Monthly Archives: July 2007

Zionists and the Saudi Arms Deal

Posted by Cutler on July 31, 2007
Dem Zionists, Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

The US arms deal with Saudi Arabia–first floated publicly in April 2007–is back in the news.

As I noted in an earlier post, the issue of US military aid to Saudi Arabia has traditionally been one of the best ways of distinguishing between Right Zionists, who have historically opposed such aid (as they did during the “AWACS” affair at the start of the Reagan administration) and pro-Saudi Right Arabists who see the aid as crucial, not only for enhancing the US-Saudi alliance but for containing regional Iranian influence.

During the Reagan years, the Israeli government and Right Zionists in the US waged a relentless (losing) battle to thwart military aid to the Saudis.

Today, the Labor-Kadima coalition behind the Olmert government in Israel looks set to give a green light to such aid (in part, no doubt, because Israel will receive its own significant boost in military aid).

Right Zionists appear more skeptical, refusing to endorse Secretary of State Rice’s argument that the primacy of the Iranian threat necessitates a united front with the Saudis.

Recalling a time when the Bush administration appeared to be distancing itself from the Saudi regime, the Jerusalem Post offered up an editorial entitled, “Bush In Retreat.”

The striking thing about the Saudi side of this deal is that it seems to reflect a Bush administration that is not just winding down, but winding backward. Was it not Bush who taught us, as a White House fact sheet put it: “For a half century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability… On 9/11, we realized that years of pursuing stability to promote peace left us with neither. Instead, the lack of freedom made the Middle East an incubator for terrorism. The pre-9/11 status quo was dangerous and unacceptable.”…

Iran is the enemy, but this does not mean that Saudi Arabia is a friend…

It his hard to escape the impression that we are witnessing the return of a “realist” US foreign policy that Bush spent the last six years working to discredit and displace. If Iran is the center of the axis of evil, then Saudi Arabia is the center of the axis of “realism” and the pre-9/11 worship of “stability” as the strategy for safeguarding Western interests.

A New York Sun editorial–entitled, “A Saudi Strategy“–goes even further, demanding a direct confrontation with the Saudis and even recalls the old idea of grabbing the oil-rich Shiite-populated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

Reading over the weekend of the latest contretemps involving the Saudis — whether to sell them $20 billion worth of weapons — we found ourselves retrieving Max Singer’s celebrated op-ed piece calling for independence for the Eastern Province. The piece, one of the most remarked upon we’ve ever run, appeared in the April 26, 2002, number of The New York Sun and advanced a radical proposition….

Mr. Singer argued… for splitting the Eastern Province from the rest of today’s Saudi Arabia — with our help.

Now that is a policy to sink one’s teeth into…

Yet today a weakened government in Israel is acquiescing in such an arms transfer on the grounds that we need to arm the Saudis for a fight with Iran…

[O]ur own view is that the Saudis are more a part of the problem than the solution…

The better strategic line is to support a sustained effort at defeating our enemies in Iraq, work to support democratic, pro-American elements in Iran, and dismantle the Saudi tyranny. Splitting the Eastern Province from the rest of today’s Saudi Arabia would, as a strategic matter, accomplish several aims. Those living there, the liberal open-minded merchant communities who have worked with Americans for decades as well as the oppressed Shiites would welcome a liberation and support it. Among other things, an independent Eastern province could curtain the corruption of the Al Sauds, and it would defund the Wahabi movement.

Within the Bush administration, Right Zionist figures like Cheney Middle East adviser David Wurmser also once endorsed the plan to “liberate” the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.  But Wurmser is, apparently, on his way out and most of the public grumbling about the Saudi plan comes from Dem Zionists in Congress like Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler.

The White House may have circulated the idea (first, in a New York Times Op-Ed by Zalmay Khalilzad and then picked up by New York Times writer Helene Cooper) that it was frustrated with the Saudis.  But this was little more than a somewhat desperate bid to leverage some cooperation from Saudi King Abdullah–on Iraq and Iran–in exchange for the military aid package.

The New York Sun is skeptical of the Saudi deal, in part because it has reluctantly concluded that “neither America nor Israel appears prepared to lead… a fight [against Iran].”

Be that as it may, there are at least some figures within the US military brass who appear to be itching for a fight with Iran.

And it is this eagerness that helps explain why Dem Zionists like Martin Indyk and his Brookings Boys, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, have recently embraced the current strategy in Iraq.

In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “A War We Just Might Win,” O’Hanlon and Pollack endorse anti-Iranian energy behind the so-called “Anbar Model.”

Forget the old Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Time for a new war and a new enemy.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

That “popular animus” appears to run deep among ex-Baathists and the Sunni Arab national insurgency.

As I argued in two recent posts (here and here), the real meaning of all the chatter about al-Qaeda in Iraq is that the Bush administration has retreated from its war against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.

But before declaring “peace in our time,” it is essential to note the payoff of such a strategy for Zionists like Martin Indyk: confrontation with Iran.

The “pure form” of this strategy continues to flow forth from the mouth of Major General Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division and the Multi-National Division-Center.

On July 29, 2007, Maj. Gen. Lynch appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” and, in answer to caller questions, Lynch told some “sweet little lies” to completely erase the entire history of the US war with the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency (beginning at 39:52 of the broadcast).

CALLER: The references lately have been so escalated to al-Qaeda in Iraq… What is the percentage of fighters in Iraq who are affiliated with al-qaeda?

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH: That’s a great question. As I say, I’ve got three pods/parts of enemy over here… I’ve got Sunni extremists all of which–or at least the majority of which are associated with al-Qaeda–I’ve got Shia extremists, and I’ve got Iranian influence that’s feeding the Shia extremists.

To answer your specific question, I’d say that 70% of the enemy that I fight on a daily basis is either al-Qaeda or associated with al-Qaeda

CALLER: Where are the insurgents coming from? Next, what is the source of the weapons?…

MAJ. GEN. LYNCH: I’m losing soldiers to Explosively Formed Penetrators… EFP/IEDs and they are coming from Iran. Last two weeks, one of my major operating bases had 50 rockets lined up against it. Luckily we found in advance and took out… All were clearly marked with Iranian markings. I’m finding munitions all the time in my battle space from Iran. I’ve got indications of training being conducted in Iran for terrorism that is taking place in my battle space. So when you ask where the insurgents are coming from, where they are getting there munitions from… in my area, its coming from Iran.

It may be the case that 70% of the enemy Lynch fights on a daily basis is al-Qaeda.  That speaks less to the size of al-Qaeda, relative to the larger Sunni Arab nationalist resistance, than it does to the honest truth that Lynch isn’t fighting the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency much any more.

But if Lynch has made common cause with the Sunni insurgency responsible for the vast majority of US casualties in Iraq, he is also clearly beating the drums for war with Iran.

Farewell to Wurmser

Posted by Cutler on July 27, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Robert Dreyfuss says David Wurmser is on his way out.  (Not for the first time, I am obliged to tip my hat to Bernhard at Moon of Alabama for calling to my attention to something crucial that I missed).

