Monthly Archives: March 2007

Trouble with Abdullah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, Iraqi government officials seemed miffed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Saudi Snub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, right… I forgot.

Iran.

Wither Cheney’s Saudis?

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

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

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

Is “no news” good news?

Not for Cheney & Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abdullah’s Chance and His Critics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheney and Iran

Posted by Cutler on March 21, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

What is the relationship between Cheney and Iran?

In a March 20, 2007 New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof describes the VP as “Iran’s Operative in the White House.”

Is Dick Cheney an Iranian mole?

Consider that the Bush administration’s first major military intervention was to overthrow Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, Iran’s bitter foe to the east. Then the administration toppled Iran’s even worse enemy to the west, the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

You really think that’s just a coincidence? That of all 193 nations in the world, we just happen to topple the two neighboring regimes that Iran despises?

Moreover, consider how our invasion of Iraq went down. The U.S. dismantled Iraq’s army, broke the Baath Party and helped install a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. If Iran’s ayatollahs had written the script, they couldn’t have done better — so maybe they did write the script …

We fought Iraq, and Iran won. And that’s just another coincidence?

Kristof, it seems, is joking.

O.K., O.K. Of course, all this is absurd. Mr. Cheney isn’t an Iranian mole…

Mr. Cheney harmed American interests not out of malice but out of ineptitude. I concede that they honestly wanted the best for America, but we still ended up getting the worst.

I have no problem stipulating a lot of ineptitude in the Bush administration, starting at the top.  But I have also warned–in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–that the simplistic charge of ineptitude can lead one to underestimate opponents.  This is almost certainly the case when thinking about Cheney and geopolitical strategy.

So, without suggesting that there is any transparency about Cheney’s current thinking about Iran, it might be worth recalling that Cheney was not always an Iran hawk, especially when it came to thinking about Russia and the Caspian Sea.

Dick Cheney, chief executive officer of Dallas-based Halliburton Co. and former U.S. defense secretary, argued Wednesday the U.S. policy toward Iran hampers another American effort, to encourage Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the other countries in the Caspian region to act independently of Moscow.

Policies against Iran interfere with our policy of independence for the Caspian nations,” Cheney said. (“U.S. moves to foil Iran pipeline; Kazakhs seek loans for alternate routes,” The Houston Chronicle, November 20, 1997, p.2)

A lot has changed since then.  Among other things, Cheney’s potential overtures to Iran in 2000 were blocked by the Israel lobby in the US Congress.

But Cheney has certainly not lost his focus the urgency of “our policy of independence for the Caspian nations.”  Some of that has meant working mightily to construct energy pipelines that bypass Russia and Iran.  But some of it has also meant preparing the way–one way or another–for a new dawn in US-Iranian relations, all at the expense of Russian influence in the Caspian.

Indeed, according to Cheney’s own calendar, the time is coming near:

“I think we’d be better off if we in fact backed off those [Iran] sanctions . . . didn’t try to impose secondary boycotts on [Australian] companies like BHP trying to do business over there,” he told the Business Sunday program.

For several years BHP has been discussing a 2400km natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Iran to Turkey but has been reluctant to commit to the project for fear of US reprisals…

“I think the [hawkish] Iranian policy the US is following is also inappropriate, frankly,” he said.

“I think we ought to begin to work to rebuild those relationships with Iran . . . it may take 10 years but it’s important that we do that.”  (“BHP pipeline should not face US sanctions, says Cheney,” The Australian, April 20, 1998, p.35.)

It may take ten years.  Hmmm.  That gives him until April 20, 2008.  Mark your calendars.

Cheney and the Neocons

Posted by Cutler on March 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

If there is any daylight to be found between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies–and I’m not sure if there is–look to the Russia-Iran axis as the source of the split.

The alliance between Russia and Iran also provides a foundation for the alliance between Cheney and Right Zionists.

Insofar as a split develops between Russia and Iran, however, Right Zionists would likely to try to bring Russia into the anti-Iranian camp.  For Cheney and other Russia hawks, the temptation would be to bring Iran into the anti-Russian camp.

The possibility of such a split has become far more likely in recent days, as Russia has distanced itself from Iran’s nuclear program.

Public Enemy #1: Iran or Russia?

For the most part, Right Zionists join Cheney in his hawkish approach to Russia.  Richard Perle, for example, took the lead back in 2003 in demanding that Russia should be thrown out of the G8.  And Right Zionists are very well represented in campaigns that castigate Russia for its war in Chechnya.

But there are several countervailing tendencies that might make Right Zionists go “wobbly” on Russia.  One is Iran.

For Right Zionists, the Iran Question–as a threat and an opportunity–arguably trumps the Russia Question.

Can the same be said for Cheney?

Cheney’s approach to regional actors like Iran, Iraq, and much of Central Asia mirrors Teddy Roosevelt’s approach to Great Power rivalry a century ago: battles were fought in places like the Philippines, but the War was with another empire, i.e., Spain.

Cheney is focused on Great Power rivalries with China and Russia.  Iraq and Iran are pawns in the Great Game.

Right Zionists are, not surprisingly, focused on Israel and its neighborhood.  Russia and the US are, in effect, viewed as pawns in a Zionist game.  For much of its history, the Zionist movement has proven itself adept in courting Great Powers and making them compete for its loyalty.

So, what happens when hawks are forced to choose between Iran and Russia?  It depends on the hawk.

Zionists Go “Wobbly” on Russia

The most high profile sign of a major shift on Russia among Zionists in the US came in February when Congressman Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, visited Moscow and turned heads with a dramatic flip-flop on Russia.  As one media source suggested in reference to the Lantos visit, “the hitherto staunch critic of Russia” had now embarked on a path of “good will and appeasement to Russia” (Natalia Leshchenko, “U.S. Promises to Lift Trade Restrictions with Russia,” Global Insight Daily Analysis, 21 February 2007).

