News media coverage of the Bush administration’s Iraq Policy Review has focused on the possibility of a dramatic turn in US policy in Iraq that would feature a retreat from efforts to court the Sunni Arab insurgency and a full-throated support for a “Shiite Option.” In many ways, this would actually mark a return to the original Right Zionist plan for post-invasion Iraq.
A dramatic move of this kind would be explosive in the Middle East and this probably explains some of careful focus on the timing of any dramatic announcement. According to the White House, the “new strategy”–like the old “new strategies”–will arrive in 2007, an odd-numbered year when political insulation in the US is at its peak.
The delay from a pre-Christmas release is also likely a result of some ongoing factional resistance to such a bold move. Condoleezza Rice is reportedly ringing alarm bells about the Shiite Option:
Some members of the administration, including some in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, have argued that the administration needs to provide clear support to a strong Shiite majority government, but the State Department, led by Condoleezza Rice, views that as a recipe for perpetual civil war.
While we wait, I have been trying to suggest that there is a Russian angle in the new factionalism and it turns on relations between Russia and Iran.
The Baker crowd favors engagement with Iran. Neither an alliance between Iran and Russia nor animosity between Iran and Israel is a bar for the Baker faction. The clearest recent statement of support for this position arrives courtesy of Brent Scowcroft and his December 12, 2006 interview with the state-run Russian News Agency:
DMITRY BOBKOV: General Scowcroft, I remember when we met last year you mentioned there was no appropriate dialog between the U.S. and Russia. Since that time U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has made a famous speech in Vilnius, Lithuania where he criticized Russia’s domestic policy and the lack of freedom. Do you think that Russia is currently moving in the right direction?
SCOWCROFT: I think that the situation with U.S. – Russia relations has not gotten better since we talked last year; indeed, it’s probably gotten worse. I think we still suffer badly from the lack of regular dialog. In analyzing the Russian policy, the Russian government tends not to explain its actions very well. It simply comes out and does things, and then leaves people to figure out what they have in mind. That’s not useful in developing understanding. How long it will last, I don’t know. As we said last time, bureaucracy exists on both sides; neither the U.S. bureaucracy nor Russian bureaucracy has developed any affinity for the other. It’s still a suspicious relationship. For a time under the George W. Bush administration our bilateral relationship worked OK because the two leaders had a good personal relationship. Now that’s not so good anymore. But potentially there is something to hold this relationship together. There are many big issues around the world and our policies are not opposed to each other. Actually, they are congruous. And therefore there is potential for cooperation on areas like North Korea, Iran and many other areas. I think there are two serious problems in our partnership. One is the situation of democracy in Russia and the other concerns the southern border region of Russia. In both we are deeply suspicious of each other’s motives. When we see Russia intervening in Georgia or Ukraine or other places we tend to say that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union. When we intervene and praise democracy development in Georgia, Ukraine and so on, the Russians say we use democracy as an excuse to penetrate and drive them off.
This is a swipe at Cheney, who has always led the campaign to intervene to grab power in Russia’s old imperial sphere of influence.
DMITRY BOBKOV: Should Russia also start to participate in solving the Iraq problem?
SCOWCROFT: I would say yes. Because here again we have a common interest in the region. We’d like stability there. Instability doesn’t serve either one of our interests.
Apart from the Baker-Scowcroft faction, there is also a faction that fears the Russian alliance with Iran much more than Iranian-Israeli animosity and so favors engagement with Iran as a way to pry the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia.
Cheney, on the other hand, represents a factional alliance between Right Zionists (like his key Middle East aide, David Wurmser) and Russia hawks. For this coalition, the US can neither engage the incumbent Iranian regime nor leave it to Russia. The only solution is to win Iran for the US and Israel and keep it from Russia.
This points to the old Right Zionist notion that Iraqi Shiites will actually be allied with the US in a Shiite-led movement to overthrow the Iranian regime.
And already–right on cue–there are the first signs of Right Zionist excitement over the prospect of undermining the incumbent Iranian regime from within.
This strategy will put Saudi Arabia in an extremely awkward position. On the one hand, there are surely signs of Saudi-Iranian hostility over a host of issue, including Lebanon. A US-backed Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran is hardly out of the question, at least in the short term.
On the other hand, the Saudis also surely know that any Right Zionist quest for reconstructing the “Eternal Iran” is, in the last instance, only a prelude to the formation of a pro-US Shia Crescent that would ultimately transform the Arab Gulf into a Persian Gulf and devour the Saudi dynasty itself.