My ZNet article–“Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–is an abridged version of a longer essay. The longer paper includes an explanation–quite speculative in most respects–for the fact that Rumsfeld and Cheney have served as leaders of a Right Zionist war in Iraq. This warrants explanation because Rumsfeld/Cheney have not always appeared to be the most reliable allies for such a project. Indeed, I review some indications that both were previously thought of by Right Zionists and Right Arabists as reliable Right Arabists. So, what changed?
A further question–even more important for understanding current US policy toward Iraq and Iran–is whether Rumsfeld and Cheney remain aligned with Right Zionists. Alas, the following excerpt does not attempt to answer that crucial question.
By Jonathan Cutler, Wesleyan University, May 12, 2006
In the history of Republican foreign policy factionalism, there seems to have been two major defections from the Right Arabist camp: Vice-President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In prior administrations, Rumsfeld and Cheney—Rumsfeld’s protégé in the Ford White House—fought side by side with Right Arabists. In the US invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld have drawn considerable fire from former allies on the Arabist Right. Any effort to explain the influence Right Zionist strategies at the start of the US invasion of Iraq must take account of the anomalous roles played by Cheney and Rumsfeld.
The timing and significance of any break between Cheney and Rumsfeld, on the one side, and the Right Arabists, on the other, will likely remain a matter of speculation for some time to come. For now, the record remains sketchy. Rumsfeld served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense in the administration of Gerald Ford, but he stayed out of government during the early Reagan administration. However, as the “Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service” reminded readers of its website in December 2003—Rumsfeld came back to the White House to help Reagan overcome Zionist opposition to the sale of AWACS to the Saudis. Similarly, the “American Israel Public Affairs Committee” has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale. And it was Rumsfeld who helped Reagan’s Arabists “tilt” the US toward Iraq in 1983 and 1984 when he traveled to Baghdad as special U.S. Middle East envoy and met with Saddam Hussein.
Somewhere along the way to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld ran into trouble with the Right Arabist crowd. Brent Scowcroft could not have been more explicit than he was in an October 2005 interview with the New Yorker.
The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney… I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore… I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons.
More specifically, Scowcroft speculates that Cheney has been persuaded by the idea—rejected by Scowcroft, but attributed by him to Princeton professor Bernard Lewis—that “one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick.”
There are some signs that Cheney and Rumsfeld had aligned themselves with Right Zionists before the 2000 Presidential election. For example, in June 1997, Rumsfeld and Cheney signed on to William Kristol’s “Statement of Principles” for his “Project for a New American Century” (PNAC). Other signatories included Right Zionists like Norman Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Dector; their son-in-law, Elliot Abrams—another key player in the Iran-Contra affair; Frank Gaffney; and Paul Wolfowitz.
In 1998, Rumsfeld signed another PNAC document that explicitly endorsed “removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.” With Richard Perle, Wolfowitz, and Abrams as signatories, the document certainly had Right Zionist support. The wording of the letter, however, offered something for Right Arabists and Zionists alike. It explained how the failure to effectively contain Saddam Hussein endangered “our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states.” Maybe the refusal to name Saudi Arabia as a friend, ally, or “moderate” Arab state was intended to signal the dominance of Right Zionist influence. But the letter allowed for productive ambiguity.
Most Right Arabists seemed to draw even closer to Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Abdullah in the late 1990s. Abdullah thrilled—and shocked—Right Arabists and US oil company executives in September 1998 when he unexpectedly abandoned the oil nationalism of the 1970s and invited US oil companies to consider direct upstream investment in new oil and gas fields (“Saudis Talk with 7 U.S. Oil Firms; Companies Were Kicked Out in 1970s,” Washington Post, September 30, 1998). In April 2001, Exxon Mobil and Saudi Arabia signed “preparatory agreements” that secured for Exxon Mobile its role as leader and operator of two of three core ventures in a new Saudi natural gas initiative (“Exxon Takes Saudi Gas Prize,” International Petroleum Finance, April 30, 2001). Final contracts were expected by December 2001.
Abdullah’s star was on the rise among Right Arabists impressed by his economic opening to the US oil industry. A serious deterioration in US-Saudi relations after September 11th seems to have engendered a split among Right Arabists about the future viability of any US-Saudi alliance. Cheney and Rumsfeld, in particular, seem to have developed serious concerns about Abdullah’s response to September 11th.