Even as Washington was reeling from Putin’s anti-American speech in Munich, Lantos found nothing but blue skies ahead for US-Russian relations.  A report from Kommersant tells the story of the Lantos conversion:

In 2003, Mr. Lantos set the tone for the discussions of the Yukos affair in the US, and at that time he was one of the authors of the congressional resolution that called on the US President to bar Russia from the G8. Thus far this year, Mr. Lantos has already at least twice confirmed his reputation as the “bad cop” when it comes to Russia, first by accusing Russia and China of throwing up “constant roadblocks” to the resolution of the Iranian nuclear question, and second by sending a letter to the State Department in which he called on the department to include the sentence “Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are political prisoners” in its annual human rights report.   In his letter, Mr. Lantos wrote that the former Yukos executives “are imprisoned not for any crime that they committed but for their political activities, which threatened Putin’s totalitarian regime.”

Tom Lantos arrived in Moscow soon after President Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich, which was followed by more harsh anti-American rhetoric from the Russian leadership that has caused many to comment on the threat of a return to Cold War-era relations between the two countries. However, his visit has not caused the scandal predicted by many observers. [State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev] Konstantin Kosachev, who spoke with his American colleague for more than an hour, told Kommersant that his impression of Mr. Lantos during their conversation was entirely positive… In reply to a question from Kommersant about whether they had discussed the Yukos affair, the problems of democracy, or other Russian domestic issues, Mr. Kosachev said that such questions had not come up. “He did not bring up those subjects, and so we didn’t either,” he explained, adding, “I liked Mr. Lantos’ attitude. He had a lot to say about how Russia and the US are on the same side of the barricade, and that the problem is that in many cases they have not yet arrived at mutual understanding when confronting threats and challenges that they both face.”

With his trip to Moscow, Mr. Lantos appears determined to shed the image of Russia’s “chief persecutor.” Yesterday he captured the interest of Russian journalists by promising that at his press conference today he will make “an important statement, one that will have historical significance for Russian-American relations.” Kommersant has learned that the surprise up his sleeve is thought to be a statement of America’s readiness to repeal the infamous Jackson-Vanick Amendment, which has hobbled trade relations between the two countries ever since it was introduced by Congress at the height of the Cold War. Thus, America’s “chief persecutor” of Russia may well become Russia’s “chief savior.”

A column in RIA Novosti described as “sensational” the announcement by Lantos that he would, indeed, support the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, thereby facilitating Russia’s WTO entry.  [The “Jackson” in the Jackson-Vanik amendment is Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the late Senator from Boeing/Washington, also mentor in the 1970s of two young Right Zionist staff aides, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz].

An Associated Press report included remarkable quotes from a Lantos press conference in Moscow:

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday he would call for the removal of Russia from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has restricted bilateral trade and remained a key irritant in relations between Moscow and Washington.

It’s time to put behind us this relic of the Cold War,” Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said at a news conference. “I will spare no effort to bring this about and I have every expectation that I will be successful.”

Moscow has long urged the United States to abolish the Jackson-Vanik amendment tying Russia’s trade status to whether it freely allows Jewish emigration…

In what appeared to be an attempt to strike a conciliatory note, Lantos said Putin’s [Munich] statement was a “fully understandable” attempt to demonstrate that his country, a former superpower, was resurgent after years of post-Soviet demise and stressed that Putin’s criticism should not stand in the way of the two countries’ cooperation.

The United States and Russia have far too many common interests and long-term goals,” Lantos said… “We certainly will not allow… [Putin’s Munich] speech to stand in the way of our very positive attitude towards Russia and our future cooperation.

What was the cost, for Putin, of all this “appeasement” from Lantos?

The answer appears to have arrived on February 19 while Lantos was in Moscow: Russia’s retreat from Iran’s nuclear program.

A source in Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom told Reuters it was obvious the timetable for the Bushehr plant needed to be “corrected” because Tehran had not made payments for the work for more than a month.

Moscow had been due to start nuclear fuel deliveries for the plant in March, ahead of the reactor’s planned September start. It was unclear how long the delay would be. Moscow has already pushed back completion several times, citing technical reasons…

Atomstroiexport, the Russian state company in charge of the Bushehr work, said existing U.N. sanctions against Iran were also contributing to the delays because of a trading ban on certain atomic equipment.

“There are certain obstacles affecting our work in Bushehr,” said spokeswoman Irina Yesipova. “Because of the embargo a number of third countries declined to supply equipment (to Iran). That’s why Russian producers have to provide all the equipment all of a sudden. It’s a tough situation.”

Right Zionists took note and suddenly began to elaborate the potential joys of diplomacy.  When the news broke, Cliff May had this to say over at the National Review Online:

If ever there was a time for skillful diplomacy, this is it. The focus should be on Russia. Whatever his faults (and they are many) Putin can be made to see that Russia’s future should not be as the junior, infidel partner to an aggressive, expansionist, radical Islamist, nuclear-armed Iran.

Russia Hawks Go Wobbly on Iran

Even as some Right Zionists were cooing over the prospect of a US-Russian axis against Iran, Russia hawks in the Bush administration–focused on Caspian Sea energy politics–were arguably going “wobbly” on Iran.

Consider, for example, the case of Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Within the Bush administration, Bryza is one of the figures responsible for finding ways to break Russia’s leverage as a supplier of natural gas to Europe and its monopoly control over energy routes out of the Caspian Sea.  Iran looms large as both a source of fuel and a potential route for natural gas from Turkmenistan.

Bryza’s recent interview with Turkish Daily News speaks volumes about his priorities when it comes to Russia and Iran:

[T]he planned Nabucco [pipeline] raises hopes for providing Europe with natural gas from Central Asia, not Russia. It is set to run through Turkey to Vienna via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. However there are concerns that the Azerbaijan gas fields are not yet suitable for extraction.

