David Wurmser: A Very Medieval Sort of Guy

Posted by Cutler on October 04, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Having departed from the Cheney administration, David Wurmser recently sat for an interview with Toby Harnden, US Editor of the The Daily Telegraph.  Harnden has offered up three different venues for his Wurmser profile: a backgrounder, a news article, and a blog post.

For those who have been tracking Wurmser for a while, there aren’t many big surprises here.  But there are some familiar themes that certainly put to rest any notion that Wurmser is engaging in any serious self-criticism.

1. From Dual Containment to Dual Rollback: Iraq and Iran (backgrounder)

“Had we not gone to war, we would probably by now be dealing with a nuclear Iraq, a heavily chemical Iraq, and moreover an Iraq that governed the imagination of all the region.

We would be sitting here agonising over whether we need to align with Iran which is going nuclear against an Iraq which is going nuclear or with Iraq against Iran. And that is a strategic defeat for us either way.”

For a discussion of Wurmser’s vision of “dual rollback,” see my ZNet essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.”

2. Regime change in Iran (and Syria), if possible; military action, if necessary (blog):

First off, he does not believe it is feasible for the US to launch unilateral military strikes or an invasion as part of pre-emptive war on Iran. When I asked him if the US should initiate regime change in Damascus and Syria, he replied: “As far as non-violent means goes, yes. But it would be very difficult for the United States to initiate kinetic action without provocation.

Those non-violent means would include “radio, meetings, encouragement of dissidents, support” as well as a “clear policy that we will not traffic with this regime, we don’t accept the legitimacy of this regime and that we do support the Iranian people who oppose the regime“.

He summarised: “Hand them a series humiliating strategic defeats externally and work to undermine them internally. I don’t think the regime has the wherewithal to absorb such massive assaults”…

“If you do this now and you do this effectively and you do it aggressively and decisively you will not have to go to war with Iran….If we fail to do that in the near future then we’re going to face a much larger war and we will then have to think seriously about going directly into Iran.”

One of the ways of administering an external defeat to Iran, he said, would be to force regime change in Syria by America responding to a crisis… His theory is that Iran’s weakness would be exposed because it would be shown as impotent to protect Syria.

And from Harnden’s news article:

Limited strikes against Iranian nuclear targets would be useless, Mr Wurmser said. “Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians.

“If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don’t shoot a bear if you’re not going to kill it.”

For splits, within the “Neocon” world, on the relative merits of regime change and military action, see my blog post, “Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

3. US-British Rivalry in Iraq (news article):

Mr Wurmser… was highly critical of British forces in southern Iraq. “Being in Basra, the British had a major role to play and they didn’t really play it very well.

“Under British presence, the Iranians extended their power considerably. British troops are still there but Iraqis see them as dead men walking…. everybody’s looking towards who is the real power that fills the vacuum and that then translates into an Iranian-American confrontation in that area.”

British withdrawal, he said, could be a plus for the US. “It frees our hand to deal aggressively with their [Iran’s] structures. Once we have responsibility for that area, we’ll have to do what we need to do and that could well mean troops on the ground.”

For more on the notion of US-British rivalry, see my blog post, “Kicking the British Poodle in Basra.”

4. The US Occupation of Iraq (blog)

“Did we make mistakes?” Wurmser asked. “I wouldn’t have done the war that way. I think a lot of us would’ve wished that we would’ve recognised a government in exile ahead of time, gone in, minimal occupation, minor time period, quickly turned over power to an Iraqi government once and for all, and left with a fairly powerful over-the-shadow horizon.”

For more on rifts between “Boots on the Ground” advocates of a maximal occupation and “Nixon doctrine” partisans who favor minimal occupation and maximum reliance on local surrogates, see my blog post, “The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq.”

Beyond all that, there are some rare snaps of Wurmser and some quirky details about the man and his work:

His desk in Room 298 of the Old Executive Office Building, where he worked for four years as Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser, was seen as a centre of a grand conspiracy in which Mr Wurmser and other neoconservatives sought to subvert US policy….

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in his new office barely 200 yards away in an anonymous block that overlooks the White House, Mr Wurmser shrugged when asked about the neonconservative label that has become the premier term of abuse in Washington.

“There’s nothing ‘neo’ about me,” he quipped. “I’m a very medieval sort of guy.”

Not even a self-proclaimed “Renaissance” man.  Medieval….

Where’s Wurmser?

Posted by Cutler on September 19, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

First it was the Washington Post that announced the advent of a new round of “dissent” within the Bush administration. In a previous post, I suggested that this report may have been somewhat overdrawn.

More recently, Helene Cooper at the New York Times discerned “Signs of Split on Iran Policy” within the administration.

The language in Mr. Bush’s [September 13] speech reflected an intense and continuing struggle between factions within his administration over how aggressively to confront Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been arguing for a continuation of a diplomatic approach, while officials in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office have advocated a much tougher view. They seek to isolate and contain Iran, and to include greater consideration of a military strike.

Mr. Bush’s language indicated that the debate, at least for now, might have tilted toward Mr. Cheney….

Allies of Mr. Cheney continue to say publicly that the United States should include a change in Iran’s leadership as a viable policy option, and have argued, privately, that the United States should encourage Israel to consider a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Cooper doesn’t name the “allies of Mr. Cheney” who speak publicly about regime change.

Is she talking about folks outside the administration like Norma Podhoretz and Michael Ledeen?

[It matters which one… The “neoconservatives” are split on Iran. Ledeen is primarily interested in regime change; Podhoretz makes the case for military strikes.]

Or is she thinking of Cheney’s house intellectuals, like his chief Middle East adviser David Wurmser?

For a while, it looked like Cheney was preparing to concede defeat in the factional battles with Rice.

First came reports that he signed off on bilateral talks between the US and Iran.

Then came rumors in late July that Wurmser was on his way out. Specifically, Robert Dreyfuss spread the word: “Wurmser will leave the office of the vice president (OVP) in August.”

Deep into September and I have yet to see a report that Wurmser is out.

Steven Clemons predicts Bush won’t attack Iran. But he doesn’t think Wurmser & Co. are necessarily down for the count:

Bush does not plan to escalate toward a direct military conflict with Iran, at least not now — and probably not later. The costs are too high, and there are still many options to be tried before the worst of all options is put back on the table. As it stands today, he wants that “third option,” even if Cheney doesn’t. Bush’s war-prone team failed him on Iraq, and this time he’ll be more reserved, more cautious. That is why a classic buildup to war with Iran, one in which the decision to bomb has already been made, is not something we should be worried about today…

What we should worry about, however, is the continued effort by the neocons to shore up their sagging influence….

We should also worry about the kind of scenario David Wurmser floated, meaning an engineered provocation. An “accidental war” would escalate quickly and “end run,” as Wurmser put it, the president’s diplomatic, intelligence and military decision-making apparatus. It would most likely be triggered by one or both of the two people who would see their political fortunes rise through a new conflict — Cheney and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That kind of war is much more probable and very much worth worrying about.

I’ll buy that for a dollar.

[Update: Eli Lake at the New York Sun reports that Wurmser has, in fact, left the administration.]

Farewell to Wurmser

Posted by Cutler on July 27, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Robert Dreyfuss says David Wurmser is on his way out.  (Not for the first time, I am obliged to tip my hat to Bernhard at Moon of Alabama for calling to my attention to something crucial that I missed).

Wurmser–Cheney’s top Middle East advisor and author of a blueprint for de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment in Iraq–is one of only two significant Right Zionists who continue to serve in a key Bush administration post.  If Wurmser leaves, Elliott Abrams will be “the last man standing.”  There are plenty of other hawks (not least the vice president), but no major Right Zionist hawks who Meyrav Wurmser would consider part of what she calls “the family.”

The Dreyfuss story is certainly plausible, although I note that the blog post is a little vague about sources.

According to multiple sources, Wurmser will leave the office of the vice president (OVP) in August…

Wurmser’s departure is not totally a surprise. “He’s been looking for a way out for a year,” said a conservative friend of Wurmser’s…

Dreyfuss also appears to have original quotes from  Meyrav Wurmser in response to the Helene Cooper New York Times story that helped put David Wurmser in the public crosshairs.  Dreyfuss doesn’t say anything about the source of the quotes, but they seem to be exclusive:

Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute and David’s wife, ridiculed the stories from Clemons and the Times. “They are all categorically wrong, and there not one thing in those articles that is correct.”

Meyrav seemed to be hinting at her husband’s imminent departure in December 2006 when she predicted that, along with John Bolton’s departure from the UN, “there are others who are about to leave.”

Ironically, my most recent post–written after Dreyfuss posted his report but before I saw it–mentioned Wurmser’s departure as a potential harbinger of a new, decisive, Right Arabist direction for US policy in Iraq.

I sincerely doubt that we have heard the last of factionalism regarding the future of Iraq.

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns…

If Wurmser is on his way out, can it be taken as a sign that Cheney has now abandoned his erstwhile Right Zionist allies and returned to the (very hawkish corner of) Right Arabist fold?

Does it mark the end of administration factionalism?

Maybe.

But I was probably way off the mark when I said that “we have heard the last” of such factionalism.

Why?  Because Meyrav Wurmser has explicitly warned that once “the family” was out of the administration, they would not hesitate to speak out against the administration that–from their perspective–betrayed them.

We expressed ideas, but the policy in Iraq was taken out of neocon hands very quickly….

The State Department opposed the neocons’ stances… 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.

Maybe they’ll give Wurmser a medal of freedom–the primary currency of hush money for this administration, unless you are facing jail time–on his way out the door.

One note on the substance of US policy going forward:

In the same comment to this blog that alerted me to the Dreyfuss post, Bernhard (“b”) predicts a new direction for US policy in the Gulf.

[A] strategic decision against the Sunni’s and Saudi Arabia and pro-Iran…

This would be a surprising development, indeed.

Right Zionists like Wurmser, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, are the leading advocates for a pro-Shiite tilt combined with unrelenting war against both Arab nationalism and Sunni Arab religious radicalism.

Wouldn’t it be strange if the Bush administration finally made a truly decisive move in this direction at the very moment that the key architects of such a strategic shift departed the scene?

Cheney might seek warmer relations with the Iranian regime, but when he last advocated such an orientation, he did so as a “pragmatic” oil industry executive–and a Russia hawk determined to win Iran away from Russian influence in the Caspian.  Neither of these positions would demand a “decision against the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia…”

Right Arabists are nothing if not loyal to the US-Saudi alliance.  Some seek to contain Iranian power within a more or less formal regional security framework.  Others can only be described as extremely hawkish on Iran.

Who is left within the administration who would or could overcome the significant influence of the traditional Right Arabist establishment and revolutionize the strategic orientation of US policy in the Gulf?

The Right Zionists were those revolutionaries.  If Dreyfuss is correct about Wurmser’s departure, it would appear that the eclipse of the Right Zionists (in this administration, at least, if not in Congress or a future administration) is near complete.

Perhaps Elliott Abrams will try to use the administration’s upcoming Middle East conference to marginalize the Saudis.

Robert Satloff at the pro-Israel Washington Institute recently suggested as much.

In a fascinating passage outlining the terms of reference for the international meeting that the president said he will convene in autumn 2007, the president said he would invite “representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.” While one assumes Bush would not call an international meeting merely to replicate the sort of modest neighborhood gatherings Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak periodically hosts in Sharm al-Sheikh, the only Arab countries that meet those terms today are Egypt and Jordan.

Was Bush sending a message to Saudi Arabia that its moment in the regional diplomatic sun, which reached its zenith with the abortive Mecca accords, had reached an end and that Washington would now only consider Saudi contribution positive if Riyadh meets these benchmarks? So far, White House spokesmen say no, there is no special message directed at Saudi Arabia in this passage. But reporters will be wise to revisit this language when invitations to the “international meeting” are delivered later this year.

So noted.

But there are plenty of other signs that even with regard to Israeli-Palestinian issues, the President may be drifting toward David Welch, the key Right Arabist with whom Abrams shares the Middle East portfolio.

Israel and the United States are also signaling willingness to discuss an issue Palestinians believe has long been neglected: settlement expansion.

“Unauthorized outposts should be removed and settlement expansion ended,” Bush said in his speech, his strongest call in years to contain settlements.

“This was a deliberate choice of words,” David Welch, the top State Department official dealing with the Middle East, said afterward.

With Wurmser out, any major anti-Saudi effort undertaken by Abrams at this late date will be a very lonely battle.

Wurmser: Outed or Ousted?

Posted by Cutler on June 04, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a post last week, I suggested that David Wurmser was the likely “Cheney aide” rumored by Steven Clemons to be circulating word that Cheney did not support Secretary of State Rice’s diplomatic overtures to Iran.

On Friday, Helene Cooper of the New York Times–who wrote an entire article about Wurmser in December 2006 without ever using his name–finally put a name into the game: David Wurmser.

A senior Bush administration official separately denied that there was a deep divide between Rice and Cheney on Iran.

But, the official said, “the vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff.”

In interviews, people who have spoken with Cheney’s staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the report. Some said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders were made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now Cheney’s principal deputy assistant for national security affairs.

The anonymous “senior Bush administration official” quoted by Cooper certainly seems to have been trying to create some sunlight between Cheney and Wurmser by suggesting that Wurmser doesn’t necessarily speak for the vice president.

Jim Lobe–whose unflinching and relentless reporting on the waxing and waning of neo-conservative influence in Washington is now available in blog form at LobeLog–suggests that Wurmser may be on the way out.

[I]f Wurmser is forced out in the coming days, it will both further isolate and weaken the remaining key neo-cons – notably, Elliott Abrams at the NSC, and John Hannah, Cheney’s national security adviser — and confirm that the vice president himself has been badly wounded. If he isn’t forced out, then the persistence of Cheney’s influence on Bush will be confirmed, and the possibility of an attack on Iran will increase. This is a critical moment.

Meyrav Wurmser seemed to talking about her husband, David, when she suggested in December 2006 that, along with John Bolton, “there are others who are about to leave.”

The departure of Wurmser would be very significant.  I have argued that Wurmser’s 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally, provided the blue print not only for toppling Saddam Hussein but for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraq Shiites under the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Nevertheless, I think it may be wishful thinking to imagine that Cheney is “badly wounded.”  Even if Wurmser is ousted, this could mark a reversal of course by Cheney rather than a reversal of fortune.

As I argued in a previous post, Cheney has not always been a reliable ally to Right Zionists like Wurmser.  And there may be reason to suspect Cheney sometimes thinks of Iran in terms of his “Central Asia” portfolio rather than his “Middle East” portfolio.

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…

Wow.

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?

Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on September 22, 2014
/ No Comments

Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq

 

Jonathan Cutler

 

 

If there is a central principle animating Noam Chomsky’s commentaries on US foreign policy, it is his affinity for Realpolitik analysis. As Chomsky argues in a recent interview, “Our leaders have rational imperial interests. We have to assume that they’re good-hearted and bumbling. But they’re not. They’re perfectly sensible.” This methodological axiom presents some serious challenges for those trying to understand the US war in Iraq. With so much evidence of bumbling within the Bush White House, it is tempting to join the chorus of critics, led by the Democrats, who say that incompetence is the defining feature of US foreign policy. Is it possible to tell the story of the US invasion of Iraq as “perfectly sensible”?

 

Chomsky is adamant and he is right to warn against the idea that foreign policy elites are more fool than knave. “Consider the actual situation, not some dream situation… If we can enter the real world we can begin to talk about it… We have to talk about it in the real world and know what the White House is thinking. They’re not willing to live in a dream world.”

 

What, then, is the “actual situation” that led the Bush administration to make the “perfectly sensible”—if entirely imperialist—decision to invade Iraq and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein? Here, according to Chomsky, is the real world:

 

“If [Iraq is] more or less democratic, it’ll have a Shiite majority. They will naturally want to improve their linkages with Iran, Shiite Iran. Most of the clerics come from Iran… So you get an Iraqi/Iran loose alliance. Furthermore, right across the border in Saudi Arabia, there’s a Shiite population which has been bitterly oppressed by the U.S.-backed fundamentalist tyranny. And any moves toward independence in Iraq are surely going to stimulate them, it’s already happening. That happens to be where most of Saudi Arabian oil is. Okay, so you can just imagine the ultimate nightmare in Washington…”

 

Chomsky isn’t making this stuff up. One can get quick confirmation of Chomsky’s characterization of this “ultimate nightmare” scenario from the key “realists” of Republican foreign policy establishment—folks like Bush Sr., former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Secretary of State James Baker, and Colin Powell. When presented with a Shiite uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991, the “realists” opted to leave Saddam in power, rather than let the nightmare become reality. In a co-authored 1998 memoir, A World Transformed, Bush Sr. and Scowcroft insist that they acted to preserve “the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf” (p.489). In his 1995 memoir The Politics of Diplomacy, James Baker recalls that he didn’t want to “play into the hands of the mullahs in Iran, who could export their brand of Islamic fundamentalism with the help of Iraq’s Shiites and quickly transform themselves into the dominant regional power” (p.437). Colin Powell, in his 1995 memoir My American Journey, is equally blunt. “Why didn’t we finish him off?… In March, the Iraqi Shiites in the south rose up in arms… But our practical intention was to leave Baghdad enough power to survive as a threat to an Iran that remained bitterly hostile toward the United States” (pp.512, 516).

 

The problem is that fear of this “ultimate nightmare” provided the rationale in 1991 for not invading Iraq, or more precisely, not promoting the political ascendance of the Iraqi Shiite majority. Chomksy argues that fear of the nightmare scenario will deter realists from supporting US withdrawal from Iraq. But did the “realists” get us into Iraq? “Realists” may keep us in Iraq, but did the “realists” unleash Iraqi Shiite power by terminating Sunni Baathist political and military rule? “Realists” may, in fact, be sensible—at least in a self-serving way—but Scowcroft, Baker, and Bush Sr. all publicly warned George W. Bush about the risks of unleashing the ultimate nightmare. Kissinger—who first floated the idea of seizing the Eastern Province from the Saudis in the mid-1970s, prior to the Iranian revolution—was explicit in a Washington Post Op-Ed. The key to any move to topple Saddam, he insisted, was the contour of “the political outcome,” especially insofar as Saudi Arabia would be unlikely to cooperate in the formation of a “Shiite republic” that “would threaten the Dhahran region in Saudi Arabia, and might give Iran a new base to seek to dominate the gulf region.” Chomsky is at a loss to explain—in Realpolitik terms—the 2003 decision by George W. Bush to invade Iraq and empower the Iraqi Shiite majority.

 

Gilbert Achcar, like Chomsky, is inclined to stipulate the decisive role of Realpolitik in US foreign policy. Looking at the case of Iraq, however, Achcar makes an exception. “In the case of Iraq, and in this case exclusively,” writes Achcar in a 2004 CounterPunch article, “the Bush administration has acted on ideological views so contrary to the ‘reality principle’ that they could only lead into this major nightmare of U.S. imperial policy… History will probably record this venture as one of the most important blunders ever committed by an administration abroad from the standpoint of U.S. imperial interests.”

 

Chomsky and Achcar both agree that the general aim of the invasion was based on “realism.” As Chomsky says, the US would not have invaded Iraq “if its main product was lettuce and pickles… If you have three gray cells functioning, you know… the US invaded Iraq because it has enormous oil resources.” Likewise, Achcar is “fully aware of the very oily factors” involved in US military intervention. However, Achcar insists that “many of its concrete decisions”—chiefly the “clumsiness of de-Baathification… [and the] dissolution of the Iraqi military”—represented “blunders” and “wild dreams” of “crackpot idealists” who allow “high-flying moral rhetoric” to help guide foreign policy “in a way that stands in blatant contradiction to pragmatic needs.”

 

For Achcar, the crucial decisions were not the ones that simply toppled Saddam Hussein but the ones—made in May 2003, at the start of the formal US occupation—to actively undermine authoritarian Sunni minority rule in Iraq. “Whatever the reason,” says Achcar, “the fact is that Bush Jr. and his collaborators have acted for a while in conformity with their democratic proclamations.” These decisions unleashed a major “nightmare” because they “opened the way for the Iraqi people to seize control of their own destinies… to the benefit of Islamic fundamentalist forces, somewhat on the Iranian pattern.” The “clumsiness” is particularly difficult to explain in the terms of Realpolitik since regime change—without Shiite empowerment—could have been accomplished “more effectively…had the Bush administration acted from a craftily Machiavellian perspective and managed to get hold of Iraq through an arrangement with the Iraqi army and other apparatuses of the Baathist state.”

 

If there is room for rapprochement between Achcar and Chomsky, it is because Achcar actually agrees that the familiar “realist” crowd never would—and never did—jettison craftily Machiavellian perspectives on foreign policy. Achcar insists, however, that on the key questions regarding the political outcome in Iraq—de-Baathification, military dissolution, and Shiite power—the “administration was divided.” Realists fought against all of these policies for post-invasion Iraq, favoring something more like a US-backed military coup that would result in a political outcome akin to Saddamism-without-Saddam and an “arrangement” with the Baathist state. There was, however, a rival faction within the Bush administration: the so-called neo-conservatives, vaguely defined as those who favored a “crusade for bringing democracy” to Iraq. Neo-conservatives championed comprehensive de-Baathification and dissolution of the Sunni-led military establishment—even if it meant empowering Iraqi Shiites.

 

Chomsky, however, seems not to have taken note of neo-conservatives or any factional battles within the Bush administration. In his many interviews on the war in Iraq, he rarely if ever says anything about neo-conservatives (a peculiar asymmetry in light of neo-conservative vilification of Chomsky). His analysis posits not only Realpolitik, but a unified actor. One of the great merits of Achcar’s analysis, by contrast, is his attention to the crucial split between neo-conservatives and realists in Washington.

 

 

Machiavelli for Zionists

 

Do neo-conservatives represent the antithesis of Realpolitik? Are neo-conservatives bumbling crackpot idealists who unwittingly opened Pandora’s box in Iraq by substituting idealistic dreams of democracy ahead of realist Machiavellian statecraft? Indeed, Achcar suggests that the neo-conservative agenda for Iraq represents “a typical case of self-deception.” Perhaps. Financial Times columnist Samuel Brittan, in a typical attack on the neo-conservatives, published an October 2003 Realpolitik manifesto—This Is Not a Time for Boy Scouts—in which he condemned neo-conservative zeal as “almost indistinguishable from that of the liberal imperialists” who think foreign policy should be guided by morality. Another defender of Realpolitik, John J. Mearsheimer, dismisses neo-conservative theory as “essentially Wilsonianism with teeth.”

 

Some neo-conservatives welcome that depiction, if not the accompanying criticism. William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan, two prominent neo-conservatives, insist that their book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, “wears its heart on its sleeve” (p.ix). They present a relentless critique of “a narrow realpolitik that defined America’s vital interests in terms of oil wells, strategic chokepoints and regional stability” (p.viii). Even as they celebrate “creating democracy in a land that for decades has known only dictatorship” (p.ix), they make no mention of—and seem utterly oblivious to—the prospect of Iraqi democracy emboldening Shiites in Iraq, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

 

Kristol and Kaplan may be “Boy Scouts,” as suggested by Brittan; or maybe they simply find it convenient to appear good-hearted and bumbling, as Chomsky warned. Either way, not all neo-conservatives wear their merit badges or their heart on their sleeve. The neo-conservative movement is hardly monolithic; there have been many fissures and splits along the way. The crucial point, however, is that some key neo-conservatives are as committed to cold-hearted Machiavellian Realpolitik as any so-called “realist.” The battle dividing the Bush administration in Iraq is between two factions of Realpolitik strategists.

 

Indeed, as Achcar has recently noted, “in some neo-con circles” there is actually support for the same scenario feared most by Chomsky’s realists: “some kind of Shia state controlling the bulk of Iraq’s oil” that would align itself with Iranian Shiites and “unleash” Shiite power in the whole area, “including the Saudi Kingdom where the main oil producing area is inhabited by a Shia majority.” To assume that evidence of neo-conservative support for de-Baathification in Iraq represents a simple blunder by naïve and incompetent Wilsonian idealists is, at best, a misunderstanding—at worst, a serious underestimation—of neo-conservative visions for US foreign policy.

