Monthly Archives: July 2006

Cutler’s Blog: Back August 7th

Posted by Cutler on July 21, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon / 4 Comments

As I prepare for a two-week hiatus, I have to wonder how things will look by August 7th when Cutler’s Blog returns.

Israeli Ground troops in Lebanon: As I write, Israel appears to be preparing to send ground troops into Lebanon.  Apparently, the idea is to create a 20-mile “buffer” between Hezbollah and the Israeli border, although I just saw John Bolton on Fox News saying that 20-miles isn’t nearly enough given the reach of Hezbollah rockets.  Oh boy.

International/UN force in Lebanon: It looks like there will be an international force of some kind but it will come only after the US thinks Israel has “done all it can do” unilaterally.  I see no reason to believe, however, that such an international force will actually have a different mandate than Israeli ground troops.  The key point is that there are no major international players (apart from Syria and Iran; and possibly the Sadrist-backed government of Iraq!) who actually oppose the disarming, dismantling, and/or destruction of Hezbollah.  The French and the Saudis, in particular, want this no less than the Israelis.  There are only two reasons why the current offensive would turn from an Israeli action into a multinational force: either because Israel has completed its mission or, more likely, because the Israeli mission becomes politically unsustainable and requires the cover of multinational legitimacy.

Syria: I would not be stunned to return August 7th to a new regime in Syria.  This could happen in one of two ways: either President Bashar Al-Asad does a “Qaddafi” and switches sides (“get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” as our President says; very unlikely, but not impossible) or he is unseated in a US-backed coup.  Let us be clear, the parties to that coup are totally in place and would essentially represent a return of the “old guard” that was marginalized in the transition from Hafez to Bashar.  The key figure in this coup would be former Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim KhaddamThe coup option is in such plain view to all that this may, in fact, be sufficient to move Bashar.

Iran: I expect the Iranian regime will be in power when I return (not really a daring bet).  But the Iranian regime will be on the front burner and in the hot seat for some time.  A military option–by the US or Israel–remains a low probability, but I wouldn’t be so foolish as to rule it out as a possibility with the current folks running the show in Washington and Jerusalem.  In the longer term, I continue to think that the long-term agenda–especially among Right Zionists in Washington, but also within Right Arabist circles–is regime change in Iran.  But it will take some time before anyone in the US foreign policy establishment is ready to make a serious drive in that direction.

I look forward to comparing notes August 7th… Until then, hold onto your seats!

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…

ZNet: The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 19, 2006
Uncategorized / 2 Comments


ZNet has published an extended version of my post, “The Devil Wears Persian.” You can find it HERE.

NeoCon Anger at Bush?

Posted by Cutler on July 19, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I try to make sense of the news, but this one I just don’t get:

The Washington Post has published a front-page Michael Abromowitz article today entitled, “Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush’s Foreign Policy.”  The lead quote in the article goes to Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute:

“It is Topic A of every single conversation…

I don’t have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration.”

To be more specific, Abromowitz is talking about alleged neoconservative fury:

In fact, it has been Bush’s willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment — which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more “multilateral” diplomacy in concert with allies — that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive “neoconservatives” who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.

So, whence the fury at the administration?  What are we talking about here?

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

Iran and North Korea.  Ok.  I can see that.  There are examples of that fury coming from AEI folks like Michael Rubin.  From June.  An old story.  It makes this Abromowitz article something like an overdue profile of neoconservative (i.e., Right Zionist) anger at the Bush administration decision to make diplomatic overtures to Iran.   Like a neoconservative lamentation for Time’s declaration of the end of “Cowboy” foreign policy.

But did the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute actually express “fury” or perceive unwarranted “timidity” or “confusion” about the “urgent new” problem–“the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah”?  No way.  Not a chance.

When did Abromowitz conduct the “interviews”?  Did the Post dig up this story from the June files?

Is Abromowitz trying to makes it seem like neocons think Bush’s refusal to engage or take action in Lebanon reflects timidity and/or confusion?  If so, he is playing a game and will surely be corrected in short order by the Right Zionists.

Current Bush administration inactivity–delay in sending an envoy, refusal to call for a ceasefire, refusal to back Kofi Annan’s efforts to cobble together an international force–is not timidity but bold–if implicit–support for an extraordinarily aggressive Israeli policy in Lebanon.

Bush’s reaction to Israel’s move to destroy Hezbollah will earn him eternal plaudits from neocon pundits.  Abromowitz is blowing smoke.

