Monthly Archives: September 2007

The UAW and General Motors: Union News & the Business Press

Posted by Cutler on September 30, 2007
Labor / 1 Comment

Members of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) will soon be encouraged by the union leadership to ratify a settlement reached with General Motors.

Will the membership ratify the contract?

That may depend on what they are hearing about the deal.  There are two distinct accounts out there and they offer up profoundly different lessons for the membership.

One version of the settlement comes from the UAW, the mainstream media, and pro-labor academics.  It celebrates the settlement as an enormous victory for the UAW and the American labor movement.  Who wouldn’t vote Yes?

The other version of the settlement comes from the business press.  If the membership were to get wind of the business press perspective, they would likely vote NO.

The Official Union Story

Union officials, led by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and the UAW Vice President of the General Motors Department Cal Rapson, are doing its best to sell the deal to its membership.

As I noted in my book, “Labor’s Time: Shorter Hours, the UAW, and the Struggle for American Unionism,” Walter Reuther built an “administration caucus” that consolidated control of the UAW in the 1940s and 1950s.  That caucus remains firmly in control of the International Executive Board of the union and retains the loyalty of most local union presidents.

Hence the unanimous endorsement of the GM settlement by official delegates to the National Bargaining Council in Detroit.

Within the UAW, discussion will be limited to the monologue selling job of the top leadership.  At the local level, union officials from the administration caucus haven’t exactly promoted or invited deep debate about the issues.

Consider Flint UAW Local 659 in the heart of the General Motors empire.

Historians of the UAW will recall that Local 659 and its feisty newspaper, “The Searchlight,” played a prominent role in the cantankerous internal factionalism of the early UAW.

Today, the official website of Local 659 makes a mockery of that tenacious legacy.

The most recent on-line version of “The Searchlight” features an article on the annual Local 659 Walleye fishing Tournament–held in July–but makes no mention of the subsequent contract negotiations.

The website link to “retiree” issues (a centerpiece of the UAW-GM contract negotiations) comes up blank.

Bill King, shop committee chairman of the powerful Flint Metal Center unit, promotes his role as the elected chair the UAW/GM Top Negotiating Committee.  But his discussion of the contract is limited to a warning about the dangers of unauthorized chatter:

There is plenty of rhetoric and speculation in the media about this set of negotiations. Take this news with a grain of salt, as it is only opinions of people who will not be bargaining the contracts. Unless the information comes from a direct quote or a report from your union leadership, it is only an outside view.

The UAW selling job has received some welcome “outside views” from academics and the mainstream media.

Consider, for example, a September 30 article from the Detroit Free Press entitled, “Improved Prognosis: GM-UAW Agreement Begins New Era for Organized Labor.”

Labor unions, derided as dying organizations, saw in the UAW’s pending takeover of General Motors Corp.’s retiree health care burden a new mission and perhaps a new recruiting tool.

“It shows the labor movement is willing to stand up for the members, stand up for the retirees and take some risks,” said Glenn Feldman, director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham….

Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor and globalization issues, described the deal as a landmark moment for the American economy, as defining for this era as the wealth-sharing contracts won by the UAW in the 1950s were for an earlier generation.

“Overall, what these negotiations sought to forge is a social contract for the 21st Century — a more competitive General Motors, translating into middle-class jobs,” he said. “In the context of the pressure of globalization and the stumbling of the domestic industry, that’s not a small feat. That proves a relevance for unions under these circumstances, rather than a hint of their demise.”

The Business Press: Reading “Against the Grain”

Factionalism and dissident organizing is not entirely dead within the UAW.

Several groups have mobilized internet campaigns (see “Future of the Union,” the Center for Labor Renewal, and “Soldiers of Solidarity,” to name a few) to establish more lively debate about the UAW settlement with General Motors.

The “Soldiers of Solidarity” website includes what appears to be a link to a PDF file of the actual settlement between the UAW and GM.  You can’t find that on the Local 659 website.  But it makes for interesting reading.

The most “dangerous” sign about the dissident internet campaigns is not that they are reading and quoting Marx but that they are reading and quoting the business press.  The “Soldiers of Solidarity” homepage currently features a quote from JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel:

While the devil will be in the detail, our first reaction is that GM captured a much broader set of concessions than we previously anticipated.

Is the business press an “objective” source on labor relations?  No.

It is unabashedly and transparently pro-business.  But that transparent bias is precisely what makes it potentially more interesting and more reliable than mainstream media accounts.  Business press bias means that union victories are often disparaged while union defeats are celebrated.

To read “against the grain” of business press bias requires only that one reverse the terms: expressions of fear, disappointment, and rage in the pages of the business press are best interpreted as signs union strength.  Expressions of euphoria and/or indifference in the business press can signal union weakness and a raw deal for workers.

So, what is the business press saying about the UAW-GM deal?  Are the signs of fear and trembling at a labor movement is willing to stand up for the members, stand up for the retirees and take some risks?