 

Consider, for example, David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (hereafter, TA). Wurmser published Tyranny’s Ally while serving as a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank long identified with neo-conservative foreign policy analysis. After his time at AEI, Wurmser moved on to service within the Bush administration, most recently serving as Middle East expert in the office of Vice President Richard Cheney. Published in 1999, the book is a Machiavellian tour de force—and a blueprint for US policy in the Middle East. There are striking parallels between the policies endorsed in Wurmser’s book and those enacted by the Bush administration at the start of the US war in Iraq.

 

Wurmser directly confronts so-called “realist” fears regarding Shiite power in Iraq.

 

“The ensuing chaos of any policy that generates upheaval in Iraq would offer the oppressed, majority Shi’ites of that country an opportunity to enhance their power and prestige. Fear that this would in turn enable Iran to extend its influence through its coreligionists has led Britain and the United States, along with our Middle Eastern allies, to regard a continued Sunni control of Iraq as the cornerstone for stability in the Levant. Saudi Arabia in particular fears that any Shi’ite autonomy or control in Iraq will undermine its own precarious stability, because an emboldened Shi’ite populace in Iraq could spread its fervor into Saudi Arabia’s predominantly Shi’ite northeastern provinces. The Saudi government also fears that this upheaval could spread to predominantly Shi’ite Bahrain, or to other gulf states with large Shi’ite minorities.” (TA, p.73)

 

Wurmser’s book is animated by a persistent focus on “balance of power” realist politics. “Iran and Iraq… are serious threats to the United States. How can we vanquish one without helping the other? Similarly, how can we deal either with a radical, secular, pan-Arabic nationalism or with fundamentalist pan-Islamism without allowing one to benefit from the other’s defeat? (TA, p.72). For Bush and Scowcroft—and for the Clinton foreign policy team—the only plausible response was a balance of power based on the “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran. Wurmser, however, proposes a Realpolitik basis for moving US policy from dual containment toward a “Dual Rollback of Iran and Iraq” (TA, p.72).

 

Wurmser offers a direct challenge to the underlying factual premise of balance-of-power policies in the Gulf, even as he embraces the Machiavellian principles of balance-of-power politics. “U.S. policy makers have long presumed that the majority Shi’ite population of Iraq would serve as Iran’s fifth column there; but would it?” (TA, p.72). Wurmser thinks not. Instead, he argues that “Iraqi Shi’ites, if liberated from [Saddam’s] tyranny, can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution” (TA, p.74). More specifically, Wurmser claims that “Shi’ite Islam is plagued by fissures, none of which has been carefully examined, let alone exploited, by the opponents of Iran’s Islamic republic” (TA, p.74, emphasis added). The idea of exploiting fissures is entirely consistent with realist theories of power balancing.

 

Wurmser argues that at the theological core of the Iranian revolution is “a concept promoted by Ayatollah Khomeini, the wilayat al-faqih—the rule of the jurisprudent” that served as “the bulldozer with which Khomeini razed the barrier between the clerics and the politicians” (TA, p.74). For Wurmser, the central strategic fissure within Shiite Islam is between those who favor Khomeini’s vision and those who reject the rule of the jurisprudent. “The concept of wilayat al-faqih is rejected by most Shi’ite clerics outside Iran (and probably many of those within Iran, too)… The current leading ayatollah of Iraq, Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani, has reaffirmed [this rejection], much to the chagrin of the Iranian government” (TA, p.75).

 

Wurmser suggests that the US could and should exploit this fissure to its own advantage. The “liberation” of the Iraqi Shia can be used to achieve a “Regional Rollback of Shi’ite Fundamentalism.”

 

“[A] shift of the Shi’ite center of gravity toward Iraq has larger, regional implications. Through intermarriage, history, and social relations, the Shi’ites of Lebanon have traditionally maintained close ties with the Shi’ites of Iraq. The Lebanese Shi’ite clerical establishment has customarily been politically quiescent, like the Iraqi Shi’ites. The Lebanese looked to Najaf’s clerics for spiritual models [until it was transformed into a regional outpost for Iranian influence]. Prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shi’ite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balance and to whittle away at Syria’s power” (TA, p.107, 110).

 

The core of the Regional Rollback, however, is Iran. For Wurmser, so-called “realists” have always been correct to emphasize the link between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites, but they have misunderstood the potential nature of the link. If realists have traditionally feared Iranian influence in Iraq, Wurmser argues that the more likely scenario is Iraqi influence in Iran. The demise of traditional Sunni rule over the Iraqi Shiites “could potentially trigger a reversal” of fortune for the Iranian regime.

 

“Liberating the Shi’ite centers in Najaf and Karbala, with their clerics who reject the wilayat al-faqih, could allow Iraqi Shi’ites to challenge and perhaps fatally derail the Iranian revolution. For the first time in half a century, Iraq has the chance to replace Iran as the center of Shi’ite thought, thus resuming its historic place, with its tradition of clerical quiescence and of challenge to Sunni absolutism… A free Iraqi Shi’ite community would be a nightmare for the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran” (TA, p.78-79).

 

For Wurmser, the liberation of Najaf and Karbala would promote and empower potential US allies in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s strategy foresees US military intervention against the Sunni minority in Iraq, not primarily as a springboard for further military intervention in Iran, but as the Iraqi detonator for a populist, Shiite-led rebellion against rival clerics in Iran. Neo-conservative support for the political ascendance of Shiite Iraq is not about the principle of democracy. Nor are neo-conservatives blind to the ways in which regime change in Iraq might transform the relationship between Iraq and Iran. Neo-conservatives who favor de-Baathification in Iraq might seem like blundering fools who would unwittingly hand Iraq to Iranian clerics. Wumser’s scheme, however, is to hand Iran to Iraqi clerics, especially the followers of Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani. For Wurmser, the road to Tehran begins in Najaf.

 

Wurmser is hardly alone in his strategic vision for the Middle East. His successor at AEI, Reuel Marc Gerecht—formerly a CIA agent in Iran—enthusiastically embraces the same vision for dual rollback in Iraq and Iran. In a May 2001 article entitled “Liberate Iraq,” Gerecht dismisses “fear of an Iraqi-Iranian Shi’ite collusion upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East. This kind of fraternity between Iraqi and Iranian Shi’ites simply does not exist—except in the minds of Republican ‘realists’ who tragically used this argument a decade ago.” An August 2002 article entitled “Regime Change in Iran?” makes the case for dual rollback and argues that the ascendance of the Iraqi Shia “will be brutal for the mullahs.” Similarly, a March 2003 article by Michael Ledeen—another prominent neo-conservative at AEI—predicts, “If we understand this war correctly, the Iraqi Shi’ites will fight alongside us against the Iranian terrorists.”

 

That is a very big “if” at the heart of neo-conservative thinking about Iraq and Iran. Richard Perle, doyen of neo-conservatives at AEI, writes in his 2003 book with David Frum, An End to Evil (hereafter, EE), that “President Bush took an enormous risk in Iraq. The risk could well have gone wrong—and it could still go wrong” (p.36). Similarly, Gerecht warns that “the mullahs”—once they saw signs of Iraqi Shiite rule in Iraq—would fight back. Gerecht’s August 2002 Weekly Standard article acknowledges that “the Bush administration should prepare itself for Iranian mischief in Iraq’s politics.”

 

In advance of the war, however, neo-conservatives found comfort in some “area studies” research—which they published and promoted—that found reason to believe Iraqi Shiites might ultimately prevail in any intra-Shiite competition between clerics in Iraq and Iran. In an April 2000 book Who Rules Iran?, published by the Washington Institute, Wilfred Buchta argues that Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamene’i, successor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has “a theological Achilles’ heel”—unlike Khomeini before him, and unlike Sistani in Iraq, Khamene’i is not a Grand Ayatollah. In his review of clerical opposition to the Iranian regime, Buchta describes Sistani as “Khamene’i’s most serious competitor for the religious leadership of Shi’is throughout the world” (p.89).

 

Whatever the particular merits or deficiencies of Wurmser’s analysis of fissures within Shiite Islam, these do not fully explain the intensity of “realist” opposition to Bush administration policies in Iraq. Neither realists nor neoconservatives shed tears for Saddam Hussein, nor would either grieve the fall of the incumbent Iranian regime. Realists, however, fear that the end of Sunni Arab control in Iraq and the rise of the Shia will tip the balance of power in the Persian Gulf away from a key US ally: the Sunni Arab regime in Saudi Arabia.

 

Moreover, neo-conservatives agree with realists that the Saudi regime fears Shiite regional power. Echoing the “nightmare” scenario articulated by Chomsky and the “realists,” neo-conservatives like Richard Perle agree that the House of Saud has good reason to fear a Shia Gulf.

 

“[W]hile the royal family, the government, and the moneyed elite all live on the western, Red Sea side of the country, the oil is located on the eastern, Persian Gulf side. And while the people in the west are almost uniformly Sunni, one-third of the people in the Eastern Province… are Shiites…. Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state” (EE, p.141).

 

Sounds just like the realists—but with a crucial twist. Unlike Chomsky’s realists, Perle and Frum think that Shiite control of Arabian Peninsula oil would be catastrophic for the Saudi state, but think it “might be a very good outcome for the United States” (EE, p. 141). This is the great neo-conservative heresy. If realists make little or no distinction between what is good for the Saudis and what is good for the United States, neo-conservatives regard Saudi Arabia as an unreliable, if not downright hostile, regime. Wurmser describes the “Saudi Wahhabi state” as “particularly menacing” (TA, p.68).

 

 

Varieties of American Imperialism

 

Disagreement over the strategic value of the US-Saudi alliance goes to the heart of the venomous battle that has long raged between neo-conservatives and “realists.” Indeed, the “Saudi” question is, in many respects, the constitutive difference that cuts through the fog that otherwise surrounds the civil war in Washington over the political outcome of regime change in Iraq.

 

The earliest evidence of a split between neo-conservatives and “realists”—the decision by Ronald Reagan to sell Saudi Arabia an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS)—is also the most illuminating for making sense of the division. The most useful expression of neo-conservative hope for Reagan administration foreign policy and of subsequent “anguish” comes from a May 1982 New York Times Magazine essay penned by self-proclaimed neo-conservative, Norman Podhoretz, long-serving editor of Commentary, the official publication of the American Jewish Committee. After the fall of the Shah in Iran, Podhoretz explains, neo-conservatives looked forward with great enthusiasm to Reagan’s plan for “shoring up the American position” in the Persian Gulf in order “to secure the oilfields against either a direct or an indirect Soviet move.” This would be accomplished by stationing “American ground forces somewhere in the region,” perhaps on the Israeli-occupied Sinai peninsula.

 

Neo-conservative hopes were dashed, however, when “this new idea was dropped” after “Saudis…voiced their opposition.” For fear that the oil-rich “Saudis might have done something to damage” the US economy, explains Podhoretz, Reagan fell into the “habit of appeasing Saudi Arabia.” Having lost the Shah, the US would now “supply the Saudis with advanced weaponry, including the Awacs planes… depending upon them to police the region” on behalf of the US.

 

Podhoretz argues that the decision to substitute the fallen Iranian regime with a Saudi surrogate was “bad… on its own terms,” that is, for the immediate strategic interests of the United States. If Iran under the Shah proved to be an unreliable “pillar of sand” for the US, “what could we expect of Saudi Arabia?” But the tilt toward Saudi Arabia was “all the more disturbing in its implications for the American connection with Israel” because “the Saudis refused to join” a “de facto alliance” that would “unite the moderate Arab states and Israel.”

 

Podhoretz rejects as false the “general impression” that all neo-conservatives are Jewish, and in no way claims that all supporters of Israel are neo-conservatives. Indeed, the vast majority of Jewish voters and not a few Zionists remain loyal to the Democratic Party. Podhoretz acknowledges, however, “it is certainly true that all neo-conservatives are strong supporters of Israel” who “would all agree that at a minimum the United States has a vital interest in the survival” of Israel as an “outpost” of “the free world.” That is, if forced by Arab-Israeli conflict to choose between a strategic alliance with the Saudis and one with the Israelis, neo-conservatives support the latter, rather than the former.

 

Neo-conservatives lost the battle to prevent the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia, but that fight serves as an extremely useful proxy for distinguishing between “neo” conservatives—who believe that US interests are best served by reliance on Israel, if only that relationship were not regularly jeopardized by the American habit of appeasing the Saudis—and “realist” conservatives—who believe that US interests are best served by reliance on Saudi Arabia, if only that were not jeopardized by the American habit of appeasing the Israelis.

 

The AWACS battle reveals the misleading and potentially self-serving function of labels like “realist” and “neo-conservative,” then and now. Whatever the historical salience of the “neo-conservative” label, the term is neither adequate nor helpful in clarifying the defining qualities of the faction. The “neo” in neo-conservatives initially described liberals and anti-Stalinist Leftists who made common cause—on a number of different political fronts—with various factions of the traditional Right. Notwithstanding the diversity of neo-conservatives on a host of issues, however, the AWACS issue did a great deal to reveal a crucial division on the Right. As Podhoretz argued, the AWACS affair indicated that—in matters of foreign policy—“neo-conservatives” are united in support of Israel. More specifically, neo-conservatives are Right “Zionists” who believe US supremacy in the Persian Gulf is best protected by the US-Israeli alliance. As Podhoretz indicated, not all neo-conservatives are Jewish; so, too, not all are “new” to the Right.

 

The label “realist” may provide an implicit contrast with allegedly “unrealistic” or “idealistic” neo-conservatives, but it obscures more than it reveals about “realist” commitments in the Middle East. To judge from the Reagan administration AWACS affair, the so-called “realists” are Right “Arabists” who believe that US supremacy in the Persian Gulf is best protected by the US-Saudi alliance. Very few are Arab; some are Jewish.

 

Each side of this split regularly accuses the other of bad faith—of trying to serve two flags at once. Right Zionists insist that US recognition of Israel as a strategic asset is compromised by the influence of “big oil” money. Richard Perle and David Frum, for example, insist that the Saudis distort the prevailing US assessment of its strategic interests in the Persian Gulf.

 

“The reason our policy toward Saudi Arabia has been so abject for so long is not mere error. Our policy has been abject because so many of those who make the policy have been bought and paid for by the Saudis… [T]oo many of our recent ambassadors to Saudi Arabia have served as shills for Saudi Arabia the instant they returned home” (EE, p.141-142).

 

Similarly, critics of the US-Israeli alliance portray Israel as a strategic burden, rather than an asset. Most recently, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published an article in the London Review of Books entitled, “The Israel Lobby.”

 

“Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of [Israel]… One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests… [but] the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.’”

 

Each side questions the strategic wisdom of appeasing the other side and searches for extra-strategic explanations for a strategic disagreement. The central strategic question, however, is unavoidable for any empire: which proxy state can most reliably “police” imperial interests?

 

Right Zionists and Right Arabists tend to agree that recurring battles in the US over policy toward Iraq and Iran are often “proxies” for larger strategic questions about the wisdom of the US alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Right Arabists like Caspar Weinberger, in his 1990 memoir, Fighting for Peace (hereafter, FP) argue that Israel survives, in part, through classic balance-of-power strategies. In explaining the basis for long-standing ties between Israel and the Shah of Iran, for example, Weinberger describes “a natural affinity of all religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East to unite (when at all they unite) against the vast majority—the Arab population. Hence some Jews, Christians, Turks, and Persians have long linkages… Israel had close ties to Iran under the Shah” (FP, p.365).

 

Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion allegedly referred to this strategy as the “Doctrine of the Periphery.” Gary Sick, a former Carter administration NSC staffer and a critic of Right Zionist activities with the US, describes the “Doctrine”—which he calls “a touchstone for Israeli foreign policy—in his 1991 book October Surprise: America’s Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan.

 

“This doctrine was predicated on the belief that while Israel was destined to be surrounded permanently by a ring of hostile Arab states, just outside this hostile ring there were non-Arab states such as Turkey, Ethiopia and Iran that were themselves frequently at odds with the Arabs and therefore potential allies of Israel. It was a classic case of the old maxim, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ raised to the level of international policy” (p.60).

 

The Doctrine of the Periphery is simply Realpolitik for Right Zionists. For Israel and Right Zionists, however, the 1979 Iranian Revolution created complex new risks and opportunities for the Doctrine of the Periphery. On the one hand, there was the immediate crisis of anti-Zionist and anti-American zeal within the Revolution. On the other hand, the Shiite Revolution seemed likely to embolden Shia insurgents in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf Emirates and aggravate hostilities between Arab and Shiite populations. For Right Zionists, the risk of Shiite anti-Zionism was partially offset by the opportunity for a strengthened alliance of the periphery forged on the basis of aggravated rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

 

For Right Arabists, Iranian hostility toward the US, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia pointed in one direction and one direction only: support for incumbent Arab regimes. At the start of the Iran-Iraq war, the US remained officially neutral. But Caspar Weinberger (Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration) acknowledges that he found it “difficult… to remain neutral… we ‘tilted’ toward Iraq” (FP, p.358).

 

This tilt toward Iraq—in the service of the US-Saudi Alliance—was a grave concern for Right Zionists. Notwithstanding the anti-Zionist and anti-American fervor of the Iranian regime, Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen—a key player in the Iran-Contra affair—viewed the Iran-Iraq war very differently from those like Weinberger who tilted toward Iraq. In his 1988 memoir, Perilous Statecraft: An Insider’s Account of the Iran-Contra Affair (herafter, PS), Ledeen explains, “Israel was far more concerned about Iraq than about Iran, since Iraq had participated in the Arab wars against Israel… Iran, at least in the short run, posed no comparable threat to Israel” (PS, p.100). Even as Saudi Arabia—and Right Zionists like Weinberger—became pivotal supporters of Iraq in the 1980s Gulf War, Israel—along with Right Zionists like Ledeen—championed Iran in its battle against Iraq. As for the Iranians, Ledeen is quick to point out that their “hatred of Judaism did not prevent them from buying weapons from the Jewish state” (PS, p.97).

 

The AWACS battle lines held in the Iran-Contra affair. Weinberger refers to Iran-Contra as an “Israeli-Iranian plot.” For Right Zionists like Wurmser, Weinberger’s unofficial tilt toward Saddam Hussein—akin to a Saudi-Iraqi plot—helped the US become tyranny’s ally. So, too, Weinberger’s great fear was that any outreach to Iran “would adversely affect our newly emerging relationship with Iraq” (FP, p.364-366). Right Zionists feared the exact opposite—that the “newly emerging relationship” between the US and Iraq would adversely affect the US-Israeli alliance.

 

In many respects, Right Zionist war plans for Iraq represents an audacious attempt to reverse the pro-Saudi tilt in US policy that developed in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution and deepened with the movement of US forces onto Saudi soil following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Make no mistake: the US invaded Iraq, but it went to war with the Saudis. The Iraqi political tilt toward Iran is not an accident—the unintended consequence of bumbling naiveté—so much as the heart of a future geo-strategic alliance with Iranian Shiites, if not the incumbent clerical regime.

 

Right Arabists understand the stakes quite well and this—more than any dovish conversion on the road to Baghdad—explains the vehemence of their “anti-war” opposition. Although they have attacked the war on a variety of fronts—for its aggressive unilateralism, its abuse of intelligence, its abuse of prisoners, etc.—the heart of the critique has always been the political outcome—symbolized by de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Sunni-led Iraqi Army.

 

 

Whither Cheney?

In the history of Republican foreign policy factionalism, there seems to have been two major defections from the Right Arabist camp: Vice-President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In prior administrations, Rumsfeld and Cheney—Rumsfeld’s protégé in the Ford White House—fought side by side with Right Arabists. In the US invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld have drawn considerable fire from former allies on the Arabist Right. Any effort to explain the influence Right Zionist strategies at the start of the US invasion of Iraq must take account of the anomalous roles played by Cheney and Rumsfeld.

The timing and significance of any break between Cheney and Rumsfeld, on the one side, and the Right Arabists, on the other, will likely remain a matter of speculation for some time to come. For now, the record remains sketchy. Rumsfeld served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense in the administration of Gerald Ford, but he stayed out of government during the early Reagan administration. However, as the “Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service” reminded readers of its website in December 2003—Rumsfeld came back to the White House to help Reagan overcome Zionist opposition to the sale of AWACS to the Saudis. Similarly, the “American Israel Public Affairs Committee” has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale. And it was Rumsfeld who helped Reagan’s Arabists “tilt” the US toward Iraq in 1983 and 1984 when he traveled to Baghdad as special U.S. Middle East envoy and met with Saddam Hussein.

Somewhere along the way to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Cheney and Rumsfeld ran into trouble with the Right Arabist crowd. Brent Scowcroft could not have been more explicit than he was in an October 2005 interview with the New Yorker.

“The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney… I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore… I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons.”

More specifically, Scowcroft speculates that Cheney has been persuaded by the idea—rejected by Scowcroft, but attributed by him to Princeton professor Bernard Lewis—that “one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick.”

There are some signs that Cheney and Rumsfeld had aligned themselves with Right Zionists before the 2000 Presidential election. For example, in June 1997, Rumsfeld and Cheney signed on to William Kristol’s “Statement of Principles” for his “Project for a New American Century” (PNAC). Other signatories included Right Zionists like Norman Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Dector; their son-in-law, Elliot Abrams—another key player in the Iran-Contra affair; Frank Gaffney; and Paul Wolfowitz.

In 1998, Rumsfeld signed another PNAC document that explicitly endorsed “removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.” With Richard Perle, Wolfowitz, and Abrams as signatories, the document certainly had Right Zionist support. The wording of the letter, however, offered something for Right Arabists and Zionists alike. It explained how the failure to effectively contain Saddam Hussein endangered “our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states.” Maybe the refusal to name Saudi Arabia as a friend, ally, or “moderate” Arab state was intended to signal the dominance of Right Zionist influence. But the letter allowed for productive ambiguity.

Most Right Arabists seemed to draw even closer to Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Abdullah in the late 1990s. Abdullah thrilled—and shocked—Right Arabists and US oil company executives in September 1998 when he unexpectedly abandoned the oil nationalism of the 1970s and invited US oil companies to consider direct upstream investment in new oil and gas fields (“Saudis Talk with 7 U.S. Oil Firms; Companies Were Kicked Out in 1970s,” Washington Post, September 30, 1998). In April 2001, Exxon Mobil and Saudi Arabia signed “preparatory agreements” that secured for Exxon Mobile its role as leader and operator of two of three core ventures in a new Saudi natural gas initiative (“Exxon Takes Saudi Gas Prize,” International Petroleum Finance, April 30, 2001). Final contracts were expected by December 2001.

Abdullah’s star was on the rise among Right Arabists impressed by his economic opening to the US oil industry. A serious deterioration in US-Saudi relations after September 11th seems to have engendered a split among Right Arabists about the future viability of any US-Saudi alliance. Cheney and Rumsfeld, in particular, seem to have developed serious concerns about Abdullah’s response to September 11th.

His associations with Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, notwithstanding, Right Zionists were hardly accustomed to thinking of Cheney as an ally. In fact, by some accounts, Cheney was actually the most powerful Bush administration opponent of any effort to weaken the US-Saudi alliance. In his 2002 book, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror, Stephen Schwartz—a regular contributor to the Weekly Standard—describes Cheney as “the most active in diverting the president from any actions detrimental to Saudi interests” and accuses the Vice President of “clear conflicts of interest” because of his “lucrative” relations with the Saudis (p.271).

So, too, the Weekly Standard published an article in April 2002, “Cheney Trips Up: The Vice President’s Middle East Expedition Didn’t Help the War on Terror” that criticized Cheney because he “avoided putting the Arabs on the spot” about regime change in Iraq. In a subsequent editorial, “The Detour,” the Weekly Standard blamed Cheney—and his “ill-fated trip to the Middle East”—for diverting the Bush administration from “America’s war on terrorism” and for engineering the “administration’s sudden quasi-embrace of Arafat.”

