Monthly Archives: June 2007

Who Let Hamas Out?

Posted by Cutler on June 22, 2007
Egypt, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Prof Cutler’s Blog will return on July 9th.

As I depart, the news on my mind involves US policy toward Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood

In a recent post, I argued that Right Zionists would shed no tears for the collapse of Fatah in Gaza, but I also suggested that they had no political “vision” for post-Fatah Gaza; only a military “vision” of an endless siege.

Such a siege had already begun by Wednesday, June 20, 2007.

But that same day, two news items appeared that caught me be surprise because they seemed to suggest that someone–but who?–actually did have a “vision” for Gaza under Hamas.

The first item was the simultaneous New York Times and Washington Post Op-Eds by Ahmed Yousef arguing for engagement with Hamas.

There are few surprises in the texts.  The surprise was the simultaneous, dual publication, especially in the context of the second news item, a story by Eli Lake in the Right Zionist New York Sun, entitled “Bush Weighs Reaching Out To ‘Brothers.’

The Bush administration is quietly weighing the prospect of reaching out to the party that founded modern political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still in its early stages and below the radar, the current American deliberations and diplomacy with the organization, known in Arabic as Ikhwan, take on new significance in light of Hamas’s successful coup in Gaza last week. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is widely reported to have helped create Hamas in 1982.

Lake’s story echoes an earlier Newsweek report by Michael Isikoff And Mark Hosenball.

Set aside, for the moment, the likelihood of such an overture to Hamas in Gaza and and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Who would promote such an idea within the Bush administration?

More to the point, if Right Zionists shed no tears for the collapse of Fatah in Gaza, would they embrace Hamas, the enemy of their enemy?

And doesn’t this question, in turn, demand a re-examination of the play of forces within the Bush administration behind the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election that brought Hamas to power within the Palestinian Authority?

Most of those promoting the idea of engaging Hamas are hardly Right Zionists.

These include figures like Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center and co-author of the Foreign Affairs essay, “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood”

Or Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Figures like Zeyno Baran, much closer to the Right Zionist world, tend to be critical of Leiken and Co.

But there is one figure who is very close to the Right Zionist “family” who supported the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections that ultimately brought Hamas to power.

That figure is Reuel Marc Gerecht.  Here is Gerecht on NPR, January 28, 2006:

ELLIOT: Mr. Gerecht, you’ve actually said that it’s a good think that Hamas came into power this week. Can you explain?

Mr. GERECHT: Yeah, I think it was, the result of that is, one, it was easily expected and two, you should not be discouraged by it. With Fatah in power you’re going to have no evolution. You’re going to have the continued radicalization of the Palestinian society. With Hamas now being the principal political party in the Palestinian territories, you actually have the chance for internal evolution. The issue is not the peace process. The issue is whether Palestinian politics, Palestinian ethics, start to evolve…

I think they will. But I think we have to expect–and there were some in the Bush administration who I think were naïve about this, that democratization moves forward in the Muslim Middle East it is going to increase anti-Americanism. That’s fine. That is part of the healing process. That’s part of the evolution.

And here is Gerecht at a Pew Forum event from all the way back in May 2005:

There are going to be problems with this evolution to a more democratic society. And again, I think this could happen a lot quicker than people realize. One of the things we’re going to have to realize that’s going to happen is that anti-Americanism is probably going to skyrocket. If you think anti-Americanism now is at a high watermark, just wait. When democracy takes hold, it’s just going to rip. So is anti-Zionism, so is anti-Semitism. All of these things for a variety of different reasons are going to accelerate. Don’t panic. It’s actually good. It’s the fever that will break the disease. You have to let it go.

This is something like the Zen of Right Zionism, I suppose.

There are plenty of skeptics.  David Brooks, for example, responded to Gerecht in a July 2006 New York Times column entitled, “The Fever is Winning.”

What remains totally unclear is whether or not Cheney has caught the fever.

The “Anbar Model”: A Slow Moving Coup in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on June 18, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

The essential “finding” of Joshua Partlow’s Washington Post article, “U.S. Strategy on Sunnis Questioned,” is that Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish political figures are not stupid.

That is, they understand that the so-called “Anbar Model” is a slow-motion, pro-Baathist coup.

Shiite and Kurdish officials expressed deep reservations on Sunday about the new U.S. military strategy of partnering with Sunni Arab groups to help defeat the militant organization al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“They are trusting terrorists,” said Ali al-Adeeb, a prominent Shiite lawmaker who was among many to question the loyalty of the Sunni groups. “They are trusting people who have previously attacked American forces and innocent people. They are trusting people who are loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein.”…

Some of these groups, believed to be affiliated with such organizations as the Islamic Army or the 1920 Revolution Brigades, have received weapons and ammunition, usually through the Iraqi military, as well as transportation, food, handcuffs and direct assistance from U.S. soldiers….

One senior Iraqi government official described the American military policy of partnering with local Sunni groups as “nonsense.”

“Every three months they have a new strategy. This is not only a distracting way to conduct policy, it is creating insecurity for all. I don’t think these strategies have been thought through deeply. It is all about convenience,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“In reality, they are forcing the Iraqi government and the Shia and the Kurds to reconcile with the Saddamists,” the official added.

The U.S. military focus on al-Qaeda is, at least in part, a way of deflecting attention away from the fact that most attacks on US forces are from the Sunni nationalist insurgency, not al-Qaeda.

General Petraeus chose his words carefully in his most recent interview with FoxNews.

Al Qaeda is the face of what is happening on the extremist Sunni side.

They are carrying out the bulk of the sensational attacks, the suicide car bomb attacks, suicide vest attacks and so forth.

The anonymous “senior Iraqi government official” cited by Partlow is correct to suggest that Washington has a “new strategy” every three months, except that the competing strategies are actually simultaneous, not sequential.

There is a “Shiite Option” strategy and there is the “Anbar Model” strategy of the anti-Shiite coup.

So intense are the disagreements in Washington that the American Enterprise Institute is home to some of the most ardent ideological defenders of each strategy.

The leading advocate for Shiite political dominance in Iraq continues to be AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht.

At the same time, AEI’s Frederick Kagan is one of the leading defenders of the so-called “Anbar Model.”

It must be kind of awkward around the AEI water cooler these days.

Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

Posted by Cutler on June 16, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Helene Cooper of the New York Times has a front-page article–“Iran Strategy Stirs Debate at White House“–that is, essentially, a reprint of her June 1, 2007 article, “U.S. Not Pushing for Attack on Iran, Rice Says.”

After writing in relatively vague terms about “the few remaining hawks inside the administration, especially those in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” Cooper finally comes around to naming names.  Once again, Cooper fingers Right Zionist David Wurmser as the “hawk” inside Dick Cheney’s office.

Readers of this blog need no introduction to David Wurmser.

Why the reprint?  Cooper says she spoke to folks from both sides of the factional debate, but my sense is that Wurmser’s opponents in the administration are trying to use Cooper’s publicity machine to pressure Cheney to dump Wurmser.  Most of the references are to positions adopted by hawks “in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” rather than to Cheney himself.

Cooper says the “hawks” are “pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.”  But the big “hawk” she gets on the record–John Bolton (who Meyrav Wurmser considers part of the Right Zionist “family“)–mentions two hawkish options for US policy toward Iran:

[C]onservatives inside the administration have continued in private to press for a tougher line, making arguments that their allies outside government are voicing publicly. “Regime change or the use of force are the only available options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability, if they want it,” said John R. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Cooper doesn’t stop to note Bolton’s talk of regime change.  Instead, she references a Commentary essay by Norman Podhoretz, “The Case for Bombing Iran.”

As I have previously noted, Neoconservatives are actually split between those, like Podhoretz, who favor military action and those, like Michael Ledeen, who are primarily interested in regime change.

Here is Podhoretz on the split:

[A]s it happens, there is a split among neoconservatives on the desirability of military action against Iran. For reasons of their own, some–including Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute… [oppose] such a course…

In his article on “The Case for Bombing Iran,” Podhoretz attacks Ledeen (this time leaving off his name):

Those who advocate this course tell us that the “mullocracy” is very unpopular, especially with young people, who make up a majority of Iran’s population. They tell us that these young people would like nothing better than to get rid of the oppressive and repressive and corrupt regime under which they now live and to replace it with a democratic system. And they tell us, finally, that if Iran were so transformed, we would have nothing to fear from it even if it were to acquire nuclear weapons.

Once upon a time, under the influence of Bernard Lewis and others I respect, I too subscribed to this school of thought. But after three years and more of waiting for the insurrection they assured us back then was on the verge of erupting, I have lost confidence in their prediction.

Where do the remaining Bush administration Right Zionists stand (or fall) on this question?

As I have previously noted, it is tempting (if risky) to interpret Podhoretz as a proxy for the voice of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.

But does Podhoretz also represent the views of Wurmser?

How to find Wurmser’s views on the question when he has not spoken publicly since he handed his “Middle East” baton at the American Enterprise Institute to Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Does Gerecht represent a possible proxy for Wurmser’s voice?  Gerecht himself has tried to square the circle by suggesting that the bombing of Iran might help foment regime change:

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

But he also seems to have lost some confidence in the imminent collapse of the regime:

[I]t is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians–which is the Bush administration’s current game plan–isn’t likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn’t the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

David Wurmser is married to Meyrav Wurmser and it is tempting (if risky) to take her voice as a proxy for his.

Meyrav Wurmser is certainly feeling hawkish about Iran and Syria.  But she appears to be somewhat skeptical about a narrow approach based on “military toughness.”

Syria and Iran now seek to further derail Western ambitions. They are escalating their offensive….

Syria and Iran see an opportunity they cannot pass up: The United States has no answer to the worsening situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Evincing perplexity and weakness, not consistently willing to confront its enemies, the United States entered direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, naively hoping that the purveyors of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon would willingly help resolve those problems….

As Israel’s war in Lebanon demonstrated, military toughness alone does not meet the growing Syrian/Iranian challenge. Instead of seeing all the problems in the Middle East solely as localized conflicts, we must understand their regional context. Only then can we devise a broad strategic vision to confront these threats. Toughness is necessary, but it will remain ineffective without a purpose and a plan.

Is that a call for a policy of regime change, beyond “military toughness”?

Unclear.

What is clear is that David Wurmser’s 1999 manifesto, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, is essentially one long “plan” for using Shiite power in Iraq to achieve regime change in Iran.

Here is an extended excerpt from my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” that lays out the heart of Wurmser’s 1999 position as it relates to “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.

“U.S. policy makers have long presumed that the majority Shi’ite population of Iraq would serve as Iran’s fifth column there; but would it?” (TA, p.72). Wurmser thinks not. Instead, he argues that “Iraqi Shi’ites, if liberated from [Saddam’s] tyranny, can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution” (TA, p.74). More specifically, Wurmser claims that “Shi’ite Islam is plagued by fissures, none of which has been carefully examined, let alone exploited, by the opponents of Iran’s Islamic republic” (TA, p.74, emphasis added). The idea of exploiting fissures is entirely consistent with realist theories of power balancing.

Wurmser argues that at the theological core of the Iranian revolution is “a concept promoted by Ayatollah Khomeini, the wilayat al-faqih — the rule of the jurisprudent” that served as “the bulldozer with which Khomeini razed the barrier between the clerics and the politicians” (TA, p.74). For Wurmser, the central strategic fissure within Shiite Islam is between those who favor Khomeini’s vision and those who reject the rule of the jurisprudent. “The concept of wilayat al-faqih is rejected by most Shi’ite clerics outside Iran (and probably many of those within Iran, too)… The current leading ayatollah of Iraq, Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani, has reaffirmed [this rejection], much to the chagrin of the Iranian government” (TA, p.75)…

The core of the Regional Rollback… is Iran. For Wurmser, so-called “realists” have always been correct to emphasize the link between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites, but they have misunderstood the potential nature of the link. If realists have traditionally feared Iranian influence in Iraq, Wurmser argues that the more likely scenario is Iraqi influence in Iran. The demise of traditional Sunni rule over the Iraqi Shiites “could potentially trigger a reversal” of fortune for the Iranian regime.

“Liberating the Shi’ite centers in Najaf and Karbala, with their clerics who reject the wilayat al-faqih, could allow Iraqi Shi’ites to challenge and perhaps fatally derail the Iranian revolution. For the first time in half a century, Iraq has the chance to replace Iran as the center of Shi’ite thought, thus resuming its historic place, with its tradition of clerical quiescence and of challenge to Sunni absolutism… A free Iraqi Shi’ite community would be a nightmare for the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran” (TA, p.78-79).