Hardly.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was delighted with the terms of the settlement.

This week’s deal between General Motors and the United Auto Workers is being hailed as a new era for Detroit, and for once that advertising may be justified. The UAW in particular made historic concessions that show a new awareness of global competition.

The most extraordinary review comes from my favorite business press source, the Financial Times.

FT Associate Editor John Gapper is well pleased with the outcome, but offers a devastating portrait of the UAW in his essay, “Reality Intrudes at General Motors.”  It is worth quoting at length:

“[T]here was something about the United Auto Workers’ short-lived strike this week that felt fake…. [T]he strike was hard to take seriously. It seemed more like role play than a genuine threat, something the UAW’s leaders had to do to show their members they were not a pushover rather than a fight they thought they could win. So, after two days, they came back, having accepted watered-down contracts…”

[The UAW] is now allowing GM to buy out thousands more contracts and hire workers at lower rates… [T]he Jobs Bank [a “scheme” in which GM gave “workers who were laid off full pay for years at a time”]… is already considerably diminished and this deal will weaken it further…

The financial risks usually imposed on employers by the health insurance system will instead be borne by the union…

[I]f the role of a union is to advance the interests of working people by negotiating steady improvements in pay and conditions, the UAW did a bad job this week…  [The UAW effort] was distinctly pusillanimous.”

Needless to say, Gapper considers all of this “preferable” to the alternative of a fighting union.  But that is precisely the point.

As for the much-touted “VEBA” agreement to which Gapper alludes, in which the union has agreed to bear the “financial risks” of the health insurance for retirees, the business press offers some insights that might be of interest to UAW members trying to judge the deal on offer from the UAW.

In an essay entitled “A New Era for U.S. Auto Makers?,” Thomas G. Dolan–editorial page editor at the financial weekly, Barron’s–seems to think UAW members are in for a rude awakening:

If ratified, the new contract with GM hands the union “responsibility” for GM’s $51 billion present-value liability for retirees’ health care. GM gets to buy back its promises for something like $35 billion in cash, stock and bonds (in proportions and timing so far unspecified), to be invested in a trust called a Voluntary Employee Benefit Agreement. The VEBA pays the benefits from principal and investment income for as long as it can — UAW President Ron Gettelfinger made the absurd claim that it will last 80 years.

Don’t ask what happens if the VEBA isn’t viable. GM isn’t telling. Neither is the union. We expect the liabilities will grow faster than the assets.

Dolan predicts UAW retirees may “pay more than they think” once the VEBA runs out of money.

Which Side Are You On?

For some, there is nothing more blasphemous than to criticize a labor union.  Is not reliance on the perspective of the business press–rather than the official union press release–not telltale sign of an anti-union ideologue?

Perhaps.

But it is one thing to absorb the bias of the business press (i.e., Harley Shaiken’s notion that “a more competitive General Motors”–guaranteed through a two-tier wage system and a wage freeze–somehow translates into “middle-class jobs” and a “social contract for the 21st century”).  It is quite another to read the business press, but to do so against the grain of its bias.

There is also a difference between criticizing a union for doing a bad job and hoping it does a bad job (i.e., being anti-union).

The union leadership wants its membership to rely exclusively on  “a direct quote or a report from your union leadership” and to eschew any “outside view.”

Insofar as the membership can be shielded from any “outside view,” the contract will be ratified.

If, however, the membership finds its way to the on-line business press… then all bets are off.

Where’s Wurmser?

Posted by Cutler on September 19, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

First it was the Washington Post that announced the advent of a new round of “dissent” within the Bush administration. In a previous post, I suggested that this report may have been somewhat overdrawn.

More recently, Helene Cooper at the New York Times discerned “Signs of Split on Iran Policy” within the administration.

The language in Mr. Bush’s [September 13] speech reflected an intense and continuing struggle between factions within his administration over how aggressively to confront Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been arguing for a continuation of a diplomatic approach, while officials in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office have advocated a much tougher view. They seek to isolate and contain Iran, and to include greater consideration of a military strike.

Mr. Bush’s language indicated that the debate, at least for now, might have tilted toward Mr. Cheney….

Allies of Mr. Cheney continue to say publicly that the United States should include a change in Iran’s leadership as a viable policy option, and have argued, privately, that the United States should encourage Israel to consider a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Cooper doesn’t name the “allies of Mr. Cheney” who speak publicly about regime change.

Is she talking about folks outside the administration like Norma Podhoretz and Michael Ledeen?

[It matters which one… The “neoconservatives” are split on Iran. Ledeen is primarily interested in regime change; Podhoretz makes the case for military strikes.]

Or is she thinking of Cheney’s house intellectuals, like his chief Middle East adviser David Wurmser?

For a while, it looked like Cheney was preparing to concede defeat in the factional battles with Rice.

First came reports that he signed off on bilateral talks between the US and Iran.

Then came rumors in late July that Wurmser was on his way out. Specifically, Robert Dreyfuss spread the word: “Wurmser will leave the office of the vice president (OVP) in August.”