By August 2002, however, Cheney seems to have gone from an obstacle to a key sponsor of Right Zionist ambitions for war in Iraq. Perhaps it is important to note that the $30 billion Saudi gas deal fell apart just prior to Cheney’s apparent reversal. The first public report of trouble appeared within weeks of the September 11th attacks, as the government-owned Saudi Aramco—the world’s largest oil exporter—“baulked at this foreign invasion” (“Western Oil Companies Join the Search for Gas,” Financial Times, October 29, 2001). By January 2002 oil industry officials suggested that new delays were a consequence of “political, not legal, reasons” (“US Firms say Timetable May Slip on Saudi Gas Deals,” The Oil and Gas Journal, January 21, 2002).

As deadlines passed and industry executives began to fret about the future of the gas deal, industry analysts reported, “There is reason to believe the status of the negotiations will be monitored at the highest levels of the US government. The Department of State announced Mar. 1 that Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, would join the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in coming weeks as the deputy assistant secretary handling Middle East economic issues” (“Saudi Gas Partnerships with US Firms Delayed Again,” The Oil and Gas Journal, March 11, 2002). In April 2002, industry officials hoped that Cheney’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Abdullah’s visit to the United States would save the faltering gas talks, but feared “rising anti-American sentiment in Saudi Arabia” would scuttle the deal (“Talks Between Saudis, Oil Companies Falter,” Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2002).

In late July 2002, the Saudis announced that negotiators would meet to “present their final offers.” On Monday, July 29, 2002, the oil industry press reported that negotiations “ground to a halt” after it became clear “the [Saudi] ministers were against going forward” (“Saudi Gas Initiative at an Impasse,” Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, July 29, 2002). The deal was dead.

Little more than a week after the Saudis walked away from the US oil majors, Cheney went public in his support for a US invasion of Iraq. The Weekly Standard was quick to notice the change. Even as Kristol chastised Brent Scowcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and his deputy Richard Armitage for constituting an “Axis of Appeasement” within the Republican Party, he praised Cheney for a “fine speech in San Francisco on August 7”—the Vice President’s first major public appearance in months—in which the Vice President called Saddam Hussein a “growing threat.”

In the August 26, 2002 issue of the Weekly Standard, Kristol pointed to “the highly significant speech delivered today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars by Vice President Cheney” and concluded “The debate in the administration is over.” As far as Kristol was concerned, Cheney had switched sides and consummated his alliance with the Right Zionists. Moreover, Kristol noted that Cheney’s speech specifically targets “recent critics of the Bush Doctrine”—especially Brent Scowcroft. Cheney addressed himself—in minimally coded language—to the Right Arabist argument “that opposing Saddam Hussein would cause even greater troubles in that part of the world… I believe the opposite is true. Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region… The reality is that these times bring not only dangers but also opportunities.” Even as Cheney thumbed his nose at Scowcroft, he tipped his hat to Right Zionists, citing Fouad Ajami’s prediction that “the streets of Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy.”

In short order, Rumsfeld and Cheney became the patron saints of Right Zionist ambitions in Iraq. For this they have earned the eternal enmity of Right Arabists.

The most famous Right Arabist attack on the Iraq war—celebrated by much of the Left–remains Richard Clarke’s 2004 book, Against All Enemies—an “insider” account that ostensibly confirmed the senselessness of the US invasion of Iraq and highlighted—in the person of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (p.30)—Right Zionist attempts to use 9/11 as a springboard for promoting their agenda for Iraq. “Instead of addressing [the al Qaeda] with all the necessary attention it required, we went off on a tangent, off after Iraq,” Clarke complains (p.286-287). The war in Iraq is a “mistaken and costly” attack on “an oil-rich Arab country that posed no threat to us” (p.264-266). Beyond the headline-grabbing charge that the invasion of Iraq was a “tangent” that sidetracked the war on terror, however, Clarke also offers an entirely different—if less publicized—“insider” analysis of the Realpolitik rationale for war.

 

Clarke asserts that al Qaeda inaugurated “a war intended to replace the House of Saud” (p.282). According to Clarke, it was “concern with the long-term stability of the House of Saud” (p.265) in light of the challenge from al Qaeda that led “some in the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney” (p.283) to favor war with Iraq. “With Saddam gone, they believed, the U.S. could reduce its dependence on Saudi Arabia, could pull forces out of the Kingdom, and could open up an alternative source of oil” (p.283). The war on Iraq was, in effect, an indirect attack on the House of Saud.

 

Clarke is not persuaded. “The risk that the United States runs is of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy” that will undermine the House of Saud “without a plan or any influence about what would happen next… The future and stability of Saudi Arabia is of paramount importance to the United States; our policy cannot just be one of reducing our dependence upon it” (p.283). Just for good measure, Clarke criticizes “firing of the army and de-Baathification” in Iraq (p.272). This is the Right Arabist critique in a nutshell. Clarke’s book was one of the earliest Right Arabist attacks on the war but his critique is hardly exceptional. Many of the same charges have been leveled by other Right Arabists, including Retired General Anthony Zinni, former commander of the U.S. Central Command responsible for protecting Saudi Arabia.

 

 

What’s Left?

 

The ongoing battles between Right Arabists and Right Zionists have complicated attempts to criticize the war without implicitly—and often inadvertently—taking sides within the terms of an intra-imperialist debate.

 

For example, Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 goes to great lengths to expose and condemn the role of Saudi money in the United States and to establish the Saudi connection to the Bush family, their friends and associates, all as a prelude to the decision to invade Iraq. Likewise, Craig Unger’s 2004 book, House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties has the misfortune of having been written in the older tradition—exposing the intimacy of Bush-Saudi ties, even as there were signs that “the relationship between the House of Bush and the House of Saud appears to be coming to a difficult end” (p.280). Unger finds all of this “difficult to believe” and ends his book with “one incontrovertible fact”: Never before has an American president been so closely tied to a foreign power that harbors and supports our country’s mortal enemies” (p.281). The foreign power in question is Saudi Arabia.

 

For Robert Dreyfuss, the foreign power in question is Israel, not Saudi Arabia. Dreyfuss, a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, is author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. In an on-line review of Fahrenheit 9/11, Dreyfuss declares that “in one critically important way, [Moore’s film] entirely misses the boat and gets nearly everything wrong.”

 

“Moore totally avoids the question of Israel. Not only that, but the opening polemic of the movie ties President Bush and company mightily to Saudi Arabia…. Huh?… If Bush is so ‘in the pocket’ of Saudi Arabia, why is he Ariel Sharon’s strongest backer?… And most important, why did he invade Iraq—since Saudi Arabia was strongly opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq? Why did he launch his Iraqi adventure over Saudi objections, with many of his advisers chortling that Saudi Arabia would be ‘next’? Why did he stock his administration with militant neocon crusaders who see Saudi Arabia as the main enemy?… Is that because attacking Israel is too hard? Moore’s photo-montage of Saudi princes borders on the racist, showing Bush and Co. clinging to grinning, Semitic-looking Arabs in flowing white robes… Did Moore notice that Baker, along with Brent Scowcroft, and other former advisers to Bush 41 (including Colin Powell) were against the Iraq adventure?”

 

In his book, Devil’s Game, Dreyfuss devotes considerable attention to close readings of Right Zionist authors, including Richard Perle, David Wurmser, and Reuel Marc Gerecht and participates in the vilification of the “neo-conservative” Right Zionists.

 

According to the worst accusations, Right Zionists are agents of Israel who serve a foreign flag. At best, they represent one imperialist faction within the US foreign policy establishment—the faction that believes Israel is able to police the Middle East and secure US access to the region’s strategic oil resources and the Suez Canal. Anti-imperialists on the Left have good reason to oppose this as an imperialist war and rightly assert that no more US troops should die in order to make the Middle East safe for US empire.

 

In doing so, however, the Left sometimes runs the risk of becoming unwitting partners in an intra-imperialist battle between Right Zionists and Right Arabists. Right Arabists—like Brent Scowcroft and General Anthony Zinni–posing as the equivalent of Republican “anti-war activists” do not demand immediate withdrawal of US troops; they attack the “incompetence” of those who have executed this war. Right Arabists are not opposed to the US micro-managing the political outcome in Iraq; they oppose the particular outcome that empowers Iraqi Shiites and Kurds at the expense of Sunni Arab power in Iraq and beyond.

 

The anti-imperialist Left has no business aligning itself with Right Arabists, and yet the dangerous consequences of this alliance have only grown as Right Arabists have begun to regain control of the US ship of state. Nowhere is the risk for the Left more evident than in the writing of Robert Dreyfuss.

 

Dreyfuss is a good reporter and, to his credit, he understands the Right Zionist and Right Arabist battle lines within the Bush administration. However, because all of his political firepower is directed at the “neocon-dominated” United States, his critique is completely neutralized in those instances where Right Arabists have managed to regain some influence over Iraq policy. Dreyfuss pins everything on the idea that Right Zionists are dominating US policy. It legitimizes his uncritical embrace of Right Arabist perspectives on Iraq.

 

In a December 2004 comment, for example, Dreyfuss finds evidence of considerable Right Zionist panic, expressed by “leading neocon strategist” Max Singer, that Right Arabists were winning greater influence over Iraq policy. “What world is Singer living in?” asks Dreyfuss. “The United States is supporting the Sunnis and Baathists? Course not.”

 

More recently, Dreyfuss has acknowledged that the balance in US policy might have shifted back toward the Right Arabists. In an article sub-titled “Bring Back the Baath,” Dreyfuss reports on “U.S.-Baath Talks.”

 

“What the United States ought to have done two years ago—namely, make a deal with the resistance and its core Baathist leadership—might, after all, be happening. It is unclear how far up the food chain in the Bush administration this effort goes, but it appears that a desperate Ambassador Khalilzad has realized the importance of forging ties to the Baath party… That’s all good….”

 

If Dreyfuss feels awkward about declaring the increasingly Right Arabist inclinations of a Republican administration “all good,” he certainly hides it well. Give Dreyfuss the benefit of the doubt and assume that his pro-Baathist perspective is derived not from his love of Sunni Arab authoritarianism but the fact that the “resistance and its core Baathist leadership” offer the best chances for driving the US out of Iraq. That remains to be seen. If the US makes its peace with the Baathists, it is Sistani and the Iraqi Shiites who may ultimately drive the US out of Iraq.

 

Whatever his intentions, however, Dreyfuss risks becoming a pawn of Right Arabists. Not surprisingly, they have embraced him openly. Charles Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a prominent Right Arabist, provides a glowing blurb on the back cover of the book. Moreover, key chapters on Right Zionists draw on interviews with Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Atkins, and other prominent Right Arabists whom Dreyfuss quotes approvingly.

 

Not everyone on the anti-war Left is equally keen to mimic Right Arabist rhetoric. In an exchange with Alex Callinicos ahead of the January 2005 Iraqi elections, Gilbert Achcar breaks ranks and warns “the whole anti-imperialist left against falling into the trap of declaring the forthcoming elections ‘illegitimate’ just because some armed groups based among the Sunnis and some reactionary Sunni parties are trying to delegitimize them.” Achcar argues that “it is dead wrong for the movement and the left to condemn the elections in advance, thus probably putting us at odds with the great majority of the Iraqi people.”

 

The political allure of Achcar’s first commentary on Iraqi elections was certainly strengthened by three accompanying claims. First, “the US…tried to postpone as far as possible the prospect of holding elections and to replace them with appointed bodies.” Second, the US was forced to “backtrack” only when “countered by… Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani” whose call for demonstrations brought “huge numbers of people… into the streets of several Iraqi cities, especially in the Shia areas, with hundreds of thousands shouting ‘yes to election, no to designation.’” Third, the “overwhelming majority” of Iraqis are “hostile to US control of their land, and hence any truly representative democratically elected government would seek to get rid of the occupation.”

 

The second claim—that the decision to go forward with the elections was a direct consequence of Sistani-led demonstrations in support of elections—is indisputable. This fact afforded critics of Bush to celebrate the elections without conceding anything to the President. One anti-Bush blogger proclaimed it “The Elections Bush Didn’t Want.”

 

The political appeal of the first claim—that the “US” or “the Bushies” tried to postpone or cancel elections—once again presupposes, implicitly at least, a unified imperial actor. On that basis, the Sistani-led demonstrations and the elections can be depicted as a defiant thumb in the eye of US imperialism.

 

This claim is only partially accurate. Both the Sistani-led demonstrations and the Iraqi elections represent an enormous defeat for Right Arabists struggling to put the old Baathist lid back on Iraq. The Right Arabists had to backtrack. For Right Zionists, however, the Iraqi elections represent a great victory in their battles with Right Arabists in Washington. Indeed, one of the most stunning elements of the Iraqi elections is the way it allowed Right Zionists to snatch victory from the jaws of factional defeat at the hands of Right Arabists.

 

Setting aside all the talk—from allies and critics of the White House—about how this administration is dogged in its determination to “stay the course” at all costs, many Right Zionists suggest that the White House actually lost its nerve—and began to retreat—as early as October 2003, if not earlier. In August 2004, Michael Rubin—a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute—articulated the Right Zionist sense of betrayal.

 

“In October 2003, the White House launched a major reorganization of its Iraq-policy team. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice became titular head of the Iraq Stabilization Group… [and] her deputy (and former mentor) Robert Blackwill… became chief for political transition…. Whereas President Bush repeatedly promised that the U.S. sought democracy in Iraq, the British government, U.S. State Department, and the National Security Council project the opposite to an Iraqi audience. Iraqis were not blind to high-level discussions of a “Sunni strategy.” They interpreted the Sunni strategy to mean that Washington would not live up to its rhetoric of democracy, and instead return the Sunni minority to what many former Baathists—and the Saudi and Jordanian governments—felt was the Sunni community’s birthright. Iraqis interpreted Bremer’s decision to televise his April 23 [2004] speech announcing a rollback of de-Baathification as proof that Washington was pandering to Iraq’s Sunni population…. [T]he decision to reverse de-Baathification in effect traded the goodwill of Iraq’s 14 million Shia and six million Kurds for the sake of, at most, 40,000 high-level Baathists. Realism isn’t always so realistic.”

 

Reuel Marc Gerecht, also at AEI, was warning of a sellout as early as November 2003.

 

“The Pentagon’s and the Central Intelligence Agency’s decision to use the former exile organization, the Iraqi National Accord, as the basis for a new domestic Iraqi intelligence-and-security service is part of Washington’s and the Provisional Authority’s new “pro-Sunni” push…. The Shiite-American alliance–on which all hinges in Iraq–can snap if only a small number of Shiites grow fearful about America’s intentions. Working with Baathists… is a longstanding predilection in certain offices of the State Department, the CIA, and, more recently, among some American military field commanders… The CPA and the Bush administration obviously believe that democracy now is unworkable. They also fear… that elections now might give the Shiite clergy–especially Sistani–a potential veto over the nation’s future. To put it succinctly: We are enormously lucky to have Sistani in post-Saddam Iraq.”

 

At the start of October 2004, Gerecht published an article entitled “The Battle for Iraq.” The battle of which Gerecht writes, however, is located in Washington as much as Baghdad.

 

“The United States is engaged in a revolution in Iraq. We have toppled Saddam Hussein, the Baath party, and the Sunni Arab dominion over the country. We have promised to help the Iraqi people establish a democracy, which means that we are the midwife of a political system that will empower the Shia… [T]he Coalition Provisional Authority… wanted to be rather nice to the Sunni base of Saddam’s power in the hope of placating it, of getting it to play along. (The CIA’s dogged advancing of the pro-Sunni, Baathist-sympathetic, Shiite Ayad Allawi and the White House’s approval of him as prime minister was the culmination of this attitude.) The American retreat started in earnest in Baghdad last year… Any significant delay of elections would quickly force Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s preeminent Shiite cleric, to stand against the United States. If he were to do so, he would win, we and Prime Minister Allawi would lose.”

 

When the showdown occurred and Sistani did fight and win, Gerecht’s response—“The Birth of a Democracy”—was predictably ecstatic. It was also remarkably explicit about the larger meaning of the victory.

 

“ALL RIGHT. Let us make an analytical bet of high probability and enormous returns: The January 30 elections in Iraq will easily be the most consequential event in modern Arab history since Israel’s six-day defeat of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s alliance in 1967…. Continue to pray every night for the health, well-being, and influence of Grand Ayatollah Sistani.”

 

If the Iraqi votes of January 2005, October 2005, and December 2005 were the “Elections that Bush Didn’t Want,” the same can hardly be said of Right Zionists.

 

The Left would do well to remember that there are at least two imperialist camps in Washington—one Right Arabist and one Right Zionist. Both are “sensible,” within the framework of imperialist statecraft. Neither deserves our embrace.

 

Will Sistani—like the Shah before him—collaborate with Israel and police US interests in the Middle East? Or will the Baathists and Saudis patrol the region for the US? These are urgent questions for US imperialism. Not so for the anti-imperialist Left. Ours is not the quest for “indigenous” surrogates willing and able to police the Middle East on behalf of US Empire. US Soldiers are not cannon fodder for Right Zionist or Right Arabist imperial ambitions. Our demand is simple: Bring the troops home. Now.

 

 

Jonathan Cutler teaches sociology at Wesleyan University. For more Iraq analysis and commentary, go to his blog, www.profcutler.com.

 

Shia Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

You think you lost your love,
When I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of…

–She Loves You, The Beatles, 1963

Iraq is, finally, going the way that many had wanted to see years ago, before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s and General John Abizaid’s counter-insurgency negligence and the Sunni onslaught against the Shi’a nearly drove us and the Iraqis over the cliff. Iraq is far from being a lost cause…

Are We Winning the “War on Terror”?, Reuel Marc Gerecht, 2007

With the singular exception of Elliott Abrams at NSC and John Hannah in Cheney’s office, all the major Right Zionists have now departed from service within the Bush administration.  Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Wurmser, etc.

You would think they would all be demoralized.  And maybe they do feel marginalized and ostracized in Washington.

But they seem increasingly satisfied with a vicarious victory in Iraq.

Although some Right Zionists participate in the happy talk about how the sun will come out, tomorrow, that isn’t the basis of the satisfaction.  Instead, Right Zionists are feeling like their effort to transform Iraq from a country ruled by Sunni Arabs into a Shiite-dominated country is winning the day.

The goal is not new.  Gerecht, for example, has consistently championed Shiite power in Iraq.

But for a while there, Right Zionists were convinced that Right Arabists were winning all the political battles, in Washington and Baghdad.  It looked as if Washington was going to abandon the Shia of Iraq and that a Right Arabist triumph in Washington would terminate Shiite power in Iraq.

Now there is every reason to believe that they feel they have lost much of the war for Washington but have won (in absentia) the war for a Shiite Iraq.

If some Right Zionists had reservations about Shiite power (i.e., the anti-Americanism of Moqtada al-Sadr), these appear to be dissipating.

Gerecht was, undoubtedly, the first to “choose Sadr” when confronted with the choice between Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency.

But, as Gerecht pointed out in his most recent essay, he is not alone.  There is also the British essayist, Bartle Bull, who has rehabilitated the “Mission Accomplished” claim and has learned to love Moqtada al-Sadr.

And then there is Fouad Ajami, who has nothing but praise for the Shiite-led Maliki government and who seems unimpressed by the Sunni-led “Anbar Awakening.”

An Iraqi in the know, unsentimental about his country’s ways, sought to play down the cult of Abu Reisha. American soldiers, he said, won the war for the Anbar, but it was better to put an Iraq kafiyyah than an American helmet on the victory. He dismissed Abu Reisha. He was useful, he said, but should not be romanticized. “No doubt he was shooting at Americans not so long ago, but the tide has turned, and Abu Reisha knew how to reach an accommodation with the real order of power. The truth is that the Sunnis launched this war four years ago, and have been defeated. The tribes never win wars, they only join the winners”…

Four months ago, I had seen the Sunni despondency, their recognition of the tragedy that had befallen them in Baghdad. That despondency had deepened in the intervening period. No Arab cavalry had ridden to their rescue, no brigades had turned up from the Arabian Peninsula or from Jordan, and the Egyptians were far away. Reality in Iraq had not waited on the Arabs. The Sunnis of Iraq must now fully grasp that they are on their own. They had relied on the dictatorship, and on the Baath, and these are now gone; there had, of course, been that brief bet on al Qaeda and on the Arab regimes, and it had come to naught…

And there are other Right Zionists, some more obscure than others, who welcome Shiite power and retain a deep hostility toward Sunni Arab Iraq.

Consider, for example, the case of Gal Luft–executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS)–who recently co-authored an essay, “The Great Divide: Sunnis, Shi’ites and the West.”

[A]t least some elements in the Bush Administration seem to be leaning toward [Sunni Arab political dominance]. Increasingly disenchanted with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and intent on containing Iran, they have begun to speak of a new strategic alignment in the Middle East, arraying “moderate” Sunni allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf states against the Shi’ite “extremists” of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.

Evidence for this shift in thinking lies in Washington’s rising regard for Saudi Arabia. Just five years after September 11, an attack perpetrated in large part by Saudi nationals, the US appears to be outsourcing parts of its Middle East policy to the House of Saud, bolstering the kingdom’s military capabilities and, according to reports, involving itself in clandestine operations with radical Saudi proxies who loathe America but happen to hate the Shi’ites even more. As Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the New Yorker, “At a time when America’s standing in the Middle East is extremely low, the Saudis are actually embracing us. We should count our blessings.”

But these “blessings” are themselves decidedly mixed, as the Bush White House itself has long recognised…

An alignment with supposed Sunni “moderates” is, in short, a huge gamble. Essentially it would perpetuate, or resurrect, the same Sunni order that has been responsible over the course of several generations for most of the Middle East’s pathologies. It is under the Sunni dispensation, after all, that the Arab world has lagged in every dimension of human development, from political and cultural freedom to economic growth, while simultaneously giving birth to a virulent Islamic radicalism.

The Shiite-led government in Iraq is flexing its muscles in relation to Washington on a host of issues including the courting of Sunni Arab insurgents, Blackwater and arms for the Shiite-dominated Iraqi police.

Might signs of Shiite stridency and autonomy shake the Right Zionist faith in their local Shiite surrogates?

Right Zionists would not be excited to see Iraq turn toward China.  But they might not mind observing the ways in which independent Shiite power in Iraq “focuses the mind” of the Right Arabists who preside in Washington.

Right Zionist Complexities

Posted by Cutler on September 08, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

As I argued in my ZNet essay “Beyond Incompetence,” the decisions to disband the Iraqi army and dissolve the Baathist state in Iraq were part of a larger project of transforming the balance of power in Iraq and the Middle East.

Lots of recent attention has focused on assigning blame for the decision.  Paul Bremer has worked hard on several occasions to shift the focus away from himself, most recently in the pages of the New York Times (here and here).

The search is on for more convincing explanations.  Fred Kaplan points a finger at Cheney and Chalabi.

I have argued that it makes sense to ponder the role of David Wurmser.

Juan Cole weighs in with another name: Cheney’s national security advisor, John Hannah.

I’d add a… leg to this stool, which is John Hannah and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the AIPAC think tank. Hannah, the former deputy head of WINEP, was one of two officials authorized to receive “intelligence” from Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress. That elements of the Likud Party in Israel to whom Hannah is close, and which had come to have special influence in WINEP, wanted the Iraqi army dissolved is just as plausible as the other elements of Kaplan’s canny theory of the thing.

I totally agree with Cole that it is “plausible” that Hannah favored radical de-Baathification of the Iraqi military state.

But more is required than simply suggesting that Hannah “is close” to “elements of the Likud Party in Israel.”

Cole is certainly correct to think of Cheney’s staff as a field office of the Likud.  No need to hesitate there.

But there are clear signs that Hannah didn’t always favor de-Baathification.

At some point Hannah changed his mind.  And it was during his role as deputy head of the pro-Israel Washington Institute that he initially opposed de-Baathification.

Consider, for example, a Washington Times Andrew Borowiec article from February 28, 1991 entitled “Sparing Future Turmoil for Iraq is U.S. Goal.”

The lead quote in the article belongs to Hannah:

Most analysts here believe that the victorious coalition should not allow Iraq to fragment and that Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party should be allowed to stay in power. But few see Iraq as capable of exercising significant influence in the Gulf for a long time.

“After years of continuing influence, there is no obvious substitute for Ba’ath,” said John Hannah of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The key figure at WINEP back in 1991 was its director Martin Indyk, not Hannah.

In the same article, Indyk warned against an end to the war that would be “messy, with a collapse of central authority.”

All of this might say more about WINEP and Indyk than it does about Hannah and Likud policies.