Wurmser–Cheney’s top Middle East advisor and author of a blueprint for de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment in Iraq–is one of only two significant Right Zionists who continue to serve in a key Bush administration post.  If Wurmser leaves, Elliott Abrams will be “the last man standing.”  There are plenty of other hawks (not least the vice president), but no major Right Zionist hawks who Meyrav Wurmser would consider part of what she calls “the family.”

The Dreyfuss story is certainly plausible, although I note that the blog post is a little vague about sources.

According to multiple sources, Wurmser will leave the office of the vice president (OVP) in August…

Wurmser’s departure is not totally a surprise. “He’s been looking for a way out for a year,” said a conservative friend of Wurmser’s…

Dreyfuss also appears to have original quotes from  Meyrav Wurmser in response to the Helene Cooper New York Times story that helped put David Wurmser in the public crosshairs.  Dreyfuss doesn’t say anything about the source of the quotes, but they seem to be exclusive:

Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute and David’s wife, ridiculed the stories from Clemons and the Times. “They are all categorically wrong, and there not one thing in those articles that is correct.”

Meyrav seemed to be hinting at her husband’s imminent departure in December 2006 when she predicted that, along with John Bolton’s departure from the UN, “there are others who are about to leave.”

Ironically, my most recent post–written after Dreyfuss posted his report but before I saw it–mentioned Wurmser’s departure as a potential harbinger of a new, decisive, Right Arabist direction for US policy in Iraq.

I sincerely doubt that we have heard the last of factionalism regarding the future of Iraq.

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns…

If Wurmser is on his way out, can it be taken as a sign that Cheney has now abandoned his erstwhile Right Zionist allies and returned to the (very hawkish corner of) Right Arabist fold?

Does it mark the end of administration factionalism?

Maybe.

But I was probably way off the mark when I said that “we have heard the last” of such factionalism.

Why?  Because Meyrav Wurmser has explicitly warned that once “the family” was out of the administration, they would not hesitate to speak out against the administration that–from their perspective–betrayed them.

We expressed ideas, but the policy in Iraq was taken out of neocon hands very quickly….

The State Department opposed the neocons’ stances… There was a lot of frustration over the years in the administration because we didn’t feel we were succeeding.

Now Bolton left (the UN – Y.B.) and there are others who are about to leave. This administration is in its twilight days. Everyone is now looking for work, looking to make money… We all feel beaten after the past five years… We miss the peace and quiet and writing books…

When you enter the administration you have to keep your mouth shut. Now many will resume their writing… Now, from the outside, they will be able to convey all the criticism they kept inside.

Maybe they’ll give Wurmser a medal of freedom–the primary currency of hush money for this administration, unless you are facing jail time–on his way out the door.

One note on the substance of US policy going forward:

In the same comment to this blog that alerted me to the Dreyfuss post, Bernhard (“b”) predicts a new direction for US policy in the Gulf.

[A] strategic decision against the Sunni’s and Saudi Arabia and pro-Iran…

This would be a surprising development, indeed.

Right Zionists like Wurmser, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, are the leading advocates for a pro-Shiite tilt combined with unrelenting war against both Arab nationalism and Sunni Arab religious radicalism.

Wouldn’t it be strange if the Bush administration finally made a truly decisive move in this direction at the very moment that the key architects of such a strategic shift departed the scene?

Cheney might seek warmer relations with the Iranian regime, but when he last advocated such an orientation, he did so as a “pragmatic” oil industry executive–and a Russia hawk determined to win Iran away from Russian influence in the Caspian.  Neither of these positions would demand a “decision against the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia…”

Right Arabists are nothing if not loyal to the US-Saudi alliance.  Some seek to contain Iranian power within a more or less formal regional security framework.  Others can only be described as extremely hawkish on Iran.

Who is left within the administration who would or could overcome the significant influence of the traditional Right Arabist establishment and revolutionize the strategic orientation of US policy in the Gulf?

The Right Zionists were those revolutionaries.  If Dreyfuss is correct about Wurmser’s departure, it would appear that the eclipse of the Right Zionists (in this administration, at least, if not in Congress or a future administration) is near complete.

Perhaps Elliott Abrams will try to use the administration’s upcoming Middle East conference to marginalize the Saudis.

Robert Satloff at the pro-Israel Washington Institute recently suggested as much.

In a fascinating passage outlining the terms of reference for the international meeting that the president said he will convene in autumn 2007, the president said he would invite “representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.” While one assumes Bush would not call an international meeting merely to replicate the sort of modest neighborhood gatherings Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak periodically hosts in Sharm al-Sheikh, the only Arab countries that meet those terms today are Egypt and Jordan.

Was Bush sending a message to Saudi Arabia that its moment in the regional diplomatic sun, which reached its zenith with the abortive Mecca accords, had reached an end and that Washington would now only consider Saudi contribution positive if Riyadh meets these benchmarks? So far, White House spokesmen say no, there is no special message directed at Saudi Arabia in this passage. But reporters will be wise to revisit this language when invitations to the “international meeting” are delivered later this year.

So noted.

But there are plenty of other signs that even with regard to Israeli-Palestinian issues, the President may be drifting toward David Welch, the key Right Arabist with whom Abrams shares the Middle East portfolio.

Israel and the United States are also signaling willingness to discuss an issue Palestinians believe has long been neglected: settlement expansion.

“Unauthorized outposts should be removed and settlement expansion ended,” Bush said in his speech, his strongest call in years to contain settlements.

“This was a deliberate choice of words,” David Welch, the top State Department official dealing with the Middle East, said afterward.

With Wurmser out, any major anti-Saudi effort undertaken by Abrams at this late date will be a very lonely battle.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Bush’s Retreat

Posted by Cutler on July 25, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The White House has been shining a particularly bright spotlight on al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The theme took center stage yesterday in President Bush’s speech at the Charleston Air Force Base.

Some say that Iraq is not part of the broader war on terror. They complain when I say that the al Qaeda terrorists we face in Iraq are part of the same enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001. They claim that the organization called al Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon, that it’s independent of Osama bin Laden and that it’s not interested in attacking America….

Foreign terrorists also account for most of the suicide bombings in Iraq. Our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaida terrorists….

True.  And 100% of all smokers die.

But only a small fraction of US casualties in Iraq are caused by al-Qaeda suicide attacks.

Democrats in the Senate appeared eager to respond to the President’s sweet little lie.

Here is John Kerry on Bush’s speech:

[A]l-Qaeda is not the principal killer of American forces in Iraq. Those forces are dying because of IEDS, because of insurgents….

But Kerry never came close to criticizing Bush for retreating from the initial US war against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Neither did Kerry commend Bush for that dramatic retreat.

Instead, Kerry pretends nothing about Bush administration policy in Iraq has changed.

So I think that for all of us, today was a continuation of more of the same.

Kerry offered a misleading critique that alleged Bush was “staying the course” when the reality is that Bush has flip-flopped quite dramatically.

Kerry suggests that all the al-Qaeda chatter is intended to buttress the case for staying the course.

The President is trying to scare the American people into believing that al-Qaeda is the rationale for continuing the war in Iraq.

It seems far more likely, as I suggested in a recent post, that the al-Qaeda chatter functioned as a face-saving measure to mask his extraordinary retreat.