Deep into September and I have yet to see a report that Wurmser is out.

Steven Clemons predicts Bush won’t attack Iran. But he doesn’t think Wurmser & Co. are necessarily down for the count:

Bush does not plan to escalate toward a direct military conflict with Iran, at least not now — and probably not later. The costs are too high, and there are still many options to be tried before the worst of all options is put back on the table. As it stands today, he wants that “third option,” even if Cheney doesn’t. Bush’s war-prone team failed him on Iraq, and this time he’ll be more reserved, more cautious. That is why a classic buildup to war with Iran, one in which the decision to bomb has already been made, is not something we should be worried about today…

What we should worry about, however, is the continued effort by the neocons to shore up their sagging influence….

We should also worry about the kind of scenario David Wurmser floated, meaning an engineered provocation. An “accidental war” would escalate quickly and “end run,” as Wurmser put it, the president’s diplomatic, intelligence and military decision-making apparatus. It would most likely be triggered by one or both of the two people who would see their political fortunes rise through a new conflict — Cheney and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That kind of war is much more probable and very much worth worrying about.

I’ll buy that for a dollar.

[Update: Eli Lake at the New York Sun reports that Wurmser has, in fact, left the administration.]

Hunt for Iraqi Oil

Posted by Cutler on September 17, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

At first blush, the announcement of a deal between the Hunt Oil Company and the Kurdistan Regional Government seemed easy to dismiss.

Other small, independent companies like the “tiny” Norwegian oil firm DNO had made similar moves to skirt the central government in Baghdad and court the Kurds.

In the past, such deals have drawn fire from the Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani and the Hunt deal was no exception.  Shahristani lost no time declaring the Hunt deal “illegal.”

Shahristani’s resistance to autonomous Kurdish oil development also seemed to mirror Bush administration policy.

As I noted in a previous post, Bush himself seemed to rule out Kurdish autonomy back in October 2006.

And the Wall Street Journal (subscription required; third party link) reported that the State Department put cold water on the idea of signing side deals with the Kurds (Neil King Jr., “Hunt Oil, Iraqi Kurds Defend Deal Despite U.S. Concern,” September 11, 2007, A17).

A senior State Department official said the move had taken the U.S. government by surprise. Earlier this year, the official said, the State Department sat down with major U.S. oil companies “to say that it was not a good idea to cut oil deals with the Kurdish regional government.”

The official said that the message “was basically informal” and that the Bush administration had no leverage to block such deals.

And Condoleezza Rice didn’t exactly endorse the deal.

And yet…

If Bush wanted to find “leverage to block” such a deal, he might have found it, in this instance, in the person of his good buddy, Ray L. Hunt.

In his New York Times column, Paul Krugman was quick to point out the depth of the relationship between Hunt and Bush:

Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Mr. Bush. More than that, Mr. Hunt is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body.

Some commentators have expressed surprise at the fact that a businessman with very close ties to the White House is undermining U.S. policy.

Hunt is also reportedly the key force that initiated negotiations to house the Bush administration library at Southern Methodist University.

The Hunt-Bush relationship certainly makes it more difficult to dismiss the Hunt Oil foray into Kurdistan.

Krugman reaches for the big interpretation:

By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad’s disapproval, he’s essentially betting that the Iraqi government — which hasn’t met a single one of the major benchmarks Mr. Bush laid out in January — won’t get its act together. Indeed, he’s effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.

The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration — maybe even Mr. Bush himself — know this, too.

That would put “partition” question back in play.

I am not so sure.

Does Bush have ties to Hunt?  Sure.  But is Hunt the best Bush can do?  He and Cheney don’t have ties to Big Oil?  Of course they do.  If the “smart money” is on the break-up of Iraq, where are the deals between the oil majors and the Kurdish Regional Government?

I think there is a different game being played here.

The central point of the Hunt affair is not to do the deal with the Kurds but to use the threat of such a deal to leverage concessions from political players in Baghdad who are holding up passage of the national hydrocarbons law.  I first made this argument back in an October 2006 post:

I tend to think that the function of the partition chatter has little to do with real options on the table and much more to do with ongoing negotiations over the Iraqi hydrocarbons law that will govern relations with the oil industry.

The US is firmly committed to centralized national control over the development of new oil fields. In this, they have the support of Sunni Arab political forces along with nationalist Shiite forces in Southern Iraq, including those loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.

The threat of partition, however, is being used to pressure these Sunni and Shiite forces to embrace particular oil policies that will be very unpopular with Iraqi nationalists, even as they are sought after by international oil majors.

The oil majors and the US are pressing for generous contract terms for foreign oil investment and use the threat of extremely generous regional contract terms on offer in the Kurdish north to extract similar concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

The Associated Press reports, Hunt’s deal with the Kurds would be a “production-sharing contract,” offering the same kind of “generous” terms that the oil majors want from the hydrocarbons law.

