In many respects, the factional battle lines that have formed around the US invasion of Iraq have been pretty stark and predictable. In my ZNET essay on foreign policy factionalism, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” I suggested that the US invasion of Iraq tended to split the foreign policy establishment into two camps: Right Zionists and Right Arabists.
One of the central puzzles, from that day to this, has been locating Vice President Cheney on that spectrum.
Of course, Cheney has been very clearly aligned with Right Zionists for some time now and he continues to surround himself with Right Zionist advisers like David Wurmser.
But Cheney was not always perceived as a “sure thing” for Right Zionists. Cheney was not always thought of as allied with Right Zionists. Among other things, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia.
Back in the 1990s Cheney did not seem to be above taking pot shots at the Israel lobby and its zeal for US sanctions against Iran.
Nick Snow interviewed Cheney for Petroleum Finance Week at a 1996 Energy Conference and filed the following report:
Halliburton Co. Chairman Richard B. Cheney sees many opportunities worldwide for U.S. oil and gas producers, drilling contractors and service and supply companies. But he’s also concerned that sanctions sought by domestic politicians to please local constituencies will hurt U.S. business growth overseas…
But he also considers sanctions the greatest threat to Halliburton and other U.S. companies pursuing opportunities overseas. “We seem to be sanction-happy as a government. The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments,” he observed during his conference presentation.
If anything, Cheney was probably considered a Right Arabist eager to do business with the Saudis and willing to find a modus operandi for doing deals with the Iranians.
Something changed. Cheney closely aligned himself with Right Zionists.
Commentators who note the change often seem to focus primarily on Cheney’s hypocrisy. Be that as it may, there are important questions to be asked about what triggered Cheney’s change of “heart.”
I have tried to offer up some explanations, including one that focused on post-9/11 tensions between Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.
More recently, I have also found reason to suspect that at least some of Cheney’s shift might have begun before September 11th. According to this account, Cheney was handed a huge defeat by the Israel Lobby in early 2001. Unable to beat them, he joined them.
Those who do not attend to the factors the triggered Cheney’s change are least likely to anticipate the possibility that other factors might cause Cheney to change course again.
Needless to say, these are merely speculations.
Even as Cheney “allowed” the US-Iranian meeting in Iraq, there are signs that he is far from committed to this track.
Apart from Cheney’s own strident, anti-Iranian bluster during his recent visit to the Gulf, there are also rumors that he and his Right Zionist allies are telling friends to discount all the “diplomatic” talk.
Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.
Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.
Was Abrams speaking truth to the “Jewish Republicans” or was he trying to manage their potential discontent? Hard to say.
More recently, Steven Clemons has offered up alleged details of a similar “reassurance” campaign among Right Zionist allies:
Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously…
There are many other components of the complex game plan that this Cheney official has been kicking around Washington. The official has offered this commentary to senior staff at AEI and in lunch and dinner gatherings which were to be considered strictly off-the-record, but there can be little doubt that the official actually hopes that hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives share this information and then rally to this point of view…
Is there any reason to doubt that the “senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team” who has been “meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute” is either John Hannah or David Wurmser?
As Juan Cole has suggested, Steven Clemons is “very well connected in Washington,” especially among Right Arabists. I’m in no position to discount the rumor. I do think it is peculiar that, according to Clemons, there is “little doubt” that the “Cheney official” hoped “hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives would share this information.” So far, only Clemons appears to be sharing the “information.”
In a more general sense, I think it is unwise to assume that Cheney will remain forever faithful to his Right Zionist allies. He has bigger fish to fry.
Specifically, Caspian Sea fish.
I have no doubt Cheney would gladly discard his Right Zionist allies if he thought the incumbent Iranian regime could become a useful foil to Russian geopolitical aspirations.