For Wurmser, the liberation of Najaf and Karbala would promote and empower potential US allies in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s strategy foresees US military intervention against the Sunni minority in Iraq, not primarily as a springboard for further military intervention in Iran, but as the Iraqi detonator for a populist, Shiite-led rebellion against rival clerics in Iran. Neo-conservative support for the political ascendance of Shiite Iraq is not about the principle of democracy. Nor are neo-conservatives blind to the ways in which regime change in Iraq might transform the relationship between Iraq and Iran. Neo-conservatives who favor de-Baathification in Iraq might seem like blundering fools who would unwittingly hand Iraq to Iranian clerics. Wumser’s scheme, however, is to hand Iran to Iraqi clerics, especially the followers of Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani. For Wurmser, the road to Tehran begins in Najaf.

Does Wurmser still believe, with Ledeen, that the road to Tehran begins in Najaf?

Or, has Wurmser–like Podhoretz–“lost confidence” in his old plan for regime change?

And where is Cheney himself in all this?

Note well: Cheney was not always considered part of the Right Zionist “family.”

Right Zionists and the Collapse of Fatah

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2007
Israel, Palestinian Authority, Right Zionists / No Comments

In some respects, the American-sponsored “Dayton Plan”–named for US security coordinator Lt.-Gen Keith Dayton–to foment factional fighting within the Palestinian “unity government,” bolster the forces of Fatah, and challenge the dominance of Hamas in Gaza seemed like the work of Right Zionist hawks in the Bush administration (i.e., Elliott Abrams at the NSC and David Wurmser in the OVP).

After all, the Hamas-Fatah “unity government” was the work of Saudi King Abdullah and it made sense to think that an assault on Abdullah’s mediation efforts would bear the finger prints of the Cheney-Bandar-Right Zionist axis.

But as that plan crumbles–with signs of White House “acquiescence“–it becomes increasingly clear that the Dayton Plan to bolster Fatah may have simply marked the most “hawkish” and cynical last gasp of the old Oslo crowd.

If so, then there will be some Right Zionist “rejectionists” who mourn neither the failure of the Palestinian “unity government” nor the US effort to destroy that unity by bolstering Fatah.

Perhaps the strongest indication of this scenario is that the collapse of Fatah in Gaza has led to all kinds of speculation that it marks the end of a two-state solution.

Consider, for example, the Los Angeles Times article by Ken Ellingwood, “Palestinian Statehood Hopes in Peril.”

The deadly factional fighting in the Gaza Strip between the militant Hamas movement and Fatah could doom the long-held Palestinian vision of uniting Gaza and the West Bank into a single independent state….

The violence has dimmed hopes that Palestinians and Israelis might someday reach an agreement for side-by-side nations…

The political crisis has propelled a debate among Palestinian intellectuals over whether Palestinians might be better served by dumping the trappings of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, which created the enfeebled Palestinian Authority….

“One cannot exclude such a possibility: that this is the end of the two-state solution,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a fellow at Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Jerusalem.

So, for Right Zionist “rejectionists,” what comes after Oslo?

Right Zionist rejectionists do have a post-Oslo vision for the West Bank.  The cornerstone of that vision is the idea of Palestinian confederation with Jordan.

The Israeli Labor Party-Oslo crowd and their American allies are aware of this vision and reject it.

The great defender of the failed “Dayton Plan” was an Oslo figure, Dennis Ross.  In a June 4, 2007  Washington Post Op-Ed–“The Specter of Hamastan“–Ross championed the Dayton Plan and took aim at the idea of West Bank confederation with Jordan.

The defense of the Dayton Plan is quite clear:

If Fatah does have a plan for bolstering its forces in Gaza, it is worth supporting it by coordinating with the Israelis and Egyptians — not to produce a bloodbath in Gaza but to deter Hamas from seeking to impose itself there.

Ross also offers a more cryptic attack on a rival proposal:

Among some I heard an interesting proposal: Let’s make the West Bank work…

Let’s create understandings with Jordan and Israel for at least economic confederation and security…

Sounds good in theory, but I doubt it would work. No matter how sensible confederation between the Palestinian state and Jordan might be, at least economically, a failed state in Gaza would be a constant source of instability…

Moreover, while West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have much that divides them, they still have a common identity as Palestinians; the creation of a Palestinian state without Gaza would be an endless source of grievance and irredentism.

Ross doesn’t name any names, but this idea of “confederation with Jordan” belongs to the very same Right Zionist rejectionists who will now quietly celebrate the death of Oslo.

Meyrav Wurmser–who just happens to be married to Cheney’s top Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–is one key proponent of this position, as articulated in her July 2006 New York Sun Op-Ed, “Paradigm Shift” in which she also attacked key “Oslo” assumptions.

Assumption…: Abu Mazen is a better, more moderate a partner than Hamas…

But… Abu Mazen is not only hopelessly weak and ineffective; he also is covering for the mergence of a new Palestinian consensus around positions closer to Hamas’ than ever before. In this situation, the international community gains little from supporting Abu Mazen; he is no partner for peace…

Assumption…: Only independent Palestinian statehood will provide a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process…

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Israeli Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu offered a similar vision of a post-Oslo scenario:

Some kind of federated or confederated effort between Jordan and the Palestinians might introduce that function of security and peace.

Ken Ellingwood’s Los Angeles Times article acknowledges that there are supporters of such a scenario, but he doesn’t name names and he thinks it marginal.

Another idea that has circulated is an old one: reconnecting the West Bank to Jordan, somehow, and putting Gaza back into Egypt’s hands. But this scenario is a long shot.

The chances of this “long shot” becoming an active initiative would be far greater with the collapse of the Olmert government and the election of Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.

In the notion of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan, Right Zionists have a vision (little word from Jordan on any of this, of course).

The horrifying part is that Right Zionists have almost nothing to say about Gaza.

Is there a vision for Gaza?

It seems not.

There is plenty of alarm about Gaza.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Meyrav Wurmser expresses deep concerns about Gaza:

Now Hamas is threatening to escalate hostilities by attacking Israel’s main electric grid in Ashkelon. The significance of this–as well as of the Palestinian civil war and Hamas’s capture of Gaza–is that Hamas, and by extension Iran, has launched a real push to take over the Palestinian areas, just as the violence in Lebanon represents Syria’s attempt to retake that country.

