Monthly Archives: May 2007

Cheney: Beyond Hypocrisy

Posted by Cutler on May 30, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

In many respects, the factional battle lines that have formed around the US invasion of Iraq have been pretty stark and predictable.  In my ZNET essay on foreign policy factionalism, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” I suggested that the US invasion of Iraq tended to split the foreign policy establishment into two camps: Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

One of the central puzzles, from that day to this, has been locating Vice President Cheney on that spectrum.

Of course, Cheney has been very clearly aligned with Right Zionists for some time now and he continues to surround himself with Right Zionist advisers like David Wurmser.

But Cheney was not always perceived as a “sure thing” for Right Zionists.   Cheney was not always thought of as allied with Right Zionists.  Among other things,  the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia.

Back in the 1990s Cheney did not seem to be above taking pot shots at the Israel lobby and its zeal for US sanctions against Iran.

Nick Snow interviewed Cheney for Petroleum Finance Week at a 1996 Energy Conference and filed the following report:

Halliburton Co. Chairman Richard B. Cheney sees many opportunities worldwide for U.S. oil and gas producers, drilling contractors and service and supply companies. But he’s also concerned that sanctions sought by domestic politicians to please local constituencies will hurt U.S. business growth overseas…

But he also considers sanctions the greatest threat to Halliburton and other U.S. companies pursuing opportunities overseas. “We seem to be sanction-happy as a government. The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments,” he observed during his conference presentation.

If anything, Cheney was probably considered a Right Arabist eager to do business with the Saudis and willing to find a modus operandi for doing deals with the Iranians.

Something changed.  Cheney closely aligned himself with Right Zionists.

Commentators who note the change often seem to focus primarily on Cheney’s hypocrisy.  Be that as it may, there are important questions to be asked about what triggered Cheney’s change of “heart.”

I have tried to offer up some explanations, including one that focused on post-9/11 tensions between Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

More recently, I have also found reason to suspect that at least some of Cheney’s shift might have begun before September 11th.  According to this account, Cheney was handed a huge defeat by the Israel Lobby in early 2001.  Unable to beat them, he joined them.

Those who do not attend to the factors the triggered Cheney’s change are least likely to anticipate the possibility that other factors might cause Cheney to change course again.

In several recent posts last week (here, here, here, and here) I pondered the possibility that Cheney might “come to terms” with the Iranian regime.

Needless to say, these are merely speculations.

Even as Cheney “allowed” the US-Iranian meeting in Iraq, there are signs that he is far from committed to this track.

Apart from Cheney’s own strident, anti-Iranian bluster during his recent visit to the Gulf, there are also rumors that he and his Right Zionist allies are telling friends to discount all the “diplomatic” talk.

In early May, the Jewish Daily Forward reported such a rumor:

Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.

Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.

Was Abrams speaking truth to the “Jewish Republicans” or was he trying to manage their potential discontent?  Hard to say.

More recently, Steven Clemons has offered up alleged details of a similar “reassurance” campaign among Right Zionist allies:

Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously…

There are many other components of the complex game plan that this Cheney official has been kicking around Washington. The official has offered this commentary to senior staff at AEI and in lunch and dinner gatherings which were to be considered strictly off-the-record, but there can be little doubt that the official actually hopes that hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives share this information and then rally to this point of view…

Is there any reason to doubt that the “senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team” who has been “meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute” is either John Hannah or David Wurmser?

As Juan Cole has suggested, Steven Clemons is “very well connected in Washington,” especially among Right Arabists.  I’m in no position to discount the rumor.  I do think it is peculiar that, according to Clemons, there is “little doubt” that the “Cheney official” hoped “hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives would share this information.”  So far, only Clemons appears to be sharing the “information.”

In a more general sense, I think it is unwise to assume that Cheney will remain forever faithful to his Right Zionist allies.  He has bigger fish to fry.

Specifically, Caspian Sea fish.

I have no doubt Cheney would gladly discard his Right Zionist allies if he thought the incumbent Iranian regime could become a useful foil to Russian geopolitical aspirations.

Kicking the British Poodle in Basra

Posted by Cutler on May 29, 2007
britain, Iraq / 2 Comments

Israeli strategic studies scholar Amikam Nachmani has long argued that the US consistently and forcefully–if quietly–undermined and marginalized British imperial control around the world.

Is this pattern also evident in Iraq today?  Is the US quietly working to undermine the British political position in Iraq?

Are the US and the UK on opposing sides in the relatively low-intensity “Shiite civil war” in Basra?

According to Reuters, British forces issued a press release on Friday, May 25, 2007 announcing that a Sadrist “militia leader” in Basra was killed in a “precision strike” on his car.

A later British report qualified the official story of the event:

[British military spokesman] Major David Gell said Abu Qader [“the leader of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia in the southern Iraqi city of Basra”] and at least one aide were shot shortly after leaving Sadr’s offices in the centre of the city, the hub of Iraq’s main oilfields. He said the operation was authorised by the Iraqi government…

“During the arrest operation the targeted individual was killed … after he resisted arrest,” he said.

According to the Guardian, the British were pretty unhappy with Abu Qader (also sometimes identified as Abu Qadir or Wissam al-Waili):

The British army yesterday said Mr Qader was a “known key criminal leader who was believed to have been involved in criminal activity such as weapons trafficking, theft and assassinations”. “He was also suspected of intimidation against local security forces and local civilians in Basra and planning and participating in attacks against MNF [multinational forces].” It described him as a “prominent member of the militant arm of Jaish al-Mahdi in the Basra area”. “The citizens of Basra are far safer now that the criminal leader is off the streets.”

Nevertheless, Abu Qader also had some well-positioned defenders.  The Guardian reports:

[T]he Iraqi military intelligence officer in Basra told the Guardian Mr Qader was known for instilling restraint in his men, and said his absence could unleash new violence on the city. “He was a very good person, serious and was working very hard to stabilise Basra,” the officer said. “He used to restrain his men from going into clashes against other militias. He was a nationalist who had no connections to Iran. There will be repercussions as his men will accuse Fadhila [a rival Shia faction] and they will try to avenge his death.”

The “precision strike” against Abu Qader is best understood as part of a larger effort by the British and the local Fadhila party (the so-called “Virtue Party) to bolster their position ahead of a planned British withdrawal.

In February 2007, Reuters reported:

In London, Blair told parliament Britain would reduce its troop levels by 1,600 over coming months, but said its soldiers would stay in Iraq into 2008 as long as they were wanted. Britain currently has 7,100 troops in Iraq.

Since late last year British troops have been conducting a major security sweep called Operation Sinbad aimed at purging the police of militia infiltration…

The Sadrists are believed to have infiltrated the security forces in the city and are often at odds with a pro-British governor from the rival Shi’ite Fadhila party.

As part of Operation Sinbad, British forces cleared Basra’s serious crimes unit on Dec. 25 and blew up the building with explosives after intelligence had suggested “rogue” officers were about to execute prisoners. The governor backed the move but the police chief was outraged.

The Guardian also suggests that the British are closely aligned with the Fadhila party and its governor, Mohammed al-Waeli:

Nasaif Jassem, a city councillor for the Fadhila party that controls the governorship and the oil industry in Basra, was critical of Iranian interference. Fadhila, widely seen as backed by the British, split from the main Shia alliance in Baghdad…

Meanwhile, all of the key US-backed Shiite political forces are united in trying to oust the Fadhila-backed provincial governor of Basra.  The Associated Press reports:

Two-thirds of the members of the Basra provincial council signed a statement Saturday declaring they have no confidence in the governor of the oil-rich province and asked parliament to remove him, a local official said…

Twenty-seven council members, or two-thirds, signed the statement and sent it to the parliamentary committee on provincial affairs, the official said…

The document was signed by the members of the Basra Islamic List, an alliance of Shiite parties opposed to Fadhila, and eight members of the Center Bloc.

The Basra Islamic List includes the Sadrist Movement of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Badr Organization, the Master of All Martyrs Movement and Hezbollah. The List holds 19 of the 41 provincial council seats, while Fadhila has 12.

Doesn’t this suggest that the US and the UK are backing opposing sides in the “Shiite civil war” for control of southern Iraq?

And, insofar as British forces are widely viewed as being chased out of Basra, is it too much to suggest that the US is “gently” showing the British the door?

Petro-Leverage

Posted by Cutler on May 25, 2007
Iran, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked about Arab-Iranian tensions in the Gulf:

FT: Does the fear many Arab regimes feel for Iran create a strategic opportunity for Israel?

BN: Categorically yes.

So, how much fear do Arab regimes feel for Iran?

It probably depends on the regime.  But I would argue that Saudi King Abdullah is not playing Netanyahu’s game.

The clearest sign of Saudi support to the Iranian regime is the current price of oil.

As I noted in a January 2007 post, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland reported that the Bush administration was seeking to use oil as a weapon to leverage concessions from Iran:

The campaign received a big boost last week when it became clear that Saudi Arabia is finally worried enough about Iran to use oil as a weapon against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saudi oil minister Ali Nuaimi publicly opposed Iranian calls for production cuts by the OPEC cartel to halt a decline that has taken crude oil from $78 a barrel in July to just above $50 a barrel last week.

The Saudis have enough reserve production capacity to swing OPEC prices up and down at will. Their relatively small population gives them a flexibility in postponing revenue gains that populous Iran lacks. Nuaimi’s pronouncement, although cast as a technical matter that had nothing to do with politics, seemed to give teeth to recent warnings issued in private by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, that the kingdom will now respond to Iranian hostility with its own confrontational tactics.

That was way back in January.  Today, the price of crude is back up to new highs.

Some of that is a “geopolitical premium” paid because of rising tensions between the US and Iran.  But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the price hike is also a consequence of OPEC–especially Saudi–policy.

