Monthly Archives: April 2007

Cheney is the Iraq War Czar

Posted by Cutler on April 30, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are signs that 2007 may be shaping up to be one of those audacious, off-election-cycle Bush administration years in the tradition of 2003 (invasion and de-Baathification of Iraq) and 2005 (successive pro-Shiite elections in Iraq).

The governing Shiite coalition in Iraq is growing increasingly strident.  According to the Washington Post and the New York Times, Iraqi Shiites appear to be stalling parliamentary passage of the Right Arabist “benchmarks” (re-Baathification, constitutional revisions, provincial elections) generated by former American Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

Shiites are backing centralization of Iraq’s oil industry, reflected in the draft of the hydrocarbons law, but this is less a concession to Sunni Arab sentiment than a significant blow to Kurdish demands for autonomy.

(Turkey is obviously in a huff about the Kurdish autonomy and tensions are high with the US, but Maliki’s Shiite coalition and Turkey’s strident generals can surely find common ground in opposition to Kurdish control of Kirkuk.  Didn’t Cheney say as much to Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen.Yaşar Büyükanit when the two met in February?).

Maliki is even moving against some of the Sunni security forces, including some of those favored by fiercely anti-Sadrist Right Arabist elements of the US military brass.

It is surely no coincidence that Right Zionists in Washington are warming to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Maliki (see my posts here and here) just as Maliki has been snubbed by Saudi King Abdullah.

At the same time, the US-Saudi relationship looks increasingly tense.  A New York Times profile of Prince Bandar ran under the strange headline, “A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush is Sounding Off-Key.”

The figure who undoubtedly sounds “off-key” to Cheney is Saudi King Abdullah.

The Times profile on Bandar painted an accurate picture of an “Ambassador” who no longer speaks for his country.

Prince Bandar… may no longer be able to serve as an unerring beacon of Saudi intent.

“The problem is that Bandar has been pursuing a policy that was music to the ears of the Bush administration, but was not what King Abdullah had in mind at all,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel who is now head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Of course it is ultimately the king — and not the prince — who makes the final call on policy.

In any ordinary country, it would go without saying that the King, not the Ambassador, makes policy.  But Bandar is not merely a civil servant.

Instead, he is a son of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at a time when the future of Saudi royal succession remains a matter of considerable speculation.

If National Security Council Adviser Stephen Hadley is having trouble finding someone willing to serve as Iraq War Czar the reason is not difficult to discern: Vice President Cheney already has the job.

Is Rice Really Nice?

Posted by Cutler on April 26, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Russia / 1 Comment

In a recent post on Cheney, Iran, and the whole “British hostage” affair, I asked whether Cheney might not have sabotaged an Iranian-American quid pro quo that would have involved the release, by the United States, of the “Irbil Five”–Iranians held by the US in Iraq.

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release. But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them. At least not yet…

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

That was April 11th.

Yesterday, Michael Ledeen offered up some gossip that appears to confirm these suspicions, beginning with Ledeen’s discussion of a news story by Robin Wright in the Washington Post:

[A] story written… by one of Secretary Rice’s favorite journalists, Robin Wright of the Washington Post… said:

After intense internal debate, the Bush administration has decided to hold on to five Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents (sic) captured in Iraq, overruling a State Department recommendation to release them, according to U.S. officials.

I’ve been told that “intense internal debate” is exactly right–it was one of the most contentious debates in quite a while. Wright reports that Vice President Cheney led the charge against Rice’s position, and I am told that Secretary of Defense Gates was equally adamant. This is reinforced by a statement by General Petraeus, to the effect that we intended to keep them and keep interrogating them as long as we had food and they had things to say. Moreover, I am told that the intensity of the debate was due to the fact that Rice was not merely recommending the release of the Iranians, but had informed the mullahs that we would release them.

On the Iranian front, then, it certainly looks like Cheney and Gates leading the hawkish faction with Rice working to open diplomatic avenues.

The mystery here is Rice.  In an April 22, 2006 analysis, the Financial Times (subscription required) suggested that Rice was looking increasingly “realist” in her positions.

To judge from Ledeen’s anger (and Perle’s earlier accusations), one could imagine that Rice is something less than a Neocon “true believer.”

And yet…

The record is uneven, even on Iran.  On the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon?  Rice looks pretty hawkish.

And then there is Rice on Russia.  On missile systems in Europe, Rice doesn’t appear particularly dovish.

Perhaps there is an underlying logic to all this, but it escapes me.

A Proxy War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on April 25, 2007
Iran, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

The Financial Times is reporting that the “military wing” of Hamas has declared an end to a five-month-old ceasefire with Israel.

Be that as it may, however, the “news” of the day is best understood as the collapse of the Saudi-backed ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah.

Battles within the Palestinian Authority look increasingly like proxy wars between Vice President Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

If King Abdullah’s “Mecca Agreement” aimed to pressure Fatah to end its attacks on Hamas and develop new power-sharing mechanisms in cooperation with the Hamas-led government, the White House has been working overtime to undermine King Abdullah’s efforts.

US efforts have centered on bolstering the power of Fatah’s Gaza strongman, Muhammad Dahlan.  During the factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas in late 2006 and early 2007, Hamas accused Dahlan of conspiring to undermine the Hamas government.

“Dahlan is leading a group of Fatah members who are trying to topple the Hamas government on orders from the Israelis and Americans,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “The American-Zionist scheme is aimed at eliminating the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance groups and forcing the Palestinians to make political concessions.”

If King Abdullah pulled the rug out from under Dahlan’s efforts, the US wasted little time moving to bolster Fatah’s forces.  According to Reuters, that effort has been led by White House envoy Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton.

With Iranian help, Hamas forces are expanding fast and getting more sophisticated weapons and training than those under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s control, according to the U.S. security coordinator.

U.S. Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton said Hamas’s growing military strength, if left unchecked, would erode Abbas’s already limited ability to enforce any ceasefire in the Gaza Strip…

Sources familiar with the Bush administration’s deliberations said a revised spending plan would be submitted… [providing] aid to Abbas’s presidential guard…

In his first act after swearing in the new government, Abbas appointed Hamas’s long-time foe, Mohammad Dahlan, as national security adviser, angering the Islamist movement.

[I]n fierce fighting before Abbas agreed to join the unity government, Hamas’s Executive Force and armed wing were beating their Fatah rivals, Dayton said, according to two sources familiar with his comments.

By the end of March, the Bush administration finalized the details of the US funding plan.

The United States plans to provide $59 million to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential guard and support his new national security adviser, a long-time foe of Hamas…

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the money for Abbas and security adviser Mohammad Dahlan was meant to fuel divisions among Palestinians and undercut the unity government formed by the ruling Hamas Islamists and Abbas’s Fatah faction.

The White House got its cash and Abbas took the bait.  On April 12, 2006 Reuters reported:

Forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are getting newer bases at home and more advanced training abroad for an expanded security role that could put them on a collision course with militants…

Western and Palestinian officials said Abbas’s goal was to create a Palestinian “gendarmerie,” a force trained in military tactics that operates in civilian areas and is capable of carrying out police duties, restoring law and order, and enforcing any existing and future agreements with Israel.

In addition to basic training conducted at facilities in the West Bank city of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, about 500 men loyal to Abbas’s Fatah faction recently crossed from Gaza into Egypt for more advanced instruction in police tactics, Western security officials said.

Hundreds of members of Abbas’s presidential guard will take similar courses in the coming months at a facility in Jordan as part of a $59.4 million U.S. security program that received a green light from Congress this week….

Palestinian sources say Dahlan was personally coordinating the training programs and seeking additional assistance.

The Mecca Accord now looks set to crumble as the “compromise” technocrat chosen as Interior Minister has complained about at Dahlan’s growing influence.

A struggle to control Palestinian security forces escalated on Monday when the obscure bureaucrat named by rival factions as a compromise choice of interior minister submitted his resignation after just six weeks.

Hani al-Qawasmi was persuaded to stay on in the job by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and attended the weekly cabinet meeting.

But the day’s turbulence put a spotlight on deep differences within the unity government that Haniyeh’s Hamas Islamists and the secular Fatah movement…

In his role as interior minister, Qawasmi was supposed to oversee the security services. But President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah appointed Mohammad Dahlan, one of Hamas’s main rivals, to serve as national security adviser…

A government official said the dispute with Qawasmi centered on the role of internal security chief Rashid Abu Shbak, an Abbas loyalist who has assumed effective control over the security forces within the Interior Ministry.

