Monthly Archives: August 2006

Sistani & Iraqi Oil

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

The “so-called Iraqi government” must have got wind of blogosphere accusations from folks like Swopa and Michael Schwartz that the various Iraqi ministers, etc. represented nothing so much as an empty shell of a so-called “state.”

In response, the “government” seems to be making a bid for relevance with a new effort to resolve the minor issue of Iraqi oil.  It may be a failed bid, but even as an attempt it seems interesting and a bit surprising.

After all, there are many serious, outstanding, potentially explosive political issues on the horizon in Iraq, but it seemed like most of that contentious stuff was on hold.  Who really wants to make waves when the ship of state is sinking and the whole country is going down the drain?

Answer: the Maliki government.

The Financial Times offers up the basic story and some important analysis:

Iraq’s main political factions have hammered out an agreement on the sharing of oil and gas revenues but other contentious issues need to be resolved before a draft hydrocarbon law is completed, a senior Iraqi official said on Tuesday.

Barham Salih, deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, told reporters in Washington by video link from Baghdad that the revenue sharing dispute had been settled during three days of intense talks at a “retreat” last week.

That contentious issue is out,” he said. The cabinet hopes to present the draft law to parliament by the end of the year, he added.

Oil and gas revenues would be shared out at the federal level and redistributed to the regions according to population and “needs”, he said. This would still provide an incentive to regional oil companies to maximise output, he added.

Mr Salih, the most senior Kurd in the cabinet, did not elaborate on the negotiating process but the agreement would appear to be a compromise by the Kurdistan regional government.

Under its own regional draft oil law published this month, Kurdistan – which has already started signing contracts with foreign companies – would have received directly the revenues from “future fields”.

Hussain al-Shahristani, the oil minister from the main Shia alliance, has insisted that the federal government control all of Iraq’s resources. The formerly ruling Sunni minority fears the new constitution, which could yet be amended, would hand control of future oil development to the Shia and Kurdish dominated regions.

The key line seems to be this: “the agreement would appear to be a compromise by the Kurdistan regional government.”

We’ll see how this goes down with the Kurds.  Kurdish politicians have been trying to “manage discontent” within their own ranks since the US invasion in 2003.  We’ll see how this compromise affects Salih’s popularity among Kurds.

It would also appear that this dose of tough love was delivered to the Kurds courtesy of oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani who the politician thought to be most closely identified with Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Shahristani also talks a very good game when it comes to dealing with major international oil companies.  One recent Reuters article described him as “hell-bent on moving swiftly to lure foreign cash to rebuild and power the country’s economy.”

[Still think Right Zionists have been disappointed by Sistani?]

Does the move also represent something of a snub for Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), also at the hands of Sistani?

In a recent Associated Press interview, Hakim once again reiterated his commitment to regional autonomy for southern Iraqi Shiites:

Al-Hakim also said parliament should forge ahead with the establishment of a federal system in Iraq that would include a southern Shiite province.

“We need to legislate the mechanism and the rules inside in the parliament and that is supposed to take place in the coming few weeks.

Establishing such a Shiite federal region will entail an amendment to the constitution and approval in a referendum.

That province would resemble the northern Kurdish region. Sunni Arabs could wind up squeezed into Baghdad and Iraq’s western provinces. Many Sunnis fear that federalism will lead to the breakup of the country.

True enough, centralized control of oil and gas resources might mollify some Sunnis.  But it also threatens to anger Shiites like Hakim and independence-minded Kurds.

For what it is worth, Sadr will be pleased if parliament ultimately approves a centralizing hydrocarbon law.  As I discussed some time ago, Sadr is adamantly opposed to regional autonomy.  Nevertheless, recent reports suggest that Maliki may use an upcoming “cabinet reshuffle” to distance himself from Sadr.

If there is an Iraqi government, it would seem to be run by Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Podhoretz: Wilderness or White House?

Posted by Cutler on August 27, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I discussed a recent article by Norman Podhoretz entitled, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?

Podhoretz was responding to the complaints of many Right Zionists who have been howling in the wilderness, upset that the Cheney administration has betrayed their Revolution.

Podhoretz explained to his Right Zionist friends that the central explanation for the setbacks was not to be found in an ideological battle (say, with Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft), but in a simpler domain: politics.

Its the election, stupid. If there is anyone to blame… blame Rove.

But don’t blame Rove, Podhoretz implied, because the Revolution will not be televised if the Republicans lose control of government.

One thing I failed to mention at the time of my previous post: Podhoretz might not have simply offering sage advice from movement elder who has done his own share of howling in the wilderness in years past.

Is it possible that Podhoretz was actually giving voice to the frustrations–and rationalizations–of those Right Zionists who continue to serve within the administration, including the White House?