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…

Can the Sadr Hold?

Posted by Cutler on July 11, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized / 4 Comments

Remember the abduction of Sunni MP Tayseer al-Mashhadani that provided the immediate rationale for US-backed raids in Sadr City and arguably sparked the latest convulsion of sectarian violence in Iraq? (For a refresher, see this previous post).

Remember how Sunni political leaders reported that the allegedly Shiite kidnappers had threatened to “cut off her head” unless there was a halt to attacks on Shiite mosques, etc.?

Remember how the Sunni-led “Iraqi Accordance Front” boycotted parliament and threatened to withdraw its ministers from the Maliki government?

Remember when Omar al-Jubouri, a member of Mashhadani’s Iraqi Islamic Party, demanded US intervention in an interview with the New York Times:

“The Iraqi people ask the Americans for an iron fist to crush the Sadr militia in Baghdad,” Mr. Jubouri said in an interview, referring to the volatile militia commanded by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Never mind.

The Associated Press is reporting an abrupt reversal.

The largest Sunni bloc in parliament said Tuesday it will end its legislative boycott following a call for calm and unity by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and a promise that a kidnapped Sunni legislator will be released…

Noureddine al-Hyali, a member of the bloc that holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament, said that contacts had been made with the kidnappers and “we have received promises . . . that Tayseer al-Mashhadani will be released within days.” He quoted the kidnappers as saying “she is our guest,” indicating that she was being well treated.

Two of al-Mashhadani’s guards were released last week

Al-Sadr has called for unity amid rising sectarian tension here and another Sunni politician said the bloc was responding.

We have decided to attend the meetings as of tomorrow in response to the call by Muqtada al-Sadr,” Adnan al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

An impressive turn of events. How fortuitous that Mashhadani’s abductors–last week, allegedly on the verge of chopping off her head–now welcomed her as a guest!

Perhaps it was Omar al-Jubouri who lost his head when he demanded that US forces use an “iron fist” to crush Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Cooler heads now seem to prevail, at least among the Sunni political elite closest to the US administration.

Somebody has blinked.

Perhaps it was the US, sensing that a sectarian civil war might actually help Sadr more than hurt him. As I suggested in a previous post, full-blown sectarian civil war acturally has the potential to reunite Sadr with the rest of the Shiite political establishment, thwarting US attempts to isolate Sadr with the help of the Shiite-led Maliki government.

Although Right Zionists like Charles Krauthammer once welcomed sectarian civil war (see previous post), Bush administration Right Zionists are not necessarily running the show in Iraq these days.

It is also possible that the real issue in all this involves tension and factionalism within the Sadrist camp. According to this scenario, there are some Sadrist elements that reject cooperation with the US-backed government and favor a more militant response to US and Sunni forces.

After the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite Askariya Shrine on the outskirts of Samarra, Sadr had his hands full trying to keep his own base from sectarian vengeance.

At that time, the New York Times reported that armed Shiite militiamen pulled 47 Iraqis off buses at a “fake checkpoint” and executed them.

According to that same report, Sadr moved quickly to shift the axis from sectarianism to anti-occupation nationalism:

Though Shiite leaders, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, condemned the anti-Sunni violence on Thursday, there were no open condemnations of the Mahdi Army, Sadr’s militia that is thought to have led many of the violent protests.

Sadr’s office issued a statement calling on the Mahdi Army to protect holy sites in Samarra and elsewhere, and demanding that the new Iraqi Parliament issue a schedule for the withdrawal of U.S. troops so that Iraq could operate as a sovereign country, responsible for its own security.

This situation is mostly because of the existence of the occupation,” Sadr said in the statement. “We charge the occupation forces with all the responsibility.”

A new International Crisis Group report on Sadr gets to the heart of this issue:

Seen by many as a spoiler, his political positioning and legitimacy in the eyes of a restless, disenfranchised population have made Muqtada a key to Iraq’s stability, and he must be treated as such. But Muqtada must do more to exercise responsible leadership himself. As sectarian tensions have grown, so too has his movement’s involvement in the dirty war that pits Sunnis against Shiites. Muqtada has maintained his calls for national unity, even in the wake of particularly vicious attacks against Shiite civilians, yet the February 2006 attack against a Shiite shrine in Samarra appears to have been a turning point. Since then, the violence has reached alarming proportions as Sadrists have indiscriminately attacked presumed Baathists and Wahhabis. Controlling his forces and putting an end to their killings is Muqtada’s principal challenge. Should he fail to meet it, he will be partly responsible for two things he ardently claims he wishes to avoid: the country’s fragmentation and an Islamic civil war.