Some Palestinian analysts saw the growing clout of Abu Shbak and Abbas’s appointment of Dahlan as national security adviser as a bid to sideline Qawasmi and minimize his control over the security services, which are mostly loyal to Fatah.

For those keeping score in the running battle between Saudi King Abdullah and Vice President Cheney, the “Mecca Accord” should have been coded as a “surprise” victory for Abdullah.

The White House has been quietly at work on several fronts to reverse this victory.

Code the coming clashes between Fatah and Hamas as a victory for Cheney.

Right Zionists and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on April 24, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / No Comments

Why don’t Right Zionists favor US withdrawal from Iraq?

This may seem like a silly question: for many Neocons, US withdrawal from Iraq automatically equals defeat.

To be sure, there is a crowd–call them the “Unipolarists” most closely identified with William Kristol and John McCain–for whom Iraq is and has always been about US boots on the ground and the direct projection of US imperial power. When the US invaded Iraq, these Neocons joined many Right Arabists like Colin Powell and Anthony Zinni in favoring a direct, formal US Occupation of Iraq.

Right Zionists are by no means hostile to the projection of US power.

However, as I argued in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence,” Right Zionists also have a particular vision of the future of Iraq that seems lost on those critics who see US policy toward Iraq as guided by little more than the generic appetite of the military industrial complex.

The core of the Right Zionist vision for Iraq is the substitution of Iraqi Shiite majority rule in place of traditional authoritarian rule by Iraq’s Sunni minority.

It is easy enough to figure out why Right Arabists want the US to stay in Iraq: American force is required to close Pandora’s Box, reverse Shiite empowerment, and restore Sunni Arab minority military rule.

So, here is the mystery:

Why wouldn’t a Right Zionist like Reuel Marc Gerecht–perhaps the leading US proponent of Iraqi Shiite majority rule, with the possible exception of Vice President Cheney’s Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–support US withdrawal?

After all, Gerecht–like Fouad Ajami–seems pretty confident that Iraqi Shiites are prepared to spill Sunni Arab blood in order to finish off the Sunni insurgency.

Gerecht has painted a picture of Iraq after US withdrawal. It is not pretty. But it would be very surprising if Gerecht–who once asked, “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?“–tried to ground his argument for US troops in Iraq on the basis of humanitarianism.

For Gerecht, the chief reason to stay in Iraq is neither to repress Iraqi Shiites nor protect Iraqi Sunnis but to contain Iranian influence in Iraq.

If the US does not ally itself with Iraqi Shiites in a regional war against radical Sunni Arabs, Iraqi Shiites will have no choice but to seek security in the arms of Iranian radicals. Here is Gerecht, from January, on withdrawal.

[A]n American withdrawal would provoke a take-no-prisoners civil war between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs, which could easily reach genocidal intensity…

[T]he Sunni Arab population of Baghdad is going to get pulverized…

Once the Shia become both badly bloodied and victorious, raw nationalist and religious passions will grow. A horrific fight with the Sunni Arabs will inevitably draw in support from the ferociously anti-Shiite Sunni religious establishments in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and on the Shiite side from Iran…

Imagine Iraqi Shiites, battle-hardened in a vicious war with Iraq’s Arab Sunnis, spiritually and operationally linking up with a revitalized and aggressive clerical dictatorship in Iran…

Hence, the need for US troops and Gerecht’s support for the current “surge”:

A strong, aggressive American military presence in Iraq can probably halt the radicalization of the Shiite community.

That was January 2007.

In his most recent missive, Gerecht appears to suggest that if the “surge” goes his way, he would welcome Iraqi Shiite demands for US withdrawal.

The key, for Gerecht, is that the US must abandon its attempts to appease the Sunni minority.

Critics of the surge often underscore the absence of a clearly defined post-surge political strategy. Echoing Rumsfeld and Abizaid, these critics believe that only a “political solution”–that is, Shiite and Kurdish concessions to the once-dominant Sunni minority–can solve Iraq’s trauma. The Bush administration has largely been in agreement with this view, following a strategy since 2004 of trying to placate the Sunnis.

It hasn’t worked. In all probability, it could not. Certainly an approach that centers on de-de-Baathification is destined to fail since the vast majority of Iraq’s Shiites, and probably Kurds, too, oppose any deal that would allow the Sunni Baathist elite back into government. And de-de-Baathification is not about letting Sunni Arab teachers, engineers, and nurses back into the government job market. It’s about the Baathist Sunni elite getting the power and prestige of senior positions, especially in the military and security services. If we really want Iraq to succeed in the long term, we will stop pushing this idea. Onetime totalitarian societies that more thoroughly purge despotic party members have done much better than those that allow the old guard to stay on (think Russia). Grand Ayatollah Sistani is right about this; the State Department and the CIA are wrong.

The Sunni insurgency will likely cease when the Sunnis, who have been addicted to power and the perception of the Shiites as a God-ordained underclass, know in their hearts that they cannot win against the Shiites, that continued fighting will only make their situation worse. Thanks in part to the ferocity of vengeful Shiite militias, we are getting there.

Gerecht does not support talk of immediate withdrawal:

[T]he surge deserves to be supported. This is not the time for talk of timetables for withdrawal–much less talk of a war that is lost. It isn’t inconsistent to scorch Bush for his failures–and still to argue that the American blood we will spill in Iraq in the surge is worth the possibility of success.

But there is also this surprising little nugget:

As a Shiite-led democracy grows, the calls for an American withdrawal will increase. Which is fine. Iraqi nationalism is vibrant among the Shiites, especially those who are religious. And democracy in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, is unlikely to be particularly affectionate toward the United States. Iraqi democracy is much more likely to free American soldiers to go home than is chaos in Mesopotamia.

Gerecht may be playing partisan games, rejecting talk of timetables for withdrawal while giving a nod toward withdrawal at some point over the horizon. But which position features the political pandering and which features the ideology of a Right Zionist?

Is Gerecht blowing smoke when he describes as “fine” increasing Iraqi Shiite calls for American withdrawal?

Or is this the rebirth of Right Zionist optimism that “we are getting there,” courtesy of vengeful Shiite militias and the hope of a reinvigorated US counter-insurgency campaign?

[W]ith Petraeus, Maliki, and Sistani in charge, things may work out…

Gerecht remains cautious about the road ahead:

American and Iraqi forces in Baghdad will have to figure out a way to diminish significantly the number and lethality of Sunni suicide bombers. Given the topography of Baghdad, the possible routes of attack against the capital’s Shiite denizens, and the common traits of Iraq’s Arabs, this will be difficult. If we and the Iraqis cannot do this, then the radicalization of the Shiites will continue, and it will be only a question of time before the Shiite community collectively decides that the Sunnis as a group are beyond the pale, and a countrywide war of religious cleansing will become likely… In the next few months, of course, things could go to hell. One suicide bomber killing the right Shiite VIPs could threaten all.

Each day brings news that all that could go to hell probably will.

Nevertheless, when coupled with Fouad Ajami’s recent optimism, Gerecht’s latest missive appears to mark something of a Right Zionist trend in the making.

It may not point to the direction of events in Iraq or even Washington. But it does clarify the stakes, for Right Zionists, of ongoing battles in and around Iraq.

Right Zionist optimism may tell us little about the chances for US success in Iraq but more about some Right Zionist definitions of success.

Iran-Contra, Redux?

Posted by Cutler on April 23, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Washington wants to sell weapons to the Saudis.  Watch Right Zionists squirm.

We’ve been here before.

In the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Right Arabists like Reagan administration Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger responded by bolstering US relations with Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  The goal was both to reassure the Saudis that the US would not retreat from the Gulf and to help the Saudis and Iraq defend the Gulf against Iranian influence.

Today, as the US is bogged down in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and, according to Gates, the State Department) wants to send the same message, allegedly offering to sell Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs to the Saudis.

Part of the story centers on Washington’s efforts to construct and maintain a broad coalition against Iran.

But Gates appears also to feel the need to “reassure” the Saudis of US support, more generally, if only to keep Riyadh out of the hands of Moscow.

Gates explained:

Q Mr. Secretary, could we go back for a moment to your visit here in Israel? (I thought ?) you (were discussing ?) your concerns about future U.S. arms exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. And were you able to reach any kind of understanding on — (inaudible) — any Israeli fears that there may be?

SEC. GATES: We did talk about that. And I talked about the — first of all, I made it clear that it’s a State Department program, not a Defense Department program. But that I thought that, look, we need to look at the circumstances in terms of the overall strategic environment and in terms of the concerns of other neighbors (more over ?) Iran, perhaps, than Israel, and that they needed to take into consideration the overall strategic environment and how that has changed. So I made it pretty clear that there are alternatives for their neighbors in terms of sophisticated weapons, and that needed to be taken (into consideration ?) as well.

