Monthly Archives: May 2006

Bush Administration Right Zionists: Dead or Alive?

Posted by Cutler on May 31, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq / 5 Comments

Has news of the death of the Neocons been greatly exaggerated?

In some respects, the eclipse of the Neocons is an old story. As I suggested in a prior post, many Neocons decided long ago they had been sold out by the Bush administration’s failure of imperial nerve.

Since at least September 2003, the basic Bush administration political program in Iraq–echoed in today’s Washington Post column by Fareed Zakaria, “A Political Path out of Iraq“–has been to try to put the Shiite genie back in the bottle. As Zakaria suggests, this implies wooing the Sunni minority that was marginalized by the agressive de-Baathification program initiated in May 2003 at the start of the formal US occupation of Iraq.

Co-opting the majority of the Sunnis is the simplest way [Prime Minister] Maliki can cripple the insurgency…

[Maliki] will have to address the core Sunni demand: an end to the de-Baathification process, which has thrown tens of thousands of Sunnis out of jobs and barred them from new ones. Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, a Kurd, told me that “the time has come for us to be courageous enough to admit that there were massive mistakes in de-Baathification.” The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, argued similarly, saying that “de-Baathification has to evolve into reconciliation with accountability.” Khalilzad added that Prime Minister Maliki supported the notion that de-Baathification “has to focus on individuals who are charged with specific crimes, not whole classes and groups of people.” If so, it would mark a major and positive shift in policy.

This “shift in policy” marks a sharp rebuke to the Neocon agenda in Iraq. On the basis of this defeat and others (failure to support democratization in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, etc.), Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times has pronounced the Neocon patient dead in his May 29 article, “Neo-cons Question Bush’s Democratisation Strategy” and–following Neocons Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute–Dinmore lists the cause of death as suicide.

Rubin and Pletka ask:

Is it possible that the administration is questioning the wisdom of promoting democracy as a long-term solution to U.S. national security woes? “Realists” suggest that the president has finally woken up and smelled the coffee. They say democracy gave us an Islamist government in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine. It could give us the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Heaven knows what it would spawn in China or Libya. Better the devil you know.

But there is no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking. The president continues to believe his own preaching, but his administration has become incapable of making the hard choices those beliefs require.

Everyone is grateful to Rubin and Pletka for the “straight man” set up: “no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking”? Was there ever any sign the White House did any strategic thinking? (As irresistable as that line may be, I think the White House did quite a bit of strategic thinking on the road to war in Iraq.)

Where, exactly, should one draw the line between the “president,” the “White House,” and “his administration”?

One place to draw the line might be the State Department. The careful observers over at Whirled View find ample evidence (here and here) of so-called “Realist” influence over at State, including the new Iran desk.

If only the president continued to believe his own preaching, that would be one thing. But the “White House” presumably includes the Office of the Vice President. Do Rubin and Pletka really think Cheney remains an ally?

There are some signs they may be right. If so, the Neocons might live to see another day. Dinmore filed his story on the death of the Neocons only to report in today’s Financial Times that Bush and Blair have met with Right Zionist (aka Neocon) Iranian exiles:

US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, have received separate background briefings from Iranian opposition activists, including one visitor to the White House on Tuesday who caused a storm earlier this month by reporting Iran had passed a law requiring Jews to wear special identification.

Contacts at such a high level with Iranian opposition activists are likely to raise concerns in Tehran while the US and UK lead diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel programme.

White House officials said Amir Taheri, a London-based former editor, was among a group of experts invited to discuss Iraq and the region with Mr Bush. Mr Taheri is well known for his support of the war in Iraq and regime change in Iran.

You shall know them by their agents: Taheri is represented by Neocon public relations firm Benador Associates, home of Right Zionist all-stars.

So, is this just Bush throwing a bone to Neocons in the dog house? Or is this the “White House”–i.e., the Office of the Vice President–sending out the word: Game On.

NeoCons and Dem Zionists: “Not Stunningly Different”

Posted by Cutler on May 30, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions / 1 Comment

Right Zionists in the US are examining political options for 2008. “Exhibit A” in this regard is Robert Kagan’s column “If Power Shifts in 2008“–the subtitle of which is “A Democrat Might Not be as Different as You Would Think”–from May 28 issue of the Washington Post.

Kagan is co-founder, with William Kristol, of the Neocon/Right Zionist “Project for a New American Century.”

Kagan has hardly given up all hope of a friendly Republican administration after Bush. McCain remains the key to that vision for Kagan:

Republicans could nominate someone capable of winning broad Democratic support, which would partly address the debilitating national divide on foreign policy.

But Kagan is hedging his bets. The central issue for Kagan is not simply the prospect of a Democrat victory in 2008 but the implications for US foreign policy:

Lately [the Democracts are] starting to show signs of life and could still take the reins again if the right Democrat won in 2008. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing. No one can claim any more that the old Clinton foreign policy team is less competent than the Republicans who succeeded it.

Kagan’s criticism of Bush administration “competence” is a partisan bone to the Democrats, in case you missed it. Less clear, however, are the Democrat “signs of life.” What could Kagan mean? He doesn’t mean the polling numbers since the whole question that interests Kagan concerns policies adopted after a Democrat victory: would “signs of life” would appear IF “the right a Democrat won in 2008.”

