Karzai’s Russian Card

Posted by Cutler on March 01, 2007
Afghanistan, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

In a recent post–entitled “Choosing to Lose in Afghanistan?“–I suggested that Vice President Cheney might have geopolitical reasons to want to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The central idea was that the Taliban is today–as it was in the 1990s–a bulwark against Russian influence in Afghanistan. As a Russia hawk, Cheney might choose to “lose” in Afghanistan–i.e., to lose the Karzai government and the NATO battle against the Taliban–in order to keep Moscow out of Kabul.

It was an interesting exercise to try to make the argument. And it may have some merit.

Nevertheless, there are very few signs of any US overture to the Taliban (i.e., pressure for the cooptation and integration of Taliban forces as part of the political landscape in Kabul). And, well, tensions between the Taliban and Cheney seemed kind of intense this week, what with the former trying to kill the latter.

I continue to think the the Russian angle is part of the story, but I’m not sure that support for the Taliban is the only option for a Russia hawk.

It is true, as I argued, that the so-called “Tajik clique” behind the Karzai government was historically aligned with Russia. It is also true that the Taliban has had and continues to have very tense relations with Moscow.

Perhaps Cheney is now pressing for a major crackdown against the Taliban. Maybe Cheney thinks that the best way to grab Afghanistan and keep it from Russia is to compete for the hearts and minds of the “Tajik clique.” And maybe the “Tajik clique” of the Karzai regime is playing hard to get.

Back in December 2006, Fareed Zakaria published an essay that about efforts by Afghan President Karzai to get Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to crackdown on the Taliban:

Karzai argues that Pakistan has been tacitly—and often actively—supporting the Taliban along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and in Pakistan itself…

At the dinner that Bush threw for both presidents in September, Karzai was extremely blunt, according to those familiar with the discussions (who wish to remain anonymous because of the private nature of the event). Karzai warned that if the United States was forced to leave Afghanistan, Kabul would ally far more closely with India and Russia, which would not be in Pakistan’s interests.

Is it too much to suggest that Karzai was threatening Cheney as much as Musharraf?

Karzai is often caricatured as a well-dressed US puppet whose weak regime may control the city of Kabul, but little else.

Is it possible, however, that Karzai is using inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and Russia to leverage US pressure on Musharraf and the Taliban?

Mr. Negroponte, I Presume

Posted by Cutler on February 28, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Syria / No Comments

It may be time to abandon all talk of “the Bush administration.”  What we have in Washington are two Bush administrations at war with each other.

There is, of course, the Cheney administration, spoiling for a fight with Iran and sweet on the Shiites of Iraq.

Then there is the other administration.  Call it the “establishment” Right Arabist” of the administration.  That is the one that yesterday resurrected the Baker-Hamilton Report and announced plans to support diplomatic discussions with Iran and Syria.

The last time the Bush administration “blinked” on Iran in June 2006, Right Zionists like Richard Perle blamed Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice.

It detracts little from Rice’s influence in the administration to suggest that the “establishment” wing of the administration also received some reinforcement with the formal arrival–also yesterday–of John Negroponte as Deputy Secretary of State, Rice’s number two at Foggy Bottom.

The North Korea deal that so unsettled John Bolton was probably the first sign of a new “establishment” offensive.  Now comes Iran.

The Right Zionists have not yet weighed in about the news of the diplomatic initiative with Iran and Syria, but it won’t be long before the battle is joined.

Still, all is not lost for the Right Zionists.  There is, of course, still Cheney and his wing of the administration.

And–surprise!–things are looking up in the Senate where Dem Zionists are reliably hawkish on Iran and Syria.

Just for kicks, check out Michael Ledeen’s effusive praise for Democrat Senator Carl Levin:

Carl Levin, NeoCon [Michael Ledeen]

Read it twice, I had to. But Carl Levin has endorsed my longstanding proposal to go after terrorist training camps and weapons assembly facilities in Syria and Iran.

Carl Levin, you say?

Yeah, Carl Levin, the newly minted neocon from Michigan. My kinda guy. Just read it and cheer. It’s from hearings yesterday:

SEN CARL LEVIN (D-MI): “Now, in terms of the weapons coming in from Syria, those weapons that you’ve described as coming in from Syria and perhaps other Sunni neighbors are killing our troops. Do we have a plan to address the Syrian weapon source — of killings of our troops?”

JOHN MCCONNELL, Director of National Intelligence: “Sir, I know the military is working that border area to close it down from not only weapons but also jihadists coming in —”

LEVIN: “It’s more than just — we’re trying to close down the Iranian border area too. The problem is that these weapons are coming from a state which is — doesn’t recognize Israel either, just like Iran doesn’t. We’ve got to try to stop weapons coming into Iraq from any source that are killing our troops. I agree with the comments about trying to stop them coming in from Iran, I think we have to try stop them that are going to the Sunni insurgents as well as to the Shia. I was just wondering, does the military have a plan to, if necessary, to go into Syria to go to the source of any weapons coming from Syria? That are going to Sunni insurgents? That are killing our troops? … I think we ought to take action on all fronts including Syria and any other source of weapons coming in, obviously Iran is the focus – but it shouldn’t be the sole focus.”

(Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 02/27/07)

A Shiite Tilt?

Posted by Cutler on February 27, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Those trying to discern any implicit political tilt to the Baghdad security plan should not be satisfied by White House professions of (and demands for) political neutrality and even handedness.

Instead, the best way to trace the contours of US policy is to listen for the howls of protest.

Here comes one now, and it suggests a pro-Shiite tilt.  Here is the Associated Press story:

The most prominent Sunni in Iraq’s fragmented government said Monday that the United States is going to have to come up with a “Plan B” if the current crackdown fails to stem the violence in the capital.

Tariq al-Hashemi, the Sunni vice president, also warned that the Shiite-led government has no choice but to use force against sectarian militias, even though it may be too late to keep them from resuming killings and kidnappings when the Baghdad security crackdown ends…

The option of a political solution failed, and there is no choice now for the government except to use force against these militias – but it’s too late,” he said…

“Up to now, legal procedures have not been observed,” al-Hashemi said. “The human rights of Iraqis have not been respected as they should be. In this regard, this (security) plan is being implemented in the same way the previous ones were. This is surely regrettable.”

At the same time, he said efforts to lure Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms was “moving at the speed of turtles” because the Shiite parties are reluctant “to bring them into the political process.”

“They view the resistance as a terror group that is no different from al-Qaida and that’s the problem we are facing now,” he said of the Shiites.

Choosing to Lose in Afghanistan?

Posted by Cutler on February 26, 2007
Afghanistan, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

Vice President Cheney has made unannounced visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, Cheney’s visit to Pakistan was intended to deliver “an unusually tough message” to President Pervez Musharraf.

The decision to send Mr. Cheney secretly to Pakistan came after the White House concluded that General Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Mr. Bush during a visit here in September. General Musharraf insisted then, both in private and public, that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in one of the country’s most lawless border areas would not diminish the hunt for the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Nobody is going to question the idea that Cheney can deliver a tough message when he wants to (see his latest warnings to Iran).

The real question is whether Cheney actually wants a fight with Musharraf. He might. I’m just not sure.

The “tough” message in Pakistan is being delivered by the House Democrats, not the Bush administration. Indeed, the Bush administration opposed the Pelosi bill that threatened to link Pakistani aid to a crackdown on the Taliban.

For Cheney, however, the problem with a tough message to Pakistan and a crackdown on the Taliban is that such initiatives may ultimately undermine Cheney’s anti-Russian goals in Central Asia.

In an August 5, 1999 article in the Financial Times (“Contest For Regional Supremacy Replaces Cold War Conflict in Afghanistan”), Charles Clover put the post-Cold War history of the Afghan factionalism in the context of geopolitical rivalries:

[T]he war in Afghanistan is not just a tribal or an ethnic conflict but a geopolitical one; that the superpower conflict between the USSR and the US in the 1980s has been replaced by a contest for regional supremacy, pitting Pakistan against Iran and Russia

“The Taliban are not Pakistani mercenaries but they are facilitated and trained by Pakistan. They are permitted to recruit in Pakistan. They are really a transnational, Afghan-Pakistani phenomenon,” said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations…

Jamiat-i-Islami… [is] the main faction opposed to the Taliban… Burnahiddin Rabbani, who is still recognised internationally as the president of Afghanistan, is the political head of Jamiat…

Funds for the Taliban appear to come mainly from the Gulf states or individuals, according to Mr Rubin. The movement is recognised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Pakistan, as the legitimate government of Afghanistan…

[T]he prospect of Pakistani dominantion over Afghanistan proved too threatening for other countries in the region, and an unlikely alliance between Iran and Russia formed to support an anti-Taliban force made up primarily of… Jamiat-i-Islami.

“There is a big Russian and Iranian role with [anti-Taliban] forces, but it is not as extensive as Pakistan’s role with the Taliban,” said Mr Rubin…

Several times a week [anti-Taliban forces fly] an old MI-17 helicopter to Tajikistan, which has signed defence co-operation agreements with Russia and Iran. Tajik airbases such as the town of Kulyab have become centres for Russian and Iranian supplies…

In other words, the Afghani civil war of the 1990s was a proxy battle between US-backed forces–the Saudis, the Pakistanis, and the Taliban–and Russian-backed forces–Iran, India, Tajikistan, and the so-called “Northern Alliance.”

In a recent Washington Post Op-Ed (“Discarding An Afghan Opportunity”), Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy argues that after 9/11, some elements of the Bush administration supported what amounted to a Russian- and Iranian-aligned “Tajik clique” in Afghanistan:

In 2001 the United States lined up with the Tajik ethnic minority, whose small military force, the Northern Alliance, helped dislodge the Pashtun-based Taliban and has subsequently dominated the Karzai government. Tajik generals and their proxies still control the army as well as key secret police and intelligence agencies hated by the Pashtuns. Karzai, a Pashtun, has attempted to soften Tajik domination with Pashtun appointments to top security jobs, but the real power remains in the hands of a U.S.-backed Tajik clique.

Does Cheney support this “Tajik clique”? Or does he accept NATO’s failure to defeat the Taliban as the price of blocking Russian and Iranian political dominance in Afghanistan?

In a recent Foreign Affairs essay–“Saving Afghanistan“–Barnett Rubin suggests that the US continues to send mixed messages about its geopolitical aims in Afghanistan.

The rushed negotiations between the United States and Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 changed Pakistan’s behavior but not its interests. Supporting the Taliban was so important to Pakistan that Musharraf even considered going to war with the United States rather than abandon his allies in Afghanistan. Instead, he tried to persuade Washington to allow him to install a “moderate Taliban” government or, failing that, at least to prevent the Northern Alliance, which Pakistanis see as allied with India, from entering Kabul and forming a government. The agreement by Washington to dilute Northern Alliance control with remnants of Afghanistan’s royal regime did little to mollify the generals in Islamabad, to say nothing of the majors and colonels who had spent years supporting the Taliban in the border areas. Nonetheless, in order to prevent the United States from allying with India, Islamabad acquiesced in reining in its use of asymmetrical warfare, in return for the safe evacuation of hundreds of Pakistani officers and intelligence agents from Afghanistan, where they had overseen the Taliban’s military operations.

The United States tolerated the quiet reconstitution of the Taliban in Pakistan as long as Islamabad granted basing rights to U.S. troops, pursued the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, and shut down A. Q. Khan’s nuclear-technology proliferation network. But five years later, the safe haven Pakistan has provided, along with continued support from donors in the Persian Gulf, has allowed the Taliban to broaden and deepen their presence both in the Pakistani border regions and in Afghanistan. Even as Afghan and international forces have defeated insurgents in engagement after engagement, the weakness of the government and the reconstruction effort — and the continued sanctuary provided to Taliban leaders in Pakistan — has prevented real victory…

[F]ailing to address Pakistan’s support of the Taliban amounts to an acceptance of NATO’s failure.

Nobody is likely to accuse Cheney of accepting failure easily. Cheney is, however, willing make awkward alliances with unsavory forces in order gain advantage over a strategic rival.

The US and Russia seemed to get on well in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 because any move to unseat the Taliban aided Russian and Iranian allies in Afghanistan.

Perhaps Cheney harbors doubts about the wisdom of this idea.

If Cheney shies away from a direct US confrontation with the Taliban, it is not only because he has been distracted by the “diversion” in Iraq. It is because his attention is focused on Russia.

[UPDATE: The Taliban, on the other hand, is not shying away from a direct confrontation with Cheney.  I guess they didn’t read my blog post.]

The Ice in Rice

Posted by Cutler on February 17, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

To my knowledge, nobody has explicitly linked the Saudi-brokered “unity government” deal between Fatah and Hamas to Saudi royal factionalism.  And I’ve seen no news reports to suggest that any royals have criticized the deal.

Give it time.

The US response to the deal–signaled by Secretary of State Rice in comments earlier this week as she departed for the region–was quite icy.

This is not a White House initiative sponsored by the office of the Vice President.  These are not Cheney’s Saudis.  These are Baker’s Saudi’s.

The unity deal between Fatah and Hamas appears to mark a major victory for “unreconstructed,” Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.   By some accounts, Saudi King Abdullah appears to neither to have pressed for nor received many “pro-Zionist” concessions from Hamas, least of all the recognition of Israel or the renunciation of violence as a tool in the struggle.  Others suggest Hamas may have given a nod toward implicit recognition.

Overall, the Mecca agreement appears to represent a successful Saudi effort to undermine the Bush administration’s Fatah-backed war against the Hamas government.

Regional reconciliation is, in essence, a Baker/Abdullah initiative.  And it aims to include all players–including Putin–in the classic Right Arabist collaborative initiative.

Regional rivalry is the Cheney plan.

So, has Cheney lost his Saudi’s?  Or are they just laying low and deferring to Abdullah for the moment.

The Cheney plan provides for a “regional realignment” that explicitly links the US, Israel and the Saudis in confrontational alliance to battle Iran and Syria via proxy wars within the Palestinian Authority (support for Mahmoud Abbas in a civil war with Hamas), Lebanon (support for Fouad Siniora in a civil war with Hezbollah), and Iraq (support for a campaign against alleged Iranian influence), if not support for an outright military confrontation against Iran itself.

So far, the Saudis royal family appears to be trying to hold together amidst US pressure to pick a side.

How long will that last with Cheney working overtime to cultivate Saudi allies?

Limits of Liberalism

Posted by Cutler on February 15, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / 3 Comments

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asks so many of the right questions.  Too bad he provides so few meaningful answers.

Still, his views are so emblematic of the liberal mind that I cannot help find value (although not really enough to want to pay) in watching him construct his world.

One of my favorite questions is the one he asks in his most recent column, “Putin Pushes Back.”  He has recently returned from Moscow and now he wants to know, in essence, “Why do they hate us?

Friedman’s Answer: NATO expansion.

We need to stop kidding ourselves. After the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the Bush I and Clinton administrations decided to build a new security alliance — an expanded NATO — and told Russia it could not be a member.

And let’s not forget that the Russia we told to stay out in the cold was the Russia of Boris Yeltsin and his liberal reformist colleagues. They warned us at the time that this would undercut them. But the Clinton folks told us: “Don’t worry, Russia is weak; Yeltsin will swallow hard and accept NATO expansion. There will be no cost.”

Why would a patriotic dude like Friedman go and join the “blame America first” crowd after all that time defending the American crusade in Iraq (really wanted/wants to do Saudi Arabia, if you listen to the guy)?

Because it is his way of saying that our illiberalism was and is the cause of their illiberalism.  And that goes a long way toward salvaging the idea that there was no internal crisis of liberalism in Russia (or the US).

So, a couple of points:

1. A huge chunk of what went “wrong” in Russia (say, with the rise of the ultra-nationalists in the December 1993 parliamentary elections) was a backlash against the neo-liberal economic proposals (shock therapy, tight monetary policy with its deflationary bias, massive unemployment, relentless austerity) that Friedman constantly champions in his embrace of neo-liberal “globalization.”  The Russian liberals weren’t done in because they were abused by American illiberalism.  The Russian liberals imploded because they championed some of the most politically unpopular economic measures anyone could imagine in Russia.

Did Russian’s want consumer goods?  You bet.  But didn’t they also want cash to pay for all those goodies?  And, honestly, Tom, describe to me again the kind of delayed gratification that was and is required under the neo-liberal plan…

There has always been an antagonism between political liberalization and economic liberalization.  In Russia, it was nothing other than political liberalization itself that put paid to the idea of neo-liberal austerity.

(The preferable model continues to be China where neo-liberalism need not worry about its popular mandate.  It thrives–so far–without all the fuss and bother of political liberalization).

2. We live in a world of great power rivalry.  What that means is that the US is neither the sole source of all things good nor all things evil.  The US is one locus of energy in the Great Game of Empire.  Friedman often oversteps by suggesting that the US is the sole source of all things good.  Here, he oversteps in the other direction by understating Russian “agency” in the Great Game.


Mr. Putin… said: “The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance. We have the right to ask, ‘Against whom is this expansion directed?’ ” We all know the answer: it’s directed against Russia. O.K., fine, we were ready to enrage Russia to expand NATO, but what have we gotten out of it? The Czech Navy?

Disingenuous: we weren’t in it for the Czech Navy.  We offered the Czechs and others a security umbrella, not the other way around.  That has always been the story of NATO, so let’s not kid ourselves.

We were in it for control of Europe, for control of Caspian oil and natural gas, and much else to boot.  So were the Russians.


For those of us who opposed NATO expansion, the point was simple: there is no major geopolitical issue, especially one like Iran, that we can resolve without Russia’s help. So why not behave in a way that maximizes Russia’s willingness to work with us and strengthens its democrats, rather than expanding NATO to countries that can’t help us and are not threatened anymore by Russia, and whose democracies are better secured by joining the European Union?

This makes a mockery of the facts on several fronts.

Can he be serious that all throughout Eurasia countries were “not threatened anymore by Russia”?  The Russian-backed coup in Azerbaijan in wasn’t a threat?  The troops in Georgia weren’t/aren’t a threat?  Russian intervention in Ukraine and Belarus?  Russian control in Turkmentistan?  Russian support for Serbian nationalism?

It takes at least two Great Powers to tango.  We live in a world with at least two–quite a few more, really.

The whole point, in the world of Great Power Rivalry, is that Iran is a “problem” for the US because of its alliance with Russia.  Otherwise, a “deal” would have been done with Iran a long time ago.  This is why Cheney and Putin deserve one another: neither is willing to “share” Iran and so the Russians and the Americans fight over it.

Here is the tough question to send back Friedman’s way: does he advocate a world where Great Powers “share” the bounty of the “periphery”?

Given the very old, very real “Great Power” ambitions of Russia (all of which pre-dated the advent of the Soviet Union and continued on immediately after the demise), Friedman can only be suggesting a return to a world in which Great Powers carve up the “periphery” into exclusive spheres of influence.  Like Roosevelt, Friedman would then grant Russia its sphere of influence (everything but the Baltics, I guess).

I’m no fan of American empire.  I’m no fan of Russian empire.  But neither am I a fan of inter-imperialist collusion at the expense of the rest of the world.  If the “periphery” has any chance at leveraging a better deal in this world, it will have to come through effective efforts to play Great Powers against one another.

Bush Sr’s “New World Order” was specifically designed to try to keep that from ever happening again.  Part of the deal was that Russia could keep Ukraine and much else along with it.  Remember?  Tom?

Does Great Power rivalry always guarantee competition for the “hearts and minds” of the underlying population?  No.

Does it ever have that consequence?

Ask India if it could have won independence from Britain without the threat to go with the Germans in World War II.  A nasty business, but Gandhi’s entire campaign cultivating British conscience pales in comparison on the question of raw leverage for extracting concessions from the British.

While you are at it, ask the Egyptians if they didn’t play the Americans against the British.

And, Tom Friedman, ask the Israelis if they didn’t win statehood by playing both the Americans and the Soviets against the British.

Clear & Present Dangers

Posted by Cutler on February 12, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism / No Comments

The US is beating the drums for war with Iran.  The news is full of chatter about the emergent US-Sunni Arab alliance against Iran, discussed last summer in my ZNet essay, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

In the last few days, however, the Bush administration has focused on allegations that Iran is supplying deadly weapons used against US forces in Iraq.  The New York Times started the cycle of coverage with a Michael Gordon article that has already generated well-deserved criticism.

Now, major news outlets are reporting on a “long-awaited” presentation of more alleged evidence that Iran has been supplying lethal weapons to Iraqi Shiites.  Both the New York Times and the Washington Post carried news of this unusual “briefing.”  The Post describes the circumstances of the briefing:

The officials said they would speak only on the condition of anonymity, so the explosives expert and the analyst, who would normally not speak to the news media, could provide information directly. The analyst’s exact title and full name were not revealed to reporters. The officials released a PowerPoint presentation including photographs of the weaponry, but did not allow media representatives to record, photograph or videotape the briefing or the materials on display.

Why does it seem like the Bush administration doesn’t want to be pinned down on this one?

Let’s stipulate, if only for the sake of argument, that the allegations are true.  What does it imply about Iraq?  That Iraqi Shiites represent the greatest threat to US forces in Iraq?

Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht argues that Iraqi Shiite militias are not the central problem in Iraq:

Our role now is to stop the radicalization on the Shia side–and you can only do this by breaking the back of the [Sunni] insurgency, something we’ve diligently avoided doing since the fall of 2003. And it’s worthwhile to repeat: They, not the Shia militants, are responsible for the vast majority of American dead and wounded.

One might argue that Iraq Shiite militias are now the greatest threat to Iraqi political stability and national reconciliation, as the Pentagon recently suggested.  Even if that were true, however… even if the US were in Iraq primarily to help achieve national reconciliation… it would still be a very big leap to suggest that Iran is the greatest threat to US troops.

The Bush administration seems determined to “reveal” details about Iran’s efforts to foment violence in Iraq.  What it actually reveals, along the way, is something about the way it views public opinion regarding US foreign policy.  In the case of Iran, as in Iraq, the Bush administration assumes that there is absolutely no appetite for “foreign entanglements” or military adventures unless American lives are (allegedly) directly threatened.

Even when the Bush administration has “intelligible” (if not morally defensible) imperialist ambitions, it feels compelled to develop arguments that focus on immediate threats to US personnel rather than geo-political strategy.

The new “intelligence” on Iran tells us less about Iran than it does about Bush administration views regarding the popular political legitimacy of US empire.

Right Arabist Paul Pillar makes a similar point to Laura Rozen in the National Journal.  [Note: the excerpt on Rozen’s blog leaves off the final part of the Pillar quote about the “more legitimate” concern about the Iranian nuclear threat… As I’ve argued before, many Right Arabists have a soft spot for a hard line on Iran.]

Even if this PowerPoint presentation eventually gets made public … what does this show us as to where Iran is really coming from?” [former National Intelligence Council Middle East analyst Paul] Pillar asked. “What is the larger significance? Even if Iranian assistance to an Iraqi group is proven to everyone’s satisfaction, the [administration’s] policy never rested on that. The policy [is being driven by a] much larger sense of Iran as the prime bete noire in the region, and that is why the administration is trying to put together these coalitions with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Sunni states, that we’ve been reading about. None of this hinges [on the Iran dossier]. We are not going to call this off if we can’t prove that Iran is furnishing munitions to Iraqi groups…

It is just one more thing — along with the nuclear issue, which is really more legitimate in a basic kind of way — [in the administration’s case that] Iran is doing nasty things, therefore it’s appropriate to beat the drum about Iran. That’s what it’s come down to.”

Geopolitical strategy may be the underlying basis for US policy in the Gulf.  But the Bush administration seems convinced the American people don’t think it is worth the effort.

Hence, the necessary centrality in all cases of an immediate risk, however twisted or convoluted the argument.

The Bush administration, for all its bellicosity, has internalized the anti-imperialist “new isolationism” of the American public.

Rogue JAM

Posted by Cutler on February 08, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

One day after the official “launch” of the Baghdad surge and crackdown, here come the (earliest and totally preliminary) answers to the questions about US policy in Iraq:

Target #1: “Rogue” elements of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi Army.  Reuters has the details:

U.S. and Iraqi forces detained Iraq’s deputy health minister on Thursday, a senior member of a radical Shi’ite political group, in the first major sign that a security crackdown in Baghdad was under way.

The U.S. military, without naming anyone, said a senior Health Ministry official had been detained on suspicion of infiltrating rogue members of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia into the ministry.

Ministry officials and witnesses said deputy Health Minister Hakim Zamili, from Sadr’s movement, was detained during the raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on the Health Ministry in Baghdad.

“He is suspected of funding rogue JAM through large-scale employment of militia members,” a U.S. military statement said, using the acronym for the militia.

BBC even has Zamili’s picture.

So, if this is “rogue” rage, where is the “official” Sadrist movement?

Here is the Financial Times on that rather urgent question:

Last August, this correspondent observed US troops search one of the [health] complex’s buildings and arrest guards whom they believed may have hidden kidnap victims inside.

Later in the nearby battalion headquarters, the Iraqi commander to whom the captives had been transferred was besieged by phone calls from his superiors demanding the men be let go.

Sadrists say that Mr Sadr himself has directed his followers not to confront the US military or the Iraqi government, although this policy may be tested by such a high-profile arrest.

Right.  So, has Sadr been coopted by the Cheney crowd?  Or is he simply lying low.  Is the US moving ahead with a pre-approved program of helping Sadr gain control of his own “unruly” rank and file?  Or is the US spoiling for a fight with Sadr, using this high-profile arrest to draw the Sadrists into a confrontation?


Posted by Cutler on February 07, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

Right now, I only have questions about US policy in Iraq.

1. Is the US preparing for a big counter-insurgency push against the Sunni insurgency?

The Haifa Street battles and the downing of several US helicopters by what appear to be Sunni insurgent forces tend to make it seem that the US is returning to the aggressive anti-Sunni moves from the summer of 2003.

At the same, Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post has been saying that Prime Minister Maliki and his Shiite governing coalition opposed the surge because they really only wanted the US to get out of the way so the Shia could complete the “ethnic cleansing” of Sunni Baghdad.

If Shiite power–the so-called “80 Percent Solution”–is the aim, why not simply “release” the Shia?

2. Is the US preparing to take on Sadr and the Shiite militias?

Recent attacks on senior Sadrist figures seems to point in that direction.

At the same time, the US continues to stand by Maliki even as he appears to be quite dependent on Sadr.

If the goal is to try to close “Pandora’s box” and restore Sunni minority control, why not back a Sunni coup and “release” a proto-Baathist attack on the Shia?

3. Is the US trying to use American soldiers to protect Shiite and Sunni populations from each other in the name of National Reconciliation?

Good luck with that.

4. Is the US preparing for a two-front war against Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency?


Our Man in Turkmenistan?

Posted by Cutler on February 05, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Turkmenistan / No Comments

Sometimes Great Power Rivalry can facilitate democratic or populist uprisings.  Sometimes, not so much.

In Turkmenistan, not so much.  At least, not yet.

The Washington Post has published a report on the “battle” to succeed the late Turkmenistan President Saparmurad Niyazov who died in late December.

Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, 49, will almost certainly win when the Central Asian country’s citizens go to the polls Feb. 11. His opponents, a deputy minister and four regional officials, are willing foils, according to analysts and exiled politicians.

Murad Karyev, the supposedly neutral chairman of the Central Election Commission, has already said Berdymukhammedov is the best man for the job.

Any protests from the US and the idealistic “true believers” in the Bush Administration who reportedly really believe in democracy?  Not so much.

The opposition-in-exile has expressed frustration at what it sees as muted statements from those countries about the need for real democratic change.

In a previous post, I argued that in the Caspian energy pipeline rivalry between Washington and Russia, the Turkmenitstan stakes have been very high.  The Washington Post report explains:

For the outside world, the direction Turkmenistan takes will carry profound implications for energy security. The former Soviet republic is becoming the focus of competition among Russia, China and the West as they vie for its natural gas resources.

Most of Turkmenistan’s gas is now exported through Russian pipelines. The supply could become vital to the ability of Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, to meet rising demand over the next decade. But Western governments would like to see construction of new export routes that bypass Russia and diversify the supply chain, something Niyazov had resisted.

Thus far, however, all of the Great Powers appear content to compete exclusively for the loyalty of the incumbent authorities rather than making an appeal to dissident or popular forces:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced Berdymukhammedov….

The United States and the European Union have stepped up contacts with Turkmenistan’s new leadership.

The US attempt to “flip” the Russian-backed incumbent regime, rather than facilitate rebellion against it, was already clear when Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary For South And Central Asian Affairs, traveled to Turkmenistan for the Niyazov funeral.

Boucher met with Berdymukhammedov and has been clear ever since that he wants to cut a deal at the top:

I wanted to go to the funeral to express our condolences, first of all, to the people of Turkmenistan, but also to signal — to say clearly that we are ready for a new beginning if they’re ready to start something new. And I’m not sure how far I can elaborate it at this point. We’re certainly interested in a smooth and peaceful transition in Turkmenistan. We understand that people have lost their leader and they have hope for the future, but they also have some uncertainty about it, so we want to work with them as they move forward…

As we hope Turkmenistan will move forward to a new future, we’re quite ready for a new relationship…

QUESTION: Yeah, but [Berdimuhhamedov]… didn’t mention anything about the political reforms.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, he didn’t. Obviously, we think that needs to be part of the package, creating a more open society, a more dynamic society, more creative society, a better economic opportunity for everyone. Those things all go together, and so we do think that needs to be part of the package; but — you know, where they need — where they’re ready to get started, we’re ready to get started as well. Education, access to information, economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, these are things that are fundamental to creating a more open society and we’d obviously like to see it become a society where people of Turkmenistan get the kind of justice and openness that they deserve.

QUESTION: Almost all Turkmen opposition are currently abroad. Will the United States support Turkmen opposition?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: What we have said, what we’ll continue to make clear is that we look for a more open society where everyone can participate in the social life, the political life, the economic life. That’s fundamental and that needs to be part of the change. But those decisions are going to have to be made in the end in Turkmenistan. And so we’re encouraging that kind of change, but I can’t — we’re not supporting particular people one way or the other. We’re supporting a more open society, and continue to make clear that that’s the direction that we think they have to go.

I know what you are thinking: That Boucher… he must be one of those naive, democracy-loving, idealistic, messianic missionary zealots from the crazy Cheney administration!

But let’s just wait and see.  It ain’t over until it is over.

If the US manages to flip the incumbent regime and get to the natural gas, then all will remain quiet on the US side.  But don’t forget: the incumbent regime is aligned with Putin.  Will Putin remain quiet if the US flips Berdimuhhamedov and he loses his monopoly on the gas?

If Putin pressures Berdimuhhamedov to show Boucher the door, will the US continue to remain silent?  Or will the US suddenly and conveniently discover the virtues of a democratic uprising in Turkmenistan?

Friedman’s Own War in Iran

Posted by Cutler on February 02, 2007
Iran / 2 Comments

In a column back in June 2003 entitled “Because We Could,” Thomas Friedman conceded,

I have to admit that I’ve always been fighting my own war in Iraq.

In other words, Friedman had his own reasons for supporting a US invasion of Iraq but acknowledges that these reasons did not necessarily coincide with the reasons the Bush administration went to war.

Nothing has changed as the Bush administration goes to work on Iran.  Thomas Friedman is fighting his own war in Iran.

In most respects, Friedman’s war in Iran runs parallel to Cheney’s war, as it has in Iraq.

In a previous post, I suggested that Cheney’s Saudi allies might be preparing to launch an oil war on Iran by flooding the market and driving down the price of oil until the Iranian regime either cried uncle (as it seemingly did when the Saudis dropped the price of oil in the late 1980s under Reagan and the late 1990s under Clinton) or collapsed in the face of internal, populist unrest.

Friedman is an ardent supporter of this strategy.  In his February 2, 2007 column–The Oil-Addicted Ayatollahs–Friedman writes:

I’d like to focus on how the Soviet Union was killed, in part, by its addiction to oil, and on how we might get leverage with Iran, based on its own addiction…

By the early 1980s, though, oil prices had started to sink — thanks in part to conservation efforts by the U.S… Oil prices and production kept falling as Mr. Gorbachev tried reforming communism, but by then it was too late…

In 2005, Bloomberg.com reported, Iran’s government earned $44.6 billion from oil and spent $25 billion on subsidies — for housing, jobs, food and 34-cents-a-gallon gasoline — to buy off interest groups. Iran’s current populist president has further increased the goods and services being subsidized.

So if oil prices fall sharply again, Iran’s regime will have to take away many benefits from many Iranians, as the Soviets had to do. For a regime already unpopular with many of its people, that could cause all kinds of problems and give rise to an Ayatollah Gorbachev. We know how that ends. “Just look at the history of the Soviet Union,” Professor Mau said.

In short, the best tool we have for curbing Iran’s influence is not containment or engagement, but getting the price of oil down in the long term with conservation and an alternative-energy strategy. Let’s exploit Iran’s oil addiction by ending ours.

Friedman is not new to this line of thinking.  In an earlier column–“Fill ‘Er Up Dictators“–Friedman wrote:

Bring the price of oil down to $30 and guess what happens: All of Iran’s income goes to subsidies. That would put a terrible strain on Ahmadinejad, who would have to reach out to the world for investment. Trust me, at $30 a barrel, the Holocaust isn’t a myth anymore.

I’m proposing that most of Friedman’s analysis is not like Cheney’s strategy.  It is Cheney’s strategy.

With one exception: Friedman’s special function is to bring the liberals along by aligning the war on Iran to an environmental politics of conservation and alternative energy.  In this, Friedman is fighting his own war on Iran.

It wasn’t conservation that brought down the price of oil in the 1980s or the 1990s.  And Cheney isn’t counting on the Green Party to hit the Iranians.  Cheney is counting on the House of Saud to flood the oil market.

There is a likely relationship between bringing the price of oil down and conservation.  An inverse relationship.

High oil prices make all kinds of energy alternatives (including conservation) viable.  Cheap oil puts the shine back on the old gas guzzling SUV.

Friedman knows that Cheney’s effort to hit the Iranians with low oil prices–the “real” war on Iran–will actually destroy any recent momentum toward energy efficiency, energy alternatives, and conservation.

So Friedman veers off from the Cheney war to fight his own: combine low market prices for oil with high oil taxes on oil consumption.  From “Fill ‘Er Up Dictators”:

[W]e don’t want the price of gasoline to go down in America just when $3 a gallon has started to stimulate large investments in alternative energies…

[W]e still need to make sure, either with a gasoline tax or a tariff on imported oil, that we keep the price at the pump at $3 or more — to stimulate various alternative energy programs, more conservation and a structural shift by car buyers and makers to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

You can propose an oil price crash to hurt Iran.  You can propose an oil price hike in the form of gasoline tax to support energy innovation.  But the two proposals run in opposite directions.

Friedman’s very “real” foreign policy–the one that is closely aligned with Cheney’s foreign policy–demands a collapse in oil prices.  His fantasy oil policy demands the exact opposite.

Friedman’s support for an oil price war on Iran will help rally liberal hawks for Cheney’s war and then leave them high and dry when Friedman is subsequently shocked, shocked to find that the whole affair leads to less conservation and less innovation because, alas, there was no political appetite–least of all from the White House–for his petroleum tax.

If the Saudis drop the price of oil, it may or may not have the predicted consequences in Iran.  But it will certainly diminish the pressure for energy innovation.

Karbala: Bush’s Casus Belli?

Posted by Cutler on January 31, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

The Bush administration seems to be escalating its campaign against Iran and may have already found its justification for military engagement.

Start with a January 20, 2006 attack on US forces in the Shiite city of Karbala in southern Iraq.

At the time, Helena Cobban at Just World News emphasized the significance of the attack and feared that the US would try to bury the story:

It seems the US authorities were not eager for the US public (or anyone else) to know the details of the lethally effective raid mounted against US occupation forces in Karbala last Saturday…

[A]ll in all, for the Bushites, it’s an extremely inopportune time for detailed news about an attack like the one in Karbala to get out and be disseminated to a wide US readership.

And yet, they proved unable to suppress the news.

Fear not.  The “Bushites” are now more than eager to disseminate the news.

According to  CNN and an article in the New York Times, the Pentagon is investigating the possibility that Iranians–in cahoots with “rogue” elements of the Mahdi Army–were involved in the Karbala attack.  James Glanz and Mark Mazzetti of the Times reports:

Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry…

Tying Iran to the deadly attack could be helpful to the Bush administration, which has been engaged in an escalating war of words with Iran…

An Iraqi knowledgeable about the investigation said four suspects had been detained and questioned…

The suspects have also told investigators that “a religious group in Najaf” was involved in the operation, the Iraqi said, in a clear reference to the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the breakaway Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. If that information holds up, it would dovetail with assertions by several Iraqi officials that Iran is financing and training a small number of splinter groups from the Mahdi Army to carry out special operations and assassinations.

“I hear that there are a number of commando and assassination squads that are disconnected and controlled directly by Iran,” the senior Iraqi official said, citing information directly from the prime minister’s office. “They have supplied JAM and others with significant weaponry and training,” he said using shorthand for the group, from its name in Arabic, Jaish al Mahdi.

I don’t mean to be overly skeptical about reporting by James Glanz, although I agree with Juan Cole that his recent report on Iranian influence in Iraq seemed “a little breathless.”

In the report on Iran and the Karbala attack, Glanz and Mazzetti include a seemingly skeptical reference to the ways in which allegations of a link between Iran and the Karbala compound attack could be “helpful” to an administration accustomed to the self-serving public amplification of faulty intelligence.  (Maybe the sober influence of Mazzetti?)

But the article then makes what seems like quite a leap to suggest that mention by suspects of “a religious group in Najaf” was a clear reference to the Mahdi Army.   Note well: there are no “scare quotes” around the phrase clear reference.  This is presented in the authoritative voice of the reporter.  Is this supposed to be “clear” to Glanz and Mazzetti?  Clear to the Bush administration?  Clear to everyone?  Gosh, when I think of religious groups in Najaf my mind wanders over to a whole panoply of groups that appear to be active there.  Juan Cole took a look at religious groups in Najaf and threw up his hands, asking “Who knows?”  I guess James Glanz knows.

In any event, the Karbala-Iran link also provides some useful context for another piece of the “Iran campaign” story.  On Saturday, January 27, 2007 the Washington Post published a report by Dafna Linzer alleging that the Bush administration had authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq.

The new “kill or capture” program was authorized by President Bush in a meeting of his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut…

In Iraq, U.S. troops now have the authority to target any member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, as well as officers of its intelligence services believed to be working with Iraqi militias. The policy does not extend to Iranian civilians or diplomats. Though U.S. forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority.

The wide-ranging plan has several influential skeptics in the intelligence community, at the State Department and at the Defense Department who said that they worry it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war…

Advocates of the new policy — some of whom are in the NSC, the vice president’s office, the Pentagon and the State Department — said that only direct and aggressive efforts can shatter Iran’s growing influence…

The decision to use lethal force against Iranians inside Iraq began taking shape last summer, when Israel was at war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Officials said a group of senior Bush administration officials who regularly attend the highest-level counterterrorism meetings agreed that the conflict provided an opening to portray Iran as a nuclear-ambitious link between al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the death squads in Iraq.

Among those involved in the discussions, beginning in August, were deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, NSC counterterrorism adviser Juan Zarate, the head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, representatives from the Pentagon and the vice president’s office, and outgoing State Department counterterrorism chief Henry A. Crumpton.

The Bush administration made no effort to deny the report.  Indeed, Bush seemed to welcome the chance to confirm the Linzer story.

“It makes sense that if somebody’s trying to harm our troops, or stop us from achieving our goal, or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them,” Bush said in response to a question about the program, the details of which were first reported in yesterday’s Washington Post.

At the time of its publication, the whole idea of a “kill or capture” initiative designed to respond to Iranian attempts to “harm our troops” seemed pretty hypothetical.  There was no specific reference, at the time, to any particular Iranian activity and authorization for the initiative was reportedly given in the summer of 2006.

In retrospect, however, the timing of the Linzer story seems linked to the Karbala compound attack.  Bush already had his casus belli when he warned against Iranian activity in Iraq.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that the first obscure mention I’ve found of an Iranian link to the Karbala attack came the day before the Linzer story ran when Bill Roggio–“embedded reporter” to all the big Neo-conservative/ Right Zionist media outlets–appears to have broken the story on his blog, The Fourth Rail.

I sure wish I had better intelligence about Karbala.  I mean, how do we know that the whole city isn’t actually located in the Gulf of Tonkin?

A House Divided

Posted by Cutler on January 30, 2007
Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

James Baker’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee promises to once again bring into focus the ongoing significance of US foreign policy factionalism, both in relation to Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, etc.

That factionalism appears to have divided many long-time friends of the House of Saud.  The House of Saud continues to show similar signs of stress although it is far from clear how much the Saudi fissures are developing autonomously and how much they are being cultivated by US factions.  I suppose there is also a scenario that would have US factionalism cultivated by the Saudis, although I do not find this particularly plausible.

I would continue to code the Baker faction of Right Arabists as allied with Saudi King Abdullah, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, the recently recalled Saudi Ambassador to the US.  This Baker/Faisal faction continues to try to mediate strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Right Arabists at the New America Foundation, including Flynt Leverett and Steven Clemons appear very closely aligned with the faction.

The Iran hawks are represented by the Cheney coalition of Right Arabists and Right Zionists and appear allied with Prince Bandar and his father, Saudi Defense Minister and Crown Prince, Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.

A recent newspaper interview with Saudi King Abdullah prompted some strikingly different interpretations.  The Financial Times suggested that the King had issued a stark warning to Iran.  But “Badger”–the Arab press translator over at Missing Links–offered up a very different interpretation that emphasized reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Badger notes that his interpretation is actively contested by Mamoun Fandy.  Badger describes Fandy as a “Saudi bigshot,” a columnist for Asharq al-Awsat, and a former senior fellow at the James A Baker III Institute of Public Policy.  [Are there other “former” Baker Institute Fellows who side with Cheney on Iran?  Or does Fandy’s link to the Baker crowd imply that Baker is not quite so dovish on Iran after all?  Or is Fandy simply interpreting but not endorsing the King’s remarks?]