Q Could you just expand on that a little bit? You say there are alternatives?

SEC. GATES: Well, I’m confident the Russians would be very happy to sell weapons in the region.

Gates may simply be playing the Russian card to snow the Israelis, but Gates may be something of a Russia hawk and Putin’s historic February visit to Saudi Arabia might have raised alarm bells at the Pentagon (as it certainly did for Ariel Cohen over at the Heritage Foundation).

Iran-Contra, Redux?

Back in the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s tilt toward Saudi Arabia created a serious dilemma for Right Zionists (aka, Neocons) feared stronger ties between the US and Saudi Arabia at least as much as they feared the revolutionary regime in Iran.

Today, leading Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen present themselves as supremely hawkish on Iran, ruling out any diplomatic settlement with Iran, etc.

And Ledeen, in particular, likes to talk about how the Iranians declared war on the United States in 1979 and have been waging that war ever since:

The Ayatollah Khomeini branded the U.S. “The Great Satan” in 1979, and Iranians and Iranian proxies have been killing Americans and American friends and allies ever since…

Be that as it may, Ledeen and Co. have not always favored confrontation with Iran.  The reason is quite simple: Right Zionists consider the Arab Gulf to be a permanent enemy of Israel while they consider “eternal Iran” an essential ally.

Indeed, Ledeen and the Right Zionists were the architects of the plan to reach out to Iran during the Reagan administration (the so-called Iran-Contra affair) and Ledeen’s diplomatic drum beat continued until after the Gulf War.

In a previous post, I have recalled some of Ledeen’s earlier, more “diplomatic” positions:

Some “Right Zionist history” may help make the point: way back on July 19, 1988, Michael Ledeen–famous for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair–published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Let’s Talk With Iran Now” (I couldn’t find an on-line copy. Link anyone?). Here are some excerpts of his position at that time:

The United States, which should have been exploring improved relations with Iran before… should now seize the opportunity to do so. To wait might suggest to even pro-Western Iranians that a refusal to seek better relations is based on an anti-Iran animus rather than objections to specific Iranian actions.

Those Iranians who have been calling for better relations with the West have clearly been gathering strength… Among the advocates of such improved relations are two leading candidates to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani and the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri

Yet there has been no sense of urgency among our top policymakers to design and conduct a policy toward Iran–in part because our top officials, traumatized by the Iran-contra scandal and the hearings and investigatiosn that followed, were determined to to be caught dealing with the Iranians…

Yet past mistakes should not prevent the Administration from pursuing the clear chance for a potential breakthrough in one of the more strategically sensitive areas of the world.

Same theme, again, in a February 1, 1991 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Iran–Back in the Game,” as the US waged war against Iraq.

Iran is once again a player in the Great Game, even to the point of being able to contemplate territorial acquisitions of its own once Iraq has been defeated…

Iran will be seated at the table when the new Middle Eastern order is designed at war’s end, and it will not be easy for the U.S. to know how to deal with it. For there is no country in the world that American diplomats have shunned so totally, indeed avoided so compulsively, as Iran. We have done so primarily for political reasons; ever since the Iran-Contra affair, no American leader has wished to be caught talking to an Iranian, even though many recognized the many sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran.

It would have been wiser to have dealt with the Iranians earlier, but we now have little choice in the matter. Our contacts will surely increase, and President Rafsanjani and company will likely sit at the postwar negotiating table, thereby producing the great historical irony that Saddam Hussein, the conqueror of Persia, will have forced us to resume sensible relations with a reemerging Iran.

The immediate political question today is whether the Israeli government will mobilize Congressional opposition to the recent proposal to sell arms to the Saudis.  This may depend, in part, on the balance of forces between Right Zionists in the US and the ruling Kadima party in Israel.

But equally important in the long term may be whether and under what circumstances Ledeen, or some of his Right Zionist allies, might break ranks with the proposed Saudi-Israeli, anti-Iranian coalition and discover “sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran” and move to thwart their “real” enemy, King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia.

If such an abrupt reversal is in the cards, it may be helpful to understand why Ledeen reversed himself after 1991.

What made Ledeen move from diplomacy to regime change?  What would it take for him to move back?

This is not a rhetorical question.  I don’t know and it seems important.

Ledeen could tell us, but he may be too busy covering the tracks of his previous preference for “diplomacy” and pretending to have been fighting the Iranians “ever since” the revolution of 1979.

Birthday Blogging

Posted by Cutler on April 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

“Cutler’s Blog” is one year old today.

The first post examined the “decision” of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside amidst considerable pressure from Washington.

By some measures, it looks like the political process hasn’t changed much in a year.

One year ago, Bush administration Right Arabists were busy trying to curb Shiite power and woo the Sunni minority back into the political process.

This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered that same message to Baghdad.  The Washington Post reports:

Gates on Friday called the Baghdad security plan “a strategy for buying time for progress toward justice and reconciliation.”

He urged Iraq’s parliament to pass legislation on provincial elections, the exploitation of the country’s vast oil resources, the status of former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein and other issues before the lawmakers recess this summer. “These measures will not fix all of the problems in Iraq, but they will manifest the will of the entire government of Iraq to be a government for all the people of Iraq in the future,” he said.

In April 2006, however, the US managed to oust Jaafari only to settle for his deputy, Prime Minister Maliki.

One year later, Maliki–like Jaafari–retains some independence from the Washington’s Right Arabists.

Asked how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had responded, Gates said Maliki had reminded him that the parliament is independent, suggesting he could make no assurances on the legislation.

Hasan Suneid, a lawmaker and adviser to Maliki, said the Iraqi government would like to see both the oil legislation and de-Baathification proposal pass, but at their own pace. “These demands are already Iraqi demands,” he said. “The most important thing is to achieve discussion of these plans. Time is irrelevant.”

The “independence” of the Shiite political establishment should not be exaggerated, but neither should it be viewed as an unmitigated disaster for Washington’s political establishment.

The beleaguered Right Zionists (i.e., Neocons) have little left to show for themselves in Washington (save for David Wurmser and John Hannah in Cheney’s office and Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, and perhaps a smattering of lesser figures).

But unlike Washington’s Right Arabists, some Right Zionists–most recently, Fouad Ajami–are quite pleased by signs of Shiite power and Shiite independence from Right Arabist Washington.

What I cannot figure out, one year later, is how this story ends.

Will “facts on the ground” in Baghdad force Right Arabist Washington to come to terms with Shiite power in Iraq?  Or will Right Arabist Washington lose patience with Iraqi Shiites and force an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

I would not have predicted that the current political “muddle” could have gone on as long as it has.

At one point in the last year, it looked as though James Baker’s Right Arabists were preparing for a clean sweep in Washington.

It didn’t happen.

And then there were signs that 2007 might tilt dramatically toward Shiite power in Iraq and Right Zionist influence in Washington, courtesy of Vice President Cheney.

Nothing quite so dramatic has yet unfolded in 2007.

The political meaning of the surge remains highly ambiguous and the additional US forces will not be in place until June.

If Shiite power in Iraq is linked to regime change in Iran–the original Right Zionist plan for “Dual Rollback”–then there are few signs such a plan has any legs in Washington (to say nothing of its chances in Tehran).

As I noted in a recent post, Right Zionists like Richard Perle feel utterly betrayed by US policy toward Iran.  Here is Perle:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Perle has any friends in high places, they are now as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.

The Washington Times reported this week that some Democrats are trying to “out hawk” the Bush administration on Iran:

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, criticized the administration for not taking action under the Iran Sanctions Act.

That law requires imposing sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in one year in Iran’s energy sector.

Mr. Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs terrorism, nonproliferation and trade subcommittee, included a list of foreign companies that have invested millions or more than $1 billion in Iranian energy.

Although the administration may say the deals may not go through or the full extent of the investments will not be realized, “it strains credulity to say that no single $20 million investment has occurred in Iran in the past decade driving any calendar year,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is that the State Department refuses to find evidence of the investments that would trigger the act because they do not want to find evidence of such investments.”

But even Dem Zionists seem to be split on how to proceed.  California Congressman Tom Lantos–traditionally a great friend of Israel–reaching out to Russia, Syria, and even Iran.

So, the muddle continues.

And so does “Cutler’s Blog.”

From Russia (To Israel) With Love

Posted by Cutler on April 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

One of the central assumptions behind discussions of the domestic political influence within the US of the “Israel Lobby” is that the power must be grounded in domestic lobbying because there is no coherent strategic rationale that justifies the “special relationship” between the US and Israeli.

