Dreyfuss: Learning to Love the Neocons?

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq

The Left has lots of ways of talking about what is “wrong” with the Iraq war.  Some are likely to endure more than others.

There are claims, for example, that the invasion was morally wrong (an oil grab, an imperialist imposition, etc.).

There are also claims that that the invasion was strategically wrong (the Neocons were incompetent, naive, ideological).

Debate among those who make arguments about strategic calculations turn on a few major issues.

The Sunni Insurgency:

Neocons arguably failed to anticipate the Sunni insurgency.

Cheney conceded that point back in June 2006.

Q Do you think that you underestimated the insurgency’s strength?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think so.

Of course, Cheney has taken heat for adding, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered.”   Rumsfeld, too, suggested that nobody anticipated the insurgency’s strength.  This is nonsense.  Cheney and Rumsfeld chose to discount the threat of the insurgency.

One might even predict that the greater “wrong” here is not strategic butmoral.”

What if Cheney and Rumsfeld did anticipate a Sunni insurgency but thought that the US could “win dirty” by allowing Shiites and Kurds to “cleanse” Iraq of Sunni resistance?

Remember Rumsfeld:

Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.

Wasn’t Rumsfeld already talking about winning dirty?  His Right Zionist allies were always prepared to win dirty.  Remeber Reuel Marc Gerecht: “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?

Indeed, Right Zionists (Fouad Ajami and Gerecht) are feeling optimistic today precisely because they think the US has already started to win dirty.

Handing Iraq to Iran:

Other critics have suggested that the Neocon incompetence handed Iraq to Iran.

The leading “Left” critic on this score has been long-time Iran hawk, Robert Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss has frequently “exposed” the “Secrets of the US-Shiite Alliance” and lamented the disastrous creation of “Iran’s Iraq.”  He has also penned vicious attacks on Iraq’s leading Shiite political figures, denounced “Bush’s Shiite Gang in Iraq“:

So the question is: when will [we] hear the Bush administration’s top officials start calling the Shiite fundamentalist regime in Baghdad “Islamofascists”? So far, they’s applied that term only to the Iraqi resistance, tarring the Sunni-led insurgency by painting them as led by Al Qaeda-style terrorists, when in fact that they are mostly Iraqi nationalists, Baathists, and ex-military men. Their main grievance is that the United States is handing Iraq over to Iran. I’d say they’re right.

Now, however, he seems to be changing his tune.  The change does not appear to be based on a reconsideration of the morality of playing the “Devil’s Game” so much as a reconsideration of the strategic viability of the same Neocon strategy I discussed in my article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

The Dreyfuss reversal is a blog post entitled, “Iraq’s Influence in Iran.”

Before the war in 2003, the neocons’ fervent hope was that Najaf, the Iraqi holy city, would rise to eclipse Qom, the Iranian clerical center, helping to undermine the rule of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Since then, Iran’s influence in Iraq has appeared far greater than vice versa. But a Boston Globe article suggests that the effects are being felt both ways….

This is interesting, and deserves further investigation. Certainly, Iraq and Iran influence each other, and in many ways. So far, it seems, Iran’s influence in Iraq is greater than the other way around, although the possibility of clerical opposition to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is growing. Some of that, at least, could be tied to Iraqi ayatollahs, including Sistani, in concert with dissident Iranian clerics such as Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who challenged the political theory of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Dreyfuss has penned articles attacking Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen not only on the basis that they were morally suspect but also on the basis that they simply had no idea what they were talking about.  Now, Dreyfuss finds the consequences of Ledeen’s war in Iraq “interesting.”

That is a step toward acknowledging that when dealing with Right Zionists, we are in a realm “beyond incompetence.”

As I have previously discussed, there are critics (Swopa at Needlenose) who have been utterly dismissive of the notion of tension between Najaf and Qom.

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true. Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Juan Cole’s interpretation of this issue has always left me confused.  On the one hand, Cole wrote a July 2005 article in Salon entitled, “The Iraq War is Over, And the Winner Is… Iran.”

On the other hand, I have also previously noted that Cole’s adamant insistence (in agreement with Right Zionist strategists) that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is not close to the regime in Iran.  Indeed, when Professor Cole listed his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005, number five was as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

Am I alone in being amazed that four years after the US invasion of Iraq there has never been a full airing of this issue, even among Left critics of the war?

If, as Dreyfuss suggests, there might prove to be something “interesting” about the strategic consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, then Left “critics” might at some point contemplate abandoning their posts as armchair imperial strategists and find a different anti-imperialist basis for opposing the US war in Iraq.

1 Comment to Dreyfuss: Learning to Love the Neocons?

  • Since few of us in the lay public are familiar with the intricacies of Shiite doctrine, the Qom-Najaf dispute is simply beyond our ken. There may very well be serious disagreements. But let us take a peak at where they agree completely;

    1) See the reactions of Iraqi Shiites when Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assinated in Gaza in 2004.

    2) See Maliki’s reaction (rebuked in congress) when asked to condemn Hizbollah last summer.

    3) Ayatollah Sistani has not met (at least publicly) with any U.S. official but does meet with Iranians. He has refused Iraqi citizenship when offered.

    Also, bear in mind that there are other kinds of influence beyond spiritual. All the physical, economic and military influence will flow from Iran to Iraq and not vice-versa.

    Conclusion; There may be just enough meat on the Qom-Najaf bone for the last true believers to gnaw on, but nearly enough to leave them satisfied.

    At least that’s how I see it.

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