Badger doesn’t say much in his post about the larger factional context, but I think it emerges from his discussion of the Fandy article.  Badger writes/translates/paraphrases:

Fandy says the king’s whole point in talking about an “unsatisfactory situation” in the Middle East was to warn Iran: First against underestimating the danger it is facing from the United States; and second against the consequences of its continued involvement in Palestine…

It was on account of the seriousness of the situation, Fandy says, that the king sent Prince Bandar to Tehran for talks. Bandar is the person that is used when a tough message has to be presented bluntly and unvarnished. He is like Cheney in that respect, Fandy explains…

[T]he king referred in the interview to “nests” or “dens”–Fandy doesn’t quote the exact interview remarks here–but Fandy says this is a reference to “cancerous colonies” broadcasting on internet sites of unknown origin deceptive and lying reports about Arab affairs, and more than that, they have penetrated Arab news (outlets) “including the official ones” with the aim of upsetting regional stability, and making it appear that any Arab effort to stand up to Iran is merely a case of doing America’s bidding.

It is possible that Fandy’s remark about penetration of Arab news outlets “including the official ones” is tantamount to an admission that the Fandy hard-line position isn’t the only position, even within the sphere of Saudi officialdom.

Indeed, Fandy’s position is almost certainly not the only position within Saudi officialdom.  Hence the signs of factional strife, with Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and more hanging in the balance.

War and Pizza

Posted by Cutler on January 27, 2007
Iraq, Isolationism / 2 Comments

No religious ideology can survive without the ritualistic repetition of a catechism.

I can think of no other explanation for the fact that the editorial page of the New York Times constantly hammers away at the same moralistic themes that are undoubtedly already familiar to readers but which presumably only become articles of faith through regular recitations.

The sacred only lives through sacrifice, responsibility, productivity, and work. In a nutshell, the so-called Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. The valorization and celebration of sacrifice–as an end unto itself; as synonymous with all that is Good–is the core of the New York Times editorial catechism.

I’ve posted about this before, on “holy” days of the secular calendar, especially September 11th and Thanksgiving.

The sacrificial motif provides the ideological unity behind any sign of editorial diversity at the NY Times.

Sacrifice is tie that binds the hearts of both pro-war and anti-war columnists.

In one recent column–“Make Them Fight All of Us“–Thomas Friedman criticizes Bush and Cheney for an effete, unmanly approach to war. It seems they don’t understand what a real “surge” is all about:

Mr. President, you want a surge? I’ll surge. I’ll surge on the condition that you once and for all enlist the entire American people in this war effort

But the way you have fought this war – with our pinkie – is contemptible…

Put down that pinkie! Presumably, a real surge requires something more.

[I]f the rest of the world saw all of us sacrificing to win this war, we might actually be able to enlist them to help a little…

Friedman is hardly new to the sacrifice theme. Here, for example, is “Learning From Lance” from July 2005.

What I find most impressive about [Lance] Armstrong [and his cycling team]… [is] their abilities to meld strength and strategy – to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow – seem to be such fading virtues in American life

Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that’s the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.

The anti-war crowd at the NY Times draws from the same playbook, as if anti-war mobilization were necessarily identical to pro-war mobilization. Check out Andrew Rosenthal from August 31, 2006.

Or Bob Herbert’s recent essay on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Lost Voice of Protest” (also here):

[N]ot enough voices of protest are being raised…The anger quotient is much too low. You can’t stop America’s involvement in a senseless war… if your greatest passion is kicking back with pizza and beer and tuning in to “American Idol.”

As it happens, there are voices of protest being raised in Washington today and that is all to the good.

Of course, some of those good people were apparently misled by the signs on the buses in DC that said, “Free Shuttle to the Mall.” A simple misunderstanding.

But I cannot see why it is that liberal anti-war critics at the Times can’t keep there hands off my pizza, beer, and television. And my salted peanuts.

Presumably, one of the reasons to go out and make all those fine speeches is to get on TV (or at least C-SPAN) and sway public opinion against the war. But the vast majority of Americans are already opposed to this war. They like pizza and do not like war. Where is the conflict?

Herbert invokes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and he is surely right to claim King for his cause. Like Herbert, King was a communitarian moralist. Herbert writes:

And too many black Americans are willing and even eager to see themselves in the culturally depraved lineup of gangsters, pimps and whores.

Dr. King would be 78 now, and I can’t believe that he would be too thrilled by what’s going on. In his view: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

But isn’t there something to be said for those who passively reject? After all, much of King’s tactical répertoire involved passive resistance. Moralistic rhetoric aside, King often located specific forms of leverage in the refusal to participate. Exhibit A: the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

What would it mean to begin by identify all the specific ways in which an unacceptable status quo is preserved through active participation. Just to get the ball rolling, I propose two major areas where there is enormous leverage–and far more pleasure–in passive resistance than in active participation: work and war.

Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? Too busy with the gangsters, pimps and whores, I guess.

A soldier named Daniel Caldwell said it well in the Washington Post: “I want to go back and play my PlayStation.”

Forget work. Forget war. Pass the beer and pizza.

Divided From This Moment

Posted by Cutler on January 26, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The easiest time to be an Iraq war critic is when the US has faced both Sunni and a Shiite uprisings, as it did in April 2004. At such times it appears that the US has precious few Iraqi allies–apart from collaborating Kurds.

At the same time, there are at least two very different and potentially incompatible positions from which to hit the Bush administration during such periods.

Some critics, including Right Arabists of the Baker/Scowcroft variety, want the US to try to coopt the Sunni insurgency and help restore Sunni Arab rule in Iraq, even if by extra-constitutional means (i.e., a coup by Sunni opposition forces in Jordan).

Other critics, including Right Zionists of the David Wurmser/Reuel Marc Gerecht variety, want the US to do the opposite: to crush the Sunni insurgency in order to woo Shiites–including those loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr–and use popular democracy to tilt the balance of power in Iraq toward Shiite political dominance.

After inaugurating the war along Right Zionist lines in early 2003, the Bush administration has essentially waffled between these two alternatives ever since.

At one point in late December 2006, it appeared that the Bush administration was going to move decisively one way or the other.

Bush’s January 10, 2006 was a “flop,” however because it appeared to stick with the muddle in the middle, sticking with Zalmay Khalilzad’s “national reconciliation” project, along with a troop surge. As a result, critics of all stripes are having a field day because after all the deliberations and debate, the Bush administration appears to be “staying the course.”

Here is the strange part: there seem to be signs that the Bush administration is actually changing course with an increasingly dramatic tilt toward the Iraqi Shia–the so-called “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Doctrine.”

But they seem quite reluctant to say so. Why? Why is it that the Bush administration has never come clean about its tilt toward the Shia?

Of course, the simple reason is that they don’t want to “confess” to such a plan because some very powerful forces oppose a tilt toward the Shia.

Do they think folks like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft won’t notice if the policy is never declared? Do they think Sunni Arabs in Iraq won’t notice? Do they think King Abdullah of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, or Egyptian President Mubarak won’t notice? Do they think Americans would notice (or care?) about such things? I don’t get it.

Here are some signs of the (unstated) tilt toward the Iraqi Shia:

US counter-insurgency efforts in Baghdad are, thus far, focusing on Sunni insurgents. The Haifa Street operations that I mentioned in an earlier post have continued.

US relations with Muqtada al-Sadr appear to be improving as the UK and US forces actively court political leaders in Sadr City and appear ready to coopt the Shia militia as part of a security plan to protect Shiites from sectarian attacks.

Iraqi Sunni politicians have taken notice and the spirit of “national reconciliation” in the Iraqi parliament is being seriously challenged. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Iraq’s Shiite prime minister exchanged heated words with a Sunni Arab lawmaker over the country’s new security plan, leading parliament to temporarily suspend a raucous debate and Iraqi television to halt its coverage…

The parliamentary clash took place as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki presented his arguments in favor of the U.S.-backed security plan he called a “strategy to impose the law.” The plan would leave no havens for militants, regardless of religious or political affiliations, he told lawmakers.

“Some say this plan targets Sunnis or Shiites. The fact is this plan targets all who stand in the way of the law,” Maliki said.

Sheik Abdel Nasser Janabi, a Sunni Arab cleric and legislator from a region south of Baghdad notorious as the “triangle of death,” responded by protesting a major sweep by U.S. and Iraqi troops Wednesday through Haifa Street, a Sunni neighborhood near the Green Zone that is dominated by anti-government militants. Sporadic blasts continued Thursday in the area where more than 30 gunmen have been killed in fierce fighting, Iraqi officials said.

Janabi demanded that security forces lift their cordon around the area, insisting to loud protests from the Shiite-dominated chamber that “there are no terrorists in Haifa Street.”

“Aren’t there terrorists in Sadr City or Shula?” he said, referring to two Shiite militia strongholds.

Janabi accused Maliki’s administration of purging Sunni Arabs from the government, arresting pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia and imposing politically motivated death sentences, a possible reference to the execution last month of former President Saddam Hussein.

“We cannot trust this premiership,” Janabi said, as the shouting escalated around him.

Maliki retorted, “All I could tell our brother the sheik is that he will trust in this premiership once we present his file and hold him accountable for it.” As Shiite legislators loudly applauded, he said, “One hundred fifty kidnapped individuals in his area — why doesn’t he talk about that?”

Mahmoud Mashadani, parliament speaker and a Sunni, interrupted the exchange, chiding Maliki for making “unacceptable” accusations and adding with heavy sarcasm that “the security plan will be very successful because you people are divided from this moment.”

Has the US now “picked a winner” in Iraq’s civil war? Is it prepared to ally itself fully with Iraqi Shiites?

If so, listen for more howls of protest from Right Arabists. And smug smiles from Right Zionists.

Cheney’s 2007 State of the Union Address

Posted by Cutler on January 25, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Iraq / No Comments

The day after George W. Bush stood before the US Congress, Vice President Cheney delivered his 2007 State of the Union Address on CNN.

Much of it goes to show that Cheney continues to be committed to his original interest in the Wurmser-Gerecht outlook on Iraq.

Iraq, Great Power Rivalry, & The Collapse of Containment

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: [Saddam Hussein] was being contained as we all know —

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: He was not being contained. He was not being contained, Wolf.

BLITZER: — by the no-fly zones in the north and the south.

CHENEY: Wolf, the entire sanctions regime had been undermined by Saddam Hussein. He had –

BLITZER: But he didn’t have stockpiles of weapons of —

CHENEY: – corrupted the entire effort to try to keep him contained. He was bribing senior officials of other governments. The oil-for-food program had been totally undermined, and he had, in fact, produced and used weapons of mass destruction previously, and he retained the capability to produce that kind of stuff in the future.

BLITZER: But that was in the ’80s.

CHENEY: You can go back and argue the whole thing all over again, Wolf, but what we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do; the world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq, there’s a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government, Saddam has been brought to justice and executed, his sons are dead, his government is gone and the world is better off for it.

The Shiite Option & the Najaf-Qom Rivalry

BLITZER: How worried are you of this nightmare scenario, that the U.S. is building up this Shiite-dominated Iraqi government with an enormous amount of military equipment, sophisticated training, and then in the end, they’re going to turn against the United States?

CHENEY: Wolf, that’s not going to happen. The problem that you’ve got –…

BLITZER: Here’s the problem that I see, and tell me if I’m wrong — that he seems to be more interested right now, the Prime Minister of Iraq, in establishing good relations with Iran and Syria than he is with moderate Arab governments, whether in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

CHENEY: I just think you’re wrong, Wolf. He’s been working with all of them. They’re all in the neighborhood. He’s got to develop relationships with all of them, and he is.

BLITZER: Because he’s a Shia, and these moderate Arab governments are Sunni.

CHENEY: He’s also an Iraqi. He’s not a Persian. There’s a big difference between the Persians and the Arabs, although they’re both Shia. You can’t just make the simple statement that he’s Shia, therefore he’s the enemy. The majority of the population in Iraq is Shia. And for the first time, we’ve had elections, and majority rule will prevail there. But the notion that somehow the effort hasn’t been worth it, or that we shouldn’t go ahead and complete the task, is just dead wrong.

On a related note: the Cheney-Bandar Saudi oil war on Iran is very much in the news.  It is all the buzz on NBC and at the World Economic Forum.

The Incompetence of Others

Posted by Cutler on January 24, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / No Comments

I have been content to leave most of the discussion of the “Plame/Libby” case to others, especially National Journal reporter Murray Waas–especially via his blog–and to Swopa over at Needlenose.  For background, check out the Wikipedia entry.

Until the opening day of the trial, the Libby case looked set to be an occasion for critics to celebrate the fact that at least one leading administration official was going to be held accountable for something related to the war in Iraq.  I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, is on trial for perjury.

Now, however, it looks like the trial may shed some light on one major axis of Bush administration factional politics–what Waas calls “an inherent division… between the OVP [Office of the Vice President] and the White House staff.

Here is how Michael Isikoff of Newsweek is reporting the opening of the trial:

Libby, it was widely thought by legal experts, was going to be the good soldier. He would play it safe at his trial in order to preserve his options; mainly, if convicted, to seek a presidential pardon before Bush leaves office.

But no sooner did he start his opening statement Tuesday morning than defense lawyer Ted Wells shocked the courtroom and all but tossed the “pardon strategy” out the window. Seeking to rebut Fitzgerald’s contention that Libby had lied about his knowledge of Plame’s CIA employment in order to save his job with Cheney, Wells shot back: “Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job in the Bush administration. He was concerned about being set up, he was concerned about being made the scapegoat”…

[The trial] has raised the prospect that the Libby trial will now turn into a horror show for the White House, forcing current and former top aides to testify against each other and revealing an administration that has been in turmoil over the Iraq war for more than three years

Wells contended, it was Rove—the political strategist—who had to be protected at all costs. He was, Wells said, “the lifeblood of the Republican Party” and the man George W. Bush absolutely needed for the coming re-election campaign. Indeed, after [then-press secretary Scott] McClellan issued a public statement exonerating Rove of any involvement in the leak (a statement that turned out three years later to be false), Cheney and Libby huddled about the matter. McClellan had cleared Rove but at that point had said nothing about Libby, leaving the implication that Libby had leaked but Rove hadn’t. Cheney personally wrote a note, an excerpt of which Wells read to the jury and highlighted by displaying on an audio-visual machine during his opening statement: “Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others,” Cheney’s note read.

The translation, according to Wells: The vice president was not going to allow Karl Rove to be protected and Libby to be sacrificed…

The opening statements underscored what many had already suspected: that Cheney—who is slated to be called to testify by the defense—will be a crucial witness in the trial…

Let the shooting begin.

Cheney does not appear likely to hang Libby out to dry.  Here is a part of the transcript of a recent Cheney interview with Fox News.

WALLACE: Your former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, goes on trial this coming week on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury…

CHENEY: He’s a friend. He’s a good man. He is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever known…

WALLACE: Is he honest?
CHENEY: I believe he’s one of the more honest men I know. He’s a good man. And I obviously appreciate very much his service on my staff over the years and have very high regard for him and his family…

WALLACE: Given the fact that it now turns out that Libby wasn’t the one who first leaked the name of Valerie Plame, what do you think of the fact that he’s the only one who’s being prosecuted in this case?

CHENEY: I have strong views on the subject, but I’m not going to talk about it…

WALLACE: But there’s nothing that you have heard, nothing that you have read that shakes your confidence in Scooter Libby’s integrity?

CHENEY: That’s correct.

That would seem to raise the specter of an open-air split between Cheney and the White House.

I have suggested that there are probably several layers of substantive, policy elements to this split, as well.

The Libby trial may illuminate a split between Cheney and Rove in ways that help make some sense of the rhythm of Bush administration foreign policy.

Among other things, my sense is that the “muddle-with-a-surge-on-top” that emerged from the White House “Iraq Policy Review” reflected an unwillingness or inability to reconcile the James Baker approach to Iraq and the Cheney faction.

But most of all, I wonder what it might mean for the White House to try to marginalize a sitting Vice President who does not serve at the pleasure of the President.

Back in the Ford administration, Rumsfeld reportedly nudged Nelson Rockefeller off the 1976 re-election ticket.  But that hardly serves as a precedent for the current situation.  Nobody is arguing that the Constitution guarantees the Vice President a spot on the next political ticket.  It does, however, guarantee the Vice President formal autonomy as an elected official.

I do not think Cheney will actually move into the “opposition.”  This would be untenable for the White House.  At the level of factional politics, Cheney may ultimately have his way–in Iraq and elsewhere.

“We Need Some Leverage”

Posted by Cutler on January 23, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

When tracing US policy toward Iran, keep one eye on the aircraft carrier groups and one eye on the gas pump.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had this to say about Iran:

Gates said he had told the leaders of U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the Iranians “believe they have the United States at some disadvantage because of the situation in Iraq.”

“To be precise, I told them both that I thought the Iranians were overplaying their hand and that one of the consequences of that is that they have raised real concerns on the part of a number of countries in the region and beyond about their intentions,” he told reporters…

With regard to U.S. failure thus far to achieve stability in Iraq, Gates said, “I think that our difficulties have given them (the Iranians) a tactical opportunity in the short term, but the United States is a very powerful country.”

Asked about the prospects for military conflict with Iran, whose nuclear program is seen by the Bush administration as a growing threat to U.S. interests, Gates said, “There are many courses of action available that do not involve an open conflict with Iran – there’s no need for that.”

Gates said that although he had publicly advocated negotiating with Iran as recently as 2004, he now advises against that.

Right at this moment, there’s really nothing the Iranians want from us,” he said. “And so, in any negotiation right now we would be the supplicant,” asking Iran to stop doing such things as enriching uranium for its nuclear program.

We need some leverage, it seems to me, before we engage with the Iranians,” Gates added.

Gates has come around to the Caspar Weinberger school of dealing with Iran.  In the 2004 report of the Council on Foreign Relations Iran Task Force that Gates co-chaired with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the proposal to engage Iran prompted Weinberger protégé and Task Force member Frank Carlucci to offer a “dissenting view” (published as part of the report, page 49):

While I agree with the main thrust of the report I do not agree that the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan may offer Iran new incentives to open a mutually beneficial dialogue. On the contrary, I believe Iran has few incentives for dialogue. They are convinced we intend to overthrow them, and they believe we are bogged down in Iraq and have lost what support we had in the Arab world. From their perspective, it is better to wait and let us stew in our own juice. Overtures on our part, under these circumstances, are likely to be interpreted as a sign of weakness

Hence, the Gates quest for “some leverage.”

Floating Leverage

Sometimes leverage comes in the form of aircraft carriers like the USS John C. Stennis.

The deployment of the USS John C. Stennis to the Middle East will put two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region for the first time since the 2003 Iraq invasion, in a clear response to Iran’s aggressive posture in the region…

“This demonstrates our resolve to do what we can to bring security and stability to the region,” Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said Tuesday…

A second U.S. carrier will significantly boost U.S. air power in the region and serve to remind Iran of American firepower. Its arrival will give the Pentagon two carriers in the region for the first time since 2003, Aandahl said.

After departing Tuesday from its homeport of Bremerton, Wash., the Stennis will stop in San Diego to pick up an air wing of more than 80 planes, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, the Navy said…

The Stennis and its 3,200 sailors lead a strike group consisting of the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, three Navy destroyers – the USS O’Kane, Preble and Paul Hamilton – the submarine USS Key West, the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz, as well as the supply ship USNS Bridge, the Navy said.

Diplomatic Dead Ends

In addition to the naval buildup in the Gulf–and the troop surge in Iraq–there are the more “diplomatic” forms of leverage.

Columnist Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post reports that the search for leverage will not focus on the United Nations:

While Rice was traveling in the Middle East and Europe last week, American allies were being told that Washington would not seek new and tougher Security Council sanctions against Iran, as has been widely expected…

Russia’s unexpectedly strong opposition even to weak sanctions adopted only after months of debate has deepened Bush’s growing disillusionment with President Vladimir Putin.

The American leader is determined not to get caught in “a dead end” at the United Nations, according to U.S. officials.  Bush is said to feel that Putin went back on personal pledges to support meaningful U.N. action in return for Bush’s committing to diplomatic efforts last June.

Petro Leverage

According to Hoagland, the key plan for developing “leverage” in the Gulf depends on the Saudis and oil leverage.

Instead of returning to the United Nations for a new resolution, the administration has launched a broad effort to assemble an economic coalition of the willing to confront Iran. Trade, investment and the price of oil are the primary targets Washington chose for this coalition.

The idea of trade and investment “sanctions” have long been championed by Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But the oil leverage is the central strategic element in the new “campaign” for leverage.

The campaign received a big boost last week when it became clear that Saudi Arabia is finally worried enough about Iran to use oil as a weapon against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saudi oil minister Ali Nuaimi publicly opposed Iranian calls for production cuts by the OPEC cartel to halt a decline that has taken crude oil from $78 a barrel in July to just above $50 a barrel last week.

The Saudis have enough reserve production capacity to swing OPEC prices up and down at will. Their relatively small population gives them a flexibility in postponing revenue gains that populous Iran lacks. Nuaimi’s pronouncement, although cast as a technical matter that had nothing to do with politics, seemed to give teeth to recent warnings issued in private by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, that the kingdom will now respond to Iranian hostility with its own confrontational tactics.

High oil  prices have always benefited Iranian leverage in the region.  Saudi leverage has always stemmed from its ability to flood the market and wait for other oil exporting countries to cry uncle.

The role of Bandar in this campaign is crucial because it goes to the heart of a long-term factional fight within the House of Saud, as Hoagland well understands.

Divisions within the Saudi royal family over how to handle Iran also should be handled with care, not bluster, by Washington.

Recall that the divisions within the Saudi royal family recently surfaced in late November with the publication of an op-ed by Nawaf Obaid.  Obaid explicitly endorsed the oil threat and seemed to claim to speak for Bandar:

Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region

[Saudi King] Abdullah may decide to strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high prices. The result would be to limit Tehran’s ability to continue funneling hundreds of millions each year to Shiite militias in Iraq and elsewhere.

Until recently, King Abdullah and oil minister Ali Nuaimi (also, Ali Naimi) have been seen as supporting the oil price spike.  But Naimi, in particular, might have been “moved” by recent chatter about a cabinet shuffle that would remove him from the oil ministry.

Iranian Endgame

Perhaps the goal, in this quest for leverage, is to establish the preconditions for engagement with the regime.

For now, the folks like Richard Perle, still hoping that US leverage would be used to destabilize the regime itself, appear frustrated with the Bush administration.

Perle expressed astonishment at the lack of support granted by the West to Iranian opposition movements who wish to overthrow the regime of the Ayatollahs.

“I’m not convinced that we have a lot of time. Given the peril that would result, its astonishing to me that we do not now have a serious political strategy with Iran,” he said, adding he thought regime change is “the only significant effective way” to deal with the Iranian threat.

“If we continue on our current course, we have only a military option. So what I’m urging, and this should have happened a very long time ago, is that we make a serious effort to work with the internal (Iranian) opposition,” Perle said.

Any “leverage” that Gates can find may make Perle’s case for him.  The internal opposition is showing some early signs of renewed activity.

[UPDATE: those hoping to exacerbate tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran can only be pleased by the confrontation playing out on the streets of Lebanon.

The clash over Lebanon may represent one locus of disagreement within the Saudi royal family.  Saudi King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal have both worked hard to heal the breach between Hezbollah and the Saudi-backed Hariri/Siniora crowd in Lebanon.  Meanwhile, over at the Telegraph Bandar is mentioned as a link between the Saudis and CIA efforts to undermine Hezbollah.]

The Axis of Irbil

Posted by Cutler on January 20, 2007
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

When the US detained several groups of Iranian officials in late December and mid-January, the whole affair seemed to simply be part of a larger media campaign of anti-Iranian rhetoric from the Bush administration. The raid that resulted in the mid-January detention of five Iranians coincided with Bush’s January 10, 2007 speech in which he asserted,

Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

The raids that led to the mid-January detentions were undoubtedly part of the larger media campaign that also included bellicose remarks from Vice President Cheney.

More recently, however, Eli Lake at the Right Zionist New York Sun has raised the ideological stakes with reporting on the detainees now being dubbed The Irbil Five by the editorial page of that paper.

Lake’s report includes two new claims about the Irbil Five. The first claim is that there is–surprise!–factional fighting within the Bush administration about how to deal with the Iranians.

The American government is deadlocked on the issue of whether to allow five Iranians captured last Wednesday in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to return home, according to three administration officials…

On one side of the bureaucratic debate are the CIA and the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau. According to one administration official familiar with the debate, they argue that the prolonged detention of the suspected Quds force operatives will provoke a further escalation with Iran and scuttle the Iraqi government’s plan to help secure Baghdad with American soldiers. On the other side of the debate are the Pentagon’s special operations office, the Marines, and the Army — which have pleaded that the captured Iranians are too great a danger to American forces to return to Iran.

This split is interesting, if not altogether surprising. If true, it tends to confirm the idea that much of the uniformed military brass in the US is decided hawkish about Iran. Lake doesn’t mention Cheney as a player in this factional fight. That seems unlikely.

But Lake drops a bomb toward the end of his report:

One intelligence official who has seen much of the early reporting on the Irbil raid said yesterday that it linked the Iranians to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army operations in Kirkuk as well as anti-Kurdish operations from Ansar al-Sunna. Ansar al-Sunna is an outgrowth of the defeated Ansar al-Islam, a Qaeda-affiliated Sunni organization that tried to assassinate one of Iraq’s deputy prime ministers, Barham Salih.

This reference to Sadr’s role in Kirkuk raises some very serious issues that I discussed in a prior post: Sadr is no friend of the Kurds.

The idea of an alliance between Iran, Sadr’s Mahdi army, and Ansar al-Sunna is an extremely explosive charge. It appears to be linked to other related accusations from the Right Zionist Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A recent report by Soner Cagaptay and Daniel Fink presses the Sadr-Sunni link.

On January 14, in a rare show of unity, Sunni and Shiite Arab, Turkmen, and Christian Iraqis gathered at a conference in Ankara to denounce Kurdish plans to incorporate Kirkuk, the capital of Iraq’s at-Tamim province, into the Kurdish region…

Muqtada al-Sadr has not wasted any time in organizing Shiite Arabs expelled by the Kurds. The Iraqi constitution fails to address what is to happen to Shiite families settled by Saddam in Kirkuk—most of whom have now lived in Kirkuk for more than a generation, and have no homes to return to—as well as those families who came to Kirkuk as labor migrants. These Shiite Arabs expelled by the Kurds have accepted a helping hand from Sadr and now support him. Meanwhile, Shiite Turkmens alienated by the main Turkmen party, the Iraqi Turkmen Front, whose leadership has been traditionally comprised of Sunni Turkmens (around half of Iraqi Turkmens are Shiites) have also been recruited by Sadr. The Shiite militias first appeared to confront growing Kurdish control over Kirkuk with the arrival of Sadr’s Mahdi Army in 2004. Their activity began with intimidating Shiite residents into remaining in Kirkuk. This has since escalated into attacks against Kurds. Neighborhood Shiite groups are also responsible for perpetrating acts of violence against Kurds.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda affiliates such as Ansar al-Sunna are known to be helping and recruiting Sunni Arabs and even traditionally secular Sunni Turkmens—most of whom have been expelled from Kirkuk by the Kurds. Kirkuk has witnessed increased al-Qaeda presence. The majority of the twenty suicide bombings perpetrated in Kirkuk from July to October 2006 are presumably the work of al-Qaeda affiliates.

While Iraq has experienced increased sectarian tension between Shiite and Sunni groups since the February 22, 2006, bombing of the Askariya shrine, ironically, in Kirkuk, these groups have been united in their opposition to Kurdish political designs for the city.

The whole idea of Sadrist links with Iran have always seemed complex to me. He had early support from Ayatollah Haeri in the Iranian city of Qom, but that relationship has seemed rocky at times.

Nevertheless, if I were going to give any credence to the idea of a broad Sadrist network that includes Iran it would seem at least as likely that the chief target of that alliance would be Kurds in Kirkuk as it would be Sunnis in Baghdad.

Turkey has made no secret of its opposition to Kurdish control of Kirkuk.

Does Iran really fear the Kurds?

Many Kurdish leaders appear to have relatively good relations with Iran.

Within the US, however, there are Iran hawks who are certainly hoping to drive a wedge between Iran and the Kurds.

See, for example, a recent Jamestown Foundation report that includes a glowing profile of the Party for Freedom and Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), the anti-Iranian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

As the confrontation between Iran and the West escalates, international attention has increasingly focused on Tehran’s internal vulnerability. In particular, analysts point out that Iran’s “imperial” past has resulted in ethnic Persians—who make up scarcely half of Iran’s 80 million people—holding disproportionate power, wealth and influence. If the crisis with Iran escalates further, Iran’s neglected and often resentful Kurdish, Azeri and Arab minorities may increasingly play a key role in global events. At the forefront will likely be Iran’s Kurds, and chief among them PJAK, which for nearly a decade has worked to replace Iran’s theocratic government with a federal and democratic system, respectful of human rights, sexual equality and freedom of expression.

Are the tensions in Kirkuk insufficient to ignite tensions between Sadrists and the Kurds? If so, one “creative” way to get something going might be to send Kurdish forces to Baghdad as part of a crackdown on Sadr City.

Thankfully, nobody would ever dream of anything like that!

My question: is there a strategic aim here, apart from universal chaos?

The “looming crisis” of Kirkuk would tend to isolate the Kurds against an alliance that could united Iraqi Shiites, Iraqi Sunni Arabs, Turkey, Iran, all the major countries of the Sunni Arab bloc.

This can hardly be a recipe for Kurdish success.

Perhaps it is intended to foster Iraqi and regional unity, albeit over the bloodied “corpse” of Kurdish Kirkuk.

Sadr: Confrontation or Cooptation?

Posted by Cutler on January 19, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

In a prior post, I noted that Reuel Marc Gerecht over at the Right Zionist American Enterprise Institute was quite adamant that the US should not inaugurate a new, aggressive counter-insurgency campaign with direct confrontation with Sadr.

It now appears that the US (and Prime Minister Maliki) has gone ahead–pace Gerecht (and Cheney?)–and launched a crackdown on Sadr’s organization, including at least one high level leader.  CNN is reporting:

In an overnight raid, Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops captured a top aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in eastern Baghdad, the militia’s spokesman told CNN Friday.

The spokesman said Sheikh Abdul al-Hadi Darraji — the director of Sadr’s main offices in Sadr City — was arrested at a mosque in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Belediyat, just outside Sadr City.

A U.S. military statement Friday did not name Darraji specifically but did announce U.S. and Iraqi forces had arrested a “high-level, illegal armed group leader” blamed for kidnapping, torturing and killing Iraqi civilians while heading an “illegal armed group punishment committee.”

In addition, the “armed group leader” is suspected of working with “death squad commanders” and armed group cells that practice sectarian revenge killings in Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Wednesday that security forces in recent days cracked down on the Mehdi Army. He said 400 arrests were made.

The last time the US moved against a top aide to Sadr, back in April 2004, the capture sparked a Shiite uprising in Baghdad.

At several points in 2006, the US has been to the brink of a renewed confrontation with Sadr.  But each move has been short-circuited.

Is the US now courting a full confrontation with Shiite Baghdad?  If so, it is not hard to imagine how a Shiite rebellion might ensue and how this uprising, in turn, might lead the US and some elements of the Sunni political elite to call for the formation of a “national salvation government”–an anti-Shiite coup–to quell the unrest and “restore order.”

In another scenario, Sadr himself has given the green light for Maliki’s move against Sheikh Abdul al-Hadi Darraji, not only to appease the US but also to let US forces battle rogue forces within his own Mahdi Army militia.

The US is suggesting that Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji has links to Abu Diraa, the figure I have been calling the Keyser Söze of Sadr City.  The Associated Press makes the link:

“The suspect allegedly leads various illegal armed group operations and is affiliated with illegal armed group cells targeting Iraqi civilians for sectarian attacks and violence,” [a military] statement read, adding he was believed to be affiliated with Baghdad death squad commanders, including Abu Diraa, a Shiite militia leader who has gained a reputation for his brutality.

The AP story also includes a threat from Sadrists in Najaf of a violent backlash:

Abdul-Razzaq al-Nidawi, an al-Sadr aide in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, demanded that al-Darraji and other detainees from the cleric’s movement, be released and called for demonstrations after the weekly Friday prayer services.

“America is playing with fire and our patience is beginning to fade,” he said. “This savage barbarian act will not pass peacefully.”

But Reuters reports that the Sadrists disavowed a violent response:

The U.S. military said in a statement that Iraqi special forces backed by American advisers seized an unnamed man they described as a death squad leader wanted for kidnap, torture and murder and linked to fugitive Shi’ite warlord Abu Deraa.

Aides to Sadr said the man held was Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, a prominent media spokesman for their movement. An official in Sadr’s political office branded his detention a deliberate “provocation” but said they would not respond with violence.

Gerecht has suggested that Sadr “may play along.”  But that idea was predicated on a US campaign that began by targeting the Sunni insurgency, not the Shia of Sadr City.

This move against al-Darraji makes it seem like the point of the “surge” is to take on the Shia.  Even at the level of appearances, this move could provoke a Shiite backlash–a rebellion that extends beyond the control of Muqtada al-Sadr.

Gerecht & Cheney

Posted by Cutler on January 17, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Maybe Reuel Marc Gerecht doesn’t matter.  Gerecht does not now and has never served as a member of the Bush administration’s foreign policy team.  Perhaps his views on Iraq are merely those of a think tank wonk pontificating and prescribing from the sidelines as history rolls along without even a passing glance in his direction.


But the real issue is not Gerecht’s personal influence but the possibility that his views can be considered representative of those held by figures in the White House whose service inside the administration seems to imply a veritable gag order.

Can Gerecht be taken to be a proxy for the views of David Wurmser, the current “Middle East” expert on Cheney’s National Security staff whose wife–Meyrav Wurmser–referenced just such a gag order in a recent interview?

There is no way to gauge, from the outside, Wurmser’s current influence on Cheney’s thinking.  But Wurmser serves at the pleasure of the Vice President. He has not yet been shown the door, nor has he resigned in protest.

I have previously noted the strong continuities between Wurmser’s earlier published work on Iraq and Gerecht’s writing.  Prior to his service in the Bush administration, Wurmser was the Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute.  Gerecht is his successor in that role.

All of which goes to the value of attending to Gerecht’s views, even as these views are disparaged by critics who dismiss them as “wishful thinking and unsubstantiated assertions flavored with a healthy dose of ad hominem attack against any who question him.”

As I have noted in a recent post, Gerecht has been promoting what is best described as a stridently pro-Shiite option abandons all pretense to national reconciliation in Iraq, even as he remains dismayed by the level of factional infighting within the Bush administration.

His most recent missive is a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Petraeus Time.”

The good news is that by emphasizing a military, not political, strategy to diminish Iraq’s debilitating violence, the president has correctly set aside one of the primary factors destroying the Shiite Arab center. While waiting for a “political solution” to the Sunni insurgency, we watched Shiite timidity and patience turn to anger–and to a revenge which now threatens the integrity of the Shiite-led Iraqi government… The reversal of this soft-power, politics-not-troops mentality is an essential step forward…

Nevertheless, there is a dismaying hesitancy in the military’s and the White House’s deliberations on this conflict. Although the president wants a new approach, the Pentagon, the State Department and even the National Security Council appear wedded to the past. The contradiction between what the president says and what his government does has never been greater.

Presumably, Cheney stands behind the president in favoring such a “new approach.”  This, at least, has been a persistent rumor.

Gerecht–whose tenure with the CIA focused on Iran and who has been consistently hawkish on Iran–exhibits no fear of Shiite power in Iraq.

The administration needs to rethink its understanding of Iraqi culture and politics, as the “new” strategy still contains ideas that have catastrophically guided American officials in the Green Zone ever since Sunni Arab insurgents started killing Americans in significant numbers. U.S. officials still believe they must soon see sectarian reconciliation, a reversal of de-Baathification, and a nonsectarian, equitable distribution of oil wealth.

All these achievements are meant to placate the aggrieved Sunni Arabs, who represent 15% of the population…

For the serious ex-Baathists, Sunni supremacists and Iraqi Sunni fundamentalists–the lethal hardcore of the insurgency–it’s still a good bet that they’re not into democratic negotiations…

If the U.S. and Iraqi governments are going to bring peace to the “Sunni triangle,” they must break the back of the insurgency. A minority, used to the prerogatives of a communitarian dictatorship, the Sunnis have been trying to derail the new Iraq: They must come to know that they will lose everything if they don’t abandon violence as their principal political tool… This means, as it has always meant, a combined American and Shiite Iraqi occupation of major Sunni Arab cities.

Baghdad is the first step…

Gen. Petraeus will have to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr. The thuggish son of Iraq’s most revered clerical family, he has become for many Shiites in Baghdad a rapturously praised defender. This esteem is merited: He, not any American general, increased the security of the average Shiite in the capital. And if he is smart, he’ll attack the Americans before they have the chance to deploy much new strength. If the Americans successfully down Sunni insurgents in the capital, then they will go after Mr. Sadr.

But the U.S. military should absolutely not go after Mr. Sadr first…

The key here is how Shiites view the first encounter. If it goes against the insurgents… [Sadr] just may play along. He and his forces were mauled by the Americans in 2004. Since then they haven’t been particularly bold in attacking U.S. soldiers. Mr. Sadr has recently manifested some statesmen-like behavior, and has been more correct in his behavior toward Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual guide of Iraq’s Shia and a bulwark of moderation.

Who else but Gerecht speaks of Sadr in such respectful terms?

Certainly not the military brass.

The only person I can think of is… the Vice President of the United States:

KUDLOW: I also want to ask you, in that same vain of American toughness in winning the war, this guy al Sadr is still out there. There’s been a warrant for his arrest for three years. His death squads, his militias, they’re killing rival Shias, they’re killing Sunnis. They tried to plot to take over the interior department in Baghdad. Why is he still on the loose? A lot of people say, why don’t we rub out al Sadr? Why don’t we take him into custody? That would be a sign of winning…

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: He is — obviously speaks for a significant number of Iraqis, has a strong following…

Between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Posted by Cutler on January 16, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Are the Saudis and the Iranians patching things up, even as the US tries to foment regional tension between Sunnis and Shiites in order to build US support for an aggressive policy toward Iran?

The headlines certainly suggest as much.  Reuters reports:

Iran asked Saudi Arabia to help ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States as Washington held out the possibility of “engagement” with Tehran if it changed tack in Iraq.

A letter was delivered by [Ali Larijani] Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator to the Saudi King from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Saudi official said on Monday. The official said Iran wanted Saudi leaders to relay a goodwill message to Washington.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has subsequently denied the report and called “baseless” the claim that Iran asked Riyadh to mediate between Iran and the US.

But the real problem with the “detente” scenario may be that it assumes that foreign policy is directed by a unified actor each of the three countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.  It would likely be far more accurate to say that some Saudis and some Iranians want to patch things up, even as some in the US press for a more aggressive policy toward Iran.

Factional Iran

The factions in Iran are complex, but most reports that bother to even note the possibility of internal fissures make clear that Ali Larijani represents an Iranian faction that favors improved relations with the Saudis.  The Reuters report about the Iranian Foreign Ministry, for example, presents Larijani as a factional player:

Larijani’s visit came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, as part of a Middle East tour. Rice and other U.S. leaders have put a fresh emphasis on checking Iran’s influence in Iraq and elsewhere.

Larijani’s visit, said Iranian political scientist Nasser Hadian-Jazy, “is a counter move to what Secretary Rice is going to do to unite the Arabs against Iran.”

But he said it also shows the renewed influence of moderate conservatives, like Larijani, amid growing public criticism of Ahmadinejad and his anti-U.S. speeches that are seen to have exacerbated tensions, particularly over the nuclear file.

Some politicians and officials say Larijani and other moderate officials are frustrated by Ahmadinejad, who they say has provoked confrontation and made it more difficult for Iran to secure what it calls its “nuclear rights”.

“In a calm and quiet atmosphere, Iran can neutralise America’s pressure on its atomic work. Fiery speeches worsen the situation,” said one official, who asked not to be identified because of sensitivity of the issue.

Ahmadinejad may not be the most powerful figure in Iran, where the final say rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Western diplomats say his provocative public tone has helped drive a tougher line.

Factional United States

The outline of key factional lines within the US represent a split among Right Arabists with figures like James Baker and Flynt Leverett eager to find a way to do business at least some element of the incumbent regime in Iran and Right Arabists like James Akins who are very hawkish on Iran.

Along with his Right Zionist advisor David Wurmser, Cheney is undeniably hawkish on Iran, as he made clear in his recent interview with Fox News.

WALLACE: What’s the message that you’re sending to Iran? And how tough are you prepared to get?

CHENEY: Well, I think it’s been pretty well-known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq. And the president has responded to that, as you suggest. I think it’s exactly the right thing to do.

And Iran’s a problem in a much larger sense. They have begun to conduct themselves in ways that have created a great deal of tension throughout the region. If you go and talk with the Gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried, partly because of the conduct of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who appears to be a radical, a man who believes in an apocalyptic vision of the future and who thinks it’s imminent.

At the same time, of course, they’re pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons. They are in a position where they sit astride the Straits of Hormuz, where over 20 percent of the world’s supply of oil transits every single day, over 18 million barrels a day.

They use Hezbollah as a surrogate. And working through Syria with Hezbollah, they’re trying to topple the democratically elected government in [Lebanon]. Working through Hamas and their support for Hamas in Gaza, they’re interfering in the peace process.

So the threat that Iran represents is growing, it’s multi- dimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.

Factional Saudi Arabia

The most difficult factional battle to trace–on Iran and much else–is surely the struggle within the Saudi regime.  Transparency is minimal and open source news analysis is surely inadequate and often simplistic.

The hypothesis that most recently made news as that Cheney and Prince Bandar–and perhaps Crown Prince Sultan–were joined in a hawkish alliance regarding Iran while Saudi King Abdullah–along with Foreign Minister Prince Saud and former Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki–favored a more conciliatory approach toward Iran.

It is difficult, at the moment, to find much sunlight between Saudi royal factions.  On his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Ali Larijani met with all the key players, including Bandar.  And according to official Iranian news, the Iranian Ambassador to Iran recently had an audience with Bandar’s father, Crown Prince Sultan.

Still, I suspect that the factionalism remains.  An Associated Press report from January 8, 2007 speculated that tensions would re-appear by March because King Abdullah was expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle that would go to the heart of some of the battles for power within the Kingdom.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is considering a major Cabinet reshuffle soon, the first since he ascended to the throne of the oil-rich kingdom, diplomats and Saudi media said Monday.