His associations with Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, notwithstanding, Right Zionists were hardly accustomed to thinking of Cheney as an ally. In fact, by some accounts, Cheney was actually the most powerful Bush administration opponent of any effort to weaken the US-Saudi alliance. In his 2002 book, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror, Stephen Schwartz—a regular contributor to the Weekly Standard—describes Cheney as “the most active in diverting the president from any actions detrimental to Saudi interests” and accuses the Vice President of “clear conflicts of interest” because of his “lucrative” relations with the Saudis (p.271).
So, too, the Weekly Standard published an article in April 2002, “Cheney Trips Up: The Vice President’s Middle East Expedition Didn’t Help the War on Terror” that criticized Cheney because he “avoided putting the Arabs on the spot” about regime change in Iraq. In a subsequent editorial, “The Detour,” the Weekly Standard blamed Cheney—and his “ill-fated trip to the Middle East”—for diverting the Bush administration from “America’s war on terrorism” and for engineering the “administration’s sudden quasi-embrace of Arafat.”
By August 2002, however, Cheney seems to have gone from an obstacle to a key sponsor of Right Zionist ambitions for war in Iraq. Perhaps it is important to note that the $30 billion Saudi gas deal fell apart just prior to Cheney’s apparent reversal. The first public report of trouble appeared within weeks of the September 11th attacks, as the government-owned Saudi Aramco—the world’s largest oil exporter—“baulked at this foreign invasion” (“Western Oil Companies Join the Search for Gas,” Financial Times, October 29, 2001). By January 2002 oil industry officials suggested that new delays were a consequence of “political, not legal, reasons” (“US Firms say Timetable May Slip on Saudi Gas Deals,” The Oil and Gas Journal, January 21, 2002).
As deadlines passed and industry executives began to fret about the future of the gas deal, industry analysts reported, “There is reason to believe the status of the negotiations will be monitored at the highest levels of the US government. The Department of State announced Mar. 1 that Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, would join the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in coming weeks as the deputy assistant secretary handling Middle East economic issues” (“Saudi Gas Partnerships with US Firms Delayed Again,” The Oil and Gas Journal, March 11, 2002). In April 2002, industry officials hoped that Cheney’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Abdullah’s visit to the United States would save the faltering gas talks, but feared “rising anti-American sentiment in Saudi Arabia” would scuttle the deal (“Talks Between Saudis, Oil Companies Falter,” Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2002).
In late July 2002, the Saudis announced that negotiators would meet to “present their final offers.” On Monday, July 29, 2002, the oil industry press reported that negotiations “ground to a halt” after it became clear “the [Saudi] ministers were against going forward” (“Saudi Gas Initiative at an Impasse,” Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, July 29, 2002). The deal was dead.
Little more than a week after the Saudis walked away from the US oil majors, Cheney went public in his support for a US invasion of Iraq. The Weekly Standard was quick to notice the change. Even as Kristol chastised Brent Scowcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and his deputy Richard Armitage for constituting an “Axis of Appeasement” within the Republican Party, he praised Cheney for a “fine speech in San Francisco on August 7”—the Vice President’s first major public appearance in months—in which the Vice President called Saddam Hussein a “growing threat.”
In the August 26, 2002 issue of the Weekly Standard, Kristol pointed to “the highly significant speech delivered today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars by Vice President Cheney” and concluded “The debate in the administration is over.” As far as Kristol was concerned, Cheney had switched sides and consummated his alliance with the Right Zionists. Moreover, Kristol noted that Cheney’s speech specifically targets “recent critics of the Bush Doctrine”—especially Brent Scowcroft. Cheney addressed himself—in minimally coded language—to the Right Arabist argument “that opposing Saddam Hussein would cause even greater troubles in that part of the world… I believe the opposite is true. Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region… The reality is that these times bring not only dangers but also opportunities.” Even as Cheney thumbed his nose at Scowcroft, he tipped his hat to Right Zionists, citing Fouad Ajami’s prediction that “the streets of Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy.”
In short order, Rumsfeld and Cheney became the patron saints of Right Zionist ambitions in Iraq. For this they have earned the eternal enmity of Right Arabists.