Two years ago when gasoline prices in the U.S. surged to the then-lofty level of $2 a gallon, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries sprang into action, seeking to provide relief by pledging to boost oil production.

Now, with gasoline topping an average of $3.20 a gallon nationwide, OPEC officials say they see no reason to open the oil spigot wider.

The Journal article emphasizes OPEC jealously over the profits of American oil refiners.  I suspect there is something more geopolitical in the Saudi refusal to flood the markets with crude.

An Associated Press report suggests that Iran is one of the key beneficiaries of current OPEC policy:

Consistently high oil prices over the past few years have left Iran awash in petroleum money.

The current price of oil is Saudi King Abdullah’s gift to the Iranian regime.

Petro-leverage, under the circumstances, only go so far.

There are only two other forms of leverage: floating leverage (USS John C. Stennis) and political leverage (the threat of a so-called “velvet revolution”).

After that, there is only US accommodation and an alliance with the incumbent regime.

John Bolton made headlines recently by suggesting that the US “attack” Iran.

Here is the “money quote” from Bolton:

Mr Bolton said: “It’s been conclusively proven Iran is not going to be talked out of its nuclear programme. So to stop them from doing it, we have to massively increase the pressure.

“If we can’t get enough other countries to come along with us to do that, then we’ve got to go with regime change by bolstering opposition groups and the like, because that’s the circumstance most likely for an Iranian government to decide that it’s safer not to pursue nuclear weapons than to continue to do so. And if all else fails, if the choice is between a nuclear-capable Iran and the use of force, then I think we need to look at the use of force.”

Most of the attention has focused on Bolton’s support for the “use of force.”  But the real story may be the way Bolton talks about “regime change.”  He talks about “bolstering opposition groups and the like” but then doesn’t even seem able to convince himself that the end game of “regime change” is actually in the cards.

Instead, Bolton appears to suggest that the threat of regime change would convince “an Iranian government to decide that it’s safer not to pursue nuclear weapons.”

Is that “an” (eternal) Iranian government that would make that decision?  Or is it the (incumbent) Iranian government?

Cheney may have already decided that it is the (incumbent) Iranian government.

Confrontation with Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 24, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran / No Comments

The news is awash in stories about rising tensions between the US and Iran.  Reuters reports on US naval maneuvers in the Gulf and accompanying jitters in the oil market.

So, maybe the US is heading for a military confrontation with Iran.

I doubt it.  Here is Israeli Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the subject in an interview with the Financial Times:

[Y]ou can reserve the military option, preferably by the US, which has the means to do so. But that should be a last resort, because it is far too complicated.

Maybe the US is leading the way toward a “velvet revolution” in Iran.

I doubt it.  Those who most wish it were so discount the possibility.  Here is Right Zionist Michael Ledeen on recent reports that the White House authorized the CIA to undertake covert operations to undermine the Iranian regime:

[I]t’s a typical CIA product: the opposite of a serious program. You don’t need a secret disinformation operation; instead, we need an effective, public, information effort, including a VOA Farsi Service that entertains criticis of the mullahs more than their apologists, and administration spokesthings who talk about the grisly repression of the Iranian people carried out by the regime. Above all, four little words “we support regime change” would be a great way to start. And those words should come from the White House or Foggy Bottom. So far, we’ve got the secretary of state saying she doesn’t want regime change, just “better behavior” from the mullahs….

[T]his sort of leak invariably comes from people trying to kill the program. My guess is that CIA doesn’t want to do ANYTHING mean to the mullahs, and so they are trying to sabotage their own silly program.

The nuclear issue is in the news, but the nuke story is only a proxy for a larger geo-political story.  As hawks on both sides recognize, nobody really cares about the nukes, as such.

Not surprisingly, an Iranian official recently asserted as much:

Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) for International Affairs Javad Vaeedi [said], “Iran’s access to nuclear technology is not the problem of the US or the West. Iran’s attaining a geostrategic position is their problem.”

More surprising, at least on the surface, is that Right Zionists like Michael Rubin over at the American Enterprise Institute tend to agree that the real issue is the current geostrategic orientation of the regime.  A nuclear Iran allied with Israel and the United States might continue to be a concern for Arab regimes (as the Iranian nuclear program was under the Shah).  But it would be far less threatening for a figure like Rubin:

A democratic Iran might not abandon its nuclear program, but neither would it sponsor anti-American terrorism, undercut the Middle East peace process or deny Israel’s right to exist. Democratization, therefore, can take the edge off the Iranian threat.

All of which goes to saying that the real question on the table right now is whether the US can “flip” Iran and change its geostrategic orientation.

All through the 1980s, Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen thought this was urgent work.

During the 1990s, Cheney clearly favored an opening with Iran, in part to enhance US leverage in its Great Power rivalry with Russia.

Are we seeing a return to that older Cheney?

If so, will his Right Zionist allies follow his lead?  Or will they accuse him of “selling out Israel” by cutting a deal with an “unreconstructed” anti-Zionist regime in Iran?

US-Iranian Make-Up Sex

Posted by Cutler on May 23, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Does anybody remember what Kissinger and the Chinese were saying about each other right before Nixon arrived in China?

[This is not a rhetorical question.  I have no idea, but would appreciate some guidance.]

I’m trying to figure out if there is any precedence for the current dance between Iran and the US in which two parties appear to rattle sabers all the way up to the moment they embrace as the oldest of friends.

Robin Wright captures the nutty spirit of the moment in her Washington Post article, “Tehran Detains 4th Iranian American Before Talks.

Is the idea here that the intensity of the “make-up sex” improves with the bitterness of the prior strife?

Or, are the key players playing to domestic factional politics, trying to distract their own hardliners and rejectionists even as they lurch toward mutual embrace?

Consider, for example, the Associated Press report that accompanied Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing of the US-Iranian dialogue:

Iran’s supreme leader gave his backing Wednesday to U.S.-Iran talks about Iraq’s security. But he took a tough line, insisting the meeting will deal only with fixing American policies in Iraq, not changing Iran’s.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s harsh tone appeared aimed at quieting criticism by hard-liners over the planned meeting in Baghdad with the United States

Khamenei said Iran agreed to the “face-to-face negotiation” to “remind the U.S. of its responsibilities and duties regarding security” and “give them an ultimatum.” He did not specify what the ultimatum was.

“The talks will only be about the responsibilities of the occupiers in Iraq,” he said during a speech to a group of clerics in Mashhad city, about 620 miles northeast of Tehran, according to state-run television.

As I noted in a previous post, some “anonymous” American officials in Baghdad and Washington have adopted an equally hawkish posture ahead of talks with Iran.  [Update: Also, there continue to be rumors that the White House has authorized covert action to destabilize the Iranian regime.]

Vice President Cheney and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appear to be drawing from the same play book.  [It makes sense; they both appear to be “supreme leader” even though neither is actually president.]  Cheney has given his blessing to the US-Iranian talks, even as he recently did some very serious saber rattling from the deck of the USS John C. Stennis.

Nevertheless, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker seems to be tasked with preparing the ground for what he has called “a whole new era” in the Gulf.

[The Iranians] have an extensive relationship with Iraq, but pretty clearly, from our perspective, not all aspects of it are helpful and some of them are positively dangerous. I mean, their support for militias, their involvement in the development and transfer of EFPs that are killing our forces, these are not good things, not from a U.S. point of view and not from an Iraqi point of view. But that’s why I made the point I did about the, kind of the difference we see between the articulation of Iran’s policy interests and goals, which again track pretty closely with ours, and then what they’re actually doing on the ground. It would be a very good thing if they brought their actions more into alignment with their words.

We have no problem with a close relationship between Iran and Iraq. What we do have a problem with is Iranian behavior in Iraq that is again counter to what we want to see, what the Iraqi government and people want to see and indeed counter to some of their own stated interests. That’s what we want to see change. But you know, Iran and Iraq —Iraq’s longest border is with Iran. They’re neighbors forever, for better or for worse; for a very long time it’s been for worse. No country has suffered more, with the exception of Iraq itself, from Saddam’s regime than the Iranians. There is an opportunity here for them, I think, to move into a whole new era in a relationship with a stable, secure, democratic Iraq that threatens none of its neighbors, including Iran. But, you know, to get there they need to start doing some more constructive things than they have.

Jim Hoagland’s recent column in the Washington Post noted the persistence of rumors that the US would seek to restore Sunni Baathist by supporting a coup against the Shiite government in Iraq.

Washington [would take serious risks] by strong-arming the admittedly faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki out of office and replacing Maliki with a U.S.-anointed Iraqi savior.

Arab allies are urging such a course on Bush and would not object to U.S. military action against Iran. There is growing concern in Baghdad that Washington is developing a “Plan B” that involves both hitting Iran and ousting Maliki…

Some in Iran–including Mohammad Javad Larijani, brother of Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani–reportedly share similar concerns about US intentions.

Perhaps this helps explain the “leak” of a classified US plan by Crocker and David Petraeus that affirms US support for Prime Minister Maliki.

Ann Scott Tyson reports in the Washington Post:

The classified plan, scheduled to be finished by May 31, is a joint effort between Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American general in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. More than half a dozen people with knowledge of the plan discussed its contents…

The plan is… designed to shore up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though some U.S. commanders regard him as beholden to narrow sectarian interests….

“Maliki is the chosen vehicle; he’s the one-trick pony,” Dodge said in an interview from London. “Everyone recognizes that the success or failure [of U.S. policy] would be delivered through the office of the prime minister” and there is no discussion in Baghdad of removing him, he said.

Message to Iran: the US is sticking with the “Shiite Option” in Iraq.

Cheney’s Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Is the US preparing the way for a decisive pro-Shiite alliance with both the Iraqi Shiites and the incumbent Iranian regime?  Or is it preparing the way for a confrontation with Iran?