Behind all the talk of al-Qaeda is hidden an apology: we are waving the white flag in our battle against the nationalist Sunni insurgency.  We were wrong to target them as an enemy.  We are sorry.  The Baathists are our allies, just Dad said at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

This is a complete reversal.  No more “stay the course.”

In order to save face, however, Bush will not declare defeat at the hands of the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Instead, the new emphasis on al-Qaeda in Iraq serves as the basis for a bait and switch: we have a new (smaller) enemy in Iraq.  Not the former regime of Saddam Hussein but al-Qaeda.  And, thankfully, the Sunni Arab “former regime elements” are prepared to be our allies in the fight against Osama’s Iraqi friends.

It is Bush’s casual, everyman, down-home way of saying that all those US soldiers who died fighting against the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency died in vane.  Oops.  Sorry.

But, that said, we must now finish this war with a fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Kerry has no substantive critique because Bush appears to have already–implicitly–conceded failure in the battle against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Both Kerry and Bush appear now to be focused on a narrowed, common rationale:  chase al-Qaeda.

The President is putting forward a false rationale to the American people for the continuation of this war. The fact remains, unchanged, that the only way the Iraqis are going to stand up is if we make clear to them that we are going to be withdrawing our troops over a period of time — with the exception of those necessary to chase al-Qaeda, those necessary to complete the training, and those necessary to protect American forces. That is the real rationale for which we ought to be staying, not because of al-Qaeda.

And yet… all of this assumes that Bush has decided to embrace the old Right Arabist vision of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.

I have argued that there is no Decider.  So I’m skeptical that the famously factionalized Bush administration is now pulling in the same direction.

Here are some reasons for skepticism regarding the idea that the White House has now embraced a new, “decisive” policy in Iraq.

First, Bush has thus far resisted considerable pressure to dump the Shiite-led Maliki government.

Indeed, a July 25, 2007 New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg and Alissa J. Rubin highlights the intensity of Bush’s investment in the Maliki government.

Second, the US continues to flirt with some kind of pro-Shiite tilt that would include a strategic alliance with Iran.  Juan Cole picks up on a line from the Daily Telegraph coverage of Ryan Crocker’s meeting with the Iranians and correctly notes that this would run enrage the Saudis, if not the entire Arab League.  Here is Cole:

[I]n my view the money graf in this Telegraph report is this one:

“The two countries did agree to form a security committee, with Iraq, to focus on containing Sunni insurgents. The committee would concentrate on the threat from groups such as al-Qa’eda in Iraq, officials said, but not those[Shiite] militia groups the US accuses Iran of funding and training.”

If the US is allying with Iran against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda, this is a very major development… (My guess is that 98% of American troops killed in Iraq have been killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas). If the report is true and has legs, it will send Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal ballistic. The Sunni Arab states do not like “al-Qaeda” in Iraq, but they are much more afraid of Iran than of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are fighting against US military occupation.

Third, one might expect more howls of protest from the “last of the Right Zionists” if the administration was really, truly, and decisively betraying the idea of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

Of course, there have been some howls of protest about the so-called “Anbar Model” from Iraqi Shiites close to the Maliki government.

As yet, I have not seen a critique of Bush’s “betrayal” from Maliki’s most ardent defenders in the US, including Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Nor, to my knowledge, has Cheney–who retains the services of his pivotal Right Zionist “strategist,” David Wurmser–been publicly touting the “Anbar Model.”  Maybe I missed it.

But there have been recent reports of ongoing factionalism in the administration–primarily in relation to Iran policy–and I sincerely doubt that we have heard the last of factionalism regarding the future of Iraq.

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns or is fired and/or when Ajami and Gerecht cry foul or concede defeat.

Until then, I expect more muddle.

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on July 20, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 4 Comments

I don’t write much about Neocons or neo-conservatism.

The term covers too much ground and risks becoming just another world for everything bad.

I have always preferred to discuss Right Zionists–the folks who championed the most fateful decisions undertaken after the US invasion of Iraq: disbanding the Iraqi army, de-Baathification, and the “year of elections” in 2005.

These are the audacious policies that sought to terminate Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq and herald a new balance of power in the Persian Gulf.

But the old “Neocon” banner also included folks I call Unipolarists–figures like William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Frederick Kagan, Niall Ferguson, and Max Boot, whose defining feature has never been a particular brand of Zionism (although none could be considered hostile to Israel!) but a generic brand of American Imperialism that seeks, above all, to project US power around the world and to thwart the power of Great Power rivals.

One short-hand way of understanding the difference: most Right Zionists backed Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries while most Unipolarists backed John McCain.

The adoption of the current “surge” strategy marks a victory for the “McCain Doctrine” within the Bush administration.

A “Neocon” Split

The distinction between the Unipolarists and the Right Zionists is becoming increasingly important as the two camps have split on internal Iraqi politics.

It must be getting a little tense over at the American Enterprise Institute, home to leading voices (for example, Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht and Unipolarist Frederick Kagan) from both warring camps.

Right Zionists: Stick with Maliki

The Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht and Fouad Ajami continue to support the original idea of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

As I suggested in several earlier posts (here, here, and here), Right Zionists tend to be quite pleased with the Maliki government, favor aggressive counter-insurgency against the ex-Baathist and nationalist Sunni insurgency, and give Moqtada al-Sadr some credit for playing a positive–if “dirty”–role on the ground in Iraq.

In short, Right Zionists support a “Shiite Option” or so-called “80 Percent Solution” in Iraq.

Unipolarists: Dump Maliki

Unipolarists may have given lip service to those ideas.

No longer.

In terms of the internal politics of Iraq, Unipolarists have now firmly aligned themselves with Right Arabists who favor the restoration of Sunni Arab power in Iraq.

Charles Krauthammer is explicit about this in his most recent Washington Post column, “The 20 Percent Solution.”

Ever since the December 2005 Iraqi elections, the United States has been waiting for the central government in Baghdad to pass grand national accords on oil, federalism and de-Baathification to unify and pacify the country. The Maliki government has proved too sectarian, too weak and perhaps too disposed to Iranian interests to rise to the task…

For an interminable 18 months we waited for the 80 percent solution…

The Petraeus-Crocker plan is the 20 percent solution: peel the Sunnis away from the insurgency by giving them the security and weaponry to fight the new common enemy — al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Maliki & Co. are afraid we are arming Sunnis for the civil war to come. On the other hand, we might be creating a rough balance of forces that would act as a deterrent to all-out civil war and encourage a relatively peaceful accommodation.

In either case, that will be Iraq’s problem after we leave. For now, our problem is al-Qaeda on the Sunni side and the extremist militias on the Shiite side.

Sweet Little Lies

Krauthammer’s embrace of the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency should, in may ways, be cause for celebration among those who have long criticized the Bush administration for forging a US-Shiite alliance.

But Krauthammer’s essay requires two little lies.

Cleansing” the 80 Percent Solution

First, it requires a small modification of the real basis of the original 80 percent solution.  Krauthammer writes:

For an interminable 18 months we waited for the 80 percent solution — for Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-Kurdish coalition to reach out to the Sunnis.