The Maliki cabinet agreed in February to sign on in support of the hydrocarbons law.

But Maliki apparently doesn’t yet have the parliamentary votes necessary to move the legislation through parliament.  The latest reports suggest ongoing wrangling.

The Hunt deal isn’t a vote of no confidence in Maliki.  It is a shot across the bow to those who are stalling on the hydrocarbons law but who also fear Kurdish autonomy.

In other words, the Hunt deal is meant to leverage parliamentary votes from the Sadrists and/or the Sunnis.

Both favor centralized control and Sadr is a fierce critic of Kurdish autonomy.

Nevertheless, the Sadrists and the Sunnis have balked at various provisions of the hydrocarbons law, including the idea of production-sharing contracts.

Notwithstanding the specter of the Hunt deal, the Sadrists are, thus far, pushing back.

Perhaps they understand two crucial points:

1) Bush is trying to use his friend Hunt–and the Kurds–to leverage concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

2) Bush is bluffing.

Ironically, it may actually help the White House in these negotiations for Sadrists and Sunnis in Baghdad to think Bush is all about cronyism and corruption–as if he might be just crazy enough to break up Iraq in order to help a friend make a fast buck.  Is that really a hard sell?

We’ll see whether anyone in Iraq buys the story.

Fallon His Sword

Posted by Cutler on September 10, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists / 3 Comments

The Washington Post rolled out a big headline about new fissures within the Bush administration: “Among Top Officials, ‘Surge’ Has Sparked Dissent, Infighting.”

Echoes of the early days, perhaps, when Right Arabists like Scowcroft, Baker, and Powell battled Cheney, Rumsfeld and their Right Zionist allies for control of Bush administration foreign policy.

But for those who focus on the significance of factionalism, rifts, schisms, splits, rivalry and fissures the echoes turn out to be rather faint.

Most of the article–with a byline that appears to include the entire WaPo staff–provides a broad review of Iraq policy in the second Bush term.

One portion of the article does explain the headline and presents relatively weak evidence of a new “clash” that would ostensibly pit CENTCOM commander Admiral William J. Fallon, the Joint Chiefs, and Defense Secretary Gates against a small number of “surge” enthusiasts that include Bush, presidential counselor and PR guru Ed Gillespie and, presumably, General Petraeus.

[A] clash over the U.S. venture in Iraq… has been building since Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Middle East operations, sent a rear admiral to Baghdad this summer to gather information. Soon afterward, officials said, Fallon began developing plans to redefine the U.S. mission and radically draw down troops.

One of those plans, according to a Centcom officer, involved slashing U.S. combat forces in Iraq by three-quarters by 2010. In an interview, Fallon disputed that description but declined to offer details. Nonetheless, his efforts offended Petraeus’s team, which saw them as unwelcome intrusion on their own long-term planning. The profoundly different views of the U.S. role in Iraq only exacerbated the schism between the two men.

“Bad relations?” said a senior civilian official with a laugh. “That’s the understatement of the century. . . . If you think Armageddon was a riot, that’s one way of looking at it”…

[R]ather than heed calls for withdrawal, [Bush] opted for a final gambit to eke out victory, overruling some of his commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ushering in a new team led by Fallon, Petraeus, Crocker and a new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates….

As Petraeus settled into his new command, he decided to press for 8,000 additional support troops beyond the 21,500 combat forces the president had committed. Just a week earlier, Gates had told Congress that only 2,000 or 3,000 more might be needed. As he reviewed a briefing sheet in preparation for more testimony, Gates was annoyed to see a larger request buried on the page. He fumed that “this is going to make us look like idiots,” said a defense official. But Gates got Petraeus the troops….

Fallon, who took command of Centcom in March, worried that Iraq was undermining the military’s ability to confront other threats, such as Iran. “When he took over, the reality hit him that he had to deal with Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and a whole bunch of other stuff besides Iraq,” said a top military officer.

Fallon was also derisive of Iraqi leaders’ intentions and competence, and dubious about the surge. “He’s been saying from Day One, ‘This isn’t working,’ ” said a senior administration official. And Fallon signaled his departure from Bush by ordering subordinates to avoid the term “long war” — a phrase the president used to describe the fight against terrorism.

To Bush aides, Gates did not seem fully on board with the president’s strategy, either. As a member of the congressionally chartered Iraq Study Group before his selection to head the Pentagon, Gates embraced proposals to scale back the U.S. presence in Iraq. Now that he was in the Cabinet, he kept his own counsel.

But he consulted regularly with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, a noted critic of the Iraq war; told Army audiences privately that a troop decrease was inevitable; and tried to avoid Sunday talk shows during the fight over the war spending bill to preserve relations with lawmakers, according to administration sources. “With Fallon, it’s pretty much in your face,” said a senior official. “Gates is quieter.”