One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests… Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’…

Without minimizing the importance of domestic politics, there may be more to say about the strategic significance of Israel.

Consider the role of oil.

In a region that is home to enormous oil reserves, why favor a country that has almost no energy of its own?

Because much of the geopolitics of oil is about oil transport.

Consider, for example, an October 2006 report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Israel has one main operational oil pipeline, known as the “Trans-Israel Pipeline” or the “Tipline,” built in 1968 to ship Iranian oil from the southern Red Sea port of Eilat to the northern Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, as a gateway to Europe. The pipeline went into disuse after relations with Iran soured in 1979. The 152-mile pipeline has a reported current capacity of 1-1.2 million bbl/d (having been expanded from 400,000 bbl/d) and 18 million barrels of storage capacity….

During 2003, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) modified the pipeline to reverse flows on the 42-inch line, to facilitate Russian Caspian petroleum exports to Far East. In October 2003, it was first reported that Swiss trader Glencore would ship 1.2 million barrels of Kazakh CPC Blend crude and 600,000 barrels of sour Russian Urals through the line as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which can accommodate only smaller, “Suezmax” tankers. In July 2006, Israel also signed and agreement with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) to import and transport Azeri Light Crude through the pipeline.

That brief EIA narrative raises a whole host of interesting questions.

Who, for example, might harbor the dream of restoring the original direction of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline as an Iranian-Israeli route that reaches Europe but bypasses Arab oil?

Who dreams of bypassing the Suez canal?

Who dreams of oil, loaded onto VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) in the Red Sea for shipment to markets in Asia?

Note, too, the possibility that the Israeli pipeline route might get tangled up in the Great Power rivalry between the United States and Russia.

After all, the Azerbaijan oil that flows through the BTC pipeline is specifically designed to bypass Russian influence in the transportation of Caspian Sea oil.

But Russia is making its own play for the Israeli route, also via Turkey.

Black Sea ministers… faced conflicts over competing pipeline projects, such as Russia’s plans to expand its Blue Stream gas pipeline through Turkey to Israel and possibly Europe, which would rival the planned [US-backed] Nabucco pipeline.

One might even imagine Israel being wooed by Russia and the US.

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.


Want to Play a (Great) Game?

Posted by Cutler on April 16, 2007
Russia / 2 Comments

Somebody in Washington wants to play hardball with Russia.

If the Russian Duma is to be believed, the US is fanning the flames of internal dissent.  The Moscow Times reports:

Duma deputies unanimously approved a resolution expressing concern over “growing and unprecedented attempts” by the United States to interfere in internal issues.

“Under the guise of helping to conduct free and fair elections for the State Duma in December 2007 and of the president of the Russian Federation in March 2008, U.S. taxpayers’ money is being used to fund numerous training courses, surveys, seminars and other events that propagandize … and distort the situation,” the resolution said…

The Duma resolution, which mentions the U.S. report, also accuses U.S. officials of participating in events organized by “openly extremist forces” — an apparent reference to the attendance of several U.S. officials at a Moscow conference held by The Other Russia last year. Among The Other Russia’s organizers is the unregistered National Bolshevik Party, which prosecutors call extremist.

The Duma also called on the president, the Cabinet and the Prosecutor General’s Office to boost enforcement of the 2006 law that bans NGOs from participating in political activities and establishes strong bureaucratic control over their finances, particularly over foreign grants.

So, who is spoiling for a fight with Russia?

In a March 22, 2007 Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, Dimitri K. Simes points a finger:

[There is an] influential group of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists inside and outside the Bush administration [for whom] compromise is unacceptable. For them, foreign policy is a morality play; the Russians are the bad guys and should be taught a lesson…

In terms of “liberal interventionists,” Simes doesn’t name names.  Maybe he has in mind Katrina vanden Heuvel–publisher of The Nation–and her husband, NYU Professor Stephen F. Cohen who might identify themselves as decidedly anti-Putin.

Regarding the “neoconservatives,” I am even less sure if the label fits.

As I noted in a recent post, some strident supporters of Israel–including House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos–have recently “gone wobbly” on Russia.

If Lantos is prepared to ease the way for the lifting of Jackson-Vanik trade sanctions and help shepherd Russia into the WTO, others in Washington are not yet on board.

Mosnews has noted signs of a split in Washington:

U.S. Trade Representatives Susan Schwab said that Moscow was making only “slow progress” for entry into the 150-member world trade body.

“We would like to see Russia a full fledged member of the World Trade Organization and hope that Russia will undertake the commitments and responsibilities, the obligations that come with being a WTO member,” she said, quoted by the AFP…

Schwab also said the US Congress was not prepared to revoke Cold War-era legislation intended to pressure Soviet authorities over emigration restrictions…

As MosNews has reported, several U.S. officials including Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and Congressman Tom Lantos, have spoken in favor of lifting the amendment as soon as possible.

Schwab, however, seems to have a different idea. “The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is, is the WTO ready to let Russia in and the answer is, ’not yet,’” she said.

What is Schwab’s beef with Russia?  It may be more narrowly “commercial” than geo-strategic.

Nevertheless, there are Russia hawks in Washington and Cheney is arguably the ringleader.  But it is not obvious that Right Zionists constitute the core of his anti-Putin coalition precisely because Right Zionists might be tempted to “go wobbly” on Russia in exchange for cooperation in containing Iran.

But, as Dimitri K. Simes points out, there are Russia hawks in this administration.  Simes identifies one key figure: Dan Fried, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.

Consider, for example, his recent Congressional testimony on US relations with Turkey:

On energy security, the United States has offered strong support to help realize the Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan oil pipeline, working with Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan and with companies to establish a public-private partnership that has resulted in one the most complex and successful pipeline projects of all time. A companion natural gas pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum, a pipeline, is about to begin delivering Azerbaijani natural gas to Georgia and Turkey.

Over the next decade, we hope a trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Kazakhstan and even Turkmenistan will connect with this BTE pipeline. We have also just launched trilateral discussions with Ankara and Baghdad on developing gas production in northern Iraq.

This so-called Southern Corridor can change Eurasia’s strategic map by offering Europe its best hope for large volumes of natural gas supplies that will allow diversification away from a deepening European reliance on Gazprom.

Daniel Fried makes one thing clear: the Great Game is alive and well.

Perhaps it is no accident, then, that one of the leading figures in the recent Russian Dissent is a champion of the “Great Game,” chess master, Garry Kasparov.

One Happy Neocon

Posted by Cutler on April 13, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Looking for a happy Neocon in Washington?

You are unlikely to find one at the World Bank, where former US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz is under pressure to resign.

Instead, the happiest Neocon in Washington appears to be long-time Wolfowitz associate Fouad Ajami.

Like Senator John McCain, Ajami is just back from Iraq and has been all over the media sharing his new-found optimism about Iraq.

It wasn’t always thus.  Having offered up glowing predictions on the eve of the US invasion, Ajami seemed to concede failure in May 2004 with a New York Times Op-Ed that declared “The Dream is Dead.”

Let’s face it: Iraq is not going to be America’s showcase in the Arab-Muslim world… If some of the war’s planners had thought that Iraq would be an ideal base for American primacy in the Persian Gulf, a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world, that notion has clearly been set aside.

We are strangers in Iraq, and we didn’t know the place. We had struggled against radical Shiism in Iran and Lebanon in recent decades, but we expected a fairly secular society in Iraq (I myself wrote in that vein at the time). Yet it turned out that the radical faith — among the Sunnis as well as the Shiites — rose to fill the void left by the collapse of the old despotism.

More recently, however, Ajami has been publishing relatively upbeat Wall Street Journal Op-Ed essays, including his April 11, 2007 piece “Iraq in the Balance,” expressing “cautious optimism” about Iraq.

Traveling “in the company of the Shia politician Ahmed Chalabi” and armed protection, Ajami toured Baghdad.

[T]he sense of deliverance, and the hopes invested in this new security plan, are palpable…

The essay was published before a recent bombing of the Iraqi Parliament killed several Iraqi MPs and prompted the US to concede that even the Green Zone is not safe.  And it comes before the word that the US will extend the tours of those serving in Iraq.

Ultimately, however, Ajami’s optimism is not grounded in a naive hope of swift US military success in Iraq (although Ajami can certainly sling that hash with the best of those accused of reading from a White House script).

Instead, Ajami’s optimism appears to be grounded in a far more cold-hearted (if still potentially incorrect) calculation: Shiite vengeance has done what the US refused to do–break the back of the Sunni insurgency.