The report also specifically recommends “initiatives… aimed at increasing discipline among Sadrist militants.”

It is possible that the US and Sunni politicians like Adnan al-Dulaimi now see the advantages of helping Sadr control his own forces.

Throughout the recent crackdown in Sadr City and the wave of sectarian violence, the US has refused to point a finger directly at Sadr.

According the Associated Press, US officials declared that the largest US raid last week was undertaken to capture a Shiite militia leader–identified in the press as Abu Diraa–accused of trying to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

Similarly, today’s Washington Post article, “Violence Flares in Divided Baghdad,” quotes the same US military official, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, playing down the number of Sunni killed in the recent ambush and avoiding direct attacks on Sadr:

U.S. troops found 14 dead Iraqis in the neighborhood but not the “30 or 40 or more that was in the reporting that we heard going on,” Caldwell said. An Iraqi police officer said that 57 corpses, plus those of three policemen, were taken to Yarmouk Hospital after the violence. Caldwell did not place blame for the killings on the Mahdi Army, but he acknowledged the problem of what he called “illegal armed groups.

Back in 2004, it appeared that the US was leading a crackdown on Sadr in order to insulate Sistani from Shiite radicalism. Is the US now leading a crackdown on breakaway Sadrists in order to insulate Sadr from his own militant base?

Or does Sadr himself remain public enemy number one?

The end of the Sunni parliamentary boycott certainly suggests that at least some political elites within the Green Zone want to give Sadr a chance to help restore order.

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back?

Posted by Cutler on July 10, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Two of the best Iraq news bloggers–Juan Cole at Informed Comment and “Swopa” at Needlenose–have assembled details on the news reports of explicitly sectarian, Shiite-led executions of Sunni Arabs in Baghdad.

Juan Cole offers the following details about the cycle of vengeance:

Shaikh Abd al-Samad al-`Ubaydi, the prayer leader at the Fakhri Shanshal Mosque in the al-Jihad district, accused the Mahdi Army of committing this crime. “Everything is clear, now,” he said. He added, “When I left the mosque after the crime had been committed, I saw ten bodies of ten men, all of them killed with a bullet to the head, and all of them bearing signs of torture.” He said many of the early-morning killings were carried out in front of the Husayniyah of Fatimah al-Zahra, a Shiite mourning center.

The prayer leader at the Fatimah al-Zahra Husayniyah, Shaikh Hamud al-Sudani, for his part told the AFP that the attacks were carried out by relatives of victims killed in the quarter during recent months. He said, “During the past 5 months, Shiites have been the victims of killings in and expulsion from the al-Jihad district.” Guerrillas, presumably Sunni Arabs, had set off a bomb near the Fatimah al-Zahra center on Satuday evening, wounding 4, which Shaikh al-Sudani said was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Reuters also mentions the bombing of the Fatimah al-Zahra center Saturday evening in its summary of the violence.

Most news sources carry reports that Sadr and his camp deny any involvement in the ambush and execution of Sunn Arabs. The Washington Post:

Other officials in Sadr’s organization condemned the killings in al-Jihad and denied that the Mahdi Army was involved.

“We regret the statements made by some Sunni Arabs who said that the Mahdi Army militia had conducted the raid at Jihad and killed the innocent people there,” said Riyadh al-Nouri, a top aide to Sadr and his brother-in-law. “If the Mahdi Army wanted to enter into a fight, Iraq would become a blood bath.”

I find it interesting, however, that Juan Cole’s post includes a citation of an AFP report that has a local Shiite prayer leader–Shaikh Hamud al-Sudani at the Fatimah al-Zahra Husayniyah prayer center–explaining rather than denying Shiite (if not Mahdi Army) involvement in the ambush and executions.

A similar statement–by an unnamed “senior Shiite politician” of unknown political loyalty–appears in the International Herald Tribune coverage:

A senior Shiite politician said the Mahdi Army fighters from eastern Baghdad had moved into Jihad on Sunday but insisted they were only taking on Sunni militants responsible for killing Shiites. “There are many terrorist groups in Jihad who are killing Shiite families so they went to fight them,” he said.

Which Axis: Nationalist or Sectarian?