The reshuffle may include key posts such as foreign minister, which has been held by Prince Saud al-Faisal for more than 30 years, and the influential oil minister, they said…

“It is up to the (king) to decide, and no one has the right to talk about that except him,” Crown Prince Sultan was quoted as saying in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which is owned by the Saudi royal family. “What he decides is good for all.”

It is rare for a royal family member to even refer to such an issue publicly and was viewed as a significant hint that changes are coming…

Saudis who have intimate knowledge of the discussions regarding the possible reshuffle said al-Faisal, who has had health problems, might be replaced by Crown Prince Sultan’s son Prince Bandar, a former ambassador to Washington and current secretary of the National Security Council. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The Saudi independent Internet news service, Elaph… said veteran Oil Minister Ali Naimi is among those expected to leave their posts. Naimi, 67 and an oil engineer, has been in his job for more than a decade…

The royal family and government leaders are believed to be deeply divided over how to handle the growing crisis in Iraq and Iran’s increasing regional influence.

If speculation about factional lines are correct, then the selection of Prince Bandar as Foreign Minister and the departure of Oil Minister Ali Naimi will both mark major victories for the factions most closely aligned with Cheney.

Taken together, these events would tend to undermine any spirit of detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Many questions remain, but at least one concerns Iraq.  Would Bandar’s faction support a Shiite Iraq under the influence of Sistani, or would he demand–as his price for cooperation on Iran–the restoration of Sunni rule under an extra-constitutional “national salvation government,” i.e., an anti-Shiite coup?

For the record, I would not rule out the probability of a Bandar-Sistani axis.

Sadr’s New American Friends

Posted by Cutler on January 12, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Blake Hounshell at FP Passport points out that Bush’s “New Way Forward” in Iraq reiterates the demand that Prime Minister Maliki facilitate a military crackdown on Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army. Or, at least a crackdown on “rogue elements” of the militia.

For a while, it seemed like the entire US foreign policy establishment was united by a common atipathy toward the Sadrists.

More recently, however, Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht who have long feared that Sadr would marginalize “moderate” Shia figures like Grand Ayatollah Sistani have argued that the best way to marginalize Sadr is not through frontal assault on Sadr City, but through a beefed up, unrelenting assault against Sunni insurgents.

The White House is not reading from the Gerecht playbook. The pressure is for Maliki to green light a break with Sadr.

But Gerecht’s Washington defeats may yet prove to be Baghdad “victories” if Shiite political forces resist the White House plan.

That resistance will get coded by most US commentators, especially on the Left, as a defeat, a blow to US power, etc. But it is worth keeping in mind that Washington is factionalized. The Iraqi Shia may hand a massive defeat to Bush and Right Arabists. But this may not necessarily imply a defeat for Right Zionists–or Cheney. On the contrary, Right Zionists may already have unleashed forces in Iraq that Right Arabist Washington is unable to contain, notwithstanding the best efforts by Zalmay Khalilzad to close pandora’s box.

Roula Khalaf and Steve Negus of the Financial Times seem to agree that Bush is sticking with the Khalilzad playbook, but they have serious reservations about the odds of political success (let alone military success).

Largely focused on a military push, the new US “way forward” for Iraq depends heavily on the weak Iraqi government’s will and ability to adopt controversial policies it has so far resisted…

Despite the administration’s public support for Mr Maliki, US officials have repeatedly complained about his resistance to reining in Shia militias, some of which are affiliated with parties in the ruling Shia coalition that brought him to power…

Mr Maliki announced a new security plan for Baghdad on Saturday, in which he suggested that government forces would make more serious attempts to contain Shia militias…

Although the US says American and Iraqi troops will now have a free hand to conduct operations in the capital, assaults on the overpopulated suburb of Sadr city, the Mahdi army stronghold, would carry huge risks for Washington, radicalising more Shia and turning them against the US.

American pressure on the government over the past year to make political concessions to the Sunni minority, which has been marginalised since the 2003 invasion, already has made many Shia suspicious of US intentions…

Khalaf and Negus temper this analysis with some factors that may work in favor of the White House plan:

On the other hand, Mr Maliki’s standing with his own core constituency seems to have recovered somewhat with the hanging of Saddam Hussein in the face of opposition from Sunni Arabs inside Iraq and in the region.

This, together with the imminent departure of US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad who was seen as the architect of a pro-Sunni policy, may give Mr Maliki the freedom to take actions that would otherwise alienate his own Shia constituency.

Will Maliki move against his own base? In the last instance, Khalaf and Negus seem dubious:

But some members of Mr Maliki’s coalition believe that the Shia government should shrug off American pressure. They have said that Iraq does not need any more foreign troops and instead have called for Iraqi units to be transferred to an Iraqi chain of command…

[S]ome Sunni politicians doubt the [Maliki] government has any real intention of controlling militias and is instead supporting them in the hopes of winning the sectarian battles for Baghdad neighbourhoods and districts near to the capital.

Seen from this light, Mr Maliki’s acquiescence to the Bush plan may appear simply to be a play for time as the country’s new Shia leaders cement their control over the capital.

The Bush plan may be D.O.A. But don’t expect Right Zionists to shed any tears.

Which Way Forward in Iraq?

Posted by Cutler on January 10, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

The preview of the Iraq Policy Review seemed to indicate that the Bush administration was thinking of the new “Way Forward” in Iraq as consistent with efforts to woo Sunni political forces into government, even as the US tried to isolate Muqtada al-Sadr and crackdown on the Shiite militias of Sadr City.  Here is the preview from the Washington Post‘s Robin Wright:

The centerpiece of the political plan is the creation of a national reconciliation government that would bring together the two main Shiite parties with the two largest Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The goal is to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite militia and head of a group that has 30 seats in parliament and five cabinet posts.

But it seems as though the “Way Forward” may actually mark more of a shift.  And that shift may have already begun.

I have in mind the operation, initiated by US forces, to take control of Haifa Street.  Here is the Washington Post report:

The fighting in the area began four days ago, when Iraqi soldiers killed 30 insurgents after uncovering what was described as an unauthorized checkpoint, according to a Defense Ministry spokesman. Pearson said Iraqi army commanders asked for U.S. assistance after insurgents killed several Iraqi soldiers two days ago.

At 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, about 400 U.S. troops from the Stryker Brigade rolled toward Haifa Street, meeting up with Iraqi army units along the way.

They arrived about 5:30 a.m. In the pre-dawn darkness, the joint forces took control of the buildings surrounding Tallil Square, a key target of the operation.

“We showed up in their living room for breakfast,” Pearson said. About 7 a.m., the trouble began. “As soon as the sun came up, the insurgents began shooting,” he said.

“We started taking it from all sides,” [Sgt. Israel] Schaeffer recalled.

From rooftops and doorways, the gunmen fired AK-47 assault rifles and machine guns. Snipers also were targeting the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. U.S. soldiers started firing back with 50-caliber machine guns mounted on their Stryker armored vehicles. They used TOW missiles and Mark-19 grenade launchers. The F-15 fighter jets strafed rooftops with cannons, while the Apaches fired Hellfire missiles. But the insurgents kept fighting.

“They were able to coordinate mortars at us. They were able to execute well-aimed shots from the cover of buildings,” said Capt. Robert Callaghan, who was coordinating air support for the operation. “There were mortar rounds that went off close to our vehicle. It was difficult to concentrate on my job.”

Schaeffer was surprised. He was accustomed to the hit-and-run tactics that the insurgents typically have used over the past few months.

“We fired a TOW missile into a building,” he said. “A few minutes later we started taking fire again from the building. Normally, that would have pretty much ended the whole engagement. They were fighting pretty persistently.”

“The terrain was in their favor,” he added. “It is about as defensible a terrain as you can get.”

Sounds like urban counter-insurgency.  In a Sunni neighborhood.

Are Sunni political leaders–especially the ones the Bush administration are supposedly courting–on board with the new “way forward”?

Not so much.

In a statement, the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party described the 50 killed as “innocent citizens.” It asserted that Sunnis on Haifa Street were “under siege” by Shiite militias backed by the Iraqi army.

The Iraqi Islamic Party.  Isn’t that the party–led by White House visitor and Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi that was supposed to form the Sunni backbone of the new “moderate” government the Bush administration was trying to promote to beat back Sadr?

Add, on top of that, the fact that the military brass is backing off from a confrontation with Sadr himself:

Odierno said U.S. forces would leave dealing with Sadr to Iraqi authorities. “I’m not sure we take him down,” he said.

“There are some extreme elements (of the Mehdi Army) … and we will go after them. I will allow the government to decide whether (Sadr) is part of it or not. He is currently working within the political system.”

What does it all add up to?

The Shiite Option after all?

Too early to tell.  Stay tuned.

Lettuce and Pickles

Posted by Cutler on January 09, 2007
Iraq / 3 Comments

Iraqi oil is back in the news.

The most recent flurry of chatter was prompted by an article in the Independent on Sunday entitled, “The Future of Iraq: The Spoils of War.”

The central focus of the article is on a draft hydrocarbons law that has the Iraqi oil industry operate under production sharing agreements or PSAs that provide very generous terms of international oil companies.

An article in the Turkish Daily News suggests that the PSA terms in the draft law will be extraordinarily generous:

According to the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) system to be invoked by the draft, companies will have the right to retain 75 percent of their annual income from Iraqi oilfields, until they match their oil production costs. After then they will be able to pocket 20 percent of the annual income. Experts point to the fact that this is double normal market rates.

The Iraqi oil story is extremely import, but the “news” is not the PSA system.  I discussed negotiations over PSA terms in a couple of October posts (here and here).  Greg Muttittt and others made news with the PSA story back in November 2005 with a report entitled “Crude Designs.”

The centrality of oil to US plans in Iraq cannot be overstated.  I have always liked Chomsky’s way of framing that part of the story:

[W]e are under a rigid doctrine in the West, a religious fanaticism, that says we must believe that the United States would have invaded Iraq even if its main product was lettuce and pickles… Well, you know, if you have three gray cells functioning, you know that that’s perfect nonsense. The U.S. invaded Iraq because it has enormous oil resources, mostly untapped, and it’s right in the heart of the world’s energy system.

The problem, however, has always been and continues to be for the Bush administration to get the domestic Iraqi politics and regional geo-politics aligned in such a way to get the deals done and the oil flowing.

On this score, it should be noted that a draft law–even if adopted by the current Iraqi parliament–does not yet constitute “success.”  Here is one sober industry reaction (Simon Wardell, “Draft Oil Law: New Iraqi Law Will Reportedly Allow Large-Scale Investment by Western Oil Majors,” Global Insight Daily Analysis, January 8, 2007):

[T]he legislation is just the first of several steps which will be required before any wells are sunk. The security situation still presents a major challenge which no major is currently willing to face. While deals may be struck, they will be contingent upon an improvement in the security situation. There will also be major risks in pouring capital into Iraq’s oil sector due to the political instability. Even if the security picture improves, governments may change, and the status of PSAs may come under question at a later date, as they have in Russia. The lack of a political consensus in Iraq makes this risk more significant

The crux of the matter is that the political stability favored, if not required, by the Oil Majors was critically upset the day in May 2003 that the Bush administration adopted its de-Baathification policy and thoroughly undermined by the three major votes of 2005 that handed political power to Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds.

From the perspective of the foreign policy establishment, the preferred path for political stability in Iraq was then and continues to be benign dictatorship under Sunni minority control.

The proper model for a simple US oil grab is the Libya deal, not Iraq.  Saddamism without Saddam.

So the Bush administration has been scrambling to construct some kind of political stability, not only within Iraq but within the region, that would allow the oil to flow.

The News from Kurdistan

One key sticking point has been the locus of control over new oil field development within Iraq.  In other words, who gets to sign the contracts?

The Kurds have always hoped to win control for the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq–and to include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk within that regional entity.

The news of an oil “breakthrough” in Iraq is mostly on the Kurdish front.

Shiite forces abanonded the Kurds on this issue.

Now, the Kurds appear to have conceded the point.

In late December 2006, the Kurdish Globe reported:

Oil has been a major issue dividing Kurdish and Iraqi authorities in post-war Iraq. KRG says it is constitutionally allowed to drill for oil in areas under its control, but Iraqi oil officials have threatened that KRG’s oil deals will not be “valid.”

Most of the oil wells are in southern Iraq, and the oil law allows KRG to talk with companies and make deals for oil production,” [Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan] Barzani said…

According to preliminary agreements between the KRG and federal authorities, a representative from the Baghdad government will attend talks between the KRG and oil firms. Once the KRG reaches a deal with a company to drill for oil in Kurdistan, the contract will be sent to Baghdad for assessment and approval by an Iraqi government committee. The contract will then be returned to the KRG and it will have 60 days to sign it…

“There needs to be some criteria according to which the (oil) contracts are investigated so as to know if there is any corruption in the deals or to what extent the company will implement its obligations,” Barzani said.

Note well: this is Barzani’s concession speech and it will not likely be greeted with thunderous applause in Kurdistan.  Barzani’s two justifications for centralized control–that most of the wells are in southern Iraq (and therefore a source of wealth for Kurds only under centralization) and that central authorities need to be able to investigate corruption–are very thin fig leaves, given the history of Kurdish demands for autonomy.  Look for an internal Kurdish split that would challenge Barzani for “selling out” the Kurds.

The Kurdish concession has regional implications insofar as Turkey has been firm in its opposition to Kurdish autonomy.  Indeed, just as the Kurds were conceding the point, Kirkuk oil began to flow in the pipeline to Turkey’s port of Ceyhan.  Perhaps it is no coincidence.

Note, too, that the future of Kurdish control of Kirkuk also looks increasingly fragile, with John McCain now leading a campaign to delay a referendum on Kirkuk that would likely establish Kurdish control of the city.

In the last instance, these Kurdish concessions are part of a larger campaign to restore centralized national political control in Iraq.

On the oil front, centralization is likely intended to appease Sunni rejectionists.  It will also please Muqtada al-Sadr who is a strident critic of Kurdish control of Kirkuk and of decentralization, more generally.  Is Sadr willing to trade privatization (i.e., production sharing agreements) for centralization?

If so, then the US will have effectively exploited the threat of Kurdish regional PSAs to extract comparable concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

Same as It Ever Was

Posted by Cutler on January 08, 2007
Iraq / 1 Comment

Bush’s Iraq Policy Review looks set to announce that on the political front in Iraq there will be no change, even as the administration contemplates a military escalation.

After floating some very radical ideas for abandoning “national reconciliation” and outreach to Iraqi Sunni insurgents–the so-called “80 percent Solution“–the Bush administration now appears to be ready for more of the same.

Robin Wright of the Washington Post reports:

During its two-month interagency review, the Bush administration has struggled the most to come up with proposals to jump-start the stalled political process in Iraq, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats. The fate of the revised strategy will be determined as much by new movement on Iraq’s combustible political front as by success on the battlefield, administration officials said.

But the emerging package looks slim and, absent last-minute additions, appears to be more of the same, according to sources who have been briefed.

The centerpiece of the political plan is the creation of a national reconciliation government that would bring together the two main Shiite parties with the two largest Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The goal is to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite militia and head of a group that has 30 seats in parliament and five cabinet posts.

To ensure participation of Sunni moderates, the Bush administration is pressing the Maliki government to take three other major steps: Amend the constitution to address Sunni concerns, pass a law on the distribution of Iraq’s oil revenue and change the ruling that forbids the participation of former Baath Party officials.

Been there.  Done that.

Or, more to the point: Been there.  Tried to do that.  Was blocked by Grand Ayatollah Sistani who allegedly refused to allow the US to marginalize Sadr.

Little wonder, with word that the US is determined to pursue this course, that Sadr has gone to meet with Sistani for clarification and confirmation of support.

So, is the US prepared to move without the blessing of Sistani?  Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, the same old political battles will certainly accompany the proposed escalation on the security front.

The military brass is spoiling for a fight with Shiite militias, if not Sadr himself.  Here is the Washington Post report on the political contours of the US military surge:

A top U.S. commander in Iraq said Sunday that previous attempts to halt sectarian killings in Baghdad had failed in part because of a shortage of Iraqi troops and a tight focus on Sunni Arab neighborhoods, and that those lessons would be incorporated into a new strategy to slow the violence in the capital.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the number two commander in Iraq, declined to discuss a proposed surge of thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad, saying he preferred to wait for President Bush to outline the policy. But he said he wanted his forces to begin with a push against both Sunni and Shiite fighters

“You have to go after both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods,” he said. “Together Forward was mostly focused on Sunni neighborhoods, and we’ve got to do both.”

Reuters suggests that Odierno hedges a bit on Sadr and the Mahdi Army:

Odierno said U.S. forces would leave dealing with Sadr to Iraqi authorities. “I’m not sure we take him down,” he said.

“There are some extreme elements (of the Mehdi Army) … and we will go after them. I will allow the government to decide whether (Sadr) is part of it or not. He is currently working within the political system.”

The military brass consistently emphasized a split between Sadr and his followers.

In any event, some of Prime Minister Maliki’s aides are already throwing cold water on Odierno’s plan for a more balanced security crackdown in Baghdad.

Hassan al-Suneid, a key aid and member of al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, said the Iraqi leader had committed 20,000 soldiers to the operation that would call upon American troops and airpower only when needed…

Al-Suneid, who is also a member of parliament, said the new drive to free Baghdad from the grip of sectarian violence would focus initially on Sunni insurgent strongholds in western Baghdad.

Indeed, the Shiite appetite for a decidedly sectarian form of counter-insurgency seems undiminished.  As Robert Collier reports in the San Francisco Chronicle:

For their part, Shiite hard-liners also say they support reconciliation efforts. But in interviews with The Chronicle, they called for U.S. officials to stop advocating the inclusion of Sunnis and to give military backing to a full-scale Shiite offensive in Sunni areas. These Shiites described their opponents as “takfiri Baathists,” combining the term for Sunni religious extremists with the name of Hussein’s secular-leaning party — two groups that most outside observers say are often at each other’s throats.

“The American government must give the Iraqi government complete sovereignty, which means that the Iraqi army will have the authority to strike the takfiri Baathists with an iron hand, without any interference from the Americans,” said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigade, a Shiite militia that has been largely incorporated into the Interior Ministry and, along with al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, is widely blamed for death-squad attacks on Sunnis.

Many al-Sadr followers, including the Mahdi Army, appear markedly more sectarian than their leader.

As I noted in a previous post, there are competing conceptions about the purpose of a military “surge” in Iraq.

The Shiite visions for Baghdad articulated in Robert Collier’s report seem to have more in common with Reuel Marc Gerecht’s views on counter-insurgency than with Odierno’s.

Right Zionists like Gerecht are still looking for “victory” in Iraq.  [Update: new Gerecht essay emphasizes his basis for hope, albeit not on the basis of the path set to be adopted by the White House.]

Odierno, not so much.  Reuters reports:

U.S. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, in charge of combat forces in Iraq, said on Sunday U.S. commanders had offered several recommendations and some did not involve more troops….

He also sought to play down U.S. public expectations of what could be achieved over insurgents, saying an overwhelming “77-7″ win — to use a sports metaphor — “ain’t going to happen“.”It’s a different concept. There will be no victory parade when we leave here. There never was going to be,” he said.


Surge Protection

Posted by Cutler on January 06, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Even as the Democratic leadership declares its opposition to a “surge” in Iraq, it should also be noted that not all Neocons agree on military tactics and there are significant political and strategic divisions among those who make the tactical case for more troops in Iraq.  The debate about military escalation sometimes conceals more than it reveals about serious political disagreements among foreign policy elites about the balance of forces in Iraq and in the Gulf.

Neocon Splits on Military Strategy

As Peter Spiegel suggested in his Los Angeles Times report on Neocons and the surge, there has always been a split between those who backed Rumsfeld’s “military transformation” vision and a “light footprint” strategy in Iraq and those who favor boots on the ground.

Some leading neoconservatives do not embrace the troop surge proposal.

Wolfowitz, for instance, ridiculed the notion that more troops would be needed to secure Iraq than were used in the invasion.

And Richard N. Perle, a former top advisor to the Pentagon who also advocated for smaller troop numbers at the time of the invasion, is known to be skeptical of the idea of a surge.

The plan’s advocates acknowledge the split.

“Before the war, I was arguing for a quarter of a million troops in expectations we’d be there five or 10 years,” said Gary J. Schmitt, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who has worked closely with Kristol and Kagan. “Richard Perle, obviously somebody else who’s thought of as a neocon, thought we should go in” with far fewer U.S. forces.

These splits go way back.

Kristol and Kagan backed McCain in 2000, not Bush.  Perle and Wolfowitz were on the Bush team from the start.

For the McCain crowd, the focus is on the direct demonstration of American power.

The Right Zionist “family” around Perle–the authors of “A Clean Break“–is more focused on Israel and the exercise of military power in support of strategic alliances with indigenous “clients.”

Whose Military Escalation?

Even among those who currently champion an escalation, there appear to be some significant disagreements about the nature and purpose of such a surge.

The key split is between those who link a surge with a renewed effort to crush the Sunni insurgency in support of the Shia and those who think a surge should be used to crush Sadr’s Shiite militia, even as the US continues to try to court the Sunnis.

Right now, all those folks seem to hanging out together at the American Enterprise Institute.  But at some point, the differences will be come more visible.

Here is Gerecht at AEI on the purpose of a surge:

Let us be clear: The Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shiite community cannot be broken unless the cities of Baghdad and Ramadi are pacified. Unless these two towns are cleared and held, there is no way any Shiite government in Baghdad can begin the process of slowly neutralizing the murderous Shiite militias that now operate often with government complicity. The militias have gained increasing support from the Shiite community because they are the only effective means of neighborhood protection and offensive operations against Sunni insurgents and holy warriors…

And the Americans, who started withdrawing from Baghdad’s streets in the fall of 2003 (perhaps the most catastrophic decision ever made by General Abizaid), have retreated further into large, well-fortified bases. Revenge killings of innocent Sunnis are an ugly and unavoidable outgrowth of this process. They cannot be stopped unless the United States and the Iraqi government first significantly diminish the Sunni Arab menace–that is, clear and hold Baghdad and Ramadi.

But McCain (with Lieberman) was also on hand recently at AEI.  The Washington Post transcript of the event suggests that McCain’s surge is intended to serve a different purpose.

A troop surge is necessary but not sufficient for American success in Iraq. By controlling the violence, we can pave the way for a political settlement. Once the government wields greater authority, however, Iraqi leaders must take significant steps on their own.

These include a commitment to go after the militias, a reconciliation process for insurgents and Baathists, more equitable distribution of government resources, provincial elections that will bring Sunnis into government, and a large increase in employment- generating economic projects.

McCain is not alone in his focus on Sadr.  The military is itching for a fight with Sadr.

These are potentially very different surges, the “success” of which would be judged very differently by different US factions.

Cheney: White Hawk Down?

Posted by Cutler on January 05, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Bush’s personnel shuffles provide some interesting clues about new power dynamics in Washington, but I think it remains too early to predict a clear, uncontested direction for US foreign policy.

Cheney Defeat: Negroponte is Not Eric Edelman

Negroponte is taking the deputy job at Foggy Bottom.  One precarious but potentially interesting way to understand the meaning of the Negroponte shift is to ask who didn’t get the deputy job.  Back in 2004, Al Kamen at the Washington Post spread the rumor that Cheney wanted to put his National Security deputy Eric Edelman in the number two slot:

The latest name du jour for deputy secretary of state is Eric S. Edelman, now ambassador to Turkey, who is seen as someone — perhaps the only one on the planet — who can comfortably straddle all the relevant political worlds. He’s a career foreign service officer, a former ambassador to Finland who also worked for then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz and for Clinton Ambassador-at-Large Strobe Talbott.

But he also worked for Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney from 1990 to 1993 and for Vice President Cheney from 2001 to 2003 and with Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice frequently when he represented Cheney at top-level meetings.  Edelman was sworn in to his current job by, of course, Cheney.

Helene Cooper at the New York Times suggests that Cheney has wanted to get Edelman a spot at State since Rice’s arrival.

Vice President Dick Cheney wanted her to appoint his former deputy national security adviser, Eric S. Edelman, as her political director; she balked and instead chose R. Nicholas Burns, a friend who had worked for her at the security council during the administration of the first President Bush.

No dice.  Rest assured, Edelman found a home at the Pentagon where he replaced Douglas Feith as the number three civilian.  Gates has made no move to dump Edelman.

Edelman’s “failure” to get the nod from Rice surely seems to mark a loss for Cheney.

Cheney Defeat: Khalilzad is Not Victoria Nulan

News reports suggest that Zalmay Khalilzad will replace John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations.

Al Kamen’s rumor mill had spread the word that Victoria Nuland was a leading candidate for that post.

At the United Nations, where there is no U.S. ambassador, idle chatterers are talking about Victoria Nuland, now ambassador to NATO, as a possible choice to succeed John R. Bolton. Nuland, who is a career Foreign Service officer and is married to Robert Kagan, a contributor to the Washington Post op-ed page, was top foreign policy adviser to Vice President Cheney and before that an aide to Clinton confidante Strobe Talbott when he was deputy secretary of state. Well, the bases can’t get more covered than that.

If Kamen’s idle chatter means anything, then the Khalilzad appointment might also be coded as a loss for Cheney.

Cheney Defeat: Ryan Crocker is Not… A Neocon

Word of Khalilzad’s move out of Iraq has been rumored for some time, as has his replacement by Ryan Crocker.

When Crocker was appointed to the Coalition Provisional Authority back in 2002, the Middle East Economic Digest (”Revealed–The Seven Men Who Will Run Iraq,” June 6, 2003) described Crocker as “A career US foreign service official and Arabist.”

Right Zionist Michael Rubin had this to say about Crocker in May 2004:

Of the first 18 senior advisers deployed to Baghdad, none were from the Defense Department; perhaps half were State Department bureau of Near Eastern affairs ambassadors or policy-planning staff members…
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker became both Garner and Bremer’s governance director. He handpicked the political team, staffing it almost exclusively with career Near Eastern Affairs diplomats and members of the Policy Planning Staff.

Back in 2003, Crocker had been rumored to be the leading candidate to serve as US Ambassador to Iraq. This brought howls of protest from Right Zionists. In an article entitled “State Department Giving Baghdad to House of Saud?,” Joel Mowbray had nothing kind to say about Crocker:

State is already placing—or attempting to place—pro-Saudi individuals in important positions in a post-Saddam Iraq:… State’s top pick for ambassador to the post-Saddam Iraq is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker… Crocker will undoubtedly run into opposition from the White House, where the President’s vision of a democratic Iraq is diametrically opposed to Crocker’s view of the Arab world.

There are no public signs of tension between Crocker and Cheney, nor does it seem that Cheney allies ever publicly floated an alternative.  Nevertheless, it is probably worth noting: Crocker is no friend of Cheney’s Neocons.

Neocons: Did Petraeus Betray Us?

Lieutenant General David Petraeus has been tapped to serve as the top US commander in Iraq.

Petraeus is going to be very popular with lots of folks, but not Neocons and counterinsurgency hawks.

Right Zionist Michael Rubin has concerns about Petraeus:

Petraeus is highly-respected and media-savvy. However, his record is uncertain. While it is be important to win the support of the local population, it is also important to differentiate between what the local population wants, and what the squeaky wheels demand. Empowering extremists is not a good strategy. By reintegrating Islamists and Baathists into sensitive positions in Mosul, Petraeus bought short-term stability to his area of operation at the expense of long-term security. He also championed outreach to Syria, at one point bragging to a visiting delegation about the increase of cross-border trade. Such trust backfired. That said, his work getting the Iraqi army training program off-the-ground was impressive.

Ralph Peters at the New York Post offers up some similar criticism.

Regaining control of Baghdad – after we threw it away – will require the defiant use of force. Negotiations won’t do it. Cultural awareness isn’t going to turn this situation around (we need to stop pandering to our enemies and defeat them, thanks). We insist it’s all about politics and try to placate everybody, while terrorists, insurgents and militias slaughter the innocent in the name of their god and their tribe…

In my contacts with Petraeus, we’ve sometimes agreed and sometimes argued. But we diverged profoundly on one point: The counterinsurgency doctrine produced under his direction remains far too mired in failed 20th-century models. Winning hearts and minds sounds great, but it’s useless when those hearts and minds turn up dead the next morning.

Cheney Down for the Count?

So, if all of this “personnel politics” runs against the grain of Cheney’s agenda, does that mean the Vice President has lost control of the ship of state?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Negroponte’s New Job

Posted by Cutler on January 04, 2007
Iraq / No Comments

Intelligence Czar John Negroponte will leave his post to become Deputy Secretary of State, the State Department’s second-ranking official.

It is too early to know why Negroponte is accepting a demotion, but speculation runs along some familiar lines.

The New York Times suggests that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has essentially recruited Negroponte for the job:

[A]dministration officials say Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been trying to recruit him to bring more Iraq expertise to her office…

Negroponte’s move to the State Department has been rumored for months. Rice was pushing to bring Negroponte in as her deputy…

The move may be a sign that the administration is looking for more sweeping changes to its Iraq strategy…

It might be more accurate to say Rice is trying to add more “heft” to her office in the hope of winning a factional battle for the direction of Iraq strategy.

Negroponte is going to State in order to help Rice battle Cheney, and perhaps prepare to take over the reins should Rice depart Foggy Bottom.

Here is one account of the factional battle lines from a December 5, 2006 Insight Magazine article:

The White House has been examining a proposal by James Baker to launch a Middle East peace effort without Israel.

The peace effort would begin with a U.S.-organized conference, dubbed Madrid-2, and contain such U.S. adversaries as Iran and Syria….

“As Baker sees this, the conference would provide a unique opportunity for the United States to strike a deal without Jewish pressure,” an official said. “This has become the most hottest proposal examined by the foreign policy people over the last month.”

Officials said Mr. Baker’s proposal, reflected in the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, has been supported by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. The most controversial element in the proposal, they said, was Mr. Baker’s recommendation for the United States to woo Iran and Syria.

The “heft” in all this is to take on Cheney.  Seymour Hersh reported in his late November 2006 New Yorker essay, “The Next Act“:

A retired four-star general who worked closely with the first Bush Administration told me that… [for] Scowcroft, Baker, the elder Bush… [the issue] is how to preserve the Republican agenda. The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice”—the Secretary of State—“a chance to perform.” The combination of Scowcroft, Baker, and the senior Bush working together is, the general added, “tough enough to take on Cheney. One guy can’t do it.”

It seems like Negroponte’s new job is to help take on Cheney.

Bi-Partisan Bush

Posted by Cutler on January 03, 2007
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

George W. Bush has an Op-Ed–“What the Congress Can Do for America“–in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The essay is a plea for a level of bi-partisan cooperation and common ground that will preserve some relevance for Bush presidency.

I will have the privilege of working with [the 110th Congress] for the next two years — one quarter of my presidency, plenty of time to accomplish important things for the American people.

It is also a preview of some domestic economic policy themes that will likely be featured in Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address (spending restraint and entitlement reform; no new taxes).

The missive is also clearly designed to make the case for a military “surge” in Iraq:

In the days ahead, I will be addressing our nation about a new strategy to help the Iraqi people gain control of the security situation and hasten the day when the Iraqi government gains full control over its affairs. Ultimately, Iraqis must resolve the most pressing issues facing them. We can’t do it for them.

But we can help Iraq defeat the extremists inside and outside of Iraq — and we can help provide the necessary breathing space for this young government to meet its responsibilities. If democracy fails and the extremists prevail in Iraq, America’s enemies will be stronger, more lethal, and emboldened by our defeat. Leaders in both parties understand the stakes in this struggle. We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war.

The entire emphasis of the “new strategy” is on the so-called security front.  No new formula for national reconciliation, etc. in the political domain.  This is about boots on the ground and–I suspect–aggressive counter-insurgency that recalls the anti-Baathist military operations from the summer and early fall of 2003.

Also, note well: “defeat the extremists inside and outside of Iraq.”  Which extremists “outside of Iraq” does Bush have in mind?  Extremists in Syria? Iran?

A Mandate for War?

Now, according to Bush, in light of the mid-term election victories by the Democrats there is an “opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war.”

Bush may be misreading the implicit message of the election, but he is not necessarily misreading the Democrats.

There will be some bi-partisan resistance.  2008 Democratic Presidential hopeful John Edwards looks set, for now, to run Left of Hillary on Iraq.  He has denounced the surge and dubbed it the “McCain Doctrine.”  And some in the GOP will balk.

But one should not underestimate the level of “bi-partisan” support for a pro-Shiite military surge that aims to return to the original Right Zionist vision for post-invasion Iraq.

Right Zionists like Lieberman and McCain will be touted as “centrists” and “moderates”, even as they gladly inherit the war–surge and all–from President Bush.

Dangerous times, these.

Cheney and Sistani

Posted by Cutler on January 02, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In a preview of 2007, the Financial Times asks how Vice President Cheney will fare in the new year.  There will be some trouble for Cheney:

Dick Cheney has forged a reputation as the most powerful but also least visible vice-president in recent history. In the next few weeks, however, he will be forced to fight some of his battles in the open – in the courtroom and on Capitol Hill.

The first test will come in the criminal trial of his former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, charged with lying to a grand jury during an investigation into how a CIA agent’s name was leaked. The trial, due to begin in two weeks, is likely to set an ignominious precedent when Mr Cheney becomes the first vice-president to testify in a trial.

Mr Cheney’s legal team are also steeling themselves for the launch of legislative investigations by the new Democrat-controlled Congress.

Neither of these external threats will likely do much damage.  The real question is Cheney’s role inside the White House.

His influence has never come from his popularity outside the White House, but from his access within it. That has not changed. Josh Bolten, the White House chief of staff, told the FT: “He is a welcome participant in every meeting the president is in, he sits in on almost all the policy meetings…

Even so, there are signs that the president’s confidence in his judgment has waned. He was cut out of the decision to oust his ally Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defence, a move he vigorously opposed. “They really are genuinely close friends but the president doesn’t always take his advice,” said Mr Bolten.

The FT mentions that Cheney may lose some influence to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson on question of economic policy, including Social Security reform.  One might add China policy to that list.

But the FT ultimately dodges the crucial question: does Cheney call the shots on US foreign policy in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Iran?

If Bush “doesn’t always take [Cheney’s] advice,” as Bolten says, neither does he always take the advice of Right Arabists like James Baker.

The big post-mid-term election story of 2006 was the unexpectedly cold White House reception given to Baker’s Iraq Study Group Report (for some background on the “push back” against Baker, see previous posts here, here, here, and here).

Cheney Drives the Bus

Until Bush formally announces the results of his Iraq Policy Review, it will remain difficult to discern the course of US policy ahead.  Nevertheless, there may be some hints in the news, all of which point to Cheney at the wheel.

The strongest signals of late seem to indicate that the “Shiite Option” in Iraq may still have some legs, even as this is linked to an aggressive policy toward Syria and Iran.

If so, an early casualty will be US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Much of Khalilzad’s “timetable” for Iraq was written into the Iraq Study Group Report and his tenure as Ambassador has corresponded with US efforts to court Sunni political support and move against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army.

Sistani: Foil to US Occupiers?

It was Khalilzad who was most closely associated with plans for the formation of a new “moderate” Iraqi government that would see Prime Minister Maliki dump Sadr and align himself more closely with Sunni forces.

This idea hit a major hurdle when Grand Ayatollah Sistani allegedly rejected the plan in late December.

Helena Cobban at “Just World News” has interpreted this move by Sistani as one more instance in which the Grand Ayatollah has again “foiled” the US occupiers.  A similar analysis accompanied the Iraqi elections of 2005 when Swopa claimed that Sistani had forced the to hold elections that Bush never wanted.

There is more than a bit of truth to these claims.  But it is also worth noting that in both instances Sistani’s actions represented a defeat for Right Arabists in the Bush administration but were quite compatible with the path promoted by Right Zionists like AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Gerecht celebrated the 2005 Iraqi elections for all the same reasons Right Arabists opposed them and more recently he warned against Khalilzad’s effort to split the Shia.  In an essay entitled, “In Iraq, Let’s Fight One War at a Time,” Gerecht argued:

In Baghdad and in Washington, officials privately and the press publicly suggest that the Bush administration would prefer that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki fell… Mr. Maliki is politically too dependent, the reasoning goes, on the young Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, a scion of a prestigious clerical family and the boss of a pivotal bloc of votes in Iraq’s Parliament…

Since President Bush is now immersed in a top-to-bottom Iraq review, in which a substantial surge of American soldiers into Baghdad seems ever more likely and the Army is again seriously considering directly confronting Mr. Sadr, the appeal of Mr. Mahdi and the Supreme Council may grow in Washington and Baghdad.

If so, the administration should nip in the bud such inclinations. Changing the Shiite parts of the Iraqi government and quickly taking on Mr. Sadr would do nothing to end the Sunni insurgency and the holy war of foreign jihadists against the new Iraq

[S]ome Shiites, and perhaps most Sunnis, may threaten to walk out of Iraq’s government and forsake reconciliation talks if the Americans get serious about pacifying Baghdad and the insurgency elsewhere. Let them. If the city’s and country’s Shiites, who represent about 65 percent of Iraq’s population, see that the Americans are committed to countering the insurgency, any protest from Mr. Maliki or call to arms by Mr. Sadr will have increasingly less power.

No, it won’t be easy–but with American and Iraqi troops all over Baghdad and daily life returning to some normality, the situation will certainly be more manageable than what we confront now. The politics of peaceful Shiite consensus, which is what Grand Ayatollah Sistani has tried to advance since 2003, could again rapidly gain ground

The key for America is the same as it has been for years: to clear and hold the Sunni areas of Baghdad and the so-called Sunni triangle to the north. There will probably be no political solution among the Iraqi factions to save American troops from the bulk of this task. The sooner we start in Baghdad, the better the odds are that the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiites can be halted.

The Shiite Option in 2007

There may already be signs that the Bush administration is preparing to pursue this course.

The execution of Saddam Hussein might be one place to begin looking, despite some protestations from Khalilzad.

Then there is the news of a US military raid on the offices of Saleh al-Mutlak, an ex-Baathist Sunni politician once actively courted by Condoleezza Rice.

And National Security Council Adviser Stephen Hadley floated a pro-Shia trial balloon.  The New York Times welcomes the new year with a story that features Hadley reflecting on the failures of recent US policy and preparing the way for an anti-Sunni military “surge” in Iraq:

We could not clear and hold,” Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, acknowledged in a recent interview, in a frank admission of how American strategy had crumbled. “Iraqi forces were not able to hold neighborhoods, and the effort to build did not show up. The sectarian violence continued to mount, so we did not make the progress on security we had hoped. We did not bring the moderate Sunnis off the fence, as we had hoped. The Shia lost patience, and began to see the militias as their protectors.”…

In early August, the United States was forced to reverse course and add troops in Baghdad. On reflection, Mr. Hadley said, “Finally the patience of the Shia had worn thin,” and, “By the time the unity government took over the cycle of sectarian violence had begun. And they and we have not been able to get ahead of it .”

The Washington Post offers a similar profile of Khalilzad’s failure to gauge Shia impatience:

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad declared the Shiite militias the most significant threat to Iraq’s stability, replacing the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaeda. Frustrated by the Shiite government’s inability to govern and bring security, U.S. officials began pressuring Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to dismantle the militias. They zeroed in on the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, upon whom Maliki depends for power…

Shiite politicians and analysts say Khalilzad is backing the Sunnis to limit the power of Shiites in the government…

“We know the U.S. is under great pressure from Arabic and Islamic countries, who are Sunni,” said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a member of parliament with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite party with strong ties to Tehran. “They fear the growing power of the Shia inside Iraq.”

“The Americans have a wrong reading of Iraq,” said Hasan Suneid, a member of the Shiite Dawa party and a close aide to Maliki. “And who is responsible for this reading? It is the diplomatic channel, that is, Khalilzad.”

The idea of a military surge in Iraq is already generating Republican resistance within the Senate.  Any move to dump Khalilzad and tilt US policy toward Iraqi Shiite political dominance will likely generate similar howls of protest from Right Arabists in the James Baker crowd.

But it would represent an enormous victory for Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the Right Zionists who have long pinned their hopes on him as the key to “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.

Back in 2007

Posted by Cutler on December 29, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Cutler’s Blog will return in January 2007.  Happy New Year.

Cheney vs Baker in the House of Saud

Posted by Cutler on December 23, 2006
Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Since November 30, 2006, I’ve been writing posts about a split among Right Arabists regarding Iran.

[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.

Now, all of this is big news. Saudi factionalism has become headline news with major stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The split is about Iran, to be sure. But it is also about Saudi succession.

In a December 13 post, I speculated on the battle lines and got it wrong.

Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?

And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?

Answer: No.

Cheney and the Sudairi Seven

Bandar is Cheney’s man (and vice versa). The rest of the Right Arabist establishment has lined up behind King Abdullah and the Faisal brothers, Turki (until recently Saudi Ambassador to the US) and Saud (currently Saudi Foreign Minister).

Cheney isn’t simply backing Bandar. Bandar–the son of Saudi Crown Prince Defense Minister Sultan–represents the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah.

Cheney’s top Middle East aide, David Wurmser is crystal clear about his preferences within the House of Saud, not to mention his vision for Iraq and Iran. From an article while he was still at the American Enterprise Institute:

To begin to unravel this murky business, it is necessary to go back to the mid-1990s, when a succession struggle was beginning in Saudi Arabia. This struggle pits the octogenarian king, Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz, and his full brothers in the Sudairi branch of the family (especially the defense minister, Prince Sultan) against their half-brother, Crown Prince Abdallah. King Fahd and the Sudairis favor close ties to the United States, while Crown Prince Abdallah prefers Syria and is generally more enamored of pan-Islamic and pan-Arab ideas…

In August, King Fahd fired his director of intelligence, Prince Turki al Faisal… Since the mid-1990s, Turki had anchored the Abdallah faction, and under his leadership Saudi intelligence had become difficult to distinguish from al Qaeda….

More recently, Turki bin Faisal’s full brother, Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal, unleashed his diplomats to write shrill and caustic attacks on the United States, such as the article a few weeks ago by Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in London, Ghazi al Qusaibi, calling President Bush mentally unstable.

The Baker Boys and King Abdullah

Meanwhile, the rest of the Baker Big Oil crowd backs Abdullah, favors dialogue with Iran, etc.