In other words, Iraq is (or has been) in the throes of a sectarian civil war, but in the words of Charles Krauthammer, Iraq is “A Civil War We Can Still Win.”

What some might call “ethnic cleansing” in Baghdad, Ajami calls victory:

In retrospect, the defining moment for Mr. Maliki had been those early hours of Dec. 30, when Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows…

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad. The great flight from Baghdad to Jordan, to Syria, to other Arab destinations, has been the flight of Baghdad’s Sunni middle-class. It is they who had the means of escape, and the savings.

Whole mixed districts in the city–Rasafa, Karkh–have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts. This was the tragic logic of the campaign of terror waged by the Baathists and the jihadists against the Shia; this was what played out in the terrible year that followed the attack on the Askariya shrine of Samarra in February 2006. Possessed of an old notion of their own dominion, and of Shia passivity and quiescence, the Sunni Arabs waged a war they were destined to lose.

No one knows with any precision the sectarian composition of today’s Baghdad, but there are estimates that the Sunnis may now account for 15% of the city’s population. Behind closed doors, Sunni leaders speak of the great calamity that befell their community. They admit to a great disappointment in the Arab states that fed the flames but could never alter the contest on the ground in Iraq. No Arab cavalry had ridden, or was ever going to ride, to the rescue of the Sunnis of Iraq…

Now the ground has shifted, and among the Sunnis there is a widespread sentiment of disinheritance and loss.

The Mahdi Army, more precisely the underclass of Sadr City, had won the fight for Baghdad.

In other words, the Chalabi-Ajami Right Zionist crew that put its faith in the Iraqi Shia have not been disappointed by the decision.

The disappointment has been in Washington.  And if Ajami continues to fear anything, it is the Bush administration:

The Americans have given birth to this new Shia primacy, but there lingers a fear, in the inner circles of the Shia coalition, that the Americans have in mind a Sunni-based army, of the Pakistani and Turkish mold, that would upend the democratic, majoritarian bases of power on which Shia primacy rests. They are keenly aware, these new Shia men of power in Baghdad, that the Pax Americana in the region is based on an alliance of long standing with the Sunni regimes. They are under no illusions about their own access to Washington when compared with that of Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and the smaller principalities of the Persian Gulf. This suspicion is in the nature of things; it is the way of once marginal men who had come into an unexpected triumph.

In truth, it is not only the Arab order of power that remains ill at ease with the rise of the Shia of Iraq. The (Shia) genie that came out of the bottle was not fully to America’s liking. Indeed, the U.S. strategy in Iraq had tried to sidestep the history that America itself had given birth to. There had been the disastrous regency of Paul Bremer. It had been followed by the attempt to create a national security state under Ayad Allawi. Then there had come the strategy of the American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, that aimed to bring the Sunni leadership into the political process and wean them away from the terror and the insurgency.

Mr. Khalilzad had become, in his own sense of himself, something of a High Commissioner in Iraq, and his strategy had ended in failure; the Sunni leaders never broke with the insurgency. Their sobriety of late has been a function of the defeat their cause has suffered on the ground; all the inducements had not worked.

We are now in a new, and fourth, phase of this American presence. We should not try to “cheat” in the region, conceal what we had done, or apologize for it, by floating an Arab-Israeli peace process to the liking of the “Sunni street.”…

For our part, we can’t give full credence to the Sunni representations of things. We can cushion the Sunni defeat but can’t reverse it. Our soldiers have not waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against Sunni extremists to fall for the fear of some imagined “Shia crescent” peddled by Sunni rulers and preachers.

The Neocons began to lose control of US policy in Iraq as early as September 2003.  They have never been completely eclipsed in Washington, least of all in the Office of the Vice President.

Ultimately, the “(Shia) genie” in Iraq remains the ace in the hole for Right Zionists.

Students of the Sunni insurgency might well argue that Ajami is blowing smoke when he says that the Mahdi Army has won the fight for Baghdad.  At one level, Ajami is simply repeated the old hope that he is witnessing the “last throes” of the Sunni insurgency.  There is good reason for skepticism.

No matter.  The significance of the Ajami text is not in the adequacy of its predictions about Baghdad but in the content and direction of its political investments.

Ajami has produced an “unflinching” Right Zionist defense of the 80 Percent Solution.

Does Washington support the 80 Percent Solution?

Ajami is not sure.  In his January 2007 Op-Ed “The American Iraq,” he expressed cautious optimism about Washington:

[I]n recent months our faith in democracy’s possibilities in Iraq has appeared to erode, and this unnerves the Shia political class… [T]here was that brief moment when it seemed as though the “realists” of the James Baker variety were in the midst of a restoration. The Shia (and the Kurds) needed no deep literacy in strategic matters to read the mind of Mr. Baker. His brand of realism was anathema to people who tell their history in metaphors of justice and betrayal. He was a known entity in Iraq; he had been the steward of American foreign policy when America walked away, in 1991, from the Kurdish and Shia rebellions it had called for. The political class in Baghdad couldn’t have known that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would die on the vine, and that President Bush would pay these recommendations scant attention. The American position was not transparent, and there were in the air rumors of retrenchment, and thus legitimate Iraqi fears that the American presence in Baghdad could be bartered away in some accommodation with the powers in Iraq’s neighborhood.

These fears were to be allayed, but not put to rest, by the military “surge” that President Bush announced in recent days. More than a military endeavor, the surge can be seen as a declaration by the president that deliverance would be sought in Baghdad, and not in deals with the rogues (Syria and Iran) or with the Sunni Arab states. Prime Minister Maliki and the coalition that sustains his government could not know for certain if this was the proverbial “extra mile” before casting them adrift, or the sure promise that this president would stay with them for the remainder of his time in office.

Ajami–like Maliki–might still have his doubts about President Bush.  But if push comes to shove between Bush and Maliki, Ajami’s commitments are crystal clear:

Mr. Maliki will not do America’s bidding, and we should be grateful for his displays of independence.

Iranian Quid Pro Quo?

Posted by Cutler on April 11, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Let’s revisit the old question of Cheney–his influence and his agenda.

There has been speculation, most recently in early March, that Cheney might be losing his influence in the White House.

At least some folks in Washington think that may be so much wishful thinking.

Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks report in the Washington Post that someone in the White House is looking to find a powerful successor to Meghan O’Sullivan, the Richard Haass protégé who has been the lead White House staffer responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Gen. John J. “Jack” Sheehan was one of those invited to consider the White House “war czar” position and his public response to that invitation speaks directly to the question of Cheney’s influence.  The Post quotes Sheehan:

“The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going,” said retired Marine Gen. John J. “Jack” Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. “So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, ‘No, thanks,’ ” he said….

In the course of the discussions, Sheehan said, he called around to get a better feel for the administration landscape.

There’s the residue of the Cheney view — ‘We’re going to win, al-Qaeda’s there’ — that justifies anything we did,” he said. “And then there’s the pragmatist view — how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence.” Sheehan said he wrote a note March 27 declining interest.

And then there is Cheney and US relations with Iran.

On the one hand, Iran hawks like John Bolton have criticized the UK–and the US–for handing Iranian hardliners a victory in the recent “hostage” affair.  Writing in the Financial Times, Bolton declares:

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, an improbable Easter bunny, scored a political victory, both in Iran and internationally, by his “gift” of the return of Britain’s 15 hostages. Against all odds, Iran emerged with a win-win from the crisis: winning by its provocation in seizing the hostages in the first place and winning again by its unilateral decision to release them….

Tony Blair, the prime minister, said he was “not negotiating but not confronting either”… [W]hat does “not negotiating but not confronting” actually mean? Unnamed British diplomats briefed the press that they had engaged in “discussions” but not negotiations. One can only await with interest to learn what that distinction without a difference implies…. the US was silent, at Britain’s behest.

The Captain Ahabs of British and US diplomacy, obsessed by their search for Iranian “moderates”, those great white whales, are proclaiming yet another “moderate” victory in this outcome…

Indisputably the winners in Iran were the hardliners.

When Bolton proposes that there might, as yet, be more “to learn” about the nature of the discussions between the British and Iran he is referring to the widely circulating rumor that there was a quid pro quo involved in the hostage release.

Specifically, there has been speculation linking the capture and release of the British “hostages” to the capture of several Iranian “hostages”–the so-called Irbil Five–in Iraq.

On the Left, Patrick Cockburn suggested that the Iranians seized the British in retaliation for the American capture of the Iranians.