The Right Zionists who still support the 80 percent solution have been far more realistic about the fact that the 80 percent solution implied picking a winner in the Iraqi civil war.

Here is Gerecht on the 80 percent solution:

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

Here is Ajami:

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

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad…

Whole mixed districts in the city–Rasafa, Karkh–have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts…

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

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

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

Some folks might be tempted to call all this ethnic cleansing.

Mind you, both Gerecht and Ajami approve of the outcome.

Bush’s Apology for the War in Iraq

Krauthammer’s second little lie is one that is also at the center of Bush’s latest talking points: our top enemy in Iraq is al-Qaeda.

Many Bush administration critics were probably yelling at their television sets during President Bush’s recent press conference when he once again made the “9/11-Iraq connection” and made it seem like al-Qaeda was our one true enemy in Iraq.

The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to security here at home.

I know, it is crazy.

But critics of the Right Zionist “Shiite Option” in Iraq should understand that this is Bush’s way of conceding your point: we were wrong (or even crazy) to target the Sunni Baathist political and military establishment in Iraq.

Not to worry!

Behind all the talk of al-Qaeda is hidden an apology: we are waving the white flag in our battle against the nationalist Sunni insurgency.  We were wrong to target them as an enemy.  We are sorry.  The Baathists are our allies, just Dad said at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

This is a complete reversal.  No more “stay the course.”

In order to save face, however, Bush will not declare defeat at the hands of the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Instead, the new emphasis on al-Qaeda in Iraq serves as the basis for a bait and switch: we have a new (smaller) enemy in Iraq.  Not the former regime of Saddam Hussein but al-Qaeda.  And, thankfully, the Sunni Arab “former regime elements” are prepared to be our allies in the fight against Osama’s Iraqi friends.

It is Bush’s casual, everyman, down-home way of saying that all those US soldiers who died fighting against the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency died in vane.  Oops.  Sorry.

But, that said, we must now finish this war with a fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Oh… and maybe those crazy, uppity Shiites…  We might have to fight them, too.

And their friends in Iran.

Thankfully, there is a link between Iran and al-Qaeda.  So, it should be a seamless operation.

Crude Politics in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on July 18, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Right Arabist Republican Senators like Richard Lugar have their own reasons for opposing the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq.

But inside the Bush administration, frustration centers on one crude benchmark: the inability of the Maliki government to win parliamentary passage of the hydrocarbons framework law.

Here is Bush on Maliki at the president’s recent press conference:

QUESTION: Mr. President, in Jordan in November you stood by Prime Minister Maliki and said, “He’s the right guy for Iraq”… [C] an you tell the American people that you still believe he’s the right guy for Iraq?

BUSH: I believe that he understands that… they need to get law passed, I firmly believe that… And, yes, I’ve got confidence in them. But I also understand how difficult it is. I’m not making any excuses, but it is hard. It’s hard work for them to get law passed.

Kind of funny language–“get law passed.”  Why not “get laws passed”?  Maybe only one law matters.  Bush could say “get the hydrocarbons framework law passed,” but I guess that would be too obvious.

After all, this isn’t a war for oil…

Anyway, it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at what, precisely, is holding up the hydrocarbons framework law.

The key to the dispute involves Kurdish demands for control over new oil field development contracts.  Kurdish demands for regional autonomy face opposition from an array of nationalist forces–Shiite and Sunni Arab–who favor centralized control of new field development.

In late December 2006, the Kurdish Globe reported on a deal that would allow a mix of regional autonomy and central control:

Oil has been a major issue dividing Kurdish and Iraqi authorities in post-war Iraq. KRG says it is constitutionally allowed to drill for oil in areas under its control, but Iraqi oil officials have threatened that KRG’s oil deals will not be “valid.”

“Most of the oil wells are in southern Iraq, and the oil law allows KRG to talk with companies and make deals for oil production,” [Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan] Barzani said…

According to preliminary agreements between the KRG and federal authorities, a representative from the Baghdad government will attend talks between the KRG and oil firms. Once the KRG reaches a deal with a company to drill for oil in Kurdistan, the contract will be sent to Baghdad for assessment and approval by an Iraqi government committee. The contract will then be returned to the KRG and it will have 60 days to sign it

“There needs to be some criteria according to which the (oil) contracts are investigated so as to know if there is any corruption in the deals or to what extent the company will implement its obligations,” Barzani said.

On the basis of this agreement, the Iraqi Cabinet backed the hydrocarbons framework law in February 2007.

Kurds grumbled about the terms, but agreed to the plan and the prospects of parliamentary passage looked promising.

In late June 2007, however, the “Shura” Consultative Council intervened, proposing some changes to the bill that would have centralized control over new field development.

Dow Jones reported:

The highest Iraqi government jurisdiction body has rejected some clauses of the controversial draft oil and gas law and urged the Cabinet to amend these provisions, according to a recent letter sent by the body, the State Shuraa Council, to the Cabinet and seen by Dow Jones Newswires Thursday.

“The Council sees that the powers of signing oil and gas contracts (with international companies) should be confined to the federal government because regions and governorates haven’t enough experience to do so,” the letter said…

The council, which consists of top Iraqi judges… also said that the rate of government royalty set by the draft law which is 12.5% regardless of the quantity, quality and type of the produced hydrocarbon is less than the normal rate set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries which is 16%….

The law is stuck in negotiations, mostly over a vaguely worded constitution that each side interprets differently. Kurds, in the north, want strong regional say in how the oil is developed. Sunnis and most Shiites want strong central control over the oil.

Maliki’s energy adviser, Thamir Ghadban, then offered the Shura-amended draft to the Kurds for consideration.

The Kurds promptly rejected the changes.

“Some of the proposed amendments made to the draft oil and gas law by the State Shura (Advisory) Council are substantial and we think they reduce powers assigned to the Kurdistan Regional Government by the Iraqi (federal) constitution,” the oil minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government, Ashti Hawrami, told Iraqi lawmakers and officials meeting in the northern city of Erbil…

Others were even more strident:

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, said in remarks published Monday that a draft oil and gas law agreed on with the central government in Baghdad had been amended by an advisory committee, the Shura Council.

“We are concerned that the agreed drafts have been bogged down in an obscure committee in Baghdad – called the Shura (Advisory) Council – which has made unauthorized material changes to the agreed drafts, apparently in consultation with unnamed oil ministry officials in Baghdad,” Barzani said.

“This is not acceptable. It is a delaying tactic that must be swept aside. The agreed drafts must be reinstated and put to the Parliament,” Barzani added.

Can the Kurds block parliamentary passage of the bill?

Perhaps.

But it might also be worth keeping an eye on the parliamentary forces of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Thus far, Sadrists have rejected the bill, ostensibly because it would open the door to controversial “production sharing agreements.”

“The most serious problem with the law is the production-sharing agreements, which we categorically reject,” Nassar al-Rubaie, the spokesman for Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, said….

Speaking for the 32-member bloc that is currently boycotting parliament, Rubaie insisted the movement would only approve the law with an amendment to ban oil contracts with “companies whose governments are occupying Iraq”.