What are the signs of life? Hard to know, since Kagan is vague. Maybe Kagan has in mind Senator Joe Biden and his recent nod toward the old Right Zionist plan for “decentralization” of Iraq, discussed here.

There is no question of the Democrats being sufficiently Zionist for Kagan. The only real concern for Kagan is the mix of “soft power” diplomacy and hard power interventionism.

Soft power will go only so far in dealing with problems such as North Korea and Sudan.

On Iran, though, he gives a small nod toward negotiations:

A smarter negotiating strategy toward Iran might or might not make a difference in stopping its weapons program.

On the whole, Kagan is quite optimistic about Dem Zionists in ’09.

If the Democrats did take office in 2009, their approach to the post-Sept. 11 world would be marginally different but not stunningly different from Bush’s. And they would have to sell that not stunningly different set of policies to their own constituents.

The significance of this last line should not be missed: given Bush’s lousy poll numbers, Kagan seems to suggest that it might be better to have the Democrats selling the Iraq war than sniping at it. Democrats could more effectively co-opt and contain anti-war sentiment in the US.

The key point is simply that an electoral tilt toward the Democrats cannot be equated with a defeat for Kagan and Co.

Farsi or Farse?

Posted by Cutler on May 26, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 4 Comments

Today is clearly Iran day at the Washington Post. Witness the two competing columns on today’s editorial page: Charles Krauthammer’s “Say No to Tehran’s Gambit” and David Ignatius’s “Its Time to Engage With Iran.”

Bad Cop/Good Cop. Krauthammer makes the case for tough love and Ignatius proposes more honey, less vinegar.

Truth is, if you drill down a little in the Krauthammer column, he isn’t entirely willing to “Just Say No.”

Entering negotiations… is an obvious trap. We should resolutely say no.

Except on one condition. If the [European] allies, rather than shift responsibility for this entire process back to Washington, will reassert their responsibility by pledging support for U.S. and/or coalition military action against Iran in the event that the bilateral talks fail, then we might achieve something.

You want us to talk? Fine. We will go there, but only if you arm us with the largest stick of all: your public support for military action if the talks fail. The mullahs already fear economic sanctions; they will fear European-backed U.S. military action infinitely more. Such negotiations might actually accomplish something.

At the most simple level, this is an equivalent in the case of Iran of trying to preempt the diplomatic mess of the Iraq invasion when the Bush administration agreed to support a UN resolution regarding inspections, etc. but couldn’t win European support for the ill-fated second resolution backing military action.

In a larger sense, Krauthammer’s “conditional” support for negotiations probably means that even he doesn’t actually believe there is a viable military option–let alone one feared by the mullahs.

I may have to eat these words, but I don’t think military action is the preferred option of either Ignatius (not a risky interpretation, given his writing on the subject) or Krauthammer and his allies.

Here is what seems clear about Right Zionists: Iran is–in the long term–the key indespensible ally that they cannot afford to do without if they are going to beat back Arab nationalism. What remains uncertain for Right Zionists is the best way to win Iran as an ally, rather than simply defeating it as a foe. The military option doesn’t even seem likely to defeat a foe, let alone win an ally. It is a farse. But can “official Iran” become an ally? Or only the “eternal Iran” that would presumably emerge from “populist” regime change?

Shared interest in Shiite political power in Iraq might provide the basis for an alliance of sorts between the US and “official Iran.” That is the Khalilzad/Ignatius option, a Farsi option. Beyond detente with “official Iran” is the kind of US-backed “populism” rebellion deployed in Serbia, Ukraine, and elsewhere to achieve extra-constitutional regime change without military force. What to call this option in Iran?

Farsi? Or just Farse?

Regional Rivalry: Persian Gulf or Arab Gulf?

Posted by Cutler on May 25, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

The US invaded Iraq, but the target was Saudi Arabia–at least among Rigth Zionists within the Bush administration. Iraq is the central pivot for the regional balance of power in the Gulf. On the western shores of the Gulf sits Saudi Arabia. To the East, Iran. Iraq, in the North, is the tip of the triangle. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by a Sunni Arab minority, the Gulf is an Arab Gulf. Insofar as Iraq is politically controlled by its Shiite majority (loyal to a Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani), the balance of power in the Gulf tips toward a Persian Gulf.

The US invasion–and more specifically, the all-important decision to destroy the Baathist military state that guaranteed Sunni minority rule–tipped the balance toward a Persian Gulf. It is for this reason that the war has provoked hostility from Saudi Arabia (and other Arab regimes like Egypt and Jordan)–and Right Arabist friends of Saudi Arabia in Washington.

I mention all this for two reasons. First, no dynamic is more important for understanding what the war in Iraq–including all the post-war political wrangling–has been about.

Second, the “Saudi Question” regarding Iraq (leaving aside, for the moment, the equally important “Iranian Question”) has recently received some media attention from the Los Angeles Times and discussion by Juan Cole at Informed Comment, here and here.

According to the LA Times,

A stark dilemma lies before the rulers of this desert kingdom: how to insulate their land from the sectarian fighting in neighboring Iraq yet find a way to counter Iran’s swelling influence there.

Though Saudi rulers might prefer to avoid involvement in Iraq, there is a growing sense here that of all the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the most likely to be sucked in if the violence doesn’t slow. A host of ideas, virtually all of them controversial, are swirling around Riyadh, including funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and improving ties with Iran.