Similarly, Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, is reported to have recently suggested that Washington abandon all Oslo pretensions.

Washington should go one step further and announce it is no longer working to set up the conditions for Palestinian independence.

“The conditions don’t exist,” Bryen said. “This is a huge emergency.”

But what does this “huge emergency” imply for Gaza?

Silence.

There is no plan for Gaza.

Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles Times offers up a chilling conclusion via Gidi Grinstein, a former aide to Ehud Barak:

Israeli analyst Gidi Grinstein told Israel Radio. “The Gaza entity will be regarded as an enemy entity and be treated accordingly…

The US Loses its Civil War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2007
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Palestinian Authority / 1 Comment

Back in April, amidst growing tension and factional fighting in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, I pointed out that the US was, indirectly, a party to the conflict insofar as the Bush administration was providing support to Fatah security forces.

At that time, Haaretz reported (available via the Daily Times of Pakistan) on disagreements over US and Israeli support for Fatah.  The disagreement ostensibly concerned differing assessments of the strength of Fatah relative to Hamas.

The Americans believe that strengthening Abbas loyalists and deploying them in friction points along the north of the strip and Philadelphi route in Rafah will eventually improve the security situation.

Western officials who studied the battle near the Karni crossing last Tuesday concluded, contrary to the IDF’s assessment, that Abbas’ forces had performed well despite their losses and had succeeded in warding off a larger Hamas force. They found that Hamas had not won a decisive victory in the battles in the Strip and urged taking steps to strengthen the pro-Abbas forces…

[Israeli] Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh is the main advocate for helping to strengthen the Abbas loyalists

The IDF believes that Hamas has a considerable advantage over Fatah in the confrontation with Fatah in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas men are trained, equipped and more resolved than their Fatah counterparts, even if the latter outnumber them in weapons,” an IDF source said.

Ephraim Sneh was earlier quoted in the Washington Post, defending Israeli support for Fatah:

“The idea is to change the balance, which has been in favor of Hamas and against Fatah. With these well-trained forces, it will help right that imbalance.”

Now, Sneh appears to be have suffered a double loss.

Within the Israeli Labor Party, Sneh is closely aligned with the outgoing Defense Minister and party leader, Amir Peretz.  In the most recent Labor Party primary, Peretz backed Ami Ayalon who subsequently lost the bid for party leadership to Ehud Barak.

Will Ehud Barak endorse Sneh’s dangerous game?

Sneh’s strategy appears to be crumbling.  Hamas appears to be winning decisive victories against Sneh’s Fatah allies.

In fighting today, Hamas continued its near-complete armed takeover of the Gaza Strip and seized the southern town of Rafah, according to witnesses and security officials allied with the rival Fatah faction.

In Gaza City, two out of four key Fatah-controlled security compounds have fallen to Hamas…

Earlier, Mr Abbas ordered his best troops to strike back at Hamas Islamists as they tightened their grip on Gaza.

The decision by Mr Abbas, who is backed by the west, to commit the presidential guard came as Hamas said it captured the Gaza City security compound. Until now the US-financed presidential guard has been told to maintain a defensive posture against what appear to be coordinated attacks by Hamas.

Hamas’s seizure of the base would deal a severe blow to Fatah and Mr Abbas…

The Council on Foreign Relations, among others, is already describing the emergence of “Hamastan.”

Having helped trigger the confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, Washington is now hoping its go-to-guy in Egypt, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman can persuade Hamas to stand down, even as victory appears imminent.  Good luck with that.

As I have previously suggested, the US has tried to exploit civil war in Gaza as part of a proxy war between the US and Iran.

It is for this reason that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has suggested that the fall of Gaza to Hamas would have “regional implications.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that Cairo is allegedly pointing fingers at Iran.

According to the report, Cairo blamed external elements with igniting the fighting, hinting that Iran was behind the escalation in Gaza…

In an interview with the London based Al-Hayat , senior Fatah official Samir Mashharawi was more explicit in his claims that both Syria and Iran were behind Hamas’ attempted coup. In the interview, cited by Israel Radio, Mashharawi claimed that the two countries had transferred millions of Dollars to Hamas, and that the Islamic group was using the money against the Palestinians people in trying to establish a “Hamas state” in the Gaza Strip.

Is Iran rising to the challenge?  Perhaps.  Hamas certainly is.  But it was the US-backed Fatah forces who were first deployed into “friction points” to try to escalate tensions in Gaza.

That is looking increasingly like a major blunder.

In the battle between Sneh and the IDF, the defense establishment looks like the winner:

The defense establishment is to hold meetings next week in an effort to prepare recommendations for a new policy in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of what seems to a Hamas conquest of the area.

The general assessment in the Israel Defense Forces is that there is a new reality in the Strip and that Hamas has defeated Fatah in the battle for power.

Israeli political sources said Wednesday that the Hamas takeover requires that Israel reexamine its ties with the Gaza Strip, and whether it will continue its economic ties, the infrastructure links – providing of fuel and electricity from Israel.

Sneh’s US-backed plan to use Fatah forces against Hamas may have been a cynical and naive gambit, but the IDF is unlikely to adopt a softer line.

Barak may want to prop up Olmert’s government.  But a Hamas victory in Gaza will surely bolster the position of Israeli hawks, not least Likud leader Benjamin Netanhahu.

If so, then the proxy war in Gaza may quickly become a far more explosive regional civil war in the Middle East.

One Crude Benchmark

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In October 2006, former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad introduced American “benchmarks” for measuring the success of the Iraqi government.

Some of those benchmarks drew inspiration from the Right Arabist critique of the pro-Shiite tilt in US policy, especially Khalilzad’s demands for “reform” of the de-Baathification process (i.e., re-Baathification) and for new provincial elections to reverse the consequences of the Sunni Arab boycott.

Two benchmarks related directly to oil: passage of the US-backed “hydrocarbons law” and constitutional reform related a promised referendum on Kurdish control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Today, it looks increasingly likely that the Shiite-led government in Iraq will do the Bush administration’s bidding on the oil front, but not those measures designed to reverse Shiite political dominance.