A Pentagon official said Gates is “very concerned about all of our energy” being devoted to Iraq…

Petraeus was doing his part in Baghdad, hosting dozens of lawmakers and military scholars for PowerPoint presentations on why the Bush strategy had made gains….

Bush made a surprise visit to Anbar where he met with Maliki and the others to congratulate them, then met with the sheiks to highlight the success of the U.S.-tribal coalition.

The trip energized Bush and his team. Even Gates said he was more optimistic than he has been since taking office. While the secretary had been “cagey” in the past, a senior defense official said, “he’s come to the conclusion that what Petraeus is doing is actually more effective than what he thought.”

But the trip did not end the debate. Fallon has made the case that Petraeus’s recommendations should consider the political reality in Washington and lay out a guide to troop withdrawals, while Petraeus has resisted that, beyond a possible token pullout of a brigade early next year, according to military officials. The Joint Chiefs have been sympathetic to Fallon’s view.

In an interview Friday, Fallon said he and Petraeus have reached accommodation about tomorrow’s testimony. “The most important thing is I’m very happy with what Dave has recommended,” he said. As for the earlier discussions, he begged off. “It’s too politically charged right now.”

What does all that amount to?

Probably not much.  Critics should not take much comfort in the idea that they have allies “on the inside.”

Are there some elements of the military brass who favor a “radical” drawn down of troops?  Maybe.  And it is possible that Fallon has been “captured” by this crowd.  But it wasn’t long ago that critics were thinking of Fallon as an administration stooge.

Back in March 2007, Craig Unger wrote in Vanity Fair:

[The idea of a surge] was sharply at odds with the consensus forged by the top brass in Iraq. Iraq commander General George Casey and General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command (CentCom), had argued that sending additional troops to Iraq would be counterproductive. (Later they both reversed course.)…

Soon, it would be announced that Casey and Abizaid were being replaced with more amenable officers: Lieutenant General David Petraeus and Admiral William J. Fallon, respectively. The escalation was on.

Maybe Fallon has proven less “amenable,” after all.

There have been other reports in the past that would lead critics to invest considerable hope in Fallon.

Gareth Porter filed one such report:

Fallon… [sent] a strongly-worded message to the Defence Department in mid-February opposing any further U.S. naval buildup in the Persian Gulf as unwarranted.

“He asked why another aircraft carrier was needed in the Gulf and insisted there was no military requirement for it,” says the source, who obtained the gist of Fallon’s message from a Pentagon official who had read it.

Fallon’s refusal to support a further naval buildup in the Gulf reflected his firm opposition to an attack on Iran and an apparent readiness to put his career on the line to prevent it. A source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch”.

Asked how he could be sure, the source says, Fallon replied, “You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.” Fallon said that he was not alone, according to the source, adding, “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.”

Be that as it may, the “dissent” reported by the Washington Post seems pretty weak.

Gates is portrayed as being something less than “fully on board,” but he is also depicted as delivering the troops and coming around to a more “optimistic” view of the surge.  Hardly the stuff of factional sabotage.

And Fallon is hardly channeling Cindy Sheehan.

Indeed, he seems pretty pleased about the surge.  Consider an excerpt from his recent remarks to the Commonwealth Club of California:

Adm. William Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, said his trips to Iraq have convinced him momentum has shifted away from the insurgents.

“In the less than six months I’ve been in this job, I have seen a substantial change and it gives me some significant optimism that this place may just work out the way we had envisioned, or some had envisioned, when the tasks were undertaken,” Fallon said in remarks to the Commonwealth Club of California, a public affairs forum.

“What’s going on now in the security business in Iraq is that things are substantially improved,” he said. “By almost any measure, any statistical analysis of what’s happened in the last few months, there’s been an improvement.”

And, as I noted in a previous post, Fallon hardly counts himself among those leading the charge against the Maliki government.  Indeed, if his own account of his conversations with Saudi King Abdullah are credible, Fallon basically told the Saudis to go to hell.

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Fallon said the king told him “several times” during their April 1 discussion that U.S. policies “had not been correct in his view.”

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

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

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

Just to review, then: Fallon is pleased with the surge and has been resisting Sunni Arab pressure for an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq.

With dissent like that, who needs unity?

Right Zionist Complexities

Posted by Cutler on September 08, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

As I argued in my ZNet essay “Beyond Incompetence,” the decisions to disband the Iraqi army and dissolve the Baathist state in Iraq were part of a larger project of transforming the balance of power in Iraq and the Middle East.

Lots of recent attention has focused on assigning blame for the decision.  Paul Bremer has worked hard on several occasions to shift the focus away from himself, most recently in the pages of the New York Times (here and here).

The search is on for more convincing explanations.  Fred Kaplan points a finger at Cheney and Chalabi.

I have argued that it makes sense to ponder the role of David Wurmser.

Juan Cole weighs in with another name: Cheney’s national security advisor, John Hannah.