Hannah and Indyk were not alone in their fear of a collapse of the Baathist state.

Patrick Clawson–now at WINEP but back in 1991 at the Foreign Policy Research Institute–offered a similar line to Johanna Neuman at USA Today (“Iran, Syria May Covet Iraqi Land,” January 18, 1991).

”It’s a very terrifying question to consider what happens if we cause the disintegration of Iraq,” says Patrick Clawson, strategist for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

But at roughly the same time as Hannah, Indyk, and Clawson were warning agains the destruction of the Baath, Richard Perle and others were already pondering alternatives.

In a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed (“The War to Oust Saddam Has Yet to Begin,” March 29, 1991), Perle wrote:

The principal aim should be to stop the massacre [of Shiite and Kurdish rebels], first for humanitarian, then for political reasons – to encourage a political solution to the rebellion that might yield sufficient autonomy for the Kurds and Shi’ites…

The U.S. administration evidently believes that the dismemberment of Iraq is not in the Western interest. But neither is it in the interest of the West for Saddam Hussein to consolidate his hold over clearly defined dissident areas….

Sharing intelligence and communications devices with the rebels and possibly supplying them with the Stinger and anti-tank missiles that were so effective in the hands of the Afghan resistance should be considered.

At one time, there appear to have been complex disagreements within the “Israel Lobby.”

There is a good bet that some of that complexity remains and that views sometimes change and evolve as the historical context changes.

Michael Ledeen’s changing views on US policy toward Iran constitute another such puzzle.

No answers, here.  Just questions.

Is this about factional splits within the Israel Lobby?

Or changing historical circumstances?

Or both?

 

Cheney and Sistani, Sitting in a Tree

Posted by Cutler on August 03, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The headline of Sudarsan Raghavan’s article in today’s Washington Post–“Maliki’s Impact Blunted By Own Party’s Fears: Hussein-Era Secrecy Persists, Analysts Say“–certainly suggests a smear campaign against Maliki.

For the idea that Maliki’s government can be equated with the “Hussein-Era,” Raghavan relies on a “political analyst,” Wamidh Nadhmi.

“Many people see some similarities between Maliki and the late Saddam, except he’s much weaker than Saddam Hussein,” Nadhmi said. “People feel he’s in power because he’s backed by American tanks. Others say the Dawa party is not popular enough to win elections on their own.”

Similarities between Maliki and the late Saddam?

Well, I guess Nadhmi would know.  As the Washington Post reported in a December 2005 profile of the professor, Nadhmi was a close associate of Saddam and played the role of the official house critic from his perch at Baghdad University during the Hussein era.

[H]e endured… admittedly odd protection under Saddam Hussein that allowed him to speak out at the height of the Baath Party’s tyranny…

Raghavan identifies Nadhmi merely as an “analyst,” but–as an April 2005 Washington Post article noted–the professor is also a leader of a political party, the “Arab Nationalist Trend,” that boycotted the 2005 elections and opposed the Shiite-led government’s aggressive purge of Iraq’s Baathist security forces.

Needless to say, Nadhmi hardly stands out for his current criticism of Maliki.  As the Associated Press recently reported, Maliki faces a revolt–led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari–from within his own Dawa party.

According to the Washington Post, Maliki and his allies also fear that they face powerful enemies within the US.

Haider al-Abadi, an influential Dawa legislator… said rumors of a governmental collapse are being spread by “some enemies within the U.S. establishment.”

“Some special intelligence units,” he explained, his voice lowering during an interview at a coffee shop in the U.S.-protected Green Zone. “They have their own plan. That’s what frightens us. People want to wreck the whole thing…

Of course, as William Burroughs suggested, sometimes paranoia means having all the facts.

The very fact of Raghavan’s smear article should be enough to confirm Abadi’s suspicions.  But there are plenty of other signs that the Shiite-led government has powerful enemies in Washington and Iraq.

But Maliki still has some very powerful friends.

First among them, according to the Associated Press report, appears to be Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The former prime minister also has approached Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, proposing a “national salvation” government to replace the al-Maliki coalition. The Iranian-born al-Sistani refused to endorse the proposal, [officials in his office and the political party he leads] said.

Maliki (and Sistani) have adoring fans within Right Zionist circles among folks like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

And then there is Vice President Cheney.

I’m not confident that I know where Cheney stands on the particulars of some major issues regarding the balance of power in Iraq.

For example, Cheney has celebrated the so-called “Anbar Model” that aligns US forces with Sunni nationalist insurgents.  Many in the Maliki government see that as something like a slow-moving anti-Shiite coup.

And yet…

Insofar as Cheney has his eye on the control of Iraqi oil, then he may have no better friend in Iraq than the Sistani-backed oil minister, Hussain Shahristani.

Shahristani–a champion of aggressive de-Baathification–has done his best to shepherd US-backed oil legislation through the Iraqi political process amidst considerable opposition and he has shown himself to be a friend to foreign oil and a foe of organized oil workers.

And, in his recent CNN interview with Larry King, Cheney hardly seems like a strident critic of Shiite empowerment in Iraq.  Indeed, he appears to put great stock in the 2005 elections that solidified Shiite political control–against the advice of Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft–and he appears to go out of his way to defend the current Shiite government and parliament.

Here are some suggestive excerpts from King’s Cheney interview:

KING: OK, let’s go back. On this program, May of 2005, you said the Iraqi insurgency was in the last throes.

CHENEY: Right.

KING: Why were you wrong?

CHENEY: I think my estimate at the time — and it was wrong, it turned out to be incorrect — was the fact that we were in the midst of holding three elections in Iraq — electing an interim government, then ratifying a constitution and then electing a permanent government.

That they had had significant success. We had rounded up Saddam Hussein. I thought there were a series of these milestones that would, in fact, undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point….

CHENEY: When you think about what’s been accomplished in, what, about four years now since we originally launched in there, they have, in fact, held three national elections and written a constitution….

KING: Does it bother you that the Iraqi parliament is taking August off?

CHENEY: Well, it’s better than…

KING: While our men are over there?

CHENEY: Yes. It’s better than taking…

KING: And women…

CHENEY: …two months off, which was their original plan. Our Congress, of course, takes the month of August off to go back home. So I don’t think we can say that they shouldn’t go home at all. But, obviously, we’re eager to have them complete their work.

And they have, in fact, passed about 60 pieces of legislation this year. They have been fairly productive. Now there are major issues yet to be addressed and be resolved that they are still working on. But they did — I made it clear, for example, when I was there in May, that we didn’t appreciate the notion that they were going take a big part of the summer off. And they did cut that in half.

Maybe Cheney’s attempt to tout accomplishments in Iraq–all his happy talk–is nothing more than evidence that he is in a state of denial or the he aims to deceive the public about his own enormous sense of disappointment and frustration.

Either seems plausible.

But isn’t it also plausible that Cheney–like his friends Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht, and his long-distance ally Sistani–is not unhappy with the Maliki government, in particular, or Shiite political dominance in Iraq, more generally?

Even as David Wurmser and other Cheney allies depart the scene, Cheney remains unmoved and untouchable.

Cheney… and his ace in the whole, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Zionists and the Saudi Arms Deal

Posted by Cutler on July 31, 2007
Dem Zionists, Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

The US arms deal with Saudi Arabia–first floated publicly in April 2007–is back in the news.

As I noted in an earlier post, the issue of US military aid to Saudi Arabia has traditionally been one of the best ways of distinguishing between Right Zionists, who have historically opposed such aid (as they did during the “AWACS” affair at the start of the Reagan administration) and pro-Saudi Right Arabists who see the aid as crucial, not only for enhancing the US-Saudi alliance but for containing regional Iranian influence.

During the Reagan years, the Israeli government and Right Zionists in the US waged a relentless (losing) battle to thwart military aid to the Saudis.

Today, the Labor-Kadima coalition behind the Olmert government in Israel looks set to give a green light to such aid (in part, no doubt, because Israel will receive its own significant boost in military aid).

Right Zionists appear more skeptical, refusing to endorse Secretary of State Rice’s argument that the primacy of the Iranian threat necessitates a united front with the Saudis.

Recalling a time when the Bush administration appeared to be distancing itself from the Saudi regime, the Jerusalem Post offered up an editorial entitled, “Bush In Retreat.”

The striking thing about the Saudi side of this deal is that it seems to reflect a Bush administration that is not just winding down, but winding backward. Was it not Bush who taught us, as a White House fact sheet put it: “For a half century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability… On 9/11, we realized that years of pursuing stability to promote peace left us with neither. Instead, the lack of freedom made the Middle East an incubator for terrorism. The pre-9/11 status quo was dangerous and unacceptable.”…

Iran is the enemy, but this does not mean that Saudi Arabia is a friend…

It his hard to escape the impression that we are witnessing the return of a “realist” US foreign policy that Bush spent the last six years working to discredit and displace. If Iran is the center of the axis of evil, then Saudi Arabia is the center of the axis of “realism” and the pre-9/11 worship of “stability” as the strategy for safeguarding Western interests.

A New York Sun editorial–entitled, “A Saudi Strategy“–goes even further, demanding a direct confrontation with the Saudis and even recalls the old idea of grabbing the oil-rich Shiite-populated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

Reading over the weekend of the latest contretemps involving the Saudis — whether to sell them $20 billion worth of weapons — we found ourselves retrieving Max Singer’s celebrated op-ed piece calling for independence for the Eastern Province. The piece, one of the most remarked upon we’ve ever run, appeared in the April 26, 2002, number of The New York Sun and advanced a radical proposition….

Mr. Singer argued… for splitting the Eastern Province from the rest of today’s Saudi Arabia — with our help.

Now that is a policy to sink one’s teeth into…

Yet today a weakened government in Israel is acquiescing in such an arms transfer on the grounds that we need to arm the Saudis for a fight with Iran…

[O]ur own view is that the Saudis are more a part of the problem than the solution…

The better strategic line is to support a sustained effort at defeating our enemies in Iraq, work to support democratic, pro-American elements in Iran, and dismantle the Saudi tyranny. Splitting the Eastern Province from the rest of today’s Saudi Arabia would, as a strategic matter, accomplish several aims. Those living there, the liberal open-minded merchant communities who have worked with Americans for decades as well as the oppressed Shiites would welcome a liberation and support it. Among other things, an independent Eastern province could curtain the corruption of the Al Sauds, and it would defund the Wahabi movement.

Within the Bush administration, Right Zionist figures like Cheney Middle East adviser David Wurmser also once endorsed the plan to “liberate” the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.  But Wurmser is, apparently, on his way out and most of the public grumbling about the Saudi plan comes from Dem Zionists in Congress like Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler.

The White House may have circulated the idea (first, in a New York Times Op-Ed by Zalmay Khalilzad and then picked up by New York Times writer Helene Cooper) that it was frustrated with the Saudis.  But this was little more than a somewhat desperate bid to leverage some cooperation from Saudi King Abdullah–on Iraq and Iran–in exchange for the military aid package.

The New York Sun is skeptical of the Saudi deal, in part because it has reluctantly concluded that “neither America nor Israel appears prepared to lead… a fight [against Iran].”

Be that as it may, there are at least some figures within the US military brass who appear to be itching for a fight with Iran.

And it is this eagerness that helps explain why Dem Zionists like Martin Indyk and his Brookings Boys, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, have recently embraced the current strategy in Iraq.

In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “A War We Just Might Win,” O’Hanlon and Pollack endorse anti-Iranian energy behind the so-called “Anbar Model.”

Forget the old Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Time for a new war and a new enemy.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

That “popular animus” appears to run deep among ex-Baathists and the Sunni Arab national insurgency.

As I argued in two recent posts (here and here), the real meaning of all the chatter about al-Qaeda in Iraq is that the Bush administration has retreated from its war against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.

But before declaring “peace in our time,” it is essential to note the payoff of such a strategy for Zionists like Martin Indyk: confrontation with Iran.

The “pure form” of this strategy continues to flow forth from the mouth of Major General Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division and the Multi-National Division-Center.

On July 29, 2007, Maj. Gen. Lynch appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” and, in answer to caller questions, Lynch told some “sweet little lies” to completely erase the entire history of the US war with the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency (beginning at 39:52 of the broadcast).

CALLER: The references lately have been so escalated to al-Qaeda in Iraq… What is the percentage of fighters in Iraq who are affiliated with al-qaeda?

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH: That’s a great question. As I say, I’ve got three pods/parts of enemy over here… I’ve got Sunni extremists all of which–or at least the majority of which are associated with al-Qaeda–I’ve got Shia extremists, and I’ve got Iranian influence that’s feeding the Shia extremists.

To answer your specific question, I’d say that 70% of the enemy that I fight on a daily basis is either al-Qaeda or associated with al-Qaeda

CALLER: Where are the insurgents coming from? Next, what is the source of the weapons?…

MAJ. GEN. LYNCH: I’m losing soldiers to Explosively Formed Penetrators… EFP/IEDs and they are coming from Iran. Last two weeks, one of my major operating bases had 50 rockets lined up against it. Luckily we found in advance and took out… All were clearly marked with Iranian markings. I’m finding munitions all the time in my battle space from Iran. I’ve got indications of training being conducted in Iran for terrorism that is taking place in my battle space. So when you ask where the insurgents are coming from, where they are getting there munitions from… in my area, its coming from Iran.

It may be the case that 70% of the enemy Lynch fights on a daily basis is al-Qaeda.  That speaks less to the size of al-Qaeda, relative to the larger Sunni Arab nationalist resistance, than it does to the honest truth that Lynch isn’t fighting the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency much any more.

But if Lynch has made common cause with the Sunni insurgency responsible for the vast majority of US casualties in Iraq, he is also clearly beating the drums for war with Iran.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Bush’s Retreat

Posted by Cutler on July 25, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The White House has been shining a particularly bright spotlight on al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The theme took center stage yesterday in President Bush’s speech at the Charleston Air Force Base.

Some say that Iraq is not part of the broader war on terror. They complain when I say that the al Qaeda terrorists we face in Iraq are part of the same enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001. They claim that the organization called al Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon, that it’s independent of Osama bin Laden and that it’s not interested in attacking America….

Foreign terrorists also account for most of the suicide bombings in Iraq. Our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaida terrorists….

True.  And 100% of all smokers die.

But only a small fraction of US casualties in Iraq are caused by al-Qaeda suicide attacks.

Democrats in the Senate appeared eager to respond to the President’s sweet little lie.

Here is John Kerry on Bush’s speech:

[A]l-Qaeda is not the principal killer of American forces in Iraq. Those forces are dying because of IEDS, because of insurgents….

But Kerry never came close to criticizing Bush for retreating from the initial US war against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Neither did Kerry commend Bush for that dramatic retreat.

Instead, Kerry pretends nothing about Bush administration policy in Iraq has changed.

So I think that for all of us, today was a continuation of more of the same.

Kerry offered a misleading critique that alleged Bush was “staying the course” when the reality is that Bush has flip-flopped quite dramatically.

Kerry suggests that all the al-Qaeda chatter is intended to buttress the case for staying the course.

The President is trying to scare the American people into believing that al-Qaeda is the rationale for continuing the war in Iraq.

It seems far more likely, as I suggested in a recent post, that the al-Qaeda chatter functioned as a face-saving measure to mask his extraordinary retreat.

Behind all the talk of al-Qaeda is hidden an apology: we are waving the white flag in our battle against the nationalist Sunni insurgency.  We were wrong to target them as an enemy.  We are sorry.  The Baathists are our allies, just Dad said at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

This is a complete reversal.  No more “stay the course.”

In order to save face, however, Bush will not declare defeat at the hands of the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Instead, the new emphasis on al-Qaeda in Iraq serves as the basis for a bait and switch: we have a new (smaller) enemy in Iraq.  Not the former regime of Saddam Hussein but al-Qaeda.  And, thankfully, the Sunni Arab “former regime elements” are prepared to be our allies in the fight against Osama’s Iraqi friends.

It is Bush’s casual, everyman, down-home way of saying that all those US soldiers who died fighting against the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency died in vane.  Oops.  Sorry.

But, that said, we must now finish this war with a fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Kerry has no substantive critique because Bush appears to have already–implicitly–conceded failure in the battle against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency.  Both Kerry and Bush appear now to be focused on a narrowed, common rationale:  chase al-Qaeda.

The President is putting forward a false rationale to the American people for the continuation of this war. The fact remains, unchanged, that the only way the Iraqis are going to stand up is if we make clear to them that we are going to be withdrawing our troops over a period of time — with the exception of those necessary to chase al-Qaeda, those necessary to complete the training, and those necessary to protect American forces. That is the real rationale for which we ought to be staying, not because of al-Qaeda.

And yet… all of this assumes that Bush has decided to embrace the old Right Arabist vision of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.

I have argued that there is no Decider.  So I’m skeptical that the famously factionalized Bush administration is now pulling in the same direction.

Here are some reasons for skepticism regarding the idea that the White House has now embraced a new, “decisive” policy in Iraq.

First, Bush has thus far resisted considerable pressure to dump the Shiite-led Maliki government.

Indeed, a July 25, 2007 New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg and Alissa J. Rubin highlights the intensity of Bush’s investment in the Maliki government.

Second, the US continues to flirt with some kind of pro-Shiite tilt that would include a strategic alliance with Iran.  Juan Cole picks up on a line from the Daily Telegraph coverage of Ryan Crocker’s meeting with the Iranians and correctly notes that this would run enrage the Saudis, if not the entire Arab League.  Here is Cole:

[I]n my view the money graf in this Telegraph report is this one:

“The two countries did agree to form a security committee, with Iraq, to focus on containing Sunni insurgents. The committee would concentrate on the threat from groups such as al-Qa’eda in Iraq, officials said, but not those[Shiite] militia groups the US accuses Iran of funding and training.”

If the US is allying with Iran against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda, this is a very major development… (My guess is that 98% of American troops killed in Iraq have been killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas). If the report is true and has legs, it will send Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal ballistic. The Sunni Arab states do not like “al-Qaeda” in Iraq, but they are much more afraid of Iran than of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are fighting against US military occupation.

Third, one might expect more howls of protest from the “last of the Right Zionists” if the administration was really, truly, and decisively betraying the idea of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

Of course, there have been some howls of protest about the so-called “Anbar Model” from Iraqi Shiites close to the Maliki government.

As yet, I have not seen a critique of Bush’s “betrayal” from Maliki’s most ardent defenders in the US, including Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Nor, to my knowledge, has Cheney–who retains the services of his pivotal Right Zionist “strategist,” David Wurmser–been publicly touting the “Anbar Model.”  Maybe I missed it.

But there have been recent reports of ongoing factionalism in the administration–primarily in relation to Iran policy–and I sincerely doubt that we have heard the last of factionalism regarding the future of Iraq.

I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns or is fired and/or when Ajami and Gerecht cry foul or concede defeat.

Until then, I expect more muddle.

Remembering Cheney

Posted by Cutler on July 10, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Cheney’s critics are busy sculpting the contours of a narrative that will, they hope, guide popular perceptions of the vice president’s legacy.

According to the prevailing wisdom, the issue at the center of the storm appears to be Executive Power, specifically Cheney’s attempt to buttress the power of the executive branch relative to the legislature and the judiciary.

The production of this narrative about forms of power may be accurate and important, but it may also function to obscure some significant substantive issues at the heart of the Cheney administration–not least, US foreign policy in the Middle East.

On July 9, 2007, the New York Times published an Op-Ed penned by Sean Wilentz–“Mr. Cheney’s Minority Report“–that reminded readers that Cheney was already focused on the defense of “executive prerogatives” during the Iran-Contra investigations of the Reagan era.

Mr. Cheney the congressman believed that Congress had usurped executive prerogatives. He saw the Iran-contra investigation not as an effort to get to the bottom of possible abuses of power but as a power play by Congressional Democrats to seize duties and responsibilities that constitutionally belonged to the president.

At the conclusion of the hearings, a dissenting minority report codified these views. The report’s chief author was a former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael J. Malbin, who was chosen by Mr. Cheney as a member of the committee’s minority staff. Another member of the minority’s legal staff, David S. Addington, is now the vice president’s chief of staff…

The Reagan administration, according to the report, had erred by failing to offer a stronger, principled defense of what Mr. Cheney and others considered its full constitutional powers…

The report made a point of invoking the framers. It cited snippets from the Federalist Papers — like Alexander Hamilton’s remarks endorsing “energy in the executive” — in order to argue that the president’s long-acknowledged prerogatives had only recently been usurped by a reckless Democratic Congress.

Above all, the report made the case for presidential primacy over foreign relations. It cited as precedent the Supreme Court’s 1936 ruling in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation, which referred to the “exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations.”

Wilentz is, of course, correct to suggest that the Cheney’s “minority report” concerned itself with issues of constitutional authority.  And Cheney is undoubtedly committed to enhancing the power of the presidency.

But Cheney’s legacy cannot be reduced to his views on presidential authority.

There is also the substance of US foreign policy.

It’s about the war, stupid!

The war in Iraq.  De-Baathification and the advent of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.  The potential military intervention in Iran.  The extraordinary attempt to remake the balance of power in the Gulf and the larger Middle East.

And the escalation of Great Power rivalry between the US and Russia.

Cheney’s legacy is not (only) about the accumulation of formal power; it is about the exercise of power in extraordinary geopolitical strategic ventures.

Wilensky doesn’t mention it, but the minority report on Iran-Contra, for example, also weighed in on the substance of foreign policy, including US relations with Israel and Iran.

The potential geopolitical importance of Iran for the United States would be obvious to anyone who looks at a map. Despite Iran’s importance, the United States was taken by surprise when the Shah fell in 1979, because it had not developed an adequate human intelligence capability there. Our hearings have established that essentially nothing had been done to cure this failure by the mid-1980’s. Then, the United States was approached by Israel in 1985 with a proposal that the United States acquiesce in some minor Israeli arms sales to Iran. This proposal came at a time when the United States was already considering the advisability of such sales. For long term, strategic reasons, the United States had to improve relationships with at least some of the currently important factions in Iran….

The Iran initiative involved two governments that had sharp differences between them. There were also very sharp internal divisions in both Iran and the United States about how to begin narrowing the differences between the two countries. In such a situation, the margin between narrow failure and success can seem much wider after the fact than it does during the discussions. While the initial contacts developed by Israel and used by the United States do not appear likely to have led to a long-term relationship, we cannot rule out the possibility that negotiations with the Second Channel might have turned out differently. At this stage, we never will know what might have been.

This report appears to suggest that Cheney was once interesting in improving relationships with factions of the incumbent Iranian regime–a position that he continued to defend during the 1990s.

Cheney certainly appears to have changed his mind about US relations with Iran, as he did about US relations with Iraq and, perhaps, Saudi Arabia.

Did Cheney do everything in his power to enhance presidential authority, to say nothing of his own personal power?  Absolutely.

But Cheney also took the US into a war with Iraq that folks like Al Gore now call “an utter disaster, this was the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States.”

You wouldn’t even know that the US ever went to war with Iraq to judge from the recent Washington Post four-part series, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”

The Post series makes almost no mention of Iraq!

Part 1” of the series–a backgrounder on Cheney–says only this about Iraq:

A shooting accident in Texas, and increasing gaps between his rhetoric and events in Iraq, have exposed him to ridicule and approval ratings in the teens.

The other 3 parts say less about Iraq.

Like Part 2 of the series–“Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power“–takes up the same constitutional themes about the formal rights of executive privilege emphasized by Wilentz in his New York Times Op-Ed.

Part 1 of the Post series promises to a substantive look at particular policies, but the examples are drawn from domestic affairs:

Cheney has served as gatekeeper for Supreme Court nominees, referee of Cabinet turf disputes, arbiter of budget appeals, editor of tax proposals and regulator in chief of water flows in his native West.

Indeed, these are the issues that dominate the discussion of policy in Part 3 and Part 4.

The Post offers supplements that include a profile of “key players” identified as a “Cast of Characters.”

Lots of Cheney aides are profiled–including his top legal adviser David S. Addington and former domestic policy adviser Cesar Conda.

No mention is made of any of Cheney’s top foreign policy advisers.  On foreign policy, the Post never gets beyond Brian V. McCormack, a young man who once served as Cheney’s “personal aide” and progressed to assignments in the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq and then on the White House staff.