A New York Times article by Damien Cave prepares readers for this outcome:

[M]any Iraqi and American officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year…

[T]he oil law appears the most likely, officials said.

Notwithstanding some grumbling from abroad, I suspect the oil law will, indeed, pass the Iraqi parliament.  This is clearly the one “benchmark” that matters to the entire Bush administration.  It has the strong support of the Sistani-backed Shiite oil minister, Hussein Shahristani.

Indeed, I think the path toward passage of the oil law was likely cleared a bit with the recent removal of the Iraqi parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

At the same time, re-Baathification looks like a dead letter.

Cave’s New York Times article suggests that Iraqi Shiites have rejected Khalilzad’s re-Baathifying “Reconciliation and Accountability Law.”

[A]n aide to the reclusive cleric [Sistani] confirmed that there was “a general feeling of rejection” about the proposal.

Since then, the original draft has gone nowhere…

Iraqi officials said they were working on a compromise law… primarily a softer alternative…

It remains unclear how much support the proposal could attract. Mr. Falluji, the Sunni lawmaker, said the prime minister did not fully support reconciliation with former Baathists — a suspicion also harbored by some American officials.

In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Prime Minister Maliki gives only lukewarm lip service in support of re-Baathification:

From the outset, I committed myself to the principle of reconciliation, pledged myself to its success. I was determined to review and amend many provisions and laws passed in the aftermath of the fall of the old regime, among them the law governing de-Baathification. I aimed to find the proper balance between those who opposed the decrees on de-Baathification and others who had been victims of the Baath Party. This has not been easy, but we have stuck to that difficult task.

Provincial elections in places like Babil would undermine Shiite political dominance and look increasingly unlikely.

There is no constitutional change required for a Kirkuk referendum and the US has refused to say much about whether or not it is willing to buck a broad range of Turks, Sunni Arabs, and Sadrist Shiite Arabs in order to go ahead with the referendum.  I tend to think the US will pressure the Kurds to drop the idea of a referendum.

According to Cave’s report, the Iraqi Shiite government is far from committed to swift constitutional reform.

“We have not committed to doing it by September,” [Sheik Humam Hamoudi, one of three committee chairmen and a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council] said. “Maybe the American Congress has made such a commitment, but we have not.”

The real question, at this point, is not where the Iraqi Shiite government stands, but where the Bush administration stands in relation to Khalilzad’s original benchmarks.

Most Western political officials in Iraq and Washington publicly refuse to discuss a Plan B… Many have turned their attention toward risky local alliances with insurgents or former insurgents who say they will fight Al Qaeda.

Is the Bush administration still playing from the Right Arabist playbook, hoping for restoration of Sunni Arab political power?  Or has the administration “signed on” with the Right Zionist “Shiite Option” in Iraq?

It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Maliki seems to think he has some significant enemies, but they are “mediated” through regional tensions.  His Op-Ed makes clear that Maliki thinks himself pulled between Iran and the Arab League, even as he tries to appear neutral:

Our conflict, it should be emphasized time and again, has been fueled by regional powers that have reached into our affairs…

We have reached out to those among our neighbors who are worried about the success and example of our democratic experiment, and to others who seem interested in enhancing their regional influence…

Our message has been the same to one and all: We will not permit Iraq to be a battleground for other powers. In the contests and ambitions swirling around Iraq, we are neutral and dedicated to our country’s right to prosperity and a new life…

Maliki’s reference to those “worried about… our democratic experiment” is clearly to the Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.  His reference to those “interested in enhancing their regional influence” is clearly about Iran.

In Washington, Right Arabists remain resistant to the “democratic experiment” in Iraq; Right Zionists are ultimately committed toward the enhanced “regional influence” of [a reconstructed] Iran.

The question, now as always, is the battle between Right Arabists and Right Zionists in Washington.

Babel: Washington’s Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on June 11, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Right Zionists like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht have learned to love the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq, but the US military brass on the ground in Iraq seems to feel very differently.

Consider, for example, Major General Rick Lynch–commander of the Third Infantry Division responsible, according to a Reuters profile, for three of five extra brigades deployed as part of a four-month-old Baghdad security plan.

On Sunday, June 10, 2007, Maj. Gen. Lynch seems to have had a wide-ranging discussion with reporters.  While there are no signs yet of a full transcript of the briefing, his comments seem to inform several major articles in the news.

The Los Angeles Times report by Tina Susman and Garrett Therolf suggests that Lynch does not share the confidence in Maliki expressed by Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht.

More than security, Lynch said, he was concerned about the Iraqi national government, citing its failure to hold provincial elections to ensure fair representation for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in different areas of the country.

Lynch said that in one province he commands, Babil, it was common for national government officials to order provincial forces to free detainees because of political or sectarian loyalties. After one recent operation, 42 detainees were ordered freed on direction of the national government, Lynch said.

Indeed, Susman and Therolf report that Maj. Gen. Lynch is at the cutting edge of the effort to cultivate alliances with Sunni Arab forces, even over the objections of Maliki’s Shiite government.

[T]he U.S. military is planning to establish “provisional police forces” that would arm men affiliated with Sunni tribal sheiks and militant groups who are willing to assist American forces, Lynch told journalists. He said that U.S. generals were trying to persuade the Iraqi government to support the plan, but that the American military was determined to pursue it, even without government backing.

And, yet, it appears that some of Lynch’s own preferred allies in Babil have their own “sectarian loyalties.”  A FOXNews story attributed to the Associated Press quotes Lynch:

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch… spoke at length about U.S. efforts to draw Sunnis into the security forces.

“There are tribal sheiks out there who say ‘Hey, just allow me to be the local security force. I don’t care what you call me. … You can call me whatever you want. Just give me the right training and equipment and I’ll secure my area.’ And that’s the direction we’re moving out there,” the Third Infantry Division commander said.

In a meeting with reporters, Lynch said contacts with the Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the insurgency, were a matter of pragmatism.

They say: ‘We hate you because you are an occupier, but we hate Al Qaeda worse and we hate the Persians (Iranians) even worse‘ … you can’t ignore that whole population,” Lynch said.

[These must surely be the same “Persians” currently meeting with the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, Mowaffaq Al Rubaie.]