One sign the Baker fidelity to Abdullah came in the case of former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. According to reports (“Saudis Have Had Enough of US Ambassador,” UPI, September 25, 2003):

The U.S. capital is starting to buzz with questions about the early retirement of U.S. Ambassador to Riyadh Robert Jordan, apparently demanded by the Saudis. Jordan, a partner in the Baker, Botts law firm in Texas (as in former Secretary of State James Baker), is an honorary member of the Bush clan and his premature departure is a shock. The State Department has yet to confirm it, though Jordan has told friends that he’s heading back to Texas. His offense was to state too publicly — at private Saudi dinner parties — Washington’s preference for Crown Prince Abdullah to succeed the ailing King Fahd. This supposedly offended Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Jordan also annoyed other Saudis by insisting that any American wife of a Saudi citizen should get embassy or consulate help in marriage disputes and child custody cases.

Add to this the fact that Chas Freeman took swipes at Prince Bandar in 2005, and you can begin to see the outlines of a major split in Washington and Riyadh.

Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says Bandar “has basically been AWOL for years” but had been kept at his post because of “inertia at the top” of the Saudi royal family…

And then there is Flynt Leverett‘s 2005 celebration of the arrival of Prince Turki in Washington.

Which Way for the White House?

This split explains quite a bit about the US factional dynamics of the entire war in Iraq.

No wonder the White House Iraq Policy Review is delayed. Bush and Condoleezza Rice have to pick sides. They are both in way over the heads.

The obvious question: can Cheney and the Sudairi Seven triumph over Baker and King Abdullah?

Put differently, can Bush choose Baker and break his ties to Cheney? Or is Cheney too powerful to isolate?

The stakes could not possibly be any higher. The fate of US relations with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia–and Russia–likely hang in the balance.


Posted by Cutler on December 21, 2006
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan / No Comments

Saparmurat Niyazov, the President of Turkmenistan, is dead.

Turkmenistan–a Caspian Sea country which contains either the fourth or fifth largest natural gas reserves in the world and considerable oil reserves, as well–is a central site in the “Great Game” of inter-imperialist rivalry being waged between dominant forces within the US and Russia.

And if you care about US policy toward Iran, then the larger context of US-Turkmenistan relations might be of interest.

The gossip side of the news is simple. Niyazov was a nutty authoritarian dictator. The Times Online reports:

Saparmurat Niyazov, the colourful but authoritarian President of Turkmenistan, has died suddenly after 21 years of iron-fist rule which crushed his opposition and created a cult of personality that saw cities and even a meteorite named after him.

Mr Niyazov, who made himself President-for-life in 1999, died early today of a heart attack aged 66, according to a statement by the state-controlled media…

During his rule – extended in an unopposed presidential election in 1990 – he established a bizarre personality cult in which he was styled as Turkmenbashi the Great, or Leader of all Turkmens.

Obsessed with maintaining personal power, he ensured his presence was felt in every corner, commissioning thousands of hoardings and gold statues of himself across the country, as well as plastering his image on the national currency, carpets, vodka bottles and launching his own brand of perfume.

In a symbolic show of his unrestrained authority, the former Soviet leader also renamed the months and days of the week, titling January after himself – Turkmenbashi. His name has been given to a sea port, farms, military units and even to a meteorite.

From the perspective of Great Power Rivalry, however, the key question, is whether he was “our” nutty authoritarian.

Turkmenistan and Iran

Throughout much of the 1990s, the US worked very hard to win Niyazov away from Russian influence.

At first glance, this seemed easy enough. In 1997 Royal Dutch/Shell and Niyazov joined in a partnership to build a pipeline that would avoid Russia by carrying gas through northern Iran (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10):

The Shell group… has responded to an invitation from the Turkmeni president and has agreed to be the lead party in trying to finance and manage the project, said a Shell spokesman in London.

The company believes it won’t run into opposition from Washington…

But Shell did run into opposition from Washington.

Turkmenistan, Iran, and Russia

The October 14, 1997 Jerusalem Post article reported a potential source of the trouble:

[T]he Turkmeni government has expressed its concern at Russia-based Gazprom’s decision to join Total SA in a $2b contract to develop the South Pars gas field in Iran. The Turkmenis fear the contract could prevent it from exporting gas reserves to Turkey.

Russian partnerships in Iran would, in fact, doom the Shell pipeline. The Boston Globe reported the story (“US warns against pipeline going through Iran, but few listen,” March 1, 1998, p.A12):

No one has welcomed the US policy promoting independence from Russia more than Turkmenistan…

Shell officials say they are wary of the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, designed to punish any company that invests more than $ 20 million in Iran. But they also express hope that Washington will soon abandon its efforts to exclude Iran from the Central Asian bonanza…

So do the Turkmens, who spent seven decades as a southern Soviet outpost with their 600-mile-long border with Iran shut tight. They are not about to let someone else tell them to close it again.

“I understand that the US has its interests as a superpower, but we have our interests, and we have to feed our people,” Yolbaz Kepbanov, Turkmenistan’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, said in the capital, Ashkabhad…

Perhaps in the spirit of supporting such independence, when the Iran-Turkmenistan pipeline was announced last July, Washington seemed tacitly to accept the deal.

But the number and scale of the projects involving Iran have increasedGazprom is planning to develop, along with French and Malaysian companies, a gas field in southern Iran.

As a result, Washington has restated its hard line. “US policy is to oppose all pipelines across Iran,” said a Western diplomat in Ashkhabad. “The Turkmens know the light is red, believe me.” But while Turkmen officials are aware of the US position, they say they are not bothered by it.

“Let the Americans say, ‘Don’t be friends with Iran,’ but we can’t do that, because we are a neutral country,” said Kepbanov, the Foreign Ministry official. “In our eyes, everyone is equal but Iran comes first. . . . We have to cooperate with them.”

The Israeli Connection

The US offered up an alternative–a pipeline under the Caspian Sea that would travel through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, skirting both Russia and Iran.

This so-called “TransCaspian” alternative was actively promoted by an Israeli with very close relations to the regime in Turkmenistan. The Wall Street Journal covered the Israeli angle (“Israeli Is Subtle Player in Central Asia Oil–Ex-Intelligence Agent Advances Western Interests,” April 7, 1999):

A former Israeli intelligence agent… 53-year-old Yosef A. Maiman possesses probably the one key to success in the region: the ear of one of its autocratic leaders. For the past few years, Mr. Maiman has served as the right-hand man on energy matters to President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, home to the world’s third-largest natural-gas reserves.

In this role, Mr. Maiman has wittingly or unwittingly furthered the geopolitical goals of both the U.S. and Israel. How? By nudging the Turkmen leader to bypass Russia and Iran in building the country’s main gas-export pipeline.

The race to find a market for Turkmen gas, and a way to get it there, has picked up great speed of late. Mr. Maiman was the behind-the-scenes player in the $2.5 billion agreement that Mr. Niyazov signed in February with PSG International to build an export pipeline between Turkmenistan and Turkey. PSG is a joint venture between Bechtel Enterprises, a unit of Bechtel Group Inc., and General Electric Co.’s finance arm, GE Capital Services. Mr. Maiman acted as the intermediary between the Turkmenis and the U.S. firms.

The contract represents a victory for the U.S. The companies involved are both American. And for Washington, the pipeline deal freezes out Russia and Iran, which Mr. Niyazov had been reluctant to challenge. Russia and Iran quickly denounced the project. In early February, Russian gas monopoly RAO Gazprom teamed up with Italy’s ENI SpA and Dutch financial backer ABN-Amro Holding NV to build a competing gas pipeline across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey…

This is the Great Game all over,” Mr. Maiman says during an interview in his office in Herzliyah, an Israeli resort town, referring to a late 19th century, three-way contest for control of Central Asia. “Controlling the transport route is controlling the product.”

Israel’s security interests in the region have been furthered, as well. “Maiman is the Israeli-Turkmenistan relationship,” says Shmuel Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director of Commonwealth of Independent States affairs. “He is our ambassador at large. He opens doors and understands the rules of the game.”

For a time, Niyazov seemed to be playing along.

During the US Presidential transition in November 2000, however, the Russians managed to flip Niyazov.

Turkmentistan: “A Lost Cause”

James Dorsey reported (“US Blues as Turkmenistan Opts for Russian Route,” The Scotsman, November 15, 2000, p.10):

Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov appears to have sounded the death knell for US-backed efforts to ensure that Caspian Sea gas is exported to world markets via Turkey rather than Russia.

Mr Niyazov has announced that he has reached agreement with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to sell it up to 30 billion cubic metres of gas next year. “If everything works out, we shall have an agreement by mid-November,” he told the cabinet.

The deal would account for most of Turkmenistan’s gas exports and leave little over for a $ 2 billion, United States-backed TransCaspian pipeline which would have been built from the Central Asian state via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey by a consortium involving the Royal Dutch/Shell Group and a US contractor, Bechtel.

According to a May 2006 report in the Financial Times (“Scramble to Grab central Asia’s Gas,” May 5, 2006, p.3, third-party on-link here):

Lengthy negotiations of a scheme to pipe gas from Turkmenistan across the Caspian to Azerbaijan broke down in the 1990s mainly because Saparmurat Niyazov, the authoritarian Turkmen leader, kept changing the terms. US energy officials now regard Turkmenistan, the central Asian republic with the biggest gas reserves, as a lost cause“.

A Massive Fight For Power

Will the sudden death of Niyazov allow US officials to salvage this “lost cause”?

As Reuters reports, the Russians are understandably content with the status quo and the incumbent regime:

Russia said it hoped Turkmenistan would stick to Niyazov’s course. “We count on the new Turkmenistan leaders continuing their course and further developing bilateral ties,” top Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told Itar-Tass news agency.

The onus for regime “change” is on the US. Another Reuters report suggests a likely scenario:

“I expect there will be a massive fight for power now in Turkmenistan and it’s likely to take place between pro-U.S. and pro-Russian forces,” said a Russian gas industry source, who declined to be named. “Gas will become the main coin of exchange and the key asset to get hold of.”

For starters, one might learn the name of a key “political prisoner” in Turkmenistan: former Boris Shikhmuradov (also Boris Sheikhmuradov).

Shikhmuradov, former Turkmeni Foreign Minister, was arrested in connection with an alleged 2002 assassination attempt on Niyazov.

Among other things, Shikhmuradov has had good relations with Israel, having visited at the invitation of Yosef A. Maiman to discuss the sale of Turkkmeni natural gas to Israel (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10).

Flynt Sets a Fire

Posted by Cutler on December 19, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Flynt Leverett’s views on US policy toward Iran are making news.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett–both former NSC staff member in the Bush administration–co-authored a New York Times Op-Ed calling for a “Grand Bargain” with Iran.  According to the Washington Post, the CIA–under pressure from the White House–“ordered two sections concerning U.S. dealings with Iran in his article to be heavily redacted.”

As the Post reports, “As a former CIA official, Leverett is required to submit his writings for pre-publication review.”  The controversy concerns White House pressure on the CIA, especially since the agency had already approved publication of a longer version of the article, “Dealing with Tehran: Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options toward Iran,” written for the Century Foundation.

Previous reports suggested that Flynt Leverett was essentially “purged” from the NSC as part of a factional battle with Elliott Abrams–a key Right Zionist in the Bush administration.

Leverett’s subsequent attacks on the Neocons transformed this establishment Right Arabist into a darling of the anti-war Left.  The latest White House move against Leverett only enhances his “street cred.”

What does Leverett’s Century Foundation propose for US-Iran relations?  What got him into trouble with the White House?  And who are his key opponents?

Leverett’s Grand Bargain

Leverett is as clear as any Right Arabist that, from his perspective, the Iranian regime is waiting for one basic concession from the US as the price for cooperation on the nuclear issue, Iraq, etc.: a security guarantee.

Tehran will require, among other things, a security guarantee from Washington—effectively a commitment that the United States will not use force to change the borders or form of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran—bolstered by the prospect of a lifting of U.S. unilateral sanctions and normalization of bilateral relations.

According to Leverett, the Iranians are holding out for this all-important US guarantee.

[I]t is interesting to note an important difference between the incentives package presented to Iran by the Europeans in August 2005 and the package presented to Tehran by the P-5 and Germany in June 2006…

[T]he August 2005 package contained a number of prospective commitments amounting to an effective security guarantee for the Islamic Republic; because these prospective commitments came only from Europe, they were strategically meaningless from an Iranian perspective.

By contrast, the June 2006 package, which was endorsed by the Bush administration, contained no prospective security guarantees.

I have no independent evaluation of Leverett’s interpretation of Iran’s priorities, but Leverett himself seems to suggest that the Iranians would be fools to exchange anything for such a guarantee.  His own report quite confidently asserts that the US has no ability to “use force to change the borders or form of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

[C]oercive approaches to containing the threat of Iranian nuclearization are not likely to work…

Numerous analyses have raised serious doubts that U.S. military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would delay significantly its nuclear development, because of profound uncertainty about the reliability and comprehensiveness of target selection, the possibility that “unknown” facilities are at least as close to producing weapons-grade fissile material as “known” facilities, and the prospect that Tehran could reconstitute its nuclear program relatively rapidly.  At the same time, U.S. military action against Iran almost certainly would have profoundly negative consequences for a range of other U.S. interests.

There also is no reasonable basis for believing that the United States could bring about regime change in Iran, either by “decapitating” the Islamic Republic’s leadership in the course of military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or by supporting Iranian opposition groups under the cover of “democracy promotion.” More significantly, it is highly uncertain that regime change could be effected on a strategically meaningful timetable for dealing with the nuclear threat.

Is Leverett hoping that the Iranians are unable read his own report?

Leverett’s Revelations

Notwithstanding his own doubts about the seriousness of US threats, Leverett is actually quite clear about the specific fears that seem to animate Iranian concerns for a security guarantee.  And it is here that Leverett seems to have publicized some things that got him in hot water with the White House.

Since early 2006, Leverett has been speaking publicly about US efforts to establish back channel negotiations with the Iranians after 9/11.  In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled “The Gulf Between Us,” Leverett said these diplomatic efforts were disrupted by Bush’s “axis of evil” speech.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan. But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an “axis of evil,” thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.

In his Century Foundation report, however, Leverett concedes that the State of the Union speech was not, in fact, the deal breaker:

Iranian representatives missed the next monthly meeting with U.S. diplomats in protest [at the axis of evil speech], but—in a telling indication of Tehran’s seriousness about exploring a diplomatic opening to the United States—resumed participation in the discussions the following month.

The bilateral channel on Afghanistan continued for another year, until the eve of the Iraq war, but it became clear the Bush administration was not interested in a broader, strategic dialogue with Iran. Indeed, the administration terminated the channel in May 2003, on the basis of unproven and never pursued allegations of the involvement of Iran-based al Qaeda figures in the May 12, 2003, bomb attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

This claim is followed up by a crucial footnote:

The possibility of al Qaeda figures finding refuge in Iran was an issue that administration hardliners regularly used to undermine expanded tactical cooperation between Tehran and Washington. In the course of the U.S.-Iranian dialogue over Afghanistan, U.S. officials exhorted their Iranian counterparts to take steps to prevent al Qaeda and Taliban operatives from seeking sanctuary in Iran. In response, Iran deployed additional security forces to its border with Afghanistan and took several hundred fugitives into custody; the identities of these individuals were documented to the United Nations. In 2002, a number of these individuals, of Afghan origin, were repatriated to the new, post-Taliban Afghan government; others, of Saudi origin, were repatriated to Saudi Arabia. In the same year, a group of senior al Qaeda figures managed to find their way from Afghanistan into Iran, most likely via longstanding smuggling and human trafficking routes into Iran’s Baluchistan province.

In response to U.S. concerns, Tehran eventually took these individuals into custody and, in the spring of 2003, offered to exchange them for a small group of senior commanders among the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) cadres in Iraq. Even though the MEK has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State, the administration refused to consider any such exchange.

In other words, the deal breaker was neither Bush’s axis of evil speech nor Iranian links to al Qaeda.  The deal breaker, according to Leverett’s account, was the US refusal to turn over MEK cadres in Iraq.

I have written about the MEK in previous posts (here and, more recently, here).

Leverett’s central allegation is that the US drew a line in the sand by refusing to remove the MEK “threat” to the security of the Iranian regime.  White House fears, notwithstanding, this story has long been part of the public chatter.  David Ignatius wrote a column about the whole affair, citing Flynt Leverett, back on July 9, 2004.

I have no independent evaluation of the so-called “threat” posed by the MEK, but I note with some interest that Leverett’s own account unintentional emphasizes the fact that both the Iranians and “hardliners” in the US seem to think the threat is a serious and valuable bargaining chip.

Who is Hitting Flynt Leverett?

Are Flynt Leverett’s White House antagonists folks who continue to hope that the MEK can provide useful leverage for dealing with the Iranian regime?

If so, it certainly matters who is trying to hit him.

According to Leverett’s Century Foundation report, Cheney provides the core of the opposition:

A… camp, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his most important advisers, is strongly opposed to anything resembling a grand bargain and favors a more coercive approach to Iran policy.

This isn’t really surprising.

But more recently Leverett has named others when talking about White House attempts to silence him.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

Speaking to reporters Monday, Leverett speculated that senior NSC officials, such as deputy national security advisors Elliott Abrams or Meghan L. O’Sullivan, had authorized their subordinates to intervene.

Mention of Elliott Abrams is no surprise.  No love lost there.  But Meghan L. O’Sullivan is no Right Zionist.  She comes to the White House via Richard Haass and the Council on Foreign Relations.  Herself a target of Right Zionists, she has solid Right Arabist credentials.

All of which only adds to my suspicion that the “new factionalism” in the White House only marginal concerns the demoralized Right Zionists.

After all, the chief support for the MEK comes not from Right Zionists but from Right Arabists including James Akins–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Meet the Wurmsers

Posted by Cutler on December 18, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Ynetnews has published an interview with Meyrav Wurmser Meyrav Wurmser–Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy–is married to David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East advisor.

Until he went to work in the Bush administration, David Wurmser was Middle East fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and his views were quite public.

Once on Cheney’s staff, however, David Wurmser hasn’t said much of anything public.  It has always been tempting to read Meyrav Wurmser’s public pronouncements as some kind proxy for the prevailing views of David Wurmser, if not the Office of the Vice President as a whole.

Meyrav Wurmser’s interview is extremely pessimistic, not about Iraq or the Middle East, but about the factional politics of the Bush administration.  The tone offered up is not the outlook of a person whose partner is about to win control of the ship of state.

In any event, if Meyrav Wurmser’s Ynetnews interview is any indication of David Wurmser’s influence, however, it looks highly unlikely that his so-called “Shiite Option” will be adopted as a result of the ongoing White House Iraq Policy Review.

Indeed, Meyrav Wurmser suggests that most of the Neocons are already gone and “there are others who are about to leave”  (including David Wurmser?  or Elliott Abrams? both?).

This is not a cautious interview.  Interviewer and interviewee are so blunt about so many issues that I wondered if the interview was a fake.  Instead, it appears to be the opening salvo in a post-Wurmser Bush administration.

Either way, here are some of the key sections of the interview (there are sections on Israel’s military action in Lebanon that lend support to propositions from previous posts here and here, but the selections below are the ones focused on Iraq):

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did you, in practice, bring about the war in Iraq?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “We expressed ideas, but the policy in Iraq was taken out of neocon hands very quickly. The idea was that America has a war on terror and that the only actual place for coping with it is in the Middle East and that a fundamental change would come through a change in leadership. We had to start somewhere.

“The objective was to change the face of the Middle East. But it was impossible to create a mini-democracy amidst a sea of dictatorships looking to destroy this poor democracy, and thus, where do insurgents in Iraq come from? From Iran and Syria.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Should they have been conquered?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “No. There was a need for massive political action, of threats and pressure on these governments, financial pressure, for example. The sanctions on Syria were nothing. There was a period of time when the Syrians were afraid that they were next. It would have been possible to use this momentum in a smarter way. There’s no need to go in militarily.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Your people held senior positions in the Pentagon. Didn’t Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith implement your theories?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “The final decisions were no in their hands. In the Pentagon, the decisions were in the hands of the military, and the political leadership had a lot of clashes with the military leadership.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the military leadership ask for more soldiers in Iraq?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Rumsfeld prevented that. He was a failure. The State Department opposed the neocons’ stances. Also John Bolton, who is also part of the family, and was no. 4 at the State Department under Colin Powell, was incapable of passing decisions

“Powell curbed our ideas and they did not pass. There was a lot of frustration over the years in the administration because we didn’t feel we were succeeding.

“Now Bolton left (the UN – Y.B.) and there are others who are about to leave. This administration is in its twilight days. Everyone is now looking for work, looking to make money… We all feel beaten after the past five years… We miss the peace and quiet and writing books…

When you enter the administration you have to keep your mouth shut. Now many will resume their writing… Now, from the outside, they will be able to convey all the criticism they kept inside.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: In the meantime you left the US inside Iraq?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “We did not bring the US into Iraq in such a way. Our biggest war which we lost was the idea that before entering Iraq we must train an exile Iraqi government and an Iraqi military force, and hand over the rule to them immediately after the occupation and leave Iraq. That was our idea and it was not accepted.”

The only “news” here is probably the prediction that other members of “the family” are “about to leave.”  The idea that the “administration is in its twilight days” certainly seems to suggest that there will no big new initiatives from the Right Zionist playbook in 2007.

Meyrav Wurmser writes as if James Baker was now running the White House.  Or, at least, as if any push back against Baker does not represent any particular fidelity to the ideas of  “the family.”

David Wurmser: That Special Someone?

Posted by Cutler on December 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

Helene Cooper of the New York Times has a big article on the front page of the “Week in Review” that discusses all the buzz about the so-called Shiite Option or “80 Percent Solution” in Iraq.

SOMEONE in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office has gotten everybody on this city’s holiday party circuit talking, simply by floating an unlikely Iraq proposal… that Washington should stop trying to get Sunnis and Shiites to get along and instead just back the Shiites, since there are more of them anyway and they’re likely to win in a fight to the death. After all, the proposal goes, Iraq is 65 percent Shiite and only 20 percent Sunni…

Unnamed government officials with knowledge in the matter say the proposal comes from his office, but they stop short of saying it comes from Mr. Cheney himself…

[S]omewhere deep inside the Beltway, someone has laid out the intellectual basis for the Shiite option…

An even more far-fetched offshoot of the [plan] is floating around… It holds that America could actually hurt Iran by backing Iraq’s Shiites…


This is all very important, etc. even though Cooper predicts that the Shiite Option “most likely not going anywhere.”

Why all the mysterious references to “someone” without ever venturing a guess?  Why does Cooper refuse to even speculate that David Wurmser–who handles the Middle East portfolio on Cheney’s National Security staff–is the special “someone” promoting this option?

I mean, it is not like it is a big secret.  Wurmser published a whole book way back in 1999–entitled Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (AEI Press) that “laid out the intellectual basis for the Shiite option.”

That book serves as the backbone for my ZNET article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

Why no name?  Is Cooper afraid of mentioning that Wurmser is a prominent Right Zionist?

The Enemy of Cheney’s Enemy

Posted by Cutler on December 15, 2006
Iran, Russia / No Comments

Vice President Cheney talks tough on Iran.  Vice President Cheney talks tough on Russia.

How would Cheney talk if he were forced to choose between confrontation with Iran and confrontation between Russia?

The most obvious answer is that Cheney will do everything in his power to avoid having to make that choice.  Two recent news stories not show that Cheney is very effective at keeping both regimes in the crosshairs without capitulating to either.  But one might also hint at Cheney’s response if forced to choose: Cheney’s paramount target is Russia.

The first news story concerns US efforts to pass a UN resolution on Iranian sanctions.  Here is how the Right Zionist New York Sun reported the story:

Despite the departure of its ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, America is drawing fire at the U.N. Security Council. Several council members accused Washington’s U.N. representatives yesterday of provoking anger in an undiplomatic manner, possibly harming negotiations on a resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council had just wrapped up a debate on Lebanon and the Ivory Coast last night and some members were planning a separate discussion on Iran when an American representative, William Brencick, raised the issue of recent human rights violations in Belarus, a Russian neighbor and ally.

His remarks prompted the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, to storm out of the meeting, saying he would not join the talks on Iran and that he needed “some time for reflection” and had “decided to relax a bit.” Asked why the consultations on Iran should not take place as scheduled, he said, “Because I said so.”

Brencick’s invocation of Belarus was part of a far larger Cheney-led initiative to pry former Soviet republics away from Russian influence.

The Financial Times helps put the Belarus story in the context of Great Power Rivalry, in which the US is trying to exploit tensions between Russia and Belarus.

Russia is set to deal a double blow to the economy of one of its closest allies – potentially making life much more difficult for the man the US has called “Europe’s last dictator”.

[Bu] pressing for Belarus to pay much more for its natural gas, Moscow… could sharply reduce or wipe out the $4bn-plus effective annual subsidy Russia provides to Belarus, which has helped Alexander Lukashenko, its authoritarian president, deliver higher wages and living standards to his 10m people.

That, say analysts, could make it harder to sustain the support that saw Mr Lukashenko re-elected last March to a third presidential term with 82 per cent of the vote – albeit in a poll international observers condemned as below international standards. It could also drive a wedge between countries with close cultural and historic links….

This is a sharp turnaround from nine months ago, when Russian president Vladimir Putin was criticised for being one of the few world leaders to congratulate Mr Lukashenko on his controversial election victory. It is the more surprising since Russia and Belarus signed agreements in the mid-1990s on creating a political and economic union, including a common currency and union constitution.

Analysts from both countries suggest Moscow is penalising Mr Lukashenko for not delivering on pledges of closer integration with Russia, including the currency union and selling half of Beltransgaz, the Belarusian gas distributor, to Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant. Beltransgaz controls the gas export pipeline to western Europe…

The Belarus president now has a difficult choice. He is loath to cede a half-share to Russia in Beltransgaz, which one western diplomat calls Belarus’s “sacred cow”.
But even a limited gas price increase could render much of the country’s largely state-owned industry uncompetitive – and handing over the Beltransgaz stake would probably only delay Russia’s demands for a higher gas price.

In terms of the UN resolution on Iran, the “Belarus” affair implies that the effort to court Russian participation in the US-led UN effort to isolate Iran will not be allowed to interfere with ongoing battles US efforts to undermine Russian control of the former Soviet republics.

The second news story concerns a similar battle over the fate of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

As the Financial Times reports, Russia is threatening to cut off natural gas supplies to Georgia.  Georgia has two possible alternative sources of natural gas that would help break the Russian hold on Georgia.

The first alternative source of natural gas, as the Financial Times reports, is a new 690km gas pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan that will provide Georgia with gas that does not travel through Russian territory.

For Cheney, this is the key alternative.  However, it may not be sufficient to meet Georgian gas needs.

The other major Georgian alternative source of natural gas is Iran.

If the Baku gas proves insufficient, Cheney would have to choose between his quest to keep Georgia from Russia and his quest to keep Georgia from Iran.

Reports from Cheney’s recent meetings with the Georgian Prime Minister seem to indicate that if push comes to shove, Cheney may blink on Iran.

At present Georgia is in talks with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran on gas supplies to the republic. The United States is against long-term strategic partnership between Tbilisi and Teheran in the natural gas sphere, however, does not rule out possible supplies of Iranian gas to Georgia in the event of force majeure as it happened in late January due to an explosion on a gas pipeline in North Ossetia.

A Regnum News Agency report makes it clear, however, that the US would obviously rather not have to make this choice:

“We have been working on the question of receiving natural gas from alternative sources. First of all, we shall accomplish talks with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Only after that, if it is necessary, we shall continue our talks with Iran,” Zurab Nogaideli declared. “But the only thing is clear: Georgia will not be left without gas in winter,” the prime minister said.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza expressed his hope talking to reporters in Washington that Georgia would receive enough natural gas from the Azerbaijani Shah Deniz gas field, and it will not have to import gas from Iran. “We comprehend that Georgia can find itself in a difficult situation, and we are interested that the country will not be left without natural gas. We know, Georgia has been conducting talks with the neighboring countries, Azerbaijan and Turkey on the question of receiving additional amount of gas. I think, this amount of gas will be enough not to import gas from Iran,” Matthew Bryza said.

Keep an eye on this story.  It may say quite a bit about Cheney’s priorities.

2007: A Year of Living Dangerously

Posted by Cutler on December 14, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

News media coverage of the Bush administration’s Iraq Policy Review has focused on the possibility of a dramatic turn in US policy in Iraq that would feature a retreat from efforts to court the Sunni Arab insurgency and a full-throated support for a “Shiite Option.”  In many ways, this would actually mark a return to the original Right Zionist plan for post-invasion Iraq.

A dramatic move of this kind would be explosive in the Middle East and this probably explains some of careful focus on the timing of any dramatic announcement.  According to the White House, the “new strategy”–like the old “new strategies”–will arrive in 2007, an odd-numbered year when political insulation in the US is at its peak.

The delay from a pre-Christmas release is also likely a result of some ongoing factional resistance to such a bold move.  Condoleezza Rice is reportedly ringing alarm bells about the Shiite Option:

Some members of the administration, including some in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, have argued that the administration needs to provide clear support to a strong Shiite majority government, but the State Department, led by Condoleezza Rice, views that as a recipe for perpetual civil war.

An anti-Shiite coup might still win out against the Shiite Option, although reports suggest otherwise.  It is more than a little difficult to predict.

While we wait, I have been trying to suggest that there is a Russian angle in the new factionalism and it turns on relations between Russia and Iran.

The Baker crowd favors engagement with Iran.  Neither an alliance between Iran and Russia nor animosity between Iran and Israel is a bar for the Baker faction.  The clearest recent statement of support for this position arrives courtesy of Brent Scowcroft and his December 12, 2006 interview with the state-run Russian News Agency:

DMITRY BOBKOV: General Scowcroft, I remember when we met last year you mentioned there was no appropriate dialog between the U.S. and Russia. Since that time U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has made a famous speech in Vilnius, Lithuania where he criticized Russia’s domestic policy and the lack of freedom. Do you think that Russia is currently moving in the right direction?

SCOWCROFT: I think that the situation with U.S. – Russia relations has not gotten better since we talked last year; indeed, it’s probably gotten worse. I think we still suffer badly from the lack of regular dialog. In analyzing the Russian policy, the Russian government tends not to explain its actions very well. It simply comes out and does things, and then leaves people to figure out what they have in mind. That’s not useful in developing understanding. How long it will last, I don’t know. As we said last time, bureaucracy exists on both sides; neither the U.S. bureaucracy nor Russian bureaucracy has developed any affinity for the other. It’s still a suspicious relationship. For a time under the George W. Bush administration our bilateral relationship worked OK because the two leaders had a good personal relationship. Now that’s not so good anymore. But potentially there is something to hold this relationship together. There are many big issues around the world and our policies are not opposed to each other. Actually, they are congruous. And therefore there is potential for cooperation on areas like North Korea, Iran and many other areas. I think there are two serious problems in our partnership. One is the situation of democracy in Russia and the other concerns the southern border region of Russia. In both we are deeply suspicious of each other’s motives. When we see Russia intervening in Georgia or Ukraine or other places we tend to say that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union. When we intervene and praise democracy development in Georgia, Ukraine and so on, the Russians say we use democracy as an excuse to penetrate and drive them off.

This is a swipe at Cheney, who has always led the campaign to intervene to grab power in Russia’s old imperial sphere of influence.

DMITRY BOBKOV: Should Russia also start to participate in solving the Iraq problem?

SCOWCROFT: I would say yes. Because here again we have a common interest in the region. We’d like stability there. Instability doesn’t serve either one of our interests.

Apart from the Baker-Scowcroft faction, there is also a faction that fears the Russian alliance with Iran much more than Iranian-Israeli animosity and so favors engagement with Iran as a way to pry the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia.

Cheney, on the other hand, represents a factional alliance between Right Zionists (like his key Middle East aide, David Wurmser) and Russia hawks.  For this coalition, the US can neither engage the incumbent Iranian regime nor leave it to Russia.  The only solution is to win Iran for the US and Israel and keep it from Russia.

This points to the old Right Zionist notion that Iraqi Shiites will actually be allied with the US in a Shiite-led movement to overthrow the Iranian regime.

And already–right on cue–there are the first signs of Right Zionist excitement over the prospect of undermining the incumbent Iranian regime from within.

This strategy will put Saudi Arabia in an extremely awkward position.  On the one hand, there are surely signs of Saudi-Iranian hostility over a host of issue, including Lebanon.  A US-backed Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran is hardly out of the question, at least in the short term.

On the other hand, the Saudis also surely know that any Right Zionist quest for reconstructing the “Eternal Iran” is, in the last instance, only a prelude to the formation of a pro-US Shia Crescent that would ultimately transform the Arab Gulf into a Persian Gulf and devour the Saudi dynasty itself.

Cheney, Baker, and the House of Saud

Posted by Cutler on December 13, 2006
Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In a November 30, 2006 post, I suggested the following:

[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.

Today’s New York Times article by Helene Cooper–“Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq“–seems to suggest that the Saudi split may indeed be part of the story.

Along the way, Cooper sheds light on a number of significant developments regarding US-Saudi relations.

Cooper reports:

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who told his staff on Monday that he was resigning his post, recently fired Nawaf Obaid, a consultant who wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post two weeks ago contending that “one of the first consequences” of an American pullout of Iraq would “be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”

Mr. Obaid also suggested that Saudi Arabia could cut world oil prices in half by raising its production, a move that he said “would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high oil prices.” The Saudi government disavowed Mr. Obaid’s column, and Prince Turki canceled his contract.

But Arab diplomats said Tuesday that Mr. Obaid’s column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to an American pullout from Iraq.

And, Cooper also makes news by reporting new details on the substance of Cheney’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah in late November:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

Abdullah is opposed to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran. That idea was floated by James Baker. So what ever happened to James Baker’s famous intimacy with the Saudi Royal family?

One answer is that a Cheney-Baker split reflects a split in the house of Saud:

In Riyadh, there was a sense of disarray over Prince Turki’s resignation that was difficult to hide. A former adviser to the royal family said that Prince Turki had submitted his resignation several months ago but that it was refused. Rumors had circulated ever since that Prince Turki intended to resign, as talk of a possible government shake-up grew.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister and Prince Turki’s brother, has been in poor health for some time. He is described as eager to resign, with his wife’s health failing, too, just as the United States has been prodding Saudi Arabia to take a more active role in Iraq and with Iran.

The former adviser said Prince Turki’s resignation came amid a growing rivalry between the ambassador and Prince Bandar, who is now Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser. Prince Bandar, well known in Washington for his access to the White House, has vied to become the next foreign minister.

“This is a very high-level problem; this is about Turki, the king and Bandar,” said the former adviser to the royal family. “Let’s say the men don’t have a lot of professional admiration for each other.”

Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?

And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?

Or has Cheney decided that the Bandar/Bush branch of the Saudi Royal family–the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah–has lost the battle for control of Saudi Arabia?

Was Cheney’s trip to Riyadh was a farewell visit? Did Cheney tell King Abdullah that he was backing the Shiite Option in Iraq?

The last time Prince Turki resigned abruptly was on September 4, 2001, exactly one week before the September 11 attacks. Mark your calendars.

Cheney, Gates, and the Great Game

Posted by Cutler on December 12, 2006
Iran, Russia / No Comments

The signs of Bush administration resistance to the Baker Iraq Study Group plan grow ever more obvious.

I have been arguing that this represents a battle between two figures–Cheney and Baker–neither of whom are accurately described as Right Zionists or Neocons and both of whom are usually thought of as close to the Saudis.

So what gives?

I have proposed (here and here) that the split is over Iran and, in a larger sense, differences about Russia.

Baker favors diplomatic “engagement” with Iran and Russia. Cheney, I propose, looks at Iran through the lens of Great Power Rivalry for influence and sees the Iranian-Russian alliance as a threat to US efforts to grab influence in the regions around the former Soviet Union.

One small piece of a larger puzzle in this regard:

The administration of Bush Sr. is usually considered to have avoided or controlled much of the factional conflicts that have ravaged the current Bush administration. One exception concerns US responses to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On this issue, a factional split developed featuring Cheney and Robert Gates on one side and Bush Sr, Scowcroft, and Baker on the other.

Here is one way way Bush Sr. and Scowcroft describe the split in their memoir A World Transformed (page 541):

The next day there was a long NSC meeting over future strategy toward the Soviet Union, focusing on whether we should support a breakup…

Cheney called for a more ‘aggressive’ approach. He argued that we had more leverage than we thought and if we simply reacted we could miss opportunities… He suggested we pick up one of Bob Gates’ ideas to establish consulates in all the republics… ‘We ought to lead and shape the events.’ This, of course, would have been a thinly disguised effort to encourage the breakup of the USSR. Scowcroft countered that our aid program was premised on a strong center… ‘That’s an example of old thinking,’ protested Cheney. Baker urged we continue to try to prop up the center…

‘But what should we be doing now to engage Ukraine?’ asked Cheney. ‘We are reacting.’ Scowcroft observed that Cheney’s premise was that we would be dealing with fifteen or sixteen independent countries. ‘The voluntary breakup of the Soviet Union is in our interest,’ argued Cheney.

For figures like Cheney, the problem with the Soviet Union was not merely “Communism.” It was Russian Empire. The axiomatic premise is not Cold War ideology but the “Great Game” of Great Power Rivalry.

Cheney has been playing it that way. Not so Baker.

The Fog of Factional War

Posted by Cutler on December 11, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

The New York Times is scrambling to make sense of the failed Realist coup that was supposed to accompany the publication of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group report.

One early Times effort pitted Condoleezza Rice as the leader of the anti-Baker faction.

More recently, the Times tries out a few other approaches in an article entitled, “Report on Iraq Exposes a Divide within the G.O.P.

One approach emphasizes the role of domestic Republican politics and cites a Wesleyan colleague, Douglas Foyle:

No matter what positions they take today, all Republicans would prefer that the 2008 elections not be fought on the battleground of Iraq, said Douglas Foyle, professor of government at Wesleyan University.

“They don’t want the 2008 presidential and Congressional campaign to be about staying the course,” Professor Foyle said. “That’s where the calculus of Bush and the Republicans diverge very quickly. Everyone is thinking about the next election, and Bush doesn’t have one.”

Other voices in the article also alleged that the Baker Report is supposed to function as cover for “cut and run” Republicans:

Bill Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard and a leading advocate of the decision to invade Iraq, said: “In the real world, the Baker report is now the vehicle for those Republicans who want to extricate themselves from Iraq…”

But Kristol knows that the conflict is not simply about the audacity of a lame duck and the cautiousness of those “thinking about the next election.”  As Kristol suggests, the emphasis on domestic politics only goes so far in explaining the split within the Republican party.  After all, says Kristol, one of the most prominent “rejectionists” is also the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2008, John McCain:

“McCain is articulating the strategy for victory in Iraq. Bush will have to choose, and the Republican Party will have to choose, in the very near future between Baker and McCain.”

The Times authors also seem to discard the electoral politics explanation that pits lame duck hawks against pandering doves:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, rejected the major recommendations of the group because they did not present a formula for victory. Mr. McCain, hoping to claim the Republican mantle on national security issues, has staked out a muscular position on Iraq, calling for an immediate increase in American forces to try to bring order to Baghdad and crush the insurgency.

This leads to the second approach adopted by the New York Times article, one that emphasizes the role of ideological factionalism:

A document that many in Washington had hoped would pave the way for a bipartisan compromise on Iraq instead drew sharp condemnation from the right, with hawks saying it was a wasted effort that advocated a shameful American retreat.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described the report as a “strategic muddle,” Richard Perle called it “absurd,” Rush Limbaugh labeled it “stupid,” and The New York Post portrayed the leaders of the group, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic member of Congress, as “surrender monkeys”…

The choice Mr. Kristol is describing reflects a longstanding Republican schism over policy and culture between ideological neoconservatives and so-called realists. Through most of the Bush administration, the neoconservatives’ idea of using American military power to advance democracy around the world prevailed, pushed along by Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld.

Of course, it is true that the so-called Neoconservatives–aka Right Zionists–have been howling about the Baker Report.

The problem with this explanation of the new factionalism, however, is that most of the actual so-called “ideological neoconservatives”–including Richard Perle–were long ago purged from the administration (if not Congress) and Right Arabists occupy key posts in the White House, the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass.

So, if the Right Zionists are pleased to observe some White House “push back” against Baker, they are cheering from the side-lines, largely in absentia.

Perhaps the only meaningful exceptions–now that Bolton is gone–are Elliottt Abrams and a Right Zionist named David Wurmser.  The key to Wurmser’s protected status, if there is any, is that he works in the Office of the Vice President.

But Cheney himself doesn’t exactly fit the profile of an “ideological neoconservative”–least of all on the basis of the skewed definition offered up by the Times (“using military power to advance democracy around the world”).  Just check out Cheney in Kazakhstan to appreciate the gap.  Cheney is hardly a promoter of democracy for its own sake; not quite a “true believer.”  And, historically at least, not a particularly reliable Right Zionist.

Cheney is the leader of the rejectionist faction.  But to what end?

The new factionalism is only indirectly about the Gulf, although it is about energy politics.  The key split increasingly looks like a battle between competing approaches to Russia, with Iran, Iraq, and Israel hanging in the balance.

Cheney’s Shiite Oil Patch

Posted by Cutler on December 09, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

The Washington Post has published the latest installment of Robin Wright’s reporting on the Bush administration’s Iraq Policy Review and the New York Times has a report on the hydrocarbon law negotiations in Iraq.

If Wright has the factional story correct, the White House Iraq Policy Review is looking increasingly like Cheney’s Right Zionist answer to James Baker’s Right Arabist Iraq Study Group Report.

The central “news” of Wright’s article–entitled “Iraq Strategy Review Focusing On Three Main Options“–is that she identifies Cheney as leader of the faction supporting the so-called “Shiite Option” or the “80 Percent Solution.”  Here is Wright:

Vice President Cheney’s office has most vigorously argued for the “80 percent solution,” in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq’s largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown.

Let us stipulate that Cheney’s concern for the Shiite is not humanitarian.  It is “strategic” and represents a return to the Right Zionist “Plan A” that dominated the early days of the US invasion of Iraq.  The heart of that plan has been a shift in the regional balance of power away from Sunni Arab dominance and toward a “reconfigured,” pro-American Shiite Crescent.

