Monthly Archives: October 2007

US and Iran: The Worst of Friends

Posted by Cutler on October 07, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Syria / 2 Comments

The winds of war are blowing toward Iran.

General Petraeus is reportedly stepping up accusations against Iran.

And there is plenty of speculation that the Israeli raid on Syria was a dress rehearsal for a military assault on Iran.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly seems like a man frantic to reduce Iranian isolation on the Arab street in an effort to undermine Arab support for anti-Iranian initiatives.  Most recently, Ahmadinejad reportedly accused Israel on Friday of using the Holocaust as a pretext for “genocide” against Palestinians.

And yet…

Hugh Naylor of the New York Times has filed a story under the headline “Syria Is Said to Be Strengthening Ties to Opponents of Iraq’s Government.”  It sounds simple enough: more US griping about Syria’s role as a “rogue” regime playing an “unhelpful” role in Iraq.

Buried within the article, however, Naylor delivers up his real news flash: Iran and the US appear to be allies in an uncoordinated effort to halt Syrian outreach to opponents of Iraq’s government.

In July, former Baathists opposed to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki scheduled a conference for insurgent groups — including two of the most prominent, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and Ansar al Sunna — at the Sahara Resort outside Damascus….

The July conference was canceled at the last minute, however, indicating the political perils of Syria’s developing strategy. It was called off by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, participants, diplomats and analysts said, primarily because of pressure from Iran.

Iran is Syria’s chief ally and a staunch supporter of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Damascus just days before the conference was to have taken place….

Syria is walking a fine line, forging an “enemy of my enemy” relationship with the Iraqi Baathists and insurgents while still maintaining an alliance with Tehran…

In an interview, a senior Defense Department official praised Damascus for canceling the opposition conference

I know Iran and the US want to want to hate each other.  But geopolitical strategy seems to be getting in the way.  The US and Iran are, to the apparent chagrin of all concerned, becoming the worst of friends.

Were it not for Naylor’s mention of the senior Defense Department official who praised the Syrian decision to cancel the conference, I could almost have imagined a way of explaining Iranian efforts as anti-American.

Consider, for example, Naylor’s account of the relation between Baathist factionalism and Syrian political intervention:

Thabet Salem, a Syrian political commentator, said Syria was also exploiting a rift between two former Iraqi Baath Party leaders, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former vice president under Mr. Hussein, and Muhammad Younis al-Ahmed, who is believed to be living in Syria…

Younis al-Ahmed is trying to go under the umbrella of the Syrians as a way to unite the Baathists,” Mr. Salem said. “And the Syrians quietly support him…

Some Syrians speculated that he wanted to take a more conciliatory stance with the Iraqi government and the United States. His rival, Mr. Douri, who is suspected of having stronger ties with insurgent groups, rejected the conference.

According to that scenario, Syria could be accused of trying to placate the US by sponsoring “conciliatory” Baathists factions while Iran’s attack on the Syrian initiative could be viewed as a gesture of solidarity in support of “irreconcilable” Iraqi insurgents linked to Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

This would presumably be the interpretation championed by figures like Michael Ledeen who insist that the Iranian regime has allied itself with (and provided arms to) radical Sunni Arab insurgents.

What, then, to make of the alleged Defense Department praise for the cancelation of the conference?  Wouldn’t that tend to undermine the Ledeen scenario?

And there is one other element of Naylor’s report that might give one pause:

“Douri deeply distrusts working with the Syrians because he distrusts the Iranians, who are strong allies with Syria,” Mr. Salem said.

If Naylor’s source, Thabet Salem, has his story right, then there are considerable tensions between the Iranian regime and Iraqi Baathist insurgents like Douri.

Perhaps Iran supports the Sunni Arab Baathists as an insurgency in Iraq insofar as such support prevents the US from establishing control over Iraq.

If so, that support may only go so far.

Will Iran favor the restoration of Sunni Arab political control over Iraq?

Will Iran support (reportedly) anti-Iranian Baathists like Douri?

If Naylor has his story right, the answer is: No.

Iran and the US are both backing the Maliki government in Iraq.  Neither appear willing to dump Maliki in exchange for a Sunni Arab Baathist coup.

In this regard, Peter Galbraith may not be wholly incorrect in his recent assertion about US-Iranian relations:

[I]importantly, the most pro-Iranian Shi’ite political party is the one least hostile to the United States.

In the battle now under way… the United States and Iran are on the same side….

Iran does not oppose Iraq’s new political order. In fact, it is the chief beneficiary of the US-induced changes in Iraq since 2003.