The colorful Maj. Gen. Lynch is also one of the key military figures cited today’s front-page New York Times article–“U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies“–about US efforts to expand the so-called “Anbar Model” to areas like Babil (even as the Washington Post reports that the “Anbar Model” may be in some trouble in Anbar).

An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?”

Despite such views, General Lynch said, the Americans believed that Sunni groups offering to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces met a basic condition for re-establishing stability in insurgent-hit areas: they had roots in the areas where they operated, and thus held out the prospect of building security from the ground up. He cited areas in Babil Province where there were “no security forces, zero, zilch,” and added: “When you’ve got people who say, ‘I want to protect my neighbors,’ we ought to jump like a duck on a june bug.”

For Maj. Gen. Lynch, however, the “security” effort is linked to the larger political context in Babil where the officer appears eager to transform the political dynamic.

The top diplomat on the US state department “Provincial Reconstruction Team” in the Babil province is Dr. Charles Hunter.  In a March 30, 2007 briefing, Hunter described the contours of political control on Babil:

DR. HUNTER: Well, Hilla is the capital of Babil province, of course, which is a mixed province. The Sunnis are concentrated in the north…

QUESTION: And what is the Iraqi political make up in the province and in the city?

DR. HUNTER: Well, the provincial council, which is composed of 41 members, currently has no Shia — excuse me, no Sunni — member of it. The Sunni there boycotted the elections in 2005. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, dominates that council and most of the other provincial-level positions, the mayorships and so on….

Accordin to Reuters, Maj. Gen. Lynch doesn’t have much confidence in the SCIRI crowd that is running Babil.

He said of the three tiers which comprise the U.S. strategy in Iraq, governance issues worried him more than security matters and transition work towards handing control back to Iraqi institutions.

“I am concerned about the capacity of government,” Lynch told reporters on Sunday.

“As I deal with the government at a provincial level, I have a concern about whether or not that government is truly a representative government that respects the human rights of all the Iraqis in that province,” he said.

Are these the same provincial government officials who met with President Bush in July 2005?

And/or are these the same provincial government officials discussed in an official province-by-province snapshot of Iraq produced by US officials in April 2006?

Babil Province, an important strategic area abutting Baghdad, also has “strong Iranian influence apparent within council,” the report says.

Maj. Gen. Lynch appears very eager for the Maliki government to move forward on one of the major “benchmarks” set forth by the US: provincial elections.

Iraq’s parliament last month chose an election commission, seen as a big step towards calling local polls, but Washington is still pressing for a date for the elections before parliament rises for its summer break.

Lynch said U.S. commanders believed the elections were crucial if Iraq was to have a truly representative government in which decisions were not made along sectarian lines. Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005.

“That has to happen. We’ll facilitate an election, but the government of Iraq has to schedule those elections,” Lynch said.

You do have leaders in very high positions who are making sectarian-based decisions, no doubt about it. I see indications of sectarian decisions and not Iraqi decisions.”

I don’t mean to go way out on a limb here, but I do not think Major General Lynch is a big fan of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

Perhaps it was with figures like Maj. Gen. Lynch in mind that Fouad Ajami spoke hopefully of Prime Minister Maliki:

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

The New York Times article on Lynch and his “Anbar Model” for Babil province offers up some words of caution:

[C]ritics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war… The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.

It may be tempting to imagine a unified–if deeply cynical–American strategy to arm both sides in an Iraqi civil war.

There continue to be signs, however, that such a scenario might develop less on the basis of a unified master plan so much as an ongoing civil war in Washington–between Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht who favor Iraqi Shiite rule and Right Arabists, like Maj. Gen. Lynch who appear to favor the restoration of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.

The Playbook for Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on June 07, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud…

But does the Left have to choose sides in the internal politics of Iraq?

Robert Dreyfuss seems to think so.

In his latest missive at The American Prospect, he argues (again) that withdrawal demands re-Baathification in Iraq and fierce resistance to Iran.

Last February, Representative Jim McDermott of Washington organized an extraordinary Capitol Hill event. By teleconference, McDermott brought five Iraqi members of the 275-member parliament together with a dozen or so members of Congress to discuss the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations. All five Iraqi parliamentarians called for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, along with urgent steps to help end the civil war, restore Iraq’s old army, accommodate the dissolved Baath party, and rebuild the shattered economy…

Two weeks ago, I spent several hours with Mohammed al-Daini, a member of the parliament, who was visiting Washington. “The Maliki government is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said…

“When you weaken Iran’s influence in Iraq, it will also weaken Maliki’s government.” Daini told me. “The Maliki government is using Iranian intelligence to get rid of its opponents.” Indeed, many Iraqi leaders, especially the Sunni Arabs, were alarmed by the May 25 U.S.-Iran talks, fearing an American deal with Iran to carve up Iraq. Following the U.S.-Iran meeting, the Baath party of Iraq — which plays a key role in support of the armed resistance — warned that the United States and Iran are determined to eliminate Iraq’s “Arab identity,” adding: “The U.S.-Iranian alliance is the number one enemy of Iraq and of the Arab nation.”

In the end, if and when the United States reconciles itself to a withdrawal from Iraq, the path to stability will be found in a nationalist government constituting most or all of the emerging “national salvation” coalition. It’s possible that the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy can come to that understanding on their own.

(Note to White House: somebody should tell Cheney about “the U.S.-Iranian alliance.”  He and his staff appear to be off message.  Also, let Cheney know that so-called “realists”–not his “Neocon” allies–now control U.S. foreign policy.)

As I have suggested previously, Dreyfuss takes his cues from the Right Arabist playbook written by his friend James Akins.

Assume for the moment that Dreyfuss is actually motivated by a desire to see the swift withdrawal of US troops from Iraq (leaving aside the fact that Dreyfuss was a committed Iran hawk long before there were US troops in Iraq).

It is far from obvious that Right Arabists, focused as they have always been on the “path to stability” in Iraq, are the most likely allies in the battle to bring US troops home from Iraq.

I have previously argued that the opposite might even be true: Right Zionists committed to Shiite political dominance in Iraq might be more inclined to “allow” US withdrawal than Right Arabists who have always known that restoration of the old Sunni Arab political elite would require ongoing and expanded military occupation.