At the heart of any Shiite option has always been Grand Ayatollah Sistani and, to a lesser extent, SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

Hakim was recently in Washington for meetings with administration officials.  It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall for those sessions.  One topic that surely made the agenda: Hakim’s position on regional autonomy for southern Iraq and the implications of autonomy for the future of oil field development in Iraq.

Hakim and the Hydrocarbons Law

It may be no coincidence that only days after Hakim’s visit to Washington, Ed Wong reports in the New York Times that Iraqis are “near” a deal on the hydrocarbons law.  Wong writes as if the Kurds have opened a path toward reconciliation:

Iraqi officials are near agreement on a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population, Iraqi and American officials say.

If enacted, the measure, drafted by a committee of politicians and ministers, could help resolve a highly divisive issue that has consistently blocked efforts to reconcile the country’s feuding ethnic and sectarian factions. Sunni Arabs, who lead the insurgency, have opposed the idea of regional autonomy for fear that they would be deprived of a fair share of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and Kurdish north…

At the start of the talks, the Kurds fought to ensure that regional governments have the power to collect and distribute revenues from future fields, Iraqi and American officials said. They also proposed that revenues be shared among the regions based on both population and crimes committed against the people under Mr. Hussein’s rule. That would have given the Kurds and Shiites a share of the oil wealth larger than the proportions of their populations.

But the Kurds dropped those demands, said Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister who is a Kurd and the chairman of the committee.

The only problem is that the distribution of revenues has not been the key sticking point in recent months.  The contentious issue is control over new oil field development.  Have the Kurds backed down on that issue?

No, says Wong in the New York Times:

The major remaining stumbling block, officials said, concerns the issuing of contracts for developing future oil fields. The Kurds are insisting that the regions reserve final approval over such contracts, fearing that if that power were given to a Shiite-dominated central government, it could ignore proposed contracts in the Kurdish north while permitting them in the Shiite south, American and Iraqi officials said…

[T]he Kurds are still holding out on the issue of oil contracts, arguing that the Constitution guarantees the regions absolute rights in those matters.

So what has changed?  What motivates the Wong report if the Kurds have not removed the major remaining stumbling block?

The Shiites and the Bush administration may be preparing to overrule the Kurds.  Specifically, SCIRI’s Hakim seems to have abandoned his prior commitments to regional autonomy, at least with regard to the crucial issue of control over new oil field development.

On the drafting committee, Sunni Arabs have allied with the Shiites against the Kurds, who have sought to maintain as much regional control as possible over the oil industry in their autonomous northern enclave. Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed de facto independence since 1991, when the American military established a no-flight zone above the mountainous region to prevent raids by Saddam Hussein.

Wong has buried the big news: Shiites have allied with Sunni Arabs on the issue of Iraqi national unity (no news that Sunni Arabs oppose the Kurds on this issue…).

Combine this with word in the Financial Times that the oil majors appear to have leveraged a commitment to Production Sharing Agreements and you have a new ball game in Iraqi politics.

That helps clear the way for Cheney to embrace a Shiite Option in Iraq.  Forget James Baker.  Get ready for a really lame duck.

Russian Rice

Posted by Cutler on December 08, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Someone powerful in Washington is pushing back against the Baker plan and there is a bit of a scramble to figure out who is leading the rejectionist faction. In a previous post, I pointed to Cheney as a key factor. William Kristol told Newsweek he thinks that Bush himself is the last Neocon.

David Sanger of the New York Times tries out a new theory today: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the quiet leader of the rejectionist faction.

According to Sanger, the issues at the heart of Rice’s rebuke the Iraq Study Group recommendations regarding diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.

I’m not sure Sanger has the goods to make this idea stick, although it is certainly interesting to reflect on Rice’s role.

On Syria, Sanger offers up a key Baker quote that currently appears only in the Times:

At a midday meeting with reporters on Thursday, Mr. Baker insisted… [the US] should try to “flip the Syrians”…

If you can flip the Syrians you will cure Israel’s Hezbollah problem,” Mr. Baker said Thursday, noting that Syria is the transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah. He said Syrian officials told him “that they do have the ability to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist,” and added, “If we accomplish that, that would give the Ehud Olmert a negotiating partner.”

The idea–also popular with some Israeli politicians–is to pry Syria away from its regional alliance with Iran and return Damascus to the Arab fold.

Sanger doesn’t exactly have Rice taking shots at this idea, but he does report some muttering from Rice aides:

Ms. Rice remained publicly silent, sitting across town in the office that Mr. Baker gave up 14 years ago. She has yet to say anything about the public tutorial being… delivered in a tone that drips with isn’t-this-obvious…

Aides to the 52-year-old Ms. Rice say she is acutely aware that there is little percentage in getting into a public argument with Mr. Baker, the 76-year-old architect of the first Bush administration’s Middle East policy. But Thursday, as President Bush gently pushed back against some of Mr. Baker’s recommendations, Ms. Rice’s aides and allies were offering a private defense, saying that she already has a coherent, effective strategy for the region.

She has advocated “deepening the isolation of Syria,” because she believes much of the rest of the Arab world condemns its efforts to topple Lebanon’s government, they said…

The Rice quote about the isolation of Syria is from October 2005 (“Despite Warnings, U.S. Leans on Syria,” Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2005; no on-line link available).  Plenty has happened since then, not all of which points toward the isolation of Syria.  Nevertheless, the recent assassination of Pierre Gemayal certainly might have revived tensions between Washington and Syria, to the detriment of Baker’s diplomatic track.

On Iran, Sanger’s attempt to discern a split between Rice and Baker seems even weaker.

[I]n seeking to isolate Iran, [Rice aides] said, she hopes to capitalize on the fears of nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan that Iran seeks to dominate the region, with the option of wielding a nuclear weapon.

How different is this from Baker’s own approach toward Iran?  Is Baker above capitalizing on Arab fears?  Aren’t these fears a primary motivation for Baker’s diplomatic initiative regarding Iran?

And, how far is Rice from Baker on Iran?  Sanger doesn’t mention that Rice led the way what was billed as a major “opening” toward dialogue with Iran.

Nevertheless, I think Sanger might be on to something.

Baker and Rice are hardly carbon copies.  Perhaps the best way to trace the difference is to recall that the key figure who recruited Rice into the Bush administration was not Baker or even Brent Scowcroft, but George Shultz who worked with Rice at his Stanford University “Hoover Institution.”

Leading figures at the Hoover Institution and Baker’s public policy shop at Rice University differ on many issues, including Israel and Iran.  In terms of Condoleezza Rice, however, perhaps the most important differences between Baker and Shultz concern Russia–Condoleezza’s area of expertise.

Shultz’s Hoover Institution is quite hawkish about Russia.  And, as I noted in a previous post, this may have considerable importance when teasing out differences between Rice and Baker, not to mention Cheney and Baker.

A Realist Manifesto

Posted by Cutler on December 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

The Iraq Study Group Report has been released. I’m not at all convinced that it represents the advent of a Realist (Right Arabist) coup in Washington, as initially predicted. There seems to be plenty of “push back” against it from some quarters within the Bush administration.

Even if none of it fails to become official policy, the Report does represent what Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Thomas Ricks call “The Realist Manifesto” and so deserves to be read and archived for what it reveals about Right Arabist positions on US policy in the Gulf.

There are a few key sections that represent key consitutive elements of Right Arabist views on the proper domestic contours of Iraqi politics. There is no “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Solution” in this report.

National reconciliation is essential to reduce further violence and maintain the unity of Iraq.

U.S. forces can help provide stability for a time to enable Iraqi leaders to negotiate political solutions, but they cannot stop the violence—or even contain it—if there is no underlying political agreement among Iraqis about the future of their country.

The Iraqi government must send a clear signal to Sunnis that there is a place for them in national life. The government needs to act now, to give a signal of hope. Unless Sunnis believe they can get a fair deal in Iraq through the political process, there is no prospect that the insurgency will end.

To strike this fair deal, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people must address several issues that are critical to the success of national reconciliation and thus to the future of Iraq.

Steps for Iraq to Take on Behalf of National Reconciliation

RECOMMENDATION 26: Constitution review. Review of the constitution is essential to national reconciliation and should be pursued on an urgent basis. The United Nations has expertise in this field, and should play a role in this process.

RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.

The report provides some detailed discussion of oil politics in Iraqi “national reconciliation.” As I indicated in a previous post, Right Arabists favor Iraqi unity and centralized control over new oil field development.

Here is a section entitled, “The Politics of Oil,” that lays out the specific political link between sectarian tensions and the domestic battle for future control of Iraqi oil.

The politics of oil has the potential to further damage the country’s already fragile efforts to create a unified central government.

The Iraqi Constitution leaves the door open for regions to take the lead in developing new oil resources. Article 108 states that “oil and gas are the ownership of all the peoples of Iraq in all the regions and governorates,” while Article 109 tasks the federal government with “the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields.”

This language has led to contention over what constitutes a “new” or an “existing” resource, a question that has profound ramifications for the ultimate control of future oil revenue. Senior members of Iraq’s oil industry argue that a national oil company could reduce political tensions by centralizing revenues and reducing regional or local claims to a percentage of the revenue derived from production.

However, regional leaders are suspicious and resist this proposal, affirming the rights of local communities to have direct access to the inflow of oil revenue. Kurdish leaders have been particularly aggressive in asserting independent control of their oil assets, signing and implementing investment deals with foreign oil companies in northern Iraq. Shia politicians are also reported to be negotiating oil investment contracts with foreign companies.

On this issue, the Iraq Study Group has taken a clear stand:

RECOMMENDATION 28: Oil revenue sharing. Oil revenues should accrue to the central government and be shared on the basis of population. No formula that gives control over revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is compatible with national reconciliation.

Headlines about the Report tend to be focused on the call for international diplomacy. But all of this international efforts are, in essence, geared toward achieving the domestic “reconciliation” goals articulated above. Because these goals are meant to curb Shiite and Kurdish ambitions, relative to the Sunni population, the international diplomatic proposals have already met with considerable opposition from Shiite and Kurdish political leaders, even as they have been welcomed by Sunnis and ex-Baathists.

In many respects, this manifesto could have been written before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is nothing particularly new about the Right Arabist line adopted in the Report. The “news” would have been that this line was now uncontested official policy.

On that front, it was–at best–a slow news day.

The Gates

Posted by Cutler on December 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

The Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Robert Gates provided an interesting insight into the mind of a Right Arabist who supported the US invasion of Iraq:

I certainly supported the decision to go into Iraq in 2003, and not just because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction… It was clear that the sanctions were weakening, and I had no doubt in my mind that once the sanctions were removed by the U.N. — and it looked like the French and the Russians and others were moving in that direction — that Saddam, if he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, would move quickly to try and obtain them…

And so once the sanctions were lifted, there was no doubt in my mind that he would strive to get a nuclear weapon. He clearly hadn’t changed his spots in the slightest, and so that’s the reason that I supported the decision to go in…

As clear a statement on the Great Power Rivalry explanation for war in Iraq as I’ve seen.

Why call Gates a Right Arabist? Because of his critique of de-Baathification:

[In terms of] problems that I think were created — the first was the demobilization of the Iraqi army…

I think if we had widely advertised the fact that soldiers who returned to their barracks would continue to be paid, they would have a way to take care of their families, that we wouldn’t have had several hundred thousand people who knew how to use weapons, had weapons and were unemployed, out on the streets.

A third example, I think, was the extreme de-Ba’athification policy, frankly, looking at it from a distance… [We] didn’t really appreciate the fact that every schoolteacher and power plant operator, for the most part in Iraq, had to be a member of the Ba’ath Party to get the job, and that they, in terms of being a threat to our interests or a threat to a democratic Iraq — they weren’t necessarily that, but it was the people at the top of the pyramid that were the problem. And so a few more hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of work, people who actually knew how to make some things work and who might have had a stake in keeping things together.

No notion here of a regional tilt in the balance of power toward the Iraqi Shia.

Who, then, invited Abdel Aziz al-Hakim to the White House?

Who supports the so-called “80 percent solution“?

Who is tamping down expectations for Wednesday’s Baker-Hamilton report?

With Bolton out, the only Right Zionist is Elliott Abrams. And Abrams doesn’t manage the Iraq portfolio.

Who is left?


As one Wall Street Journal essay inquired, “At a Pivotal Moment, Where is Mr. Cheney?

[A]bsent from nearly all public discussion… is Mr. Cheney, though he is as closely associated with White House policy on Iraq, the Pentagon, intelligence and other headline post-9/11 security topics as Mr. Bush himself. Since the elections that shifted Washington’s balance of power to responsibility shared with the Democrats, Mr. Cheney has taken a low profile. He joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday to meet with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, as Reuters reports, and made it to the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony Sunday night. His mission to Riyadh last week came at the request of Saudi King Abdullah, who wished to discuss how Iraq was destabilizing the region, the Journal reported. But there was nothing public on Mr. Cheney’s itinerary before, during or after the trip, and that has been his recent MO. He hasn’t withdrawn a pre-election vow that the administration would move “full speed ahead” with its Iraq policy whatever the outcome at the polls. And Mr. Bush doesn’t appear to have publicly addressed Mr. Cheney’s responsibilities since a terse affirmation at a post-election news conference that the vice president would indeed stay on.

It would be difficult to imagine otherwise. Some serious internal administration disputes have come out amid the reams of reportage and dozens of books over the past six years, but Messrs. Bush and Cheney have largely appeared to speak and think as one. Now, as Washington and the rest of the world ponder just how much Mr. Bush is willing to modify his strategy for Iraq, the most illustrative telltale may be Mr. Cheney.

So, what are the telltale signs?

Michael Ledeen is as excited as he has been since 2003.

Any connection?

There Goes the Neighborhood

Posted by Cutler on December 04, 2006
Iran, Iraq / No Comments

When Democrats look around for a way to criticize the Bush administration on the war in Iraq without taking a stand on some of the tougher political issues involved, they have often adopted a page from the standard Right Arabist playbook: bring in Iraq’s neighbors.

Outgoing UN General Secretary Kofi Annan has recently adopted and promoted the idea of an international conference.The idea of dialogue seems so innocuous that liberals in the US might have been a bit surprised to learn that several Iraq politicians have rejected the idea.

The “latent” meaning of the international conference idea is rendered clear by the partisan responses emerging in Iraq.

The key political opponents of the international conference are Shiite leaders, including SCIRI’s Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and–allegedly–Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They are joined by leading Kurdish figures, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

These political forces represent the “80 percent solution” that originally animated Right Zionist policy in Iraq.

The International Conference represents one element in a long-term Right Arabist push back against the 80 percent solution.

Hence, it has won the support of Iyad Allawi–the ex-Baathist long favored by Bush administration Right Arabists and the figure appointed as first Iraqi Prime Minister by the US and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi–along with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

These Iraqi battle lines have been at the core of US policy since the end of Operation Desert Storm.

The central question right now is balance of power within the Bush administration regarding these competing forces.

How do you read the tea leaves?

Where does Iran fit in all this?

Annan and James Baker endorse a dialogue that includes not only Saudis and Jordanians, but also Iran and Syria. Does an international conference represent a tilt toward Iran? Or an instrument designed to contain Iran?

Likewise, does the 80 percent solution represent a tilt toward Iran? Or is it a major step toward a US policy of regime change in Iran?

What does it mean that Hakim rejects the international conference and presumably welcomes the 80 percent solution?

Does Hakim represent a tilt toward the incumbent Iranian regime? Or does Hakim serve Sistani and represent an in independent Iraqi Shiite position that shifts the center of gravity from away from the Iranian city of Qom and toward the Iraqi city of Najaf?

[Update: a bunch of sources–Informed Comment, Missing Links, and Robert Dreyfuss at TomPaine.com–are all reporting that another prominent ex-Baathist, Saleh Mutlaq, is joining Iyad Allawi in supporting Annan’s international conference.

No surprise here.  The bigger news is that all three sources are also saying that Mutlaq (also Salih al-Mutlak) and Moqtada al-Sadr have agreed to join together in a new nationalist parliamentary front on the basis of common opposition to the US military occupation and to the breakup of Iraq into relatively autonomous regions with control of new oil field development.  All of the sectarian violence has functioned to shift the axis from an anti-US nationalist insurgency toward a sectarian axis that pits Shiiites and Sunnis against each other.  Sadr and Mutlak represent an effort to restore the nationalist, anti-occupation axis.
Finally, a word on Robert Dreyfuss.  Notwithstanding his impressive “progressive” credentials (The Nation, Mother Jones, The American Prospect), I am more convinced than ever that his writing about the war in Iraq is fundamentally flawed because it adopts the perspective of Right Arabist imperialists.

In the past, he has articulated what appeared to be a particularly “amoral” perspective on the regime of Saddam Hussein, as when he celebrated the idea that the US would “Bring Back the Baath.”

Now, however, he adopts a shrill and deeply moralistic tone as the Bush administration once again flirts with Iraqi Shiites, describing the upcoming Washington  visit of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim as “Bush’s Meeting with a Murderer.”

The Left can either be moralistic and idealistic about foreign policy or it can be cynical, amoralistic and “realistic” about foreign policy.  But to deploy these discourses so unevenly, however, smacks of rank hypocrisy.  Dreyfuss has become nothing more than a pawn for one side of an intra-imperialist factional game.]

Iraq: The 80 Percent Solution

Posted by Cutler on December 02, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

Bush administration factionalism seems to have returned, although media coverage thus far makes it very difficult to discern the contours of the debate and the key factional players.

On November 13, 2006, the Washington Post published an Op-Ed by a relatively unknown figure, Monica Duffy Toft, who argued that the US should pick a winner in the Iraqi civil war and–at least as I interpreted the article–US money should be on the Shia.

I also noted at the time that there were still many anti-Shiite voices arguing the opposite, including an author named Tim Greene, identified as Chief of the Anti-terrorism training section under the U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) at Camp Muwaqqar, Amman–currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.

At the same time, this Op-Ed “civil war” between Monica Duffy Toft and Tim Greene was also playing out at a much higher level in Washington.

The locus of at least some of the new factionalism seems to surround a series of “secret” Veteran’s Day meetings, first reported by Robin Wright on November 15, 2006 in the Washington Post. The meetings resulted in the launch of a formal “Iraq Policy Review,” distinct from James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and a military review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On November 16th, Laura Rozen published an Op-Ed in Los Angeles Times that cited unnamed sources suggesting that one option under consideration was a “tilt toward the Shiites,” and–implicitly, at least–an abandonment of efforts to court the Sunni insurgency. Rozen reported that the “Shiite option” was one proposed in a paper authored by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Although Rozen does not identify her sources, it is interesting that she does appear to have talked to Monica Duffy Toft who is quoted in Rozen’s article.

On November 17th, Charles Krauthammer published a Washington Post column that I interpreted as part of a new “tilt” toward Shiites.

That same day, there was also news from Iraq that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Interior Ministry had issued an arrest warrant for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and one of the central figures linked to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

About ten days later, on November 27, 2006 came news that another key insurgency figure–Izzat Ibrahim, Saddam’s former deputy–had publicly urged insurgents to reject US reconciliation efforts.

It was also at this time that the first signs began to emerge of a Bush administration split over James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and its call for direct dialogue with the incumbent regime in Iran.

Exhibit A in the sniper attacks on Baker’s Group was an extraordinary November 27, 2006 New York Times article that featured an unnamed “intelligence official” linking Iraq’s Sadrist Mahdi Army to Iran via Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Exhibit B was offered up in a November 28, 2006 Washington Post article by Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks:

[I]n a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead “pick a winner” in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. “That’s the price you’re going to have to pay,” he said…

And, this same intelligence official appears to have also talked to David Ignatius about the “pick a winner” approach and seems to be the same figure making allegations about the Sadr-Hezbollah-Iran link. This from the Wright and Ricks Post article:

The intelligence official said that he “never saw any evidence” that Sadr’s organization sent personnel to Lebanon this summer to fight against Israel, but said he had heard talk that some were sent there to be trained by Lebanese members of Hezbollah, an organization funded by Iran’s Shiite government.

He said there was evidence that the Iranian government this year had escalated its efforts inside Iraq.

“The whole year, yes, it has stepped up,” he said. “More training in and out of Iraq. More coordination with Hezbollah. More advisers.”

So, the key point here is that the so-called “Shiite option” is decidedly not a pro-Iranian option in the mind of the faction that wants the US to pick a Shiite winner.

The option of backing Iraqi Shiites against Iran is not a new plan for Iraq. This is not Plan B or Plan C. This is Plan A. It is the original Right Zionist plan for dual rollback in Iraq and Iran.

If this plan is on the table again, it marks one more flip-flop on Iraq that seems to move to the rhythm of domestic US politics and confirms my pre-mid-term election sense that the final two years of the Bush administration might be the most dangerous of all.

David Ignatius named the so-called “80 percent option” back in November 2004, just after the Presidential election. What followed was the year of the Shiite–US-backed Iraqi elections in January 2005, a constitutional referendum in October 2005, and another election in December 2005, all of which enhanced the political power of Iraqi Shiites.

All of this took place over the objections of Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft who warned against elections in Iraq.

Today, however, there are complications and confusing signs regarding the factional politics of the 80 percent option.

Zelikow the Zelig

On the one hand, there is the November 28, 2006 abrupt resignation of Philip Zelikow, a top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a figure touted in the media as a Scowcroft-style Realist, i.e., a Right Arabist.

His resignation could easily be read as a protest against the Shiite option.

On the other hand, in a December 1, 2006 Washington Post article, Robin Wright–the Washington Post reporter most closely associated with the entire story of the Iraq Policy Review, the Shiite option, and the decision to back away from negotiations with Sunni insurgents–says that Zelikow is the author of the Shiite option plan and, presumably the leader of the faction championing such a plan.

The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.

The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed…

Some insiders call the proposal the “80 percent” solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people…

State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow, author of the proposal, argued that the United States has compromised its prospects of success by reaching too far, according to the sources.

At the same time, Wright reports that the “Zelikow” proposal has met with fierce resistance from all of the other Right Arabist, “Realist” factional players:

The proposal has met serious resistance from both U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders in Iraq, who believe that intensive diplomatic efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process are pivotal to stabilizing the war-ravaged country, the sources said…

Khalilzad, who has spearheaded U.S. outreach to the Sunni leadership, has developed a long list of steps to accommodate Sunni concerns, from a possible amnesty to changes in the hydrocarbon law that distributes oil wealth, which is located mainly in Shiite and Kurdish regions.

No surprise in Khalilzad’s position. But it is strange that Wright reports it is against Zelikow–a fellow traveling “Realist” that Khalilzad allegedly battles.

And Wright never mentions that Zelikow–presumably the “victor” in any move toward the 80 percent solution–has resigned!

So did Zelikow resign in protest against the 80 percent solution or does his resignation signal defeat for the 80 percent option that he allegedly sponsored?

Is it possible Wright simply has the facts wrong when she links Zelikow to the 80 percent option?

Finally, there is reference in the Wright article to the hydrocarbons law. As I have previously argued (here, here, and here), the hydrocarbons law is central to ongoing battles over Shiite (and Kurdish) demands for regional autonomy. Any new Shiite option would attempt to shift the balance of power in Iraq from Moqtada al-Sadr–the leading Shiite opponent of regional autonomy–toward SCIRI’s Ayatollah Hakim–he leading proponent of Shiite regional autonomy–who is scheduled to visit Washington this week.

One of Zelikow’s primary responsibilities has been the management–with Robert Kimmitt of the Treasury Department–of ongoing negotiations over a so-called “Compact for Iraq” that centers on the hydrocarbons law.

So, what does Zelikow’s resignation say about the hydrocarbons law?

Regarding the extremely contentious issue of control over the development of all new oil fields, were Zelikow and Kimmitt pressing for centralized Iraqi authority rather than regional autonomy, as favored by SCIRI and Hakim?

Did Zelikow resign in protest over a decision in Washington to allow regional, Shiite control over new oil fields?

What did the Saudis have to say about the 80 percent option when Cheney was in town?

Wright suggests an answer to that final:

A decision to step back from reconciliation efforts would… be highly controversial among America’s closest allies in the region, which are all Sunni governments. Sunni leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been pressuring the United States to ensure that their brethren are included in Iraq’s power structure and economy.

So, what is the relationship between Cheney and the “intelligence official” who has been talking to the press about the 80 percent solution?

Russia, Iran, and Israel

Posted by Cutler on December 01, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

When Great Powers compete, you win.

Rivalry between Russia and the United States, according to this scenario, should lead both Great Powers to actively court states like Iran, offering various incentives, including cakes and Bibles. The constraints imposed by inter-imperialist rivalry, then, would make it very difficult for the US to adopt harsh, punishing policies toward Iran as these efforts would only benefit Russian influence in Iran.

Countries like Iran–the “targets” of such competition–presumably delight in the enhanced leverage afforded in a multi-polar world. The more fierce the rivalry, the greater the charm offensive.

And, in fact, there are some very intense Russia hawks within the US who adopt precisely this approach toward US-Iranian relations.

If you want to see an amazing list of Russia hawks, check out bi-partisan list of signatories to the “Open Letter” published in the Moscow Times in September 2004. The letter warns:

President Putin’s foreign policy is increasingly marked by a threatening attitude towards Russia’s neighbors and Europe’s energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire, and by a refusal to comply with Russia’s international treaty obligations.

If Russia hawks are united against the threat of Russian empire, they are quite divided on what this might mean for US relations with Iran.

Some Russia hawks explicitly endorse the strategy of courting Iran in an effort to pry it away from Russia.

Within the United States, the split among Russia hawks is most clearly evident within the halls of the conservative Hudson Institute. The Hudson Institute is united in its hawkish analysis of Russian imperial ambitions.

So intense is the anti-Putin sentiment over at the Hudson Institute that some of the think tank’s scholars approach Putin’s role in Beslan the same way conspiratorial thinkers in the US think about Bush’s role in 9/11. An uncanny resemblance, really: “The Russian authorities may have deliberately allowed the terrorists to take over the school in order to have an excuse to destroy them.”

Hudson Institute Splits on Iran

On the side of wooing Iran stands Hudson Senior Fellow, Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.).

Odom has made big news in anti-war circles for announcing, in no uncertain terms, that the US shouldcut and run” in Iraq.

In Hudson Institute articles, he has also emphasized a very “dovish” approach toward Iran:

[T]he U.S. must informally cooperate with Iran in areas of shared interests. Nothing else could so improve our position in the Middle East. The price for success will include dropping U.S. resistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as cutting and running, but it is no less essential. That’s because we do share vital common interests with Iran. We both want to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban (Iran hates both). We both want stability in Iraq (Iran will have influence over the Shiite Iraqi south regardless of what we do, but neither Washington nor Tehran want chaos). And we can help each other when it comes to oil: Iran needs our technology to produce more oil, and we simply need more oil.

Accepting Iran’s nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely benefits. Moreover, its nuclear program will proceed whether we like it or not. Accepting it might well soften Iran’s support for Hezbollah, and it will definitely undercut Russia’s pernicious influence with Tehran.

One of the distinguishing characteristics about Odom’s approach to Great Power rivalry is that his charm offensive toward Iran also includes some tough love for Israel:

Most people are dealing with the symptoms, but we’re not dealing with the fundamental problems. I suggest that if we’re going to deal with Israel, they have to listen to us and follow what we say. They need to stop using the Old Testament as though it’s a property deed. The Mohawk Indians have a better claim on Manhattan than they do on the West Bank.

My hunch is that this kind of talk doesn’t go down so well with other Hudson Institute fellows, especially Senior Fellow, Meyrav Wurmser, the Director of the Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy.

Meyrav Wurmser is one of the most hawkish Likudnik Zionist voices on the US scene. She is also married to another Right Zionist, David Wurmser. David Wurmser once held the comparable “Middle East Policy” position at another conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Today, he is the chief Middle East Policy aide to Vice President Cheney.

For Right Zionists, wooing Iran is not an option.

If you want to know why some Russia hawks are unwilling to court Iran, the best explanation may be found in their relation to the Israel Lobby.

Cheney may once have wanted to court Iran with carrots rather than punish with sticks. But that strategy has been consistently blocked by the Israel lobby and its demand for sanctions.

Shorn of the opportunity to woo the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia, Cheney will turn to the only remaining strategy, short of handing Iran to the Russians: regime change in Iran.

He will run into resistance from all those who favor engagement with Russia and Russia hawks who want to court Iran.

Cheney may be pretty isolated in his approach. Trouble is, he is also untouchable.

Right Arabists Split on Iran

Posted by Cutler on November 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

If Right Zionists have any chance of salvaging a role for themselves in the Bush administration, they will do so by exploiting to the full factional tensions among Right Arabists.

As “luck” would have it, there are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.

These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.

Right Zionists are clearly aligned with Cheney in this dispute. The personification of this alliance remains David Wurmser, the key Middle East aide in the Office of the Vice President.

The Baker position is represented not only by Baker’s own pronouncements in favor of dialogue with Iran but by several of his key allies including Richard Haass–Baker’s former deputy in the administration of Bush Sr and currently the president of the Council on Foreign Relations–and Ray Takeyh, also at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Takeyh has suggested himself, at least some elements of the House of Saud aim to appease and contain the Iranians.

[T]he Gulf monarchies are eager to accommodate—as opposed to confront—Iran’s power.

Not so Cheney. Cheney may be somewhat isolated within the administration at times, but he remains untouchable. And he has a number of important Right Arabist allies who have long favored a more confrontational approach toward Iran. This include some diplomatic figures with very close ties to the House of Saud–including former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins–and much of the military brass, including former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni, who appeared to be “dovish” on Iraq because they opposed an invasion that set out to establish Iraqi Shiite rule but are more than anything, very hawkish on Iran.

Anti-Iranian Right Arabists–the ones who are most adamently opposed to engagement with the incumbent Iranian regime–are also adamently opposed to any withdrawal of US forces that would strenghten Shiite power in Iraq.

The Cheney, anti-Iranian Right Arabist line was on full display in Nawaf Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping into Iraq.”

One hopes [Bush] won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis…

There is reason to believe that the Bush administration, despite domestic pressure, will heed Saudi Arabia’s advice. Vice President Cheney’s visit to Riyadh last week to discuss the situation (there were no other stops on his marathon journey) underlines the preeminence of Saudi Arabia in the region and its importance to U.S. strategy in Iraq. But if a phased troop withdrawal does begin, the violence will escalate dramatically.

This is Op-Ed is not a Saudi warning to the Bush administration. I agree with those (including Bernhard at Moon of Alabama) who think Nawaf Obaid’s Op-Ed was a warning to the Democrats–although perhaps an unnecessary warning because most members of the Democratic leadership are bluffing in their “redeployment” banter and because many are quite hawkish on Iran.

But the Nawaf Obaid Op-Ed was also part of a Cheney campaign against Baker. That campaign was also on display earlier in the week when an unnamed official leaked word that Iranian-backed Hezbollah was training Sadrists in Iraq.

Ultimately, the split between Right Arabists has less to do with the House of Saud or Iran, as such, than it does with different approaches to Great Power Rivalry.

The Russians

There are signs that the key split over Iran turns on competing approaches to Russia. In this scenario, Cheney considers Iran (and Iraq) the venue for US rivalry with Russia (if not also China). Same goes for Cheney’s approach to the Caspian generally. Cheney is a Russia hawk and the big problem with the incumbent regime in Iran is not its hostility toward Israel but its strategic alliance with Russia.

Baker and Co. favor ongoing cooperation with Russia. Hence, they do not fear engagement with an Iranian regime allied with Russia. The same was true in their approach to Saddam after 1995, when he sought and received strategic support from Russia. For Cheney and Co. the crisis of Iraq was the crumbling of containment brought on by Saddam’s effective courting of the Russians (and the French) in the middle of the Clinton administration.
One urgent question that follows from this scenario: where to position incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates on this score?

One clue might be to trace the position of his mentor and booster, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the company he keeps.

Memo: Stephen Hadley on Maliki

Posted by Cutler on November 29, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

The New York Times is serving as an outlet for some powerful Bush administration messages on Iraq.

First, someone in the intelligence community leaked word to the Times of links between Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.  Did that one come from Right Arabist anti-Iran hawks at the CIA or DIA?  Or did it come from Cheney’s office?  In either event, it was arguably a clear shot at James Baker’s idea of direct dialogue with Iran.

Now, an “administration official” has provided the Times with the full text of an extraordinary Memo by Bush’s National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, reviewing the “political front” of US policy in Iraq and US relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.

Was this memo “leaked” against the wishes of the administration?  Or was it released?  It makes a difference.  As an accurate indicator of administration views, I would give far more weight to a leaked memo than one “approved” for public consumption as part of an initiative of some kind–especially on the eve of Bush’s meeting with Prime Minister Maliki.

Either way, read the full text of the Memo.  It is an incredibly clear, concise discussion of some very big issues.

Here is the stand out section on domestic Iraqi politics (aside from an equally important but passing reference to “the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad”:

Maliki should:…

Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM [Jaish al-Mahdi’s, the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] actors that do not eschew violence…

Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq

[W]e could help [Maliki] form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind…

[S]upport Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists…

If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base:

Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki

Engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.

All of this assumes that Maliki is the guy to do the deed.  The Memo doesn’t really focus on that issue.  But the US policy of seeking a political realignment is the news, whether it proceeds with Maliki or without him.

This political realignment matches on advocated by Charles Krauthammer in a recent column, discussed in a previous post.

Note that Hadley does not think that Sistani has become irrelevant.

Much of the political realignment turns on the idea of splitting the Shia, dumping Sadr, and replacing his bloc with Sunni forces in parliament.

What does this do to the question of regional autonomy in the Shiite south?  Sadr and his bloc oppose SCIRI plans for southern autonomy.  Does this political realignment aim to free Hakim to pursue such a plan?  Or is Hadley convinced that Hakim was bluffing about autonomy and the issue is a dead letter?

Bob Herbert’s War

Posted by Cutler on November 28, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 4 Comments

“We eat and drink while tomorrow they die.” — U2

Bob Herbert’s recent essay, “While Iraq Burns,” deserves comment on this blog for two reasons.

First, because he reiterates a favorite New York Times theme: the War in Iraq requires that Americans renounce unbridled desire and embrace mature responsiblity. I have discussed this theme in previous posts, here and here.

Second, because he invokes the voice of a student at Wesleyan University, the historically “progressive” elite liberal arts college where I am a professor. [A student who called my attention to the Herbert article also noticed that the University, which usually celebrates media attention linked to Wesleyan on its homepage, has thus far opted to skip this prominent depiction of Wesleyan campus sentiment.]

Here is a taste of Herbert’s prophetic jeremiad:

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns…

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war…

With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don’t even think about the war. They’re more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday’s test”…

This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name…

In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…

[T]he burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed…

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support…

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

One could argue that Herbert’s primary concern is the differential sacrifice being made by the “small cadre of volunteers.” Indeed, one might also note that many of these “volunteers” aren’t exactly swimming in disposable income and could use a massive pay hike so that they could join in the shopping fun.

But Herbert doesn’t seem interested in universal shopping as the antidote to inequality. Instead, the real “liberal” aim is universal sacrifice.

This is odd since Herbert sometimes seems to think that US soldiers in Iraq are dying “pointlessly.”

But is Herbert simply demanding that Wesleyan students “care” enough to demand the immediate withdrawal of US troops?

Why, then, invoke the classic “liberal” basis for intervention: the helpless women of Afghanistan Iraq who are increasingly victimized by… the US war machine? No. By “religious extremists” who force “non-Muslim women” to “wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Here is the liberal interventionist call that was always missing in a campaign to oust the secular Baathist government of Iraq! Now Iraq is our kind of mission. We’ll take it from here, Mr. President.

From now on it will be “collective sacrifice” and a “shared burden of responsibility.” Bring back the draft. Let’s fight this war like we fought World War II. Herbert hits all the common themes that Democrats use to prepare the cultural ground for fighting this war better than Bush.

On that basis, I prefer the culture described (accurately, I would argue) by the Wesleyan student quoted by Herbert.

This is a culture of “indifference” that serves as the basis for a new isolationism.

What is the relationship between indifference and an anti-war movement?

As the student says, “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq.” Or die in Iraq.

Herbert tries to suggest that “the Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…” This is the only thing Herbert wrote where I hope (and believe) he is wrong.

The “threshold of tolerance” for US deaths in Iraq is low by historical standards and anti-war activists can only hope it gets lower still. A New York Times inspired “culture of sacrifice,” by contrast, will only raise that threshold.

Impatience is a virtue for the anti-war movement. The advocates of greater US involvement in Iraq are the ones who would have to plead that “so far” US deaths and injuries in Iraq are low by historical standards.
The problem, for Herbert, seems to be that students are thinking only of themselves and do not go “beyond that.”

But what is beyond indifference? No government can fight and win a war on the basis of indifference. It is war that demands something “beyond” indifference: a willingness to fight, die, and accept paternalistic responsibility for the global “Other.”

Herbert focuses his paternalistic spotlight on particular “Others”: “innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies.”

Notice that Herbert doesn’t talk about Iraqis who are blasting the US out of Iraq. No wonder. It would hardly make sense to ask Wesleyan students to “adopt” these rather well armed insurgents as their paternalistic “responsibility.”

Between Herbert’s call for “collective sacrifice” and universal shopping, I’ll take shopping any day of the week.

Arlo Guthrie deserves the last word on the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving:

[T]here’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into
the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out. You know, if
one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.

And that’s what it is , the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and
all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come’s around on the

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud…

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

Act II, Scene 2

Posted by Cutler on November 28, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

If Baker fails in his effort to push the Bush administration toward direct talks with Iran, then we will know that Cheney is still driving this ship.

Some evidence in this regard:

Time magazine:

Vice President Cheney, among others in the White House, is prepared to fight the recommendation about Iran and Syria. “He’s against engagement with Iran and Syria, and he’s very serious about waging policy battles when he disagrees,” one official said.

And Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker:

The main Middle East expert on the Vice-President’s staff is David Wurmser, a neoconservative who was a strident advocate for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Like many in Washington, Wurmser “believes that, so far, there’s been no price tag on Iran for its nuclear efforts and for its continuing agitation and intervention inside Iraq,” the consultant said. But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney’s office “want to end the regime,” the consultant said. “They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran.”

I have written at length about Wurmser in my ZNet article “Beyond Incompetence.”

Nevertheless, given Cheney’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia I think the more useful ZNet essay for this moment may be “The Devil Wears Persian,” in which I describe the July 2006 Israeli military action in Lebanon as “Act II” of the Bush revolution.

If so, then we may be in fore Act II, Scene 2.  Scene 1 didn’t exactly play out according to Right Zionist plans, although as I noted at the time (here and here) they were quick to blame the failures on the Olmert government.

Since that time, Olmert has changed the composition of his government, adding Avigdor Lieberman–leader of the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party and formerly an aide to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu–to his coalition and handing responsibility for Iran policy to the hardliner.

Now comes the New York Times headline that Hezbollah has been training the Shiite Sadrist Mahdi Army in Iraq.

Hold on to your hats, folks.

Arabists Arrive

Posted by Cutler on November 27, 2006
Right Arabists / No Comments

There are a bunch of signs that the Bush administration might be getting ready to roll out a set of new Right Arabist Middle East initiatives.

1. Cheney in Saudi Arabia, explaining the new deal and asking for help. In exchange, the US is returning to the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track.

2. The key Right Arabist “asset” in Egypt–Mubarak’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman–is back in action, preparing the way for movement on the Palestinian front.

[Hamas political leader Khaled] Meshal arrived in Cairo late Thursday for talks with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, on the prisoner exchange and unity government

His visit was planned for the end of last October, but was postponed for unknown reasons. Arab media outlets speculated that Meshal’s arrival in Cairo signals that Hamas is ready to negotiate on the issue of [kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit’s release, with Egypt brokering a potential deal.

Suleiman’s efforts have resulted in a surprise ceasefire in Gaza. No sign yet of a unity government as Fatah allegedly makes a bid to reclaim the Interior Ministry.

3. C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, is also back in the game. Welch has been pretty quiet since his last effort to coordinate Egyptian mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. That effort went up in smoke with the July 2006 Israeli military campaign in Lebanon.

Welch is praying that the “rejectionists” in Israel and Syria will not undermine him this time. Slim chance. Elliott Abrams is presumably supposed to keep Israeli rejectionists in line. And Syria has already spoken on the issue with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.

Here is Welch’s prayer:

“We’re not making any direct accusations, but let me say that the trends and the record seem to be very clear,” C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said in an interview Wednesday with al-Arabiya Television. “The implication that Syria may be involved is, of course, a very heavy one, but the burden of responsibility that Syria bears not to interfere in the situation in Lebanon could not be more important than at this moment.”

4. Bush on his way to a meeting in Jordan with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. In advance of the meeting, Jordanian King Abdullah has this to say:

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” [Jordanian King] Abdullah said he remained hopeful a summit he will host this week in Amman with President George W. Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will somehow lower the sectarian violence that threatens to push Iraq into all-out civil war.

We hope there will be something dramatic. The challenges, obviously, in front of both of them are immense,” the king said.

Can it be a coincidence that the meeting will take place in Jordan, where some of the obvious potential leaders of a would-be “dramatic” anti-Shiite coup are in waiting? As warnings go, this one to Maliki is hardly subtle.

Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on November 26, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Uncategorized / No Comments

In a June 2006 post, I argued that some Right Arabists are quite hawkish toward Iran.  I also noted that some Right Zionists are quite wary of the motivations and methods of Right Arabists who support regime change in Iran.

The primary Right Arabist venue for regime change in Iraq is the Mujaheddin-e Khalq [MEK, but sometimes called MKO; also the People’s Mojahedin of Iran; also National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)] with support from the Iran Policy Committee.

Just to connect the dots: MEK has support within Iraq, but not from the favorite clients of the Right Zionists.  Instead, the biggest fans of the MEK are ex-Baathists.

No surprise here, since the MEK was very close with the old Baathist regime.

But a recent MEK press release makes the link quite explicit:

NCRI – A meeting initiated by the U.S. Congressmen Bob Filner (D-CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Ed Towns (D-NY) took place during a three-day symposium on Iran and Iraq at the U.S. Congress.

The purpose of this meeting was to examine the negative consequences of the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq and to determine how to support the Iranian opposition – the People’s Mojahedin – based in Ashraf City, Iraq, as the main impediment to the expansion of fundamentalism in this country.