I don’t know if Nabucco needs a lot of help from America and Europe, but we are all for it,” said Bryza.

“Nabucco needs good, clear gas production from Azerbaijan. We believe that within five to 10 years this could be achieved and Azerbaijan could be producing enough gas”…

Asked whether the United States felt apprehensive about Russian state-owned Gazprom’s tactics, Bryza said that the United States stood for a free, competitive market.

“Gazprom is a monopoly,” he emphasized, “and monopolies behave as monopolies. We don’t like monopolies…

In recent statements President Putin raised the possibility of a Russia-Iran agreement on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) model. Bryza said it was hard to tell if these were empty threats, adding, “I think the Iranians have proved themselves to be difficult associates”…

“Although President Bush has said that no option is off the table, I don’t think a [U.S.] attack on Iran is likely. Our policy is to change the behavior of the Iranian government through diplomacy, not to change the regime,” stated Bryza.

That kind of talk is enough to drive Right Zionists–committed, as they remain, to popular insurrection and regime change in Iran–into fits of rage.

Is it also enough to allow some daylight between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies?

Hersh’s Redirection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Regime, Stupid

Posted by Cutler on March 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

US policy toward Iran is so much in the news, but the stakes for various players in Washington have rarely been less transparent.

So much of the focus has been framed as one of nuclear non-proliferation: how can the US stop Iran from acquiring nukes?

I would not be the first to note the haunting symmetry between the invocation of Iraqi WMDs and the urgency of a strident non-proliferation agenda ahead of the US invasion and the current focus on Iranian non-proliferation.

Iran hawks are quick to point out a key difference: Iran’s nuclear program is the real deal. For many liberal hawks, Iran becomes one more occasion to bash the Bush administration. Having cried wolf in Iraq, they risk making us complacent about the real threat of Iran.

My interest in the focus on Iranian nukes has more to do with a somewhat different link to the earlier focus on Iraqi WMDs. Both appear to represent a kind of bureaucratic compromise referenced by Paul Wolfowitz.

Indeed, as with Iraq, it would seem that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) have always had a very different set of priorities than other Iran hawks. Right Zionists do fear that the Iranian regime will acquire nukes. But their preferred solution–today as always–is regime change rather than nuclear non-proliferation.

One corollary: after regime change, the prospect of Iranian nukes in a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran are not perceived as a threat. As Michael Rubin has insisted, “democratization” in Iran can “take the edge off the Iranian threat.”

Indeed, for some Right Zionists and Iranian dissidents the administration’s emphasis on nukes is a source of considerable frustration.

All of which goes to say that Right Zionists are Iran hawks. But they do not aim to contain or defeat Iran, they aim to win Iran.

Michael Ledeen at AEI says as much in his latest missive in which he criticizes the Bush administration for “excessive timorousness with regard to Iran.” But then he comes to the point that distinguishes Right Zionists not only from the Bush administration’s halting diplomatic initiatives but also, perhaps, from Cheney’s own brand of bellicose hawkishness :

The proper strategy toward Iran is non-violent regime change, of the sort that was accomplished to the ruin of the Soviet Empire. Military attack against Iran would be a mistake, indeed it would constitute a tragic admission of the utter failure of the United States and her allies to conceive and conduct a serious Iran policy over the course of nearly three decades. Political support for the tens of millions of Iranians who detest their tyrannical leaders is both morally obligatory and strategically sound.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, also at AEI, is considerably less hostile to a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But like Ledeen, Gerecht is a strident advocate of regime change in Iran and has argued in the past that the former is quite compatible with the latter:

It’s much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic’s loss to America–and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory–would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching… It’s likely that an American attack on the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us.

For Gerecht, however, the real key to Iran has always been Iraq. He returns to this theme in his most recent essay, “The Myth of the Moderate Mullahs.” The title is arguably quite ironic: Gerecht seeks to dispel the myth of the moderate Iranian “mullahs” (especially Rafsanjani) but the argument ends with a celebration of moderate Iraqi “mullahs.”

The American presence in Iraq… gives Iraqi Shiites a non-Iranian option, particularly in the face of the Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shia.

If the United States can develop a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis, Iraq’s Shiite clergy may grow more independent and open in its internal debates about proper governance and its own role in an Iraqi democracy. Friendly and dependent Iraqi groups like SCIRI may fairly quickly become difficult for Tehran. Right now, SCIRI has no firm idea of what it is. It has had no test of its democratic commitment. It doesn’t really know what its relationship will be with Iraq’s moderate senior clergy in Najaf. This process of discovery for SCIRI, and for other Shiites in Iraq, may come with speed if the Sunni violence can be checked. This could go badly for Tehran.

This has always been the hope of Right Zionist support for the war in Iraq.

One way to gauge how much sway Right Zionists–and the AIPAC crowd meeting in Washington–continue to have in the Bush administration is to seek signs of the one thing Gerecht has always demanded: “a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis.”

Some argue that a successful counterinsurgency against Iraq’s Sunnis is simply not possible. Gerecht doesn’t believe that. But he also thinks the US hasn’t even been trying to achieve that aim since September 2003. Instead, the emphasis has been on incorporation and reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunnis.

Gerecht hasn’t yet said whether he thinks the “surge” marks a departure from this policy. We’ll see. I’m not sure General Petraeus is in Gerecht’s corner on this one.

Meanwhile, it is far less difficult to discern how much sway the AIPAC crowd has with Dem Zionists.

Top U.S. House Democrats have frozen their attempt to limit President Bush’s authority to take military action against Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the leadership decided on Monday to back down from presenting a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats and other pro-Israel lawmakers had argued for the change in strategy.

So much for the Democrats.