The same point was made (for different reasons) by Dan Senor, former spokesman for Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Realists on Iraq.”

it has often been said that the president got into Iraq because he disregarded advice from the true regional experts: foreign-policy “realists” who put together the Gulf War I coalition and counseled President George H.W. Bush against regime change; “moderate” Sunni Arab Governments; and the U.S. intelligence community.

But what if today these groups were actually advising against an American withdrawal?…

Consider Brent Scowcroft, dean of the Realist School, who openly opposed the war from the outset and was a lead skeptic of the president’s democracy-building agenda. In a recent Financial Times interview, he succinctly summed up the implication of withdrawal: “The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution.”

And here is retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Centcom Commander and a vociferous critic of the what he sees as the administration’s naive and one-sided policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East: “When we are in Iraq we are in many ways containing the violence. If we back off we give it more room to breathe, and it may metastasize in some way and become a regional problem. We don’t have to be there at the same force level, but it is a five- to seven-year process to get any reasonable stability in Iraq.”

A number of Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors also opposed the war as well as the U.S. push for liberalizing the region’s authoritarian governments. Yet they now backchannel the same two priorities to Washington: Do not let Iran acquire nukes, and do not withdraw from Iraq…

It would be one thing if only the architects of the Bush policy and their die-hard supporters opposed withdrawal. But four separate groups of knowledgeable critics–three of whom opposed going into Iraq–now describe the possible costs of withdrawal as very high.

If the Realists, neighboring Arab regimes, our intelligence community and some of the most knowledgeable reporters all say such a course could be disastrous, on what basis are the withdrawal advocates taking their position?

Senor’s final question should be addressed directly to Robert Dreyfuss.

The answer, however, has more to do with the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement than with taking sides in an intramural imperialist battle between Right Zionists and Right Arabists over the preferred mix of proxy forces able to police US imperial interests in the Middle East.

Cold Wars Are Not What They Used To Be (They Never Were)

Posted by Cutler on June 06, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

Thank heavens the President of the United States relates on “a first-name basis” with the President of Russia.

Watching Bush discuss US relations with Russia, one almost gets the sense that the President of the United States is convinced that personal “friendship” will prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from appreciating the growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Here is Bush in Prague on Tuesday:

“My message will be, Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — that you shouldn’t fear a missile defense system,” Mr. Bush said during a morning appearance with the leaders of the Czech Republic at Prague Castle, high on a hill overlooking the city.

And Bush in Germany on Wednesday:

“I will continue to work with President Putin — Vladimir Putin — to explain to him that this (the missile shield) is not aimed at him,” Bush said.

Asked if the meeting with Putin would be tense, Bush said: “I’ll work to see to it, that it’s not (tense).”

Perhaps personal chemistry between “Condi and Sergey” will work similar wonders.

Does all this chummy warmth have any political meaning?  Maybe amidst all the talk of a new “Cold War,” there are pro-Russia forces pressing the President to tone down the hawkish rhetoric.  According to the Financial Times, the Russia hawks at the Jamestown Foundation seem worried:

But Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, a security think-tank, noted Mr Bush’s invitation to Mr Putin to become the first foreign leader to visit Mr Bush in the family home in Maine in early July. US policy was not hardening, Mr Howard said. “It is just the opposite…”

The “family home” in Maine belongs to Bush Sr.–long criticized by Russia hawks like Frank Gaffney for being soft on Russia.

But the Financial Times also reports on fears among self-proclaimed Russia “realists” that Russia hawks are gaining ground inside the Bush administration:

Dimitri Simes, president of Washington’s Nixon Center think-tank… noted the “hardline” speech on Russia given last week by David Kramer, a State Department official.

Mr Simes said the departure of Thomas Graham as senior Russia director in the national security council in February had led to a lack of “realistic thinking” in policy. “There is no alternative voice in the administration now,” Mr Simes said, describing the more dominant role played by “hawks” Daniel Fried and Mr Kramer in the department.

In truth, the “new” Cold War began even as the “old” Cold War was ending.  The only difference today is the increasingly harsh tone of the rhetoric.

On Wednesday, Bush insisted, “The Cold War is over.  It ended.”

In a way, he is right.  Soviet Communism is dead… so the Cold War must be over.

Some folks–like Stephen Cohen, a writer for the Nation and partner of its publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel–seem to think the “new” Cold War was always about Communism and, indeed, still about Communism.

Alluding to that myopia on the part of people who had sought the destruction of the Soviet state, a Moscow philosopher later remarked bitterly, “They were aiming at Communism but hitting Russia.”

Similarly, Cohen seems dismayed that during the post-Cold War era, “US policy has fostered the belief that the American cold war was never really aimed at Soviet Communism but always at Russia.”

The advent of a “new” Cold War should foster the belief–a crucial revisionist project–that for many elements of the foreign policy establishment, the “old” Cold War was never really about Soviet Communism so much as Russian empire.

Perhaps the “crisis” of the Soviet Union was not so much the Soviet part but the “Union” that allowed Russia to win control of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, etc.

Stephen Cohen’s view of the Cold War is, in some sense, overly ideological.

But even the “ideologues” have long recognized (even as they regretted) that much of the Cold War was about the old fashioned power politics of the Great Game rather than ideology.

Norman Podhoretz, in his 1999 Commentary essay, “Strange Bedfellows,” expressed the disappointment of ideological true believers:

Of course, Kissinger and Nixon were themselves strong anti-Communists as well as devotees and practitioners of Realpolitik. Yet it was realism that won out over anti-Communism in the most spectacular example of their efforts (in Kissinger’s words) to “seize the initiative and control the diplomatic process.” This was the opening to China. From the realist perspective, it was a great triumph, driving a wedge between the two major Com munist powers; even many hardline anti-Com munists, to whom an alliance with Communist China against the Soviet Union was analogous to the one we had made with the Soviet Union in fighting Hitler, applauded it as a masterstroke.

But other hard-liners, I among them, saw matters differently…

In the American policy of holding the line against any further expansion of Soviet power, no one, up until that moment, could easily distinguish between ideology and power politics…

However, in allying itself with Communist China (even if, for diplomatic reasons, the word “alliance” was never used), the United States was in effect announcing that the enemy in the cold war was not Communism but Russia. This being the case, the methods of Realpolitik were best suited to dealing with it. Those of us who disagreed-who, in other words, saw the cold war as a struggle against Communism, not against Russia as such-feared that the new turn of events would confuse public opinion about the true nature of the enemy, and that the willingness of the American people to go on supporting the struggle would thereby be undermined. For we had no doubt that this willingness had always been based-as our own was-on a moral and ideological opposition to Communism rather than to Russia as a nation.