I have in mind the “voice” of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.


Because Abrams and Podhoretz are family. As Tom Barry notes in his recent Counterpunch article, “Gangster Diplomacy: Elliott Abrams in Jerusalem,”

Abrams, a proud self-declared “neoconservative and neo-Reaganite,” is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, an activist couple who played a leading role in establishing neoconservatism as an influential political tendency in the 1970s.

It would still be highly speculative to talk about a rift between any Right Zionists and Karl Rove. None have explicitly attacked him.

On the other hand, it would be all the more interesting if the Podhoretz commentary was intended to serve as a kind of note passed from White House insiders to “movement” outsiders: “the President has not betrayed our ideology; he is just trying to keep all of us in office.”

Here is the punch line, from my perspective: any rift with Rove has nothing to do with Rove as an ideologue. It has to do with Rove as a “political professional” who knows how to pander to the polls. According to such a scenario, Rove acts as something like an opportunistic–even entrepreneurial–“register of the popular will” within an administration otherwise dominated by committed foreign policy factions.

And the popular verdict, in the current context? Don’t even think about sending US troops to Lebanon.

Wouldn’t that represent an interesting dynamic?

Sadr and the Coming Coup in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on August 27, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

The media is full of Moqtada al-Sadr these days. In fact, even Sadr City’s own Keyser Söze–the mythical Abu Dera (or, Abu Dereh, or most recently, Abu Diri)–has made it to the big time.

Ellen Knickmeyer has a big profile of “Abu Diri” in today’s Washington Post entitledDisavowed by Mahdi Army, Shadowy ‘Butcher’ Still Targets Sadr’s Foes.” And Newsweek asks, “Iraq: Is Moqtada Losing His Grip?” in an article about alleged divisions within Sadr’s ranks. For some background, see my previous posts (especially, here and here).

The Knickmeyer article on Abu Diri is part of a larger series of reports on Sadr and the Mahdi army, including a front-page August 24, 2006 report entitled “‘Shiite Giant’ Extends Its Reach” and front-page August 25, 2006 report entitled “Sadr’s Militia and the Slaughter in the Streets.”

It is interesting to note that even in Knickmeyer’s Abu Diri article, the lead quote goes to a US military official who asserts an ongling link to Sadr, not tension with Sadr.

U.S. military officials, distrustful of Sadr after battling his Mahdi Army in the first two years of the war, believe Abu Diri is linked to the militia.

He’s the enforcer,” said 1st Lt. Zeroy Lawson, the intelligence officer with a small U.S. Army unit that works in Sadr City and is responsible for helping train the Iraqi army there. “He goes after specific targets” of Sadr and the Mahdi Army.

Lawson called him Sadr City’s agent “for external affairs,” going across Baghdad in pursuit of Sunnis or any others seen as enemies.

The strange thing about some of this high-profile Sadr chatter is that it doesn’t directly emerge out of “news” events. These are more like feature stories.

So, one is tempted to ask: why all the attention to Sadr?

One answer is that there is a battle going on within US policy circles about how to deal with Sadr and/or splits among the Sadrists. Is Sadr still a force for “nationalist, anti-occupation” energy, potentially aligned with Sunni insurgents? Or is Sadr losing control of his base precisely because his nationalist focus looks weak in the climate of sectarian violence? Perhaps his base wants to fight back against and/or avenge anti-Shiite attacks, unwilling to blame such attacks on the “occupier.”

Are Sadrists more dangerous as one wing of a nationalist, anti-occupation insurgency? Or as a violent Shiite sectarian force that fans the flames of civil war?

If there is US factionalism in the response to these questions, I am not yet able to trace the lines of that dispute (e.g., Right Arabists fear him more/less than Right Zionists do as a sectarian Shiite force than as a “nationalist” insurgent?)

The Cry of Anarchy

In a previous post from June 2006, I discussed a big “pronouncement” from Thomas Friedman in the New York Times entitled Insurgency Out, Anarchy In (subscription required). This article seemed to signal a political turning point for US policy toward Iraq.

You see, the insurgency in Iraq is in its “last throes” just like Dick Cheney said. Unfortunately, its being replaced by anarchy in many neighborhoods not democracy

Indeed, there has been a subtle but important change in the violence in Iraq. The main enemy in many places is no longer the Sunni insurgency. It is anarchy.

We are not losing Iraq to the Iraqi Vietcong–traditional nationalists. Iraq has a freely elected nationalist government. No, we are losing in Iraq to sectarian theocrats, Islamo-fascists and local and regional tyrants.

Of course, I thought then and still think now that the whole “last throes” thing is way off the mark. However, I think it is interesting that Friedman adopted the line that the “main enemy” in his view is “no longer the Sunni insurgency.” In other words, even as they fight on, he seems confident that they can be coopted.