This kind of talk will surely be taken as a sign that the Sadrists are willing to resist an oil grab by US and British oil majors.

But the Sadrists are also fierce opponents of Kurdish regional autonomy.

An article by Samuel Ciszuk from Global Insight Daily Analysis (“Sadrists Join Chorus Against Iraqi Oil Law,” July 6, 2007) suggests that Maliki will have to flip either the Sadrists or the Kurds in order to win passage of the bill.

The government will need to get one of those two groups back on its side to pass the law and, given their diametrically differing interests—the Kurds want private investments and a curtailed Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), while the Sadrists want a strong nationalised oil industry—one of them may be in a position to extricate far-reaching concessions.

Place your bets.

But before you lay your money down, know that the Sadrist political bloc has now ended its parliamentary boycott.

Perhaps they will learn to love the Shura-amended draft of the hydrocarbons law, if only because it curbs Kurdish power in Kirkuk.

There Is No Decider

Posted by Cutler on July 16, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

The great problem with the Bush administration in Iraq is not that the “decider” is motivated by a singular, narrow, myopic ideology.

No, the real crisis is that there is no decider at all; nobody to resolve the internal factional fighting that plague the administration and its entire military misadventure in Iraq.

If there is one central reason why the war in Iraq has lasted longer than World War II, it is because the United States has moved on two distinct and mutually contradictory tracks for four years.

I do not mean to downplay the difficulty of fighting a guerilla war against the determined resistance of a popular insurgency.  After all, the war in Vietnam lasted more than eight years.

But one of the two mutually contradictory tracks of US policy in Iraq has been to not fight a guerilla war against the Sunni Arab insurgency.

Right Arabists in Washington never wanted to topple the ruling Sunni Arab minority and they have been fighting to restore Sunni Arab political and military dominance since Paul Bremer’s 2003 de-Baathification orders.

Today, the Right Arabist track of US policy moves rapidly toward military reconciliation with the Sunni Arab insurgency.

In his most recent press conference, President Bush welcomed progress made along this track as an affirmation of “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

Right Arabists always favored this line of policy–toppling Saddam but without undermining Sunni Arab political and military dominance–and can plausibly argue that there never would have been a Sunni Arab insurgency if George W. Bush had remained true to the Right Arabist aspirations of his father’s administration: Saddamism without Saddam.

New York Times reporter Richard A. Oppel, Jr. offers a profile of the military reconciliation between US forces and the Sunni Arab insurgency–“Mistrust as Iraqi Troops Encounter New U.S. Allies“–and suggests that some American soldiers think of this reconciliation as a ticket home.

First Lt. Tom Cherepko said: “We fully understand that maybe a few months ago they were attacking us. We don’t trust them, but we’ll work with them. That’s my way of not having to come back for a third rotation, getting them to stand up for themselves.”

And yet, George W. Bush has always also pursued another very different–indeed, contradictory–track that emphasizes the “young democracy” of Shiite majority rule in Iraq.

It is this track that originally sparked the Sunni Arab insurgency and–as one Sunni militant explained to the Washington Post–continues to inflame the insurgency.

Over the course of a 90-minute interview, a leader of an armed Sunni group in western Baghdad described his hatred for Iran and the current Iraqi government…

Abu Sarhan, as the 37-year-old insurgent wished to be known, said Iraq’s Sunnis are deep into an entrenched and irresolvable civil war against Iranian-backed Shiites. He said the premise of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy — deploying thousands of soldiers in small outposts in violent neighborhoods — only inflames the insurgency and prompts attacks against the Americans…

Abu Sarhan said that the leading Shiite parties in the government, including the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, along with the Supreme Council and prominent Shiite militias, are beholden to Iran. The Iranians appeared to be of such grave concern to him not just because of the bloody history of war between the two countries, but also because of Iran’s perceived intolerance toward Sunnis in general. He said his long-term political goal was to recapture the prominence that Sunnis had enjoyed under Hussein’s government.

“The problem is that the Americans have a relationship with the slaves: Dawa, Badr Organization, the Mahdi Army are slaves to Iran,” he said.

The Financial Times suggests that today there is almost as much anti-Maliki sentiment within the US political establishment as there is among Sunni Arab insurgents like Abu Sarhan.

“I don’t think there’s any debate in the Senate about disappointment with the Iraqi government. It’s pretty uniform,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, told CNN.

Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht, however, argue that victory in Iraq requires strengthening the US alliance with Iraqi Shiites and suggests that nothing has slowed progress in Iraq so much as the US reluctance to finish what it started.

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

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

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

To date, the Bush administration continues to support the Shiite-led government in Iraq, even as it also pursues military reconciliation with the enemies of that government.

Republican Senators–led by Richard Lugar–have pressed Bush to dump the Maliki government.  The White House appears to have rejected this idea–at least for now.

But suppose the “Decider” did actually settle on full reconciliation with the Sunni insurgency.  Wouldn’t soldiers like First Lt. Tom Cherepko avoid a third rotation?

Only if Iraqi Shiites relinquish power without a fight.

US military reconciliation with the Sunni insurgency could easily lead to confrontation with Iraqi Shiite power.

Richard Oppel’s New York Times article hints at the ways in which the contradictions of US policy might create new problems in Iraq.

Abu Azzam says the 2,300 men in his movement include members of fierce Sunni groups like the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army that have fought the American occupation. Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja.

A few miles away, in the town of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers also have the support of the American military. But they have a different ambition, some American commanders here say: doing everything they can to undermine Abu Azzam’s men…

If General Nassir’s unit, the Muthanna Brigade, is any indication, the outlook is not promising, said Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, a 41-year-old California native who has spent the past months cultivating his relationship with Abu Azzam…

About a month ago, the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area…

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said.

Not yet.

But there are clearly elements of the US military and the Sunni Arab insurgency who favor the US-Sunni alliance and fear the Shia of Iraq and Iran.  Oppel reports:

Colonel Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,” he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of [Shiite] Iraqi soldiers.”

Pinkerton’s Sunni Arab ally agrees:

The Americans will someday leave, [Abu Azzam] said, and the far bigger threat is a permanent Iranian occupation. He fears the Muthanna Brigade is a harbinger of that, because he says it is infiltrated by Iranian-sympathizing militiamen who abuse Sunnis.

Will the Decider ever embrace a decisive policy in Iraq?

Maybe the Bush administration will join with the Sunni insurgency and launch a direct confrontation with the Shia of Iraq (against the advice of Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht.)

Or maybe the Bush administration will break with the “Anbar Model,” adopt the “Shiite Option,” and launch a direct confrontation with the Sunni insurgency.

Or maybe President Bush doesn’t understand what it means to decide.

In the meanwhile, soldiers like First Lt. Tom Cherepko of Elizabeth Township Pennsylvania stand in the crosshairs of the Bush administration’s contradictory policies.

The Limits of Grassroots Reconciliation In Iraq

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Notwithstanding some rumbling among Republican critics of Bush administration policy about the failure of the surge, plenty of folks on the Right now share Bush’s enthusiasm for the surge-linked “Anbar Model.”