Reconcilables & Irreconcilabes

Posted by Cutler on March 09, 2007
Arab League, Iran, Iraq / No Comments

In his first press briefing as Commander of the “Multi-National Force” in Iraq, General David Petraeus offered up what appeared to be a clear and sensible approach to the right mix of political cooptation and military muscle in Iraq:

In an endeavor like this one, the host nation and those who are assisting it obviously are trying to determine over time who are the irreconcilables and who are the reconcilables. And they’re on either end of the sectarian spectrum, of ethnic spectrums, political spectrums and so forth. And of course, what the government is trying to do, what those supporting the government are trying to do are to split the irreconcilables from the reconcilables and to make the reconcilables part of the solution rather than a continuing part of a problem, and then dealing with the irreconcilables differently. And that is certainly what the government of Iraq is doing and what those who are supporting the government of Iraq — what the coalition is also doing, in very, very early stages.

Part of the task, it appears, is to discern how many “reconcilables” there are in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. In response to a National Public Radio question about the role of the Madhi Army, Petraeus replied:

Well, you know, ultimately, that’s a question for — truly for the Iraqi government, for its authorities and certainly its security force leaders.

You know, many of our — of the coalition countries have a variety of auxiliary police or other functions. The challenge, of course, is that some of these organizations have participated in true excesses, and they have been responsible, some of them, some the extremist elements of them — and I think that the challenge has been to determine, you know, how do you incorporate those who want to serve a positive — in a positive way, and as neighborhood watches, let’s say, but unarmed in our own communities, but without turning into something much more than that?

Lest this kind of talk be perceived as part of a Shiite tilt in US policy toward Iraq, Petraeus also went out of his way to stress the importance of even-handed approach that would reach out to reconcilables of all kinds:

With respect, again, to the — you know, the idea of the reconcilables and the irreconcilables, this is something in which the Iraqi government obviously has the lead. It is something that they have sought to — in some cases, to reach out. And I think, again, that any student of history recognizes that there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq

A political resolution of various differences, of this legislation, of various senses that people do not have a stake in the success of the new Iraq, and so forth, that is crucial. That is what will determine in the long run the success of this effort. And again, that clearly has to include talking with and eventually reconciling differences with some of those who have felt that the new Iraq did not have a place for them, whereas I think, again, Prime Minister Maliki clearly believes that it does, and I think that his actions will demonstrate that, along with the other ministers.

All of this would surely be easier if reconcilables and irreconcilables wore name tags. But irreconcilables are not born, they are produced, forged in the heat of political battle. To what terms must would-be reconcilables reconcile themselves? What are the red lines that produce new irreconcilables?

It appears that this question will likely be answered in a regional, rather than a local, context.

To listen to the Arab League, for example, is to realize that some of the “irreconcilables” appear to be Sunni Arab regimes who continue to resist the terms on offer from the “new” Iraq created by the US and its Shiite allies in Iraq.

The Iraqi government… should redraft the constitution and rescind laws that give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds, Arab foreign ministers said in a statement Sunday.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also hinted that Arab governments may take their recommendations on stemming the violence in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council if the government’s efforts to end the crisis fail.

Sunday’s statement was the strongest sign yet from the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab governments in the Middle East that they blame the Iraqi government for the country’s sectarian strife…

In the statement, the ministers set forth several recommendations they want the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consider before they give their full support to a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq that is scheduled to start Saturday in Baghdad…

The ministers also called for revoking an Iraqi law that dismissed senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party from the government

In addition, they called on the Iraqi government to disband Shiite militias, end armed demonstrations and decide on a specific timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Moussa went a step further in his comments, suggesting the U.N. Security Council should demand the reforms suggested by the Arab ministers.

“In my opinion, the mechanism (for ending the strife) should be through the Security Council, without that there will no solution,” Moussa told reporters after Sunday’s meeting.

It seems to me that the message here is simple enough: the Arab League states could definitely be counted as reconcilables, at least once the UN Security Council intervenes in Iraq, redrafts the constitution, embraces re-Baathification, disarms the Shiites, and sends the US packing.

Oh, but wait. These conditions appear to have aroused some concern in Shiite quarters. Shocking, really. It is almost as if there is some risk that producing Sunni Arab reconcilables could simultaneously produce Shiite irreconcilables.

Iraq’s Shiite leaders expressed anger Thursday at criticism leveled against them by the top Arab League official, warning that such remarks could overshadow this weekend’s regional conference to ease the security crisis in Iraq…

In a statement Thursday, the United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shiite bloc in parliament, said Moussa’s comments amounted to “flagrant interference in Iraq’s internal affairs” and “ignored the march of the Iraqi people to build a free and democratic state.”

“At the same time we hope that the regional conference due to be held in Baghdad in March 10 will not be shadowed by such stands” and will not have a “negative impact” on efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis, the statement said.

During a press conference Thursday, the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, also denounced Moussa’s comments, saying they could provoke “sedition and disputes among Iraqi people.”

“We hope that the Arab League will not be part of any dispute or quarrel inside Iraq that might encourage some parties to take some Arab countries to their sides to accomplish their political desires,” al-Attiyah said…

[Moussa’s] comments have reinforced Shiite fears that Iraq’s Sunni neighbors will try to use the conference to pressure them into concessions to the Sunni minority that the Shiites would find unacceptable.

Wow. Petraeus made it sound so easy.

The Flip in the Flop

Posted by Cutler on March 08, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is a relief rally underway that is celebrating the overdue but still welcome maturation of a suddenly contrite Bush administration.

Consider, for example, the Washington Post column by David Ignatius entitled, “After the Rock, Diplomacy.”