There is no mention of the current Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, John P. Hannah.  [Profile here; In a report from the early 1990s when Hannah served as Deputy Director of Research under Martin Indyk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hannah was identified as “specializing in Soviet Policy in the Middle East.” (“Restoring the Balance: U.S. Strategy and the Gulf Crisis: An Initial Report of The Washington Institute’s Strategic Study Group,” 1991, p.44)]

And, more to the point, there is no mention of David Wurmser, Cheney’s top Middle East adviser.

Have you not met the Wurmsers?

You really should.

David Wurmser (formerly of the American Enterprise Institute) is married to Meyrav Wurmser (of the Hudson Institute).  Both wrote Ph.D. Dissertations during the 1990s.

Here is a small taste that give a sense of their interests:

David Wurmser, “The Evolution of Israeli Grand Strategy, Strategy and Tactics and the Confluence with Classic Democratic Philosophy” (Johns Hopkins University, 1990).

Meyrav Wurmser, “Ideas and Foreign Policy: The Case of the Israeli Likud Party” (George Washington University, 1998).

My hunch is that Cheney isn’t primarily interested in the Wurmser family for their ideas about the US constitution and executive privilege.

For all of Cheney’s influence as the water czar from Wyoming, the vice president’s legacy cannot be fully understood in terms of either domestic policy or formal constitutional rights issues.

The most enduring contours of Cheney’s legacy may well reside in the Middle East.

But you wouldn’t know it from recent, premature efforts to “remember” Cheney.

Cheney’s Iran: Military Strikes or Regime Change?

Posted by Cutler on June 16, 2007
Iran, Right Zionists / No Comments

Helene Cooper of the New York Times has a front-page article–“Iran Strategy Stirs Debate at White House“–that is, essentially, a reprint of her June 1, 2007 article, “U.S. Not Pushing for Attack on Iran, Rice Says.”

After writing in relatively vague terms about “the few remaining hawks inside the administration, especially those in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” Cooper finally comes around to naming names.  Once again, Cooper fingers Right Zionist David Wurmser as the “hawk” inside Dick Cheney’s office.

Readers of this blog need no introduction to David Wurmser.

Why the reprint?  Cooper says she spoke to folks from both sides of the factional debate, but my sense is that Wurmser’s opponents in the administration are trying to use Cooper’s publicity machine to pressure Cheney to dump Wurmser.  Most of the references are to positions adopted by hawks “in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office,” rather than to Cheney himself.

Cooper says the “hawks” are “pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.”  But the big “hawk” she gets on the record–John Bolton (who Meyrav Wurmser considers part of the Right Zionist “family“)–mentions two hawkish options for US policy toward Iran:

[C]onservatives inside the administration have continued in private to press for a tougher line, making arguments that their allies outside government are voicing publicly. “Regime change or the use of force are the only available options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability, if they want it,” said John R. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Cooper doesn’t stop to note Bolton’s talk of regime change.  Instead, she references a Commentary essay by Norman Podhoretz, “The Case for Bombing Iran.”

As I have previously noted, Neoconservatives are actually split between those, like Podhoretz, who favor military action and those, like Michael Ledeen, who are primarily interested in regime change.

Here is Podhoretz on the split:

[A]s it happens, there is a split among neoconservatives on the desirability of military action against Iran. For reasons of their own, some–including Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute… [oppose] such a course…

In his article on “The Case for Bombing Iran,” Podhoretz attacks Ledeen (this time leaving off his name):

Those who advocate this course tell us that the “mullocracy” is very unpopular, especially with young people, who make up a majority of Iran’s population. They tell us that these young people would like nothing better than to get rid of the oppressive and repressive and corrupt regime under which they now live and to replace it with a democratic system. And they tell us, finally, that if Iran were so transformed, we would have nothing to fear from it even if it were to acquire nuclear weapons.

Once upon a time, under the influence of Bernard Lewis and others I respect, I too subscribed to this school of thought. But after three years and more of waiting for the insurrection they assured us back then was on the verge of erupting, I have lost confidence in their prediction.

Where do the remaining Bush administration Right Zionists stand (or fall) on this question?

As I have previously noted, it is tempting (if risky) to interpret Podhoretz as a proxy for the voice of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.

But does Podhoretz also represent the views of Wurmser?

How to find Wurmser’s views on the question when he has not spoken publicly since he handed his “Middle East” baton at the American Enterprise Institute to Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Does Gerecht represent a possible proxy for Wurmser’s voice?  Gerecht himself has tried to square the circle by suggesting that the bombing of Iran might help foment regime change:

It’s much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic’s loss to America–and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory–would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching… It’s likely that an American attack on the clerical regime’s nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us.

But he also seems to have lost some confidence in the imminent collapse of the regime:

[I]t is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians–which is the Bush administration’s current game plan–isn’t likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn’t the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

David Wurmser is married to Meyrav Wurmser and it is tempting (if risky) to take her voice as a proxy for his.

Meyrav Wurmser is certainly feeling hawkish about Iran and Syria.  But she appears to be somewhat skeptical about a narrow approach based on “military toughness.”

Syria and Iran now seek to further derail Western ambitions. They are escalating their offensive….

Syria and Iran see an opportunity they cannot pass up: The United States has no answer to the worsening situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Evincing perplexity and weakness, not consistently willing to confront its enemies, the United States entered direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, naively hoping that the purveyors of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon would willingly help resolve those problems….

As Israel’s war in Lebanon demonstrated, military toughness alone does not meet the growing Syrian/Iranian challenge. Instead of seeing all the problems in the Middle East solely as localized conflicts, we must understand their regional context. Only then can we devise a broad strategic vision to confront these threats. Toughness is necessary, but it will remain ineffective without a purpose and a plan.

Is that a call for a policy of regime change, beyond “military toughness”?

Unclear.

What is clear is that David Wurmser’s 1999 manifesto, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, is essentially one long “plan” for using Shiite power in Iraq to achieve regime change in Iran.

Here is an extended excerpt from my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” that lays out the heart of Wurmser’s 1999 position as it relates to “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran.

“U.S. policy makers have long presumed that the majority Shi’ite population of Iraq would serve as Iran’s fifth column there; but would it?” (TA, p.72). Wurmser thinks not. Instead, he argues that “Iraqi Shi’ites, if liberated from [Saddam’s] tyranny, can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution” (TA, p.74). More specifically, Wurmser claims that “Shi’ite Islam is plagued by fissures, none of which has been carefully examined, let alone exploited, by the opponents of Iran’s Islamic republic” (TA, p.74, emphasis added). The idea of exploiting fissures is entirely consistent with realist theories of power balancing.

Wurmser argues that at the theological core of the Iranian revolution is “a concept promoted by Ayatollah Khomeini, the wilayat al-faqih — the rule of the jurisprudent” that served as “the bulldozer with which Khomeini razed the barrier between the clerics and the politicians” (TA, p.74). For Wurmser, the central strategic fissure within Shiite Islam is between those who favor Khomeini’s vision and those who reject the rule of the jurisprudent. “The concept of wilayat al-faqih is rejected by most Shi’ite clerics outside Iran (and probably many of those within Iran, too)… The current leading ayatollah of Iraq, Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani, has reaffirmed [this rejection], much to the chagrin of the Iranian government” (TA, p.75)…

The core of the Regional Rollback… is Iran. For Wurmser, so-called “realists” have always been correct to emphasize the link between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites, but they have misunderstood the potential nature of the link. If realists have traditionally feared Iranian influence in Iraq, Wurmser argues that the more likely scenario is Iraqi influence in Iran. The demise of traditional Sunni rule over the Iraqi Shiites “could potentially trigger a reversal” of fortune for the Iranian regime.

“Liberating the Shi’ite centers in Najaf and Karbala, with their clerics who reject the wilayat al-faqih, could allow Iraqi Shi’ites to challenge and perhaps fatally derail the Iranian revolution. For the first time in half a century, Iraq has the chance to replace Iran as the center of Shi’ite thought, thus resuming its historic place, with its tradition of clerical quiescence and of challenge to Sunni absolutism… A free Iraqi Shi’ite community would be a nightmare for the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran” (TA, p.78-79).

For Wurmser, the liberation of Najaf and Karbala would promote and empower potential US allies in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s strategy foresees US military intervention against the Sunni minority in Iraq, not primarily as a springboard for further military intervention in Iran, but as the Iraqi detonator for a populist, Shiite-led rebellion against rival clerics in Iran. Neo-conservative support for the political ascendance of Shiite Iraq is not about the principle of democracy. Nor are neo-conservatives blind to the ways in which regime change in Iraq might transform the relationship between Iraq and Iran. Neo-conservatives who favor de-Baathification in Iraq might seem like blundering fools who would unwittingly hand Iraq to Iranian clerics. Wumser’s scheme, however, is to hand Iran to Iraqi clerics, especially the followers of Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Sistani. For Wurmser, the road to Tehran begins in Najaf.

Does Wurmser still believe, with Ledeen, that the road to Tehran begins in Najaf?

Or, has Wurmser–like Podhoretz–“lost confidence” in his old plan for regime change?

And where is Cheney himself in all this?

Note well: Cheney was not always considered part of the Right Zionist “family.”

Right Zionists and the Collapse of Fatah

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2007
Israel, Palestinian Authority, Right Zionists / No Comments

In some respects, the American-sponsored “Dayton Plan”–named for US security coordinator Lt.-Gen Keith Dayton–to foment factional fighting within the Palestinian “unity government,” bolster the forces of Fatah, and challenge the dominance of Hamas in Gaza seemed like the work of Right Zionist hawks in the Bush administration (i.e., Elliott Abrams at the NSC and David Wurmser in the OVP).

After all, the Hamas-Fatah “unity government” was the work of Saudi King Abdullah and it made sense to think that an assault on Abdullah’s mediation efforts would bear the finger prints of the Cheney-Bandar-Right Zionist axis.

But as that plan crumbles–with signs of White House “acquiescence“–it becomes increasingly clear that the Dayton Plan to bolster Fatah may have simply marked the most “hawkish” and cynical last gasp of the old Oslo crowd.

If so, then there will be some Right Zionist “rejectionists” who mourn neither the failure of the Palestinian “unity government” nor the US effort to destroy that unity by bolstering Fatah.

Perhaps the strongest indication of this scenario is that the collapse of Fatah in Gaza has led to all kinds of speculation that it marks the end of a two-state solution.

Consider, for example, the Los Angeles Times article by Ken Ellingwood, “Palestinian Statehood Hopes in Peril.”

The deadly factional fighting in the Gaza Strip between the militant Hamas movement and Fatah could doom the long-held Palestinian vision of uniting Gaza and the West Bank into a single independent state….

The violence has dimmed hopes that Palestinians and Israelis might someday reach an agreement for side-by-side nations…

The political crisis has propelled a debate among Palestinian intellectuals over whether Palestinians might be better served by dumping the trappings of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, which created the enfeebled Palestinian Authority….

“One cannot exclude such a possibility: that this is the end of the two-state solution,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a fellow at Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Jerusalem.

So, for Right Zionist “rejectionists,” what comes after Oslo?

Right Zionist rejectionists do have a post-Oslo vision for the West Bank.  The cornerstone of that vision is the idea of Palestinian confederation with Jordan.

The Israeli Labor Party-Oslo crowd and their American allies are aware of this vision and reject it.

The great defender of the failed “Dayton Plan” was an Oslo figure, Dennis Ross.  In a June 4, 2007  Washington Post Op-Ed–“The Specter of Hamastan“–Ross championed the Dayton Plan and took aim at the idea of West Bank confederation with Jordan.

The defense of the Dayton Plan is quite clear:

If Fatah does have a plan for bolstering its forces in Gaza, it is worth supporting it by coordinating with the Israelis and Egyptians — not to produce a bloodbath in Gaza but to deter Hamas from seeking to impose itself there.

Ross also offers a more cryptic attack on a rival proposal:

Among some I heard an interesting proposal: Let’s make the West Bank work…

Let’s create understandings with Jordan and Israel for at least economic confederation and security…

Sounds good in theory, but I doubt it would work. No matter how sensible confederation between the Palestinian state and Jordan might be, at least economically, a failed state in Gaza would be a constant source of instability…

Moreover, while West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have much that divides them, they still have a common identity as Palestinians; the creation of a Palestinian state without Gaza would be an endless source of grievance and irredentism.

Ross doesn’t name any names, but this idea of “confederation with Jordan” belongs to the very same Right Zionist rejectionists who will now quietly celebrate the death of Oslo.

Meyrav Wurmser–who just happens to be married to Cheney’s top Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–is one key proponent of this position, as articulated in her July 2006 New York Sun Op-Ed, “Paradigm Shift” in which she also attacked key “Oslo” assumptions.

Assumption…: Abu Mazen is a better, more moderate a partner than Hamas…

But… Abu Mazen is not only hopelessly weak and ineffective; he also is covering for the mergence of a new Palestinian consensus around positions closer to Hamas’ than ever before. In this situation, the international community gains little from supporting Abu Mazen; he is no partner for peace…

Assumption…: Only independent Palestinian statehood will provide a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process…

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Israeli Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu offered a similar vision of a post-Oslo scenario:

Some kind of federated or confederated effort between Jordan and the Palestinians might introduce that function of security and peace.

Ken Ellingwood’s Los Angeles Times article acknowledges that there are supporters of such a scenario, but he doesn’t name names and he thinks it marginal.

Another idea that has circulated is an old one: reconnecting the West Bank to Jordan, somehow, and putting Gaza back into Egypt’s hands. But this scenario is a long shot.

The chances of this “long shot” becoming an active initiative would be far greater with the collapse of the Olmert government and the election of Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.

In the notion of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan, Right Zionists have a vision (little word from Jordan on any of this, of course).

The horrifying part is that Right Zionists have almost nothing to say about Gaza.

Is there a vision for Gaza?

It seems not.

There is plenty of alarm about Gaza.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Meyrav Wurmser expresses deep concerns about Gaza:

Now Hamas is threatening to escalate hostilities by attacking Israel’s main electric grid in Ashkelon. The significance of this–as well as of the Palestinian civil war and Hamas’s capture of Gaza–is that Hamas, and by extension Iran, has launched a real push to take over the Palestinian areas, just as the violence in Lebanon represents Syria’s attempt to retake that country.

Similarly, Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, is reported to have recently suggested that Washington abandon all Oslo pretensions.

Washington should go one step further and announce it is no longer working to set up the conditions for Palestinian independence.

“The conditions don’t exist,” Bryen said. “This is a huge emergency.”

But what does this “huge emergency” imply for Gaza?

Silence.

There is no plan for Gaza.

Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles Times offers up a chilling conclusion via Gidi Grinstein, a former aide to Ehud Barak:

Israeli analyst Gidi Grinstein told Israel Radio. “The Gaza entity will be regarded as an enemy entity and be treated accordingly…

Cheney: Beyond Hypocrisy

Posted by Cutler on May 30, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

In many respects, the factional battle lines that have formed around the US invasion of Iraq have been pretty stark and predictable.  In my ZNET essay on foreign policy factionalism, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” I suggested that the US invasion of Iraq tended to split the foreign policy establishment into two camps: Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

One of the central puzzles, from that day to this, has been locating Vice President Cheney on that spectrum.

Of course, Cheney has been very clearly aligned with Right Zionists for some time now and he continues to surround himself with Right Zionist advisers like David Wurmser.

But Cheney was not always perceived as a “sure thing” for Right Zionists.   Cheney was not always thought of as allied with Right Zionists.  Among other things,  the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia.

Back in the 1990s Cheney did not seem to be above taking pot shots at the Israel lobby and its zeal for US sanctions against Iran.

Nick Snow interviewed Cheney for Petroleum Finance Week at a 1996 Energy Conference and filed the following report:

Halliburton Co. Chairman Richard B. Cheney sees many opportunities worldwide for U.S. oil and gas producers, drilling contractors and service and supply companies. But he’s also concerned that sanctions sought by domestic politicians to please local constituencies will hurt U.S. business growth overseas…

But he also considers sanctions the greatest threat to Halliburton and other U.S. companies pursuing opportunities overseas. “We seem to be sanction-happy as a government. The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments,” he observed during his conference presentation.

If anything, Cheney was probably considered a Right Arabist eager to do business with the Saudis and willing to find a modus operandi for doing deals with the Iranians.

Something changed.  Cheney closely aligned himself with Right Zionists.

Commentators who note the change often seem to focus primarily on Cheney’s hypocrisy.  Be that as it may, there are important questions to be asked about what triggered Cheney’s change of “heart.”

I have tried to offer up some explanations, including one that focused on post-9/11 tensions between Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

More recently, I have also found reason to suspect that at least some of Cheney’s shift might have begun before September 11th.  According to this account, Cheney was handed a huge defeat by the Israel Lobby in early 2001.  Unable to beat them, he joined them.

Those who do not attend to the factors the triggered Cheney’s change are least likely to anticipate the possibility that other factors might cause Cheney to change course again.

In several recent posts last week (here, here, here, and here) I pondered the possibility that Cheney might “come to terms” with the Iranian regime.

Needless to say, these are merely speculations.

Even as Cheney “allowed” the US-Iranian meeting in Iraq, there are signs that he is far from committed to this track.

Apart from Cheney’s own strident, anti-Iranian bluster during his recent visit to the Gulf, there are also rumors that he and his Right Zionist allies are telling friends to discount all the “diplomatic” talk.

In early May, the Jewish Daily Forward reported such a rumor:

Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.

Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.

Was Abrams speaking truth to the “Jewish Republicans” or was he trying to manage their potential discontent?  Hard to say.

More recently, Steven Clemons has offered up alleged details of a similar “reassurance” campaign among Right Zionist allies:

Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously…

There are many other components of the complex game plan that this Cheney official has been kicking around Washington. The official has offered this commentary to senior staff at AEI and in lunch and dinner gatherings which were to be considered strictly off-the-record, but there can be little doubt that the official actually hopes that hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives share this information and then rally to this point of view…

Is there any reason to doubt that the “senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team” who has been “meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute” is either John Hannah or David Wurmser?

As Juan Cole has suggested, Steven Clemons is “very well connected in Washington,” especially among Right Arabists.  I’m in no position to discount the rumor.  I do think it is peculiar that, according to Clemons, there is “little doubt” that the “Cheney official” hoped “hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives would share this information.”  So far, only Clemons appears to be sharing the “information.”

In a more general sense, I think it is unwise to assume that Cheney will remain forever faithful to his Right Zionist allies.  He has bigger fish to fry.

Specifically, Caspian Sea fish.

I have no doubt Cheney would gladly discard his Right Zionist allies if he thought the incumbent Iranian regime could become a useful foil to Russian geopolitical aspirations.

Reading the Map Correctly in Israel

Posted by Cutler on May 04, 2007
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria / No Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is under pressure for his execution of the so-called “Second Lebanese War.”  Tens of thousands of protestors rallied in Israel, calling for Olmert to resign.

The protests are politically “vague” about the substance of the critique of Olmert, but insofar as Netanyahu and his Right Zionist allies are highly critical of Olmert’s execution of the war, the protests may bolster the case against Olmert.

Back in 2006, I wrote several posts describing Right Zionist dismay (here and here) with Olmert’s “cautious” execution of the battle in Lebanon.

The most “candid” Right Zionist critique of Olmert, however, comes from Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute who–along with her husband, David Wurmser–is part of the “family” of Right Zionists allied with Cheney.  In an extraordinary December 2006 interview, Meyrav Wurmser was very explicit about Right Zionist frustration with Olmert:

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Hizbullah defeated Israel in the war. This is the first war Israel lost,” Dr. Wurmser declares…

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Is this a popular stance in the [US] administration, that Israel lost the war?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Yes, there is no doubt. It’s not something one can argue about it. There is a lot of anger at Israel.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: What caused the anger?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “I know this will annoy many of your readers… But the anger is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians. Instead of Israel fighting against Hizbullah, many parts of the American administration believe that Israel should have fought against the real enemy, which is Syria and not Hizbullah.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the administration expect Israel to attack Syria?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “They hoped Israel would do it. You cannot come to another country and order it to launch a war, but there was hope, and more than hope, that Israel would do the right thing. It would have served both the American and Israeli interests.

The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space… They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its strategic and important ally should be hit.”

“It is difficult for Iran to export its Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran, that it would have weakened it and changes the strategic map in the Middle East.

“The final outcome is that Israel did not do it. It fought the wrong war and lost. Instead of a strategic war that would serve Israel’s objectives, as well as the US objectives in Iraq. If Syria had been defeated, the rebellion in Iraq would have ended”…

“No one would have stopped you. It was an American interest. They would have applauded you. Think why you received so much time and space to operate. Rice was in the region and Israel embarrassed her with Qana, and still Israel got more time. Why aren’t they reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Now, is this Likudnik critique of Olmert shared by organizers of the anti-Olmert rallies?

No.

It is instructive to note that the rally has been attacked from both the Israeli  “Left” and “far-Right.”  If the far-Right is to be believed, the rally is–like the rebellion by Olmert’s own Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni–part of a centrist effort to get Olmert out as Prime Minister, but to salvage the Kadima-led coalition government and preempt calls for new elections.

Why?  Because new elections could well result in the election of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.

If Cheney is going to have another pass at war against Syria this summer, then the clock is ticking for snap elections.

The Israeli Labor party will be under pressure to quit the Kadima-led government, but it appears to be scrambling to find a way to forestall demands for a fresh election any time soon.  This may become increasingly difficult, however, if Olmert survives in office until late May when Labor party primaries may force the leadership to split with Kadima.  The Economist explains:

Though the Labour primary is an internal vote among party members, from whom Mr Peretz has more support than among the public, most bets are on Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and army chief of staff, or Ami Ayalon, an ex-admiral and domestic intelligence chief. Mr Ayalon has already said he will pull Labour out of the coalition if he wins, almost certainly forcing an election. If, on the other hand, Mr Barak gets in, his dilemma will be whether to stay on as defence minister and share the flak with Mr Olmert, or risk an election race against the right-wing Likud party.

Cheney has a (Right Zionist) plan for the Middle East.  Act II of that plan was supposed to begin last summer.  It failed.

If Netanyahu is restored to office, Cheney may find himself with allies “reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

Needless to say, the clock is ticking.

Or, from the perspective of Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen, “Faster, please.”

Right Zionists and Withdrawal

Posted by Cutler on April 24, 2007
Iraq, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / No Comments

Why don’t Right Zionists favor US withdrawal from Iraq?

This may seem like a silly question: for many Neocons, US withdrawal from Iraq automatically equals defeat.

To be sure, there is a crowd–call them the “Unipolarists” most closely identified with William Kristol and John McCain–for whom Iraq is and has always been about US boots on the ground and the direct projection of US imperial power. When the US invaded Iraq, these Neocons joined many Right Arabists like Colin Powell and Anthony Zinni in favoring a direct, formal US Occupation of Iraq.

Right Zionists are by no means hostile to the projection of US power.

However, as I argued in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence,” Right Zionists also have a particular vision of the future of Iraq that seems lost on those critics who see US policy toward Iraq as guided by little more than the generic appetite of the military industrial complex.

The core of the Right Zionist vision for Iraq is the substitution of Iraqi Shiite majority rule in place of traditional authoritarian rule by Iraq’s Sunni minority.

It is easy enough to figure out why Right Arabists want the US to stay in Iraq: American force is required to close Pandora’s Box, reverse Shiite empowerment, and restore Sunni Arab minority military rule.

So, here is the mystery:

Why wouldn’t a Right Zionist like Reuel Marc Gerecht–perhaps the leading US proponent of Iraqi Shiite majority rule, with the possible exception of Vice President Cheney’s Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–support US withdrawal?

After all, Gerecht–like Fouad Ajami–seems pretty confident that Iraqi Shiites are prepared to spill Sunni Arab blood in order to finish off the Sunni insurgency.

Gerecht has painted a picture of Iraq after US withdrawal. It is not pretty. But it would be very surprising if Gerecht–who once asked, “Who’s Afraid of Abu Ghraib?“–tried to ground his argument for US troops in Iraq on the basis of humanitarianism.

For Gerecht, the chief reason to stay in Iraq is neither to repress Iraqi Shiites nor protect Iraqi Sunnis but to contain Iranian influence in Iraq.