Although the Saturday night bombing of the Shiite prayer center may have been the final “straw,” it was certainly not the heaviest–not even the heaviest of the past week, which included a car bomb that killed Shiite pilgrims in Kufa.

All of this seems so plainly “sectarian”–a local cycle of vengeance in a mixed Baghdad neighborhood–that one could almost forget that the final “straw” just happened to coincide with US raids on Sadr City.

The Washington Post article, “Scores of Sunnis Killed in Baghdad,” situates the ambush in the context of US policy toward Sadr:

Iraqi officials and residents of the neighborhood identified the gunmen as members of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia controlled by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In the past three days, Iraqi troops, with the support of U.S.-led forces, have raided the homes of militiamen and detained some of their leaders.

U.S. commanders and diplomats say Sadr and his militia constitute one of the gravest threats to Iraq’s security.

In a previous post, I suggested that these US raids in Sadr city could inaugurate a new round of violence between the US foreces and the Mahdi Army. And, to be sure, the US-Sadr axis of violence–which is a battle over the future of the US occupation– is alive and well.

The Washington Post reports (“Troops Raid Iraqi Mosque with Ties to Shiite Cleric“) that on Saturday, amidst all the “sectarian” strife, US forces moved against a Sadrist mosque:

Following a tip from a local resident, Iraqi security forces cordoned off the Sadrain Mosque in Zafraniya, southeast of Baghdad, at 5:45 p.m., the U.S. military said in a statement. Four hours later, national police searched the mosque, detained 20 people and seized six AK-47s.

Among those detained were mosque guards, two servants and a librarian, said Col. Abdul Razzak Mahmoud of the ministry’s operations room.

The military did not mention any involvement by U.S. troops, but Mahmoud said the raid was conducted by American forces. U.S. troops frequently provide air or ground support for Iraqi military operations.

The reason for the raid remained unclear Saturday evening.

Last week’s US raids in Sadr city seemed likely to be the final “straw” that broke the camel’s back of Sadr’s cooperation with the current US-backed government.

Certainly some US commanders and diplomats seem to have been spoiling for this fight–a direct confrontation between the “national unity government” and Sadr. In this scenario, Sadr would be isolated and targeted by Prime Minister Maliki and the major governing Shiite political parties.

Why, then, have the Sadrist seemingly responded to a new US offensive with an explicitly sectarian act of vengeance?

The sectarian axis of violence–the cycle of Sunni-Shiite retaliation described by Shaikh Hamud al-Sudani at the Fatimah al-Zahra Husayniyah prayer center–seems far more likely to provoke a very different scenario: civil war.

In its article on the US-backed raid on the Shiite mosque in Zafraniya, the Washington Post reports:

Riyadh al-Nouri, Sadr’s brother-in-law and a top official in his organization, criticized U.S. involvement in the recent raids against Sadr.

Nouri said in an interview that the council of top Shiite religious leaders in Iraq could lose patience with attacks against Shiites and call for an uprising.

It depends on the people. If they are angry, they will fight,” said Nouri. “Until now the Shiite giant has not begun to move.”

What I find most surprising and potentially significant in this quote is that Nouri responds to a US raid in explicitly sectarian–rather than nationalist–terms. A “Shiite” uprising, not a “nationalist” uprising.

In the past, Sadrists responded to US offensives with appeals to Iraqi nationalism, including joint action with Sunni insurgents. Here, Nouri responds to a US raid with an appeal to “the council of top Shiite religious leaders in Iraq” and to “the Shiite giant.”

In other words, if Sadrists once sought an end to political isolation through a nationalist alliance, they seem to think that their present isolation demands a sectarian alliance. The reference to “the council of top Shiite religious leaders” is an appeal to Sistani for help.

Sistani, as Nouri suggests, “has not begun to move” against either Sunni or US provocation.

Nouri is not the only one who has noted that “the Shiite giant has not begun to move.”

Back on November 24, 2004, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer made a similar observation in his essay, “A Fight For Shiites.”

People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side is fighting it

This is the Shiites’ and Kurds’ fight…

Seven months ago I wrote in this space that while our “goal has been to build a united, pluralistic, democratic Iraq in which the factions negotiate their differences the way we do in the West” that “may be, in the short run, a bridge too far. . . . [W]e should lower our ambitions and see Iraqi factionalization as a useful tool.”…

Where are the Shiites?… It is their civil war.