This dilemma is not new. It is the same dilemma that determind the end of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. On the one hand, the Saudis had no love for Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, they could not support a Shiite uprising in Iraq. The result: Saudis pressed the US to leave Saddam in power and then spent the better part of a decade trying to initiate a Baathist coup to oust Saddam with the help of ex-Baathist figures like Iyad Allawi. (The best source on all this remains Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s outstanding book on Iraq in the 1990s, Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein).

One very strange feature of the LA Times article: there are plenty of quotes supporting the notion that one of the “ideas…swirling around Riyadh” is “funneling arms to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.” Indeed, I think this may constitute more than merely an “idea” at this point. But the article doesn’t include even one talking head that actually suggests “improving ties with Iran.” Hmmm. Just a journalistic/political flourish on the part of reporter Megan Stack?

It should also be said–if it isn’t already obvious–that Right Zionists cleary intended to have the US invasion of Iraq tip the regional balance of power away from Saudi Arabia.

And what about the “Iranian Question”? Did the US intend to tip the regional balance of power toward Iran? Yes and no. It depends on which Iran you mean, as suggested by a recent Financial Times report on US relations with Iran:

Speaking about US plans to spend more than $75m (€58m, £40m) on promoting democratic change in Iran, Alberto Fernandez, head of the US State Department’s press and public diplomacy for the Middle East, set out how the US sees Iran’s duality. Like night and day, he said, Iran was divided between – “official Iran” (the regime) and “eternal Iran” (the people).

When the US invaded Iraq, its target was also “official Iran” but its goal was “eternal Iran.” Regime change in Iran depends on sharpening the distinction between the two.  Right Zionist aren’t expecting much help in this regard from the $75m to be spent by the Right Arabists over at the State Department.  Nor do they favor a military invasion.  For regime change–pitting “eternal Iran” against “official Iran”–Right Zionists are counting on a clarifying fatwa from a certain Persian Grand Ayatollah named Sistani.

I’m waiting for that shoe to drop. How about you?

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.

Barely Afloat

Posted by Cutler on May 23, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Did I seem overly negative in my post of the new Iraqi government? If so, I’m not alone. The most recent analysis from the Economist Intelligence Unit (May 22, 2006) is no less pessimistic. Entitled “Iraq Politics: Barely Afloat,” the text reads:

The two most contentious posts in the new Iraqi government are those of interior and defence ministers. By leaving them vacant during his presentation of the cabinet to the National Assembly on May 20th, the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, managed to secure a large majority of votes in favour of the line-up, which may have been more difficult had he filled them. However, the gap in the government list also cruelly illustrated the shortcomings of Mr Maliki’s administration as it seeks to address the main challenges that he has identified–ensuring security, rooting out corruption and providing decent services to the Iraqi people.

Khalilzad and Iran

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

How to read this Khalilzad opening to Iran in todays news?

In an interview with The Associated Press in the U.S. Embassy Annex in Baghdad, Khalilzad said talks with Iran about Iraq could not have taken place earlier because the United States did not want to leave anyone under the impression that Iran and the United States “got together to decide the government in Iraq.”

“But we have said publicly, and that remains our position, we’d be prepared to consider talking with them once the government of national unity is formed,” he said. He declined to specify how talks might begin, saying only, “There are channels for communicating.”…

There have been reports that a prior effort by Khalilzad to open a dialogue with Iran in March of this year met with opposition from within the administration. The source of that opposition–and its meaning–remains unclear.

One might have supposed that the opposition to a dialogue with Iran came from hawks who favor regime change over dialogue with the incumbent regime. Khalilzad’s official explanation for prior hesitation to open such a dialogue–that the US didn’t want to leave anyone with the impression that the US and Iran “got together to decide the government of Iraq”–sends a very, very different message.

Who might get the impression that the US and Iran were carving up the region for their mutual benefit? Well, the Iraqi population for starters.  And/or the Sunni Arab regimes who fear that the US tilt to Shiite Iraq is part of a broader tilt away from Sunni Arab regional domination.

Does this mean that now the US is now prepared to more openly facilitate a regional alliance between Iraqi and Iranian Shiites? Does anyone believe that those most afraid of such an alliance (Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc.) will be comforted by the fact that the US and Iran did not formally get together to decide the government of Iraq?

If this be Success… Maliki v. Mutlak

Posted by Cutler on May 22, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

Not to rain on the parade about the “successful” formation of a new Iraqi government, but it was a failure, not a success. Maliki has thus far failed to reach a deal on the key Interior and Defense ministries. He went ahead with the formation of a government that left unresolved the most contentious issue of all: control of the security ministries.

Presumably, the failure to resolve a conflict might have provoked howls of protest and concern from either Shiite parties or Sunni parties. Both might have reason to fear that Maliki was saving “bad news” for another day. It didn’t happen that way. Maliki’s refusal to name security ministers prompted a Sunni walkout, not a Shiite rebellion. If as I suggested in a previous post, we shall know the score by listening to the protests, then Maliki’s incomplete government is most ominous to elements of the Sunni Arab community.

The Washington Post reported details of the parliamentary protest:

While a man read a verse from the Koran, Khalilzad talked to a Sunni leader, then abruptly stood up and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with Adnan al-Dulaimi and Khalaf al-Elayan, two leaders of the main Sunni coalition, who both appeared to be reluctant to attend.

