Right Lightning, Left Thunder*

Posted by Cutler on October 16, 2006
Isolationism, Right Arabists

How will the critics respond if the Bush administration capitulates to Right Arabist pressure (i.e., James Baker’s Iraq Study Group) and inaugurates an end-of term “clean break” with the Right Zionist course in Iraq?

Partisans, Plain and Simple

To be sure, some Iraq war critics are plain and simple partisans. These folks will attack the Bush administration for anything it decides because it derides the decider. Plain partisans feign passing interest in Iraq, but a change in course in Iraq would hardly register as significant.

The outcome: plain partisans will turn on a dime along with any change in the Bush administration. Without ever noticing, they will purge themselves of Right Arabist complaints about Iraq (too few troops, missionary zeal for democracy, naive de-Baathification, Zionist manipulation) and adopt the American Enterprise Institute homepage as their own. There they will find Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, and others lamenting the madness of US policy in Iraq (heavy-handed military occupation, coddling of dictators, naive re-Baathification, Saudi manipulation).

Plain partisans will be reliably critical of any shift in Bush administration policy. Trouble is, many of these same folks may be completely disarmed when Bush passes the torch to a Democratic administration. Anybody but Bush, right?

Such an administration could be given a free hand, when it comes to the substance of policy and the depth of sacrifice required, simply because it is not the Bush administration.

Not a particularly powerful basis for critically confronting a Democratic party that led the US to war in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam–just to name a few of the big military adventures of the 20th Century.

Foreign Policy Partisans

Unlike “plain partisans,” some anti-war activists actually dug in and developed commitments to a “line” on Iraq.

Many of these “foreign policy partisans” may have started as “plain partisans,” but they developed a specific critique of the Right Zionist character of Bush administration policies in Iraq.

That critique mirrored, in many respects, the critique offered up by the Right Arabist establishment that found itself suddenly in the “opposition” after September 11th.

Unlike “plain partisans” who risk serious cooptation only after 2008, “foreign policy partisans” face a more immediate risk of cooptation insofar as the Bush administration is currently contemplating a dramatic and decisive shift toward Right Arabist influence.

Such a shift may not actually come to pass. But if it does, “foreign policy partisans” will find themselves cheering for the Right Arabist establishment and the Bush administration.

In some cases, the “marriage of convenience” that linked foreign policy partisans of the Left to the Right Arabist establishment may endure. (Others will split, but the breakup is going to be awkward after all the sweet nothings whispered).

“Foreign policy partisans” most at risk are the ones whose critique has been the most narrowly focused on the Right Zionist menace.

Exhibit A is surely Robert Dreyfuss. But there is no reason to pick on Dreyfuss simply because he offers up such low-lying fruit.

There are plenty of writers whose critique of Right Arabists is quite dull.

Take, for example, a recent article in The Nation by David Corn, “Who’s Running Afghan Policy?

Corn begins with what would seem to be a pretty harsh critique of Meghan O’Sullivan, White House NSC deputy for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several months ago a leading American expert on Afghanistan was meeting with Meghan O’Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser in the Bush White House. The topic at hand was the attitude of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, toward the revived Taliban insurgents operating out of Pakistani territory…

[An expert meeting with O’Sullivan referred] to the Durand Line… [to note] that US efforts in the region are complicated by pre-9/11 history. O’Sullivan, according to this expert (who wishes not to be named), didn’t know what the Durand Line was. The expert was stunned. O’Sullivan is the most senior Bush Administration official handling Afghanistan policy. If she wasn’t familiar with this basic point, US policy-making on Afghanistan was in trouble.

Corn seems to be moving toward a harsh critique of O’Sullivan.

It doesn’t happen. Why? Corn explains:

O’Sullivan is not the issue. She is a protégé of Richard Haass, who left the State Department as policy director in July 2003 and became president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and she is neither a neocon nor an ideologue

The problem is that O’Sullivan, who is in her mid-30s, is not an expert in the field and does not have the stature to take on heavyweights in the Administration (say, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld). Worse, she has two briefs: Afghanistan and Iraq. Either project would (or should) be more than a 24/7 job for a senior Administration official…

O’Sullivan gets a (paternalistic) pass from Corn. Why? Apparently, any friend of Richard Haass is a friend of The Nation these days.

A pity, given Corn’s concern that “Pakistan has been colluding with the Taliban.”

As I mentioned in a recent post, Right Arabists are arguably the ones responsible for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, not because they lost out to Rumsfeld but because they won that factional fight back in 2002.

Insofar as Right Arabists recapture the ship of state, foreign policy partisans seem set to be disoriented and defanged.

Partisanship–whether plain and simple, or foreign policy focused–will not serve in the current context.

The foreign policy establishment has been engaged in an intramural rivalry between two factions–Right Arabists and Right Zionists–that offer different paths for policing US interests in the Middle East.

Those who pick a side in that battle risk being subsumed by it.

What is needed is a consistent and even-handed anti-imperialist politics.

*The title of this post owes its inspiration to an essay by Scott Tucker.

1 Comment to Right Lightning, Left Thunder*

  • I know you don’t get too many discussion comments, Prof. Cutler, so I felt like posting for that reason and because I read all your posts.

    I find them to be a really great distillation of the information that’s out there. I’m really glad that you do this service. Of course you push an anti-war, anti-imperialism agenda which I agree with, and offer the information pertinent to that, but you do not lie or twist the info. It’s really the best thing out there I think for a getting an understanding of US foreign policy in the ME as it happens. And of course you’d have to be a moral monster not to agree with an anti-imperialism agenda when you do get the information.

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