During the “negotiations,” an Iranian diplomat held in Iraq was released, feeding speculation of dealmaking.

The Iranians hinted at a deal after the British were released:

Tehran has called on London to respond to its release of 15 UK naval personnel with a gesture of good will, indicating it wants Britain’s help to free five Iranians held in Iraq and ease concerns about its nuclear programme.

“We played our part and we showed our good will,” Rasoul Movahedian, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, told the Financial Times, in his first interview since the crisis began. “Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way.”

There has been speculation that Tehran’s decision to free the 15 was linked to the fate of the Iranians held by the US since January.

This sparked fear among Iran hawks on the Right that the Bush administration had agreed to the link in a scandalous quid pro quo.

Eli Lake at the New York Sun reported, “America May Free Iranians Taken in Iraq” and the editorial page decried signs of a deal.

Where is Cheney?

In an interview with ABC News Radio, Cheney was asked about a quid pro quo:

Q Do you think there was any quid pro quo for their release?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don’t know.

Q Do you think there should have been?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t think there should have been…

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release.  But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them.  At least not yet.  And, according to the Financial Times the Iranians are pissed.

Iran’s frustration has been gradually building over the lack of progress in releasing five Iranians seized by US forces from Tehran’s consular building in Arbil, northern Iraq, on January 11. The case has become for Iran a disturbing sign of hostile US intentions, both over Tehran’s role in Iraq and its nuclear programme…

“We are not responsible for [the detained Iranians],” one Iraqi source said. “The realpolitik of today’s Iraq is different and [the Iranians] know it for sure.”…

Iran’s hopes for the release of the “Arbil Five” blossomed last week both with the freeing of Jalal Sharafi, a senior Iranian diplomat, two months after he was kidnapped in Baghdad apparently by Iraqi special forces, and with Iran’s release of 15 British sailors and marines detained since March 23.

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

In addition to questions of influence, there remains the issue of Cheney’s goals regarding Iran.

I note with interest that some of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies continue to be very frustrated by US policy toward Iran.  Right Zionists have always thought of populist regime change as the top priority in Iran.  But Cheney’s potential influence appears to offer little hope to Right Zionists that US policy is moving decisively in this direction.

In a recent interview, Richard Perle seems nearly inconsolable:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Cheney is preparing the way for a “political strategy” of populist regime change in Iran, he appears to be keeping it from some of his best friends.

Sadr’s Iraqi Nationalism

Posted by Cutler on April 09, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Some news headlines are suggesting that Moqtada al-Sadr, who has called his followers out into the streets for mass demonstrations, is now calling for “violence” against the US.  Others suggest a more ambiguous call to “fight” the US.

So, is this the long-awaited renewal of a clash between Sadr and the US?

Maybe, but I seriously doubt it.

The Sadrist demonstrations in Iraq are more likely an attempt by the Mahdi Army leadership to deflect criticism from within its own ranks.

The call for the demonstrations was made following Sunni attacks on Shiite neighborhoods at the end of March.

Sadr’s refusal to endorse a violent response to the sectarian bloodletting can easily be interpreted by his own ranks as a refusal to retaliate against the Sunni sources of violence.

To cover his flank, Sadr must try to shift the focus from a sectarian axis to a nationalist axis.

This is no easy task, but it helps explain the decidedly nationalist flavor of the theater promoted by Sadr in late March:

Al-Sadr’s statement calling for a demonstration was read aloud by a senior member of al-Sadr’s movement, Sheikh Suhail al-Iqabi, on Friday in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood and elsewhere in Iraq…

“Hoist Iraqi flags atop homes, apartment buildings and government departments to show the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, and that you reject the presence of American flags and those of other nations occupying our beloved Iraq.”

All of this underscores one of the difficulties of the US-Sadrist embrace.

Assume, for the moment, that Sadr would prefer to have his own forces “go to ground” and allow the US “surge” in Baghdad those Sunni forces that attack Shiite slums.

Such a move puts Sadr at the mercy of the US and its ability to protect his own ranks.

The late March attacks on Sadr city demonstrated to Sadr’s own ranks the risks of depending on US forces for security.

Sadr doesn’t have many good options.  He can unleash a sectarian thirst for vengeance within his own ranks or he can rely on the Americans for security against Sunni terror, even as he tries to reach out across the sectarian divide to (ultimately) form a united front against US occupation.

Ironically, the call for April 9 anti-American nationalist demonstrations may represent the clearest sign yet that Sadr is still placing his bet on the hope of security provided by the US.  

One way to underscore the difficulty of Sadr’s position is to simply consider the extraordinarily long odds of that bet.

The US has, thus far, been hard pressed to protect Shiites from Sunni terror.  And there appear to be limits to the Sunni appetite for a united front with Shiites so long as the Shia are seen to have inherited Iraq, courtesy of the US occupation.

Sadr’s best chance for Sunni-Shiite unity is to foment an Arab backlash against Kurdish efforts to make a grab for Kirkuk.

Perhaps this is the political unconscious of the Iraqi nationalism on display, courtesy of Sadr.

Bong Hits for Sanjaya

Posted by Cutler on April 06, 2007
Sacrifice / 2 Comments

A confession: in all the time since American Idol premiered in June 2002, I have not managed to watch more than one or two episodes.  Looking back now, I wish I had it all to do over again.  (Redemption awaits, courtesy of the “Netflix” Queue.)

Nevertheless, it appears that at least 30 million viewers have been battling a culture war in and through American Idol and the results look fascinating.

As usual, issues of work and sex figure prominently.

One clear sign of a good culture war is the advent of moral panic among Conservatives.

Enter our would-be President Fred Thompson, currently at the American Enterprise Institute, and his missive, “Real American Idols“:

Somehow, I know that Paris Hilton may have violated her parole. I’m not sure how it happened, but I even know a little about Britney Spears’s hairdo, divorce, and trip to rehab. These bits of cultural trivia, I really wish I hadn’t digested.

What I’m not going to do now is scold editors for spending more time on Anna Nicole Smith and Lindsay Lohan than the details of our federal budget. To begin with, it would have about as much impact as it would for me to tell some pop starlet, who has more money than I ever will, to put on some decent clothes and behave herself.

I do think, though, that we should be worried when our children are shown over and over again that people who are rich and famous, and are presented as “idols,” get even more rich and famous due to behaviors that would be rightly deemed tragedies in most families. So, instead of telling our news sources what not to publish, maybe I could make a few suggestions for additional programming.

Thompson goes on to profile several “role models” from the world of women’s college basketball:

There are young women who are succeeding because of all the old virtues that we want our children to learn and emulate…

[The ] did what had to be done to win this year–drilling and working out hard in the off season when other teams were taking it easy…

[T]hese women… have shown the discipline, sacrifice, and desire that anyone can and should aspire too. For the sake of our daughters, they ought to get at least a fraction of the coverage our media gives embarrassing, dysfunctional celebrities.

Set aside, for the moment, the moral panic about the rich “pop starlet” not only refuses to “put on some decent clothes and behave herself” but who–heaven forbid–shaved her head, which can only mean that Spears is insane.

The celebrity of the day is clearly American Idol‘s Sanjaya Malakar.

Eugene Robinson provides the basic contours of the phenomenon in his Washington Post column, “Sanjaya: The Axis of ‘Idol‘”:

Sanjaya Malakar is an abysmally untalented contestant who not only survives elimination week after week but actually seems to become more popular. He is the worst singer among the finalists, by far. His voice is weak… [and he] dances as if he has restless leg syndrome.

But Sanjaya (he has earned single-name fame) is undeniably cute. And he has a world-class head of hair, which he styles a different way each week — the apotheosis, thus far, was an indescribable “faux-hawk.” Wielding his lush locks and his charismatic smile like weapons of mass destruction, Sanjaya has conquered television’s biggest show…

The show’s official “expert panel” has weighed in heavily against Sanjaya, but to no avail.  Judge Simon Cowell has even threatened to walk away from the show if Sanjaya wins.

Sanjaya has had help in conquering the show.  The authority of the show’s judges has been “sabotaged” by an independent campaign, led by “Vote for the Worst” and adopted by Howard Stern.

“We’re corrupting the entire thing,” Mr. Stern said on his Sirius Satellite Radio show Thursday, the day after Mr. Malakar secured a place in the top nine finalists. “All of us are routing ‘American Idol.’ It’s so great. The No. 1 show in television and it’s getting ruined.”…

Mr. Malakar, who at 17 looks like a 1970s pop star of the David Cassidy/Bobby Sherman/Andy Gibb variety, had been among the lowest two or three vote-getters in the first weeks of the season. But after Dave Della Terza, the founder of a Web site called votefortheworst.com, first appeared on Mr. Stern’s radio show on March 20, Mr. Malakar has not been among the lowest vote-getters.