The Bush administration… seems to be bending… This conversion is long overdue…

[T]he administration seems to be tacking back toward the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which Bush appeared to dismiss back in December. Bush’s top aides have concluded that they made a mistake in seeming to reject the Baker-Hamilton report and announcing their troop surge a month later as if it were an alternative. In the process, they set back hopes for a bipartisan policy on Iraq — something officials now regret…

The final areas in which the administration is rediscovering diplomacy are its dealings with China and Russia.

One can find this same theme developed in a Los Angeles Times news story by Paul Richter, “White House Foreign Policy Has Shifted.”

Beset by dangers abroad and rivals at home, the Bush administration has embarked on a broad adjustment of its foreign policy in hopes of using its final two years to improve a record now widely viewed as a failure.

Since January, an administration known for stubbornly holding to its positions has launched a new Mideast peace initiative and reopened diplomatic channels with North Korea, Syria and Iran. And as President Bush arrives today in Brazil, he brings a new approach to Latin America…

“There’s a little more than a year and a half before the election, and they recognize that they’re in a hole,” said James Dobbins, a former diplomat and Bush administration envoy now at Rand Corp. “They’re bowing to reality and abandoning prior positions…. They’re looking for a variety of ways to demonstrate that they’re still relevant and still have room for accomplishment.”

Not so fast.

I have two concerns about this relief rally.

First, because it tends to reinforce the false notion that the Bush administration has hitherto stubbornly held to its positions. As I have suggested in a previous post, the Bush administration put the flip in flip-flop. At this point it goes without saying that they also put the flop in flip-flop.

One question for future consideration: how much did the flip create the flop? In other words, how much of the instability in Iraq is a result of particular policies held to stubbornly and how much is a result of an inability to act effectively because there were no particular policies pursued consistently.

Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to retain Sunni Arab authoritarian rule in Iraq, replacing Saddam Hussein with an ex-Baathist. Perhaps it would not have “worked” if the US had tried to immediately transfer sovereignty to the Shiite majority, and let unfettered “democracy” run its course. But these are now entirely hypothetical questions. The US did not consistently pursue either of these options and the result in Iraq is not something that can be said to have “worked.”

Second, the notion of the maturation of the Bush administration misses the central role of factional struggle in the flip-flopping of the administration. In other words, the issue is rarely one of administration officials who experience a change of heart. Rather, the pattern of policy change seems to reflect a change in the balance of power among competing factions within the administration.

Did the North Korean deal reflect a victory for a faction that is, among other things, dovish on China? You bet.

Did the Cheney faction have a change of heart? Give me a break.

The same goes for Russia, Iraq, Iran, and just about everything else.

Until the factionalism is no longer a factor, it would be extremely naive to consider any policy move made by this administration as decisive.

The battles continue. Nothing has been decided. There is no decider.

[UPDATE: Jim Hoagland’s column in today’s Washington Post–“What Has Happened to Dick Cheney?“–addresses the question of administration factionalism and comes to a strikingly different conclusion:

Is the vice president losing his influence…?

[With regard to the “VP’s… internal policy defeats”]… what goes up must come down.

Reports of a new defeat lie ahead for the hard line on Iran and Syria that is associated with Cheney’s office…

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice… is credited by administration sources with having told Bush in January that he should devote his final two years in office to seeking diplomatic agreements with North Korea and Iran and an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. That account emphasizes that Rice is not simply outflanking Cheney in intermittent internal policy battles but has won full agreement and support from the president on the strategic goals and methods she and her diplomats are pursuing.

This remains to be confirmed by events. But it is clear that Bush has always been much more the decision maker than the Cheney-as-puppeteer image conveyed.

The Libby trial revealed serious splits between Cheney and Bush’s political team…

However… Cheney will not resign over the president’s refusal to take his advice. The only force that could drive him to that dramatic step would be that unshakable sense of loyalty to Bush, who desperately now needs a vice president in stable physical, emotional and political health. That is the equation you want to be watching.

I’m not inclined to quibble with the idea that Bush and Rice are tight. Nor would I dispute that fact that at some key moments in some key meetings Bush actually makes some big decisions (say, for example, the decision to invade Iraq!). But I think Bush lacks the courage of his own convictions, if not the intellectual depth to anticipate the consequences of his decisions. He is in over his head. And this has allowed all factional players to sandbag, sabotage, and undermine the Oval Office when it has suited them.

At times, the Cheney crowd has had the President’s ear and the so-called “Realists” have functioned as a beltway insurgency. Today, it looks like the Cheney faction will be forced to play that role. But the battle lines have not been blurred, no factions have conceded defeat, and the window of the Office of the Vice President is not a particularly vulnerable battlefield position from which to take shots as a factional sniper or saboteur.

German Gas

Posted by Cutler on March 07, 2007
Germany, Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia / No Comments

So many enemies, so little time.

It cannot be easy to be Dick Cheney.  When your list of enemies gets long enough, you are inevitably asked to compromise and support the lesser evil.

For Cheney, the challenge is to keep both Iran and Russia in the crosshairs at the same time.

Take Germany, for example.

The German appetite for natural gas makes Russia and Iran attractive trading partners.

The Russian option is championed by Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream and has the active support of ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

As suggested by an article in Business Week, the former chancellor–now on the Gazprom payroll–retains influence within the Merkel administration.

The German ex-chancellor caused a furore at home when he took the lucrative Gazprom job in 2005 just weeks after brokering the pipeline deal at government level. Current chancellor Angela Merkel has backed the pipe, but has frostier relations with Russia’s Mr Putin, once described by Mr Schroeder as a “crystal-clear democrat”…

But the ex-chancellor also showed glimpses of the canny pragmatism that characterised his foreign policy while still in power and which continues to function inside the German government in the person of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – Mr Schroeder’s ex-cabinet chief.

