fierce resistance from all of the other Right Arabist, “Realist” factional players:
The proposal has met serious resistance from both U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders in Iraq, who believe that intensive diplomatic efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process are pivotal to stabilizing the war-ravaged country, the sources said…
Khalilzad, who has spearheaded U.S. outreach to the Sunni leadership, has developed a long list of steps to accommodate Sunni concerns, from a possible amnesty to changes in the hydrocarbon law that distributes oil wealth, which is located mainly in Shiite and Kurdish regions.
No surprise in Khalilzad’s position. But it is strange that Wright reports it is against Zelikow–a fellow traveling “Realist” that Khalilzad allegedly battles.
And Wright never mentions that Zelikow–presumably the “victor” in any move toward the 80 percent solution–has resigned!
So did Zelikow resign in protest against the 80 percent solution or does his resignation signal defeat for the 80 percent option that he allegedly sponsored?
Is it possible Wright simply has the facts wrong when she links Zelikow to the 80 percent option?
Finally, there is reference in the Wright article to the hydrocarbons law. As I have previously argued (here, here, and here), the hydrocarbons law is central to ongoing battles over Shiite (and Kurdish) demands for regional autonomy. Any new Shiite option would attempt to shift the balance of power in Iraq from Moqtada al-Sadr–the leading Shiite opponent of regional autonomy–toward SCIRI’s Ayatollah Hakim–he leading proponent of Shiite regional autonomy–who is scheduled to visit Washington this week.
One of Zelikow’s primary responsibilities has been the management–with Robert Kimmitt of the Treasury Department–of ongoing negotiations over a so-called “Compact for Iraq” that centers on the hydrocarbons law.
So, what does Zelikow’s resignation say about the hydrocarbons law?
Regarding the extremely contentious issue of control over the development of all new oil fields, were Zelikow and Kimmitt pressing for centralized Iraqi authority rather than regional autonomy, as favored by SCIRI and Hakim?
Did Zelikow resign in protest over a decision in Washington to allow regional, Shiite control over new oil fields?
What did the Saudis have to say about the 80 percent option when Cheney was in town?
Wright suggests an answer to that final:
A decision to step back from reconciliation efforts would… be highly controversial among America’s closest allies in the region, which are all Sunni governments. Sunni leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been pressuring the United States to ensure that their brethren are included in Iraq’s power structure and economy.
So, what is the relationship between Cheney and the “intelligence official” who has been talking to the press about the 80 percent solution?
When Great Powers compete, you win.
Rivalry between Russia and the United States, according to this scenario, should lead both Great Powers to actively court states like Iran, offering various incentives, including cakes and Bibles. The constraints imposed by inter-imperialist rivalry, then, would make it very difficult for the US to adopt harsh, punishing policies toward Iran as these efforts would only benefit Russian influence in Iran.
Countries like Iran–the “targets” of such competition–presumably delight in the enhanced leverage afforded in a multi-polar world. The more fierce the rivalry, the greater the charm offensive.
And, in fact, there are some very intense Russia hawks within the US who adopt precisely this approach toward US-Iranian relations.
If you want to see an amazing list of Russia hawks, check out bi-partisan list of signatories to the “Open Letter” published in the Moscow Times in September 2004. The letter warns:
President Putin’s foreign policy is increasingly marked by a threatening attitude towards Russia’s neighbors and Europe’s energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire, and by a refusal to comply with Russia’s international treaty obligations.
If Russia hawks are united against the threat of Russian empire, they are quite divided on what this might mean for US relations with Iran.
Some Russia hawks explicitly endorse the strategy of courting Iran in an effort to pry it away from Russia.
Within the United States, the split among Russia hawks is most clearly evident within the halls of the conservative Hudson Institute. The Hudson Institute is united in its hawkish analysis of Russian imperial ambitions.
So intense is the anti-Putin sentiment over at the Hudson Institute that some of the think tank’s scholars approach Putin’s role in Beslan the same way conspiratorial thinkers in the US think about Bush’s role in 9/11. An uncanny resemblance, really: “The Russian authorities may have deliberately allowed the terrorists to take over the school in order to have an excuse to destroy them.”
Hudson Institute Splits on Iran
On the side of wooing Iran stands Hudson Senior Fellow, Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.).
Odom has made big news in anti-war circles for announcing, in no uncertain terms, that the US should “cut and run” in Iraq.
In Hudson Institute articles, he has also emphasized a very “dovish” approach toward Iran:
[T]he U.S. must informally cooperate with Iran in areas of shared interests. Nothing else could so improve our position in the Middle East. The price for success will include dropping U.S. resistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as cutting and running, but it is no less essential. That’s because we do share vital common interests with Iran. We both want to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban (Iran hates both). We both want stability in Iraq (Iran will have influence over the Shiite Iraqi south regardless of what we do, but neither Washington nor Tehran want chaos). And we can help each other when it comes to oil: Iran needs our technology to produce more oil, and we simply need more oil.
Accepting Iran’s nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely benefits. Moreover, its nuclear program will proceed whether we like it or not. Accepting it might well soften Iran’s support for Hezbollah, and it will definitely undercut Russia’s pernicious influence with Tehran.
One of the distinguishing characteristics about Odom’s approach to Great Power rivalry is that his charm offensive toward Iran also includes some tough love for Israel:
Most people are dealing with the symptoms, but we’re not dealing with the fundamental problems. I suggest that if we’re going to deal with Israel, they have to listen to us and follow what we say. They need to stop using the Old Testament as though it’s a property deed. The Mohawk Indians have a better claim on Manhattan than they do on the West Bank.
My hunch is that this kind of talk doesn’t go down so well with other Hudson Institute fellows, especially Senior Fellow, Meyrav Wurmser, the Director of the Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy.
Meyrav Wurmser is one of the most hawkish Likudnik Zionist voices on the US scene. She is also married to another Right Zionist, David Wurmser. David Wurmser once held the comparable “Middle East Policy” position at another conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Today, he is the chief Middle East Policy aide to Vice President Cheney.
For Right Zionists, wooing Iran is not an option.
If you want to know why some Russia hawks are unwilling to court Iran, the best explanation may be found in their relation to the Israel Lobby.
Cheney may once have wanted to court Iran with carrots rather than punish with sticks. But that strategy has been consistently blocked by the Israel lobby and its demand for sanctions.
Shorn of the opportunity to woo the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia, Cheney will turn to the only remaining strategy, short of handing Iran to the Russians: regime change in Iran.
He will run into resistance from all those who favor engagement with Russia and Russia hawks who want to court Iran.
Cheney may be pretty isolated in his approach. Trouble is, he is also untouchable.