By some accounts, Iraqi Shiites are currently facilitating a diplomatic opening between the US and Iran.

Stratfor offers the following interpretation of recent events:

Iraq’s most senior Shiite politician, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, was in Iran on May 21 to undergo medical treatment after being rushed to the United States for testing a few days earlier. But it is unlikely that his trip is actually health-related; rather, al-Hakim flew to Iran from the United States to deliver the U.S. response to Tehran’s proposed framework for negotiations at the first direct public U.S.-Iranian meeting over Iraq, to be held in Baghdad on May 28….

When Iran relayed its terms for the talks, it did so by having an Iranian official hand-deliver the proposal to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker; this took place during a three-minute meeting on the sidelines of the May 4 international conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A version of that report was also leaked to a Saudi paper in an attempt to placate the Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia) that are wary of any U.S.-Iranian accommodation on Iraq. Because of the sensitive nature of U.S.-Iranian communications, the Bush administration chose to use al-Hakim as a conduit for transmitting its response.

The US-Iranian dialogue is, as noted by Stratfor, “sensitive” because Sunni Arab forces are wary of a US “tilt” toward a Shia Gulf.

Indeed, Sunni Arab suspicions seem to grow more pronounced with each passing day.

IraqSlogger has translated a recent interview with Saleh al-Mutlak, previously celebrated by Secretary of State Rice for taking positions that represented “considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership.”

Mutlak seems to fear the US and Iran are already de facto allies in Iraq:

In general, US policy towards Iran is vague, and unclear, and there are those who believe that the controversy is agreed upon, and is not a real controversy.

And in the result that the goals that Iran seeks in Iraq, they are the same goals that America seeks. Iran wants a weak Iraq, and fragmented to a certain extent, and this is an American goal. And whether there is coordination on this matter or not, they are walking on the same path and (towards the same) goal.

At the same time, Mutlak is critical of Sunni Arab neighbors for abandoning Sunni Arab Iraq to Iranian political dominance.

Unfortunately, the Arab countries, and at the forefront of them the neighboring countries are remiss with regards to Iraq, as they, at least have even not moved to stop the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

All of this suggests that the US is, indeed, tilting toward a Shia Gulf.

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the Bush administration is united in its policies toward Iran.

According to a report by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian, some US officials–all anonymous–are still speaking in very hawkish terms about Iran and its role in Iraq.

“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”

So, who are the remaining Iran hawks?

Right Zionists like Richard Perle remain quite hawkish about Iran and are very hostile toward dialogue with the Iranian regime, but do they have friends in the administration calling the shots on Iraq and Iran?

Cheney is the most likely ally, but he appears to be supporting the diplomatic discussions with Iran.

He recently explained his position to reporters:

QUESTION: Is it possible to both have a hard line on Iran, as you did on the aircraft carrier, and talk with them about Iraq? But are you still both going in different directions?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: They’re separate issues. The President made clear the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors — focused on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.

Not exactly the warmest words of greeting, but neither is it a critique of the diplomatic opening.

Moreover, Robin Wright at the Washington Post suggests that Cheney has been instrumental in facilitating the “medical care” for al-Hakim that has taken him to the US and Iran.

Vice President Cheney played a role in arranging for Hakim to see U.S. military doctors in Baghdad, who made the original diagnosis, and for the current medical treatment in Houston, the sources said.

If Cheney is facilitating dialogue between the US and Iran, then who is busy screaming about Iran to Simon Tisdall at the Guardian?

There are, of course, Right Arabist Iran hawks from the worlds of diplomacy (i.e., James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee) and within the military brass (i.e., Zinni and others).

Steven Clemons suggests that “Bush is allowing Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice to play good cop, bad cop with the Iranians.”

So, which cop is bluffing?

Is this the start of a “beautiful relationship” between the US and Iran?  Or is this the prelude to a policy of regime change?

Either way, my bet is that Cheney doesn’t leave office without trying to go beyond containment.

A Regional Civil War in the Middle East?

Posted by Cutler on May 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

It is proving increasingly difficult to interpret US policy in the Middle East by listening to the fears of its presumed targets.  Why?  Because all the Sunni and Shiite regimes in the region now seem to think they are being targeted by the US.

And, given that the paramount US goal in the invasion of Iraq was to achieve a dual rollback of “wayward” Sunni and Shiite regimes, one might even say that all the panic is justified.

Sunni Arab Fear of a US Tilt toward the Shia?

On the one hand, Sunni political elites are quite understandably upset by signs of an Iraq-based, US-inaugurated “Shiite tilt” in the regional balance of power.

Indeed, one might suggest that pronounced Sunni howls of protest over the weekend provide the best evidence yet that the US moved decisively toward a “Shiite Option” in Iraq.

Consider, for example, signs of increasing frustration and defiance on the part of Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq Al Hashemi.

According to an Associated Press report, Hashemi is very concerned about the upcoming talks between the US and Iran:

Iraq’s Sunni vice president spoke out Sunday against the upcoming U.S.-Iran talks on the situation in his country, saying the dialogue was “damaging to Iraq’s sovereignty.”…

“It’s not good to encourage anybody to talk on behalf of the Iraqi people on their internal and national affairs,” al-Hashemi told reporters on the last day of an international conference held by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

Al-Hashemi said he would have preferred that the subject of Iraq’s stability was “tackled by Iraqis themselves.”

“This is really damaging to Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said.

And, yet, for all his alleged concern for Iraq’s sovereignty as a general principle, Hashemi seems most concerned about one neighbor in particular–Iran.

Gulf News reports that Hashemi “lashed out” at Iran:

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, lashed out at Iran at the conference.

“We say stop your interference in our internal affairs, stop settling scores on our soil, stop being part of covert plans to destabilize Iraq, and sit down with us to settle our differences, resolve outstanding issues and talk about economic cooperation,” he said.

Indeed, in an effort to thwart a US-Iranian tilt in Iraq, Hashemi seems willing to drop all the pretenses about Iraqi sovereignty and invite a regional takeover of Iraq.  The Jordan Times reports:

Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi stressed that the security of Iraq is becoming the security of the region and it is trying to convince its neighbours that “the situation in Iraq is going to spill over sooner or later.”

He asked for help from Iraq’s neighbours to reconcile internal differences before moving on to resolve external conflicts.

“We are not asking anyone to come and make decisions for us. All that we need is to stop people who are capitalising on our human tragedy; if this is beyond the capacity of the US then let the United Nations and our neighbours take over,” the Iraqi vice president said.

Finally, Hashemi is also reportedly resisting passage of the US-backed hydrocarbons bill introduced by Iraq’s Shiite Oil Minister, Hussain al-Shahristani.  The Associated Press reports:

Iraq’s vice president said Sunday he opposes a draft law that is key to the future of his country’s lucrative oil sector, saying it gives too many concessions to foreign oil companies.

“We disagree with the production sharing agreement,” Tariq al-Hashemi told reporters on the sideline of an international conference hosted by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

“We want foreign oil companies, and we have to lure them into Iraq to learn from their expertise and acquire their technology, but we shouldn’t give them big privileges,” al-Hashemi said.

As the Jordan Times reports, Hashemi’s fears and frustrations were echoed by Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib:

“We have to end proxy wars, we don’t want any party to use Iraq as a fighting ground for capital gains,” Foreign Affairs Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib said at the session, entitled “Iraq the regional security dimension.”

He added, however, that the Kingdom first wants to see Iraq achieve political reconciliation internally and the revival of Iraqi nationalism.

“When there is a national feeling of weakness it opens the door for other affiliations to emerge at the expense of our collective security in the region,” he said.

An Associated Press report puts Khatib’s concerns in the context of the regional balance of power:

Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib… turned a cold shoulder to… Iranian delegates.

“There are serious flaws in the regional order and some countries are interfering in the affairs of Arab countries,” al-Khatib said Sunday, referring to Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.

“We need to see deeds on the ground and respect for Iraq’s territorial integrity,” he said…

Iranian Fear of an Arab-Israeli-American Coalition against Iran?

Even as the Arabs continue to fear US plans for the formation of a “Shia Gulf,” the Iranian regime appears to fear Arab support for US and Israeli efforts to topple the Iranian regime.

The Financial Times reports:

Shia Iran meanwhile suspects its Sunni Arab neighbours, all allies of the US, of working to undermine it.

In response, Iran is trying to enhance its credibility with the “Arab street” in order to undermine the legitimacy of any anti-Iranian Arab initiative.  The FT makes the point:

Seeking the support of ordinary Arabs and Muslims with anti-Israeli slogans has been a cornerstone of Iran’s foreign policy under President Mahmoud Ahmadi- Nejad. But the strategy has infuriated Arab governments, and intensified suspicions of Tehran’s intentions at a time when its influence in the region has grown.

Evidence of such a strategy was on display at the World Economic Forum where Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki took aim at Saudi King Abdullah’s Palestinian “peace initiative.”  The Associated Press reports:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the [Saudi] plan would flounder…

“We had some 130 plans in the past 30 years, but none of them were realized because of the approach of the other side (Israel),” Mottaki said during a panel discussion. “Besides, we do not see any chance for the success of the Arab peace initiative because it fails to address fateful issues, like the capital of a Palestinian state and the right of return for some 5 million refugees.”

Former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Turki al-Faisal scolded Iran, however, saying that the predominantly Persian country had little to do with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

“It’s an Arab issue and should be resolved within the Arab fold,” he said.

Cheney’s Middle East

Prince Turki al-Faisal and Saudi King Abdullah can hardly be viewed as Cheney’s likely or willing collaborators in his efforts to assemble an anti-Iranian coalition in the Gulf.  It is, therefore, quite an accomplishment for the Iranian Foreign Minister to provoked the wrath of Prince Turki.