Shia Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

You think you lost your love,
When I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of…

–She Loves You, The Beatles, 1963

Iraq is, finally, going the way that many had wanted to see years ago, before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s and General John Abizaid’s counter-insurgency negligence and the Sunni onslaught against the Shi’a nearly drove us and the Iraqis over the cliff. Iraq is far from being a lost cause…

Are We Winning the “War on Terror”?, Reuel Marc Gerecht, 2007

With the singular exception of Elliott Abrams at NSC and John Hannah in Cheney’s office, all the major Right Zionists have now departed from service within the Bush administration.  Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Wurmser, etc.

You would think they would all be demoralized.  And maybe they do feel marginalized and ostracized in Washington.

But they seem increasingly satisfied with a vicarious victory in Iraq.

Although some Right Zionists participate in the happy talk about how the sun will come out, tomorrow, that isn’t the basis of the satisfaction.  Instead, Right Zionists are feeling like their effort to transform Iraq from a country ruled by Sunni Arabs into a Shiite-dominated country is winning the day.

The goal is not new.  Gerecht, for example, has consistently championed Shiite power in Iraq.

But for a while there, Right Zionists were convinced that Right Arabists were winning all the political battles, in Washington and Baghdad.  It looked as if Washington was going to abandon the Shia of Iraq and that a Right Arabist triumph in Washington would terminate Shiite power in Iraq.

Now there is every reason to believe that they feel they have lost much of the war for Washington but have won (in absentia) the war for a Shiite Iraq.

If some Right Zionists had reservations about Shiite power (i.e., the anti-Americanism of Moqtada al-Sadr), these appear to be dissipating.

Gerecht was, undoubtedly, the first to “choose Sadr” when confronted with the choice between Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency.

But, as Gerecht pointed out in his most recent essay, he is not alone.  There is also the British essayist, Bartle Bull, who has rehabilitated the “Mission Accomplished” claim and has learned to love Moqtada al-Sadr.

And then there is Fouad Ajami, who has nothing but praise for the Shiite-led Maliki government and who seems unimpressed by the Sunni-led “Anbar Awakening.”

An Iraqi in the know, unsentimental about his country’s ways, sought to play down the cult of Abu Reisha. American soldiers, he said, won the war for the Anbar, but it was better to put an Iraq kafiyyah than an American helmet on the victory. He dismissed Abu Reisha. He was useful, he said, but should not be romanticized. “No doubt he was shooting at Americans not so long ago, but the tide has turned, and Abu Reisha knew how to reach an accommodation with the real order of power. The truth is that the Sunnis launched this war four years ago, and have been defeated. The tribes never win wars, they only join the winners”…

Four months ago, I had seen the Sunni despondency, their recognition of the tragedy that had befallen them in Baghdad. That despondency had deepened in the intervening period. No Arab cavalry had ridden to their rescue, no brigades had turned up from the Arabian Peninsula or from Jordan, and the Egyptians were far away. Reality in Iraq had not waited on the Arabs. The Sunnis of Iraq must now fully grasp that they are on their own. They had relied on the dictatorship, and on the Baath, and these are now gone; there had, of course, been that brief bet on al Qaeda and on the Arab regimes, and it had come to naught…

And there are other Right Zionists, some more obscure than others, who welcome Shiite power and retain a deep hostility toward Sunni Arab Iraq.

Consider, for example, the case of Gal Luft–executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS)–who recently co-authored an essay, “The Great Divide: Sunnis, Shi’ites and the West.”

[A]t least some elements in the Bush Administration seem to be leaning toward [Sunni Arab political dominance]. Increasingly disenchanted with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and intent on containing Iran, they have begun to speak of a new strategic alignment in the Middle East, arraying “moderate” Sunni allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf states against the Shi’ite “extremists” of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.

Evidence for this shift in thinking lies in Washington’s rising regard for Saudi Arabia. Just five years after September 11, an attack perpetrated in large part by Saudi nationals, the US appears to be outsourcing parts of its Middle East policy to the House of Saud, bolstering the kingdom’s military capabilities and, according to reports, involving itself in clandestine operations with radical Saudi proxies who loathe America but happen to hate the Shi’ites even more. As Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the New Yorker, “At a time when America’s standing in the Middle East is extremely low, the Saudis are actually embracing us. We should count our blessings.”

But these “blessings” are themselves decidedly mixed, as the Bush White House itself has long recognised…

An alignment with supposed Sunni “moderates” is, in short, a huge gamble. Essentially it would perpetuate, or resurrect, the same Sunni order that has been responsible over the course of several generations for most of the Middle East’s pathologies. It is under the Sunni dispensation, after all, that the Arab world has lagged in every dimension of human development, from political and cultural freedom to economic growth, while simultaneously giving birth to a virulent Islamic radicalism.

