There have been times, especially in recent months, when Bush administration foreign policy factionalism looked like a thing of the past. Remember the good old days when Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld seemed locked in enormously weighty and bitter battles over the shape of US foreign policy in the Middle East? Nowadays, Condi Rice and Rumsfeld spar for fun over Rice’s acknowledgement that there might have been thousands of tactical errors made in Iraq, but then they take it all back with a “government of national unity” joint visit to Iraq.
“We just want to make sure there are no seams between what we’re doing politically and what we’re doing militarily. Secretary Rumsfeld and I are going to be there together because a lot of the work that has to be done is at that juncture between political and military,” Rice said.
For a while it looked like neither faction really had the energy to do battle on behalf of any kind of “Right Zionist” (aka “neocon”) or “Right Arabist” (so-called “realist”) vision for Iraq. Can’t we all just get along?
Or maybe the Right Arabists have simply won the day. Wolfowitz, Feith, and Libby are gone. If Khalilzad was once thought to be close to Right Zionists who favored Iraqi de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment, you wouldn’t know it from his extraordinary efforts as US Ambassador. His work on behalf of former Baathists and his willingness to risk war with Iraqi Shiites–not exactly moves lifted from the Right Zionist playbook. Rumsfeld is under seige from the Right Arabist military brass. And James Baker–a leading Right Arabist from the Bush Sr era–has been brought back (via Congress, but allegedly with White House support) to help manage Iraq.
Sure, Right Zionist David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of Vice President Cheney and Elliott Abrams still serves at the pleasure of Condi Rice. But they are “merely” deputies; maybe they prefer to stay close to power rather than resign as a matter of principle.
The abrupt departure of Porter Goss from the CIA might be about any number of things (including poker), but it may also represent another power grab by the Right Arabists. The Weekly Standard certainly fears as much.
We’re inclined to side with Goss in this dispute. But we are concerned that Goss left, or was eased out, for reasons of greater policy significance. And if this is the case, Goss’s leaving is not a good sign. Goss is a political conservative and an institutional reformer. He is pro-Bush Doctrine and pro-shaking-up-the-CIA.
John Negroponte, so far as we can tell, shares none of these sympathies. Negroponte is therefore more in tune with large swaths of the intelligence community and the State Department. If Negroponte forced Goss out… then Goss’s departure will prove to have been a weakening moment in an administration increasingly susceptible to moments of weakness.
This isn’t exactly triumphalist talk from the Right Zionist camp. The selection of Negroponte’s deputy–Michael Hayden–has brought howls of protest from those who see his selection as a move against Rumsfeld.
So, by some measures, the Right Zionists don’t count for much any more in the Bush administration. Many–like Michael Rubin and Barbara Lerner–long ago moved into the “opposition” once they saw their dreams for Iraq overrun by Right Arabists in Washington.
Funny thing, though: Re-Baathification in Washington looks far more advanced than it does in Baghdad. So long as Sistani moves from victory to victory, Right Zionists continue to be pleased with political results on the ground in Iraq, even as they lick their wounds back in Washington. In his recent Weekly Standard essay, “The Sistani Paradox: Building a democracy with the Ayatollahs We Have,” Duncan Currie writes:
Whether we like it or not, devout Muslims–not, alas, liberal secularists–offer the best hope for salvaging Iraq’s democratic experiment, because they represent broad swathes of Iraqi opinion… Ayatollah Sistani may be an imperfect vehicle for achieving our goals. (It is indeed depressing what passes for a “progressive” in the Muslim Middle East.) But he is a robust democrat who condemns terrorism and fervently wants to breach Islam’s separation from the modern world. In the great struggle of our time, that surely places Sistani on the side of the angels.
There was a time when one could claim that the “personnel is political” in Washington’s war in Iraq. Back then, the rise and fall of Right Zionist influence was measured by personnell decisions within the Bush administration. That time may have passed. Iraqi Shiites are a rising force in the Gulf and they will not be easily repressed. Right Zionists opened pandora’s box in Iraq. It is far from clear that Right Arabists will be able to close it, even as they move from victory to victory back in Washington.