Perhaps the real “accomplishment” should be credited to Cheney himself.

After all, it was Cheney’s “rejectionists” in Gaza who detonated the current round of fighting that pits Iranian-backed Hamas forces against Fatah forces traditionally backed by Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

And it is Cheney and his Right Zionist allies who have been working overtime to reconstruct the balance of power in the Middle East with the help of a regional civil war.

An Iraqi Shiite “Readjustment”?

Posted by Cutler on May 18, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

Something is brewing in the world of US-Shiite relations, but I confess that the contours of any shift remain very murky.

As noted in my previous post, there has been increased chatter about tensions between Iraqi Shiites and the Iranian regime.  Reuters reported:

Iraq’s biggest Shi’ite party on Saturday pledged its allegiance to the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a move that would distance it from Shi’ite Iran where it was formed.

Party officials told Reuters on Friday… the party had been close to Sistani for some time, but a two-day conference on Baghdad that ended on Friday had formalized relations with the influential cleric.

“We cherish the great role played by the religious establishment headed by Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali al-Sistani … in preserving the unity of Iraq and the blood of Iraqis and in helping them building a political system based on the constitution and law,” said Rida Jawad al-Takki, a senior group member, who read out the party’s decisions to reporters…

Officials said the party, which was formed in Iran in the 1980s to oppose Saddam, had previously taken its guidance from the religious establishment of Welayat al Faqih, led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

Anne Barnard of the Boston Globe followed up with additional talk of popular Iranian Shiite support for Sistani.

At the governmental level, the US has been urging and predicting such an Iraqi Shiite shift for some time.  In January 2007 press briefing, Zalmay Khalilzad described a “readjustment” underway among Iraqi Shiites:

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think the Iraqis are going through a readjustment process – and by Iraqis I mean different political forces. There is no problem in terms of understanding between us and the Prime Minister. In the past, before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, a number of groups opposed to the regime operated from outside Iraq and they developed relations with some of the institutions and organizations of the neighboring states that supported them, and those are almost invariably security institutions. But now Iraqi is in a different place. It is a state that some of those people who were opposed are now in the government and there cannot be and there should not be relations with security institutions of neighboring states that work against the interests of this new Iraq; that attack Coalition forces, Iraqis, undermine the stability of Iraq.

Right Zionists celebrated news that such a “readjustment” might have led to a rift between Iraqi Shiite politicians and the Iranian regime.  FrontPage predicted the US was “Turning the Corner in Iraq“:

[B]ad news for Iran is the seismic shift of Iraq’s largest political party away from Iran…

In fact, what exists is a deep rivalry between the revolutionary Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and the traditionalist Grand Ayatollah Sistani, both claiming authority over the Shi’a faith….

And yet, the signs do not all run in the same direction.

First, the FrontPage writer, Steve Schippert proposes that some sober “caution” is in order:

While it is difficult to understate the significance of the monumental shift within Iraq, it should also be recognized that the decision to transform the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq into simply the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council was not arrived at with unanimity.  Nor was it arrived at without heated debate.  As well, many of the SCIRI party’s elected government officials have ties and allegiances to Iran that are unlikely to simply evaporate overnight.

The factional lines within SCIRI/SIIC are not clear, but IraqSlogger cast doubt on the entire story of an Iraqi Shiite shift:

The media bureau of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, formerly SCIRI, issued a statement late Saturday correcting what it described as “dubious remarks attributed to senior SCIRI officials” and “inaccurate analysis” made by media outlets, referring to reports that the party would distance itself from neighboring Iran.

It can be difficult for any leader to deal with organizational factionalism, but SCIRI/SIIC leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim seems to be taking it all very hard.

The Associated Press is reporting that al-Hakim is suddenly on his way to the US:

The leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite political party has left for the United States for medical checkups after complaining of exhaustion and high blood pressure, two officials said Friday.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim flew to the United States on Wednesday, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official, who works at al-Hakim’s office, declined to give further details. But a senior member of the Shiite leader’s party, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, said al-Hakim was suffering from fatigue and high blood pressure.

Maybe he will also use his time in the US to “clarify” the position of his party, in light of the current confusion and the prospect of factional divisions.

And, finally, there is the question of the alleged rivalry between Sistani, on the one hand, and Khameini and the incumbent Iranian regime, on the other.

According to recent reports, Sistani has welcomed upcoming talks between the US and the Iranian regime:

Planned talks between the United States and Iran in Baghdad are “the first promising step for free and direct bilateral talks” between the two adversaries, a cleric close to Iraqi Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said on Friday.

In his Friday sermon in a Najaf mosque, Shia Imam Sadr Eddin al- Qabanji expressed hope that the Iranian-US talks would lead to peace between the US and Iran…

Right Zionists love Sistani.  But not all Right Zionists seem to share Sistani’s enthusiasm for US-Iranian diplomacy.

Richard Perle, in particular, seems pretty bitter about the prospect of US talks with Iran:

Richard Perle offered a withering assessment of the president’s impotence at a meeting of the Hudson Institute in New York, saying American foreign policy is being applied by an out-of-control State Department….

“We have already seen a change in policy towards Iran,” he said. “It is now firmly back in the hands of the Department of State.”

Ultimately, Right Zionists are committed to the restoration of the old US-Israeli-Iranian strategic alliance.  The question is whether that could ever mean peace with the incumbent Iranian regime or only peace with “eternal Iran.”

Perhaps al-Hakim will be discussing that very question during his visit to the United States.

Dreyfuss: Learning to Love the Neocons?

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq / 1 Comment

The Left has lots of ways of talking about what is “wrong” with the Iraq war.  Some are likely to endure more than others.

There are claims, for example, that the invasion was morally wrong (an oil grab, an imperialist imposition, etc.).

There are also claims that that the invasion was strategically wrong (the Neocons were incompetent, naive, ideological).

Debate among those who make arguments about strategic calculations turn on a few major issues.

The Sunni Insurgency:

Neocons arguably failed to anticipate the Sunni insurgency.

Cheney conceded that point back in June 2006.

Q Do you think that you underestimated the insurgency’s strength?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think so.

Of course, Cheney has taken heat for adding, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered.”   Rumsfeld, too, suggested that nobody anticipated the insurgency’s strength.  This is nonsense.  Cheney and Rumsfeld chose to discount the threat of the insurgency.

One might even predict that the greater “wrong” here is not strategic butmoral.”

What if Cheney and Rumsfeld did anticipate a Sunni insurgency but thought that the US could “win dirty” by allowing Shiites and Kurds to “cleanse” Iraq of Sunni resistance?

Remember Rumsfeld:

Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.

Wasn’t Rumsfeld already talking about winning dirty?  His Right Zionist allies were always prepared to win dirty.  Remeber Reuel Marc Gerecht: “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?

Indeed, Right Zionists (Fouad Ajami and Gerecht) are feeling optimistic today precisely because they think the US has already started to win dirty.

Handing Iraq to Iran:

Other critics have suggested that the Neocon incompetence handed Iraq to Iran.

The leading “Left” critic on this score has been long-time Iran hawk, Robert Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss has frequently “exposed” the “Secrets of the US-Shiite Alliance” and lamented the disastrous creation of “Iran’s Iraq.”  He has also penned vicious attacks on Iraq’s leading Shiite political figures, denounced “Bush’s Shiite Gang in Iraq“:

So the question is: when will [we] hear the Bush administration’s top officials start calling the Shiite fundamentalist regime in Baghdad “Islamofascists”? So far, they’s applied that term only to the Iraqi resistance, tarring the Sunni-led insurgency by painting them as led by Al Qaeda-style terrorists, when in fact that they are mostly Iraqi nationalists, Baathists, and ex-military men. Their main grievance is that the United States is handing Iraq over to Iran. I’d say they’re right.

Now, however, he seems to be changing his tune.  The change does not appear to be based on a reconsideration of the morality of playing the “Devil’s Game” so much as a reconsideration of the strategic viability of the same Neocon strategy I discussed in my article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

The Dreyfuss reversal is a blog post entitled, “Iraq’s Influence in Iran.”

Before the war in 2003, the neocons’ fervent hope was that Najaf, the Iraqi holy city, would rise to eclipse Qom, the Iranian clerical center, helping to undermine the rule of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Since then, Iran’s influence in Iraq has appeared far greater than vice versa. But a Boston Globe article suggests that the effects are being felt both ways….

This is interesting, and deserves further investigation. Certainly, Iraq and Iran influence each other, and in many ways. So far, it seems, Iran’s influence in Iraq is greater than the other way around, although the possibility of clerical opposition to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is growing. Some of that, at least, could be tied to Iraqi ayatollahs, including Sistani, in concert with dissident Iranian clerics such as Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who challenged the political theory of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Dreyfuss has penned articles attacking Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen not only on the basis that they were morally suspect but also on the basis that they simply had no idea what they were talking about.  Now, Dreyfuss finds the consequences of Ledeen’s war in Iraq “interesting.”

That is a step toward acknowledging that when dealing with Right Zionists, we are in a realm “beyond incompetence.”

As I have previously discussed, there are critics (Swopa at Needlenose) who have been utterly dismissive of the notion of tension between Najaf and Qom.

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true. Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Juan Cole’s interpretation of this issue has always left me confused.  On the one hand, Cole wrote a July 2005 article in Salon entitled, “The Iraq War is Over, And the Winner Is… Iran.”

On the other hand, I have also previously noted that Cole’s adamant insistence (in agreement with Right Zionist strategists) that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is not close to the regime in Iran.  Indeed, when Professor Cole listed his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005, number five was as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

Am I alone in being amazed that four years after the US invasion of Iraq there has never been a full airing of this issue, even among Left critics of the war?