In her message, Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, called on Congress to take the initiative for a firm policy towards Tehran’s regime and to expel it from Iraq.

Dr Saleh Mutlaq, Chairman of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, made a speech by telephone from Iraq, denouncing the mullahs’ efforts to prevent the establishment of a democratic, independent government in Iraq. He also announced his support for the People’s Mojahedin and paid tribute to their actions

Dick Armey, former republican House Majority Leader and chairman of the think-tank FreedomWorks, introduced his 250-page report about Iran, the foreign policy challenges, the solutions and the democratic opposition, in which he collected the positions of American political and legal experts….

Its introduction underlines, as many in the United States and in the world believe, that a regime change in Iran is feasible by supporting the democratic organizations of this country, notably the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

Consequently, following detailed research, the report urges the removal of the PMOI and the National Council of Resistance of Iran from the US State Department terrorism list in order to make this change possible in Iran.

When Right Arabists court ex-Baathists in Iraq, Saleh Mutlaq (also, Saleh Mutlak) is one of the key go to guys.

If the cry is “bring back the Baath,” does this not also imply regime change in Iran?

Coopting Sadr

Posted by Cutler on November 25, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized / No Comments

In the past, I have argued that all US foreign policy factions seem to hate Sadr.  But somebody in the US foreign policy elite thinks Sadr can serve some purpose.

Amidst all the recent attacks on Sadrists and the reprisals, Ed Wong includes this small, cryptic remark in his New York Times reporting:

Some American officials also argue that Mr. Sadr’s engagement in politics is necessary for any hope of a peaceful disarmament of his thousands-strong militia, which has twice rebelled against the American military.

Which American officials make this argument?  Wouldn’t that be interesting to know?  And why would Sadr’s engagement in politics help bring about the disarmament of his militia?

Isn’t this remark a reference to “some” American officials who believe that Sadr might serve as a bulwark against “foreign” influence within his own rank and file?

At least one July 7, 2006 Associated Press report suggested that the US may be trying to distinguish between Sadr and breakaway Shiite militia forces.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants in a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad early Friday, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said…

The U.S. military said the raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum was launched to apprehend “an insurgent leader responsible for numerous deaths of Iraqi citizens.” He was arrested after a gunbattle between Iraqi forces and insurgents, the U.S. said…

U.S. officials did not identify the insurgent leader but residents of the Shiite neighborhood said he was Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The U.S. statement said the militant leader was involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

An Iraqi army officer said the Americans had provided them with a list of names of people to be arrested in Sadr City.

As I commented in a post in early August, Sadr may be willing to preside over the disarming of those elements of his Mahdi Army engaged in sectarian violence.

Reporting in the Financial Times tends to support this analysis:

In a Friday sermon, Mr Sadr challenged Hareth al-Dhari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is probably Iraq’s most influential Sunni institution, to condemn the attacks and forbid his followers from joining organisations such as al-Qaeda that target Shia civilians.

Mr Dhari must “issue a fatwa prohibiting the killing of Shia so as to preserve Muslim blood and must prohibit membership of al- Qaeda or any other organisation that has made [the Shia] their enemies”, Mr Sadr said. If the senior Sunni cleric did so, Mr Sadr said, he would support the revocation of the arrest warrant against him.

Mr Dhari, currently outside Iraq after the government issued a warrant against him for incitement to violence, has said that al-Qaeda practises legitimate “resistance”.

Politicians from the Sadrist movement threatened to pull out of the government if Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, were to go through with a meeting with President George W. Bush scheduled for next week in Jordan.

The Sadrists accuse Washington of putting pressure on Mr Maliki’s government to disarm Shia militias, which they say inhibits their ability to defend themselves against Sunni extremists. The boycott threats may be an attempt to deflect Shia anger away from the Sunni and towards the Americans, a strategy that has been surprisingly effective since the 2003 invasion in limiting reprisals for attacks such as the Thursday blasts.

The attacks appeared to have heightened internal tensions within the movement, whose leadership has consistently called for Iraqi unity but whose rank and file are blamed for a significant proportion, if not the majority, of the thousands of sectarian killings that have taken place over the past nine months.

Mr Sadr issued a statement immediately after the attack calling for restraint and ordering his followers not to carry out any action without consulting the Shia clerical hierarchy. But a significant proportion of his followers believe that their only safety lies in militias such as the Mahdi Army taking the fight to the Wahhabis, or anti-Shia puritans, a category into which an increasing number of Sunnis appear to be lumped.

Who in the US would be most likely to be willing or able to see Sadr as a force for Iraqi unity against sectarian civil war?

Bashar and Baker

Posted by Cutler on November 23, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Syria / No Comments

It would seem that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel–a leading figure from the Lebanese “Cedar Revolution” and a member of a very prominent Maronite Christian family–has undermined James Baker’s plans for engagement with the Syrian regime less likely, at least for now.

The very fact that Baker–along with Tony Blair and some political elites in Israel–were pressing for a dialogue with the Syrian regime makes it all the more surprising that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have chosen this moment to flaunt his capacity for political violence.

There are two related ways of understanding how events might have moved toward a Syrian attack on Gemayel and his alllies in the so-called “March 14” movement.

First, even as Baker and Co. were pressing for engagement with Syria, Right Zionists and US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, were pressing for a tribunal to hear evidence against those allegedly involved in the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In a September 1, 2006 Washington Post column, for example, Charles Krauthammer had this to say about US relations with Syria.

We should be especially aggressive at the United Nations in pursuing the investigation of Syria for the murder of Rafiq Hariri…

And John Bolton was, indeed, aggressive–even as the Russians and Syrians tried to delay an agreement on a the formation of an international tribunal while Syria’s allies pressed for enhanced political power in Lebanon.  According to a November 8, 2006 report in the New York Sun:

The United Nations is pushing for the tribunal to be organized as quickly as possible, even before the completion of the U.N. investigation into the February 2005 Hariri assassination, a U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told The New York Sun yesterday.

“We’ve got a number of changes we want, but we’re very concerned to move quickly to set up the tribunal,” the American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said yesterday. “We think that’s very important to do as a political signal.”

Presumably, this was not exactly the same “political signal” that James Baker was trying to send to Demascus.

But the Bolton v. Baker split is not the only factional angle to this story.

There may also be a similar split within the Syrian regime itself.

Speculate a bit: Bashar may not have a firm grip on power in Syria.

On the one hand, the US, France, and Saudi Arabia have already cultivated an alternative “government in waiting” prepared to step in at any moment.  This, along with the outreach of figures like James Baker and Tony Blair, make it very attractive for Bashar al-Assad to adopt a moderate approach to regional relations.

On the other hand, if an accord with the US means submitting to an international tribunal then Bashar may be either unable or unwilling to cross that bridge.

In a November 22, 2006 Daily Star editorial, Michael Young makes the point:

The tribunal is Syria’s Achilles heel. Even if a mid-level intelligence operative is accused, the centralized nature of the Syrian system is such that prosecutors will soon end up at the peak of the security apparatus, perhaps reaching into President Bashar Assad’s inner sanctum. The fight over the future of the Syrian regime is taking place now, and the only option Assad might be left with if the process goes through is to rid himself of essential pillars of support. This could be as damaging to him as being held personally responsible for ordering the Hariri hit.

Let’s be more clear: the pillar of support in question is Bashar al-Assad’s own family.

According to the Associated Press:

U.N. investigators had earlier implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005. Among those linked to the killing was Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and Assad’s brother-in-law.

Is Bashar al-Assad seeking to protect his brother-in-law Assaf Shawkat? Or, is Shawkat seeking to protect himself, without the knowledge or approval of the Syrian President?

If US officials believe that Bashar al-Assad is in a battle with Shawkat for control of Syria then Baker will find his way to Damascus, sooner or later.

If US officials believe that Bashar al-Assad has made his peace with Shawkat, then it would not be surprising to wake up to news of a coup in Syria one of these days.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Posted by Cutler on November 21, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

-Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler

All the “adults”–Kissinger, Baker, Brzezinski, Gates, Blair–are working from the same parenting handbook when approaching Bush administration policy toward the Gulf: use your words.

Not surprisingly, Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht is dubious. In the latest missive from his perch at AEI–“Bartering with Nothing“–Gerecht poses some questions about dialogue with Iran.

What can be traded and bargained? What in the world can the United States give the Islamic Republic… that they do not have already?…

Beyond seeing Saddam go down, the most significant gain for the ruling clergy has been the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiite community. The greatest mid- to long-term threat in post-Saddam Iraq to Iran’s ruling mullahs had been the possible triumph of the moderate Shia, led by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who carries on a political tradition that Iran’s leading cleric, Ali Khamenei, detests. Clerics always think about other clerics; Iran’s political priesthood has always worried first about clerical dissent and religious threats to its power. Iraq’s turmoil has been very good for Khamenei and Iraq’s politicized young clergy, who want to upset the traditional, moderate clergy in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf. The chaos in Iraq–the sectarian strife–has nearly neutered Sistani, who tried mightily to prevent the unleashing of Shiite revenge against the Sunni insurgency’s attacks on his flock.

Emphasize “nearly.” If you were the Iranian mullahs, you would want this radicalization of the Iraqi Shia to keep going… With violence, Sistani and the moderate clergy will continue to collapse and the Americans will bleed…

So what does the United States have to offer the Iranian clergy that might tempt them to compromise their interests in Iraq? Well, there is the bomb… [A] true realpolitician would threaten the regime’s most cherished plans–its nuclear program. Yet in the Gates-Brzezinski colloquy on Iran, Gates conceded a nuclear weapon to the clergy. This is an odd position to take before even trying to enter into “negotiations.”…

To enter into a conference–assuming the Syrians and the Iranians would deign to participate–from a position of weakness is to guarantee that you exit weaker than when you went in.

I add only one note to this analysis: it is shared by at least one prominent Right Arabist, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci.

In the 2004 Gates/Brzezinski report on Iran, Carlucci served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, but added a “dissenting view” in an appendix to the report. Carlucci sounds as sober about negotiations with Iran as Gerecht:

While I agree with the main thrust of the report I do not agree that the U.S.interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan may offer Iran new incentives to open a mutually beneficial dialogue. On the contrary, I believe Iran has few incentives for dialogue. They are convinced we intend to overthrow them, and they believe we are bogged down in Iraq and have lost what support we had in the Arab world. From their perspective, it is better to wait and let us stew in our own juice. Overtures on our part,under these circumstances, are likely to be interpreted as a sign of weakness and be rebuffed –Frank Carlucci

An interesting note of consensus between a leading Right Zionist and a leading Right Arabist.

Just to be clear, though: neither Carlucci nor Gerecht are likely to agree that it is time to fold ‘em, to walk away, or to run.

Gerecht, at least, has a suggestion:

If for some reason the president feels compelled to try to convene such a conference or bilateral talks with Syria or Iran on Iraq, he would do America’s diplomats a big favor by announcing first that 50,000 new troops are on their way to Mesopotamia and that we intend to slug this out until we win.

Oh, Henry

Posted by Cutler on November 20, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Henry Kissinger’s BBC interview is making headlines that suggest Kissinger has given up on the idea of a US military victory in Iraq.

This is going to get all kinds of folks excited because it seems to imply that Kissinger is ready to wave a white flag and retreat from Iraq. It just isn’t so.

Kissinger is making the big headlines. But Brent Scowcroft is also lowering expectatiosn on Iraq. He was quoted on the front page of the New York Times:

“Things are so difficult and so complicated, it may be beyond anyone’s ability to be successful,” said Brent Scowcroft, a mentor and admirer of Mr. Gates.

But neither of these guys are advocating US withdrawal. Scowcroft made this clear last week. And Kissinger warns that withdrawal would yield catastrophic results that would inevitably draw us right back into the region:

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it’s a very unfortunate situation. But that doesn’t help us, I mean saying that doesn’t help us in the process of extricating ourselves, extricating is clearly a word I don’t like, or of finding a solution which does not make the situation in the region worse, and worse for all of us, that is the big challenge that we’re facing…

ANDREW MARR: Given that, what would you say to all those people who say well let’s bring all the troops home now? What’s the downside of a fast and total withdrawal, both by American and by British troops now?

HENRY KISSINGER: Well if we were to withdraw all the forces without any international understanding and without any even partial solution of some of the problems, the civil war in Iraq will take on even more violent forms and the chief dimensions that are probably exceeding those that brought us into Yugoslavia with military forces, all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised.

So I think a dramatic collapse of Iraq, whatever we think of how the situation was created, would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years, and which would bring us back in one way or another into the region.

None of this is really about the military front. It is about the political front. As always, most of the sharpest debates in Washington have turned on questions of geopolitical strategy, not military tactics.

Consider, for example, Kissinger’s prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq.

Who is he talking about? Is he warning that Iran would be destabilised? Or is he talking about Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even Pakistan?

Today, most of the chatter that is ostensibly about Iraq is really about US policy toward Iran and Iran’s relation to the Gulf–even as Iran’s regional proxy, Hezbollah, flexes its muscles in Lebanon.

Here is Kissinger on Iran, from the BBC interview:

ANDREW MARR: What about the Iranians, Dr. Kissinger, do you envisage any likelihood of Washington opening a new dialogue with President Ahmadinejad given some of the things he’s been saying recently again about Israel?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it would probably be better, first the answer to your question is yes, I believe America has to be in some dialogue with Iran.

But it seems to me the fundamental problem is, does Iran conduct itself as a crusade or as a nation? If Iran is a nation it should be possible to define a relationship in which Iran together with all interested parties contributes to stability in the region, and plays a respected role.

If Iran is a crusade that is trying to overthrow the international system as we know it, which is the way the Iranian president talks, then it will be extremely difficult to come to a negotiated solution.

Here, Kissinger is riffing on a theme he introduced in a July 31, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled, “Next Steps with Iran.”

A modern, strong, peaceful Iran could become a pillar of stability and progress in the region. This cannot happen unless Iran’s leaders decide whether they are representing a cause or a nation — whether their basic motivation is crusading or international cooperation. The goal of the diplomacy of the Six should be to oblige Iran to confront this choice.

Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks — or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability.

The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America — and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six — is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.

In light of this scenario, I think it seemss plausible to think that Kissinger’s BBC prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq is not about the collapse of Iran but the threat Iran poses to Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Pakistan.

What is the US prepared to offer Iran in exchange for becoming “a pillar of stability and progress in the region”? How much of Iraq is on the table? Say, control of southern Iraq?

ANDREW MARR: And do you think there might be, it might be necessary to divide Iraq, for Iraq to come apart in two or three pieces?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think that might be an outcome, but it would be better not to organise it that way on a formal basis.

What happens if “engagement” with Iran fails?

Some Neocons are already sure such engagement is doomed and have their answer: “Bomb Iran.”

What is Kissinger prepared to do if Iran makes the “wrong” choices?

In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Is that Kissinger-speak for “Bomb Iran”?


Posted by Cutler on November 18, 2006
Syria / 1 Comment

Some Israeli foreign policy figures–chiefly those linked to the Labor Party, including David Kimche–want to try to pry Syria away from Iran.

This idea is also popular with some Right Arabists in the US who want to break the Syrian-Iranian link in order bring Syria back into the Arab fold (recall that Syria backed Iran in the Arab-backed Iraqi war against Iran during the 1980s).

There could be lots of reasons to want to court the Syrians (not all at the expense of Iran). One crucial reason might be oil.

If you want to pipe oil to the Mediterranean from either the Kurdish north of Iraq it would be very helpful to have Syrian support, especially insofar as the Turks not so happy transporting Kurdish oil out of an increasingly independent Kurdistan. Look at a map.

Just a thought.

A Shiite Option?

Posted by Cutler on November 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “era of elections” in Iraq, which began in January 2005, may well be remembered as the time when the US was loosely aligned with Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

The Jaafari and Maliki governments (led by the Shiite “Dawa” party) that have ruled Iraq during the era of elections have been dependent on Sadrist political forces.

A change might be in the works. Not an anti-Shiite coup, exactly. But a move against Maliki and Sadr–led by SCIRI, Dawa’s major Shiite political party rival.

If so, such a simple government re-shuffle would potentially also represent an enormous change in US policy because SCIRI strongly supports the break up of Iraq into three highly autonomous zones each with independent control of oil resources.

[Joseph Biden–incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–is also a strong supporter of the break up of Iraq. Did the mid-term election results help generate a change in US policy relative to the idea of partition?]
Partition would mark the “end of Iraq” as an Arab nation and would dramatically tilt the regional balance of power away from a Sunni Arab Gulf and toward a Shia Gulf.

Right Zionist Charles Krauthammer advocates such an Iraqi government re-shuffle in a November 17, 2006 Washington Post column, “Why Iraq is Crumbling.”

Last month American soldiers captured a Mahdi Army death squad leader in Baghdad — only to be forced to turn him loose on order of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Two weeks ago, we were ordered, again by Maliki, to take down the barricades we had established around Sadr City in search of another notorious death squad leader and a missing American soldier.

This is no way to conduct a war. The Maliki government is a failure

Fortunately, however, the ruling Shiites do not have much internal cohesion. Just last month two of the major Shiite religious parties that underpin the Maliki government engaged in savage combat against each other in Amarah.

There is a glimmer of hope in this breakdown of the Shiite front. The unitary Shiite government having been proved such a failure, we should be encouraging the full breakup of the Shiite front in pursuit of a new coalition based on cross-sectarian alliances: the more moderate Shiite elements (secular and religious but excluding the poisonous Sadr), the Kurds and those Sunnis who recognize their minority status but are willing to accept an important, generously offered place at the table.

Such a coalition was almost created after the latest Iraqi elections. It needs to be attempted again.

The clashes in Amarah mentioned by Krauthammer were between two Shiite militias, Sadr’s Mahdi Army and SCIRI’s Badr Brigades.

And the coalition that was “almost created” after the last Iraqi elections was the one that the US pushed at the time: a government run by SCIRI with Abdil al-Mahdi (also Adel Abdel Mahdi, Abdel Mahdi, or Adil Abdul Mahdi) as Prime Minister.

A February 19, 2006 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “The Shiite Choice,” seemed mystified by the US preference for al-Mahdi:

U.S. diplomats seemed to favor Mr. Mahdi for some reason. But unlike Sciri, Mr. Jaafari and his Dawa Party don’t seem dependent on Tehran and are unquestionably indigenous Iraqi patriots.

The Dawa Party–especially in alliance with Sadr–represented a vote of confidence in Iraqi nationalism. Mahdi and Sciri, by contrast, raises the specter of a tilt toward Tehran.

The Journal editorial also notes that Mahdi lost “the permanent nod by a single vote” within the council of the ruling Shiite alliance.

Krauthammer has now offered an unambiguous endorsement of a SCIRI-led Shiite government.

It would be an enormous surprise if the Bush administration actually embraced the idea.

Why? Because the “SCIRI Option” is, in essence, “Plan A” for Iraq, as originally outlined by the Neoconservatives.

With Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, out at the Pentagon and Robert Gates and the Baker Commission preparing for power, it would seem easy enough to dismiss Krauthammer’s call for a new government as revealing about the Neocons, but irrelevant for a Bush administration replete with Right Arabists.

But then comes a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed by Laura Rozen entitled “Unleash the Shiites?” (thanks b) that claims some support for this option within the Bush administration:

This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward…

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option…

[T]he strategy could drive Iraq’s Sunni tribes to align themselves more closely with Al Qaeda. And it seems certain to further alienate Iraq’s Sunni neighbors and erstwhile U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan — while strengthening Iran’s hand in Iraq.

Combine this speculation with the Monica Duffy Toft Washington Post Op-Ed on the “Shiite option,” discussed in a previous post, and one begins to reconsider the death of the Right Zionist plans for Iraq.

On the assumption that personnel is politics, Right Zionists have been quite demoralized by the appointment of Robert Gates.

If Right Zionists are losing influence in Washington, however, it is possible that their favored “proxies” in Baghdad will render the Right Zionists victors in absentia.

If so, then the recent victories began with the extraordinary Iraqi parliamentary vote which established the framework for the creation of a massive, autonomous Shiite region in the oil-rich south of Iraq.

During the session, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani — the parliament speaker, a Sunni Arab belonging to one of the boycotting parties — announced that quorum had been reached and called for a vote. He then left the chambers to join the walkout, handing over his duties to his Shiite deputy, Khaled al-Attiya.

Did al-Mashhadani defy the Right Arabist US Ambassador? If so, was he not implicitly doing the bidding of Right Zionists?

At the time, the vote was taken by some observers to represent a loss for the Bush administration.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

A frontal rebuke to Right Arabists, yes.

A frontal rebuke to Right Zionists? Maybe not.

[Add to this the following potentially huge news:

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani declared on state television late Thursday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most outspoken defenders of Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs after the U.S.-led invasion.

This would represent an extraordinary break with prior US attempts to court the Sunni minority.

Bolani’s roots are not with SCIRI, but they are with Shiites who favor regional autonomy and who have backed efforts to help the Badr Brigades win control away from rival militias in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

More signs of a reinvigorated SCIRI-led Shiite option?]

Our Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

When was the last time that competing US foreign policy factions backed different sides in a civil war? (Not a rhetorical question). What are the consequences?These questions are sparked by two somewhat obscure Op-Eds.

The more pominent of the two was published by Harvard’s Monica Duffy Toft in the Washington Post and entitled “Iraq is Gone. Now What?

Toft, whose website notes that her research is funded by the conservative Smith Richardson Foundation, argues that it is too late to hope for political reconciliation in Iraq. Civil war being what it is, it is now time to ask, “Which side are you on?” Which side within that civil war?

Some 3 1/2 years after the U.S. invasion, most scholars and policy analysts accept that Iraq is now in a civil war…

A negotiated settlement is what the United States has attempted to implement for the past two years in Iraq, and it is failing

Military victories, by contrast, historically result in the most stable outcomes.

[T]he United States is now faced with an awful choice: leave and allow events to run their course or lend its dwindling support to one or more of the emerging states.

If it supports the Kurds and Shiites — the two peoples most abused under Hussein, most betrayed by the United States since 1990 and, as a result, the two most worthy of our support on moral grounds — it risks alienating important regional allies: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. On the other hand, doing the right thing (supporting the Shiites) also means doing the most practical thing, which is ensuring a stable peace and establishing long-term prospects for democracy and economic development. As a bonus, it is possible that U.S. support of the Shiite majority might pay diplomatic dividends as regards Iran’s impending nuclearization.

If the United States supports the Sunnis, it will be in a position very close to its Vietnam experience: struggling to underwrite the survival of a militarily untenable, corrupt and formerly brutal minority regime with no hope of gaining broader legitimacy in the territory of the former Iraq.

Moreover, even if successful, supporting the Sunnis — in effect the incumbents in what was until recently a brutal dictatorship — will result in a much greater likelihood of future war and regional instability (not to mention authoritarianism), even with a formidable U.S. military presence (and the less-than-formidable U.S. presence has already become politically untenable in the United States).

I may be going out on an interpretive limb here, but I read Toft to be signing on in support of the Shiites in the Iraqi civil war. Yes?

I’m not sure how much Toft’s vote matters, but I find it interesting that she is picking sides.

On the flip side of the American civil war over Iraq is an Op-ed whose status seems a bit shakey. It is an essay entitled “Why We Must Embrace the Sunnis.” Allegedly authored by “Tim Greene” it first appeared on the website of “Global Politician.” It appears to have been withdrawn from the site, although the cache is available and it was picked up on third party sites before it disappeared from Global Politician.

Why track down such an obscure publication?

First, because the author, “Tim Greene,” is identified in the following way:

Tim Greene is Chief of the Anti-terrorism training section under the U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) at Camp Muwaqqar, Amman. Tim is currently tasked to train a majority of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) cadets for the Ministry of Interior in Iraq.

A very interesting job. ICITAP is an interesting shop, to say the least.

Anyway, Tim Greene has written a rabidly anti-Shiite tract, even as he apparently sits in Jordan where some of the obvious potential leaders of a would-be anti-Shiite coup are in waiting.

It is evident – from this man on the ground – that the Shiites cannot govern, the militias are in revenge mode and will never be disarmed or disbanded by a Shiite leader, and they are spreading their chaos more and more throughout the country. Iran meanwhile is loving each and every minute of it and even supporting Shiites financially, with training and with weapons (helpfully smuggled across the border).

With this continued ruling of the country by Shiite parties and militias we will see the entire Middle East region destabilize more and more. In my opinion it is the beginning of an ethnic war… a holy war that has to be controlled now by whatever force and relationships are necessary to control it…

Shiite religious clerics, starting with the top Ayatollah Ali Khomeini of Iran and down to Ali Sistani, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim and Moqtada Al-Sadr could control the Shiite militias and death squads if they wanted to. All that has to happen is for Khomeini to order a cessation – ordering Sistani who will then hand the order down to Hakim and Sadr.
(The Shiites are after all extremely loyal to their religious clerics. Whatever they say is the truth, regardless of reality, fact or fiction.)

Alas, that order will never come, because they don’t want it to come. They will issue a fatwa (death order) and jihad (holy war) against the US and Coalition Forces and the Sunni ethnic population before they ever help us get control through Shiite religious ties.

So yes, the Shiites should expect the US and Coalition governments to shift their support and now is the time to do that. Although it will prove difficult to change positions, to take down the militias and get back peace and security in Iraq, the Sunnis are the group to lead us to the required balance for that “victory”, I am confident.

So, there you have it. A civil war. Or two civil wars: one in Iraq; one in Washington.

Which Side Are You On?

The Democrats and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on November 13, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

New York Times headline: “Democrats Push for Troop Cuts Within Months.” Reuters: “U.S. Democrats say will push for Iraq withdrawal

So, were the Republicans right all along? Do leading Democratics really want to “cut and run” after all?

Would that it were so.

The most prominent voice cited by the Times is that of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee. What is Levin actually saying?

“We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months,” Mr. Levin said in an appearance on the ABC News program “This Week.” In a telephone interview later, Mr. Levin added, “The point of this is to signal to the Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over and that they are going to have to solve their own problems.”

Levin’s approach is fundamentally tactical. There is no retreat here. Levin proposes to threaten the Iraqi government with US military withdrawal in order to maximize US political leverage in Iraq.

Set aside, for the moment, the bizarre spectacle of an occupying army threatening to withdrawal from a country in which the vast majority of the population allegedly favors a US withdrawal.

As the New York Times article makes clear, Levin is bluffing:

In the interview after his television appearance today, Mr. Levin said that any resolution about troop reductions in the next session of Congress would not include detailed benchmarks mandating how many troops should be withdrawn by specific dates.

And, now that the mid-term election campaigning is over, the White House is perfectly willing to acknowledge that Levin isn’t really saying anything they do not support.

The White House signaled a willingness to listen to the Democrats’ proposals, with Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, saying in two television appearances that the president was open to “fresh ideas” and a “fresh look.”…

“You know, we’re willing to talk about anything,” he said on “This Week.” “I don’t think we’re going to be receptive to the notion there’s a fixed timetable at which we automatically pull out, because that could be a true disaster for the Iraqi people. But what we’ve always been prepared to do, and remain prepared to do, is indeed what Senators Levin and Biden were talking about, is put pressure on the Iraqi government to take over themselves.”

What does Levin aim to accomplish with all this “pressure” on the Iraqi government?

The position was most clearly articulated in Levin’s June 19, 2006 “sense of the Congress” amendment regarding Iraq policy, the full text of which is available here.

Sectarian violence has surpassed the insurgency and terrorism as the main security threat in Iraq, increasing the prospects of a broader civil war which could draw in Iraq’s neighbors…

Iraq’s security forces are heavily infiltrated by sectarian militia…

The current open-ended commitment of United States forces in Iraq is… a deterrent to the Iraqis making the political compromises and personnel and resource commitments that are needed for the stability and security of Iraq…

[T]he Iraq Government should promptly and decisively disarm the militias and remove those members of the Iraqi security forces whose loyalty to the Iraq Government is in doubt…

As John McCain understands, there is a simpler way of saying all that.

Appearing on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” Mr. McCain said that “the present situation is unacceptable,”…

Emphasizing the importance of breaking the back of the Mahdi Army, the militia allied with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. McCain said the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, “has to understand that we need to put down Sadr, and we need to take care of the Mahdi Army, and we need to stop the sectarian violence that is on the increase in a non-acceptable level.”

Or, as McCain said last week: “al-Sadr has to be taken out.”

Thank heavens. The “moderates” have taken control in Washington.

Here is the blood thirsty war cry of Vice President Cheney from a pre-election, October 30, 2006 interview:

Q: …And I also want to ask you, in that same vain of American toughness in winning the war, this guy al Sadr is still out there. There’s been a warrant for his arrest for three years. His death squads, his militias, they’re killing rival Shias, they’re killing Sunnis. They tried to plot to take over the interior department in Baghdad. Why is he still on the loose? A lot of people say, why don’t we rub out al Sadr? Why don’t we take him into custody? That would be a sign of winning.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we’ve moved — obviously, we took the chief bad guy in Saddam Hussein, and he’s on trial now…

Q But al Sadr stays out there —


Q — capture.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: He is — obviously speaks for a significant number of Iraqis, has a strong following.

Is it me, or do the “moderates” seem a little trigger happy now that the election has passed?

Maybe that is because they aren’t really “moderate” about Iraq. They are simply bi-partisan in their radical approach to the war in Iraq.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Right Arabists to bring the troops home.  If they are going to try to put the Shiite “genie” back in the bottle with an anti-Shiite coup, they are going to have a lot of killing to do.
Here is a recent Brent Scowcroft interview from Turkey:

Question: You were opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Do you feel vindicated now that we see chaos there? How do you see the situation as it is today and what do you see for the future?

Scowcroft: No, I don’t have any feeling of satisfaction. Regardless of how we got there, we are there, and it is a difficult situation. Far more difficult than the administration expected. And it will be increasingly hard to stay in because it has become an unusually important issue in domestic U.S. politics. But I think we have to stay and try and manage the situation to get some kind of a resolution where we can have an Iraq that is relatively stable.

The Right Arabists will not withdraw from Iraq.

And, just for the record, they will not embrace Biden’s partition plan (no surprise here):

Question: The notion of dividing Iraq along Ottoman lines is being voiced by some in Washington. Do you think this idea will capture the imagination of the U.S. people who clearly want to see a way out of what is evidently a growing mess?…

Scowcroft: There are serious people that have advocated this. For me it is inconceivable.

It is depressing to acknowledge, but one possible scenario is that Rumsfeld was dumped to make way for someone willing to forget about “military transformation” and “force protection” and do the dirty deed that Rumsfeld refused to do: send more troops.

A pity that this has the look of a concession to “critics” who demanded nothing less.

Ellen Willis, 1941-2006

Posted by Cutler on November 10, 2006
Uncategorized / 3 Comments

Ellen WillisEllen Willis died on Thursday, November 9, 2006.

Parents may not always want to proudly claim their children and it is only right that children often rebel. But if I were to name my intellectual and political parents, they would be Stanley Aronowitz and Ellen Willis.

Ellen’s Left

One simple, if simplistic, way of mapping divisions in the political world is to picture a two-by-two table with four cells representing different political tendancies: along one “economic” axis exists a spectrum that runs from “Capital” to “Labor.” A second “cultural” axis runs along a spectrum from “Communitarian” to “Libertarian.”

It is pretty easy to fill in the cells on the Right:

Capital/Libertarian: the radical, free market, anti-regulatory Right. Fill in with Cato Institute, etc.

Capital/Communitarian: the pro-business and culturally conservative Right. Think of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

The Left is more difficult.

Isn’t it tempting to put the entire Left into the Labor/Communitarian cell? After all, the “Left” has been, for the most part, defined by its Communitarian and/or Collectivist impulses. Leftists are, almost by definition, critics of Capital and its culture of decadence, perversity, and sin. No?

When I try to draw this map on the board in a classroom, students are often stumped by the final empty space, unable to name anyone who belongs in the Labor/Libertarian terrain.

Since the culturally conservative backlash of the 1980s, that space has been occupied and preserved almost single-handedly by Ellen Willis.

Nobody was better at exposing authoritarianism on the Left or tracing hidden utopianism on the Right.

If you haven’t read anything written by Ellen Willis, you might start with her critique of Thomas Frank or her essay, “The Mass Psychology of Terrorism.”

At some point, though, you have got to read “Towards a Feminist Sexual Revolution” (originally published in Social Text, Vol. 11, No. 3, Fall 1982, pp. 3-21.) It is an extraordinary manifesto for a gender politics that embraces sexual freedom and cultural radicalism.

The obituary published in the New York Times quotes Ellen saying that her “deepest impulses are optimistic.” The political and intellectual roots of that optimism is in Ellen’s axiomatic commitments to the socio-psychological insights of Wilhelm Reich. Ellen was the rightful heir to the legacy of Reich and his deeply anti-fascist political views on pleasure, culture and freedom.

In Ellen Willis, I have lost a mentor and a friend.

I fear that the Left has lost something more: its greatest champion of freedom and pleasure.

Against the War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 09, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 1 Comment

In a previous post, I proposed that the Financial Times might provide interesting coverage of the election:

[V]otes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Here is Ed Luce from the Financial Times on Wednesday, in an article entitled “Iraq War Decimates Republican Vote“:

Whether they were representing districts in America’s traditionally liberal north-east, in the more embattled swing states of the Midwest, along the ideologically pragmatic states of the west or even in conservative districts south of the Mason-Dixon line, Republican incumbents were punished for their association with President George W. Bush’s unpopular war in Iraq…

The principal story of the 2006 mid-term elections is that voters were driven by their opposition to the war in Iraq,” said Charlie Cook, whose Cook political report is widely read among pundits in Washington. “This was not a vote for the Democrats so much as against President Bush and against the war in Iraq.”

Financial Times, old faithful.

Bush to Neocons: Game Over

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Uncategorized / 3 Comments

So, Rumsfeld is out. Robert Gates is in.

I have a few quick thoughts, just for starters.

On Gates

Notwithstanding some interesting and complicated questions about his relationship to the mysterious William Casey, CIA director during the Reagan Administration, Gates is mostly known as a “pure and simple” Right Arabist. (Of course, the same might once have been said about Rumsfeld and Cheney).

As a member of the Baker Iraq Study Group, Gates has already come under fire from Right Zionists like Michael Rubin for favoring engagement with–rather than regime change in–Iran.

[Update: for a sense of Gates on Iran, see his work as co-chair (with Zbigniew Brzezinski) of a Council on Foreign Relations task force, including a July 2004 report entitled “Iran: Time for a New Approach.”  Perhaps the best place to start reading is the section on “Additional and Dissenting Views” toward the end of the report.  If Gates is a “moderate” on Iran, it is because the report disappoints Iran hawks and doves.  A figure like Shaul Bakhash fears that the call for engagement may be perceived as a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.  For an old Chevron executive like Richard Matzke–always eager to do business with the Iranian regime–the report is overly alarmist in its depiction of the incumbent regime.]

When he was nominated by Bush Sr. to be Director of Central Intelligence in 1991, the Guardian had the following profile of him (Simon Tisdall, “The CIA’s New Chameleon,” May 16, 1991):

[H]is nomination is not without paradox, and certainly not without controversy. According to a former, senior CIA agent who maintains close links with the organisation, the selection has caused nothing short of “gloom” in the operations branch… “He is viewed by people as a bureaucratic back-stabber, a Casey man. He rose through the ranks by staying in Washington and playing games.”

His more public image is indeed that of the consummate Washington insider. After 25 years with the CIA and the National Security Council, Gates, now 47, rose to become deputy national security adviser, Gen Brent Scowcroft’s right-hand man

According to Washington sources, Gates owes much to Casey, who elevated him to deputy director in 1986. Subsequently he is said to have become the protege of General Scowcroft, who strongly supported his nomination.

In Iraq, Scowcroft and the Right Arabists are hardly sympathetic to the idea of Shiite rule. Does the Gates nomination mark a restoration for Right Arabist policies in Iraq? A harsh crackdown on Sadr? An anti-Shiite coup?

I was far from certain that Bush’s flirtation’s with James Baker’s Iraq Study Group were genuine. I would say that the Gates nomination tends to suggest that these overtures to the Right Arabists were genuine.

Game over for the Bush administration Neocons.

And Cheney?

So, where does all this leave Cheney? I can think of three different pathways for the Vice President in all this:

1, Cheney is about to resign. He will find a reason (health, etc.) and make way for a Vice President (McCain?) who will then use the next to years to prepare for a 2008 run for the White House.

2. Cheney continues to support the Right Zionist position in Iraq, Iran, etc. and will now function as an extremely powerful dissident, sniping at the President for betraying the “freedom agenda,” etc. I find this highly unlikely.

3. Cheney has returned to his former life as a Right Arabist. Rumsfeld was “allowed” to resign in order to pave the way for a decisive policy shift toward re-Baathification, “stability” in Iraq, a government of national salvation, etc. The former policies will forever be linked to Rumsfeld who will take the fall, providing cover for his “young” Padawan, Richard B. Cheney.

I think the third pathway is the one upon which we have now embarked.

On the Democrats

Prior to the election, I emphasized the likely continuities between Bush administration Right Zionist policies in Iraq and Dem Zionist inclinations.

If, however, the Bush administration is returning to the policies of the administration of George H.W. Bush, then Dem Zionists may actually play the role of a true “opposition” movement, much as they did when they battled Right Arabists at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

At this point, many on the Left will feel compelled to decide between backing the Bush administration and rediscovering their own affinities with the Right Zionists.

Better to stay clear of what remains an intra-imperialist factional battle.

Bring the troops home. Now.

Israel, Iraq and the Elections

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

Were the midterm elections a referendum on the Right Zionist (aka “neocon”) war in Iraq?

Maybe. But as I’ve previously noted, the Democrats not particularly reliable opponents of Right Zionist policies in Iraq. The most strident critics of Right Zionist war aims in Iraq continue to be Republicans–specifically, the folks I call Right Arabists.

How will the midterm elections influence these battles?

With the control of the Senate still unclear at this writing, the broad contours of power have yet to be determined. Nevertheless, some of the details are clear.

Matthew E. Berger of the Jerusalem Post has written two articles that help map the terrain. The first report is an October 26, 2006 article entitled, “Is there an ally in the House?” and the second is from November 2, 2006 entitled, “Who’s good for the Jews?”

The October article makes some important points about areas to watch, given Democratic leadership in the House:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader who would become speaker of the House, is a strong pro-Israel supporter…

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, is in line to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee if the Democrats win. But some rumblings suggest other lawmakers – namely Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) – may bypass him because of Lantos’ support for the Iraq war. Privately, congressional aides say Lantos has been reassured by Pelosi that he will get the chairmanship; both men are considered strong backers of the Jewish state.

The more intriguing scenario rests on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) is in line to chair it. He has been an occasional critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and their influence over Middle East policy. But at the same time, pro-Israel advocates say he has been more than willing to cede issues to his subcommittee leaders, and the new foreign operations subcommittee chair would be Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a strong, proactive Israel backer.

Among House Democrats, most of the policy differences are measured within a broad, pro-Israel consensus. I guess one might keep an eye on David Obey.

If there is real “news” from the Senate race, it requires a little digging.

The headline story is that in places like Rhode Island, Democratic challengers defeated Republican incumbents. It looks, on the surface at least, like a rejection of Bush, Cheney and the “neocon” war.

Look more closely.

Incumbent Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee was a Right Arabist critic of the Neocons.

Just to get a flavor for his views, have a look at a Providence Journal Op-Ed he published on January 20, 2004 entitled, “Foes of ‘land for peace’ Put Mideast Peace at Risk” (registration required):

IN OCTOBER, I traveled with a delegation to Iraq. While in Mosul and Baghdad, I asked about Arabic graffiti we saw scrawled here and there. The answer from our escort was “Oh, a lot of it is crazy stuff about Israel — such as ‘Israel is taking over Iraq.’ The extremists use the Palestinian cause a lot in their propaganda.”…

[I]t is logical to conclude that the “global jihad” is intensified greatly by the dispute over this land... [T]he peace process has been at a dead stop. Why is that?

Two recent events have been especially perplexing. Vice President Dick Cheney just hired as his Mideast adviser a fervent foe of “land for peace,” David Wurmser. His selection is a staggering disappointment to those of us who support the road map.

Second, there was barely a whisper of repudiation from anyone in the Bush administration when Gen. William G. Boykin was found to have appeared publicly in uniform making inflammatory statements disparaging the Islamic religion.

Back in 2002 when the Republicans took control of the Senate, Chafee also grabbed the chairmanship of a key Senate Foreign Relations committee, the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs responsible for oversight of Iraq, Iran, etc, displacing the Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, an Iraq hawk and the ranking Republican who was then in line for the gavel.

Here is the Roll Call report from January 29, 2003 entitled “Chafee Gets Key Gavel” (no online link):

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), the only Senate Republican to have voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, is poised to take the gavel of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Middle East policy.

The Rhode Island moderate’s selection to helm the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs came as a surprise to some panel observers, who had thought as recently as last Thursday that the gavel would go to Sen. Sam Brownback (R).

It would be a mistake to overstate the importance of such a subcomittee chairmanship. But every little bit counts and the defeat of Lincoln Chafee can hardly be interpreted as a defeat for Right Zionists like David Wurmser.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. We’ll see if she gets the gavel.

Where does Boxer stand on Israel?

Chalabi and Re-Baathification

Posted by Cutler on November 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

Gideon Rachman, the “official” blogger of the Financial Times, recently ran into Ahmed Chalabi in London and it prompted a recollection of Chalabi’s role in the US invasion of Iraq.

Rachman notes a change in Chalabi’s “program” these days:

[I]n one significant respect, Chalabi’s message now differs markedly from that of his original neo-con sponsors. While they are clearly itching to take on Iran, Chalabi is urging reconciliation. He argues that the Iranians would be willing to play a positive role in stabilising Iraq, if Iran could be assured that the new Iraq would not then be used as base to attack them. Chalabi wants to convene a regional peace conference and worries that – “Iraq is being turned into a battleground between Iran and the United States.” But even though a respectable crowd turned out to see Chalabi today, I have the feeling that the man’s audience is dwindling away.

Chalabi has reinvented himself any number of different times, including one recent incarnation as an ally of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Perhaps feeling his audience “dwindling away,” Chalabi may be reinventing himself in an even more dramatic way as a champion of re-Baathification!