Seconds after the parliament’s speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, began to speak, another Sunni parliament member stood up and asked for two more days to research the cabinet nominees before a vote on them would take place.

Then Saleh al-Mutlak, head of a Sunni group that is not part of the main coalition, interrupted the session again. He declared that Maliki’s Shiite coalition had offered him ministries in the government but only if he agreed to change his political agenda. Mashhadani tapped loudly on his microphone to try to stop Mutlak’s speech, while grumbling from other parliament members grew louder.

Maliki stood silently at a podium on the stage, waiting to name his cabinet. Once he finally gained the parliament’s attention, he listed the 37 names quickly. After that, Mutlak and his party’s members walked out of the session, along with several members of the main coalition of three Sunni parties, who protested against swearing in an incomplete cabinet.

Mutlak, it may be recalled, was being courted by the US in its effort to find common ground with Sunni Arabs and former Baathists. Recall that in mid-April, Mutlak figured prominently in such efforts. He met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her trip to Iraq. The Washington Post report of that time helps put Mutlak’s recent parliamentary walkout in some perspective:

After her dinner in Baghdad, which in addition to Hashimi included Kurdish leaders and Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni politician who has long been accused of ties to Iraqi insurgent groups, Rice noted what she called a “considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership.” Later, in an interview with CBS News, she called the Sunnis’ entry into politics “one of the most extraordinary developments” of the past year.

Mutlak, Hashimi and others say that after months of raising concerns with U.S. officials in Baghdad, they finally feel that their voices are being heard — and echoed in recent statements by Khalilzad and officials in Washington…

Mutlak said he told Rice at the dinner that the sectarian tension between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites had arrived with the U.S. invasion force in 2003. “I am not sure she agreed or not,” he said. “But she listened to me. When they came to Iraq, absolutely they were biased to the Shiites. I think they are being more evenhanded than what they were before. They realized they cannot solve the problems in Iraq without us.”

Sunni leaders say the new U.S. stance has opened the way for dialogue between U.S. officials and Sunni-led insurgent groups. Khalilzad, while circumspect about details, has acknowledged such contacts in recent weeks.

Mutlak said Americans have held discussions mostly with smaller insurgent groups linked to better-known armed groups. Among the issues on the table, predicated on insurgents laying down their weapons, he said, are amnesty for some categories of insurgents, incorporating more Sunnis into Iraq’s security forces, economic support for impoverished Sunni regions and a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals.

“I think if they can reach a good agreement with these groups, they can jump to bigger groups,” he said. “But it is just beginning.”

Has that beginning now come to an end? If the formation of a Maliki government was intended to reflect a new accord between the US and figures like Mutlak, it seems to have failed in that regard. If, however, the formation of the Maliki government–over the objections of Mutlak–signals a retreat from attempts to co-opt the Sunni insurgency and a dramatic tilt toward the Shiite majority, it is hardly a bold step in this direction.

Presumably, Maliki will have to name permanent ministers to head the two security ministers. Either Maliki will select weak technocrats in the hope that they will signfy as little as possible (more waffling and delay) or the final shoe will drop and Khalilzad will no longer be able to corral reluctant Sunni leaders back into the political process.

Neocons and Zionists

Posted by Cutler on May 18, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions / 9 Comments

The debate sparked by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s essay, “The Israeli Lobby,” continues unabated. Stephen Zunes has recently offered up a long rebuttal. In a previous essay, Zunes noted,

As the official rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq—that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction” which threatened the national security of the United States and that the Iraqi government had operational ties to al-Qaida—are now widely acknowledged to have been fabricated, and the back-up rationalization—of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq—is also losing credibility, increasing attention is being given as to why the U.S. government, with broad bipartisan support, made such a fateful decision.

He then proposes several explanations in an effort to bat them away. One of the more interesting:

“Pro-Israel Jewish neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and others were among the key architects of the policy of ‘preventative war’ and were the strongest advocates for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.”

This hardly seems controversial at this point. But Zunes goes out of his way to issue the following denial:

[W]hile a number of prominent neoconservative intellectuals are of Jewish background, they have tended not to be religious nor have they, despite their support for the current right-wing Israeli government, been strongly identified as Zionists.

Zunes doth protest too much. I’d prefer to take the word of Norman Podhoretz, one of the “grandpas” of the neo-conservative movement, as cited in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.” Podhoretz rejects the idea that all neoconservatives are Jewish, but then confirms…

“it is certainly true that all neo-conservatives are strong supporters of Israel”

Those unwilling to acknowledge this simple point have little chance of understanding the neo-conservatives or their vision of post-Saddam Iraq. It is for this reason that I suggest we cut right to the chase and call the neocons by a name that actually describes their politics; they are Right Zionists.  (“Right” Zionists because they are Republicans, unlike most Zionists who are Democrats–Dem Zionists who provided and continue to provide the “broad bipartisan support” for the US invasion of Iraq).

There is more to understanding this war than understanding Right Zionists. I agree with Zunes on at least one crucial point:

the most prominent backers of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney—are neither Jewish nor prone to put the perceived interests of Israel ahead of that of the United States.

I suspect that–my own efforts notwithstanding–we have only begun to understand the stakes for Rumsfeld and Cheney.