If the US does not ally itself with Iraqi Shiites in a regional war against radical Sunni Arabs, Iraqi Shiites will have no choice but to seek security in the arms of Iranian radicals. Here is Gerecht, from January, on withdrawal.

[A]n American withdrawal would provoke a take-no-prisoners civil war between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs, which could easily reach genocidal intensity…

[T]he Sunni Arab population of Baghdad is going to get pulverized…

Once the Shia become both badly bloodied and victorious, raw nationalist and religious passions will grow. A horrific fight with the Sunni Arabs will inevitably draw in support from the ferociously anti-Shiite Sunni religious establishments in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and on the Shiite side from Iran…

Imagine Iraqi Shiites, battle-hardened in a vicious war with Iraq’s Arab Sunnis, spiritually and operationally linking up with a revitalized and aggressive clerical dictatorship in Iran…

Hence, the need for US troops and Gerecht’s support for the current “surge”:

A strong, aggressive American military presence in Iraq can probably halt the radicalization of the Shiite community.

That was January 2007.

In his most recent missive, Gerecht appears to suggest that if the “surge” goes his way, he would welcome Iraqi Shiite demands for US withdrawal.

The key, for Gerecht, is that the US must abandon its attempts to appease the Sunni minority.

Critics of the surge often underscore the absence of a clearly defined post-surge political strategy. Echoing Rumsfeld and Abizaid, these critics believe that only a “political solution”–that is, Shiite and Kurdish concessions to the once-dominant Sunni minority–can solve Iraq’s trauma. The Bush administration has largely been in agreement with this view, following a strategy since 2004 of trying to placate the Sunnis.

It hasn’t worked. In all probability, it could not. Certainly an approach that centers on de-de-Baathification is destined to fail since the vast majority of Iraq’s Shiites, and probably Kurds, too, oppose any deal that would allow the Sunni Baathist elite back into government. And de-de-Baathification is not about letting Sunni Arab teachers, engineers, and nurses back into the government job market. It’s about the Baathist Sunni elite getting the power and prestige of senior positions, especially in the military and security services. If we really want Iraq to succeed in the long term, we will stop pushing this idea. Onetime totalitarian societies that more thoroughly purge despotic party members have done much better than those that allow the old guard to stay on (think Russia). Grand Ayatollah Sistani is right about this; the State Department and the CIA are wrong.

The Sunni insurgency will likely cease when the Sunnis, who have been addicted to power and the perception of the Shiites as a God-ordained underclass, know in their hearts that they cannot win against the Shiites, that continued fighting will only make their situation worse. Thanks in part to the ferocity of vengeful Shiite militias, we are getting there.

Gerecht does not support talk of immediate withdrawal:

[T]he surge deserves to be supported. This is not the time for talk of timetables for withdrawal–much less talk of a war that is lost. It isn’t inconsistent to scorch Bush for his failures–and still to argue that the American blood we will spill in Iraq in the surge is worth the possibility of success.

But there is also this surprising little nugget:

As a Shiite-led democracy grows, the calls for an American withdrawal will increase. Which is fine. Iraqi nationalism is vibrant among the Shiites, especially those who are religious. And democracy in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, is unlikely to be particularly affectionate toward the United States. Iraqi democracy is much more likely to free American soldiers to go home than is chaos in Mesopotamia.

Gerecht may be playing partisan games, rejecting talk of timetables for withdrawal while giving a nod toward withdrawal at some point over the horizon. But which position features the political pandering and which features the ideology of a Right Zionist?

Is Gerecht blowing smoke when he describes as “fine” increasing Iraqi Shiite calls for American withdrawal?

Or is this the rebirth of Right Zionist optimism that “we are getting there,” courtesy of vengeful Shiite militias and the hope of a reinvigorated US counter-insurgency campaign?

[W]ith Petraeus, Maliki, and Sistani in charge, things may work out…

Gerecht remains cautious about the road ahead:

American and Iraqi forces in Baghdad will have to figure out a way to diminish significantly the number and lethality of Sunni suicide bombers. Given the topography of Baghdad, the possible routes of attack against the capital’s Shiite denizens, and the common traits of Iraq’s Arabs, this will be difficult. If we and the Iraqis cannot do this, then the radicalization of the Shiites will continue, and it will be only a question of time before the Shiite community collectively decides that the Sunnis as a group are beyond the pale, and a countrywide war of religious cleansing will become likely… In the next few months, of course, things could go to hell. One suicide bomber killing the right Shiite VIPs could threaten all.

Each day brings news that all that could go to hell probably will.

Nevertheless, when coupled with Fouad Ajami’s recent optimism, Gerecht’s latest missive appears to mark something of a Right Zionist trend in the making.

It may not point to the direction of events in Iraq or even Washington. But it does clarify the stakes, for Right Zionists, of ongoing battles in and around Iraq.

Right Zionist optimism may tell us little about the chances for US success in Iraq but more about some Right Zionist definitions of success.

Birthday Blogging

Posted by Cutler on April 21, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

“Cutler’s Blog” is one year old today.

The first post examined the “decision” of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside amidst considerable pressure from Washington.

By some measures, it looks like the political process hasn’t changed much in a year.

One year ago, Bush administration Right Arabists were busy trying to curb Shiite power and woo the Sunni minority back into the political process.

This week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered that same message to Baghdad.  The Washington Post reports:

Gates on Friday called the Baghdad security plan “a strategy for buying time for progress toward justice and reconciliation.”

He urged Iraq’s parliament to pass legislation on provincial elections, the exploitation of the country’s vast oil resources, the status of former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein and other issues before the lawmakers recess this summer. “These measures will not fix all of the problems in Iraq, but they will manifest the will of the entire government of Iraq to be a government for all the people of Iraq in the future,” he said.

In April 2006, however, the US managed to oust Jaafari only to settle for his deputy, Prime Minister Maliki.

One year later, Maliki–like Jaafari–retains some independence from the Washington’s Right Arabists.

Asked how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had responded, Gates said Maliki had reminded him that the parliament is independent, suggesting he could make no assurances on the legislation.

Hasan Suneid, a lawmaker and adviser to Maliki, said the Iraqi government would like to see both the oil legislation and de-Baathification proposal pass, but at their own pace. “These demands are already Iraqi demands,” he said. “The most important thing is to achieve discussion of these plans. Time is irrelevant.”

The “independence” of the Shiite political establishment should not be exaggerated, but neither should it be viewed as an unmitigated disaster for Washington’s political establishment.

The beleaguered Right Zionists (i.e., Neocons) have little left to show for themselves in Washington (save for David Wurmser and John Hannah in Cheney’s office and Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, and perhaps a smattering of lesser figures).

But unlike Washington’s Right Arabists, some Right Zionists–most recently, Fouad Ajami–are quite pleased by signs of Shiite power and Shiite independence from Right Arabist Washington.

What I cannot figure out, one year later, is how this story ends.

Will “facts on the ground” in Baghdad force Right Arabist Washington to come to terms with Shiite power in Iraq?  Or will Right Arabist Washington lose patience with Iraqi Shiites and force an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

I would not have predicted that the current political “muddle” could have gone on as long as it has.

At one point in the last year, it looked as though James Baker’s Right Arabists were preparing for a clean sweep in Washington.

It didn’t happen.

And then there were signs that 2007 might tilt dramatically toward Shiite power in Iraq and Right Zionist influence in Washington, courtesy of Vice President Cheney.

Nothing quite so dramatic has yet unfolded in 2007.

The political meaning of the surge remains highly ambiguous and the additional US forces will not be in place until June.

If Shiite power in Iraq is linked to regime change in Iran–the original Right Zionist plan for “Dual Rollback”–then there are few signs such a plan has any legs in Washington (to say nothing of its chances in Tehran).

As I noted in a recent post, Right Zionists like Richard Perle feel utterly betrayed by US policy toward Iran.  Here is Perle:

It astonishes me that we have no political strategy that entails working with the opposition and that reflects how unpopular the theocracy is. It’s a complete failure of imagination. We had such a strategy with Franco’s Spain, with Salazar’s Portugal, with Marcos’s Philippines, with Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and with Poland during Solidarity. In Iran you have mullahs who are acting in a political capacity—who basically rule by force, with the backing of the Basij—and they ought to receive a political challenge. There are clerics in Iran, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who don’t like the theocracy. And there are lots of indications that a majority of the Iranian people, and certainly the overwhelming majority of young Iranians, identify with Western concepts of government… There is plenty of scope for a political strategy in Iran, and I think the Iranian mullahs fear it. They must wake up everyday saying to themselves, “I can’t understand why these Americans haven’t done anything to use our unpopularity against us.” They must be as puzzled as I am.

If Perle has any friends in high places, they are now as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.

The Washington Times reported this week that some Democrats are trying to “out hawk” the Bush administration on Iran:

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, criticized the administration for not taking action under the Iran Sanctions Act.

That law requires imposing sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in one year in Iran’s energy sector.

Mr. Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs terrorism, nonproliferation and trade subcommittee, included a list of foreign companies that have invested millions or more than $1 billion in Iranian energy.

Although the administration may say the deals may not go through or the full extent of the investments will not be realized, “it strains credulity to say that no single $20 million investment has occurred in Iran in the past decade driving any calendar year,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is that the State Department refuses to find evidence of the investments that would trigger the act because they do not want to find evidence of such investments.”

But even Dem Zionists seem to be split on how to proceed.  California Congressman Tom Lantos–traditionally a great friend of Israel–reaching out to Russia, Syria, and even Iran.

So, the muddle continues.

And so does “Cutler’s Blog.”

Sistani’s Smack Down

Posted by Cutler on April 02, 2007
Iraq / 2 Comments

Shiite Cleric Opposes Return of Baathists in Iraq

It could be a whole new ball game, friends.

The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq has rejected an American-backed proposal to allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to government service, an aide to the cleric said today…

“The office of Grand Ayatollah Sistani is deeply concerned about the new law,” the aide said…

The comments from the ayatollah’s office came a day after Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite and head of the de-Baathification commission, met with the cleric in Najaf. Mr. Chalabi has opposed any serious attempt to roll back the purging of former Baathists from government. After the meeting on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi said at a news conference that Ayatollah Sistani was aware of the law and had told Mr. Chalabi that it “would not be the final one and there would be other drafts.”

Some critics of the Bush administration will celebrate Sistani’s smack down. Here is the thing to remember: among those “critics” will be most of the Neo-cons/Right Zionists who championed de-Baathification in the first place.

Every time the Right Zionists look like they are down for the count in Washington, Sistani gives them a new lease on life in Baghdad.

It happened in 2004 when he demanded elections, overruling the Scowcroft crowd of Right Arabists in Washington that warned against elections, pressed for re-Baathification, and championed ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi.

David Wurmser, Gerecht, Perle, and others (Cheney!?) put their faith in Sistani. Can he be said to have disappointed them?

Right Zionists have had their disappointments (and plenty of enemies, to be sure!), but almost all of the disappointments have originated in Washington.  In Iraq, Right Zionists have enemies (i.e., the entire Sunni insurgency, elements of a Sadrist Shiite insurgency, etc.), but few disappointments.

The first “Cutler’s Blog” reader to link to a Right Zionist celebrating Sistani’s proclamation wins…

Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab political elite is already in full revolt. More from the New York Times:

News of the rejection today drew harsh criticism from Sunni Arab leaders.

“In my opinion, our country is now one led by the clerics, and the new political process in Iraq is made to allow those clerics and religious parties to govern Iraq,” said Salim Abdullah, a legislator from the main Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament. “The Iraqis will feel the consequences of that.”

“The Iraqi government is using wilayat al-faqih,” he said, angrily invoking the term that refers to the style of clerical governance popularized by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.

Officials from the secular party of Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, also expressed profound disappointment. Mr. Allawi said in an interview last month that the religious Shiites were using the de-Baathification process to unjustly purge members of his party from public office. Mr. Allawi, a Shiite who is a former Baathist, has said that the Sunni-led insurgency will continue as long as former members of the Baath Party are shut out of significant positions in the government.

Ibrahim al-Janabi, a legislator and senior aide to Mr. Allawi, said today that the lobbying of Ayatollah Sistani by Shiites like Mr. Chalabi “is the weapon of losers.”

I do not envy poor Ryan Crocker, the newly arrived Arabist US ambassador to Iraq. He was all set to inherit Zalmay Khalilzad’s re-Baathification policy. Now, he may inherit the wind.

[Update: Reuters reports that a Beirut-based “spokesman” for Sistani has cast doubt on the veracity of Sistani’s rejection of the de-Baathification bill:

“What some news agencies said quoting who they described as an aide to Sayyed Sistani about his position on the de-Baathification Law was not true,” Hamed al-Khafaf, who is based in Beirut, said in a statement…

“We are surprised by attempts trying to get (the Shi’ite clerical establishment) involved in a case which is the speciality of constitutional organisations,” Khafaf said, without saying what Sistani’s position was on the law.

Ed Wong’s New York Times article quoted “an aide” and reported on “comments from the ayatollah’s office,” but offered no names.  Maybe the whole affair was nothing more than a Chalabi-inspired fabrication.  We’ll see.]

Trouble with Abdullah

Posted by Cutler on March 30, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In several recent posts (here, here, and here), I have been speculating about growing tensions between King Abdullah and the Bush administration.  At times, I thought I was going pretty far out on a limb.  Turns out… not very far at all.

King Abdullah made big news at the Arab Summit meeting in Riyadh this week with a blast at US policy in Iraq.

“In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war,” Abdullah said.

The King’s remark was also, implicitly, a swipe at the US-backed, Shiite-led Iraqi government.  Needless to say, this did not escape the attention of Iraqi officials:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshayr Zebari on Thursday rejected remarks by Saudi Arabia that the US occupation of Iraq was illegal.

“We don’t think there is an illegal occupation because these forces are present and working according to international resolutions, and are accepted by a representative elected Iraqi government,” Zebari said on the sidelines of the Arab summit being held in Riyadh.

At issue, among other things, is the legitimacy of the new balance of power in Iraq that swept the Sunni Arab minority from power.

Arab League foreign ministers at a side meeting of the summit adopted a resolution that seeks to redress the perceived imbalance in the Iraqi security services and the political establishment.

Again, Iraqi government officials seemed miffed.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, called the League’s decision to call for changes in the Iraqi constitution that would tend to favor Sunni Muslims an “Arab diktat.”

All of this appears to fit well with the idea–suggested in an earlier post–that Abdullah represents a position that is relatively soft on Iran but hard on Iraqi Shiite rule.

It looks like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knows that Abdullah, if not the entire “Faisal” branch of the Saudi royal family, are all but lost to the US.

In an article on the Arab Summit, Helene Cooper of the New York Times doesn’t make any mention of factionalism within the Saudi royal family, but does report that Rice bypassed Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal, turning instead to Adel al-Jubeir, a figure traditionally thought to be closer to Prince Bandar.

“We were a little surprised to see those remarks,” R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told a Senate hearing, referring to the statement by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the opening of an Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday. “We disagree with them.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, who was traveling to Riyadh, an administration official said.

The official said the State Department had resisted going straight to Ms. Rice’s counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, so as to try to lower the temperature of the rhetoric. He said Ms. Rice planned to question Mr. Jubeir about the Saudi monarch’s remarks.

Cooper seems to be overlooking some of the factionalism that runs through all of this.  Consider, for example, Cooper’s depiction of King Abdullah’s relations with Cheney:

In fact, King Abdullah has warned American officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Last fall, as a growing chorus in Washington advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with a diplomatic outreach to the largely Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the leader of the Sunni Arab world, argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred.

Mention of the “warning” about backing Iraqi Sunnis almost certainly refers to a now-famous Washington Post Op-Ed piece by Nawaf Obaid, “Stepping Into Iraq.”

In a previous post on Nawaf Obaid (and again, here), however, I argued that Obaid was almost certainly not representing King Abdullah or his faction within the Saudi royal family.  Indeed, I think a strong case could be made that Obaid was speaking for Prince Bandar, if not Bandar’s father, Saudi Defense Minister Crown Prince Sultan.

If I am correct about the nature of the factional split, the Bandar crowd represents something like the opposite of the Abdullah position: they are hawkish on Iran and potentially reconciled to the prospect of Sistani-led Shiite rule in Iraq.  They are Cheney’s Saudis.

All of which means that at least some in the US may not only be increasingly uncomfortable with Saudi King Abdullah but may also have strong preferences for Crown Prince Sultan.

To borrow a map of Saudi factionalism from Cheney’s Middle East guru, David Wurmser, Crown Prince Sultan allegedly represents something like the “King Fahd” branch of the Saudi family.  Meanwhile, King Abdullah and his allies–Foreign Minister Faisal and former Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki–appear to represent something like the “Faisal” branch of the family.

According to Wurmser, all the trouble stems from the “Faisal” branch of the family.

In the 1970s, there was a previous Saudi King from the “Faisal” branch.  In 1975, he was assassinated, under murky circumstances, by a nephew recently returned from the United States.

Hersh’s Redirection

Posted by Cutler on March 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In his most recent New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” Seymour Hersh tries to make some sense out of US efforts to build a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.  In some respects, the essay runs along the same lines as my own effort to trace the lines of such a redirection in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Hersh also gives a nod to the possibility that the “shift” may be championed by factions within the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel but this theme remains relatively underdeveloped and the refusal to take factionalism more seriously tends to trouble his narrative.

Hersh pins the US strategy on Cheney, Right Zionist Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad.  He sees John Negroponte as a critic and hedges on the role of Condoleezza Rice:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney…

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings…

[T]he echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State.

On Saudi factionalism, Hersh reiterates some of the themes that have been developed in previous posts (here, here, and here)–including the idea that Prince Bandar is the a figure of any such new alignment.  But Hersh hedges his bets on the depths of the Saudi schism:

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed…

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

I think the Turki-Bandar split runs deeper than a personality dispute.  The Turki faction is more dovish on Iran and more hawkish on Israel and, in a US context, the Turki faction is closer to Baker than Cheney.

There are some unruly problems that disrupt Hersh’s attempts to craft a coherent narrative.  Hersh takes up the Saudi-Israeli element of the redirection, but he can’t entirely square the circle:

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations…

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction… Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran…

[T]he Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

Isn’t it possible that the Saudi brokered deal at Mecca between Hamas and Fatah represented more of a triumph for one faction than another?  If the Mecca deal was part of a US initiative, it seems strange that the US was not only dissatisfied with the terms, as Hersh suggests, but was also reportedly caught by surprise by the deal.

There are certainly signs of renewed interest in some quarters for an Israeli-Saudi accord but to judge from the headlines, Prince Turki seems unlikely to emerge as a leading source of such enthusiasm.  Right Zionists are not exactly dancing in the streets.

Hersh’s article focuses well-deserved attention on Saudi involvement in Lebanon, although even here I think he understates the conflict between Bandar’s hawkish approach toward Hezbollah and the Turki faction’s quest for reconciliation in Lebanon.

The biggest question is what a new US-Saudi-Israeli strategic alignment would mean for Iraq.  Hersh’s whole analysis of the “redirection” begins with the question of Iraq:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy.

But Hersh is actually weakest in his attempt to link the “redirection” to the politics of Iraq.  As Hersh suggests, the US initially aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites and marginalized Iraqi Sunnis.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites….

Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

One peculiarity in this story: neoconservative ideologues appear, in Hersh’s telling, at the center of both the move toward Iraqi Shiites and a pro-Sunni redirection designed to counteract the “distress” the pro-Shiite tilt has caused.

Is the assumption that neoconservatives have been distressed by empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority?  I see no sign of that distress, in part because Right Zionists close to Cheney have always argued–and continue to argue–that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority could provide a pro-American balance to both Sunni extremists (including the Turki faction in Saudi Arabia!) and Shiite extremists in Iran.

One might expect that a pro-Saudi tilt in US policy would require rollback of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and the containment of Iran.  This might, in fact, reflect the goals of the Baker-Turki factions.

The restoration of Sunni Arab political power (through an anti-Shiite coup, etc.), however, is decidedly not on the agenda of “neo-conservative ideologues.”  Neither, it seems, is a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hersh knows that the signs of “redirection” in Iraq do not appear to include a retreat from Shiite power.

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

If Hersh knows why “the trends have been in the opposite direction” of those implicit in his sense of the redirection, he isn’t saying.

The Baker and the Turki faction are “irreconcilables” when it comes to Shiite power in Iraq, even as they seek to retain but contain the incumbent regime in Iran.  For this crowd, the “trends” in Iraq continue in the wrong direction.

Hersh, however, may be missing a key piece of the puzzle.  The faction behind the redirection–Cheney, his Right Zionist allies, and Bandar–are very hawkish about the Iranian regime but remain quite hopeful about relations with  Iraqi Shiites, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

The evidence for this is quite clear in the case of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies, if not in the case of Cheney himself.

On the Bandar front, the evidence remains murky.  There are, however, some tantalizing clues.

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

Recall that Obaid made headlines with a November 29, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping Into Iraq” that seemed to threaten Saudi action to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq.  Obaid was fired by Turki after the publication of the Op-Ed.

Does Nawaf Obaid represent Bandar’s views?  That remains a speculative proposition.  Nevertheless, Obaid did appear to suggest that his views had some base of support in Saudi Arabia, if not “the Saudi leadership”:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. 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.

Is Bandar part of “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions”?  Is Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council a strategic position?

In any event, Obaid’s Op-Ed was actually a condensed version of a larger report–“Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective“–published in connection with his time as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Obaid’s report is long and complex and deserves to be read in full.  Nevertheless, the relevant point in the context of Saudi relations with Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is that the report is, as one might predict, extremely hawkish about the pernicious influence of Iran in Iraq.  The chief recommendations in the report concern preparing for a “worst case scenario” in which Saudi Arabia must aggressively “counter meddling by Iran.”

At the same time, the report includes a very important recommendation that was not part of Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed: “Extend a State Invitation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It is also important for the Saudi leadership to open a meaningful discussion with Grand Ayotollah Ali al- Sistani by extending an invitation to him to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an overture would send a strong positive message – both within the Kingdom and in the region at large – regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Shi’ite community. It would also demonstrate that the Kingdom recognizes Ayatollah al-Sistani’s authority and respects those who regard him as the leading Shi’ite Arab cleric. Ayatollah Sistani is not only the foremost religious figure for Iraqi Shi’ites, but his influence in Iraq’s political sphere is equally as important. An official state visit to Saudi Arabia would reassure the Iraqi Shi’ite community that the Saudi leadership fully acknowledges that they are critical to establishing stability in the country.

Prince Bandar meets David Wurmser.  Welcome to Cheney’s world.

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.

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.

Maybe.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Iraqi Shiites and Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on July 20, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The New York Times reports the big news of the Shia Crescent (or the Shia Croissant, preferred by French Canadians) that connects Iraqi politics with the crisis in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush’s position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

So, the loss of the Iraqi Shia would surely be among the most dangerous geo-political consequence of what I have described as “Act Two” of the Bush Revolution in which the US “unites” Israeli and Arab client regimes against a common enemy, Iran.

The risk is implicit in the very idea of “dual rollback” in Iran and Iraq. The US-led attack on Iraq won Iranian acquiescence, but risked alienating Sunni Arab clients worried about an emergent “Shia Crescent” in the region.
Now, any move on Iran–and/or its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah–may win Sunni Arab acquiescence but threatens to alienate Shiites in Iraq.

Or, at least, the most pro-Iranian Shiites in Iraq.

Right Zionist strategists who favored Shiite power in Iraq–including majority-rule elections, etc.–have repeatedly suggested that intra-Shiite rivalry between the Iraqi clerical tradition of Najaf and the revolutionary Iranian clerics in Qom would allow the US to retain an alliance with Najaf, even as it worked to undermine the Qom-backed Iranian regime.

For one example among many, see Michael Ledeen’s recent article “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid” in which he suggests:

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Some analysts I respect quite a bit–including Swopa in a comment on this blog–have suggested that the notion of intra-Shiite rivalry is highly overrated.