If, as Dreyfuss suggests, there might prove to be something “interesting” about the strategic consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, then Left “critics” might at some point contemplate abandoning their posts as armchair imperial strategists and find a different anti-imperialist basis for opposing the US war in Iraq.

Putin’s Caspian Coup, Cheney’s Iran Plan

In a major coup, Russian President Putin has clinched a deal to export Central Asian gas via Russia’s preferred overland route and has almost certainly dealt a fatal blow to Vice President Cheney’s vision of a submerged Trans-Caspian pipeline that would bypass Russia.

Putin claimed his Great Game prize at a weekend meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Kazakhstan Presdient Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Cheney had personally courted Kazakh President Nazarbayev in a bid to win support for the Trans-Caspian pipeline.  And the US had made similar overtures to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov after the sudden death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in December 2006.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev had been slated to attend an energy summit of ex-Soviet bloc leaders meeting in Poland to discuss pipeline projects designed to bypass Russia.

Instead of bypassing Russia, Nazarbayev bypassed Cheney.

This is an enormous victory for Putin in the increasingly intense Great Power rivalry between Russia and the United States.

Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov, seemingly eager to forestall an inevitable US-led smear campaign against his authoritarian regime, has held out hope that the Russian pipeline agreement does not preclude alternatives, including the Trans-Caspian pipeline:

Turkmen ambassador to Austria Esen Aydogdyev told the Viennese daily Der Standard that ‘Turkmenistan has enough gas to export it in all directions; the project involving a trans-Caspian pipeline remains an option. The West doesn’t need to have any worries.’

Austrian oil and gas company OMV AG plays a leading role in the consortium currently planning the Nabucco natural gas pipeline and recently confirmed its commitment to the project.

Nevertheless, officials in the US and Russia appear to read the situation differently.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, clearly gloating, suggested that Cheney’s pipeline is now dead:

“In my view, technological, legal, and environmental risks that are involved in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project make it impossible to find an investor for it, unless it is viewed as a purely political project and unless it does not matter what this pipe will pump,” Khristenko told journalists in Turkmenbashi on Saturday.

Khristenko’s American counterpart, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, appears to view the outcome as a significant setback for US efforts to help break European dependence on Russia.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday that a deal to pipe gas from Turkmenistan to customers in the West via Russia was bad for Europe.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of an International Energy Agency meeting here, Bodman said: “It would not be good for Europe. It concentrates more natural gas to one supplier.”

Implications for Iran

Putin’s Caspian delight may have significant implications for US policy toward Iran.  Cheney had been hoping to use the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, along with the Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipelines, to bypass Iran and Russia.  The gas would eventually flow to Europe through the NABUCCO pipeline.

Now, Cheney will arguably be forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils.”

From the perspective of Great Power politics, there is no question: Cheney will try to reconstruct an alliance with Iran.

The only question now may be how Cheney will rebuild ties between the US and Iran: diplomacy or regime change.  For the vice president, mere “containment” of Iran is no longer an option.  Cheney will not be likely leave office without an alliance with Iran.

One challenge, among several, is to pry Iran away from Russia.

Several weeks before the news of Putin’s Caspian coup, Nikolas K. Gvosdev–a self-proclaimed Washington “realist”–published an article in the National Interest entitled, “The Other Iran Timetable.”

Gvosdev argued that Europe needed Iranian gas for the NABUCCO pipeline:

[T]here is only so much time before Europeans will decide that Iran, which has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, is a critical part of ensuring their energy security. So far, the United States has been largely successful in convincing Europeans to delay proposed investments in Iran’s natural gas sector and has expressed strong disapproval of plans to connect Iran to the so-called NABUCCO pipeline (designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey to Europe).

But NABUCCO has limits. Many Europeans are skeptical that there is enough Caspian gas to really make a difference for their consumption… In the end, I was told, for NABUCCO to make sense, it will have to include gas from Iran.

This means that sooner or later Europe’s ability to give Washington support on isolating Iran will give way to its own needs for energy….

[W]as this is a case of advising, “Whatever you do, do it quickly”—meaning that if the United States were to pursue forcible regime change the preference would be to do it sooner?… [B]y 2011 or 2013, large-scale European investment in Iran will begin no matter whether it is still the Islamic Republic or some other form of government…

Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen were once champions of engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed after 1991.

During the middle of the 1990s, Cheney was himself a leading petro-realist, advocating direct engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed by July 2001.

Will Cheney and the Russia hawks go wobbly on Iran now that the US appears to have lost Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?

Will Right Zionists revert to their earlier support for an opening with Iran?  Or is Russia the “lesser of two evils” for Right Zionists, especially in light of Israeli interests in Turkmenistan and Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas?

Or, will Cheney and Right Zionists constitute a united front toward regime change in Iran?

Cheney: Delivering Justice to the Enemies of Freedom

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

Robin Wright’s May 11, 2007 Washington Post report ahead of Cheney’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia was entitled “Cheney to Try to Ease Saudi Concerns.”

I don’t know what Cheney was trying to do, but there are no indications in Wright’s article that Cheney is prepared to do anything much about “Saudi Concerns” regarding Iraq.

Saudi Concerns about Iraq

Wright characterizes Saudi concerns:

The oil-rich kingdom, which has taken an increasingly tough position on Iraq, believes Maliki has proven a weak leader during his first year in power and is too tied to Iran and pro-Iranian Shiite parties to bring about real reconciliation with Iraq’s Sunni minority, Arab sources said…

The king has balked at recent U.S. overtures to do more to help Iraq politically, beyond pledges of debt relief and financial aid, and has explored support for alternative leadership, including former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, U.S. and Arab officials said.

The Saudis have been increasingly concerned about reports that Maliki’s government favors Shiite officials in government ministries and Shiite commanders in the Iraqi military — at the expense of qualified Sunnis whose inclusion would help foster reconciliation, Arab officials said…

The U.S. Central Command chief, Adm. William J. Fallon, and the State Department’s Iraq coordinator, David M. Satterfield, were both rebuffed in appeals to the king during trips to Riyadh last month. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Fallon said the king told him “several times” during their April 1 discussion that U.S. policies “had not been correct in his view.”

“He also told me that he had severe misgivings about the Maliki government and the reasons for that,” Fallon added. “He felt, in his words, that there was a ‘significant linkage to Iran.’ He was concerned about Iranian influence on the Maliki government and he also made several references to his unhappiness, uneasiness with Maliki and the background from which he came.”

[An Associated Press article on Cheney’s meeting with Abdullah reports that the king asked after George Bush Sr, as if to drive home the point that the alliance between the House of Saud and the House of Bush was secured by the senior Bush when he allowed Saddam to crush the Shiite rebellion in Iraq after Operation Desert Storm.]

Cheney: Assuaging Saudi Concerns?

Wright reports on Cheney’s planned effort to “ease” Saudi concerns:

Assuaging Saudi concerns is the primary reason for the vice president’s trip — and even a key reason he went to Baghdad this week, U.S. and Arab officials say. During his stop in Riyadh on Saturday, Cheney wants to be able to tell the Sunni world’s most powerful monarch that the Bush administration is leaning hard on the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to implement long-delayed political steps to help end the Sunni insurgency, U.S. officials said….

But the real point here, as Wright reports, is that Cheney continues to resist, so far, the real Saudi demand: bring back Iyad Allawi (a secular “Shiite,” but an ex-Baathist sometimes referred to as Saddam without a Mustache) and to restore Sunni political supremacy in Iraq:

In a message that U.S. officials said will be underscored by Cheney, Fallon said he urged the king to show some support for the Iraqi leadership even if he does not like Maliki, because it is “unrealistic” to expect a change in the Baghdad government.

“We’re not going to be the puppeteers here,” Fallon told the Senate committee…

The vice president will make the case that Maliki was elected and that Allawi, or any other leader, would not be more effective with the current situation in Iraq, U.S. officials said…

U.S. officials are already skeptical that the visit will produce a significant breakthrough, beyond underscoring common interests in regional stability.

Fallon is quite clear: the US is committed to the Shiite Option in Iraq.  There will be no rollback of the 2005 elections.  The US will not back Sunni puppets (these words may haunt Fallon if the US does ever resort to authoritarian rule under Allawi).

This only confirms my sense that Cheney has signed on to the initial Right Zionist plan to use Shiite majority rule in Iraq to challenge Sunni supremacy in the Gulf.

Cheney on Iran

If Cheney wanted to ease Saudi concerns about Iraq, he knows what to do: install Allawi as Iraq’s “benign autocrat.”

But Cheney didn’t go to Saudi Arabia to ease concerns about Iraq.  If anything, he went to try to provoke Saudi concerns about Iran (and, perhaps, to ease concerns that Maliki represented a “significant linkage to Iran”).

The Saudis were always destined to oppose “Act I” of the Right Zionist plan for “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.  But Cheney appears to still be hoping to enlist Saudi support for “Act II” of the dual rollback plan which targets the Iranian regime.

Indeed, Robin Wright’s article from May 12, 2007 makes the point: “In Gulf, Cheney Pointedly Warns Iran.”

“Throughout the region our country has interests to protect and commitments to honor,” Cheney told Navy staff aboard the USS John C. Stennis. “With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We’ll keep the sea lanes open. We’ll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We’ll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We’ll continue bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”

That last line seemed new to me.  Cheney has been talking about Iran in terms of “strategic threats” for a long time.  But is that last line a reference to domestic Iranian politics and the prospect of regime change from within?  Let it sink in… “bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.”  Who are “those who suffer”?  Who are the “enemies of freedom”?  In a paragraph about Iran?

There are at least two ways of thinking about whether that line has any significance: reaction among those who yearn for regime change in Iran and those who fear it most.