Discerning Victories: Who is Up/Down in the new Iraqi Government

Posted by Cutler on May 17, 2006
Uncategorized / No Comments

According to the Washington Post and other media outlets, Iraqi Prime Minister designate Nouri al-Maliki will present his government list to the Iraqi parliament on Saturday. The negotiations appear to be over.

Knight-Ridder has details of top candidates (all quoted text below is from the Knight-Ridder report). For those keeping score at home, here are some provisional guideposts for making sense of the upcoming announcment:

Interior Ministry

The outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, has been accused by Sunni politicians of exploiting the Interior ministry for sectarian Shiite ends and of allowing Shiite “death squads” to proliferate on his watch.

The top candidates for the Interior Ministry post, to be filled by a Shiite, are Ahmad Chalabi, the outgoing deputy prime minister who has ties to Iran, and Qassim Dawoud, an independent Shiite politician.

The language here is less than totally neutral. The description of Chalabi as a figure with “ties to Iran” is probably accurate, but also probably intended to be frightening (given all the talk about how the Shiites are preparing to hand Iraq to Iran). One could say something frightening about Qassim Dawoud–that he has been allied with ex-Baathists like Iyad Allawi and has only recently become formally aligned with the Shiite Alliance. In the run up to war, Chalabi was the lead “exile” figure associated with Right Zionists (aka neocons); Allawi was the lead “exile” figure associated with Right Arabists.

Score “Chalabi” at Interior as a victory for Right Zionists in the US. Score “Dawoud” as a victory for Allawi and Right Arabists in the US.

Defense Ministry

The top candidate for minister of defense is Hajim al Hassani, a Sunni Arab affiliated with the secular political slate led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, according to legislators involved in the negotiations.

Score “Hassani” at Defense as a victory for Allawi and Right Arabists in the US.

Finance Ministry

Bayan Jabr, the current interior minister and a member of the powerful Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is slated to become the finance minister. Jabr, a controversial figure, has been accused of failing to rein in Shiite militias and death squads that target Sunni Arabs from within his ministry.

This one is a shocker, of sorts. Jabr was the target of an enormous amount of very public US criticism during the Jaafari government of last year and during the US campaign to bar a second government in the period since the December 2005 election. So what does it mean?

One view would be that this a an ENORMOUS defeat for the US. According to this view, the US went to Iraq largely to introduce neo-liberal economic reforms, championed by a reform-oriented Finance Ministry. See Naomi Klein. If Jabr is not a friend of the US and the Finance Ministry is key to economic shock therapy and privatization, then this is a huge loss for the US.

Trouble is, all the talk about Jabr as a very bad man was never really about Jabr or death squads. Jabr, like former Finance Minister Abdel Mahdi, are from SCIRI–the most “cooperative” Shiite political party. I think Klein overstates the US interest in neo-liberal reform of the Iraqi economy; it is hardly the primary agenda item or motivation. Jabr, however, doesn’t represent a particularly strong challenge to this interest.

Oil Ministry

The oil ministry is expected to go to nuclear physicist Hussein Shahristani, an independent Shiite legislator.

Shahristani is very close with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Score this as a victory for Right Zionists who love Sistani.

Don’t take my word for any of this. These are provisional hunches. The best way to score the politics of these government appointments is to listen carefully for Iraqi criticism and to identify the factional position of the critic. Such criticism speaks volumes about the stakes for the players on the ground and their allies in Washington. Know them by their enemies…

The Politics of Iraqi Death Squads

Posted by Cutler on May 16, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

It is too early to predict the outcome of back room negotiations over the composition of a new Iraqi government. However, there have been scattered reports, most recently by Agence France-Presse, of an agreement to allow the Shiite Alliance to retain control of the Interior Ministry.

If true, this would tend to undermine the idea that US concern over SCIRI Badr Brigade “death squads” at the Interior Ministry was a central factor in Khalilzad’s refusal to back the first Shiite Alliance government proposed by Ibrahim Jaafari. Has Khalilzad simply retreated? Or was the whole idea–that the US feared uncontrolled Shiite “death squads”–something of a stretch from the start.

Perhaps the controversial outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr Solagh, knows too much about US participation in the formation of the “death squads” to be easily marginalized at this point. Most recently, he has joined the chorus of complaints about death squads, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for the death squads. Instead, he blows the whistle on the US:

Solagh said most of the human rights abuses attributed to the Iraqi police and interior ministry could be laid at the feet of the various security bodies belonging to other ministries. Referring to the country’s interior and defence ministries, Solagh said: “These forces are out of control. In total there are 200 000 not controlled by the MOI and MOD. “No one controls them, not even the prime minister.” Solagh said that, in addition to the 250 000 armed forces and police members, 200 000 others are guarding ministries, pipelines and infrastructure, or working as private security in the country. In the case of the Facility Protection Service (FPS), which guards the various ministries and consists of almost 150 000 men, the equipment is similar to that of the police, he said. Solagh said: “They have the same cars, the same weapons, the same uniforms as the police, just instead of ‘IP’ it is written ‘FPS’.”

The Interior Minister made similar charges in a BBC interview in April 2006.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has admitted that death squads and other unauthorized armed groups are carrying out sectarian murders in his country. The minister alleged that non-governmental security agencies like the Facility Protection Service (FPS) – which was set up under the US governorship in order to protect public buildings – were behind many of the killings. Jabr told the BBC that the 150,000-strong FPS was “out of order, not under our control“.