This much seems clear: Maliki isn’t going to help Right Zionists exploit any intra-Shiite rivalry. How far will he go in his dissent? Would he actually try to call Iraqi Shiites onto the streets? Unclear. But his statement calling on the Arab League to step up to the plate seems to have more to do with embarrassing Arab officials than actually using his own leverage (such as it is) with Iraqi Shiites.

What about other Shiite leaders?

Sadr is an obvious candidate. He has played the anti-US insurgent before. He has aligned himself in the past with the Lebanese leadership of Hezbollah. And, as the New York Times notes, his father was very close to a revolutionary cleric in Qom, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri.

The New York Times article reports:

An Iraq-born cleric now living in the Iranian holy city of Qum, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri called in an Internet posting for Muslim warriors to support the “mujahedeen of Lebanon,” saying that “the battle is all of Islam against all of the nonbelievers,” according to a translation by the SITE Institute, which tracks Internet postings by Islamic militants.

But the affinity between Haeri and Sadr should not be overstated. Back in April of 2004 when Sadr was in full revolt, Haeri allegedly pressured him to end his uprising. He may have cut Sadr’s funding. In any event, Sadr seems to have been angered by the attempt to make him a pawn in an Iranian geostrategic game designed to curry favor with the US at that moment. The Sadrist movement in Iraq appears to have been steering his own ship since that time.

The New York Times article does mention that Sadr has had some harsh words about the Israeli attack on Lebanon:

The militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose followers play a crucial role in the government, said last Friday that Iraqis would not “sit by with folded hands” while the violence in Lebanon raged.

No uprising yet. (Indeed, given US raids on his Mahdi army, the lack of an anti-US Sadrist uprising is quite surprising). Keep an eye on this one.

Finally, there is the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. It is to Sistani that Right Zionists have always looked. He may not go out of his way to help the US strike out against Iran and Iranian proxies, but he may also try to sit out any protest.

The New York Times says Sistani has so far remained silent. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In the city of Najaf, Sadruddin Qubanchi, an influential Shiite cleric loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, declared Israel’s actions unacceptable and unjustified.

Israel is conducting an armed invasion of Lebanon in every sense of the word,” Qubanchi told worshipers. “This cannot be ignored by the international community.”

Not yet a call to arms. But much will depend on Israeli action in Lebanon.

A case could be made–and Right Zionist David Wurmser has tried to make it–that Sistani would have an interest in anything that might pry Lebanese Shiites from Iranian influence.

It seems difficult to believe, however, that there is anything Israel is doing in Lebanon right now that will pry Lebanese Shiites away from Hezbollah and/or Iranian influence. [This is a somewhat different question than whether Israel will also alienate Lebanese Christians and Sunnis… also a real possibility.] Whatever else one might say about the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, it hardly looks like a war for the “hearts and minds” of Lebanese Shiites.

Place your bets…

The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 17, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I noted that the Hezbollah raid on Israel seemed to anger Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak almost as much as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In subsequent days, the depth of “official” Arab hostility toward Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran has become big news.

The New York Times (“Militia Rebuked by Some Arab Countries“) and the Washington Post (“Strikes Are Called Part of a Broad Strategy“) take note of official Arab reaction to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah.

The possibility of Arab-Iranian rivalry has not escaped the notice of Israeli officials, either. Shimon Peres had this to say on CNN’s Larry King Live as King was concluding an interview:

KING: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, always good to see you. We’ve had…

PERES: I want to say one thing, Larry. Even the Arabs, this time — thank you.

KING: Go ahead. Whatever you wanted to add.

PERES: Yes, I wanted to add that, for the first time, the Arab countries, many of them, if not most of them, are calling for Hezbollah to stop it. The Lebanese government is asking for the same. It never happened before. And we feel that we’re doing the right thing, and we shall not permit the devil to govern our destinies or our region.

KING: Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, now Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Wonder of wonders, the “devil” is not Arab. The “devil” is Persian.

Swopa over at Needlenose goes so far as to link the idea of a new Arab/Zionist axis against Iran to the pro-Sunni Arab tilt of US policy in Iraq.

I am not sure that Right Zionists have abandoned the hope of a regional alliance with the “Najaf” Shiites aligned with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. But that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to try to simultaneously exploit both sides of any Arab/Iranian rivalry they can find.

The Bush Revolution, Part II: A Little Something for the Arabs

In my reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally, as a kind of Right Zionist playbook, I noted that Wurmser wrote about “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. One way of looking at this “dual rollback” plan is to think of it as a two act play:

The invasion of Iraq is Act One of the Bush Revolution: Sunni Arab rule in Iraq is destroyed and the US turns to the country’s Shiite majority as a new “client.” Arab regimes are nervous and angry.

Act Two may is just beginning (please return to your seats and ignore Time magazine which seems to have mistaken the “intermission” for the end of the show).

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran and in this scene Arab officials presumably play a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran.

On Lebanon:

The drama unfolding in Lebanon centers on the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia. There has been long-standing tension between Saudi Arabia and Syria over control of Lebanon. In many respects, the Saudis perceived the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a Syrian attack on their interests in Lebanon. Hariri–like Israel and the US–wanted Syria out of Lebanon.

Today, Hariri’s son continues in his father’s footsteps. Stratfor reports:

Saad al-Hariri, current leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community, is headed to Riyadh on July 16 for talks on the building conflict between Israel and the militant Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s actions, which have led to the verge of a major war with Israel, threaten the interests of the al-Hariris. Saudi Arabia, as a principal behind the al-Hariri clan, is concerned about Iran’s advances deeper into the region.

The Saudis and Hariri will have to weigh the risks and advantages of allowing Israel to wage war against their common enemy, Hezbollah. Will Hariri return from Riyahd with instructions to back Hezbollah’s uprising against Israel, or to keep his mouth shut, let Israel do its work, and prepare to inherit Lebanon?

So far, he has been critical of Israel, although his language has been somewhat ambiguous. The Daily Star reports:

A clear Arab stand should be taken on this Israeli aggression against Lebanon,” [Hariri]… said Saturday. “Lebanon should not be left as a battlefield for everyone, and Israel must know that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but in fact a resisting state and that Israel is the enemy.”

The key line is that Lebanon “should not be left as a battlefield for everyone,which presumably includes Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah as much as it does Israel.

Gilbert Achcar makes the point quite well:

Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel’s calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah

To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel’s diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel’s determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society — Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanonto crush Israel’s main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves.

We’ll see. There is an obvious risk for Israel that its aggression will inflame the “Arab street” and force Arab “officials”–including anti-Syrian Lebanese Christians and Sunnis–to rally around Hezbollah, etc.

On Palestine (aka Jordan):

The drama unfolding in Gaza may not really have much to do with Gaza. Right Zionists may not have a particularly complex plan for Gaza. The only real plan is to divide Gaza and the West Bank and help deliver the latter to King Abdullah in Jordan.

Right Zionists are reviving the old plan–last championed by George Shultz in the late 1980s–for Jordan to take over the West Bank.

The most prominent champion of such a plan is Meyrav Wurmser–whose husband is David Wurmser (see above). Wurmser announced a “Paradigm Shift” in the New York Sun today:

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process. That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests...

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition.

This plan has been circulating in Right Zionist circles. See, for example, the March 2003 Middle East Quarterly article, “Re-energizing a West Bank-Jordan Alliance.”

Hamas’s landslide victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is the latest sign of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) failure. The collapse of the West Bank into civil chaos and jihadist control would pose a security dilemma not only for Israel but also for Jordan. It is a scenario that increasingly occupies the Jordanian government’s strategic thinking…

King Abdullah has signaled a willingness to reengage in West Bank affairs. In the most significant Jordanian intervention in the West Bank since July 1988, Abdullah began in March 2005 to enlist new recruits for the Jordan-based and influenced Badr security forces (also known as the Palestinian Liberation Army) for possible deployment to parts of the West Bank…

Marouf al-Bakhit, at the time Jordan’s ambassador to Israel and, subsequently, the kingdom’s prime minister, elaborated that the Jordanian government hoped to play a more active role in the West Bank.[25] On the eve of Zarqawi’s attack, former prime minister Adnan Badran told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Jordan could no longer sit idle “with its arms crossed and watch what transpires in Palestine because it influences what happens in Jordan for better or worse”[26]

In March 2005, the Jordanian government made clear its willingness to alter the traditional peace process paradigm. On the eve of the March 2005 Arab League summit in Algiers, Jordanian foreign minister Hani al-Mulki called for a “regional approach” to Middle East peacemaking along the lines of the 1991 Madrid peace conference. This set the stage for King Abdullah’s proposal at the summit, in which he called for a broader and more creative approach.[27]

The Jordanian leadership appears increasingly willing to play a direct role…

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But not unimportant to know just what kind of “thinking” Right Zionists are doing these days…

Beirut to Baghdad

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The big news story of the day is the Israeli strikes against Lebanon. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Israel bombed Beirut’s airport early today and sent troops and tanks deep into Lebanon after guerrillas from the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a meticulously planned border raid.

It was Israel’s first major offensive in Lebanon in six years

Many in the US will join the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, in criticizing Israel for “a disproportionate act of war” against Lebanon, especially in light of Israel’s massive, 2-week-old, ongoing offensive in Gaza sparked by a June 25 raid by Hamas.

Hamas, however, seems less focused on or surprised by Israel’s disproportionate reprisals than Hezbollah’s “heroic” border raid. According to the Kuwait Times

Hamas political bureau member Mohammad Nazzal told Reuters the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was a “heroic operation” and would help a campaign to free 1,000 Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, Israelis are also focused on Hezbollah’s border raid and they are outraged.

More surprising, however, the raid also seems to have upset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to press reports,

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also indirectly criticized Syria, suggesting it disrupted his country’s attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release. Hamas was subjected to “counter-pressures by other parties, which I don’t want to name but which cut the road in front of the Egyptian mediation and led to the failure of the deal after it was about to be concluded,” Mubarak said in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Massai newspaper published yesterday.

Egyptian “attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release” were undertaken at the behest of the Bush administration, specifically David Welch. Welch is the former US ambassador to Egypt and currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Near Eastern Affairs is traditionally the center of Right Arabist influence in the foreign policy establishment.

In return for his cooperation, Mubarak may have looked forward to easier relations with the US and a green light from the US to position his son, Gamal, as his successor.

Welch’s deal had been rumored in Israel, but it was not popular there. According to The Forward:

[P]rior to the abduction of two more soldiers near the Lebanon border… one of Olmert’s closest allies in the Cabinet suggested that a kind of retroactive prisoner swap could be in the works.

“The release of the kidnapped soldier will be a must. The moment that Qassam rocket fire also stops, we will enter a period of quiet, at the end of which it will be possible to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture,” Israel’s internal security minister, Avi Dichter, said at a conference in Tel Aviv. “This is something that Israel has done in the past and that can serve it in the future as well.”

The remarks were relayed internationally, prompting Dichter to say he had been misunderstood and Olmert’s office to deny a deal was in the offing.

But the Welch deal was undermined by the “counter pressures” on Hamas by the “other parties” that “cut the road” out from under Welch and Mubarak.

According to Bloomberg News, Dennis Ross—a Clinton administration Middle East envoy—faulted Welch for his reliance on Mubarak.

Ross said the U.S. has put too much faith in Egypt’s ability to mediate Shalit’s release…

Rather, the U.S. needs to talk most urgently to Syria, which hosts Hamas’s leadership and facilitates Hezbollah operations. Hezbollah’s attack yesterday “is obviously part of a coordinated effort to help Hamas,” Ross said. “And now there’s a risk of a wider escalation, and the address for all of this goes back to Damascus.”

The Welch initiative in Egypt was, in essence, an “Arab” response to the end of the Hamas ceasefire and the massive Israeli response.

The opening of a second front—sparked by the Hezbollah raid—has consequences in the Middle East and in the US.

In the Middle East, it has allowed Iran and Syria to undermine Arab control of the Palestinian resistance. As luck would have it, Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa and Iranian top nuclear diplomat Ali Larijani were together in Damascus for a press conference. Kuwait Times reports:

“When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people resistance is necessary,” Larijani said.

The Hezbollah raid also allows Iran to display some of its regional leverage amidst US attempts to isolate the Iranian regime at the UN.

In the US, the opening of a Hezbollah front shifts the factional center of gravity within the Bush administration where Welch shares the Israel/Palestine portfolio with Elliott Abrams, the Right Zionist White House as Deputy National Security Adviser.

The shift of focus toward Hezbollah moves the spotlight from Welch and his Egyptian allies to Elliott Abrams and his Israeli allies.

A spokesman for Elliott Abrams and the National Security Council put the blame squarely on Iran and Syria, gave Israel a “green light” for intervention, and made an appeal for Lebanon to cut its ties to Iran and Syria.

Reuters reports:

“We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hezbollah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence,” Jones added…”Hezbollah terrorism is not in Lebanon’s interests,” Jones said…
“This attack demonstrates that Hezbollah’s continued impunity to arm itself and carry out operations from Lebanese territory is a direct threat to the security of the Lebanese people and the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.”

As Juan Cole has suggested, Israeli intervention in Lebanon has the potential of spilling over into Iraq.

[H]ard line Shiites like the Sadr Movement and the Mahdi Army are close to Hizbullah. Israel’s wars could tip Iraq over into an unstoppable downward spiral.

A Sadrist uprising already seemed likely after US-backed raids in Sadr City last week and Israeli brutality toward the Shiites of southern Lebanon could certainly generate a response among the Shiites of southern Iraq.

If Right Zionists in the US support Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas and terrorize the population of Gaza, it does not follow that they favor a parallel track amongst the Shiites of southern Lebanon.

David Wurmser—the Right Zionist who presumably still serves as Cheney’s Middle East expert on his national security staff—had quite a bit to say about the Shiites of southern Lebanon in his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally:

“[A] shift of the Shi’ite center of gravity [from Iran] toward Iraq has larger, regional implications. Through intermarriage, history, and social relations, the Shi’ites of Lebanon have traditionally maintained close ties with the Shi’ites of Iraq. The Lebanese Shi’ite clerical establishment has customarily been politically quiescent, like the Iraqi Shi’ites. The Lebanese looked to Najaf’s clerics for spiritual models [until it was transformed into a regional outpost for Iranian influence]. Prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shi’ite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balance and to whittle away at Syria’s power” (TA, p.107, 110).

Do Right Zionists still hold out the hope of “prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away” from Iran?

If so (I have my doubts), much will depend on the nature of Israeli retaliation. If Israel tries to slaughter the Lebanese Shiite population, it won’t have much hope of “prying them” away from Iran or Syria.

News reports thus far (morning, July 13) are mixed. The New York Sun reported:

[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] immediately called up 6,000 reservists yesterday and put into effect plans for an extended incursion into southern Lebanon, which has long hosted Hezbollah terrorists. The intention appeared to be to dismantle the extensive network of terrorist bases and persuade the Beirut government to meet international calls to disarm the group once and for all.

Israeli forces went on the attack, targeting bridges, communication towers, military bunkers, and other facilities. At least two Lebanese civilians were reported to have been killed in the attacks.

On the other hand, there are reports that the most high-profile Israeli retaliation in Lebanon includes a naval blockade and a bombing campaign against Beirut’s airport, both of which serve to cut the ties that link Lebanon with Iran and Syria.

An attempt to pry Lebanese Shiites from Iran?

Good luck with that…

Qom-ic Relief

Posted by Cutler on July 03, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

One of the things that first grabbed my attention about Right Zionist policy toward Iraq was their plan for exploiting various rivalries, splits, and fissures within the Gulf for the purpose of achieving a broad re-alignment of alliances in the region, especially in relation to the region’s Shiites.

By many measures, the Right Zionists are now pretty marginal players in the Bush administration Iraq policy machine (the same cannot be said of the Israel/Palestine portfolio where Elliott Abrams still serves as Deputy National Security Advisor). However, there has been–to my knowledge–no purge in the Office of the Vice President where David Wurmser presumably still serves as a top Middle East aide.

During his time at the American Enterprise Institute, Wurmser was the most articulate advocate for exploiting Sunni-Shiite rivalries (i.e., Iraqi civil war) and intra-Shiite factionalism to achieve “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s successor at AEI, Reuel Gerecht, contintued to publish on this theme after Wurmser entered the Bush administration.

Now, Michael Ledeen has once again raised the issue in his latest article, “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid.”

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Ledeen continues to write as an embattled outsider frustrated that Right Zionist views are ignored within the intelligence community and among policymakers. Is this merely a convenient cover for Right Zionist influence? Maybe. But a case could also be made that there are Iraq policy folks–Right Arabists–who care not one bit about intra-Shiite factionalism.

Right Arabists are far more upset about any “Shiite cresent” in the Gulf than they are about which Shiites bloc is the emergent regional force. Right Arabists in the US have long shared Saudi misgivings about rising Shiite power. This fear pre-dates the Iranian revolution.

Any distinction between Qom and Najaf (if there is one) only matters to Right Zionists who want to use Iraq’s “Najaf” Shiism to undermine Iran’s “Qom”-based Shiism and restore a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran as a strategic pillar to offset US reliance on Arab regimes.

For Ledeen (and for many fearful Right Arabists) Iranian influence in Iraq is undeniable. In this view, Iran is already fighting that intra-Shiite civil war by undermining the stability of the US-backed, Najaf-Shiite Iraqi government.

For Right Zionists, however, the key is Iraqi influence in Iran. Wurmser, Gerecht, and others have been counting on Najaf to wage war on Qom. If Ledeen sees any signs of this, he isn’t sharing them. There is only the wish for such a two-sided civil war:

[W]e are involved in a regional war that cannot be won by playing defense in Iraq alone.

Faster, please.

In other words, it is time for Sistani to take the battle to the Iranians. We’ll see, I guess.

I have mentioned in previous posts (also here) that I don’t think the Right Zionists are really all that excited about using the Nuke issue to whip up a war frenzy.

First, unlike Right Arabists who fear nukes in the hands of any Iranian regime, Right Zionists only fear nukes in the hands of an Iran that is hostile to the US.

Second, Right Zionists are primaily interested in regime change in Iran and there isn’t much about a nuke stand-off that favors regime change. If anything, it allows the Iranian regime to use “nuclear nationalism” as an anti-imperialist populist credo to consolidate domestic legitimacy.

Now, Ledeen has come right out and said it (I love it when they do that…):

We are wrongly focused on the Iranian nuclear threat, which is obviously worth worrying about, but this excessively narrow focus has distracted us from the main threat, which is terrorism. The mullahs are not going to nuke our fighters in Iraq; they are going to kill as many as they can on the ground with IEDs, suicide terrorists, and assassins. And we have given them a free hand in this murderous campaign instead of unleashing political war against them in their own country. We hear lots of talk from the president and the secretary of state, but there is no sign of the sort of aggressive support we should be giving to the forces of freedom inside Iran.

Ledeen sees “no sign” of such a campaign. Maybe there is no such US campaign. Maybe it is covert. Either way, Ledeen’s own analysis would imply that such a campaign would depend at least as much on Iraqi Shiite forces–like a fatwa from Sistani. There is, as yet, no sign of that campaign.

Iran: Perle of Wisdom

Posted by Cutler on June 26, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq / 3 Comments

Richard Perle has once again entered the fray over US policy toward Iran. His June 25, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)” makes for interesting reading for several reasons.

Perle’s essay confirms that Right Zionists (so-called Neocons) consider themselves increasingly marginal within the Bush administration, at least in terms of foreign policy in the Gulf. Perle insists that the “diplomatic establishment” over at the State Department is once again driving the ship of state.

[O]n May 31, the administration offered to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

How is it that Bush, who vowed that on his watch “the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands,” has chosen to beat such an ignominious retreat?…

[In 2003] Bush blinked and authorized the E.U.-3 to approach Tehran with proposals to reward the mullahs if they promised to end their nuclear weapons program.

During these three years, the Iranians have advanced steadily toward acquiring nuclear weapons, defiantly announcing milestones along the way. At the end of May, with Ahmadinejad stridently reiterating Iran’s “right” to enrich the uranium necessary for nuclear weapons, the administration blinked again.

Perle also suggests that one can trace the balance of power within the Administration by watching Condoleezza Rice. As a disciple of Brent Scowcroft–Perle’s ideological nemesis–Rice was always an unlikely ally for Right Zionists. During her time in the White House, however, the Right Zionists were delighted to discover in Rice a fellow traveler.

Now, Rice seems lost to Right Zionists like Perle. She has been recaptured by the foreign policy establishment.

Proximity is critical in politics and policy. And the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice’s influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of — and increasingly represents — a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.

None of this is really news–and there are some signs that on Iraq, for example, Rice started to retreat by September 2003 when she brought in Robert Blackwill to run a White House Iraq Stabilization Group, well before she moved to the State Department. Nevertheless, it confirms the basic outlines of administration factionalism.

If Perle thinks he has allies in the administration, he isn’t naming names. Obviously, Cheney and Rumsfeld loom large here. The New York Times account of the Iran policy reversal suggests that Cheney blinked, too.

There was strong opposition from the White House, particularly from Vice President Dick Cheney, according to several former officials.

Cheney was dead set against it,” said one former official who sat in many of those meetings. “At its heart, this was an argument about whether you could isolate the Iranians enough to force some kind of regime change.” But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside

Any other interpretation has Rice handing the Vice President a defeat. I find that unlikely, if only because Cheney would have little reason to remain silent about his opposition to a policy if the Bush sided with Rice against Cheney. Perle says if you want to know why the President blinked, “Ask Condi.” Better still, “Ask Cheney.”

Perle is upset that the Bush administration has taken a step toward a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear impasse. However, it is important to note that Perle does not advocate a military solution. In fact, after criticizing the Bush administration for blinking on the nuclear issue, he–like many other Right Zionists–drops the bomb (as an issue…) and takes up regime change. Right Zionists like Perle don’t want to talk about Nukes. The real issue, for Right Zionists, is regime change.

Here is the section of the Op-Ed where Perle changes the subject:

The new policy, undoubtedly pitched to the president as a means of enticing the E.U.-3 to support ending Iran’s program, is likely to diminish pressure on Iran and allow the mullahs more time to develop the weapons they have paid dearly to pursue.

No U.S. administration since 1979 has had a serious political strategy regarding Iran…

After this line, it is all regime change. Here is a sample:

The failure of successive U.S. administrations, including this one, to give moral and political support to the regime’s opponents is a tragedy. Iran is a country of young people, most of whom wish to live in freedom and admire the liberal democracies that Ahmadinejad loathes and fears.

On this score too, however, Perle complains that the State Department has the upper hand:

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) tried two weeks ago to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would have increased the administration’s too-little-too-late support for democracy and human rights in Iran. But the State Department opposed it, arguing that it “runs counter to our efforts . . . it would limit our diplomatic flexibility.”

From this perspective, it certainly looks as though the Right Zionists have been defeated by the “diplomatic establishment” in Washington. (Is there room for a little bit of irony in the fact that thanks to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the power of the “Israel Lobby” is proclaimed and publicized amidst serious policy defeats for Right Zionists in Washington?)

Has prior Right Zionist influence within the Bush administration (say, 9/11 to September 2003) changed the balance of power in the Gulf? If so, then Right Zionists may be victors in absentia.

Just to be clear: in at least one Right Zionist playbook–David Wurmser’s Tyranny’s Ally (profiled HERE)–the basis for regime change in Iran is not overt US policy but the anti-regime influence of Iraqi Shiites–specifically, Sistani and the Najaf clerical establishment.

Plenty of Right Zionists have been jettisoned from the Bush administration. To my knowledge, however, David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of the Vice President. And Sistani now runs Iraq–re-Baathification and insurgent amnesty, notwithstanding. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Note well: I claim no knowledge about the alleged anti-regime sentiments of Sistani or the Najaf clerical establishment. I only know that Right Zionists have made claims about such sentiments and I have yet to hear a discussion by critics who would challenge this view. On the contrary, I note–as I have in a previous post–that at least one prominent scholar who frequently clashes with Right Zionists, Juan Cole, has (perhaps unwittingly) bolstered this Right Zionist analysis.