Thus far, Cheney’s “freedom” line on Iran has elicited no discernable excited from the Right Zionists most enthusiastic about regime change.  That tends to make me think I may be reading too much into the line.  We’ll see… (keep me posted if you spot anything).

Within Iran, however, there seems to be heightened concern that the US is, indeed, supporting some kind of populist “velvet revolution” in Iran.  The Financial Times explains:

Iranians with close ties to Washington said the Bush administration’s decision to allocate special funding to support pro-democracy activities in Iran – while keeping the identities of recipients secret – had been a mistake that has led to a witch-hunt.

Indeed, the Iranians appear to have nabbed a major Iranian-American “witch,” Haleh Esfandiari.

The Associate Press explains the case:

[T]he hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan accused Haleh Esfandiari of spying for the U.S. and Israel and for attempting to launch a democratic revolution in the country….

“She has been one of the main elements of Mossad in driving a velvet revolution strategy in Iran, the paper wrote. She formed two networks, including Iranian activists, in the U.S and Dubai for toppling down [the Islamic government]”.

Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, denied the newspaper’s allegations.

“It is a false and hollow accusation that Haleh Esfandiari is one of the ‘principle instruments’ of Israel, or a Mossad spy service, in advancing the strategy of a ‘velvet revolution’ in Iran. It is a lie that Haleh Esfandiari had ‘undercover assignments’ or that she was one of the ‘media spies’ in Iran. She had no part in setting up a ‘communications network’ between Dubai and America,” Bakhash said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

It would be rather remarkable if Shaul Bakhash or Esfandiari constituted the “principle instruments” of those advancing the strategy of a “velvet revolution” in Iran.  More likely, the Iranians are simply rounding up the “usual suspects.”

Omid Memarian over at “Iranian Prospect” has some details from Iranian press reports:

Reja News, a super conservative website which has been active over the past few days in attacks against Hossein Moussavian, a senior Iranian diplomat recently arrested in Tehran, published a report in which Haleh Esfandiari was named the Zionists’ agent in Iran…

The report then describes Dr. Esfandiari’s activities in Ayandegan Newspaper, saying: “She is an effective member of the pre-Revolution Zionist Lobby in the Pahlavi court, who along with her husband founded the Zionist Ayandegan Newspaper in Tehran. The interesting point is that Haleh Esfandiari remained in Iran for a time after the Revolution, but with the ban on Ayandegan Newspaper, she fled Iran in August of 1979 for Israel.”

Reja News which withholds its source continues: “It is said that she was the architect of AIPAC’s conference two years ago, which met under the slogan of ‘Now Is The Time to Stop Iran,’ suggesting a review of all avenues to confront Iran’s nuclear programs. This conference’s motto, ‘Iran, the Point of Understanding Between US and Israel,’ tried to review ways for coordinating Israel and US efforts to apply pressure on Islamic Republic of Iran. George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Cinton, John Bolton, Ihud Ulmert and Amir Perez were some of the speakers in this conference. It is said that the decision of war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah was reached in this conference.”

Esfandiari did participate in an AIPAC policy conference back in 2004 where she joined Philo Dibble on a panel entitled, “Revolution From Within: Can the Iranian People Reclaim the Republic?”  Maybe somebody who was there could say how Esfandiari (and Dibble) answered the question.

As for Shaul Bakhash, I have previously noted that as a member of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce on Iran (co-chaired by Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski), Bakhash formally dissented from the main conclusions of a Council on Foreign Relations Taskforce Report , “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Bakhash appeared to be speaking, like Cheney, about bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.

I wish to stress that support for dialogue and diplomatic and economic relations between Iran and the United States does not imply acquiescence in the violation by the Iranian government of the civil rights and liberties of its own citizens. Some Iranians understandably fear that relations with the United States will reinforce the status quo and therefore regime durability in Iran. In fact, any study of Iranian history over the last century and more suggests that interaction with the outside world greatly accelerates, rather than hinders, the pace of internal political change. I believe enmeshing Iran with the international community, expanding trade, and improving economic opportunity and the conditions for the growth of the middle class will strengthen, not weaken, the democratic forces in Iran.

Are the Iranians right to be nervous about a “velvet revolution”?

I’ll believe that the US has adopted a policy of populist regime change when I see the accompanying Right Zionist jubilation.

Who’s Afraid of the Shiite Wolf?

Posted by Cutler on May 11, 2007
Iraq / 3 Comments

The Sadrist MPs within the Iraqi Government are circulation legislation calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.  Sort of.

Not surprisingly, some anti-war critics are quick to hail it as “a hugely significant development.”

Juan Cole puts the breathless chatter about the withdrawal petition in some helpful context.

The Washington Post story by Joshua Partlow leads with a quote from a Sadrist MP that hardly seems like an audacious call to arms:

“We haven’t asked for the immediate withdrawal of multinational forces; we asked that we should build our security forces and make them qualified, and at that point there would be a withdrawal,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a member of parliament allied with the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters drafted the bill. “But no one can accept the occupation of his country.”

Am I the only one who thinks the Sadrist seem pretty tame?  Does Moqtada al-Sadr really give Cheney nightmares?

On the contrary, Right Zionists seem pretty pleased with their Shiite allies these days.  As I noted in a previous post, Reuel Marc Gerecht over at the American Enterprise Institute has been expecting Iraqi demands for US withdrawal and does not seem particularly fazed by them:

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.

So, that must mean that everyone is now on the same page about US withdrawal, right?

Nope.

The folks who brought us this war–and intentionally brought Shiites to power in Iraq–have done what they wanted to do in Iraq.  They have opened Pandora’s Box and are now prepared to watch as Iraqi Shiite power change the balance of power in the region.

But there are some folks in Washington who remain quite worried about US withdrawal.

Who are they?

Surprise!  They include some of the most high-profile critics of that war–Right Arabist figures like General Anthony Zinni.  Why?  Not a sudden lack of moral courage.  The issue is geopolitical, not moral.  Zinni and the Right Arabists need US forces to stay in order to help close Pandora’s Box and contain Shiite regional power.

Zinni spoke about US military withdrawal during a recent appearance on CNN:

BLITZER: All right. So now the U.S. is there. What do you do now?…

ZINNI: Well, first of all, it’s the right man. Dave Petraeus is exceptional, and I think our ambassador there, Ryan Crocker, another exceptional individual. We have the right people on the ground.

I think what we haven’t done, though, is we haven’t talked about the broader strategic — or strategy that we need for the region. We need to reconstruct a collective security arrangement that’s been destroyed in the region. We need to think through how we would establish a containment strategy, setting the conditions for what our troops would do, what they wouldn’t do in here. Even if this current strategy works, either way we’re going to fall back in to some containment, but it’s foolish to believe we’re going to leave.

BLITZER: What would happen if, as a lot of Democrats want right now, by the end of next March, early April, combat forces are out of Iraq?

ZINNI: Well what can happen, this could become a base for extremists. We could have the sectarian violence spill over into the region. Iranian influence could grow, and their hegemonic designs could create a situation that’s worse.

BLITZER: So, what you’re saying, as bad as the situation is right now, there’s plenty of opportunity for it to get a whole lot worse?

ZINNI: Absolutely. Anyone that knows this region knows that.

BLITZER: So, realistically, general — and you’ve spent a long time studying that part of the world, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf area — how long do you believe U.S. combat forces are going have to be deployed to Iraq, at least for the time being? How long do you envisage they’ll going to be stuck there?

ZINNI: Well, I think you’re going to see a presence. Now, I can see that presence may be moving down, but I think for five to seven years you’re going to see a presence.

Now, much of that may be less on the combat troops, more on the advisers, security assistance down the road. Some of it will be troops in the adjoining countries where we have allies to help contain it. And look at the broader strategic requirements in the region.

Right Zionists are now and have always been sweet on the Shiites and hostile toward Sunni Arab regional domination.

Right Arabists are now and have always been sweet on Sunni Arab regional hegemony and totally hostile to Shiite power.

The US is in trouble in Iraq for a thousand reasons, but one of those reasons is that the US foreign policy establishment has been and continues to be working toward entirely different, mutually exclusive goals in Iraq.

It would be difficult, to be sure, to fight a war with one hand tied behind your back.  It has to quite a bit more difficult, if not impossible, to fight a war with one hand battling the other hand.

Cheney Was Not Moved

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

The Associated Press offers this account of Cheney’s visit to Iraq:

Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that Iraq remains a dangerous place, a point underscored by a thunderous explosion that rattled windows in the U.S. Embassy where he spent most of the day.

Cheney spoke less than an hour after an explosion could be heard in the U.S. Embassy where he spent most of the day. Windows rattled and reporters covering the vice president were briefly moved to a more secure area.

Said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride: “His meeting was not disturbed and he was not moved.”

McBride was presumably commenting on the vice president’s whereabouts rather than his mood.

Cheney was undoubtedly in Iraq to move rather than be moved.  A transcript from Cheney’s press briefing certainly gives the impression that the vice president pressed the Iraqis to make progress on Khalilzad’s old “benchmarks.”

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. You said you were impressed by the responses that you heard from Prime Minister Maliki and his colleagues. Did they offer any specific commitments, particularly time commitments, in moving forward on some of the specific measures that you and other American officials have talked about; namely, hydrocarbon law, de-Baathification, provincial elections and constitutional reform?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe that Prime Minister Maliki plans an address to the parliament this week on many of these issues – [cough] excuse me – and, of course, it’s a political process that depends upon action by their legislative body. And but as I say, I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I’d seen previously.

Is Cheney unhappy with Maliki?  Did Cheney threaten to dump Maliki, casting an eye toward “Saddam without a Mustache“?

I have my doubts.  As I have previously noted (here and here), some of Cheney’s would-be Right Zionist allies have recently declared themselves quite satisfied with Maliki.