The US seems to have removed its objections to Shiite control of the ministry some time after he linked the US to the death squads. There has been precious little discussion of the Facility Protection Service. Maybe Jabr is blowing smoke. Maybe not.

In any event, the key to the entire “death squads” issue is that the US at one point had a hand in all this.  Prior attempts to sideline Jabr and the Badr Brigade reflect US fears of Shiite death squads much more than concern over Shiite death squads.  It is a political thing, not a humanitarian thing.

On Hold in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on May 15, 2006
Iraq / 3 Comments

Bush takes a lot of heat for sticking to his guns, most recently from Stephen Colbert:

“When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday — no matter what happened Tuesday.”

Iraq is, presumably, a case in point. It just ain’t so. In truth, the Bush administration has done nothing but flip flop about the political outcome in Iraq. The long wait for a new government in Iraq is a product of US indecisiveness.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki could form a government today if he didn’t face pressure from US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The Sadrist Shiite parliamentary bloc recently rebuked Khalilzad for pressuring Maliki to make too many accomodations on behalf of the Sunni Arab minority. From the New York Times:

As 275-member parliament convened Sunday, Bahaa al-Araji, a lawmaker loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, denounced what he said was continued U.S. meddling in the selection of ministers for the coveted interior and defense ministry posts… “Within the past two days, the occupation forces have been interfering with certain names and certain posts,” said al-Araji, whose group holds 30 seats in parliament. “There are also blocs participating in the (formation of) the government that have begun demanding more than what they are entitled to electorally…” he said, singling out the Sunni Arab Accordance Front as one example.

Who is stalling? Araji threatened that if the US did not quit stalling the process on behalf of the Sunni Arab forces, the Shiite alliance would “form a government without regard to their demands.” According to the NYT report, Araji “set a deadline of two-days before the 130 alliance deputies act unilaterally.”

Such a government would, no doubt, drive most Sunni politicians into the hands of the insurgency. The fact that such a government has not been announced is hardly a consequence of Shiite ambivalence or hesitation, however. It is a result of US attempts to pressure Iraqi Shiites to reach out to the Sunni Arab minority.

There have been some moments of extraordinary US political decisiveness in Iraq, but they have always been contradicted in short order. In May 2003, early in the occupation, the Coalition Provisional Authority issues orders to de-Baathify the Iraqi state apparatus and to disband the Sunni Arab-dominated Iraqi Army officer corps. Both steps were bold initiatives designed to signal US support for a full-blown political transformation in Iraq. Both steps also generated massive opposition. In Iraq opposition took the form of the Sunni Arab insurgency. In the US it took the form of a revolt by the Arabist Republican foreign policy establishment.

No later than September 2003, however, Bush administration resolve weakened and started to wobble. Eventually, the de-Baathification order was rescinded and the US began to reach out to former regime elements. By June 2004, the Bush administration took another bold step, albeit one completely at odds with its first bold step. In that month, the Coalition Provisional Authority formally handed sovereignty to Iyad Allawi, a former Baathist. It looked like the US had returned to its older policy of favoring “Saddamism without Saddam.”

If Allawi was supposed to function as an unelected authoritarian Iraqi “strongman,” this role was completely undermined by the January 2005 elections, the October 2005 Constitutional Referendum, and the December 2005 elections. Undertaken with the enthusiastic support of Right Zionists (so-called neocons) and the Iraqi Shiite majority–but over the objections of Right Arabists–these elections put full-blown political transformation back on the Iraqi agenda.

The current stalemate is an index of US flip-flopping and mixed signals. On most days, Ambassador Khalilzad devotes himself to appeasing the Sunni Arab minority–most visibly in the March 2006 attempt to form an extra-Constitutional “national security” council. That one looked like a coup in the making.

Even as the “security” situtation continues to deteriorate on all fronts, the US remains fundamentally unwilling to take a stand and stick with a plan on the “political” front. Plan A: support the Shiite majority and get on with counter-insurgency against the Sunni Arab resistance. Plan B: support Allawi as a new Iraqi strongman and get on with the inevitable counter-insurgency against the (future) Shiite resistance. Plan C: declare Kurdistan the 51st state of the US and get on with the inevitable military clashes with Turkey.Right now, the US seems to be carefully weighing its options and pondering alternative plans. How many US troops died today while the Bush administration sat stewing in its own strategic ambivalence and half-hearted flip-flopping?

Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney

Posted by Cutler on May 12, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

My ZNet article–“Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–is an abridged version of a longer essay. The longer paper includes an explanation–quite speculative in most respects–for the fact that Rumsfeld and Cheney have served as leaders of a Right Zionist war in Iraq. This warrants explanation because Rumsfeld/Cheney have not always appeared to be the most reliable allies for such a project. Indeed, I review some indications that both were previously thought of by Right Zionists and Right Arabists as reliable Right Arabists. So, what changed?

A further question–even more important for understanding current US policy toward Iraq and Iran–is whether Rumsfeld and Cheney remain aligned with Right Zionists. Alas, the following excerpt does not attempt to answer that crucial question.