Well, now it may finally be.

According to Reuters, Sadr himself is calling for restraint.

“I urge all government and popular forces to exercise restraint and take responsibility in front of God first and society secondly,” cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters are part of the national unity government, said in a statement…

Sadr, whose supporters have waged two rebellions against U.S. forces in Iraq, has made repeated calls for an end to the U.S. occupation. He blamed Sunday’s violence on a “Western plan aimed at sponsoring a civil and sectarian war between brothers”.

The problem, for Sadr, may be that his only chance to avoid political isolation in the face of a US-backed crackdown by Maliki’s “national unity” government may be to unleash the sectarian forces that would bring Sistani and the “Shiite giant” to his side.

Either way, Sadr now risks acquiescing to one or another “Western plan.”

US Raids in Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on July 07, 2006
Iraq, Uncategorized / No Comments

There may be trouble brewing again between the US and Moqtada al-Sadr. The BBC and the Washington Post are reporting on clashes between US troops and Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

When news first broke on July 1 that a Sunni MP–Taiseer Najah al-Mashhadani of the Iraqi Islamic Party headed by Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi–had been kidnapped, the political implications were pretty muted.

On July 3rd, however, Mashhadani’s political allies asserted that she had been abducted by Shiite militias linked to Moqtada al-Sadr. According to a July 3, 2006 Associated Press report:

A member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in the 275-member legislature, suggested that Tayseer al-Mashhadani was kidnapped by Shiite militias and said the legislative boycott would continue until she is released.

Noureddine al-Hyali said the political group had information that al-Mashhadani was being held somewhere near eastern Baghdad’s Ur neighborhood — a predominantly Shiite area that is controlled by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army militia.

“We got this information from Iraqi security forces as well as the Americans,” al-Hyali said.

According to a July 4, 2006 Washington Post report, the Sadrists deny any role in the kidnapping.

A spokesman for Sadr, Abdul Daragi, denied that the Mahdi Army had kidnapped Mashhadani and declined to comment on any discussions with the government.

The US has been pressuring Maliki to crack down on Shiite militias, however, and the abduction of Mashhadani now threatens to become the spark that ignites a broader confrontation between the US and the Mahdi Army.

According to a July 5, 2006 Reuters report, US forces were quickly mobilized to participate in the hunt for Mashhadani.

U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said a major aerial and ground operation involving U.S. and Iraqi troops had been launched to find her.

“They conducted several operations last night but they did not produce results,” he told a news briefing in Baghdad. “This is an attempt to thwart the road toward democracy and the rule of law. We will continue to collect intelligence to ensure her safe return and those with her.”

It is interesting to note that Mashhadani’s political allies have alleged that her abductors contacted them on her cell phone and made several demands. The Associated Press reports:

Kidnappers of a Sunni woman lawmaker have demanded a timetable for withdrawing coalition troops, release of all detainees and a halt to attacks on Shiite mosques, an Iraqi vice president said Wednesday…

Another Sunni lawmaker, Omar Abdul-Sattar, said the kidnappers used al-Mashhadani’s personal cell phone to contact a local office of the Iraqi Islamic Party and set a three-day deadline for authorities to meet their demands.

Otherwise, “we will cut off her head,” Abdul-Sattar said, quoting the kidnappers.

Hmm. Had me right up to the “cut off her head” part. The demands–especially the one related to an end to attacks on Shiite mosques–certainly seem constructed in such a way to leave no doubt that Mashhadani is being held by Shiites, rather than al-Qaeda in Iraq, etc. But the “cut off her head” line seems contrived. We’ll see, I guess.

At least one July 7 Associated Press report suggests that the US may be trying to distinguish between Sadr and breakaway Shiite militia forces.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. aircraft battled militants in a Shiite stronghold of eastern Baghdad early Friday, killing or wounding more than 30 fighters and capturing an extremist leader who was the target of the raid, Iraqi and U.S. officials said…

The U.S. military said the raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum was launched to apprehend “an insurgent leader responsible for numerous deaths of Iraqi citizens.” He was arrested after a gunbattle between Iraqi forces and insurgents, the U.S. said…

U.S. officials did not identify the insurgent leader but residents of the Shiite neighborhood said he was Abu Diraa, a commander in the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The U.S. statement said the militant leader was involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

An Iraqi army officer said the Americans had provided them with a list of names of people to be arrested in Sadr City.