The “canny pragmatism” mentioned above refers to Schroeder’s question, implicitly directed at Vice President Cheney:

Where are the alternatives to Russia?” Mr Schroeder asked in the context of soaring EU gas imports, mentioning Algeria, Libya, Qatar, Nigeria and international pariah Iran. “You have to think if this would be politically better than Russia. My view…is that as far as security and stability of supply goes, Russia is the best option.”

Schroeder’s reference to Iran is not merely an exercise in hypothetical speculation.  Spiegel Online reports that the German energy giant E.on is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas.  The Iranian initiative is depicted as a move to break German dependence on Russia.

German energy giant E.on has confirmed it is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas — although Germany is currently discussing further sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program with its allies.

Germany has for years been talking about diversifying its natural gas supplies to reduce over-reliance on Russia. But the solution currently being considered by German energy utility E.on may end up being just as controversial — the company wants to buy gas from Iran.

Berlin has become increasingly skeptical about the reliability of Russia as an energy supplier as Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas company in charge of most of Siberia’s vast reserves, has repeatedly flexed its muscles in price spats with Russia’s neighbors. But E.on’s interest in Iran comes just as the international community is discussing further sanctions on Tehran for its controversial nuclear program.

So, Vice President Cheney: Is Russia the lesser evil?  Or is Iran?

Cheney’s answer (like Clinton’s): BTC.

One can only hope that the gas arrives in time for the American Eagle to free the German Adler from the clutches of the Russian Bear and the Persian Lion.

What is Kazakhstan’s inner animal, anyway?  I don’t remember Borat ever having mentioned it…

Surge or Power Failure?

Posted by Cutler on March 07, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

In early February, as the US was preparing to inaugurate its “surge” in Baghdad, I asked some questions about the mission and goals of any such surge.

At that time, I asked:

Is the US trying to use American soldiers to protect Shiite and Sunni populations from each other in the name of National Reconciliation?

Good luck with that.

My skepticism about the likelihood of American soldiers being able to protect the Shiite population–if one could stipulate population protection as the major goal–was grounded in the fear that there would be days like these:

Suicide bombers… and gunmen firing out of passing cars, turned preparations for a Shiite Muslim religious celebration into a day of carnage on Tuesday. At least 109 Shiite pilgrims were killed and more than 200 wounded with the death toll continuing to rise.

The attacks demonstrated that Sunni militants could still inflict grave damage inside or outside the capital even as the American-backed Baghdad security plan entered its fourth week. The attacks immediately drew Shiite calls for reprisals.

The surge is focused on a Baghdad crackdown and these attacks occurred in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq.  But political consequences will almost certainly registered in Baghdad.  Indeed, if the surge was meant to protect Shiite populations, prevent Shiite reprisals in Baghdad, and achieve national reconciliation (an admittedly big if), then the success of a each major attack on Shiites marks the failure of the surge.

There are other ways of explaining the goals for the surge that are not defined in terms of population protection and do not involve national reconciliation–for example, the surge might ultimately aim more specifically to launch a big counter-insurgency push against the Sunni insurgency, an anti-Shiite coup, or a two-front war on Sunni and Shiite rejectionists.

But if the mission was to have US troops provide security for Iraqi Shiites… well…

Good luck with that.

Who Lost Germany?

Posted by Cutler on March 06, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / 3 Comments

The New York Times has published an article–“U.S. Moves to Soothe Growing Russian Resentment“–that appears to signal a shift in the Bush administration’s hawkish approach toward Russia.

Not a chance.

The report by Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper seems to suggest that after Putin’s speech in Munich, the Bush administration has been “shocked, shocked,” to find Moscow upset with Washington and they are now contrite. Indeed, Bush administration officials have launched a new “initiative” to calm bilateral tensions.

In the wake of criticism from President Vladimir V. Putin and his inner circle of political advisers and generals, there is a growing acknowledgment among officials in Washington that the United States has not responded as rapidly or eloquently as it might have to a widespread sense of grievance in Russia…

Senior administration officials said their initiative called for engaging Russian leaders in private discussions to illustrate that the United States was putting extra effort into nurturing the relationship and that Russia deserved a more thorough dialogue on American foreign policy and national security plans.

A senior administration official involved in developing the strategy said that under the program, “we’ll have more consultation and we’ll do it more extensively and more intensively, so that there is a good understanding of each other’s views.”

It strains credibility to suggest that anyone in Washington thinks the problem here is miscommunication.

But the report goes on to suggest that the substance of US policy toward Russia–all the well-communicated disagreements that constitute the crux of Russian animosity–will not change:

Administration officials have said they will stand their ground in defending the United States against the substance of the Russian critique. In particular, the officials say, Russian threats will not halt Washington’s plans to place elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, nor diminish Washington’s support of NATO expansion.

The notion that Putin’s objections can be met with responses that are simply more rapid or eloquent is implicitly insulting to the Kremlin. Can the Bush administration actually believe that this kind of talk–the new “strategy”–will actually appease Moscow?

No.

Rather, the real target of the “eloquence strategy” is Germany.

The stunning directness of Moscow’s recent public complaints is viewed as undermining United States-Russia relations. Equally worrisome to the administration is that the harsh tone of the Kremlin’s comments has greatly troubled European allies caught in between, especially in former Soviet client states in Eastern Europe that later joined NATO.

This is the real news story. The headline is that the Bush administration moves to soothe growing European anxiety.

The charm offensive, insofar as one can see evidence of it, is directed toward Europe, specifically what Rumsfeld called the “old” Europe.

The “problem” with the “old” Europe was supposed to have been solved with the triumph of German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. (I guess that was before the “back rub.”)

Merkel is “going wobbly” on Russia and it is to this development–not Putin’s anger–that has the Bush administration scrambling.

The Financial Times captures the political dynamic in its reporting:

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, added her voice to the heated international debate over the missile defence system by calling for Nato to be given responsibility for defusing concerns over the [US missile defence system planned for eastern Europe]…

“Nato is the best place for discussion of this issue,” she told the Financial Times in an interview, arguing that Washington should step up consultation with its western allies and Russia.