Nevertheless, as the Washington Post recently suggested, there are allegedly at least three outstanding “political” issues:

Re-Baathification: Khalilzad pushed very hard for re-Baathification.  Does Cheney care?  Not if his thinking in any way matches that of Reuel Marc Gerecht at the American Enterprise Institute.

Oil: Yes, I think Cheney wants to hydrocarbon law passed.  But here the primary obstacle may not be Maliki so much as Kurdish resistance to the bill’s centralization of control.

Constitutional Reform:  The most contentious issues here seem to involve Kurdish regional autonomy and Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution which includes provisions for a referendum on control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.  Here again, Kurds represent the major source of resistance to constitutional revisions.  Sadrists and Sunnis stand united in opposition to Article 140 and Kurdish control of Kirkuk.

All of which suggests that if anyone in Iraq is pressing for the parliament to take a vacation, the Kurds would be the most likely slackers.

Where Have You Gone, George Tenet?

Posted by Cutler on May 08, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

George Tenet’s biggest Iraq “mistake” was arguably not that he stayed around too long but that he didn’t stay around long enough.

I know, I know.  Tenet is being roundly criticized for, among other things, his failure to resign in protest when he saw “ideology” driving the US invasion of Iraq.

If, however, you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with General Anthony Zinni when he tells CNN that the Neocons “didn’t think through what the aftermath would bring. They made some bad decisions on the move. Again, we all know that disbanding the army, debaathification… brought about all the problems we see now…”

If you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with “Leftists” like Robert Dreyfuss that the US should have stuck with the Baathists…

If you are the kind of anti-war critic who agrees with Council on Foreign Relations figures like Ray Takeyh who have a very clear idea of a “Plan B”: “Benign Autocracy is the Answer for Iraq“…

If you are that kind of anti-war critic, then Tenet didn’t stay around long enough.

Tenet’s job was to install a “benign autocracy” under the appointed leadership of long-time CIA favorite, ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.

Tenet did so in late May 2004.  Tenet then resigned almost immediately.  Mission accomplished, Right Arabist style.

The problem, however, is that after the November 2004 election, the Bush administration went ahead with a year of elections–over the objections of figures outside the administration, like Brent Scowcroft–that handed power to Iraqi Shiites and left Allawi in the dust.

Tenet wasn’t there to preserve Allawi’s “Saddamism without Saddam.”

If you are that kind of anti-war critic, then Tenet quit too soon.

Cheney’s Man on the Seine?

Posted by Cutler on May 07, 2007
France, Great Power Rivalry, Turkey / No Comments

Is French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy Bush’s lapdog?  Cheney’s man on the Seine?  A Right Zionist in Paris?

In the context of great power rivalry, Sarkozy says he favors the US over Russia.  When he made the comment in mid-April 2007, RIA Novosti took notice:

“If you want to know which one is closer to me – the U.S. or Russia, which we saw in action in Chechnya – I will say the U.S.,” the candidate said…

“I tell great powers, including the U.S., that they are mistaken because they have not signed the Kyoto Protocol and that they are wrong in Iraq. But we have common values, such as democracy,” Sarkozy said.

Setting aside perfidious talk about “common values” regarding democracy, Sarkozy and Cheney may yet find at least enough common ground upon which to lay gas pipelines, specifically the so-called NABUCCO pipeline.

The Moscow Times says “Russia Faces Rougher Ride After French Vote” and notes that Sarkozy–like his defeated opponent–favors NABUCCO.

Sarkozy… support[s] the participation of state-owned Gaz de France’s participation in the Nabucco pipeline, which would reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas.

In a mid-April debate among the three top contenders for the French presidency, Sarkozy was the most outspoken in his support for NABUCCO.  Reuters reported:

The [three candidates] all expressed support for the Nabucco pipeline project, due to ship Caspian natural gas from Turkey to Austria, reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

Sarkozy went further, saying he was prepared to accelerate the project, led by Austrian oil firm OMV.

But Sarkozy is going to have to do a bit of backtracking from the campaign if he is going find a place for France along the NABUCCO pipeline.

Sarkozy’s relatively pro-American stance was decidedly not a “populist” way to distinguish himself from fellow “Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)” Gaullists, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac.

Instead, Sarkozy established his populist foreign policy bona fides by bashing Turkey and the idea of Turkish membership in the EU.

There will have to be some fence mending with Turkey–especially among the fiercely the nationalist military leaders that forced Turkey’s Islamic-backed foreign minister Abdullah Gul to withdraw his Presidential candidacy–if Sarkozy is going to restore plans for Gaz de France to join the NABUCCO consortium.

NABUCCO is a Turkish dream for transporting Caspian Sea gas.  It is strongly supported by the US and the EU:

If it is built and made functional by 2012 as intended, Nabucco can provide an estimated 15 percent of EU demand. The Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan pipeline was translated into reality from a dream. But what are the chances at this stage for the Nabucco Pipeline Project? The idea was conceived in 2002, within the EU’s Common Energy Security policy. It will start from Georgia’s border with Turkey, then run a 3300 kilometer stretch crossing Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, ending in Austria… Five energy companies have already signed up to build the pipeline, namely BOTAS from Turkey, Bulgargas, Transgaz from Romania and Mol of Hungary.

BOTAS Turkish state-owned pipeline company, has led the opposition to Gaz de France participation.

If Sarkozy is going to position France as a core member of an anti-Russian bloc in the EU, look for him to become decidedly more “pragmatic” in relations with Turkey.

Reading the Map Correctly in Israel

Posted by Cutler on May 04, 2007
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria / No Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is under pressure for his execution of the so-called “Second Lebanese War.”  Tens of thousands of protestors rallied in Israel, calling for Olmert to resign.

The protests are politically “vague” about the substance of the critique of Olmert, but insofar as Netanyahu and his Right Zionist allies are highly critical of Olmert’s execution of the war, the protests may bolster the case against Olmert.

Back in 2006, I wrote several posts describing Right Zionist dismay (here and here) with Olmert’s “cautious” execution of the battle in Lebanon.

The most “candid” Right Zionist critique of Olmert, however, comes from Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute who–along with her husband, David Wurmser–is part of the “family” of Right Zionists allied with Cheney.  In an extraordinary December 2006 interview, Meyrav Wurmser was very explicit about Right Zionist frustration with Olmert:

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Hizbullah defeated Israel in the war. This is the first war Israel lost,” Dr. Wurmser declares…

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Is this a popular stance in the [US] administration, that Israel lost the war?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Yes, there is no doubt. It’s not something one can argue about it. There is a lot of anger at Israel.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: What caused the anger?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “I know this will annoy many of your readers… But the anger is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians. Instead of Israel fighting against Hizbullah, many parts of the American administration believe that Israel should have fought against the real enemy, which is Syria and not Hizbullah.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the administration expect Israel to attack Syria?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “They hoped Israel would do it. You cannot come to another country and order it to launch a war, but there was hope, and more than hope, that Israel would do the right thing. It would have served both the American and Israeli interests.

The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space… They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its strategic and important ally should be hit.”

“It is difficult for Iran to export its Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran, that it would have weakened it and changes the strategic map in the Middle East.

“The final outcome is that Israel did not do it. It fought the wrong war and lost. Instead of a strategic war that would serve Israel’s objectives, as well as the US objectives in Iraq. If Syria had been defeated, the rebellion in Iraq would have ended”…

“No one would have stopped you. It was an American interest. They would have applauded you. Think why you received so much time and space to operate. Rice was in the region and Israel embarrassed her with Qana, and still Israel got more time. Why aren’t they reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Now, is this Likudnik critique of Olmert shared by organizers of the anti-Olmert rallies?

No.

It is instructive to note that the rally has been attacked from both the Israeli  “Left” and “far-Right.”  If the far-Right is to be believed, the rally is–like the rebellion by Olmert’s own Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni–part of a centrist effort to get Olmert out as Prime Minister, but to salvage the Kadima-led coalition government and preempt calls for new elections.

Why?  Because new elections could well result in the election of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.

If Cheney is going to have another pass at war against Syria this summer, then the clock is ticking for snap elections.

The Israeli Labor party will be under pressure to quit the Kadima-led government, but it appears to be scrambling to find a way to forestall demands for a fresh election any time soon.  This may become increasingly difficult, however, if Olmert survives in office until late May when Labor party primaries may force the leadership to split with Kadima.  The Economist explains:

Though the Labour primary is an internal vote among party members, from whom Mr Peretz has more support than among the public, most bets are on Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and army chief of staff, or Ami Ayalon, an ex-admiral and domestic intelligence chief. Mr Ayalon has already said he will pull Labour out of the coalition if he wins, almost certainly forcing an election. If, on the other hand, Mr Barak gets in, his dilemma will be whether to stay on as defence minister and share the flak with Mr Olmert, or risk an election race against the right-wing Likud party.

Cheney has a (Right Zionist) plan for the Middle East.  Act II of that plan was supposed to begin last summer.  It failed.

If Netanyahu is restored to office, Cheney may find himself with allies “reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

Needless to say, the clock is ticking.

Or, from the perspective of Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen, “Faster, please.”

Kirkuk: Too Many American Friends?

Posted by Cutler on May 03, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

Geopolitical chess is a complicated affair.

Sometimes there are too many enemies: circumstances demand that one enemy is prioritized and “lesser” evils are often reconstituted as the enemy of my enemy, i.e., my (provisional) friend.

The US-Soviet alliance against Germany in World War II is the canonical case.  Similarly, I have noted that Cheney, for example, may at some point feel obligated to choose between antipathy toward Iran and Russia.

Sometimes, however, there are too many friends: circumstances demand that one friend is prioritized and the “lesser” friend is sacrificed at the altar of the paramount friendship.