“Finding Cheney/Rumsfeld”

By Jonathan Cutler, Wesleyan University, May 12, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Who’s Afraid of Regime Change in Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 09, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 7 Comments

Who’s Afraid of Regime Change in Iran? The answer might surprise you. Right Zionists (so-called neo-cons) surely favor regime change in Iran. But they also fear regime change that is based on ethnic separatism in Iran–specifically Arab separatism.

In the long term, Right Zionists are less interested in defeating or weakening Iran than they are in strengthening a pro-Western Iran. This is, arguably, a different agenda than that of Right Arabists who object to Shiite regional power. In the Right Zionist strategic worldview, Iran remains Israel’s logical (if not empirical) ally in a region dominated by Arab regimes. The model: flourishing US-Israeli-Iranian relations during the 1970s under the Shah. So, too, Right Arabists objected to this US tilt toward Israel and Iran under Kissinger and Nixon.Today, Right Zionists want to terminate the incumebent clerical regime, but they also want to enhance the regional power of Iran, relative to Arab regional dominance. Right Arabists, meanwhile, are willling to entertain the possibility of some kind of accord with the (weakened) incumbent clerical regime, especially if it prevents Right Zionists from winning US-Israeli-Iranian regional hegemony down the road.

As I have argued in a previous post, the question of Iranian nukes falls into this framework. Right Arabists, like Right Zionists, are hostile to the idea of Iranian nukes. But Right Arabists are hostile to Iranian nukes as such, not simply nuclear weapons in the hands of the current Iranian regime. Right Arabists were hostile to Iranian nukes in the 1970s under the Shah and would likely continue to oppose Iranian nukes long after the fall of the incumbent clerical regime. The issue is regional power. For the same reason–regional power–Right Zionists would welcome the exact opposite: Iranian nukes after the restoration of a pro-western regime in Iran.

Arab separatist rebellion within Iran also falls into this framework. Even though there is very little public chatter about US sponsorship of a separatist rebellion by Iran’s Arab minority, Right Zionists are already busy attacking the idea of regime change in Iran on the basis of Arab separatism.

The central issue here is the Iranian province of Khuzistan. In November 2005, AEI Right Zionist Michael Rubin was suffiently concerned about such plans that he published an “internal briefing” for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that warned against any attempt by the US to undermine the Iranian regime through Arab minority rebellion. The briefing is entitled “Domestic Threats to Iranian Stability: Khuzistan and Baluchistan.”

Khuzistan has a long and rich heritage…Long populated predominantly by Arabs, the region was known throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as Arabistan – “land of the Arabs.” The region grew in strategic importance in the twentieth century, especially after the 1908 discovery of oil and the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company the following year…After Reza Khan subdued the province, the Iranian foreign ministry changed the provincial name to Khuzistan. The oil boom and government efforts to dilute the Arab component of the population have caused the relative size of the ethnic Arab population to shrink. When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, Saddam Hussein sought to play the ethnic card. The Iraqi leader portrayed himself as the liberator of the Khuzistani Arabs.

Rubin doesn’t like the idea of the US playing the Arab ethnic card in Iran, even if (or precisely because) it might destabilize Iran. He certainly seems afraid that Right Arabists (so-called “realists”) are toying with the idea, however.

The Iranian regime is unpopular among the majority of its population…[T]he majority of Iran’s youth long for the freedom enjoyed in the West… When the Islamic Republic collapses, a strong unified Iran will be a force for stability and a regional bulwark against the Islamism under which the Iranian people now chafe. Neither Washington nor any other Western democracy should attempt to play the separatist card in Iran. To do so would not only backfire, but would trade ephemeral short-term gain for long-term strategic harm. The realists are wrong.

Why be so picky about the precise method of uprooting the clerical regime? Because Right Zionists like Rubin are playing a long-term, regional balance-of-power game, not merely a short-term militaristic offensive. Right Zionists are battling for Shiite Iraq and Iran, but targeting the Saudis. Hence, Rubin is already anticipating the benefits of a “strong unified Iran” after the counter-revolution. In the short term, Right Zionists can’t live with the incumbent clerical regime; in the long term they can’t live without non-Arab Iran.

The last thing Right Zionists want is to hand an oil-rich, strategic province of Iran to Arab forces–even if it means sacrificing a short-term opportunity to topple the incumbent Shiite revolutionary regime.

Funny how things work in the Gulf (and much of the former British Empire). Arabs sit atop Iranian oil and Shiite sit atop Saudi oil.

Right Zionists love separatist rebellion in Iraq; hate it in Iran. Right Arabists favor a strong unified Iraq; hate it in Iran.

In the most audacious version of the Right Zionist fantasy the Shia of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province would secede in the name of a Shia Gulf (Iran, southern Iraq, and the Saudi Eastern Province). In the Khuzistan option (championed by unidentified “realists”) the Gulf Arabs would restore Sunni Arab control of Iraq and help the Arabs of oil-rich Khuzistan secede from Shiite-dominated Iran.

Smells like a regional war at every turn.

NB: there is no necessary or essential symmetry in the binary opposition Arab/Shiite. When ethnic rivalry is the issue, the more appropriate contrasts are between Arab and Persian (and/or Kurd, Turkman, etc.). When religious factionalism is the issue, the more appropriate terms are Sunni/Shiite Muslim.

Most Iraqi Shiites are Arab, not Persian.