In his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005 Professor Cole listed number five as follows:

5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shiite community, is an almost lifetime expatriate. He came to Iraq late in 1951, and is far more Iraqi than Arnold Schwarzenegger is Californian. Sistani was a disciple of Grand Ayatollah Burujirdi in Iran, who argued against clerical involvement in day to day politics. Sistani rejects Khomeinism, and would be in jail if he were living in Iran, as a result. He has been implicitly critical of Iran’s poor human rights record, and has himself spoken eloquently in favor of democracy and pluralism. Ma’d Fayyad reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat in August of 2004 that when Sistani had heart problems, an Iranian representative in Najaf visited him. He offered Sistani the best health care Tehran hospitals could provide, and asked if he could do anything for the grand ayatollah. Sistani is said to have responded that what Iran could do for Iraq was to avoid intervening in its internal affairs. And then Sistani flew off to London for his operation, an obvious slap in the face to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

Where is the discussion of this crucial issue?

Zarqawi and Zion, Affirmed

Posted by Cutler on June 20, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

In a previous post–one seen by more readers than any other, thanks to the Right Zionists at Frontpage who graciously included me in their diatribe, “The Left and the Death of Zarqawi“–I argued:

At the level of ideology, Zarqawi was best understood as the perfect foil for Right Zionists like David Wurmser who think of Iraq as the front line of a regional war. Zarqawi is the mirror image of Wurmser.

I also made the following prediction:

Zarqawi may have hated Zionists, but his importance in Iraq was that he also hated Shiites. It was in the mind of Zarqawi–like the mind of Wurmser–that Zionists and Shiites were united. Right Zionists will not shed a tear for Zarqawi, but they may miss him when he is gone.

Actually, I was wrong. Right Zionists have now actually shed a tear for Zarqawi in an extraordinary June 26, 2006 Lee Smith Weekly Standard article called “Sects and Death in the Middle East.” It is a eulogy in the truest sense:

For over half a century, Arab leaders from Nasser to Nasrallah have all sounded the same note–we Arabs are in a battle to the death against Israel, the United States, the West, colonialism, etc. Zarqawi broke that pact. We Sunnis are Arabs, said Zarqawi, but you lot are Shia and we will kill you….

Zarqawi tapped into the id of the region, the violent subterranean intra-Arab hatreds that no one wants to look at very closely, neither locals nor foreigners, because the picture it paints is so dauntingly gruesome that it suggests the Middle East will be a basket case for decades to come…

Certainly not all Sunni Arabs approved of Zarqawi’s tactics, but many agreed that someone had to put the Shiites back in their place lest they misunderstand what is in store for them once the Americans leave.

Last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah famously warned of a Shiite crescent–a sphere of influence running from Iran to Lebanon–and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has accused Shiites of being more loyal to Iran than the countries they live in. And these are the heads of the two major Arab states that are almost devoid of Shiites. Feelings run even higher elsewhere in the region. In Saudi Arabia, the mere existence of Shiites in the Eastern Province threatens not only the kingdom’s primary source of income, oil, but also the very legitimacy of Wahhabi rule. After all, as true Wahhabis, shouldn’t they be converting or killing Shiites, as the founder of the country, Ibn Saud, once insisted?

To your average Joe Sunni, then, it’s good that Osama bin Laden kills Americans. And it’s wonderful that the Palestinian groups kill Israelis. But Zarqawi was the man in the trenches who went after the heretics that Sunni Arabs all actually have to live with every day, and have successfully kept in their place for a millennium now, and don’t ever want overturning the scales…

But to downplay sectarian issues is to risk misunderstanding the real problems in Iraq. There are already scores of books and articles detailing how the Bush team screwed up the war or the postwar occupation, some written by former administration employees, others the mea culpas of self-described onetime true believers… The problem in Iraq is Iraq. More broadly speaking, it is the problem of Arab society. ..

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Zarqawi made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that a more “even-handed approach” toward the Israeli-Palestinian crisis will not really defuse tensions in the Middle East…

The world looks like a different place thanks to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for without him the obtuse, the partisan, and the dishonest would still have room to talk about root causes and such stuff and reason away mass murder and sectarian fear and loathing. Zarqawi clarified things.

Wow! If the Weekly Standard had called and asked me to serve as ghost writer for a Right Zionist profile of Zarqawi, I would never have had the nerve to put it as clearly and succinctly as that! Let’s read one of those paragraphs one more time, just for fun–this time with feeling:

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Well, Ok then.

Ledeen and Zarqawi

Posted by Cutler on June 19, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

In an earlier post, “Zarqawi and Zion,” I argued that Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen represent an ideological mirror image of Zarqawi because they both wanted to fight the same war, albeit on opposite sides.  Both wanted to make Iraq the central battleground of a regional war over the balance of power in the Gulf.  Right Zionists favor a Persian Gulf dominated by Shiites and Zarqawi sought to preserve the Arab Gulf as a stronghold of Sunni power.

All of this seems so unlikely, however, when reading Michael Ledeen’s June 16, 2006 article, “Nonsense: Don’t Read What You Are into the Big Document of Iraq” about the “the much ballyhooed document found in Iraq and published with great gravitas all over the world.”  The document in question–that is, an English translation provided to the media by Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie–is HERE.

Here is the part that Ledeen seems to find upsetting/laughable:

[T]he whole thrust of the document is that Iran is a sweet innocent, actually an ally of the United States in Iraq, and that the terrorists should do everything possible to foster conflict between Iran and the Americans.

Ledeen begins his column with a question lots of folks have asked when his name comes up:

“So how exactly do you figure out when something is real, and when it’s a deception?”

Good question.  His conclusion, in this instance:

I think the Iranians put out this sort of nonsense so that we’ll have trouble figuring out what’s real. And by the way, it wasn’t found in Zarqawi’s house, contrary to the triumphant announcement from the office of the Iraqi prime minister. So it’s certainly not a Last Testament. It’s just nonsense.

Why does Ledeen go so far out his way to claim that the US-backed government in Iraq and the government in Iran has perpetrated a massive deception?  Surely it is not because he doesn’t wish it were true.  Ledeen is the most strident advocate of such an alliance between the United States and Iran.

The disagreement between Zarqawi and Ledeen was that Zarqawi thought this alliance was already in the works while Ledeen has been frustrated by the slow pace of such an alliance.  Ledeen’s most common refrain? Faster Please.

The “Big” posthumously published Zarqawi document was not the first time that Zarqawi “allegedly alleged” that Ledeen’s regional vision had already been consummated.

In early June 2006 Zarqawi allegedly lashed out at Lebanon’s Iran-backed, Shiite Hizbollah movement:

The head of the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called Thursday for the disarmament of the Lebanese Shiite fundamentalist movement Hezbollah, according to an audio message posted on the Internet.Zarqawi accused Hezbollah of serving as a “shield protecting the Zionist enemy (Israel) against the strikes of the mujahedeen in Lebanon,” in an apparent reference to Sunni Arab militants loyal to the Al-Qaeda network.

“Why should Hezbollah be exempt from the… Taef accords” which brought an end to fighting in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, a voice purporting to be Iraq’s most wanted man asked in the lengthy audio message whose authenticity could not be verified.

Hezbollah is an independent state inside Lebanon… It puts forth lying slogans about Palestinian liberation when in fact it serves as a security wall (for Israel) and prevents Sunnis from crossing its borders.”

As the Telegraph commented at the time of these reports,

[Zarqawi] strangely echoed Israeli and western demands by denouncing Hizbollah as “an independent state inside Lebanon” and demanded that it should be disarmed.

For Ledeen, the only real problem with this characterization is that it is premature.  Right Zionists have not yet managed to achieve the long-term goal of aligning Lebanon’s Shiites with Israel.

Don’t take my word for it, though.  Here is David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East expert, on the subject (from his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally, profiled in my article “Beyond Incompetence“):

“Liberating the centers of learning in Najaf and Karbala in the wake of Saddam’s demise would offer the region and the West a chance to…reinstate the traditional dynamic among Lebanon’s ShiitesPrying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian Revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shiite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balanceA collapse of Iraq’s Baathism could be the catalyst for the implosion of Assad’s regime in Syria and, though the Shiite community, of the Islamic revolution in Iran as well.”

The problem, for Ledeen, is that Zarqawi was jumping the gun, so to speak.

Ledeen may be right that the incumbent regime in Iran has done everything possible to find common ground with Arab regimes.  Hence recent news out of Iran that the current regime has very warm relations with Saudi Arabia and that both countries seek to ease tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Right Zionists at Middle East Media Research Institute (where Meyrav Wurmser–married to David Wurmser, cited above–served as Executive Director) are quick to note the longer-term basis for Arab hostility to Iranian nuclear ambitions.  That is for another day, however, when Right Zionists can once again support an Iranian nuclear program.  Until then, they must explain how Arab hostility toward Israel has led some to offer qualified support for the incumbent Iranian regime.

For Right Zionists, everything turns on regime change in Iran.  Then comes the new regional balance of power against which Zarqawi fought.  Zarqawi died fighting a war that Ledeen thinks has barely begun.  Hence Ledeen: faster please.

All in Favor of National Unity?

Posted by Cutler on June 13, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions / 1 Comment

In a prior post, I wondered whether Bush administration factionalism–between Right Zionists (aka Neocons) and Right Arabists (aka Realists)–had given way to a government of national unity in Washington. Does everyone in DC support US Ambassador Khalilzad’s attempts to incorporate Sunni Arab forces into an Iraqi “government of national unity”?

There are no signs of any cracks inside the Bush administration itself. If there are Right Zionists upset about all this (David Wurmser in Cheney’s office?), they aren’t making public their concerns.

Outside the Bush administration, there has been at least one dissent: a June 12, 2006 editorial from the Right Zionist New York Sun entitled “Beware of Reconciliation.”

Prime Minister al-Maliki will unveil, following the slaying of al-Qaeda’s Zarqawi, new details of Iraq’s national reconciliation process. That comes against the backdrop of Mr. al-Maliki’s decision last week to release some 2,500 Sunni political prisoners and his naming of a Sunni defense minister and a Shiite interior minister, unconnected to ethnic militias.

We have a certain reserve about this… It’s one thing to seek reconciliation between the country’s ethnic factions. But the gushing over these gestures echoes the hosannas that greeted Secretary Rice’s bow to Iran. Iraq’s leaders have invited its country’s saboteurs into the tent of government almost since Paul Bremer announced the demolition of Saddam’s parasitic army.

It was on Mr. Bremer’s watch that we briefly placed a Saddam-era general, Jasim Mohammed Saleh, in charge of Falluja, where he paraded with his Ba’athist uniform and medals. Under Prime Minister Allawi’s brief regime in 2004, former Ba’athist colonels and generals were hired into the state’s new intelligence service and police by his hand picked intelligence chief, Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani.

Only seven months ago, in Cairo, there was a meeting between Iraq’s elected legislators and the representatives of terrorists who had been seeking to kill them. And just as the Arab League had been pressing for this “reconciliation” in December, they are now involving themselves with yet another conference to bring “all sides” together

Re-inviting the leaders and spokesmen of those who have sought from the beginning to plunge Iraq into this hellish kind of war holds out the impression that an amnesty or reprieve from the forces of civilization may yet await them. Better these barbarians remember the Nazi peace-seeker, Hess. When he parachuted into Britain, he was imprisoned – and he died in prison decades later….

What one cannot imagine is a parley with the agents of the foreign powers committed to ethnic cleansing and the collapse of the very government issuing the invitations going out this week. With these factions even the idea of negotiations holds its own kind of danger.

That is–in one tidy package–a strident defense of the old Right Zionist agenda for Iraq and a critique of Right Arabist re-Baathification, sponosored by the Arab League.

The real question is simply this: does anyone in government share these views anymore? Or are the Right Zionists howling in the wilderness?

Zarqawi and Zion

Posted by Cutler on June 08, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 4 Comments

Looks like news from the “war on terror” we are fighting “over there” in Iraq is about to temporarily distract Americans from doing battle “here” with the gay insurgents (insurgents? terrorists? dead-enders?) allegedly waging “war” on the institution of marriage.

Insurgent Leader Zarqawi Killed in Iraq.” If the headlines prove to be correct and Abu Musab Zarqawi–Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq–has been killed by US forces in a raid on a house north of Baquba, this marks a perverse kind of setback for Right Zionists visions of the war in Iraq. At the level of ideology, Zarqawi was best understood as the perfect foil for Right Zionists like David Wurmser who think of Iraq as the front line of a regional war. Zarqawi is the mirror image of Wurmser.

One of the most important battles within the Iraq war has been the struggle to define the central axis of conflict. According to the first axis–call it the nationalist axis–the US has been fighting in Iraq against a national liberation army defending itself against imperialist occupation. Along this axis, the signature moment might be the April 2004 rebellionsimultaneous and sometimes coordinated–of Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and Shiite insurgents (Sadr’s Mahdi Army) in Najaf. Along the nationalist axis, any fissures between Shiite and Sunni melts into a unified national resistance to foreign occupation. Not surprisingly, Right Arabists within the US foreign policy establishment prefer to think in terms of the nationalist axis because at the level of policy it tends to commend a resolution: give the insurgents their country back. Bring back the Baathists. Return the country to its rightful owners.

According to the second axis–call it the sectarian axis–the US has been fighting a regional war on terror by tilting the regional balance of power away from Sunni extremists and the Sunni Arab dominated regimes with which they are aligned and toward the region’s embattled Shiites. Along this axis, the signature moment might be the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra. This bombing shifted the axis toward a war between Sunni terrorists and oppressed Shiites. As Adel Abdul Mahdi, a leader of the Shiite SCIRI party, so aptly put it after the bombing: This is as 9/11 in the United States.” The logic of the bombing was to put Shiites and Americans in the same boat.

Nobody did more to identify, build and maintain the significance of Sunni/Shiite split–the sectarian axis–than Abu Musab Zarqawi. Zarqawi may have hated Zionists, but his importance in Iraq was that he also hated Shiites. It was in the mind of Zarqawi–like the mind of Wurmser–that Zionists and Shiites were united. Right Zionists will not shed a tear for Zarqawi, but they may miss him when he is gone. If he is gone. For Right Zionists, Zarqawi is really an indespensible enemy. As Zarqawi’s allies might say: the US may have killed Zarqawi, but it has not yet dismantled the sectarian axis.

Meyerson’s Neo-Cons

Posted by Cutler on May 24, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 9 Comments

Harold Meyerson’s column in today’s Washington Post, “For Neocons, the Irony of Iraq,” provides an excellent example of the kind of thinking that leads critics of the war in Iraq down a blind alley. He chastises neocons for two key failures. First, they betrayed their own “law and order” tradition.

Irving Kristol initiated neoconservatism at least partly in revulsion at the disorder of John Lindsay’s New York. Now his son William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the single leading proponent (going back to the mid-1990s) of invading Iraq, has helped convert neoconservatism into a source of a disorder infinitely more violent than anything that once disquieted his dad.

Just to be clear: is this supposed to be a “progressive” critique of the neocons? The effect, so far as I can tell, is to feed a notion that US failures in Iraq are, in part, a failure to really kick butt in Iraq. More war, please. Hence the re-hash of the old Shinseki critique.

The sharpest irony was their stunning indifference to the need for civic order. When the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, said that the occupation would require many hundreds of thousands of troops to establish and maintain the peace, he was publicly rebuked by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the administration’s foremost neocon, and quickly put out to pasture.

There is a real danger here. The “Left” calls for more troops…Hmmm. Careful what you ask for. Just a hunch, but if the US had put 500,000 troops on the ground at the start of the war and still faced an insurgency, much of the “Left” would have been just as happy to suggest (rightly so) that US brutality–fed by an obsessive concern for law and order at the expense of popular demands for freedom–was to blame for that insurgency. You can’t win friends at the point of a gun, we would say.

Meyerson’s second charge is that neocons–let’s call them Right Zionists–failed to understand the basic contours of Iraqi society.

[Kristol] and his fellow war proponents ignored all credible information on the actual Iraq and promised an Eden more improbable than anything that ’60s liberals ever imagined. “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America,” he told National Public Radio listeners in the war’s opening weeks, “that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s been almost no evidence of that at all,” he continued. “Iraq’s always been very secular.”

This point is crucial. There is no denying that Kristol was floating this line. And there is no way to know whether or not he believed his own rhetoric. However, as I suggested in my ZNet article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” not all neo-conservatives were ignorant of Shiite/Sunni relations. Indeed, many neo-cons/Right Zionists were quite keen to exploit the domestic rivalry between Shiite and Sunni forces in Iraq as a key basis for changing the balance of power in the region.

William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan, two prominent neo-conservatives, insist that their book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, “wears its heart on its sleeve” (p.ix). They present a relentless critique of “a narrow realpolitik that defined America’s vital interests in terms of oil wells, strategic chokepoints and regional stability” (p.viii). Even as they celebrate “creating democracy in a land that for decades has known only dictatorship” (p.ix), they make no mention of — and seem utterly oblivious to — the prospect of Iraqi democracy emboldening Shiites in Iraq, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

Kristol and Kaplan may be “Boy Scouts”…or maybe they simply find it convenient to appear good-hearted and bumbling, as Chomsky warned. Either way, not all neo-conservatives wear their merit badges or their heart on their sleeve. The neo-conservative movement is hardly monolithic; there have been many fissures and splits along the way. The crucial point, however, is that some key neo-conservatives are as committed to cold-hearted Machiavellian Realpolitik as any so-called “realist.” The battle dividing the Bush administration in Iraq is between two factions of Realpolitik strategists.

Indeed, as Achcar has recently noted, “in some neo-con circles” there is actually support for the same scenario feared most by Chomsky’s realists: “some kind of Shia state controlling the bulk of Iraq’s oil” that would align itself with Iranian Shiites and “unleash” Shiite power in the whole area, “including the Saudi Kingdom where the main oil producing area is inhabited by a Shia majority.” To assume that evidence of neo-conservative support for de-Baathification in Iraq represents a simple blunder by naïve and incompetent Wilsonian idealists is, at best, a misunderstanding — at worst, a serious underestimation — of neo-conservative visions for US foreign policy.

To suppose that Right Zionists didn’t understand the Sunni/Shiite politics of Iraq is foolishness and is not supported by the record.

Consider, for example, David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (hereafter, TA). Wurmser published Tyranny’s Ally while serving as a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank long identified with neo-conservative foreign policy analysis. After his time at AEI, Wurmser moved on to service within the Bush administration, most recently serving as Middle East expert in the office of Vice President Richard Cheney. Published in 1999, the book is a Machiavellian tour de force — and a blueprint for US policy in the Middle East. There are striking parallels between the policies endorsed in Wurmser’s book and those enacted by the Bush administration at the start of the US war in Iraq.

Wurmser directly confronts so-called “realist” fears regarding Shiite power in Iraq.

“The ensuing chaos of any policy that generates upheaval in Iraq would offer the oppressed, majority Shi’ites of that country an opportunity to enhance their power and prestige. Fear that this would in turn enable Iran to extend its influence through its coreligionists has led Britain and the United States, along with our Middle Eastern allies, to regard a continued Sunni control of Iraq as the cornerstone for stability in the Levant. Saudi Arabia in particular fears that any Shi’ite autonomy or control in Iraq will undermine its own precarious stability, because an emboldened Shi’ite populace in Iraq could spread its fervor into Saudi Arabia’s predominantly Shi’ite northeastern provinces. The Saudi government also fears that this upheaval could spread to predominantly Shi’ite Bahrain, or to other gulf states with large Shi’ite minorities.” (TA, p.73)

It is simply not plausible that Meyerson could know about Wurmser and still think of Bill Kristol as the best measure of Right Zionist “preparedness” to play a very high-stakes game with Iraqi domestic politics.

A “Government of National Unity” in Washington?

Posted by Cutler on May 11, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq / 5 Comments

There have been times, especially in recent months, when Bush administration foreign policy factionalism looked like a thing of the past. Remember the good old days when Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld seemed locked in enormously weighty and bitter battles over the shape of US foreign policy in the Middle East? Nowadays, Condi Rice and Rumsfeld spar for fun over Rice’s acknowledgement that there might have been thousands of tactical errors made in Iraq, but then they take it all back with a “government of national unity” joint visit to Iraq.

“We just want to make sure there are no seams between what we’re doing politically and what we’re doing militarily. Secretary Rumsfeld and I are going to be there together because a lot of the work that has to be done is at that juncture between political and military,” Rice said.

For a while it looked like neither faction really had the energy to do battle on behalf of any kind of “Right Zionist” (aka “neocon”) or “Right Arabist” (so-called “realist”) vision for Iraq. Can’t we all just get along?

Or maybe the Right Arabists have simply won the day. Wolfowitz, Feith, and Libby are gone. If Khalilzad was once thought to be close to Right Zionists who favored Iraqi de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment, you wouldn’t know it from his extraordinary efforts as US Ambassador. His work on behalf of former Baathists and his willingness to risk war with Iraqi Shiites–not exactly moves lifted from the Right Zionist playbook. Rumsfeld is under seige from the Right Arabist military brass. And James Baker–a leading Right Arabist from the Bush Sr era–has been brought back (via Congress, but allegedly with White House support) to help manage Iraq.

Sure, Right Zionist David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of Vice President Cheney and Elliott Abrams still serves at the pleasure of Condi Rice. But they are “merely” deputies; maybe they prefer to stay close to power rather than resign as a matter of principle.

The abrupt departure of Porter Goss from the CIA might be about any number of things (including poker), but it may also represent another power grab by the Right Arabists. The Weekly Standard certainly fears as much.

We’re inclined to side with Goss in this dispute. But we are concerned that Goss left, or was eased out, for reasons of greater policy significance. And if this is the case, Goss’s leaving is not a good sign. Goss is a political conservative and an institutional reformer. He is pro-Bush Doctrine and pro-shaking-up-the-CIA.

John Negroponte, so far as we can tell, shares none of these sympathies. Negroponte is therefore more in tune with large swaths of the intelligence community and the State Department. If Negroponte forced Goss out… then Goss’s departure will prove to have been a weakening moment in an administration increasingly susceptible to moments of weakness.

This isn’t exactly triumphalist talk from the Right Zionist camp. The selection of Negroponte’s deputy–Michael Hayden–has brought howls of protest from those who see his selection as a move against Rumsfeld.

So, by some measures, the Right Zionists don’t count for much any more in the Bush administration. Many–like Michael Rubin and Barbara Lerner–long ago moved into the “opposition” once they saw their dreams for Iraq overrun by Right Arabists in Washington.

Funny thing, though: Re-Baathification in Washington looks far more advanced than it does in Baghdad. So long as Sistani moves from victory to victory, Right Zionists continue to be pleased with political results on the ground in Iraq, even as they lick their wounds back in Washington. In his recent Weekly Standard essay, “The Sistani Paradox: Building a democracy with the Ayatollahs We Have,” Duncan Currie writes:

Whether we like it or not, devout Muslims–not, alas, liberal secularists–offer the best hope for salvaging Iraq’s democratic experiment, because they represent broad swathes of Iraqi opinion… Ayatollah Sistani may be an imperfect vehicle for achieving our goals. (It is indeed depressing what passes for a “progressive” in the Muslim Middle East.) But he is a robust democrat who condemns terrorism and fervently wants to breach Islam’s separation from the modern world. In the great struggle of our time, that surely places Sistani on the side of the angels.

There was a time when one could claim that the “personnel is political” in Washington’s war in Iraq. Back then, the rise and fall of Right Zionist influence was measured by personnell decisions within the Bush administration. That time may have passed. Iraqi Shiites are a rising force in the Gulf and they will not be easily repressed. Right Zionists opened pandora’s box in Iraq. It is far from clear that Right Arabists will be able to close it, even as they move from victory to victory back in Washington.

Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on April 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 4 Comments

ZNet has published my article, Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.” The article makes two central arguments.

1. Critics of the War should not underestimate the Realpolitik analysis behind the decision to invade Iraq and deliver power to the Shiite majority. It also tries to elaborate that Realpolitik primarily through a close reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein (AEI: 1999).

2. Within the US, there is an “intra-imperialist” battle over political outcomes in Iraq. Critics of the War who take one side or another in this intra-imperialist battle risk unintentionally aligning themselves with one side or another of an essentially imperialist debate.

Along the way, the article tries to make sense of Bush administration battles between neo-conservatives and realists. I propose that the factions are best defined as Right Zionists (so-called “neo-conservatives”) and Right Arabists (so-called “realists”).