In his July 12, 2007 White House press conference, Bush referred to this as “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

In a recent post, I suggested that politically, the Anbar Model was accomplishing much that “top-down” political reconciliation had failed to achieve.

Charles Krauthammer makes a similar point in his most recent Washington Post column.

A year ago, it appeared that the only way to win back the Sunnis and neutralize the extremists was with great national compacts about oil and power sharing. But Anbar has unexpectedly shown that even without these constitutional settlements, the insurgency can be neutralized and al-Qaeda defeated at the local and provincial levels…

In some ways, the so-called “grassroots” reconciliation is a substitute for “top down” reconciliation.

Note well, the reconciliation is between US forces and the Sunnis, not between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis.  Indeed, the Shiite-led Iraqi government has expressed grave concern about the drift Bush’s “bottom up” reconciliation.

Between Krauthammer, the White House and Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate there is no real disagreement on the issue of “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”

The disagreement centers on the Maliki government and its commitment to “top-down” reconciliation.  Bush’s Republican critics in the Senate want Bush to dump Maliki because he and his governing coalition continue to resist efforts to hand power to the Sunni Arab minority.

The Washington Post quotes Haider al-Ebaidi, a Shiite politician from Maliki’s Dawa party:

Ebaidi said many Shiites view reconciling with former Baathists as “rewarding those people who have been responsible for torturing and killing”…

“The moment they push these things through,” he said, “they will divide the government more.”

It is far from certain that Bush will, in fact, abandon Maliki.

But it is also unclear whether Senate Republicans think there is a viable parliamentary alternative to Maliki.

We may find out this weekend.

Earlier in July, CBS News reported that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (sometimes transliterated as Tariq al-Hashemi) was assembling the votes for a parliamentary no-confidence vote to topple the Maliki government.

CBS News has learned that on July 15, [senior Iraqi leaders] plan to ask for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki…

The no-confidence vote will be requested by the largest block of Sunni politicians, who are part of a broad political alliance called the Iraq Project. What they want is a new government run by ministers who are appointed for their expertise, not their party loyalty.

[The CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote had the support of Vice President Cheney, an claim recently echoed in the Economist.  Even the most ardent US supporters of such a no-confidence vote remain skeptical that Cheney would support the move.]

Juan Cole does some nose counting and seems to doubt Hashimi will be able to get the votes:

There are three Sunni Arab parties in the 275-member parliament. The largest, with 44 seats, is the Iraqi Accord Front. The National Dialogue Front of Salih al-Mutlak has 11 seats. The small Liberation and Reconciliation Party has 3 seats (its founder, Mishaan al-Jibouri has had to flee the country because a warrant was issued for his arrest last fall). According to the Iraqi constitution, any 50 members of parliament can call a vote of no confidence, so the Sunni Arab parties can certainly initiate the process.

They would need 138 seats to unseat al-Maliki, however, and it is not clear that they would have them. The 58 Kurdish deputies will vote for al-Maliki, and he would only need 80 Shiite votes to win the vote. Even with the defection from his alliance of 32 Sadrist MPs and 15 from the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila), al-Maliki probably still has 80 Shiite MPs behind him (before the defections he had about 130 in his United Iraqi Alliance, so the defections should have left him with 88). It is also not clear that the Sadrist and Islamic Virtue MPs will actually vote with Sunni fundamentalist parties to unseat a Shiite prime minister.

Maliki retains the confidence of his key ally, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq.

But the CBS report suggested that the no-confidence vote was merely “the first step” to bringing down the government.

Other steps would presumably require “extra-parliamentary” action.

In other words, Hashimi and his political allies might abandon the “political process” altogether and launch the long-awaited anti-Shiite coup that would finally silence Maliki’s Right Arabist critics (even as it might unleash the fury of Iraqi Shiites).

At present, there is nothing in the news that would suggest the White House has given up on the Maliki government or the Iraqi parliamentary process.

Until he does, however, there will be no political reconciliation between Bush and his Right Arabist critics.

Is That a Lugar in Your Pocket?

Posted by Cutler on July 12, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

Are Republicans in the US Senate going to force the Bush administration to “change course” in Iraq?

Maybe.

But as I suggested in a recent post, the change of course is going to be primarily political, not military.  It will not mean US withdrawal from Iraq.

If Senator Richard Lugar and Company have any influence at all, it will be to press the Bush administration to dump the present Shiite-led government of the “young democracy” of Iraq in exchange for a coup under the auspices of an ex-Baathist, Sunni Arab “national salvation” government–aka “Saddamism without Saddam.”

The “failures” of the Maliki government, rather than the failures of the military “surge,” are the primary targets of Lugar’s attacks.

It is not difficult to image that it was the future of the Iraqi government not the future of the surge that topped the agenda when Lugar met for negotiations with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Did Lugar get some commitments from Hadley that the White House would dump Maliki?

Unclear.

But it is worth noting that Lugar refused to support Senate defense appropriation amendments that press for US withdrawal.

At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reports that Senator Lugar will join Senator John Warner in offering an amendment of their own to the defense spending bill.

If Lugar’s big speech of June 25 is any guide, a Lugar-Warner amendment will be heavy on rhetoric about the urgency of a “change of course” in Iraq, very light on troop withdrawal and very strident in its demand for a political change in Iraq.

If Lugar gets his way, Bush is going to have to abandon his talk about supporting the “young democracy” of Iraq.

Remembering Cheney

Posted by Cutler on July 10, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Cheney’s critics are busy sculpting the contours of a narrative that will, they hope, guide popular perceptions of the vice president’s legacy.

According to the prevailing wisdom, the issue at the center of the storm appears to be Executive Power, specifically Cheney’s attempt to buttress the power of the executive branch relative to the legislature and the judiciary.

The production of this narrative about forms of power may be accurate and important, but it may also function to obscure some significant substantive issues at the heart of the Cheney administration–not least, US foreign policy in the Middle East.

On July 9, 2007, the New York Times published an Op-Ed penned by Sean Wilentz–“Mr. Cheney’s Minority Report“–that reminded readers that Cheney was already focused on the defense of “executive prerogatives” during the Iran-Contra investigations of the Reagan era.

Mr. Cheney the congressman believed that Congress had usurped executive prerogatives. He saw the Iran-contra investigation not as an effort to get to the bottom of possible abuses of power but as a power play by Congressional Democrats to seize duties and responsibilities that constitutionally belonged to the president.

At the conclusion of the hearings, a dissenting minority report codified these views. The report’s chief author was a former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael J. Malbin, who was chosen by Mr. Cheney as a member of the committee’s minority staff. Another member of the minority’s legal staff, David S. Addington, is now the vice president’s chief of staff…

The Reagan administration, according to the report, had erred by failing to offer a stronger, principled defense of what Mr. Cheney and others considered its full constitutional powers…

The report made a point of invoking the framers. It cited snippets from the Federalist Papers — like Alexander Hamilton’s remarks endorsing “energy in the executive” — in order to argue that the president’s long-acknowledged prerogatives had only recently been usurped by a reckless Democratic Congress.

Above all, the report made the case for presidential primacy over foreign relations. It cited as precedent the Supreme Court’s 1936 ruling in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation, which referred to the “exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations.”