A July 7 BBC report also provides a name for the Mahdi Army leader allegedly sought by the Americans, but that report says the US failed to arrest the man.

US officials said they had captured a senior insurgent responsible for several militant cells across Baghdad.

But a senior official in Moqtada Sadr’s office said the intended target of the operation was Abu Dera, a senior figure in the Mehdi Army, who is still at liberty.

The US claim that Abu Diraa was trying to break away from his “current insurgent organization” may prove crucial. Is this intended as a signal from the US that the raids are actually aimed at Sadrist splinter groups rather than loyal followers of Moqtada al-Sadr?

After all, hasn’t Sadr been pretty quiet recently? The Washington Post report quotes a Sadrist who acknowledges as much:

Qais Shawkat, 56, who said he is a neighborhood Mahdi Army commander in Sadr City, said… the Mahdi Army was under orders not to fight U.S. forces.

“We have orders from Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr not to fight the Americans now,” he said. “So, we didn’t. We were surprised. We did not expect the Americans to come and attack us.”

Either this will become a replay of Bremer’s infamous 2004 crackdown on Sadrists in Baghdad–a move that sparked a massive uprising by the Mahdi Army–or it signals that Sadr standing down while US and Iraqi forces crack down on Sadrists dissidents upset with his collaboration with a US-backed Iraqi government.

Will Sadrists rise up in response to the US raids?

The Associate Press reports one Sadrist response:

An al-Sadr aide, Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, denounced the Baghdad raid, saying 11 civilians were killed and dozens wounded as U.S. jets fired on the area as people were sleeping on their roofs because of the searing summer temperatures and electricity shortages.

This is a big escalation from the American side,” he said. “I condemn all the silence toward such violations and I call for the withdrawal of the American forces.”

If the US is spoiling for a fight with Sadr–and gets it–then it will be most interesting to see how Sistani reacts. The last time the US clashed with Sadr, Sistani left for London to avoid getting his hands dirty (and meet with his cardiologist). We’ll see if a similar hush falls over Najaf this time, should the US make a serious move against Sadr.

Arabists and Iran

Posted by Cutler on July 06, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / No Comments

Robert Kaplan is surely a strange bird–ideologically, at least.  In truth, I cannot really make heads or tales of his politics.  It is only tempting to care about his politics because he was one of the “critics” that Bush recently brought in for a discussion about the war.

Kaplan takes an extreme form of the Right Arabist preference for status-quo strongmen and has done so repeatedly since September 11th.  On October 14, 2001, he penned a Wall Street Journal Op-ed entitled, “Don’t Impose Our Values: Stability is more important than democracy in the Mideast.”

When [Iraq] is decapitated, it will leave a vacuum that could unleash a regional war. In countries such as Iraq… entire intellectual classes have been wiped out over the decades, leaving only Islamists and sectarian nationalists to inherit the void. That is why the surest path toward more open societies in these countries is not some overnight experiment in democracy… but moderate military regimes representing the interests of merchant communities that span sectarian lines…

Status quo monarchies and enlightened dictatorships may serve our purposes better than weak and unstable democratic regimes. 

Similarly, March 2, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “We Can’t Force Democracy.”

Imperfect these rulers clearly are, but to think that who would follow them would necessarily be as stable, or as enlightened, is to engage in the kind of speculation that leads to irresponsible foreign policy. Recall that those who cheered in 1979 at the demise of the shah of Iran got something worse in return. The Saudi Arabian royal family may be the most reactionary group to run that country, except for any other that might replace it. It is unclear what, if anything, besides the monarchy could hold such a geographically ill-defined country together.

Nevertheless, in an April 17, 2006 Los Angeles Times Op-ed, “Haunted by Hussein, Humbled by Events,” Kaplan describes himself as having been “an early supporter of the invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

What was that all about?  Hard to say.  It almost seems to have been personal.  In his most hawkish, pre-invasion, pro-invasion article, “Slave State: Why Saddam is Worse Than Slobo,” he mentions:

I had my passport taken away from me for ten days by the Iraqi security police in 1986.

As he acknowledges in his “Haunted by Hussein” article,

[M]y earlier support [for the war]… was…based on firsthand experiences in Iraq.

Must have really pissed him off to have his passport taken away.