Instead, the main enemy now is Sadr, his Mahdi Army, and various splinter groups of “local and regional tyrants.”

The cry of “anarchy” is, often enough, the prelude to a coup. Someone–perhaps an ex-Baathist like Allawi declares a state of emergency to restore order and save the nation with a group of military officers who call themselves a “National Salvation Front” or some such thing.

And there has been chatter about a coup. Count on Robert Dreyfuss (who I have criticized here) to both notice–and celebrate–signs that the US is preparing to support a coup in Iraq.

Those who scoff at the mainstream media will have trouble explaining the page 1 story in the Times today, a blockbuster expose. And, it saves its biggest punch for the end. I wont do that. Here it is:

Some outside experts who have recently visited the White House said Bush administration officials were beginning to plan for the possibility that Iraqs democratically elected government might not survive.Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy, said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

Get that? Considering alternatives other than democracy. That can mean a lot of things, and Id like to see some fairly intensive follow-up. Does that mean that the United States is thinking about a coup detat in Iraq? If so, by whom? There has been a lot of chatter in Baghdad over the past several months about a coup, usually said to be plotted by disaffected Sunnis. There has also been talk of a national unity-type government by fiat, sort of a collective coup, but who knows what that might mean. One thing for sure: the title of the piece I wrote for recently (Maliki: Dead Man Walking) could not be more appropriate. Hes history.

In some respects, the US has been walking away from “democracy”–i.e., rule by a Shiite majority–for some time, under pressure from Right Arabists long opposed to the US tilt away from dependence on minority rule by Sunni authoritarianism. A coup would just be a final step in this direction and one mainly designed to dump Maliki on account of his dependence on Sadr.

There are big questions here.

For example, would Sistani back such a coup (not because he supports a restoration of Sunni authoritarianism, but only insofar as he may see Sadr as his greatest/nearest foe at the moment)?

But I am even more haunted by a more general question: does the Maliki government even matter? Is it necessary to have a coup against an empty shell of a government?

These questions come, most directly, from Swopa at Needlenose:

But can they really be fantasizing about an anti-Shiite coup? Aside from the fact that it would multiply the U.S. occupation’s enemies well past the ability of our military to handle them, what would be the point?

Since nearly all of the relevant power in the country is essentially outside of government control already, or at best only paying lip service to it, staging a coup in Iraq would be like trying to steal a car that’s already been stripped for parts and is sitting on wooden blocks. Or maybe like trying to hijack a flight-simulator game in an arcade.

Funny. But also potentially accurate?

Michael Schwartz has often argued–if I understand his argument correctly–that the US essentially gave up on the idea of empowering an Iraqi state some time ago, probably around the battle over Jaafari that gave us his aide, Maliki. In a recent post at Tomdispatch entitled “7 Facts You Might Not Know about the Iraq War,” Schwartz hammers away at this point in Fact #1:

1. The Iraqi Government Is Little More Than a Group of “Talking Heads”

A minimally viable central government is built on at least three foundations: the coercive capacity to maintain order, an administrative apparatus that can deliver government services and directives to society, and the resources to manage these functions. The Iraqi government has none of these attributes — and no prospect of developing them.

Indeed, this argument goes quite a distance toward explaining what I noted at the time: the formation of the Maliki government avoided the kind of bitter battles that met all prior US efforts to form a government.


Because nobody cared about the balance of sectarian forces for a government that was not destined to be viable.

I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by this argument. And I think it is a very different thing to imply that nobody in the region or in Washington now cares whether Iraq tilts toward Iran or toward Saudi Arabia. Or to imply that the US doesn’t care about Iraqi politics.

But I think it is worth pondering. Thoughts?

Guess Who Favors US Troops in Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on August 24, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

I was wrong.

I have been trying to figure out why nobody has been proposing sending US troops in Lebanon, especially in light of widespread “disappointment” with Israel’s campaign and growing “reluctance” on the part of France to lead a robust Multinational Force.

Most recently (here and here), I speculated about the possibility that Right Zionists would like to see US forces in Lebanon but might have quietly abandoned that idea when told by Karl Rove & Co that the administration was not prepared to take (more) casualties ahead of midterm elections.

Maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree. Like Ken Silverstein, I was expecting Right Zionists to be the primary champions of a US troop presence. After all, the most pro-Israel factional players in the Reagan administration–e.g., NSC staffer Howard Teicher–were also the most ardent advocates for an active US military mission in Lebanon back in 1982 and 1983. Right Arabists like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were the most reluctant.