Wilentz is, of course, correct to suggest that the Cheney’s “minority report” concerned itself with issues of constitutional authority.  And Cheney is undoubtedly committed to enhancing the power of the presidency.

But Cheney’s legacy cannot be reduced to his views on presidential authority.

There is also the substance of US foreign policy.

It’s about the war, stupid!

The war in Iraq.  De-Baathification and the advent of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.  The potential military intervention in Iran.  The extraordinary attempt to remake the balance of power in the Gulf and the larger Middle East.

And the escalation of Great Power rivalry between the US and Russia.

Cheney’s legacy is not (only) about the accumulation of formal power; it is about the exercise of power in extraordinary geopolitical strategic ventures.

Wilensky doesn’t mention it, but the minority report on Iran-Contra, for example, also weighed in on the substance of foreign policy, including US relations with Israel and Iran.

The potential geopolitical importance of Iran for the United States would be obvious to anyone who looks at a map. Despite Iran’s importance, the United States was taken by surprise when the Shah fell in 1979, because it had not developed an adequate human intelligence capability there. Our hearings have established that essentially nothing had been done to cure this failure by the mid-1980’s. Then, the United States was approached by Israel in 1985 with a proposal that the United States acquiesce in some minor Israeli arms sales to Iran. This proposal came at a time when the United States was already considering the advisability of such sales. For long term, strategic reasons, the United States had to improve relationships with at least some of the currently important factions in Iran….

The Iran initiative involved two governments that had sharp differences between them. There were also very sharp internal divisions in both Iran and the United States about how to begin narrowing the differences between the two countries. In such a situation, the margin between narrow failure and success can seem much wider after the fact than it does during the discussions. While the initial contacts developed by Israel and used by the United States do not appear likely to have led to a long-term relationship, we cannot rule out the possibility that negotiations with the Second Channel might have turned out differently. At this stage, we never will know what might have been.

This report appears to suggest that Cheney was once interesting in improving relationships with factions of the incumbent Iranian regime–a position that he continued to defend during the 1990s.

Cheney certainly appears to have changed his mind about US relations with Iran, as he did about US relations with Iraq and, perhaps, Saudi Arabia.

Did Cheney do everything in his power to enhance presidential authority, to say nothing of his own personal power?  Absolutely.

But Cheney also took the US into a war with Iraq that folks like Al Gore now call “an utter disaster, this was the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States.”

You wouldn’t even know that the US ever went to war with Iraq to judge from the recent Washington Post four-part series, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”

The Post series makes almost no mention of Iraq!

Part 1” of the series–a backgrounder on Cheney–says only this about Iraq:

A shooting accident in Texas, and increasing gaps between his rhetoric and events in Iraq, have exposed him to ridicule and approval ratings in the teens.

The other 3 parts say less about Iraq.

Like Part 2 of the series–“Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power“–takes up the same constitutional themes about the formal rights of executive privilege emphasized by Wilentz in his New York Times Op-Ed.

Part 1 of the Post series promises to a substantive look at particular policies, but the examples are drawn from domestic affairs:

Cheney has served as gatekeeper for Supreme Court nominees, referee of Cabinet turf disputes, arbiter of budget appeals, editor of tax proposals and regulator in chief of water flows in his native West.

Indeed, these are the issues that dominate the discussion of policy in Part 3 and Part 4.

The Post offers supplements that include a profile of “key players” identified as a “Cast of Characters.”

Lots of Cheney aides are profiled–including his top legal adviser David S. Addington and former domestic policy adviser Cesar Conda.

No mention is made of any of Cheney’s top foreign policy advisers.  On foreign policy, the Post never gets beyond Brian V. McCormack, a young man who once served as Cheney’s “personal aide” and progressed to assignments in the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq and then on the White House staff.

There is no mention of the current Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, John P. Hannah.  [Profile here; In a report from the early 1990s when Hannah served as Deputy Director of Research under Martin Indyk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hannah was identified as “specializing in Soviet Policy in the Middle East.” (“Restoring the Balance: U.S. Strategy and the Gulf Crisis: An Initial Report of The Washington Institute’s Strategic Study Group,” 1991, p.44)]

And, more to the point, there is no mention of David Wurmser, Cheney’s top Middle East adviser.

Have you not met the Wurmsers?

You really should.

David Wurmser (formerly of the American Enterprise Institute) is married to Meyrav Wurmser (of the Hudson Institute).  Both wrote Ph.D. Dissertations during the 1990s.

Here is a small taste that give a sense of their interests:

David Wurmser, “The Evolution of Israeli Grand Strategy, Strategy and Tactics and the Confluence with Classic Democratic Philosophy” (Johns Hopkins University, 1990).

Meyrav Wurmser, “Ideas and Foreign Policy: The Case of the Israeli Likud Party” (George Washington University, 1998).

My hunch is that Cheney isn’t primarily interested in the Wurmser family for their ideas about the US constitution and executive privilege.

For all of Cheney’s influence as the water czar from Wyoming, the vice president’s legacy cannot be fully understood in terms of either domestic policy or formal constitutional rights issues.

The most enduring contours of Cheney’s legacy may well reside in the Middle East.

But you wouldn’t know it from recent, premature efforts to “remember” Cheney.

Beyond the Surge: The Right Arabist Case Against Maliki

Posted by Cutler on July 09, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 1 Comment

For much of the foreign policy establishment in Washington, the “military front” has never really been the central battlefield in Iraq.  Instead, the paramount issue has always been the “political front”–the composition of political power within Iraq and the regional balance of power in the Gulf.

As I have previously argued, the “political front” is dominated by a split in Washington between Right Arabists who see Sunni Arab rule in Iraq and the key to the policing of US imperial interests in the Gulf and Right Zionists who see Iraqi Shiite power as the key to a strategic re-alignment that envisions an alliance between the US, Israel, Iraq, and [a politically reconstructed] Iran.

[On the political “reconstruction” of what he calls “Eternal Iran“, Right Zionist Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute has recently suggested, “The real danger isn’t Iran’s bomb, however, but the regime that would wield it.]

As I have previously noted (here and here), Right Zionists are quite committed to the Shiite government in Iraq.  They see in Iraqi Shiites a more or less adequate proxy for US power.

By contrast, Right Arabists have never stopped lamenting the end of Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq.

Both of these two camps, however, focus on the centrality of political proxies for US power.

Meanwhile, the “surge” tends to look a little different.

The key figures behind the idea of the “surge” are figures best described as “Unipolarists” who tend to be far less focused on indirect rule through political proxies because they are much more committed–unapologetically so–to the widespread, direct application of US military force (aka “hard Wilsonianism” or, more simply, “imperialism“).

The leading Unipolarists include key architects of the “surge,” William Kristol and Frederick Kagan.

And here is a key to understanding the politics of the surge: the Bush administration has not traditionally been dominated by Unipolarists (hence all the Unipolarist attacks on Rumsfeld) and the Unipolarists, in turn, have always been closer to John McCain than to George W. Bush.