I’d add a… leg to this stool, which is John Hannah and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the AIPAC think tank. Hannah, the former deputy head of WINEP, was one of two officials authorized to receive “intelligence” from Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress. That elements of the Likud Party in Israel to whom Hannah is close, and which had come to have special influence in WINEP, wanted the Iraqi army dissolved is just as plausible as the other elements of Kaplan’s canny theory of the thing.

I totally agree with Cole that it is “plausible” that Hannah favored radical de-Baathification of the Iraqi military state.

But more is required than simply suggesting that Hannah “is close” to “elements of the Likud Party in Israel.”

Cole is certainly correct to think of Cheney’s staff as a field office of the Likud.  No need to hesitate there.

But there are clear signs that Hannah didn’t always favor de-Baathification.

At some point Hannah changed his mind.  And it was during his role as deputy head of the pro-Israel Washington Institute that he initially opposed de-Baathification.

Consider, for example, a Washington Times Andrew Borowiec article from February 28, 1991 entitled “Sparing Future Turmoil for Iraq is U.S. Goal.”

The lead quote in the article belongs to Hannah:

Most analysts here believe that the victorious coalition should not allow Iraq to fragment and that Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party should be allowed to stay in power. But few see Iraq as capable of exercising significant influence in the Gulf for a long time.

“After years of continuing influence, there is no obvious substitute for Ba’ath,” said John Hannah of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The key figure at WINEP back in 1991 was its director Martin Indyk, not Hannah.

In the same article, Indyk warned against an end to the war that would be “messy, with a collapse of central authority.”

All of this might say more about WINEP and Indyk than it does about Hannah and Likud policies.

Hannah and Indyk were not alone in their fear of a collapse of the Baathist state.

Patrick Clawson–now at WINEP but back in 1991 at the Foreign Policy Research Institute–offered a similar line to Johanna Neuman at USA Today (“Iran, Syria May Covet Iraqi Land,” January 18, 1991).

”It’s a very terrifying question to consider what happens if we cause the disintegration of Iraq,” says Patrick Clawson, strategist for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

But at roughly the same time as Hannah, Indyk, and Clawson were warning agains the destruction of the Baath, Richard Perle and others were already pondering alternatives.

In a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed (“The War to Oust Saddam Has Yet to Begin,” March 29, 1991), Perle wrote:

The principal aim should be to stop the massacre [of Shiite and Kurdish rebels], first for humanitarian, then for political reasons – to encourage a political solution to the rebellion that might yield sufficient autonomy for the Kurds and Shi’ites…

The U.S. administration evidently believes that the dismemberment of Iraq is not in the Western interest. But neither is it in the interest of the West for Saddam Hussein to consolidate his hold over clearly defined dissident areas….

Sharing intelligence and communications devices with the rebels and possibly supplying them with the Stinger and anti-tank missiles that were so effective in the hands of the Afghan resistance should be considered.

At one time, there appear to have been complex disagreements within the “Israel Lobby.”

There is a good bet that some of that complexity remains and that views sometimes change and evolve as the historical context changes.

Michael Ledeen’s changing views on US policy toward Iran constitute another such puzzle.

No answers, here.  Just questions.

Is this about factional splits within the Israel Lobby?

Or changing historical circumstances?

Or both?

 

The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on September 07, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 1 Comment

Is there any point waiting for “something dramatic” to happen on the political front in Iraq?

Maybe there is no political front.  Maybe there is simply the security front–a blunt attempt to project US imperial military power into the heart of the Persian Gulf.

The old “Project for a New American Century” crowd associated with William Kristol and John McCain are the folks most clearly associated with the blunt attempt to project US military power.  And, to be sure, the entire “surge” is the brainchild of this crowd, especially the Kagan family–the brothers Frederick and Robert Kagan the women to whom they are married, Kimberly Kagan and Victoria Nulan.

These are also the figures whose “vision”–Iraq as merely one random example in the long list of adventures sponsored by the military industrial complex–provides the central focus of one of the early Iraq documentaries, “Why We Fight.”

For the “boots” crowd, victory in Iraq is all about the projection of US military power in the Middle East.  Germany and Japan are the models, not because the US embraced “nation building” and “democratization” but because there are still US boots on the ground in both countries.

This “boots on the ground” crowd, it must be noted, positioned themselves as dissidents and critics under the Rumsfeld regime.  They were eager for the invasion of Iraq and admired the “300 Spartans” that Rumsfeld sent to do the job but–as in the final scene of the movie “300”–they pressed for many thousands more.  “Yet they stare now across the plane at 10,000 Spartans commanding 30,000 free Greeks.”

In January 2007, former New Republic editor Peter Beinart speculated that war fatigue was leading the administration to abandon the ambitious “Bush Doctrine.”

And so the Bush Administration has begun cribbing from a very different doctrine: Richard Nixon’s. The Nixon Doctrine is the foreign policy equivalent of outsourcing… No longer would Americans man the front lines… In the Persian Gulf, we would build up Iran to check Soviet expansion. America would no longer be a global cop; it would be a global benefactor, quartermaster and coach–helping allies contain communism on their own.