Her statement reflects concerns over increasing east-west tensions since Vladimir Putin, Russian president, delivered a speech in Munich sharply criticising US unilateralism, and the US formally asked Poland and the Czech Republic to host parts of the anti-missile system…

Mrs Merkel said that Nato should be the forum for greater consultation by Washington of both its western allies and Russia on the issue of missile defence. “It is better to have more discussion on this issue rather than less,” she said…

German officials said Berlin was concerned that while the defence system was not targeted at Russia, there was a danger its creation could mark a departure from the international trend since the early 1990s towards disarmament.

At an EU meeting yesterday, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, was more outspoken, calling the US plans “incomprehensible”.

“We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner,” he said.

Nevertheless, the US charm offensive toward Europe has ceded little or no ground on questions of substance.

In recent remarks to the Atlantic Council, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns–a Russia hawk and an architect of NATO expansion during the Clinton administration–was unrepentant. The speech is worth quoting at some length, for it gets to the heart of some of the key tensions:

[One] intra-European issue that is so much a part of our current agenda is what to do about Russia, how to relate to modern Russia, how to be a partner with Russia, but also how to protect NATO and the European Union and the states of Central Europe from whatever dangers may lurk in the future.

You’ve all seen the extraordinary — you’ve heard about or saw the extraordinary speech that President Putin gave at the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich two weeks ago. You’ve seen this unusually unwise and irresponsible statement by the Russian General Staff about targeting the Czech Republic and Poland because they have the temerity to negotiate with the United States a missile defense agreement.

Our response to that has been that we need to seek a balanced relationship with Russia. We need to take account of what is working in our relationship with Russia but also to be very clear about where we disagree with the Russian leadership — whether it’s on the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of the democrats in the Russian political spectrum; whether it’s on Russia’s attempts to, we think, be overbearing at times in their relations with their neighbors; or whether it’s the recent Russian reaction to our attempt to establish a modern missile defense system in Europe, not aimed at the Russians themselves, of course, but aimed at the threats that emanate from Iran and other countries to the south of Russia…

[T]he Russians and our government — perhaps other governments in Western Europe — are operating at cross-purposes.

We believe that Georgia should have a right to define its own future. We believe that Georgia should have the right to seek membership or association with international organizations like NATO in the future if that is what Georgia elects to do, and if Georgia, of course, at some point in its future history meets the requirements of NATO membership.

We believe that Moldova should be allowed to overcome the internal divisions that have held that nation back since the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

And we certainly believe that the three Baltic countries — Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania, now members of both the European Union but especially of NATO — have a right to live in peace and free of the harassment that is sometimes afflicted upon them by the Russian Federation.

We’re concerned about the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of those who stand up for democracy in Russia.

So I know that President Putin put a number of criticisms before the world audience about United States foreign policy. We have been equally clear about where we disagree with the Russian Federation, and that’s our responsibility to do that — to define a modern relationship in those terms, to be frank about what’s working and to thank the Russian Federation when we are able to achieve things together whether it’s on counter-terrorism or counter-proliferation, but to be equally frank that when there are challenges in the relationship we face those challenges, and we disagree with the Russians publicly when they do things that are profoundly not in our

Russia is going to have to understand that NATO will continue to exist. NATO will continue to grow. We will continue to add members to the NATO Alliance. And the strength of NATO will be based on our common will and our ability to project NATO as a force for peace and for stability as it certainly is in its Afghan mission. And Russia has to understand that NATO is not and has not been, for the history, for the many years since 1989, ’90 and ’91, directed at all against Russia, but is the one uniquely unifying force for peace and stability in Europe itself.

NATO enlargement… has brought so many positive benefits to the Europeans, as well as to the North Americans over the last 15 years that we think NATO’s vocation has to be strong in the future.

We have invited Russia into a NATO-Russia partnership five years ago in Italy. It has worked well at points, but it’s been sometime disappointing in a lack of a strategic engagement. That was apparent in the Russian reaction to our plan to establish a very small number of interceptors in Poland and at radar sites in the Czech Republic, to have some capacity to deter the looming missile threat from Iran and other states in the Middle East that all the European countries and the United States face.

To think that in this day and age a member of the Russian General Staff would threaten two NATO countries because they have the temerity to consider negotiating this agreement with us is really quite astounding. Secretary Rice said today when she was asked about this in Berlin, “It was profoundly unwise for that statement to be made, and we hope that the Russians will think twice about such statements in the future.”

Burns has offered up a relatively frank version of US policy toward Russia.

The “strategy” toward Germany, on the other hand, is to try to offer some political cover for a Chancellor who will find it increasingly difficult to defend US policy in the face of Russian pressure.

The question is no longer “who lost Russia?” That was settled long ago. The spark behind the New York Times article about a Bush administration “initiative” toward Russia is an attempt to forestall a more contemporary question: “Who lost Germany?”

Comments

Posted by Cutler on March 05, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

For the last couple of weeks, the “Comments” option has been turned off on the blog.  This was an glitch and I think the problem has been remedied. It was never my intent to cut off conversation. On the contrary, I welcome comments and discussion from all readers.

Do They Hate Each Other?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…

The Cheney faction will not simply disappear.

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

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

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

Dance Madness

Posted by Cutler on March 02, 2007
Method / 3 Comments

I’m a big fan of using elite fear as an index of popular insurgency.

As a student of labor relations, for example, I have argued that the business press can often be the best source for labor news as long as you are willing and able to read against the grain of the bias. In other words, it demands that many employer fears and complaints be re-coded as signs of labor insurgency.

The method has been most fully elaborated in connection with the world of “subaltern studies” where colonial records become a rich source for reading anti-colonial insurgency.