In any event, he has this little rhetorical bridge he uses to reconcile his pro-war position and his otherwise principled appreciation for enlightened dictatorship.  In his “We Can’t Force Democracy” Op-ed, he writes:

In the case of Iraq, the state under Saddam Hussein was so cruel and oppressive it bore little relationship to all these other dictatorships. Because under Hussein anybody could and in fact did disappear in the middle of the night and was tortured in the most horrific manner, the Baathist state constituted a form of anarchy masquerading as tyranny.

Everybody got that?

Forgive me this long, tortured discussion of a figure I think is somewhere between totally ridiculous and incredibly frightening (I hear he and the President got on quite well during their recent confab).

My point is to say that in 1993, just before he became famous for his book on the Balkans (Clinton was seen holding a copy) he published a book entitled, “The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite.”  I find the politics of the book inconsistent when not simply inscrutable, but when looking for a label to give the Bush administration faction that so vehemently opposed the idea of terminating Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq, Kaplan’s “Arabists” seemed to fit.

Although I tend to be somewhat dubious about giving too much explanatory weight to the “romance”–relative to say, the “geo-politics” or the alleged “lucre”–in accounting for Arabist commitments, the committments seem real and enduring.

The feature I find most intriguing–for the current “Iranian” moment–is the perspective of Arabists on the future of Iran.

In his book, Kaplan recalls a phrase: “Scratch an Arabist and you’ll find an anti-Iranian.”

I think there is plenty of evidence for this in contemporary foreign policy discussions about the Gulf.

In an October 14, 2005 Middle East Policy Council symposium entitled, “A Shia Crescent: What Fallout for the U.S.?,” Council President Charles Freeman–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a Right Arabist if there has ever been one–opened with the following remarks:

[T]he Saudis… are concerned about… the possibility of Iranian domination of a weak and divided Shi’a-dominated Iraq. In a recent visit to the region, in fact, I found a dominant concern in the Gulf countries to be the possibility that the United States, by intervening as we did in Iraq, may inadvertently be creating a Shi’a crescent in the northern tier of the Arab world, which could offer Iran unique opportunities that it has not had for many years, to exercise a dominant role, and to exercise that role in ways that may be destabilizing to others.

The question is: What policy toward Iran follows from this Right Arabist concern?  How best to marginalize the regional power of Iran?

In Iraq, the answer seems relatively simple: restoration (in various forms and by various means) of Sunni Arab power.

In Iran itself, however, the answer seems less clear.

As I noted in a previous post, at least one significant Right Arabist–former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins–thinks regime change is the preferred path.

Akins may be a bit far out on a limb, however.  Although I have found no Right Arabists critical of Akins, I have also found little evidence of comparable hawkishness among other prominent Right Arabists (including Charles Freeman).

Many of the published comments–old and new–tend to support diplomatic engagement with the current regime.  For example, Richard Murphy–another former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia–took a moderate tone in a May 28, 2003 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Richard Murphy: [T]here’s certainly disagreements between some of the neo-conservatives who have been quite prominent in the Pentagon ranks, and the… I would call it the mainstream in State that is uncomfortable, uneasy about this talk of confronting Iran now that they have watched what happened in Iraq, they will learn the lesson of Iraq…

I don’t see any interest in Washington in launching a military attack on Iran – in discouraging Iran from a nuclear weapons program, in bringing Iran to turn over any Qaeda operatives who may be getting sanctuary in Iran – that is the interest, but not in doing it by means of a military attack…

It is certainly not Government policy to destabilise Iran, but there are elements in Washington who wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see the end of the regime there.

And they point to the evidence of the dissatisfaction with the Iranian regime, on the part of the youth of the unemployed, of the women of Iran, and some of them seem to be calculating that it is so unstable that a bit of rhetoric now and then might turn things around.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: But it is still a high-risk strategy? It could have unintended consequences?

RICHARD MURRAY: Absolutely, absolutely, and sober voices are stating that very clearly, and I repeat it is not policy to move frontally against Iran, but it is still on the President’s list of the Axis of Evil states, as you know.

Is it possible that Akins regime change agenda represents more of a hedge against Right Zionists than anything else?

If the Bush administration is going to support the Right Zionist goal of regime change in Iran, then Right Arabists had better be prepared to influence the process of change and the profile of any new regime.

And yet, wouldn’t a Right Arabist be even more content to have Iran contained, weakened, under a permanent cloud of suspicion, and relatively isolated–as the current regime would be under a UN inspection program, for example–than to have Iran serve as an “American project” that might ultimately provide a real alternative to US reliance on incumbent Arab regimes?

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.