Beinart is a card-carrying member of the “boots” crowd.  In 2005, he signed a Project for a New American Century letter demanding an expansion of US ground troops.

In his Time essay, Beinart warns:

[I]n the longer term, America will pay dearly for its inability to lead. The return of the Nixon Doctrine is one of the hidden costs of the war in Iraq…. [In the future] U.S. policymakers will be able to scan the globe anew, with more time and resources at their command. Then the U.S. can abandon the Nixon Doctrine once and for all.

If Beinart’s political loyalties are clear, his sketch of the timeline of Bush administration policy in Iraq is utterly confused.

The Bush administration went into Iraq cribbing from the Nixon Doctrine.  They went in “light” with only enough forces to be the “benefactor, quartermaster and coach” of a local political allies–the Iraqi Shia–who were to act as the proxy for US power.

Only with the January 2007 surge–as the Bush administration was retreating from the Cheney/Rumsfeld adaptation of the Nixon Doctrine–did the “boots” crowd come in from the cold.

If Beinart’s terms are correct, his timeline is inverted.

According to the “Goldilocks” scenario sketched by Frederick Kagan in his recent article, “The Gettysburg of This War,” the surge (and the “turn” in Anbar) doesn’t really require or imply any meaningful change in the political balance of power in Iraq.

If the Anbaris had thereupon asked for the creation of a local, autonomous or semi-autonomous security force that would be a de facto tribal militia, there would have been cause for concern about their intentions. But they did not….

The Anbari police will naturally stay in their areas, but they will not have the technical or tactical ability to project force outside of Anbar — they cannot become an effective Sunni “coup force.” Anbaris joining the Iraqi army, on the other hand, are joining a heavily Shia institution that they will not readily be able to seize control of and turn against the Shia government. In other words, the turn in Anbar is dramatically reducing the ability of the Anbaris to fight the Shia, and committing them ever more completely to the success of Iraq as a whole….

Anbar’s leaders are now more reasonable and probably more committed to the political success of Iraq than the Sunni parties in the Council of Representatives. Those parties were chosen at a time when most Iraqi Sunnis really did reject the notion of accepting a lesser role in Iraq, and many Sunni parliamentarians have continued to press for a maximalist version of Sunni aims….

The Maliki government is unquestionably twitchy about working with many of the Sunni grassroots movements, and with good reason. A lot of the new Sunni volunteers for the ISF were insurgents, and Iraq’s Shia, still traumatized by four years of Sunni attacks, are naturally nervous about taking former insurgents into their security forces…

The Sunni, of course, don’t trust the Maliki government any more than it trusts them, and herein lies a key point for American strategy. Right now, American forces are serving as the “honest broker,” the bridge between Sunni and Shia. Both sides trust us more or less, and are willing to work with us; neither trusts the other completely….

Young Anbaris, who feel defeated by the Americans and the Shia in their quest to regain control of Iraq, need a way to regain honor in Iraqi society… Joining the Iraqi army does accomplish that goal — it gives them an honored place not just in Anbari, but in Iraqi society….

Fear of Shia genocide has been a powerful force behind Sunni rejectionism. Local Sunni security forces help alleviate that fear. Fear of Sunni revanchism has been a strong motivation for Shia intransigence. Incorporating Sunni into the ISF mitigates that fear….

Kagan appears convinced that the “Anbar awakening” represents a retreat from the “maximalist version of Sunni aims,” including the “quest to regain control of Iraq.”

The “key point for American strategy” is that American forces can stay in Iraq–presumably at the invitation of Sunni and Shia–insofar as they serve as an “honest broker” and a bridge between Sunni and Shia.

Stripping the U.S. effort of the forces needed to continue this strategy, as some in Washington and elsewhere are demanding, will most likely destroy the progress already made and lay the groundwork for collapse in Iraq and the destabilization of the region.

As Kagan has written elsewhere, there is no middle way between withdrawal and ongoing military occupation.

Figures like Kagan and Beinart surely think of themselves as battling war fatigue within the general public.  Inside the administration, however, they may also still be battling ongoing commitments to the Nixon Doctrine.

There are still plenty of analysts who think that the “key point” for American strategy in Iraq is to “pick a winner” in the political outsourcing game.

A recent New York Times editorial asserted:

The problem is not Mr. Maliki’s narrow-mindedness or incompetence. He is the logical product of the system the United States created, one that deliberately empowered the long-persecuted Shiite majority and deliberately marginalized the long-dominant Sunni Arab minority.

For all the pressure on the Maliki government, are there any signs that indicate Vice President Cheney is unhappy with the deliberate decision to empower the Shiite majority?

Hardly.

And, for that matter, there are many analysts and partisans who reject Kagan’s depiction of Sunni compliance and who reject the wisdom of Shiite continuing rule in Iraq.

Juan Cole recently posted a commentary by Gerald Helman that appears to be at odds with Kagan’s notion of a Sunni retreat from “maximalist” demands.