In the current moment, the US appears to have “too many friends” in Northern Iraq: Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are both considered “strategic allies.”  Both parties, for example, are pressing the United States to pick a side in their battle for control of the city of Kirkuk and its vast oil resources.

David Ignatius made the point in a recent Washington Post column:

The Bush administration has tried to finesse the problem, hoping to keep two friends happy: The Kurds have been America’s most reliable partner in Iraq, while the Turks are a crucial ally in the region. But in recent weeks, this strategy has been breaking down.

There are at least two contentious issues: the idea of a “referendum” to determine the political fate of Kirkuk and the degree of “regional autonomy” in the new hydrocarbons law.

Turkey opposes Kurdish autonomy (i.e., favors the “integrity” of the centralized Iraqi state) and consequently opposes both the referendum and regional control of oil.

If push comes to shove, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt has threatened to intervene militarily in Kurdish-dominated Northern Iraq.

On the related referendum and the oil questions, one might imagine that the US would tend to squeeze the Kurds, not the Turks.

Where is the dilemma?

Ignatius identifies one key Kurdish asset: “U.S. hopes for long-term military bases in Kurdistan.”

Be that as it may, Turkey is, among things, absolutely central to US efforts to thwart Russian monopolistic control of energy pipelines.

One key Bush administration “diplomat” on this front is Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.  Bryza leads the fight against Russian energy giant, Gazprom.

In a February 2007 roundtable with Turkish journalists, Bryza explained the nature of the US-Turkey strategic energy relationship in relation to Russia and the Caspian:

So on energy security… [one thing] we did that was really substantial was our partnership in Caspian energy which obviously meant Bakhu-Tblisi-Ceyhan which many people thought would never happen, and meant the South Caucasus gas pipeline which is about to open.

Today what we want to do is build on those pipelines, expand the corridor that currently exists for natural gas and make it a major one, a big one, a transit route that will help Europe diversify its gas supply so that it doesn’t feel so much monopoly pressure from one direction. Our goal is not to have a confrontation with GazProm, but our goal is to increase competition, healthy commercial competition which in the long run is good for everybody, including for GazProm itself, by the way. The key to making all that work is helping the Azerbaijani Government work with investors to expand gas production in Azerbaijan as quickly as possible to make sure gas is available to fill the pipelines that will go from Turkey to Greece and Italy, as well as [the Nabucco] pipeline from Turkey to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria.

In that same interview, Bryza was cagey but still relatively clear about US policy on the Kirkuk referendum:

Question: Are you saying that if you allow the Kirkuk Referendum to go ahead, you’re going to put your signature to divide the country into three, at least, different countries or nations, whatever you name it. So do you agree with the Turkish vision in that?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: When the referendum in Kirkuk would take place is not determined, right?

Question: It is determined in the Constitution. It will happen before the end of this year.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: Or will it? Who knows if it will. Will it actually? I don’t know if it will.

Question: What does the U.S. think about Turkey’s position on it? Do you agree with the Turkish assessment on Kirkuk? If the referendum goes ahead it is going to be leveraged to divide the country or the Kurds.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza: The way I would answer that is to say that our goal, as President Bush just said, is to maintain a unified Iraq. Anything you hear to the contrary, any pundits or political speculation, whether they be people in power or out of power, to the contrary, is false. Our policy is to support a unified Iraq. We understand how sensitive, how dangerous the situation in Kirkuk is.

The Governments of the United States and Turkey and Iraq, and Baghdad, I mean, share a common vision when it comes to Kirkuk in terms of not wanting that situation to lead to the breakup of Iraq, right? And wanting there to be a way to resolve the difficult property questions and demographic issues that are what’s really fueling the political fire in Kirkuk.

So on timing, et cetera, I don’t have anything else to say. And if you really want to get down into the details of that, please talk to our Iraq policy people. But in general I can say we do share the Turkish society and government’s vision that if Kirkuk is not managed properly it can become a terrible problem that works against our shared goal of maintaining a unified Iraq. That’s our goal. We’ve got to do that.

Did Cheney give a more straightforward promise to Turkish Gen. Yaşar Büyükanit when the two leaders met in February?  I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

When Turkey came to Bryza for support on the hydrocarbons law, Bryza offered up what appeared to be a vague response:

“One: We completely understand why Turkey is uncomfortable,” said Bryza. “Two: we unequivocally favor Iraq’s territorial integrity, which President [George W.] Bush reiterated in his recent speech on Iraq. Three: the hydrocarbon law was not written by us but by a sovereign state that is Iraq.”

The “third” leg of that answer is, presumably, meant to deflect criticism.  But given the massive US involvement in drafting that law, Bryza’s answer seems intended as a way to call attention provisions of the law that favor the Turkish position.

And, undoubtedly, this helps explain recent news, first announced by Al Jazeera and now reiterated by the New York Times, that the Kurds are balking at the terms of the new law.

Ed Wong of the New York Times has actually been reporting on Kurdish discontent for some time.

Shiites and Turkey are united on the centralization provisions of the hydrocarbons law.

If the US is going to squeeze the Kurds on this one, then Sunni political forces constitute a crucial swing vote.

Edward Wong and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times report that Sunni Arab parliamentarians look set to stand with the Kurds:

Contributing a further layer of complication, a Sunni Arab legislator said Wednesday evening that the main Sunni Arab bloc, which has 44 legislative seats, objected to any discussion of the law in Parliament at this time. “Acceleration in presenting it is inappropriate since the security condition is not encouraging,” said the legislator, Saleem Abdullah. He said Sunni Arabs were also worried that the law would give foreign companies too large a role in the country’s oil industry. Sunni Arab political leaders supported cabinet approval of the draft law, but appear ambivalent now.

This is, shall we say, a very strategic ambivalence…

Biden’s War

Posted by Cutler on May 01, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Happy May Day! I’ll be brief because this is labor’s day for reinvigorating the cultural battle for less work.

Senator Joseph Biden made an April 29, 2007 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Set aside, for the moment, Biden’s assertions about the future (“all of us have been arguing… in both parties, that you’re going to have to leave forces behind in Iraq”).

Biden’s most interesting comments concern the past. Biden’s explanation and justification for the invasion gets to some of the “truth” behind the lies:

[W]e were talking then about whether or not we could keep the pressure of the international community on Iraq to stay in the box we had them in. And remember, you had the French and others say the reason all those children were dying in Iraq, the reason why hospitals didn’t have equipment is because of what we, the United States, were doing, imposing on Iraq these sanctions. And that was the battle. The battle was do we lift these sanctions or do we in fact increase the sanctions? And everyone at the time was talking about—from the secretary of state to even the president—that this was to demonstrate to the world the president of the United States had the full faith and credit of the United States Congress behind him to put pressure on the rest of the world to say, “Hey, look, you lift the sanctions, you’re—we’re going to be on our own here. Don’t lift the sanctions. Get the inspectors back in.” That was the context of the debate, to be fair about it…

MR. RUSSERT: But you said Saddam was a threat. He had to be…

SEN. BIDEN: He was a threat.

MR. RUSSERT: In what way?

SEN. BIDEN: The threat he presented was that, if Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon—not by building it, by purchasing it. I also believed he was a threat in that he was—every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of—after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating. Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t. The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not. And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening. They were pulling away. They were saying, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe we should lift the no-fly zone. Maybe we should lift the sanctions.” That was the context.

In light of recent controversies over George Tenet’s new book, At the Center of the Storm, and his sense of the origins of the invasion plan, it might be worth noting that Biden’s justification for the invasion is not very different from the one offered, on the eve of the invasion, by Right Zionist Richard Perle over at the Project for a New American Century:

“Let’s be candid about it. France has found a way of dealing with Saddam Hussein that simply wouldn’t work for the United States because it entails a degree of cooperation that is not acceptable for us. The commercial relationship between France and Saddam’s regime is on hold owing to the sanctions but I think it’s clear that the moment the sanctions are removed there is a pipeline of contracts that would be promulgated and they’re important for France. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, they’re important for France. It’s my understanding that the Total contract with Saddam is worth $40 billion to $60 billion…. So there are commercial interests and for those people who accuse the United States in being interested in oil in this matter, I submit to you that our interest in oil is in purchasing it on the world market. That could best be accomplished by lifting the sanctions, hardly by going to war against Saddam Hussein. The French interest in the promulgation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious.

“But there’s a second French attitude that I think we have to come to grips with and understand and that is the desire on the part of France to build the European Union as a counterweight to the United States. Counterweight is the term most frequently employed by the French, by Chris Patten in Brussels and by others. For a long time the United States and France have been allies. Good allies. Vital to each other’s security at many times in our history and never in the period in which we were allies who supported one another did either of us think of describing the other as a counterweight. A relationship that can be described by the term counterweight is not a relationship of alliance”…

“Well, I don’t think we have the luxury of changing priorities from one day to the next. There was a review of Iraq policy underway on September 11th and the administration hadn’t decided at that point what to do, but one thing was very clear: the consensus behind the sanctions which had become the central element of western United Nations strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein was crumbling. France and Russia had already indicated they were opposed to continuing the sanctions. The French wanted to weaken the sanctions regime. The so-called smart sanctions policy of the United States was really a response to the eroding support for those sanctions and it was very clear that if something wasn’t done that Saddam was going to emerge the survivor who had outlasted the United Nations….So it was urgent to deal with Iraq, and we set on a course of dealing with Iraq.

The specific “crisis” that generated the US invasion of Iraq was the collapse of the sanctions regime, understood in terms of Great Power Rivalry, was “not acceptable to us.”

All that remains, it would seem, is to understand the contours of US policy after the invasion, i.e., the geopolitical rationale for de-Baathification (rather than, say, “grabbing” Iraq but maintaining Baathist rule).