A Washington Post article–“Proposal Would Rehire Members of Hussein’s Party“–reports the following:

A high-ranking commission of Iraq’s Shiite-led government said Monday it had prepared a draft law that could return tens of thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to their government jobs…

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, said in an interview that the commission had drafted a law for parliament that would give 1.5 million former Baathists who “excommunicate” themselves from the party the option of returning to their former government jobs or drawing a pension for their past employment…

Lami said 3,000 or so top former Baathists would be given their pensions but would not be allowed to resume government employment. And about 1,500 high-level former Baathists would be barred from ever resuming their jobs or drawing a pension.

This has all the markings of a Chalabi move.  Chalabi has always been the most ardent supporter of the “Commission for de-Baathification.”  And who is Lami? An article in Al Hayat from February 23, 2005, republished by the BBC on February 24, 2005 (no on-line link) identifies Lami in this way:

“Ali Faysal al-Lami [is a] member of the Shi’i Political Bureau and the political coordinator of the group in the United Iraqi Alliance that supports the nomination of Iraqi National Congress Leader Ahmad al-Chalabi to the post of prime minister.”

It would appear that Chalabi is now courting the Baathist insurgency.  Presumably, he has the strong support of US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in this regard.

One wonders, however, if his Right Zionist friends are similarly prepared to adopt such a conciliatory approach to the “old guard” Sunni Arab Baathist ruling elite.   If so, this would be far more significant that all the pseudo-self-criticism that has been making news of late.

Iraq, Vietnam and Democrats

Posted by Cutler on November 06, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I have been pretty relentlessly negative (here, here, here, here and here, for example) about the significance of any Democrat mid-term victories, at least in terms of the war in Iraq.

I stand by that analysis. As some Neocons themselves appear to understand, the Democratic party is not fundamentally opposed to the Neocon war in Iraq.

There are, however, a few additional points to consider.

First, votes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Will the mainstream media emphasis focus on the anti-war “No” vote or the Democrat victory?

In Connecticut, for example, the Democrat Senate primary several months ago was a clear referendum on the war and Ned Lamont won as an anti-war candidate. While Lamont will probably hold all the votes he won in the primary, Joe Lieberman, running as an “independent Democrat” will probably trounce Lamont in the general election, if only because Republicans gagged their own candidate and backed Lieberman, even as the Democrats party hedged its bets by promising to preserve Lieberman’s seniority if elected. Lieberman then made his seniority a bread-and-butter campaign issue.

In this instance, the story will correctly focus on a Democrat, pro-war victory.

In other cases, however, the spin may focus on the implicit, popular, anti-war “No,” rather than the highly ambiguous Democrat “Yes.”

If so, then a media feedback loop might help make the election an occasion to reinforce popular anti-war sentiment.

I take some comfort in the fact that Marshall Wittmann is worried about his newly adopted party. Wittmann, a Kristol/McCain Neocon who ostensibly “left the GOP” for the right wing of the Democratic Party, predicted that something like what I’m calling a “productive misunderstanding” might emerge from the mid-term elections.

Speaking to Byron York of the National Review for a September 11, 2006 article (full text available online from a third party) written in the aftermath of the Lamont primary victory, Wittmann seemed to fear the worst.

“It’s going to drive the Democratic presidential primaries to the left on national security and the Iraq War,” says Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, “and it’s going to make it difficult for anyone to stand by their decision to vote to authorize the war.” The rise of netroots anger, Wittmann adds, will “send the message that centrist hawks are unwelcome in the Democratic party,” which could affect the party for years to come…

“While the Republicans may be forced to reform themselves after the ’06 elections, the Democrats will be emboldened and not inclined to change, so the weaknesses that were evident in the ’04 campaign will never be addressed,” says Marshall Wittmann. “The paradox of ’06 is that the Republicans could be forced to get their act together while the Democratic Left will be completely reinforced by the results.”

We’ll see. I’m not sure that the Democratic Left, such as it is, will manage to run Wittmann and the Democratic Leadership Council out of the party. It isn’t even clear that Wittman really believes this. His professed “fears” about the Democratic party may simply be Wittmann preparing the way for his inevitable decision to return to the Republican party in time for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Finally, I have a question for those who know more about Vietnam and the Democratic Party:

What prepared the way for an anti-war challenge to a Democrat war in Vietnam back in the Johnson years?

My fear, today, is that the Democrats will be more effective than the Republicans at mobilizing popular support for the war.

The Johnson years tell a different story, don’t they?

As the Democrats return to positions of power, we need to review the history of the progressive de-legitimation of Johnson’s war.

How to prepare the way for a critique of “our” war (the one inherited by “competent” Democrats who presumably don’t allow for easy but narrow critiques of Halliburton/Bechtel cronyism and corruption, etc.)?

My hunch is that “Anybody But Bush” isn’t going to cut it.

Be Afraid

Posted by Cutler on November 05, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 4 Comments

Some important dynamics of the war in Iraq have been influenced, if not driven, by Washington politics. The mid-term elections and the coming Democratic victories will mark another turning point.

But do not expect cut and run. The next two years are likely to mark a major intensification of the war in Iraq and a renewal of the Neocon project.

Here is a time line that helps explain why:

2002 Midterms: Prior to the 2002 mid-term elections, the Bush administration sends lots of mixed signals about policy in the Middle East and alienates Right Zionists with Cheney’s tour of the Arab world.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2002 elections out of the way, the Bush administration moves toward its most strident Right Zionist policies with the invasion of Iraq and a radical program of de-Baathification in Iraq.

2004 Presidential Elections: Ahead of the 2004 elections, Rove allegedly demands “no war in ’04” and the Bush administration appears to moderate its policy in Iraq, appointing an ex-Baathist as its first Prime Minister, reversing previous de-Baathification orders, and handing Fallujah to a Baathist military officer. Brent Scowcroft predicts that a second term will see diminished Neocon power.

Neocon Aftermath: With the 2004 elections out of the way, the Bush administration reverses course and reinvigorates the Neocon project, launching a massive assault on Fallujah and sponsoring three major votes–elections in January and December 2005 and the constitutional referendum in October 2005–that alienate Sunni Arabs and empower the Shiite and Kurdish populations.

2006 Midterms: The Bush administration welcomes the formation of an Iraq Study Group led by Realist/Right Arabist James Baker and suggests that it is willing to consider all kinds of tactical changes, including quiet chatter about an anti-Shiite coup.

Neocon Aftermath: It is too early to fill in the blanks regarding the Neocon Aftermath of the 2006 midterms. But one can imagine the basic outlines: hang Saddam, further alienate Sunni Arabs through US support for Shiite regional autonomy via a new hydrocarbons law, renew push toward regime change in Iran, etc?).

The general pattern of pre-election hesitancy and post-election audacity looks set to continue.

Exhibit A: Dick Cheney vows “full speed ahead” in Iraq:

It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue what we think is right,” Cheney said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not running for office. We’re doing what we think is right.”

“I think it’ll have some effect perhaps in the Congress,” he said of the election’s outcome, “but the president’s made clear what his objective is. It’s victory in Iraq. And it’s full speed ahead on that basis. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Won’t 2006 be different? After all, one might argue, the other elections resulted in Republican victories and this time the Democrats are going to win.

Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the Dems win both the House and Senate.

What will the Democrats do?

The Los Angeles Times quotes Marshall Wittmann, the figure who perfectly embodies the common ground that unites John McCain/Bill Kristol Neocons and Dem Zionists:

“It will be a new day,” said Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who is now with the moderate Democratic Leadership Council. “The real factor [Bush] has to fear is a collapse of support among Republicans, as well as Democrats.”

Some analysts, including Wittmann, expect that Democrats would use any new leverage to push Bush to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; his ouster has been demanded by a growing list of Republicans as well as Democrats.

I do not think they will manage to get Bush to dump Rumsfeld. No matter. The real issue is that Congressional pressure from some leading Democrats will be based on a bi-partisan McCain-inspired critique of Rumsfeld for not sending enough troops to win. The Democrat “critique” will function as a demand for more trooops.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol recently suggested that after the mid-terms, everything would be possible. Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

Neocons: Abandon Ship!

Posted by Cutler on November 04, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

On the eve of the mid-term elections, an impressive gaggle of Neocons have finally jumped ship.

The news comes in the form of a widely discussed, partially published Vanity Fair article where they collectively pile on with criticism of the war in Iraq.

This is big news, but there are two issues that will almost certainly get lost in the media frenzy.

First, this is not a Neocon (aka Right Zionist) apology. The Vanity Fair article is entitled, “Neo Culpa,” but that is highly misleading. Richard Perle and others interviewed for the article are conceding defeat in the factional battle with Right Arabists. They are not accepting responsibility for defeat or chaos in Iraq.

Here is Perle:

“The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.… At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.”

That is a slap at Right Arabists, plain and simple.

Michael Rubin is even more explicit about the critique of the Right Arabist position:

The president’s actions, Mr Rubin said, had been “not much different from what his father did on February 15 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up and then had second thoughts and didn’t do anything once they did.”

The second issue is that the Neocons have long been frustrated with the execution of the war and have long known that they faced serious opposition within the administration.

Previously, however, most held their tongues.

As Barbara Lerner wrote in May 2006,

In 2006, as the bloodshed in Iraq persisted and the regional situation deteriorated, I stopped criticizing our policies in Iraq for the same reason many other conservatives have lately been reluctant to do so: for fear of adding weight to a Leftist alternative that is even worse. Of course we can’t just cut and run in Iraq.

So, what has changed? Are they now prepared to cut and run?

Not a chance.

The timing of this story–rather than its content–provides the real news here. The Neocon critique of the Bush administration is, in essence, a very late prediction about the mid-term elections. The Neocons understand that the Bush administration is going down and they are already positioning themselves to help write the Dem Zionist script.

The issue is not whether the Neocons will influence the election, as Steve Clemons suggests they might. The Neocons have decided the election is over.
The point is that they are building the case for a Democrat position that argues Rumsfeld never sent enough troops, etc.

The key missive here comes from Robert Kagan, who argues that the Dems will perform well as the part of war in Iraq.

The Neocons are “neo” because some of them were once Democrats from the hawish, Zionist, “Scoop” Jackson wing of the party.  Kagan is surely correct.  The Democrats will “take it from here” Mr. President.

Gerecht vs. Galbraith

Posted by Cutler on November 03, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

As noted in a previous post, the New Republic Online has sponored a debate between Peter Galbraith, the leading advocate of Iraqi partition, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading Right Zionist at AEI.

Galbraith made his case and now Gerecht has offered his response.

The importance of this debate is that Zionists are split between those like Galbraith whose primary political “investment” in Iraq has always been with the Kurds and those like Gerecht for whom the Iraqi Shia constitute the political foundation for the US project in Iraq.

On the Kurdish question, Gerecht offers Galbraith his sympathy but little more.

It would be enormously unwise for Iraq’s Kurds to exchange de facto independence with an explicit declaration of national sovereignty… But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that the Kurds… can pull this off and sustain their de facto Kurdish republic. That’s as far as you go, Peter.

In truth, Kurdistan is probably as far as Peter wants to go.  Readers of Galbraith’s book, The End of Iraq, will find that aside from his passionate attachment ot the Kurds, Galbraith is otherwise quite sympathetic to the Right Arabist critique of US policies that empower the Iraqi Shia.

Gerecht essentially notes as much in his response to Galbraith:

You… regularly err in your association of the Iraqi and Iranian Shia, implying a growing subservience of the former to the latter. In all probability, the distance between the two–even with Iran’s closest Shia allies in Iraq–is going the other way as the Arab Shia gain more self-confidence and fear the Sunni Arabs less.

Gerecht is surely right about Galbraith, who never acknowledges the Right Zionist hope of facilitating and exploiting divisions between Najaf–the home of Iraqi Shiite clerical authority–and Qom–home to the Iranian clerical establishment.

It is also interesting to note that in November 2006, Gerecht remains committed to the dream of Iraqi Shiite power as something distinct from Iranian power, if not as a potential challenge to Iranian power.

The most interesting part of Gerecht’s debate with Galbraith has nothing to do with his critique of Galbraith and the Kurds, however.  It turns on Gerecht’s view of Shiite moves to establish an autonomous region in Southern Iraq, including the oil-rich city of Basra.

It is a dubious proposition to suggest that the efforts of Abdul Aziz Al Hakim and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) for a large autonomous region in the south means that Hakim, SCIRI, and others who have backed this plan have given up on the idea of one Iraq, particularly one Arab Iraq. They haven’t. Hakim is after a power base. Such an entity doesn’t represent for him–or for any other Shia that I can find–a geographic expression of a serious religious or regional affection. The autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas are not quite in this camp, but that’s a completely different issue from what Hakim has advanced. Many Shia, both religious and secular, have liked the autonomy idea, since it gives them a redoubt where the Arab Sunnis can no longer interfere….

It’s important to remember that this idea of a Shia zone was developed in 2004, at a time when the Shia were still fearful of the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors. They had not yet thrown off the Saddam-era fear of a Sunni return to power or of the possibility that the Arab Sunnis–through their greater martial virtue and communal discipline–could slaughter their way back to power. When Hakim first met with President Bush in Washington after the liberation, he stressed the need for the United States to stay the course in Iraq.

Today, the statements of Hakim to pay attention to are those that depict the United States as an obstacle to an effective counterinsurgency. (Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki has made similar allusions.) It’s a good bet that Hakim and others in SCIRI now believe that they can more effectively handle the Arab Sunni rejectionists and holy warriors on their own, since they are not restrained by America’s humane rules of engagement. For what the Sunnis have done, these Shia, who now perhaps represent a majority of the community, intend a horrific vengeance.

From this point on in the Gerecht essay, his focus turns away from the partition question and toward a vision of full-blown civil war that would consume Iraq and the entire Gulf if the United States withdraws.  This is amounts to a concise restatement of Gerecht’s previously published, longer response to the idea of US withdrawal from Iraq.

At least two questions emerge from Gerecht’s discussion of the SCIRI bid for autonomy.

First, the idea of Shiite autonomy in the south may originate in 2004, but it was only beginning in August 2006 that Hakim made a largely successful push for legislatition that would authorize the formation of such a region.  Why the 2006 push?

Maybe Hakim still fears “a Sunni return to power,” in the form of a US-backed anti-Shiite coup.

Second, what to make of Gerecht’s reference to the “autonomy-loving people of Basra and its surrounding areas” as a “completely different issue” from what Hakim has advanced.

Gerecht is silent about his own opinions regarding the autonomy-loving people of Basra.  My hunch is that these are not “his” people–his money continues to be on Hakim, Sistani, etc., whom he considers Iraqi nationalists.

In terms of the larger issue of partition, it might be worth noting that it was in Basra that big oil was presumably supposed to find common cause with Right Zionist plans for the breakup of Iraq.

This was central issue in previous posts on the political contours of Basra.

The dream of Shiite autonomy in Basra was most clearly–and favorably–sketched in a February 27, 2005 James Glanz article in New York Times entitled “Iraq’s Serene South Asks, Who Needs Baghdad?

[I]f no inconsiderable number of people here have their way, the provinces of the south, home to rich oil reserves but kept poor by Saddam Hussein, will soon become a separate country, or at least a semi-autonomous region in a loosely federal Iraq. The clear southern preference for profit over politics could make it a place where foreign companies willing to invest hard cash are able to do business.

‘’Quite a few people prefer to be separated, because they are disappointed,’’ said Sadek A. Hussein, a Basra native who is a professor in the college of agriculture at the University of Basra, and who speaks with the mildness characteristic of southern Iraq. The trait is refreshing in itself, in a country better known for its firebrands, chatterboxes and just plain loudmouths

And Zuhair Kubba, a board member of the Basra Chamber of Commerce, said that, in contrast to the xenophobia dogging other regions of Iraq, Basra’s history made it likely to welcome foreign investment.

‘’They have a port, and being a port, they have experience with foreigners,’’ said Mr. Kubba, a follower of the largely pacifist and apolitical Sheikhi branch of Shiite Islam, whose holiest cleric, Sayyed Ali Al-Mousawi, is based in a Basra mosque.

Some foreign companies, including Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that is repairing parts of Iraq’s oil industry under American government contracts, are already listening. The company is moving its center of operations from the insurgency-ridden streets of Baghdad to the south, said Ray Villegas, a general manager for the company, and not just to be closer to its field work, which is mainly in the south.

‘’This is the place you want to be,’’ Mr. Villegas said. ‘’It’s much different down here. You have flat open land, so you have a lot of visibility. We don’t have the day-to-day traffic problems that you experience up in Baghdad, so the opportunity is much less for insurgents to act.’’

Most of all, he said, ‘’we’ve found that the Iraqis here are much more willing and accommodating to approach the Americans.’’

All of this was a dream that subsequently devolved into Shiite factional warfare.

Gerecht suggests that Hakim’s talk of Shiite autonomy is a completely different issue than the old dream of autonomy for Basra.  It is not Hakim’s dream.  It is not Gerecht’s dream.

How about Kellogg, Brown & Root?

I suggested in a previous post that international oil companies were most likely uninterested in the breakup of Iraq, except insofar as the threat of partition could be used to leverage more lucrative oil deals from Sunni and Shiite nationalists in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
The only exception would be a pact between the oil majors and the “autonomy-loving people of Basra.”

If such a pact is in the works, however, it isn’t getting a lot of public attention–apart from that provocative James Glanz New York Times article of February 2005.

Is everyone sure that dream is dead and buried?

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Posted by Cutler on November 02, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a previous post, I suggested that the primary function of high-profile proposals to facilitate the breakup of Iraq was to leverage attractive terms for international oil companies in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
Be that as it may, it may be helpful to recall where various foreign policy factions stand on the “partition” question.

Right Arabists

Right Arabists have never supported the breakup of Iraq.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft had to choose between the “breakup” of Iraq and the restoration of Saddam Hussein.

They chose Saddam Hussein over “breakup.”

As Bush and Scowcroft noted in their 1998 memoir, A World Transformed (p.489):

[N]either the United States nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Breaking up the Iraqi state would pose its own destabilizing problems.

Today, Right Arabists like Anthony Cordesman remain unalterably opposed to the breakup of Iraq.

Right Zionists

In making the case for toppling Saddam, Right Zionists were inevitably drawn into a debate with Right Arabists over the probability and desirability of the breakup of Iraq.

William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan, writing in their 2003 book The War Over Iraq (p.97), hedge on the issue of Iraqi unity:

[Secretary of State Colin] Powell and others have argued that if the United States alienates central Iraq’s Sunnis… Iraq could be plunged into chaos… But predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are… questionable…

If anything, one could argue that the aim of Iraqi unity may run counter to the aim of Iraqi stability… [M]ake Iraq a federation… A central government in Baghdad would still control most of the levers of Iraqi power, but each ethnic community would be granted limited powers of self-government…

AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht also hedges in a June 2004 essay, “Democratic Revolution in Iraq?“:

Given the regular pummeling of the Kurds by Sunni Arabs in modern Iraq, the Kurdish desire for considerable autonomy is sensible and morally compelling. There has been no bad blood between Arab Shiites and the Kurds, but the latter are well aware that a centralized Iraqi state will empower Arabs. And the Shiites have probably been the staunchest defenders of Iraqi nationalism. Sistani will not allow the Kurds to retain the authority that the Transitional Administrative Law, the interim constitution, would give them.

There is no easy answer to this. Ultimately, the Kurds have to weigh the risks and gains of independence. Washington ought not to abandon them. But it should encourage them to seek political compromises and constitutional protections that circumscribe but do not nullify the principle of one-man, one-vote. The Kurds are unlikely to find a more thoughtful Shiite Arab counterpart than Ayatollah Sistani, who in the history of Shiism can only be called a democratic revolutionary.

Others at AEI, however, are more sympathetic to the breakup of Iraq. John Yoo, for example, penned a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed in August 2005 entitled, “A United Iraq–What’s the Point?

[C]an Iraq really exist as one nation?

The Kurds and Shiites negotiated the draft charter, the Sunnis are left to take it or leave it, and the whole affair has literally papered over deep divisions about regional autonomy, oil revenues, Islamic law and more.

By demanding one new Iraqi state, the U.S. and its allies are… spending blood and treasure to preserve a country that no longer makes sense as a state, and to keep together people who only want to be separate. Iraqis might get closer to democracy, and the U.S. might get closer to its goals in the Middle East, if everyone would jettison the fiction of a unified, single Iraq.

Dem Zionists

Traditionally, liberal Democrats are the most prominent defenders of the breakup of Iraq.

I noted as much in a May 2006 post.

Senator Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb have published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:

America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.

There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:

“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (”U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)

Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.

The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.

His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.

Right Zionists vs. Dem Zionists

Notwithstanding some obvious affinities between Right Zionist and Dem Zionist proposals for US policy in Iraq, there appears to be an escalating war of words between Right Zionists and Dem Zionists on the issue of partition.

At one recent United States Institute of Peace panel discussion on Iraq (available online in a C-Span video recording of the event, at 1:07:21), AEI’s Michael Rubin questioned the motivations of partition advocates like Galbraith, suggesting that it is “easy to argue for the breakup of Iraq, especially if you are paid by the Kurdistan Regional Government” or “if you have significant interests in some Norwegian oil companies” that have signed oil development agreements with the Kurds. Rubin sugggest that it was important to “look a little bit more into motivations of some of these breakup theories.”

So, too, Reuel Marc Gerecht is poised take on the Dem Zionists. The New Republic Online is hosting an online debate between Peter Galbraith and Gerecht. The Galbraith contribution to the debate was posted November 1, 2006 and the Gerecht reply is set to be posted November 2, 2006. Should be interesting!

The White House

In the factional battles over the breakup of Iraq, George W. Bush has weighed in on the question. In an October 20, 2006 Fox News interview, Bush made the case against partition, although he hedged on the more general question of federalism.

O’REILLY: How about dividing it into three? Kurds autonomous region, Sunni autonomous, Shia autonomous and pay them oil revenues to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I strongly — I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I think that will increase sectarian violence. I think that will make it more dangerous — and so does Prime Minister Maliki with whom I spoke today… on the point you brought up about dividing the country in three, he rejected that strongly. He thought that was a bad idea, and I agree with him. I think — federalism is one thing, in other words, giving a balance between regional government and central government, but dividing is basically saying there will be three autonomous regions will create, Bill, a situation where Sunnis and Sunni nations and Sunni radicals will be competing against Shia radicals and the Kurds will then create problems for Turkey and Syria and you have got a bigger mess than we have at this point in time which I believe is going to be solved.

If the Bush administration is actually seeking to preserve Iraqi unity, then the recent parliamentary vote on a measure elaborating procedures for the establishment of autonomous regions–supported by the Kurds and some Shiites–was a major slap in the face of a Right Arabist White House.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

The SCIRI push for a Shiite “super-region” in the South may be a frontal rebuke to President Bush, insofar as he has assumed the mantle of the Right Arabist faction.

It cannot, for all that, be scored a “loss” for those Right Zionists and/or Dem Zionists who find reason to celebrate the termination of Sunni Arab hegemony in Iraq, if not yet the whole of the Middle East.

Crude Benchmarks

Posted by Cutler on October 31, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

Liberally sprinkled amidst the news about Iraq is ongoing talk of “partitioning” the country. An article in the New York Times today includes a rather prominent discussion of support for such a policy among Democrats like Senator Joseph Biden and adivsors like Peter Galbraith.

Are there any signs that the Bush administration is seriously considering such an option?

Perhaps Saudi resistance to such an idea is enough to give credence to the fact that it is actually an option under consideration.

I tend to think that the function of the partition chatter has little to do with real options on the table and much more to do with ongoing negotiations over the Iraqi hydrocarbons law that will govern relations with the oil industry.

The US is firmly committed to centralized national control over the development of new oil fields. In this, they have the support of Sunni Arab political forces along with nationalist Shiite forces in Southern Iraq, including those loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.

The threat of partition, however, is being used to pressure these Sunni and Shiite forces to embrace particular oil policies that will be very unpopular with Iraqi nationalists, even as they are sought after by international oil majors.

The oil majors and the US are pressing for generous contract terms for foreign oil investment and use the threat of extremely generous regional contract terms on offer in the Kurdish north to extract similar concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

US pressure has not been subtle. An October 24, 2006 report in the Petroleum Review entitled “Iraqi Nadir” explains:

At the request of the US State Department, the USAID Agency has provided an advisor from consultancy firm BearingPoint INC (the former consulting arm of KPMG) to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki, to help in the drafting of a new petroleum law. Oil Minster Shahristani expects the new law to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament this year. This expectation might be somewhat premature, however, given that the economic policies pursued by the current government, influenced by the US, are not popular with the general public…

Most observers believe that the involvement of BearingPoint, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – as a condition of cancelling 30% of Iraq’s $39bn debt to the Paris Club of creditors – in drafting of the petroleum law is likely to result in handing over control of the development of Iraq’s oil fields to foreign oil companies. This policy, although supported by many in the government – namely Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi and Oil Minister Shahristani, who see a major role for foreign oil companies in Iraq’s oil industry – is understood to be strongly opposed by the majority of Iraqi people and by the oil industry trade unions. It could be seen as confirming the belief that the war was about oil after all.

It is in the context of these negotiations that the US–with the help of Joe Biden and the Kurdish Regional Government, if not the autonomy-minded Shiites of SCIRI–uses the threat of partition to leverage concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

This is a game of chicken that Shiite and Sunni nationalists are playing as well as the oil majors.

The question is this: who will blink?

There is no way that the oil majors would support the actual partition of Iraq. This is a bluff. And they will have to weigh the popular backlash–in the context of ongoing insurgencies–to an oil regime that appears to strip Iraqis of national treasure.

A June 2, 2004 analysis from the World Market Research Centre captures the idea:

[The] most important task… is the establishment of a new state-owned Iraqi national oil company (NOC) to oversee the existing functional companies (without ruffling too many oil industry feathers) and to set in place a framework by which INOC can most effectively co-operate with private investors, without antagonising the Iraqi nationalist constituency. This will be the issue on which [the Oil] ministry performance will be assessed and the one that will be most integral to shaping Iraq’s oil and gas future in the coming years.

How much more will the US and the oil majors risk further antagonising the Iraqi nationalist constituency in the hope of leveraging more lucrative oil deals?

[Update: in the post above, I wrote: “There is no way that the oil majors would support the actual partition of Iraq. This is a bluff.”  I want to register my own doubts about this assertion.

I have seen no evidence to support the idea that the international oil majors favor partition.  Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to rule out the idea that at least some oil majors might be looking for favorable “rules of the road,” even if the rules apply only to regional roads, rather than national highways.

The issue is not Kirkuk oil.  The question is Basra oil.  Do any of the oil majors think they can get favorable terms from Hakim and SCIRI’s proposed autonomous southern Shiite region, even amidst resistance from Sadrists and Basra’s Fadhila party, to say nothing of Sunni Arab insurgency?

For now, this remains a question…]


Posted by Cutler on October 27, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

There are two events that sparked the recent clash between Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

The first is a recent round of US raids on Sadr City. As with at least one previous instance, Maliki denied any prior knowledge of the raid, even though Iraqi forces were involved.

The second event is the October 24, 2006 press briefing by Ambassador Khalilzad.

Khalilzad’s remarks are worth a closer look, if only because the Ambassador was unusually candid about several issues:

Iraq is strategically vital, due to its location and resources.

When was the last time anyone in the Bush administration even acknowledged that Iraqi “resources” were a “strategically vital” consideration for the US?

Khalilzad also does a little sabre rattling about Iran and Syria.

Those forces that constitute the extremist’s camp, including not only al Qaeda, but Iran and Syria, are at work to keep us and the Iraqis from succeeding…

The enemies of Iraq — Al Qaida, Iraq’s historic rivals and the local clients — concentrate their efforts on tearing the Iraqi people apart along sectarian lines.

Tragically, these efforts have had an effect. Now the primary source of violence is not simply an insurgency but also sectarian killings involving Al Qaida terrorists, insurgents, militias and death squads. Iran and Syria are providing support to the groups involved.

Khalilzad also reviews US strategy for dealing with the Sunni Arab insurgency:

[Another element in US strategy] is persuading Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and accept national reconciliation. We are reaching out to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan to help by encouraging these groups to end the violence and work for a united and independent Iraq, and to work against al Qaeda. These countries have promised to be helpful.

I cannot recall the last time a US official publicly noted that there may be a “regional angle” to the Sunni Arab insurgency, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan in key roles.

Presumably, the portion of the briefing that sparked the clash with Maliki concerned benchmarks and timetables.

We are helping Iraqi leaders to complete a national compact. Key political forces must make difficult decisions in the coming weeks to reach agreements on a number of outstanding issues on which Iraqis differ: enacting an oil law that will share the profits of Iraq’s resources in a way that unites the country – this is of critical importance; amending the constitution to make all Iraqis understand that their children will be guaranteed democratic rights and equality; reforming the De-Baathification Commission to transform it into an accountability and reconciliation program; implementing a plan to address militias and death squads; setting a date for provincial elections; and increasing the credibility and capability of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi leaders have agreed to a timeline for making the hard decisions needed to resolve these issues.

President Talabani has made these commitments public. The United States and its coalition partners will support Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in their effort to meet these benchmarks.

While most of the talk of “benchmarks” have been suspiciously vague, Khalilzad’s list is relatively specific.

Military Action Against Sadr

During the briefing, there was a question (the transcript on this site identifies the reporter as Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post) about Maliki and militias that anticipates the current impasse:

QUESTION: General Casey has repeatedly said that resolving the militia issue will take a military and political approach, but Prime Minister Maliki has made clear that he doesn’t want any kind of U.S. military action against the militias. He’s said that specifically (inaudible) Sadr City.

So when the question comes to it’s up to the Iraqi government to show resolve against the militias, they’ve already made clear that they’re not going to take a tough approach like the U.S. wants. And Muqtada al-Sadr has already said that his militia is not a militia per se and that he’s not going to disband it.

So absent any kind of military force against these militias and these death squads, who are the main component of violence right now, how are you going to stop the militias?

KHALILZAD: I don’t agree with your characterization.

I believe that the Prime Minister has said to me and to George that he believes in an integrated approach — political, yes. That’s the best approach if you can convince those that control militias to cooperate with the decommissioning, demobilization and integration plan. But he has said he does not rule out the use of force.

And we will see what happens, but I believe right now we are in the phase of developing a plan for how to move forward with a demobilization and decommissioning and reintegration plan. Our people, both from the military and civilian side, are working with a team that has been designated by the Prime Minister to develop such a program.

“We will see what happens.” What seems to have happened, for now, is that Maliki ruled out the use of force. But it ain’t over until its over. So, we will see what happens.

On a Hydrocarbons Law

Khalilzad makes clear that, for the US, the truly “critical” benchmark involves the passage of a new oil law, usually referred to as a hydrocarbons law.

The hydrocarbon law has been at the center of all the talk of a new Iraqi “Compact.”

Back in September 2006, the US and UN sponsored an International Compact for Iraq conference, held in Abu Dhabi.

“The bargain being struck here is economic reform by Iraq in return for financial support,” said U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, President George W. Bush’s special envoy on the talks. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad also attended the meeting…

The most urgent reforms sought by the international donors are a hydrocarbons law that would outline ownership and foreign investment in Iraq’s oil reserves and a reduction of government’s subsidies.

An Iraqi parliamentary committee has been working on the hydrocarbons law. An August 31, 2006 article published in International Oil Daily entitled, “Iraqi Panel Hammers Away at Draft Oil Law” (no online link, sorry) provides some details:

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, who heads the committee, said it has already resolved the issue of sharing oil revenues between the different regions of Iraq, but many other matters are still outstanding. These include the roles of the central and regional governments in managing reserves and production from fields that are currently not producing and the question of who will award lucrative oil contracts to foreign firms…

But leaders of the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority have voiced concern that the constitution, ratified in a referendum last year, could hand control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves to powerful new regional governments in the Shiite south and Kurdish north leaving their oil-poor areas in central Iraq with nothing…

The composition of the committee preparing the draft hydrocarbon law suggests that Sunni grievances and interests will not get much of a hearing, even though the issues under consideration are at the heart of power struggles between the different sectarian and ethnic groups in Iraq.

Two members of the committee have stood out so far: the Kurdistan regional government’s minister of natural resources Ashti Hawrami and Jabar Luaibi, the director general of South Oil Co.

Hawrami has been very active since his appointment earlier this year in drawing up an oil bill for the northern Kurdish region which gives the regional government extensive control over oil and gas fields independently of the central government in Baghdad…

Luaibi, a member of the majority Shiite community, has been instrumental in improving security in Shiite southern Iraq and ensuring uninterrupted exports from the region’s vast oil fields.

Salih, an influential figure in Kurdish politics, said the aim is to submit the draft law to parliament by the end of this year. Iraqi analysts expect to see clashes in parliament based on different interpretations of the constitution, especially on the vital issue of how to develop Iraq’s huge untapped oil reserves, most of which are located in southern Iraq.

According to an Associated Press report from September 10, 2006, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih (aka Barham Saleh) envisions the birth of what he calls a “Petro-Democracy” in Iraq.

Baghdad’s best hope for boosting its moribund oil output is working with major international companies in production-sharing deals, Iraq’s deputy prime minister said Sunday…

He spoke of Iraq emerging as a “secure petro-democracy”…

The deputy prime minister said he expected the law setting ground rules for managing Iraq’s huge petroleum reserves would be approved in parliament by year’s end.

“This will open Iraq’s oil sector for investment,” Saleh said. “We know what it takes. It takes partnerships with international oil companies.”

Big oil companies have told the U.S. government they are willing to send crews to Iraq to explore and pump oil — regardless of the violence — as long as there are legal ground rules for their participation, said U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt.

“The oil companies have told us they need to know what the rules of the road are,” said Kimmitt, President George W. Bush’s special envoy for the Iraq donor talks…

“Iraq needs investment. Iraq needs to send a strong signal to the international community about investment in oil,” the deputy prime minister said. “We need to push liberalization and open our markets.”

Asked about the most appropriate model of foreign investment for Iraq, Saleh advocated production-sharing agreements — known as PSAs. Under such arrangements, oil companies are typically granted a share of the crude they produce to offset their investments.

“I’m personally in favor of PSA agreements,” Saleh said.

For US officials and international oil companies, Saleh is sounding all the right notes when he speaks about PSA agreements, liberalization, etc.

But the crucial question regarding what Bush envoy Robert Kimmitt calls the “rules of the road” for oil investment concerns the explosive question of regional autonomy.

The committee drafting the hydrocarbons law is dominated by Shiite and Kurdish figures committed to regional control over the agreements dealing with the vast undeveloped fields that are currently not producing.

Is the US still committed to pushing for centralized national control over such agreements?

The Iraqi parliament recently voted to grant increased autonomy to regional federations. Kurds and the pro-autonomy Shiite coalition that dominates Parliament won a little help from some Sunni political figures to win passage of the plan.

“This is the beginning of the plan to divide Iraq,” said Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni National Accordance Front, which boycotted the vote along with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada Sadr’s party and the Shiite Fadila party. “We had hoped that the problems of sectarian violence would be resolved…”

If the Bush administration is still committed to “national unity”–including centralized control over the development of new oil fields–then this once again puts the US in an “objective” alliance with Moqtada Sadr and Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi, the religious leader of the Fadhila or Virtue party, based in the oil-rich southern Shiite city of Basra.

A US Alliance with Sadr and Yacoubi Against Regional Autonomy?

Given the enormous tensions between the US and the Shiite radicals among Sadrist and Fadhila forces, it hardly seems plausible to mention a US alliance with these figures.

Nevertheless, if the US wants to resist moves toward regional autonomy, then they will find allies in Sadr and Yacoubi.

Are there any signs of such an alliance?

The only such sign concerns Khalilzad’s press briefing reference to the urgency of setting a date for provincial elections.

In many provincial elections in the south, Sadr and Yacoubi will do very well. Khalilzad knows this; so do the Shiites.

Recent clashes in southern Iraq have pitted anti-autonomy Sadrist forces against the pro-autonomy SCIRI forces.

Is it possible that US pressure for provincial elections aims to empower the Sadrist forces as a bulwark against SCIRI’s autonomy moves?

The Sadrists certainly appear to be headed in that direction. An October 25 Associated Press report on the Shiite militia clashes in southern Iraq includes the following:

“There is a huge conspiracy supervised by the U.S. occupation to target the Sadrists,” said lawmaker Hassan Shanshal, a supporter of al-Sadr…

Looming ahead, however, is a battle the two sides will certainly fight–a contest over nationwide local elections for provincial councils.

The last vote in 2005… allowed SCIRI to take control of almost all of southern Iraq’s provincial councils as well as those in Baghdad. The Sadrists are eager to wrest away political hold on local government…

Al-Sadr, who has often derided his SCIRI rivals for their close ties to Iran, also is opposed to federalism…

“We will not be dragged into a fight,” said Nasser al-Saadi, a Sadrist lawmaker. “Instead, we will prepare for the elections and, when we take control of local governments, we will not allow federalism.”

The key question, then, is not how various Iraqi factions position themselves on the question of regional autonomy.

The most critical question is this: how do US factions position themselves on the question of regional autonomy and who is navigating the US ship of state?

Does the US support centralized control of Iraq, or regional autonomy?

Raids on Sadr City: Maliki Strikes Back

Posted by Cutler on October 25, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

It looks to me like Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has decided that his bread is buttered in Baghdad, not Washington.

More specifically, he has affirmed his allegiance to Moqtada al-Sadr, rather than US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Now that his bread is buttered, we’ll find out if his days are numbered.

Here is the latest news from the Guardian on Maliki’s strident news conference:

The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today denounced a US raid against a Shia militia position and denied that his government had agreed to a timetable to crack down on violence.

Mr al-Maliki said he had not been consulted about the operation to snatch a militia commander from inside Sadr City and insisted, “It will not be repeated”. He also hit out at an announcement yesterday by the most senior US general in Iraq, General George Casey, and the US ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, stating that the Iraqi government had agreed to a timetable to curb violence in the country.

I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it,” he told a news conference…

The timeline plan outlined yesterday by Mr Khalilzad was believed to have grown out of recent Washington meetings at which the Bush administration sought to reshape its Iraq policy amid mounting US deaths and declining domestic support for the 44-month-old war.

The fact of the Raids on Sadr City surely reflects pressure from the US military brass for a crackdown on Sadrist forces, if not Moqtada al-Sadr himself.

Maliki has denounced such raids before and recently demanded that US forces release a leading Sadrist.

In this instance, it appears that the US was looking for the “Keyser Söze” of Sadr City, Abu Dera (aka, Abu Dereh). According to the New York Times:

Iraqi forces and American advisers entered the far northern tip of the [Sadr City] district, the domain of an infamous Shiite guerilla leader known by his Iraqi nickname, Abu Dera, and immediately came under fire…

Residents said that Abu Dera, whose real name is Ismail al-Zerjawi, was not among those captured, though his son was wounded and his cousin killed. Once loyal to Mr. Sadr, Abu Dera broke away in 2004 and now runs his own influential crime ring. He is famous among Shiites, who put his image on their cellphones and refer to him as the Zarqawi of the Shiites, a reference to the former Al Qaeda leader who exhorted Sunni Arabs to kill Shiites.

[By the way: this is a far more detailed profile of Abu Dera than I’ve seen elsewhere. Type “Zerjawi” into Google News and so far the search engine returns only a question: “Did you mean Zarqawi?”]

US pressure on Maliki to crack down on the Sadrists is essentially a demand that he abandon and betray a significant element of his own political base in exchange for continuing US “support.”

Maliki has refused that exchange. He now risks losing US support.

For the record, AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–a leading Right Zionist–probably isn’t going to shed any tears for Maliki. In his latest missive, he wrote:

We should expect a few Iraqi governments to collapse before we start seeing real progress. Yet our presence in Iraq is the key to ensuring that Shiite-led governments don’t collapse into a radical hard core.

Gerecht is still standing by the Right Zionist idea of an alliance between the US and moderate Iraqi Shiites.

He is simply having trouble finding the moderate Iraqi Shiites.

Baker Group: The Neocon Gloves Come Off

Posted by Cutler on October 24, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

I ordinarily try to offer an interpretive “reading” of articles to which I link.  For now, however, the following rant by AEI’s Michael Rubin–a full-throated critique of James Baker and his Iraq Study Group–will have to speak (or scream) for itself!

Here is the link: “Conclusion First, Debate Afterwards

A taste:

While bipartisan, the groups are anything but representative of the policy debate. I personally withdrew from an expert working group after concluding that I was meant to contribute token diversity rather than my substantive views.

Many appointees appeared to be selected less for expertise than for their hostility to President Bush’s war on terrorism and emphasis on democracy….

Baker and the Baath

Posted by Cutler on October 23, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

All the signs these days are pointing in one direction: a triumphant return of Right Arabist influence in Washington and a corresponding return of Baathist influence in Bagdhad.

Just like the old days of Operation Desert Storm and its most cynical aftermath: Right Zionist encouragement of Shiite/Kurdish forces, followed by a Right Arabist pact with Saddam’s Baathist party.

In Washington, the Right Arabists at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs are so eager for the dawn of a new day that they have gotten a bit ahead of themselves. As the Washington Post reports in an October 23, 2006 article entitled, “Fernandez Apologizes for Iraq Remarks“:

The State Department official in charge of public diplomacy for the Middle East apologized Sunday for telling the Arabic language Al-Jazeera television station that the U.S. had displayed “arrogance and stupidity” in Iraq.

Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, made the remarks in an interview that aired Saturday on the Qatar-based channel, which is carried by satellite and is closely watched in the Arab world.

Speaking in Arabic, Fernandez discussed topics such as the United States’ willingness to talk with insurgent groups in an effort to advance national reconciliation in Iraq.

“We tried to do our best,” he said during the interview, which aired late Saturday. “But I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq.”

As wire service accounts of his remarks began to appear, the state department initially said that Fernandez had been misquoted.

On Sunday, the agency posted a comment from Fernandez on its Web site apologizing for the remarks.

“Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase ‘there has been arrogance and stupidity’ by the U.S. in Iraq,” Fernandez said in the statement. “This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize.”

In truth, Right Arabists have been saying this all along. Most, however, have either done so anonymously or have waited until after leaving the service of the Bush administration.

The loose talk from Fernandez might indicate that he anticipates that Right Arabist criticism of the war will soon become official policy, presumably after the mid-term elections when James Baker’s Iraq Study Group issues its recommendations.