The Shiite-led government in Iraq is flexing its muscles in relation to Washington on a host of issues including the courting of Sunni Arab insurgents, Blackwater and arms for the Shiite-dominated Iraqi police.

Might signs of Shiite stridency and autonomy shake the Right Zionist faith in their local Shiite surrogates?

Right Zionists would not be excited to see Iraq turn toward China.  But they might not mind observing the ways in which independent Shiite power in Iraq “focuses the mind” of the Right Arabists who preside in Washington.

David Wurmser: A Very Medieval Sort of Guy

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

Having departed from the Cheney administration, David Wurmser recently sat for an interview with Toby Harnden, US Editor of the The Daily Telegraph.  Harnden has offered up three different venues for his Wurmser profile: a backgrounder, a news article, and a blog post.

For those who have been tracking Wurmser for a while, there aren’t many big surprises here.  But there are some familiar themes that certainly put to rest any notion that Wurmser is engaging in any serious self-criticism.

1. From Dual Containment to Dual Rollback: Iraq and Iran (backgrounder)

“Had we not gone to war, we would probably by now be dealing with a nuclear Iraq, a heavily chemical Iraq, and moreover an Iraq that governed the imagination of all the region.

We would be sitting here agonising over whether we need to align with Iran which is going nuclear against an Iraq which is going nuclear or with Iraq against Iran. And that is a strategic defeat for us either way.”

For a discussion of Wurmser’s vision of “dual rollback,” see my ZNet essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

2. Regime change in Iran (and Syria), if possible; military action, if necessary (blog):

First off, he does not believe it is feasible for the US to launch unilateral military strikes or an invasion as part of pre-emptive war on Iran. When I asked him if the US should initiate regime change in Damascus and Syria, he replied: “As far as non-violent means goes, yes. But it would be very difficult for the United States to initiate kinetic action without provocation.

Those non-violent means would include “radio, meetings, encouragement of dissidents, support” as well as a “clear policy that we will not traffic with this regime, we don’t accept the legitimacy of this regime and that we do support the Iranian people who oppose the regime“.

He summarised: “Hand them a series humiliating strategic defeats externally and work to undermine them internally. I don’t think the regime has the wherewithal to absorb such massive assaults”…

“If you do this now and you do this effectively and you do it aggressively and decisively you will not have to go to war with Iran….If we fail to do that in the near future then we’re going to face a much larger war and we will then have to think seriously about going directly into Iran.”

One of the ways of administering an external defeat to Iran, he said, would be to force regime change in Syria by America responding to a crisis… His theory is that Iran’s weakness would be exposed because it would be shown as impotent to protect Syria.

And from Harnden’s news article:

Limited strikes against Iranian nuclear targets would be useless, Mr Wurmser said. “Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians.

“If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don’t shoot a bear if you’re not going to kill it.”

For splits, within the “Neocon” world, on the relative merits of regime change and military action, see my blog post, “Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

3. US-British Rivalry in Iraq (news article):

Mr Wurmser… was highly critical of British forces in southern Iraq. “Being in Basra, the British had a major role to play and they didn’t really play it very well.

“Under British presence, the Iranians extended their power considerably. British troops are still there but Iraqis see them as dead men walking…. everybody’s looking towards who is the real power that fills the vacuum and that then translates into an Iranian-American confrontation in that area.”

British withdrawal, he said, could be a plus for the US. “It frees our hand to deal aggressively with their [Iran’s] structures. Once we have responsibility for that area, we’ll have to do what we need to do and that could well mean troops on the ground.”

For more on the notion of US-British rivalry, see my blog post, “Kicking the British Poodle in Basra.”

4. The US Occupation of Iraq (blog)

“Did we make mistakes?” Wurmser asked. “I wouldn’t have done the war that way. I think a lot of us would’ve wished that we would’ve recognised a government in exile ahead of time, gone in, minimal occupation, minor time period, quickly turned over power to an Iraqi government once and for all, and left with a fairly powerful over-the-shadow horizon.”

For more on rifts between “Boots on the Ground” advocates of a maximal occupation and “Nixon doctrine” partisans who favor minimal occupation and maximum reliance on local surrogates, see my blog post, “The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq.”

Beyond all that, there are some rare snaps of Wurmser and some quirky details about the man and his work:

His desk in Room 298 of the Old Executive Office Building, where he worked for four years as Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser, was seen as a centre of a grand conspiracy in which Mr Wurmser and other neoconservatives sought to subvert US policy….

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in his new office barely 200 yards away in an anonymous block that overlooks the White House, Mr Wurmser shrugged when asked about the neonconservative label that has become the premier term of abuse in Washington.

“There’s nothing ‘neo’ about me,” he quipped. “I’m a very medieval sort of guy.”

Not even a self-proclaimed “Renaissance” man.  Medieval….