Former students of mine may recall an essay called “Dance Madness”–a chapter in the Kathy Peiss book, Cheap Amusements, written largely in the spirit of subaltern studies.

Peiss uses old vice squad records and various reports by middle class reformers to study the moral panic that surrounded youth culture in urban dance halls of the early 20th century.

For the most part, Peiss manages to read all the evidence against the grain of the bias of the authors. Adult fears are invoked to celebrate youth culture. Middle-class fears shed light on an unruly urban working-class culture. Nativist fears about unassimilated immigrants become a celebration of unruly resistance.

But when it comes to gendered heterosexual relations–between young men and women at dance halls–Peiss refuses to read against the grain. As a feminist, critical of patriarchal patterns of compulsory heterosexual interactions, Peiss actually joins the middle class reformers and vice squad agents who condemn the predatory aims of young dance hall men. To reading against the grain of patriarchy, Peiss appears to read with the grain of middle class moral panic about predatory sexuality.

“Dance Madness” ends with a moralistic diatribe about how women were victimized by predatory men in these dance halls. No insurgency; just delinquency.

I do not necessarily doubt the elite descriptions of the young men at the dance halls. But these descriptions say absolutely nothing about any insurgency from below on the part of young women. All that remains is a paternalistic approach that aims to protect helpless young women.

The method of subaltern studies would require that any attempt to trace such an insurgency would demand that the “elite” sources in patriarchal patterns of compulsory heterosexual interaction would have to reflect the fears of the young men.

I’ve never quite had a good example of what this might mean or, more importantly, exactly what such a study might yield.

But I did just run across a phrase that made me think that such a project would surely yield a very different ending to the whole spirit of “Dance Madness.”

The phrase in question: “You Dance with The Guy That Brung Ya” (and variations on this theme).

A conservative named John Gizzi from the right-wing publication “Human Events” used the phrase in his remarks to the “Conservative Political Action Conference” meeting in Washington. Presumably, he was expressing a fear that the Republican Party was preparing to ditch the conservative wing of the party that was ostensibly responsible for shepherding in Bush’s 2004.

I’ve never given the phrase much thought, but apparently one etymologist, Barry Popik, has been doing enough thinking for all of us. He has posted an etymological profile of the phrase on his blog.

Suffice it to say, the phrase amounts to something of a “discursive institution” in the state of Texas and has been in wide circulation–in a host of different contexts–since the early part of the 20th century. A Molly Ivins book; a Shania Twain song. A famous football coach.

But genealogy of the phrase undoubtedly leads back to the old dance hall. And, from what I gather, the issue of “voice” is always patterned in the gendered way you might expect: this is a phrase used by men trying to rein in unruly female promiscuity.

All of this tends to seriously undermine the classic depiction of female sexuality as little more than a pale, prudent “reactive” response to an active and lusty male sexuality.

It seems like there was probably far more “Dance Madness” than Kathy Peiss suspected.

Methodologically, elite fear is a like a Texas gusher than never fails.

The Score

Posted by Cutler on March 02, 2007
Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

A little score keeping.  No surprises, but some helpful guideposts:

1. Rice’s Diplomatic Outreach to Iran: Right Zionists… very upset; Right Arabist establishment… quite delighted.

2. Cheney’s visit to Pakistan: definitely looking like a crackdown on the Taliban (about which I was initially skeptical).  There are some signs that Russia and the US are both competing for the loyalty of the so-called “Tajik clique” that currently “governs” Afghanistan.

3. A pro-Shiite Tilt in Iraq: more howls of protest from the pro-Sunni political elite.

Karzai’s Russian Card

Posted by Cutler on March 01, 2007
Afghanistan, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

In a recent post–entitled “Choosing to Lose in Afghanistan?“–I suggested that Vice President Cheney might have geopolitical reasons to want to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The central idea was that the Taliban is today–as it was in the 1990s–a bulwark against Russian influence in Afghanistan. As a Russia hawk, Cheney might choose to “lose” in Afghanistan–i.e., to lose the Karzai government and the NATO battle against the Taliban–in order to keep Moscow out of Kabul.

It was an interesting exercise to try to make the argument. And it may have some merit.

Nevertheless, there are very few signs of any US overture to the Taliban (i.e., pressure for the cooptation and integration of Taliban forces as part of the political landscape in Kabul). And, well, tensions between the Taliban and Cheney seemed kind of intense this week, what with the former trying to kill the latter.

I continue to think the the Russian angle is part of the story, but I’m not sure that support for the Taliban is the only option for a Russia hawk.

It is true, as I argued, that the so-called “Tajik clique” behind the Karzai government was historically aligned with Russia. It is also true that the Taliban has had and continues to have very tense relations with Moscow.

Perhaps Cheney is now pressing for a major crackdown against the Taliban. Maybe Cheney thinks that the best way to grab Afghanistan and keep it from Russia is to compete for the hearts and minds of the “Tajik clique.” And maybe the “Tajik clique” of the Karzai regime is playing hard to get.

Back in December 2006, Fareed Zakaria published an essay that about efforts by Afghan President Karzai to get Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to crackdown on the Taliban:

Karzai argues that Pakistan has been tacitly—and often actively—supporting the Taliban along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and in Pakistan itself…

At the dinner that Bush threw for both presidents in September, Karzai was extremely blunt, according to those familiar with the discussions (who wish to remain anonymous because of the private nature of the event). Karzai warned that if the United States was forced to leave Afghanistan, Kabul would ally far more closely with India and Russia, which would not be in Pakistan’s interests.

Is it too much to suggest that Karzai was threatening Cheney as much as Musharraf?

Karzai is often caricatured as a well-dressed US puppet whose weak regime may control the city of Kabul, but little else.

Is it possible, however, that Karzai is using inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and Russia to leverage US pressure on Musharraf and the Taliban?