The other major sign of a major shift comes from the Baathist insurgents themselves.

According to an Associated Press report (via the International Herald Tribune), the US has been reaching out to Baathist insurgents:

A man claiming to be a member of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party told a television interviewer the United States was seeking a face-saving exodus from Iraq and that insurgents were ready to negotiate but won’t lay down arms.

The interview with “Abu Mohammed”, a pseudonym, was taped several days ago in Beirut, Lebanon, according to Ghassan Ben Jeddou, the network’s bureau chief in the Lebanese capital….

“The [Baathist] party and other insurgency factions are ready to negotiate with the Americans,” said the man, whose face was concealed.

The occupier has started to search for a face-saving way out. The resistance, with all its factions, is determined to continue fighting until the enemy is brought down to his knees and sits on the negotiating table or is dealt, with God’s help, a humiliating defeat.”

So, all of this points to a politics of Restoration.

These are not insignificant signs. Nevertheless, I reiterate here a few words of caution from a previous post

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

News of the death of the Right Zionists might be greatly exaggerated. Rumors of a nod toward the Right Arabists could be nothing more than a head fake for domestic political consumption.

Cheney and the Israel Lobby

Posted by Cutler on October 22, 2006
Iran, Iraq, libya, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

A new musing on some old news.

How and why did Cheney go from being a business dove–a leading US Oil Industry figure lobbying for an end to US sanctions against Iran and Libya (and perhaps Iraq)–to become the leading hawk on Iraq and Iran (but, presumably, not Libya)?

Back on July 26, 2001, Carola Hoyos and Guy Dinmore published an article in the Financial Times entitled “US Senate backs renewed sanctions on Iran and Libya” (can’t find it on-line, sorry).

Oil executives from companies such as Conoco and Chevron had high hopes that the energy sector background of Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney would prompt a resumption of US business ties with Iran, which has the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves. Mr Cheney was an especially vocal opponent of sanctions against Iran during the five years he headed Halliburton, an oil services company.

But in their new role, two factors in particular have limited their willingness to soften their stance on Iran: Russia and Israel.

The Russia angle may prove to be the more decisive factor. More on that soon.

For now, though, amidst all the debate over the “Israel Lobby” (the original essay seems to have been pulled from LRB website…) it is worth noting the following from a May 24, 2001 Financial Times article by Edward Alden, “US Congress Moves to Extend Sanctions” (available on-line through a third party here):

The US is set to renew its economic sanctions on Iran and Libya, perhaps for up to five years, despite the Bush administration’s promise of a thorough review of US sanctions policy.

The pre-emptive move by the US Congress will seriously complicate both the administration’s effort to re-think US sanctions, and its desire to expand US access to new oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea region.

Representative Benjamin Gilman and Howard Berman yesterday introduced legislation to extend the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) for five years. The bill has more than 180 co-sponsors in the House, and could be pushed to a vote as early as next month, well in advance of the August 5 expiry of ILSA.

On the Senate side, a companion bill has more than 60 co-sponsors, a solid majority

The Bush administration had been expected to push for an easing of the Iran and Libya sanctions. US oil companies with close ties to top Bush officials, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, are eager to resume operations in oil-rich Iran.

Also, the administration immediately launched a review of sanctions policy, and has been working to ease the embargo on Iraq.

But congressional proponents of the sanctions regime, backed by the powerful pro-Israel lobby, have moved aggressively to head off any debate over ILSA.

William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a business group that opposes sanctions, admits it will be “an uphill battle” to block extension of ILSA.

If I were the Israel Lobby (i.e., AIPAC) looking to publicize its power, I would cite this Financial Times analysis everywhere I could.

The Israel Lobby delivered up a surprise veto-proof majority in Congress against Cheney.

What’s a vice president to do?

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

The pre-emptive strike in Congress that may have prompted a pre-emptive strike in Iraq–and perhaps Iran.

Questions abound, among them, how/why did the Israel Lobby either drop the ball or simply lose more recently on the Libya issue?

And then there is the whole Russia question.

Still, I thought this bit of history might be worth remembering.

Amara Clashes

Posted by Cutler on October 20, 2006
Iraq / 3 Comments

There are confusing and conflicting reports coming out of Amara (sometimes Amarah), scene of recent violence involving Sadrist forces and local police.

A little background context might be helpful here.

Amara is home to Abdel-Karim al-Mohammedawi, widely known as the ‘Prince of the Marshes.

The current Interior Minister of Iraq, Jawad al-Bolani was formerly an aide to Mohammedawi. According to a June 10, 2006 report in the New York Times Bolani began his contemporary political career working with Moktada al-Sadr.

When the British abandoned (or, more accurately, fled) Amara two months ago, Mohammedawi complained that they left the city in corrupt hands.

An August 26, 2006 New York Times report included the following from Mohammedawi:

”[Amara] was handed over to a corrupt authority…” said Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent tribal leader in Amara. ”What do you think the attitude of an ordinary citizen would be….”

Who was this “corrupt authority” of which Muhammadawi was complaining?

The answer seems to the SCIRI and its Badr Brigades.

An Associated Press report from October 19th seems have captured the details of the current conflict:

Clashes erupted Thursday between Mahdi Army fighters and policemen defending their headquarters in the southern city of Amarah after the family of a senior police officer struck back against his suspected killers, kidnapping the teenage brother of the Shiite militia’s commander, police said.

The family of Ali Qassim al-Tamimi, the chief of police intelligence in Maysan, the province of which Amarah is the capital, said they would not release 19-year-old Hussein al-Bahadli until the culprits in al-Tamimi’s death were surrendered

Al-Tamimi was killed Wednesday by a bomb planted on the highway between Amarah and the city of Basra farther south. He was killed along with four of his bodyguards…

Tamimi is known to be a member of the Badr Brigade, a militia linked to Iraq’s largest religious Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. The family maintains that the rival Mahdi Army of radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was behind his murder

The Mahdi Army commander in Amarah is sheik Fadel al-Bahadli…

A Call to Arms Against Sadr/Maliki

Posted by Cutler on October 20, 2006
Iraq, Military Brass / 1 Comment

Throughout the past year, the US has repeatedly gone to the brink of a direct clash with Sadr and then retreated.

The latest provocative spark comes from the Shiite city of Amara. Reuters has the following report:

The violence in Amara, in Maysan province where militias and tribes exert huge influence, started after the disappearance of the brother of a senior Mehdi Army leader. Suspecting he had been detained by police, militias attacked police stations with rocket-propelled grenades and and rifle fire, [a security] source said.

The British formally tranferred control of Amara to Iraqi security two months ago. Now, the BBC is reporting that British troops are poised to move back into the city.

Will this latest clash be the start of something big? Or, will various envoys arrive on the scene to negotiate another retreat from the brink?

Time will tell.

But one thing is quite clear: there are some forces spoiling for a fight with Sadr.

CNN’s military analyst, General David Grange, was just on the air (no transcript available yet [Update: here is the link to the CNN transcript; thanks TR) and he was totally adament: this is a potential turning point and the US has no choice but to launch a ruthless assault on the city of Amara.

[Y]ou have to be ruthless like Grant during the Civil War. And right now they cannot let the militia get away with taking over a city. Right now, it’s a test. And if they let this go, it will definitely be — definitely be — not maybe — a turning point for the results of what will happen in Iraq.

The only thing right now, in a situation like this, that those that are violating the law of Iraq understand is ruthless pursuit. That’s all they understand. And I would seal off the complete city. And I would go in, hopefully not do a lot of collateral damage, but if it happens, so be it.

If Grange represents anything close to the rage of the military brass in Baghdad then Amara may, indeed, become a test case of sorts, not only a battleground for clashes between US/UK forces and Sadr, but also a battleground between the military brass in Iraq and the political forces that have repeatedly retreated from the brink of a direct confrontation with Sadr.

Grange’s rage may be quite indicative of a larger frustration within the military. How else to explain yesterday’s the extraodinarily gloomy vote of no-confidence articulated by the top US military spokesman in Iraq, General William Caldwell.

As the Financial Times reports, Caldwell barely contained his frustration at Iraq political pressure to retreat from a confrontation with Sadrist forces:

The US military wants Mr Maliki to stop protecting radical Shia groups such as the Mahdi Army militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In a virtually unprecedented criticism of the Iraqi leadership, Gen Caldwell said US forces had been forced to release Sadrist organiser Mazin al-Sa’edi on Wednesday, one day after his arrest on suspicion of involvement in violence, at the prime minister’s request.

Bush may think Maliki is doing a “heck of a job,” but Caldwell and the rest of the military brass seem to have run out of patience.

Can Bush resist military pressure for a new deal–one that might include the “collapse” of the Maliki government and risk a direct, bloody and costly clash between US troops and Sadrist forces–until after the November mid-term elections?

Military Brass vs. Rove. Place your bets.

US & Sadr: Brink and Back

Posted by Cutler on October 18, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

I can’t help thinking that US foreign policy factionalism is playing a role in recent flip-flops over US policy toward Sadr.

As Swopa was quick to note, the US moved against a key Sadr aide yesterday. An “eruption” seemed plausible.

Well, somebody seems to have thought better of that idea.

Today, Muwaffaq Al Rubaie–Iraq’s national security advisor and a figure with “close ties” to some in the US–announced that Prime Minister Maliki had “ordered” the US to release the Sadrist figure, Sheikh Mazen Al Saedi. According to one news report, Saedi has, in fact, been released.

Questions of the day:

Who was behind the move to clash with Sadr?

Who was behind the decision to retreat from the brink?

Not easy questions, especially since everybody hates Sadr.”

Haass Style

Posted by Cutler on October 17, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / 1 Comment

The Financial Times published a Richard Haass Op-Ed yesterday. It will also host an online discussion with Haass on Friday October 20, 2006. Post your questions now!

Haass runs the Council on Foreign Relations. He was James Baker’s top deputy on Iraq when the US opted to keep Saddam in power so he could crush the Shiite rebellion back in 1991. He continues to help define what it means to be a “realist” and a Right Arabist.

The Haass FT Op-Ed from October 16th is entitled “A Troubling Middle East Era Dawns.”

As Right Arabist doctrine, there isn’t much that is unexpected.

Gone is a Sunni-dominated Iraq, strong and motivated enough to balance Shia Iran

Iran will be one of the two most powerful states in the region. It is a classical imperial power, with ambitions to remake the region in its image and the potential to translate objectives into reality.

As I’ve argued in previous posts, Right Arabists fear Iranian regional power.

Contrast this with Right Zionists who don’t like the incumbent Iranian regime but yearn for Iranian regional power once the old US-Iranian alliance of the 1970s has been restored to its former glory.

Haass well understands that the demand for various routes to Right Zionist regime change in Iran all ultimately aim to increase Iranian regional power after the incumbent regime has been replaced with one aligned with Israel and the US.

Set aside, for the moment and for the sake of understanding the fears of Right Arabists, the “sanity” of these Right Zionist aims.

Haass–for all his antipathy toward the regional power of Shia Iran–rejects all ideas that center on regime change.

On a military strike on Iran:

To be sure, there are things that can be done. Avoiding an over-reliance on military force is one. Force is not terribly useful against loosely organised militias and terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the local population and prepared to die for their cause. Nor is there reason to be confident that carrying out a preventive strike on Iranian nuclear installations would do more good than harm. Military force should be a last resort here

Not endorsed. (Not ruled out, either).

On democratic regime change in Iran:

No one should count on the emergence of democracy to pacify the region. Creating mature democracies is no easy task. Those who grow up in democracies can still carry out terrorism; those who win elections can opt for war.

Ok, then. What’s left?

Diplomacy… One step that could only help would be to establish a regional forum for Iraq’s neighbours to help manage events there akin to that used for Afghanistan. This would require ending US diplomatic isolation of both Iran and Syria, which in any event is not working…

Surely, it is this kind of talk earns Haass the titles of “realist” and “pragmatist,” if not peacenik.

But the real impulse here is not Right Arabist pacifism. As Haass says himself, the real impulse is fear of the “imperial power” of Shia Iran and the threat a “Shia Crescent” would pose to Sunni Arab regional hegemony.

The “diplomacy” Haass has in mind is not for harmonious US relations with Iran. That is the Right Zionist game. The ideal of Haass diplomacy with Iran is the survival but containment of the incumbent Iranian regime.

All of this justifies great concern but not fatalism. There is a fundamental difference between a Middle Easthousing a powerful Iran and one dominated by Iran.

In the present context, Right Arabists are left defending efforts to contain “a powerful Iran” as a way of forestalling the formation of a Middle East “dominated by Iran.”

Haass talks peace with “official” Iran because his real war is with Right Zionists dreaming of “eternal Iran.”

[Update: The Haass Op-Ed discussed above is an abridged version of a longer essay published in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Highlights omitted from the Op-Ed:

It is true that mature democracies tend not to wage war on one another. Unfortunately, creating mature democracies is no easy task, and even if the effort ultimately succeeds, it takes decades. In the interim, the U.S. government must continue to work with many nondemocratic governments

Iran is a more difficult case. But since regime change in Tehran is not a near-term prospect, military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran would be dangerous, and deterrence is uncertain, diplomacy is the best option available to Washington. The U.S. government should open, without preconditions, comprehensive talks that address Iran’s nuclear program and its support of terrorism and foreign militias. Iran should be offered an array of economic, political, and security incentives. It could be allowed a highly limited uranium-enrichment pilot program so long as it accepted highly intrusive inspections. Such an offer would win broad international support, a prerequisite if the United States wants backing for imposing sanctions or escalating to other options should diplomacy fail.

The Middle East will remain a troubled and troubling part of the world for decades to come. It is all enough to make one nostalgic for the old Middle East.

I note, with great interest and humility (given my own prior reading of his FT Op-Ed, above), that Haass does not endorse containment or deterrance of Iran in the longer essay.  Instead, he endorses the incentive package most recently offered the Iranians…

Right Lightning, Left Thunder*

Posted by Cutler on October 16, 2006
Isolationism, Right Arabists / 1 Comment

How will the critics respond if the Bush administration capitulates to Right Arabist pressure (i.e., James Baker’s Iraq Study Group) and inaugurates an end-of term “clean break” with the Right Zionist course in Iraq?

Partisans, Plain and Simple

To be sure, some Iraq war critics are plain and simple partisans. These folks will attack the Bush administration for anything it decides because it derides the decider. Plain partisans feign passing interest in Iraq, but a change in course in Iraq would hardly register as significant.

The outcome: plain partisans will turn on a dime along with any change in the Bush administration. Without ever noticing, they will purge themselves of Right Arabist complaints about Iraq (too few troops, missionary zeal for democracy, naive de-Baathification, Zionist manipulation) and adopt the American Enterprise Institute homepage as their own. There they will find Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, and others lamenting the madness of US policy in Iraq (heavy-handed military occupation, coddling of dictators, naive re-Baathification, Saudi manipulation).

Plain partisans will be reliably critical of any shift in Bush administration policy. Trouble is, many of these same folks may be completely disarmed when Bush passes the torch to a Democratic administration. Anybody but Bush, right?

Such an administration could be given a free hand, when it comes to the substance of policy and the depth of sacrifice required, simply because it is not the Bush administration.

Not a particularly powerful basis for critically confronting a Democratic party that led the US to war in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam–just to name a few of the big military adventures of the 20th Century.

Foreign Policy Partisans

Unlike “plain partisans,” some anti-war activists actually dug in and developed commitments to a “line” on Iraq.

Many of these “foreign policy partisans” may have started as “plain partisans,” but they developed a specific critique of the Right Zionist character of Bush administration policies in Iraq.

That critique mirrored, in many respects, the critique offered up by the Right Arabist establishment that found itself suddenly in the “opposition” after September 11th.

Unlike “plain partisans” who risk serious cooptation only after 2008, “foreign policy partisans” face a more immediate risk of cooptation insofar as the Bush administration is currently contemplating a dramatic and decisive shift toward Right Arabist influence.

Such a shift may not actually come to pass. But if it does, “foreign policy partisans” will find themselves cheering for the Right Arabist establishment and the Bush administration.

In some cases, the “marriage of convenience” that linked foreign policy partisans of the Left to the Right Arabist establishment may endure. (Others will split, but the breakup is going to be awkward after all the sweet nothings whispered).

“Foreign policy partisans” most at risk are the ones whose critique has been the most narrowly focused on the Right Zionist menace.

Exhibit A is surely Robert Dreyfuss. But there is no reason to pick on Dreyfuss simply because he offers up such low-lying fruit.

There are plenty of writers whose critique of Right Arabists is quite dull.

Take, for example, a recent article in The Nation by David Corn, “Who’s Running Afghan Policy?

Corn begins with what would seem to be a pretty harsh critique of Meghan O’Sullivan, White House NSC deputy for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several months ago a leading American expert on Afghanistan was meeting with Meghan O’Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser in the Bush White House. The topic at hand was the attitude of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, toward the revived Taliban insurgents operating out of Pakistani territory…

[An expert meeting with O’Sullivan referred] to the Durand Line… [to note] that US efforts in the region are complicated by pre-9/11 history. O’Sullivan, according to this expert (who wishes not to be named), didn’t know what the Durand Line was. The expert was stunned. O’Sullivan is the most senior Bush Administration official handling Afghanistan policy. If she wasn’t familiar with this basic point, US policy-making on Afghanistan was in trouble.

Corn seems to be moving toward a harsh critique of O’Sullivan.

It doesn’t happen. Why? Corn explains:

O’Sullivan is not the issue. She is a protégé of Richard Haass, who left the State Department as policy director in July 2003 and became president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and she is neither a neocon nor an ideologue

The problem is that O’Sullivan, who is in her mid-30s, is not an expert in the field and does not have the stature to take on heavyweights in the Administration (say, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld). Worse, she has two briefs: Afghanistan and Iraq. Either project would (or should) be more than a 24/7 job for a senior Administration official…

O’Sullivan gets a (paternalistic) pass from Corn. Why? Apparently, any friend of Richard Haass is a friend of The Nation these days.

A pity, given Corn’s concern that “Pakistan has been colluding with the Taliban.”

As I mentioned in a recent post, Right Arabists are arguably the ones responsible for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, not because they lost out to Rumsfeld but because they won that factional fight back in 2002.

Insofar as Right Arabists recapture the ship of state, foreign policy partisans seem set to be disoriented and defanged.

Partisanship–whether plain and simple, or foreign policy focused–will not serve in the current context.

The foreign policy establishment has been engaged in an intramural rivalry between two factions–Right Arabists and Right Zionists–that offer different paths for policing US interests in the Middle East.

Those who pick a side in that battle risk being subsumed by it.

What is needed is a consistent and even-handed anti-imperialist politics.

*The title of this post owes its inspiration to an essay by Scott Tucker.

Baker’s Coup

Posted by Cutler on October 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is increasingly high-profile chatter these days about James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and the idea of a pro-Sunni Arab coup in Iraq.

After a flurry of speculation that Baker would embrace the breakup of Iraq, I think that idea has been put to rest.

In his October 9, 2006 appearance on The Daily Show, Baker was asked by Jon Stewart (Part 2 at 2:16), “You Gonna Split it Up?”

BAKER: “No, no, I don’t think we can do that.”

But then Baker quickly recovered and provided the formal response:

BAKER: “Although, we haven’t ruled anything out, Jon… That’s still one of the things we are looking at.”

Notwithstanding Baker’s back pedaling, the Right Arabist consiglieri spoke his mind and no one should be surprised by his opposition to a Right Zionist/Dem Zionist plan for the breakup of Iraq.

It should also be obvious that Baker will be praised by many as a voice of reason, but Right Zionists will protest if Baker’s Right Arabist position becomes policy.

The Eli Lake at the Right Zionist New York Sun has already published one sign (among others) of Right Zionist dissent, almost surely from one of the token Right Zionists (like Reuel Marc Gerecht) who have been part of the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups.”

Here is the New York Sun article, which includes leaked details of the Study Group’s work:

On PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show,” Mr. Baker… hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was “democratic” and one that was merely “representative.”

“If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success,” he said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. “Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative,” the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

There are at least two significant questions swirling around all the talk about impending Right Arabist coups in Washington and Baghdad.

1. Is it Real or is it Rove?

Robert Dreyfuss thinks his Right Arabist friends are on the verge of seizing control of the ship of state.

The realists may not be in charge, yet, but they’re getting there. John Warner is the muscle behind Frank Wolf, who created the ISG, and Warner isn’t happy. The military, behind Warner, ain’t happy, either.

Dreyfuss is right about Frank Wolf. And about the military brass.

But is Dreyfuss right that their campaign against Right Zionist influence in the Bush administration is actually “getting there”?

His pal Laura Rozen isn’t buying it.

So how coordinated is [Baker’s] book roll out (Comedy Central, Meet the Press, NPR this morning) with the White House in advance of the November election? My sense: totally coordinated. Is it not a very deliberately timed reach out and wink and nod to GOP realists — see, we are listening to you? The adults are in the house?… Seems Baker is a witting campaign prop being coordinated by the White House to communicate the message, the realists will be in charge of foreign policy the next two years. Without the White House having to say it, or it necessarily being true.

There is important precedent for this interpretation.

A Rozen reader (“JR”) suggests from 1972.

James Baker ploy is a subtler version of Kissinger’s Oct 1972 appearance at which he touched the breast pocket of his suit and said, about Vietnam, that the Nixon Admin had a plan for peace (‘…peace is at hand.’). Shortly after the election, the Paris peace talks broke down and two months later, the Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong began.”

As I noted in a September post, there is another, more recent example: the 2004 Presidential election.

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

2007 could be another year of living dangerously.

2. “Can we do it? Yes we Can!”

Robert Dreyfuss–aka, Bob the Baathist–is certainly keen to see the US return power to the Baathists, presumably as a way of getting US troops home.

Would it actually work? Would it turn out that way?

Swopa, for one, has long warned that such a move would likely generate a massive Shiite uprising.

The madness of contemplating a coup, though, is that the same Shiite religious hierarchy which swept Allawi out of power through general elections in January 2005 has feared such a coup as their nightmare scenario all along, and so would almost instantly call for a popular uprising that would put the U.S. in helicopters-on-rooftops departure mode.

The Shiite popular uprising is one problem. And then there are the Sunni insurgents who don’t want to align themselves with the US, even in exchange for a role in governance.

So, it would be a bloody mess (expect a media blackout, though; only the discredited Right Zionists will be complaining about the slaughter… the Right Arabist establishment that has been so happy to be featured on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” while Right Zionists rule will suddenly stop taking her phone calls. Perle and Wolfowitz might call, but will Amy Goodman welcome them? We’ll see).

But will it lead to “helicopters-on-rooftops” departure mode for the US?

I don’t know. That may be one scenario. But the other scenario is a replay of the Shiite uprising of February/March 1991.

In that scenario, US troops align themselves with the old Iraqi military. Who will stand up for the Iraqi Shiites?

Not Iran. Iran stood by in 1991. And Baker wants to “talk” to Iran because he is going to make sure they will stand by this time, in exchange for a security guarantee.

Not the Saudis, Egyptians, or Jordanians who have been complaining about a Shiite Crescent.

And not the British.

Indeed, if the Baker coup is coming then it may be time to dig up the old files on British campaigns to crush a Shiite rebellion and re-install Sunni Arab minority dominance when they inherited/”invented” Iraq from the Ottomans after World War I.

Clinton’s Right Arabists

Posted by Cutler on October 13, 2006
Dem Zionists, Right Arabists / No Comments

In a previous post, I noted that Bill Clinton’s references to “President Bush’s neo-cons” conveniently overlooked “neo-con” influence in the Democratic party and in his own administration.  Walter Slocombe at the Pentagon.  James Woolsey at CIA.

But maybe Clinton was trying to signal a change.  Perhaps the Democratic party wants to make a bid to become the party of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

Add this to the evidence pile: Hillary Clinton did a little singing from the same songbook over at the New York Daily News.

“If we could get some adult supervision right now in the administration with respect to their war strategy, this could be handled,” she said…

“I believe that if President Bush woke up tomorrow and said that he would substitute Jim Baker or Colin Powell or Brent Scowcroft or somebody who actually knows how to do things in the real world for Rumsfeld, I think the entire world would say ‘Okay, you’ve got another chance, we want to listen to you again.'”

Wow.  Really?

Going for the George H.W. Bush vote in 2008?

Good luck with that.

Friendly Fire

Posted by Cutler on October 12, 2006
Isolationism / 1 Comment

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been fighting an insurgency from within the ranks of the US Army.

Lately, however, Rumsfeld has been taking some “friendly fire” from some of his closest allies in that fight, especially his hand-picked Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker.

Background: the Revolt of the Generals

The “revolt of the Generals” is not a recent phenomenon and isn’t only about policies specific to Iraq.

The Pentagon insurgency began before September 11th and long before the invasion of Iraq. If we are allowed to ask of these “dead enders” why they hate him, the central grievance is clear enough:

Rumsfeld is, among other things, a “military transformation” guy who favors technological innovations that give air power and special ops–rather than traditional Army “boots on the ground”–central stage in military planning.

Much of this is well documented in a book by Washington Times military correspondent Rowan Scarborough in his 2004 book, Rumsfeld’s War. The chapter-section called “Guerrilla Warfare” that discusses the development of an “anti-Rumsfeld insurgency” in the Pentagon covers the period before September 11th.

After September 11th, Rumsfeld used his new-found influence to pursue a relentless counter-insurgency campaign against his Pentagon critics. Well-known casualties include former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki.

Shinseki made the traditional case for the primarcy of Army boots on the ground–as a matter of general strategic planning, more specifically, in the case of Iraq.

Shinseki was publicly rebuked by Rumsfeld Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and when Shinseki “retired,” Rumsfeld appointed a “Special Forces” guy–General Schoomaker–as Army Chief. First time ever. Rumsfeld was obviously looking for a loyal military transformationalist.

Schoomaker, Embedded

Fast forward to the Annual Convention of the “Association of the U.S. Army,” currently underway in Washington.

On Wednesday (October 11, 2006), General Schoomaker spoke to the Army Association. C-Span covered the event (no link at this time; the video is not yet up on the C-Span website).

Schoomaker began his remarks by recognizing various notables in the audience. Top billing went to (Retired) General Eric Shinseki.

I don’t know much about Army protocol, so I wasn’t sure if this was unusual or meaningful. But the applause generated by the name Shinseki was undeniably meaningful.

It soon became clear that Schoomaker was intentionally sending a message with his nod to Shinseki.

Has Schoomaker joined the insurgency?

His central critique is actually the same one articulated by “liberal hawks”: the Bush administration has failed to cultivate the “political culture of sacrifice” required for war.

I cannot yet find a full-text, on-line transcript of the speech. But the Army Association website does include some key passages.

The nation has had a “tepid” response to the war against global terrorism, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker said Oct. 10, arguing that the country needs to make both a financial and spiritual commitment to the ongoing struggle.

Schoomaker, addressing the Annual Meeting of the Association of the United States Army, sharply contrasted the post-9/11 civilian reaction with the mobilization and grand consensus – and financial support — that emerged during the Second World War and Cold War.

“In many ways, the nation’s response to war has been tepid,” Schoomaker said.

Schoomaker warned that “we are much closer to the beginning than the end of this long conflict.”

In order to successfully reach the end of the conflict, the military will require renewed public support, both in terms of dollars and political leadership, Schoomaker said.

“Ultimately victory requires a national strategic consensus, evident in both words and actions,” he said. “While such a common strategic foundation, understood and accepted by the American people, existed during the Cold War, in the form of our strategy of containment, it is not yet evident that such common understanding exists today. … Another 9/11 should not have to occur to shake us into action”…

Schoomaker pointedly compared U.S. defense spending during the Second World War with the current outlays. During that war, the defense budget reached 38 percent of the gross domestic product, as compared with more 14 percent during the Korean War, and roughly 10 percent during the Vietnam War. Current military outlays are at less than 4 percent, Schoomaker said.

“Let there be no mistake: Our soldiers’ effectiveness in battle, both today and tomorrow, ultimately depends on a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them and their families properly,” he said. “This is a matter of national priorities, not a matter of affordability.”

Of course, the aim here is to rally for more DoD and, specifically, Army funding. Nothing surprising in that. Just the “military-industrial complex” talking, some folks might say.

But it is an implicit rebuke of the Bush administration tax cuts, etc.

Stars and Stripes puts the speech in the larger context of friction over military budgets.

A complacent nation might applaud its soldiers, but if it doesn’t back up that praise in the form of hard cash — funding — the praise is hollow, Schoomaker said.

He compared this spending to the height of the Reagan defense buildup in the mid-1990s, when defense spending was 6.2 percent of GDP, and Vietnam, when defense expenditures were 10 percent of GDP.

“The nation’s got to step up here,” Schoomaker told the reporters.

Schoomaker is so concerned that the Army is being underfunded that he refused to turn in the Army’s proposed fiscal 2008-to- 2013 spending plan by its Aug. 15 deadline after the Pentagon proposed a fiscal 2008 Army budget of $114 billion.

The assumption, Schoomaker said, was that the Army is receiving the lion’s share of the billions of dollars in supplemental wartime spending that Congress has approved, and “if we just keep the supplementals up that it will compensate for this pressure” of so-called “baseline” cuts.

“But you don’t get well on supplementals,” Schoomaker said. “There’s very strict rules for supplementals. They have to be tied to consumption in the fight … [and] that does not transform you … it [just] attempts to keep you where you were.”

Instead of $114 billion in fiscal 2008, Schoomaker and other Army leaders say a baseline budget in the $138 billion range is required.

Army leaders are now negotiating with senior Defense Department officials over the additional $24 billion, he said.

Asked whether he threatened to resign over the issue if the Pentagon won’t add the funds, Schoomaker said no.

It’s not useful to walk around here threatening anything,” he said.

Some will say Schoomaker has simply “recognized reality.”

Others will say he has been “captured” by the Army brass he was supposed to “reform.”

Some may sugget that he is actually trying to coopt the Shinseki insurgency before they manage to undermine the big-budget, Boeing-led military transformation “Future Combat System” (FCS) program so near and dear to Rumsfeld and Schoomaker.

In any event, the ongoing insurgency at the Pentagon makes it clear that Karl Rove’s White House continues to prefer for political populism over politically risky demands for painful sacrifice.

For this, the Bush administration continues get hit its Right as well as its Left.

My question is simple: is Karl Rove right?

Is a “tepid” war on terror all that the political culture will allow?

Clinton’s Neocons

Posted by Cutler on October 11, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In his recent “outburst” on Fox news, President Clinton talked about “All of President Bush’s neo-cons.”

Clinton had less to say, on Fox, about his own neo-cons.

But Clinton–and “Dem Zionists“–are not quite always so hostile to neo-cons.

The politics of the war in Iraq do not really divide on partisan lines.

That is one reason to suspect that Democrats who have refused to embrace a populist anti-war position during the Bush administration are likely to renew major elements of the Right Zionist project in the Gulf if they are empowered to do so in upcoming elections.

De-fending De-Baathification

Take, for example, the crucial question of dismantling the Iraqi army in May 2003.

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni has called the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army the Bush administration’s “worst mistake” in postwar Iraq.

That, at least, was his sense of things back in November 2003, according to a Washington Post article from that time–“Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?

The old article worth reviewing again because the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and de-Baathify the Iraqi state is back in the news with the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq that Cheney and Rumsfeld were the driving forces behind that decision.

Today, Zinni’s criticism has become the “common sense” regarding the war. Almost everybody agrees with Zinni; if there are major disagreements they involve ways to fix the problem now that the damage has been done.

Almost everybody agrees with Zinni.

But even after the rise of the Iraqi insurgency there were two US foreign policy figures who continued to explain and defend the rationale for de-Baathification.

Feith Leads the Way

The first figure is now quite infamous: Douglas J. Feith.

Feith served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and is the Bush administration Right Zionist most closely identified with the manipulation of pre-war intelligence and the failures of post-war planning.

His infamy was probably secured when General Tommy Franks–who commanded US forces in the invasion of Iraq–referred to Feith as the “dumbest [expletive] guy on the planet.”

In a May 28, 2003 press conference, Feith defended the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

Q My name is Saeb Erekat from al Quds Newspaper. Mr. Feith, in the last few days, we have witnessed increased attacks on American forces in Iraq. Do you attribute this to the dissolution of the Iraqi armed forces? And was that wise to do? And in retrospect, do you think that the policy — not in retrospect, in effect, the policy of applying de-Ba’athification to the entire bureaucratic infrastructure in Iraq is really wise in terms of getting Iraq back on its feet since you would need a lot of this talent and ability and technical capabilities and so on? Thank you.

MR. FEITH: We view the de-Ba’athification policy not only as wise but as indispensable to the effort to create a free Iraq… There was — we got a lot of Iraqis coming forward and saying that people would not feel comfortable cooperating with us, talking to us, working with us, if they felt that they were going to remain subject to retaliation by the Ba’ath Party elements. And it is — it is clear that the future of Iraq as a free country depends on people in the country believing and seeing that the Ba’ath Party is gone and that it’s not going to come back, and that the remnants of the Ba’ath Party are not going to be in a position to control the administration of the country or to physically attack the people who are going to be creating a free Iraq…

Apart from Feith defense of the policy–which came in the very early days after the decision was announced–is there anyone else who defended the policy?

Feith’s Fellow Traveler: Walter Slocombe

During the Clinton administration, Walter Slocombe occupied the exact same post that Feith would later occupy during the Bush administration.

Slocombe served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1994 to 2001.

But Slocombe is far less famous/infamous than Feith. To date, the poor fellow doesn’t even have his own wikipedia entry.

Nevertheless, he is a crucial figure for understanding the partisan contours of Iraq war politics.

According to that old Washington Post article, “Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?,” from November 20, 2003, Slocombe played a major role in the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces.

Of course, all the “other” Right Zionists players were involved. And nobody should try to pin the deal on Slocombe as a way of deflecting blame from the Bush administration.

However, it is also worth noting: long after Slocombe had left the service of Paul Bremer, whose Coalition Provisional Authority was in full retreat from its earlier policy and was now re-Baathifying as quickly as it could–Slocombe continued to make the case for de-Baathification.

And Slocombe’s explanation for the policy is far more candid about the geopolitical stakes than Feith’s. Slocombe emphasizes that his focus was on the contours of Sunni-Shiite political power in Iraq.

Slocombe’s line was the same during his service as it was later.

As a government official, Slocombe explained the policy–and warned against a tilt toward re-Baathification–in a November 5, 2003 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “To Build an Army.”

[I]t’s being argued by some that… the United States could and should have relied on Saddam Hussein’s old army and saved itself the trouble of creating a new one. Some even say we should try to do that now by recalling the old army to service some six months after its defeat.

It’s an argument that doesn’t add up. Given our objective of replacing Hussein’s regime, and not just its leader, it would have been a mistake, I think, to try to convert an army that was a principal tool of his oppressive system into the armed guardian of a new democracy…

Some observers… say that we should have called the departed soldiers back. Hussein’s army, however, consisted entirely of conscripts below officer level, most of them Shiites, who were badly mistreated by the overwhelmingly Sunni officers. Those conscripts were delighted at the opportunity to escape the abuse, corruption and misery of the old army. They certainly weren’t going to heed the call of their officers to return, and we were not about to send press gangs out to round them up.

Thus any recalled “army” would have consisted almost entirely of officers from the absurdly top-heavy senior ranks.

Slocombe supported dismantling the Iraqi army as one element of a larger campaign to depose the Sunni governing elite.

In April 1, 2004 remarks entitled “Inside Iraq” delivered to the Commonwealth Club after he had left the Coalition Provisional Authority, Slocombe continued to emphasize the Sunni-Shiite political dynamic.

[The Iraqi army] was a conscript army. Most of the officers – well over 80 percent – were Sunni; most of the enlisted – probably 80 percent, higher than the population percentages – were Shia. And the conscripts went home. They liked the idea that they were formally excused from their obligations. They were not paid, so they hardly became unemployed. They were a lot more useful for the society home with their families. There was no question of getting them to come back.

We could have gotten a lot of officers. The Iraqi army had 11,000 general officers… The sensible thing to do was to start from the bottom and build up.

As Slocombe explained in the November 2003 Washington Post article “Wrong Turn at a Postwar Crossroads?“:

“This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute and done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad. It was discussed,” Slocombe said.

For Slocombe, disbanding the Iraqi army was a political decision. It didn’t “mistakenly” alienate the Sunni officers. It did so intentionally, as part of a larger project of transforming the regional balance of power.

My hunch is that Dem Zionists will join Slocombe in defending this project long after the Republican party has returned to its Right Arabist roots.

Baker’s Iraq Study Group

Posted by Cutler on October 10, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / 2 Comments

In a previous post I suggested that it would be very peculiar if Jame A. Baker, III–one of the leading Right Arabists in the foreign policy Establishment–embraced plans for a decentralized Iraq, as reported by the London Times.

I did not know, at that time, that Baker had appeared on ABC’s “This Week” the day before, talking about Iraq. I still have not seen an on-line transcript of the interview. But the Associated Press (via the International Herald Tribune) has offered up some quotes that only add to my sense that Baker is likely to favor an anti-Shiite coup, rather than regional autonomy for Shiites and Kurds.

Baker said, “if we picked up and left right now” Iraq would be plunged into “the biggest civil war you’ve ever seen,” with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved…

“[At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991,…] [a]s much as Saddam’s neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in ways that would play into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran,” Baker said.

Today in Iraq, “The risk is certainly there, the same risk,” Baker said.

Same risk. Same neighbors. Same Baker.

From De-Baathification to Decentralization

Posted by Cutler on October 09, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Two items in the news–both discussed in a Sunday post by Juan Cole–warrant some additional attention.

The first item–quite plausible and very interesting–concerns a Reuters report that Cheney and Rumsfeld led the campaign for the fateful May 2003 decision to support Iraqi de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi army.

The second item–totally implausible and quite startling–concerns a London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group “may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions.”

Cheney/Rumsfeld: No Likudniks, They

The report on Cheney and Rumsfeld arises from the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq. The Blunkett “revelations” accompany the release of his new memoir, The Blunkett Tapes: My Life in the Bearpit.

Reuters reports:

David Blunkett, Home Secretary at the time of the invasion, told newspapers that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could not diverted from their goal of dismantling the Iraqi Ba’athist government system.

“We dismantled the structure of a functioning state,” he said, adding that the British view was: “Change them by all means, decapitate them even, but very quickly get the arms and legs moving.”

Blunkett’s account is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the idea that the British opposed de-Baathification, favoring some form military decapitation that would allow for Saddamism without Saddam in post-invasion Iraq.

Second, it suggests that the policy of de-Baathification had the support of Bush administration principals, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Here is Cole on the Blunkett story:

Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed that the idea of dismantling the Baath-dominated Iraqi army and bureaucracy in May of 2003 came from US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (It is often blamed on proconsul Paul Bremer, but it has all along been obvious that he was ordered to do it by higher-ups). A precise timeline for the development of this policy (which had been ruled out at the Pentagon as late as March 15) and a precise account of where it came from has never been published.

It would be important to know what the role of the Likudniks was in this regard: Irv Lewis Libby and John Hannah in Dick Cheney’s office, and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and the neo-plumbers of the “Office of Special Plans“– i.e. Abram Shulsky, David Wurmser, Michael Rubin and others at the Pentagon. The decision was clearly against US interests, but an Iraq without an army may well have had a special appeal to Rightwing Zionists and their Chalabist allies among the Iraqi expatriates.

I think it has been clear for some time that the policy did have considerable appeal to Right Zionists. No surprise there.

Prior to the Blunkett claims, one might have even suspected that de-Baathification was championed exclusively by Right Zionist deputies who snuck one past distracted principals like Cheney and Rumsfeld.

This has never seemed particularly persuasive or plausible.

But Blunkett’s assertions move the spotlight off the role of the deputies and onto the role of Cheney and Rumsfeld.

As I have argued in a previous post entitled “Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney,” both of these figures had long-established records as Right Arabists, not Right Zionists.

So what were Cheney and Rumsfeld doing supporting de-Baathification?

Blunkett has made some news. But his claims only provoke more questions. On this, I completely agree with Cole: we need a precise timeline and a precise account. None have been written.

The Baker Boys

The London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group favors decentralization in Iraq simply defies all logic. Given the surprising turns of this administration, however, that may not be enough to render it false.

Nevertheless, I’ll eat my hat if this one turns out to be true.

James Baker one of the towering figures of the Right Arabist Establishment and was the principal most clearly identified with the decision to keep Saddam Hussein in power at the end of “Operation Desert Storm” rather than support rebellions by Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in search of autonomy.

Like de-Baathification, the defenders of decentralization tend to be Neocons and Zionists (Likudniks and Dem Zionists) who favor US alliances with Shiites and Kurds.

Right Arabists in Washington who favor Sunni Arab regional dominance–along with Sunni Arab regimes and most Iraqi Sunni Arabs–have vehemently opposed all policies that would compromise the “Arab” unity of Iraq.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is one of the four “participating groups” that formally constitute the Iraq Study Group. Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is the most prominent and vocal opponent of plans that support the decentralization of Iraq.

A look at the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups” does little to point toward support for decentralization of Iraq. Right Arabists are well represented (Amy Myers Jaffe, Chas W. Freeman, etc.).

The most prominent Right Zionist involved–AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–favors Shiite power in Iraq but has also looked hopefully to Shiite nationalists like Sadr to hold Iraq together. In a January 2006 Weekly Standard essay entitled “Devout Democracies,” Gerecht argued:

[T]here remains the huge fact of the Shiite population in Baghdad, which would be excluded from any Shiite semi–autonomous zone in the south. Baghdad is a majority Shiite city. And it simply cannot be compared to any other city in Iraq-certainly not impoverished and broken Basra, the other possible pole of Shiite urban influence. (The impoverished Shiite south of Iraq actually reminds one of Afghanistan.) For the foreseeable future, the centripetal power of Baghdad will remain. The exclusionary, defensive, federalist impulses of the Iraqi Shiite community… can go only so far before they provoke real, paralyzing Shiite resistance from Baghdad. If for no other reason, the Baghdad Shiite factor will likely guarantee sufficient tolerance toward the Sunnis for democratic progress to continue.

If Baker–and his Iraq Study Group–has flipped on this issue, it would represent an immense earthquake within the factional fault lines of the Republican foreign policy Establishment.

The only comparable Right Arabist defection?

Cheney and Rumsfeld’s support for De-Baathification.