Today, Russia hawks like Anne Applebaum at the American Enterprise Institute try to muster some of that “moral and ideological opposition.”  But it rings hollow and they seem to know it:

Last week, I found myself in Dom Knigi, the very largest of all the very large Moscow bookstores, staring at the history section.

Spread out over an entire wall were books of a sort I’ve never seen in such quantities during 10 years of visits: endless glorifications of Soviet fighter pilots, Soviet war heroes, even Stalin himself. Stalin: the Author of the Great Victory was one title; others had cover illustrations featuring red stars, or hammers and sickles.

I don’t think this new publishing trend heralds a new period of Stalinism, or not exactly. But it does illustrate a growing Russian fascination–encouraged and manipulated by the Kremlin–with Russia’s imperial past.

Cold Wars are not what they used to be.  Indeed, they never were.

George Shultz: Eminence Grise?

Posted by Cutler on June 05, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Is Cheney all alone out there?

Back in April, Bob Schieffer referenced Cheney’s alleged “isolation” in an interview with the vice president on Face the Nation.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Reid, who you mentioned earlier, the Democratic leader, said that he thought that President Bush had become more isolated over Iraq than Richard Nixon was during Watergate. You were around during those days.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I was.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think that’s true?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I do not. I think that’s a ridiculous notion.

SCHIEFFER: It’s a ridiculous notion?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Yes.

SCHIEFFER: Do you feel you have become more isolated?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I don’t think so. I spend as much time as I can, get out and–and do other things, be it home in Wyoming or, yesterday, I managed to go shopping with my daughter for birthday presents for granddaughters. But I, you know, I obviously spend most of my time on the job.

Of course, Schieffer did not follow up to press Cheney on whether he felt politically isolated.

In a January 2007 Newsweek interview, however, Cheney did allude to the distance between himself and the “Baker/Scowcroft” wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment:

Richard Wolffe: [There has been] criticism from Scowcroft about not knowing you anymore—people have got quite personal, people you worked with before. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t have some reaction.

CHENEY: Well, I’m vice president and they’re not.

The real question is whether Cheney has any allies within the larger foreign policy establishment.

One has to go all the way back to the start of the campaign to elect George W. Bush to recall that there was once another major figure from the foreign policy establishment behind the throne of George W. Bush: George P. Shultz.

When the Bush “campaign” unveiled its foreign policy team to the public in February 1999, Cheney was considered a key adviser.  The other major player was George Shultz.

Mr. Bush… consults with two unofficial senior advisers, Richard B. Cheney, President Bush’s secretary of defense, and George P. Shultz, Mr. Reagan’s secretary of state.

Jim Lobe has suggested that Shultz is “an eminence grise of the Bush administration” and the Wall Street Journal named Shultz as the “Father of the Bush doctrine.”  And yet, he never joined the administration and he has avoided much of the scrutiny and criticism associated with Bush foreign policy.

As honorary co-chair of the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger, Shultz has supported the most hawkish administration positions on the framing of the “war on terror” and Iraq, providing justifications for the war before and after the invasion.

Bob Woodward made news by reporting that Cheney frequently consults with Kissinger.  But Kissinger and Shultz appear to speak with one voice in defense of the administration’s political goals in Iraq.

The most urgent question, going forward, is how Shultz positions himself on Iran.

Shultz hasn’t said much publicly about Iran.

The place to watch on Iran policy may not only be the American Enterprise Institute but the “Iran Democracy Project” at Shultz’s Hoover Institution.

Looking at Hoover Institution chatter about Iran, one finds something less than a full-throated endorsement of military intervention.

Indeed, one finds support for containment, diplomacy, and “a principled long-term quest for
peaceful regime change
.”

Does this less-than-fully hawkish outlook on Iran shed some light on forces guiding the current course of US policy?

If Cheney is as hawkish on Iran as he is rumored to be, then he may be feeling more isolated than ever.

Wurmser: Outed or Ousted?

Posted by Cutler on June 04, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a post last week, I suggested that David Wurmser was the likely “Cheney aide” rumored by Steven Clemons to be circulating word that Cheney did not support Secretary of State Rice’s diplomatic overtures to Iran.

On Friday, Helene Cooper of the New York Times–who wrote an entire article about Wurmser in December 2006 without ever using his name–finally put a name into the game: David Wurmser.

A senior Bush administration official separately denied that there was a deep divide between Rice and Cheney on Iran.

But, the official said, “the vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff.”

In interviews, people who have spoken with Cheney’s staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the report. Some said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders were made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now Cheney’s principal deputy assistant for national security affairs.

The anonymous “senior Bush administration official” quoted by Cooper certainly seems to have been trying to create some sunlight between Cheney and Wurmser by suggesting that Wurmser doesn’t necessarily speak for the vice president.

Jim Lobe–whose unflinching and relentless reporting on the waxing and waning of neo-conservative influence in Washington is now available in blog form at LobeLog–suggests that Wurmser may be on the way out.

[I]f Wurmser is forced out in the coming days, it will both further isolate and weaken the remaining key neo-cons – notably, Elliott Abrams at the NSC, and John Hannah, Cheney’s national security adviser — and confirm that the vice president himself has been badly wounded. If he isn’t forced out, then the persistence of Cheney’s influence on Bush will be confirmed, and the possibility of an attack on Iran will increase. This is a critical moment.

Meyrav Wurmser seemed to talking about her husband, David, when she suggested in December 2006 that, along with John Bolton, “there are others who are about to leave.”

The departure of Wurmser would be very significant.  I have argued that Wurmser’s 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally, provided the blue print not only for toppling Saddam Hussein but for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraq Shiites under the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Nevertheless, I think it may be wishful thinking to imagine that Cheney is “badly wounded.”  Even if Wurmser is ousted, this could mark a reversal of course by Cheney rather than a reversal of fortune.

As I argued in a previous post, Cheney has not always been a reliable ally to Right Zionists like Wurmser.  And there may be reason to suspect Cheney sometimes thinks of Iran in terms of his “Central Asia” portfolio rather than his “Middle East” portfolio.