Frederick Kagan’s latest missive from his perch at the American Enterprise Institute speaks to the centrality of military power in the 2007 “surge” and marks some differences that make the Unipolarist faith in military power distinct from the quest for “political proxies” that animates both Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

A number of clear lessons drawn from these operations have informed the current strategy. First, political progress by itself will not reduce the violence. From May 2003 through mid-2006, the Bush administration and the military command focused on political progress as the key. The transfer of sovereignty in mid-2004, the election of a Transitional National Assembly in January 2005, the approval of a new constitution by referendum in October 2005, and the election of a fresh National Assembly in December 2005… throughout this period, American armed forces tried to stay in the background, keeping their “footprint” minimal and pushing the nascent Iraqi Security Forces into the lead….

Political progress and political solutions are essential to ultimate success in counterinsurgency, but they must often be complemented by major military operations sustained over a long time.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that when he does consider the “political front” Kagan appears to be much closer to the Right Arabist position than some of his colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute, especially Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Gerecht favors ruthless counter-insurgency efforts targeting the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency, even as he warns against a frontal assault on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Kagan’s “Anbar Model,” by contrast, seeks to woo the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency while reserving US firepower for al-Qaeda and Sadrists forces.  From Kagan’s latest defense of the “surge” names its targets quite carefully:

The new strategy for Iraq has entered its second phase. Now that all of the additional combat forces have arrived in theater, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno have begun Operation Phantom Thunder, a vast and complex effort to disrupt al Qaeda and Shiite militia bases all around Baghdad in advance of the major clear-and-hold operations that will follow. The deployment of forces and preparations for this operation have gone better than expected, and Phantom Thunder is so far proceeding very well.

No mention of targeting the ex-Baathis Sunni insurgency.  No mystery why.  Kagan considers them his new best friends.

As the new strategy of 2007 took hold, U.S. forces found that they could even negotiate and work with some of their most determined former foes in the Sunni Arab insurgency–groups like the Baathist 1920s Brigades that once focused on killing Americans and now are increasingly working with Americans to kill al Qaeda fighters. Coalition operations in Anbar, which looked hopeless for years, have accomplished extraordinary successes that are deepening and spreading.

Kagan’s surge has seemingly come under attack from within the Republican Party, allegedly prompting soul-searching and debate at the White House.

Much of this turmoil appears linked to the late June “defection” of Senator Richard Lugar.

Lugar takes some shots at the military surge.  But he has hardly become an advocate of US withdrawal.

Instead, a closer look at the Senate speech that prompted all the buzz about Republican defections suggests that Lugar’s central focus was on the political front, specifically his dissatisfaction with the Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki.

The speech is a classic Right Arabist manifesto–hawkish on Iran, soft on Sunni Arab regimes and highly critical of Shiite rule in Iraq.

I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East… But seizing these opportunities will require the President to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq… It will also require members of Congress to be receptive to overtures by the President to construct a new policy outside the binary choice of surge versus withdrawal…

We should attempt to preserve initiatives that have shown promise, such as engaging Sunni groups that are disaffected with the extreme tactics and agenda of Al Qaeda in Iraq. But three factors – the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process — are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame….

The Shia-led government is going out of its way to bottle up money budgeted for Sunni provinces… food rations are not being delivered to Sunni towns. Iraqi leaders have resisted de-Baathification reform, the conclusion of an oil law, and effective measures to prevent oil smuggling and other corrupt practices…

[W]e are continuing to pour our treasure and manpower into the narrow and uncertain pursuit of creating a stable, democratic, pluralist society in Iraq. This pursuit has been the focal point of the Bush Administration’s Middle East policy. Unfortunately, this objective is not one on which our future in the region can rest, especially when far more important goals related to Middle East security are languishing. I am not suggesting that what happens in Iraq is not important, but the Bush Administration must avoid becoming so quixotic in its attempt to achieve its optimum forecasts for Iraq that it misses other opportunities to protect our vital interests in the Middle East…

[W]e have an interest in preventing Iranian domination of the region. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni government opened up opportunities for Iran to seek much greater influence in Iraq and in the broader Middle East.  An aggressive Iran would pose serious challenges for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab governments. Iran is pressing a broad agenda in the Middle East with uncertain consequences for weapons proliferation, terrorism, the security of Israel, and other U.S. interests. Any course we adopt should consider how it would impact the regional influence of Iran….

In my judgment, the current surge strategy is not an effective means of protecting these interests. Its prospects for success are too dependent on the actions of others who do not share our agenda…

A total withdrawal from Iraq also fails to meet our security interests. Such a withdrawal would compound the risks of a wider regional conflict stimulated by Sunni-Shia tensions…

Most regional governments are extremely wary of U.S. abandonment of the Middle East. Moderate states are concerned by Iran’s aggressiveness and by the possibility of sectarian conflict beyond Iraq’s borders. They recognize that the United States is an indispensable counterweight to Iran and a source of stability. The United States should continue to organize regional players – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf States, and others – behind a program of containing Iran’s disruptive agenda in the region.

Such a re-alignment has relevance for stabilizing Iraq…

The United States should make clear to our Arab friends that they have a role in promoting reconciliation within Iraq, preventing oil price spikes, splitting Syria from Iran, and demonstrating a more united front against terrorism.

Lugar is a good Republican and he knows that the surge in US casualties will be costly for his party:

Some will argue that political timelines should always be subordinated to military necessity, but that is unrealistic in a democracy. Many political observers contend that voter dissatisfaction in 2006 with Administration policies in Iraq was the major factor in producing new Democratic Party majorities in both Houses of Congress. Domestic politics routinely intrude on diplomatic and military decisions. The key is to manage these intrusions so that we avoid actions that are not in our national interest….

[D]omestic pressure for withdrawal will continue to be intense. A course change should happen now.

But the primary emphasis of any “course change” is not military, but political: the end of the road for the Maliki government and Shiite political dominance.

Will the Bush administration turn against Maliki?

To some extent, that probably depends on his ability to move the hydrocarbon “framework” legislation through parliament.

In the current political context, however, the Sunni political establishment has made a stand against “foreign” control of Iraqi oil.

A member of Iraq’s parliamentary energy committee quit on Saturday in protest over a draft oil law…

Usama al-Nujeyfi told a small news conference that the proposal would cede too much control to global companies and “ruin the country’s future”. He vowed to work to defeat the draft in parliament.

“I announce my resignation and distance myself from delivering this draft before this parliament and I will carry out my obligation to repeal it inside parliament with all fellow nationalists,” al-Nujeyfi said….

[A]l-Nujeyfi, a Sunni member of the Iraq National List, headed by secular politician and former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, said the proposal would cede too much to foreign firms eager to rebuild Iraq’s oil industry.

“I call on my lawmaker brothers and sisters to confront this law which will ruin the country’s future and will be in the interest of large global companies at the expense of Iraqis,” he said.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, Right Arabists will successfully convince the White House to dump Maliki and install ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi as a new Iraqi “strongman.”

I tend to doubt it.

But if Sunni opposition to the hydrocarbon law continues much longer, it may prove very awkward when the US subsequently demands that Allawi impose legislation that his allies once decried as a measure designed “in the interest of large global companies at the expense of Iraqis.”