[T]he Sunnis can offer the US to fight the radical al Qaeda types in their midst, a truce in their armed resistance to the US army, and undying opposition to the “Persians.” In exchange, they receive weapons, training and “reconstruction teams.” But it is the arms and training that count, to be used now against radical Islamist elements, but later to help recover the status and power they lost when Saddam was overthrown

“Bottom-up,” while suggesting something snappy and positive, instead will further confirm Shiite fear of Sunni purposes and reinforce the continuing suspicion that the Shiites will again be abandoned by the US. Wittingly or otherwise, the US reinforces that suspicion through active speculation on changing the leadership or even the nature of Iraq’s government.

Right Arabists like Anthony Zinni continue to complain about “democracy” in Iraq and regret the termination of the status quo in Iraq:

“Contrary to what our president said, containment did work leading up to this. We contained Saddam for over a decade, his military atrophied, he had no WMD, and we were doing it on the cheap,” [General Zinni] said….

For all the enthusiasm shown by Iraqis, [General Zinni] dismissed post-invasion elections as “purple finger” democracy that skipped the vital first steps of establishing a sound government structure, viable political parties and preparing the public for full democracy.

“It’s ridiculous. Our objective should have been reasonable representative government,” he said.

And there is still plenty of chatter that the “frustration” with Maliki will morph into an extra-parliamentary coup.

Liz Sly at the Chicago Tribune reports on new life within the old “Allawi coup” camp.

“There’s been a definite change in tone from Washington, and the momentum and drive to support Allawi will increase,” said Jaafar al-Taie, a political analyst involved in the new coalition’s campaign. “It’s not only that Maliki must go, but that the whole system must go.”

According to Allawi’s published program, the parliamentarians would not only appoint a new government but also suspend the new constitution, declare a state of emergency and make the restoration of security its priority….

Allawi signed a $300,000 contract with the Washington lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffiths and Rogers to represent his interests, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Web site Iraqslogger.com and confirmed by Allawi on CNN. The head of the firm’s international relations department is Robert Blackwill, a longtime adviser to Bush who served as his special envoy to Iraq.

“Even when Bush tried to modify what he said, he did not go so far,” said Izzat Shabandar, a strategist with the Allawi bloc. “We know that Bush from inside would like to replace Maliki, but he did not say it clearly. He chose to say it in a diplomatic way”…

[T]he parliamentary math doesn’t add up in favor of the Allawi bloc….

“The Americans finally will support us because they don’t have another solution,” [Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq] said, sipping tea and chain-smoking in the coffee shop at one of Amman’s top hotels as a steady stream of Iraqi exiles and members of parliament wandered in and out. “If all these things don’t work out, it is the people who will make a coup. They will rise up, and there will be a coup all over Iraq.”

On the basis of his relations with Condoleezza Rice, Robert Blackwill pulled off the first major Right Arabist “coup” in the Bush administration when he took the helm of the so-called “Iraq Stabilization Group.”

His effort to install Allawi as the “benign autocrat” of Iraq faltered at the start of the second Bush term when the administration went ahead with a year of Shiite-dominated elections, over the objections of leading Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft.

Can Blackwill’s latest lobbying campaign help deliver a coup that would “bring back the Baath“?

For the “boots” camp, the primary condition for any political reconciliation is a retreat from demands for US withdrawal.

But Right Zionists and Right Arabists faithful to the Nixon Doctrine are playing a different game: they are trying to identify a loyal ally that would allow the US to withdraw with honor–and a compliant imperial proxy.

The Right Arabists have always sought reconciliation with the old imperial proxy: the Sunni minority.

There was some cynical strategic logic to the imperial utilization of a minority population.

That logic led the Belgians, for example, to rely on the minority Tutsi population to govern Rwanda.  Gerard Prunier explains:

[T]he Belgians considered the [majority] Hutus to be more inferior… It was plainly a rationalization for being stingy, because by using the Tutsi, you spent less on local administration, that was all. It was easier to use them when they were locals, you didn’t pay them as much as whites and they would do the job. And since they were caught between you as a white administrator and their local chattel, they were at your beck and call.

Indeed, it is precisely the absence of such a dynamic in the context of Shiite majority rule in Iraq that leads astute observers like Gilbert Achcar to predict that the liberation of Shiite political power in Iraq would ultimately represent “one of the most important blunders ever committed by an administration abroad from the standpoint of U.S. imperial interests.”

Be that as it may, one might ask whether at the regional level in the Middle East the Shia of Islam and the Persians of Iran do not represent a relatively marginalized minority within the context of Sunni Arab hegemony.

Zionists like David Ben-Gurion used to call this the “Doctrine of the Periphery.”

I couldn’t begin to comment on the imperial, strategic viability of that Doctrine from the standpoint of U.S. imperial interests.

I do continue to wonder, however, at the role of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and his ally, Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani.

Are these guys Persian?

Or Tutsi?