Of course, Stern matters and he has his own corporate heft.  But a case can be made–and has been made–that in this instance Stern is a lagging indicator, not a leading indicator.

So, at one level, the Sanjaya crisis represents a kind of “disintermediation” phenomenon where monopolistic or oligopolistic institutions (like Fox and its panel of expert judges) give way to unruly markets (like Fox’s own voting system and the chattering blogosphere).

This is how social movement happens now.  The social moves, not through the sweat equity of “collective action” but through turbulent markets.

American Idol producer Ken Warwick insists that everything is under control and discounts the significance of the virus that has swept the nation and infected his show.

Stern exudes the pleasure of a hacker and this is surely part of the story, as it was in the case of the recent “unauthorized” ad against Hillary Clinton.

But there is something else at stake, as well.

It’s about pleasure and the work ethic.

Here is how “Vote For the Worst” explains itself:

Why do we do it? During the initial auditions, the producers of Idol only let certain people through. Many good people are turned away and many bad singers are kept around…

Now why do the producers do this? It’s simple: American Idol is not about singing at all, it’s about making good reality TV and enjoying the cheesy, guilty pleasure of watching bad singing. We agree that a fish out of water is entertaining, and we want to acknowledge this fact by encouraging people help the amusing antagonists stick around. VFTW sees keeping these contestants around as a golden opportunity to make a more entertaining show.

There is in all of this a “guilty pleasure” in some standard reality TV cruelty.  The difference between VFTW and Fox may only be that Fox disavows that pleasure.  VFTW explains:

Because they don’t like our site, Fox has called us “hateful” and “mean spirited”. Doesn’t it seem a tad hypocritical to say that when the show has weeks devoted to making fun of bad auditions?…

How can the producers let Simon mock some of the contestants but then let us be called “vicious” when a campaign exists to help those very contestants? We don’t hate the people we vote for, we actually love them!

In the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche’s birds of prey describe their relationship with lambs:

We don’t dislike them at all, these good little lambs; we even love them; nothing is more tasty than a tender lamb.”

Some of the moral panic about Sanjaya is clearly about gender and sexual ambiguity.

Once upon a time the king of pop attempted to turn himself into the princess of Motown, Diana Ross – and he had the hair to prove it.

But Michael Jackson is a light-weight compared to the new king of the Hair Don’ts – the tragically tressed “Amerian Idol” finalist Sanjaya Malakar…

Half the world is asking… why he’s changing his hairstyle more often than Britney Spears….

The first shock to our systems was when Sanjaya showed up for auditions tressed in a full-out Farrah. How did he even find a hairdresser who still knows how to feather?…

Last week, he appeared with Jennifer Aniston’s hair strangely attached to his head. But it wasn’t until he sang for, yes, Diana Ross this week that we went into full toxic shock. Instead of copying her hairdo he showed up as Sally Struthers!

The moral panic that surrounds the survival of Sanjaya is also appears to be about wounded attachment to the “slave morality” of the work ethic and the ideology of the meritocratic rat race.

TV critic Susan Young cites one reader who makes the case:

[The attitude of ‘Vote for the Worst’] has outraged viewers, such as column reader Midge, who wrote to ask if it was true that Stern had asked his listeners to vote for Sanjaya.

“This singing competition is becoming a farce and is grossly unfair to the talented people who are working very hard and deserve to be recognized for their talent,” Midge writes.

“One might even want to think about going back two weeks and starting from there. Perhaps the judging should be like ‘Dancing with the Stars’ where the judges count as 50 percent of the vote.”

Reinstate loyal respect for authority and render hard work and sacrifice the source of all value?

I prefer not to.

The US-Russian War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on April 04, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Was the US invasion of Iraq was an opening salvo in a US-Russian war?

According to such a scenario, the “crisis” that led some in the Bush administration to press for an invasion of Iraq was not WMDs, a terror threat, domestic repression of Shiites and Kurds, etc.  The crisis came when Saddam began to slip out of his “sanctions” cage by shacking up in 1997 with Russian oil giant, Lukoil, for an agreement for the development of the giant West Qurna field.

So, have those most concerned to keep Iraq from Russia managed to do so?

Not yet.

Lukoil–and its American partner, ConocoPhillips, which owns a minority share in Lukoil–are still eager to try to get back in the game.

An April 2 Reuters report details a campaign by Lukoil and the Russian foreign ministry to insure that Lukoil doesn’t get shut out:

Russia’s top oil producer LUKOIL… signed a partnership deal with the foreign ministry on Monday and said it counted on its support as it prepares for talks to revive a giant oil deal in Iraq.

LUKOIL and the ministry said in a statement that the deal, the first of its kind in Russia, aims to support LUKOIL’s projects abroad, defend the firm’s interests by diplomatic means and facilitate the firm’s meetings abroad…

“Our company is entering new regions, including politically unstable regions. We will especially need support of the ministry in Iraq,” Interfax news agency quoted LUKOIL chief executive Vagit Alekperov as saying at a signing ceremony which was closed to reporters from foreign media organisations.

Nevertheless, Lukoil may have reason to worry that the proposed Iraqi oil legislation will leave the Russians out in the cold.

Much of the chatter in the US has been about the “scandal” of proposed “production sharing agreements” in the hydrocarbons law.  These are said to offer up the prospect of a massive money grab by the Oil Majors by coming very close to “privatizing” Iraqi oil.

That gets folks in the US all excited about the ways in which the US invasion of Iraq was all about the spread of neo-liberal market ideology.

When the so-called “Left” thinks about these issues, it misses the Great Power battle and sees only a struggle between the forces of statist justice and market greed.  Christian Parenti, for example, deserves props for noticing that the new Iraqi oil law is not all about privatization.  He even mentions that the Lukoil deal will be restructured.  But he appears to be comforted rather than alarmed by the implications:

Nor does the proposed oil law simply serve Iraq up on a plate to the oil giants. One London-based oil analyst who expected a more decentralized and free-market law called it “bloody confused.” On key questions of foreign investment and regional decentralization versus centralized control, the law is vague but not all bad

The draft law will leave ownership of the oil in state hands….

Indeed, the new law does not mention PSAs and it stipulates that firms will have to negotiate on a field-by-field basis.

The law will restructure the oil industry in other important ways: It will appoint a Federal Oil and Gas Council led by the prime minister to oversee all future contracts as well as review existing deals. Those agreements include the five contracts signed by the Kurdish Regional Government and six outstanding PSAs signed between Saddam Hussein and a mix of companies–most notably Lukoil of Russia, Total of France, the China National Petroleum Corporation and Italy’s Eni.

A single state-owned Iraqi National Oil Company will be reconstituted under central government control.

So close.  And, yet, so far.

The “scandal” may not be American market ideology in Iraq.  The real scandal may be the US move to nationalize some key elements of the Iraqi oil industry in an effort to thwart Russian (and French) ambitions.

Platts Oilgram News offered up this analysis of the Iraqi hydrocarbons law (Faleh al-Khayat, “New Iraqi oil law to open upstream sector; Gives powers to rejuvenated national company,” March 6, 2007):

The final draft of Iraq’s long-awaited oil and gas law opens up the country’s prized upstream sector to private, local and foreign investors for the first time since the 1970s, but appears to give more powers to a revived national oil company to manage current producing fields and giant undeveloped discoveries.

Platts has obtained the final draft of the law in Arabic, dated February 15 and approved by the Council of Ministers February 26, along with annexes classifying the oil fields and blocks to be opened up…

The law, now awaiting approval by parliament, re-establishes the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), which was disbanded in 1987…

INOC will operate Iraq’s producing fields, numbering 27, and, significantly, the partially developed fields of Majnoon, Halfaya, Nahr BinUma, Suba and Luhais, Tuba, and the whole of the giant West Qurna field. The ousted regime of Saddam Husssein had given France’s Total the right to negotiate exclusively a production sharing contract for the giant fields of Majnoon and Nahr Bin Umar. Saddam’s government also signed in 1997 an agreement with a Lukoil-led consortium to develop the West Qurna field, but the agreement was later terminated.

The inclusion of these fields under INOC’s direct responsibility would exclude foreign companies from any production sharing role and limit them to service or management contracts.

All of which amounts to saying that the Russians may get back into Iraq via the West Qurna field, but it will have to operate under the terms of the national oil company under the political control of the Iraqi government.  The same goes for France which would lose its “production sharing contract” agreed with Saddam Hussein’s government.

