The US invaded Iraq, but the target was Saudi Arabia–at least among Rigth Zionists within the Bush administration. Iraq is the central pivot for the regional balance of power in the Gulf. On the western shores of the Gulf sits Saudi Arabia. To the East, Iran. Iraq, in the North, is the tip of the triangle. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by a Sunni Arab minority, the Gulf is an Arab Gulf. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by its Shiite majority (loyal to a Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani), the balance of power in the Gulf tips toward a Persian Gulf.
The US invasion–and more specifically, the all-important decision to destroy the Baathist military state that guaranteed Sunni minority rule–tipped the balance toward a Persian Gulf. It is for this reason that the war has provoked hostility from Saudi Arabia (and other Arab regimes like Egypt and Jordan)–and Right Arabist friends of Saudi Arabia in Washington.
I mention all this for two reasons. First, no dynamic is more important for understanding what the war in Iraq–including all the post-war political wrangling–has been about.
Second, the “Saudi Question” regarding Iraq (leaving aside, for the moment, the equally important “Iranian Question”) has recently received some media attention from the Los Angeles Times and discussion by Juan Cole at Informed Comment, here and here.
According to the LA Times,
A stark dilemma lies before the rulers of this desert kingdom: how to insulate their land from the sectarian fighting in neighboring Iraq yet find a way to counter Iran’s swelling influence there.
Though Saudi rulers might prefer to avoid involvement in Iraq, there is a growing sense here that of all the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the most likely to be sucked in if the violence doesn’t slow. A host of ideas, virtually all of them controversial, are swirling around Riyadh, including funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and improving ties with Iran.
This dilemma is not new. It is the same dilemma that determind the end of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. On the one hand, the Saudis had no love for Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, they could not support a Shiite uprising in Iraq. The result: Saudis pressed the US to leave Saddam in power and then spent the better part of a decade trying to initiate a Baathist coup to oust Saddam with the help of ex-Baathist figures like Iyad Allawi. (The best source on all this remains Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s outstanding book on Iraq in the 1990s, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein).
One very strange feature of the LA Times article: there are plenty of quotes supporting the notion that one of the “ideas…swirling around Riyadh” is “funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.” Indeed, I think this may constitute more than merely an “idea” at this point. But the article doesn’t include even one talking head that actually suggests “improving ties with Iran.” Hmmm. Just a journalistic/political flourish on the part of reporter Megan Stack?
It should also be said–if it isn’t already obvious–that Right Zionists cleary intended to have the US invasion of Iraq tip the regional balance of power away from Saudi Arabia.
And what about the “Iranian Question”? Did the US intend to tip the regional balance of power toward Iran? Yes and no. It depends on which Iran you mean, as suggested by a recent Financial Times report on US relations with Iran:
Speaking about US plans to spend more than $75m (€58m, £40m) on promoting democratic change in Iran, Alberto Fernandez, head of the US State Department’s press and public diplomacy for the Middle East, set out how the US sees Iran’s duality. Like night and day, he said, Iran was divided between – “official Iran” (the regime) and “eternal Iran” (the people).
When the US invaded Iraq, its target was also “official Iran” but its goal was “eternal Iran.” Regime change in Iran depends on sharpening the distinction between the two. Right Zionist aren’t expecting much help in this regard from the $75m to be spent by the Right Arabists over at the State Department. Nor do they favor a military invasion. For regime change–pitting “eternal Iran” against “official Iran”–Right Zionists are counting on a clarifying fatwa from a certain Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani.
I’m waiting for that shoe to drop. How about you?