In practice, however, Right Zionists seek to exploit something akin to Arab/Shiite rivalry in the Gulf. Hence, the centrality of their reliance on Iraq’s leading Persian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Arab nationalists also seem happy to accept the bait. See, for example, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s recent accusation that Iraqi Shiites are more loyal to Shiite Iran than they are to pan-Arab power. Mubarak’s accusations, notwithstanding, the key obstacle to the full development of Arab/Shiite rivalry is the Arab nationalism of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

Sistani & Iran

Posted by Cutler on May 02, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 12 Comments

Bush administration policy on Iran is a pretty complicated affair. I’m not yet prepared to post a full commentary on the flurry of rumors last week about a potential US nuke strike against Iran. Suffice it to say, for now, that I have my doubts that this is the neocon game plan. My reading is that neocons are not actually all that upset about the country of Iran having nukes–at least not as upset as say, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. Neocons are, however, upset about the incumbent clerical regime in Iran having nukes.

The neocons want regime change in Iran.  They have in mind a popular rebellion, not a military strike.  The emphasis on regime change is actually all over Hersh’s New Yorker piece, but it gets second billing to the nuke attack. The only explicit connection Hersh makes between a military strike and regime change is one quote that suggests a nuke attack might lead to regime change–something like a “Falklands” scenario where military defeat leads to regime change. I have my doubts…

I find much more compelling the idea that neocons are not the ones who want to keep the Iranian nuke issue front and center; the key sources for Hersh’s articles were folks who favored coming to terms with the incumbent regime. They call it crazy and press Bush to go for a diplomatic solution.

Neocons don’t want any “accord” with the Iranian regime, but that is not the same as favoring a military attack. They favor a populist rebellion against a regime they think is quite unpopular. Moreover, my reading of neocon war strategies suggests that they think that the Iraqi clerical establishment–especially the good offices of Grand Ayatollah Sistani–might help undermine the Iranian clerical establishment.

This notion–that the US can exploit divisions between Najaf (Sistani’s base in Iraq) and Qom (the center of the Iranian clerical establishment)–may seem like the most far-fetched notion of all. (One comment by Kieran suggested that the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny would be similarly inclined to help bring down the Iranian regime).

I don’t really have a dog in this race. And I have no interest in defending neocons. But I also don’t like to underestimate my opponents. And I note, with great interest, that when Professor Juan Cole–far more of an expert on such matters than I–listed his Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005, number five was 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.

I haven’t asked Professor Cole what he thinks about Neocon attempts to exploit this fissure between Sistani and the Iranian regime, but I’d sure be interested to know…

Dem Zionists? Biden & Gelb on Iraqi Partition

Posted by Cutler on May 02, 2006
Iran, Iraq / 4 Comments

Senator Joseph Biden–with Leslie Gelb–has published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:

America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.

My ZNet article on Iraq focuses primarily on Republican strategic orientations, especially battles between Zionist and Arabist factions. Given the political dominance of the Republican party, there has been some urgency to mapping their views on Iraq. There are, however, parralel lines within the Democratic foreign policy establishment. The chief difference may be that Republican Zionists (so-called “neocons”) are still relatively rare within the foreign policy establishment. Not so with the Democrats. The challenge, within the Democratic party is to find any Arabists; Dem Zionists are quite plentiful.

Critics of the war in Iraq have often–and correctly–suggested that the neo-cons favor ethnic federalism in Iraq. After all, it was fear of ethnic federalism–and its regional consequences–that led Right Arabists to prop up Saddam’s rule at the end of the 1991 Gulf war and it was the Right Zionist embrace of this federalism within the administration of George W. Bush that guided the decision to end Sunni Baathist dominance of a centralized Iraq power structure. This issue has always been at the crux of the politics of war in Iraq.
There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:

“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (“U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)

Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.

The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.

His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.

If there is nothing particularly new about Democratic party foreign policy figures supporting such a plan, would the implementation of such a plan signify anything new in Iraq? Yes and no. On the one hand, Biden and Gelb acknowledge that their “third way” isn’t really much of a bold departure from events on the ground.

Decentralization is hardly as radical as it may seem: the Iraqi Constitution, in fact, already provides for a federal structure and a procedure for provinces to combine into regional governments… Besides, things are already heading toward partition… a breakup is already under way.

On the other hand, they may be quite right to signify a departure from current Bush administration policy. Although they represent their position as a break from Bush’s determination to “stay the course,” the truth is that the Bush administration has not stayed the course. As early as September 2003, the Bush administration began to retreat from a full embrace of ethnic federalism and began to favor Iraqi proxies–chiefly former Baathists like Iyad Allawi–who favor a restoration of something like Saddamism without Saddam. That policy has not managed to close pandora’s box; a breakup is already under way. But it is not currently US policy. As US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad never tires of repeating, the US favors a government of “national unity,” not ethnic federalism.

Biden and Gelb’s third way is, in fact, the first way. It is the way the Bush administration started the war.

Juan Cole provides a helpful clarification of the battle lines regarding the Biden/Gelb “Third Way”:

The Arab world would never forgive the United States if it broke up Iraq. You would never be able to convince them that it hadn’t been done primarily for the benefit of Israel. Iraq in the late 1970s was a comer as potentially the most powerful Arab country. To see it broken and in fragments, supine before imperial and regional powers, would be heartbreaking to Arabs and would certainly provoke anti-Western sentiments and attacks in retaliation.

Farewell to neo-cons; here come Dem Zionists.