Some of the Russian press seems to agree that the terms of Iraqi hydrocarbons law are designed to hurt Russian interests.  Kommersant published a story, “Lukoil to Be Stripped Off A Field In Iraq“:

Russia’s oil blockbuster, LUKOIL, could be stripped off a field in Iraq, lentar.ru reported. The government of that country has presented to parliament a bill implying revision of crude oil agreements concluded in time of Saddam Hussein.

If passed, the bill advocated by today’s government of Iraq will hit two companies of Russia. One of them is LUKOIL that is developing the West Qurna-2 field, the second is Stroitransgaz that has a geological exploration contract for the fourth block of the West Desert, Vremia Novostei reported.

Under the bill that lobbies the U.S. interests, 51 fields and 65 exploration blocks will be split into four categories. The first one will include 27 fields that are currently developed, while the second category will specify the fields with proven reserves located near the fields of the first category. The remaining fields will form the third category and the forth category will be represented by exploration blocks.

Predictably, the fields of the first two categories, including West Qurna-2, will pass under control of the national oil company of Iraq that is being created now.

If the US invasion of Iraq was part of a Great Power battle with Russia, then the key decision on the Iraqi hydrocarbons law may have been to renationalize those Iraqi oil fields that were set to fall into the hands of Russia and France.

Sistani’s Smack Down

Posted by Cutler on April 02, 2007
Iraq / 2 Comments

Shiite Cleric Opposes Return of Baathists in Iraq

It could be a whole new ball game, friends.

The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq has rejected an American-backed proposal to allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to government service, an aide to the cleric said today…

“The office of Grand Ayatollah Sistani is deeply concerned about the new law,” the aide said…

The comments from the ayatollah’s office came a day after Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite and head of the de-Baathification commission, met with the cleric in Najaf. Mr. Chalabi has opposed any serious attempt to roll back the purging of former Baathists from government. After the meeting on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi said at a news conference that Ayatollah Sistani was aware of the law and had told Mr. Chalabi that it “would not be the final one and there would be other drafts.”

Some critics of the Bush administration will celebrate Sistani’s smack down. Here is the thing to remember: among those “critics” will be most of the Neo-cons/Right Zionists who championed de-Baathification in the first place.

Every time the Right Zionists look like they are down for the count in Washington, Sistani gives them a new lease on life in Baghdad.

It happened in 2004 when he demanded elections, overruling the Scowcroft crowd of Right Arabists in Washington that warned against elections, pressed for re-Baathification, and championed ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.

David Wurmser, Gerecht, Perle, and others (Cheney!?) put their faith in Sistani. Can he be said to have disappointed them?

Right Zionists have had their disappointments (and plenty of enemies, to be sure!), but almost all of the disappointments have originated in Washington.  In Iraq, Right Zionists have enemies (i.e., the entire Sunni insurgency, elements of a Sadrist Shiite insurgency, etc.), but few disappointments.

The first “Cutler’s Blog” reader to link to a Right Zionist celebrating Sistani’s proclamation wins…

Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab political elite is already in full revolt. More from the New York Times:

News of the rejection today drew harsh criticism from Sunni Arab leaders.

“In my opinion, our country is now one led by the clerics, and the new political process in Iraq is made to allow those clerics and religious parties to govern Iraq,” said Salim Abdullah, a legislator from the main Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament. “The Iraqis will feel the consequences of that.”

“The Iraqi government is using wilayat al-faqih,” he said, angrily invoking the term that refers to the style of clerical governance popularized by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.

Officials from the secular party of Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, also expressed profound disappointment. Mr. Allawi said in an interview last month that the religious Shiites were using the de-Baathification process to unjustly purge members of his party from public office. Mr. Allawi, a Shiite who is a former Baathist, has said that the Sunni-led insurgency will continue as long as former members of the Baath Party are shut out of significant positions in the government.

Ibrahim al-Janabi, a legislator and senior aide to Mr. Allawi, said today that the lobbying of Ayatollah Sistani by Shiites like Mr. Chalabi “is the weapon of losers.”

I do not envy poor Ryan Crocker, the newly arrived Arabist US ambassador to Iraq. He was all set to inherit Zalmay Khalilzad’s re-Baathification policy. Now, he may inherit the wind.

[Update: Reuters reports that a Beirut-based “spokesman” for Sistani has cast doubt on the veracity of Sistani’s rejection of the de-Baathification bill:

“What some news agencies said quoting who they described as an aide to Sayyed Sistani about his position on the de-Baathification Law was not true,” Hamed al-Khafaf, who is based in Beirut, said in a statement…

“We are surprised by attempts trying to get (the Shi’ite clerical establishment) involved in a case which is the speciality of constitutional organisations,” Khafaf said, without saying what Sistani’s position was on the law.

Ed Wong’s New York Times article quoted “an aide” and reported on “comments from the ayatollah’s office,” but offered no names.  Maybe the whole affair was nothing more than a Chalabi-inspired fabrication.  We’ll see.]

Rice’s Second Track?

Posted by Cutler on April 02, 2007
Iran, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently flew to the Middle East.  In terms of “diplomacy,” however, Rice appears to have been phoning it in.

“My approach has been, I admit, careful. It’s been step-by-step. I’ve not been willing to try for the big bang,” Rice said after her meetings Sunday. “To take the time to talk to the parties on the basis of the same questions and the same issues is well worth the time . . . and I won’t promise you that I won’t have to do that again before we can even move the process even further forward.”

If there is not going to be a “diplomatic” big bang, this may not preclude a different kind of “big bang” in the region.

As Dick Durata of “Blog Simple” noted in a comment to my recent post on Saudi factionalism, Rice’s visit to the Middle East also included a meeting “Prince Bandar and the heads of Jordanian and Egyptian security.”

I had missed that tidbit.  But the confab did catch the attention of several others.

As Rami G. Khouri points out in his Daily Star column, “When Arab Security Chiefs Conduct Foreign Policy,” Rice’s visit to the Middle East operated on two relatively distinct tracks.

Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit.

Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies?…

Rice’s meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications…

Rice’s latest visit to the region included her quest for “moderate Sunni Arabs” who would join the United States and Israel in their face-off against Iran and its Arab allies, alongside her meeting to foster bonding between the US State Department and Arab security establishments.

To say that this meeting went without much publicity is an understatement.  Intelligence Online covered the meeting.  The resulting report appears plausible, but I cannot speak to the validity of the details:

Rice was accompanied on the occasion by CIA director Michael Hayden. Among those in attendance were the heads of the foreign intelligence agencies of Egypt (general Omar Suleiman), Jordan (Mohamed Dahabi) and Saudi Arabia (prince Moqrin bin Abdulaziz) as well as the bosses of the Saudi and United Arab Emirates national security councils, prince Bandar bin Sultan and sheikh Hazaa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

According to Arab diplomatic sources in Amman, the first issue on the agenda concerned relations between Hamas and Syria and Iran. The head of Jordanian intelligence talked of several recent attempts to sneak arms of Iranian origin into Jordan…

[One] theme of the meeting was the danger that Iran posed to the region. The CIA underscored the need to track down Iranian networks operating out of the United Arab Emirates, and particularly out of Dubai, and the other Gulf countries. Hayden also demanded that a special eye be kept on Shi’ite minorities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He also similarly claimed that efforts to limit the flow of Saudi extremists into Iraq left much to be desired. It was agreed that Arab intelligence agencies ought to focus their attention on Iranian military activities in Syria and Lebanon.

Isn’t it possible that these are “Cheney’s Arabs” and Arabists?  The ones who are most eager and willing to join the US and Israel in a challenge to Iranian power?

Bandar is the most obvious name on the list, given the speculations about his direct links to Cheney.

And even as Saudi King Abdullah has been forging links between Abbas and Hamas in Mecca, Jordan’s director of General Intelligence, Mohammed Dahabi, has been ringing alarm bells about Hamas.

CIA director Michael Hayden doesn’t always read as a Cheney guy.  But it was hard to miss his effort to establish his credentials as an Iran hawk when he testified before Congress in November 2006:

In Congressional testimony this month, General Hayden said he was initially skeptical of reports of Iran’s role but changed his mind after reviewing intelligence reports.

“I’ll admit personally,” he said at one point in the hearing, “that I have come late to this conclusion, but I have all the zeal of a convert as to the ill effect that the Iranians are having on the situation in Iraq.”

I do not know that it all adds up to a second track intended to subvert Saudi King Abdullah.  But I wouldn’t bet against the idea.