Well, I recently stumbled upon a Baltimore Sun Op-Ed by Drew Bennett, a Marine colonel on the faculty at the National War College, who warns against deploying troops in Lebanon. It was Bennett who noted what I had overlooked:

Although the Bush administration says that it does not plan on putting troops on the ground, some – including former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft – suggest that the United States might need to send peacekeepers into Lebanon

Bennett is correct.

In my own previous post on Brent Scowcroft’s July 30, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon” I completely overlooked the following passage:

The obvious vehicle to direct the process would be the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations), established in 2001 for just such a purpose. The Quartet, beginning at the foreign-minister level, would first organize the necessary international force for southern Lebanon and Gaza and then call for a cease-fire. The security force would have to have the mandate and capability to deal firmly with acts of violence. Ideally, this would be a NATO, or at least NATO-led, contingent. Recognizing the political obstacles, the fact is that direct U.S. participation in such a force would be highly desirable — and perhaps even essential — for persuading our friends and allies to contribute the capabilities required.

Ok, then. [Note: “Recognizing the political obstacles”–i.e., popular resistance to taking casualties, right?]
Warrent Christopher hits the same note in his July 28, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “A Time to Act.”

[T]he United States has an indispensable role to play. A succession of Israeli leaders has turned to us, and only us, when they have concluded that retaliation for Hezbollah attacks has become counterproductive. Israel plainly trusts no one else to negotiate on its behalf and will accept no settlement in which we are not deeply involved. Further, based upon my experience in helping bring an end to the fighting in the Balkans, the Europeans are unlikely to participate in a multinational enforcement action until the United States commits to putting its own troops on the ground.

No doubt about it. Here are two significant “Arabist” figures–one Republican and one Democrat, both held in contempt by Right Zionists–calling for US troops in Lebanon.

Now the hard part: what does it mean?

As I’ve mentioned before, the current conflict in Lebanon seems, in many ways, like a replay of 1982. But it is surely tempting to think that this issue–the source of pressure for US troops–marks a very significant change of some sort.

Podhoretz and the Triumph of Politics

Posted by Cutler on August 23, 2006
Isolationism, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Norman Podhoretz–a figure whose views I have previously identified as a key benchmark for defining a Right Zionist agenda for US foreign policy–has weighed in at the Wall Street Journal “Opinion Journal” with a full-scale review of factionalism on the Right and the fate of the Bush Doctrine. He asks, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?

I will not provide a blow-by-blow review of his argument (it is well worth reading in its entirety–including the section on neoconservative splits over Iran and the relative merits of military action vs popular insurrection).

The simple version of his answer is, “No.” The Bush Doctrine is not dead.

For much of the essay, Podhoretz proposes to answer this question with reference to “the president’s speeches, as well as by his unscripted remarks at press conferences and other venues.”

But Podhoretz is no fool and he understands that his real interlocutors are not so-called realists, or liberal internationalists, or paleocons, or lefists. The Podhoretz essay is best understood as a response to a different audience: his own best friends.

[T]hose neoconservatives who have been pressing for a more aggressive implementation of the Bush Doctrine. I even think that there is at least some merit in many, or perhaps even most, of the arguments they offer to explain why they have concluded that American foreign policy is no longer true to the doctrine’s promises. Without denying that the president is still talking the talk, they contend that his actions demonstrate that he has ceased walking the walk; and it is by stacking those actions up against his own language that they seek to justify the charge of, at best, a loss of nerve and, at worst, an outright betrayal of the goals they formerly believed he meant to pursue and to which they themselves are as dedicated as ever.

It is at this point that the Podhoretz essay makes its most “original” contribution–one with extraordinarily wonderful connections to my recent speculations about a rift between Right Zionists and Karl Rove–what one commenter has called (with an implicit nod to David Stockman) a “Triumph of Politics” over ideology.

Without overreaching (I do not think the Podhoretz essay provides a “smoking gun” that signals tension between Right Zionists and Karl Rove), I do think it is quite interesting that Podhoretz does not deny a gap between Bush’s “best” talk and his “worst” walk.

Instead, Podhoretz comes to the heart of his essay:

To begin with, the neoconservatives who have given up on Mr. Bush or are in the process of doing so overlook one simple consideration: that he is a politician. This ridiculously obvious truth has been obscured by the fact that Mr. Bush so often sounds like an ideologue, or perhaps idealist would be a better word…

In pointing this out, I am not suggesting that those of us who share Mr. Bush’s ideas and ideals… are barred from questioning the soundness of his prudential judgment in this or that instance.

But I am suggesting that, by the same token, we have an intellectual responsibility to recognize and acknowledge that he has already taken those ideas and ideals much further than might have been thought possible, especially given the ferocity of the opposition they have encountered from all sides and the difficulties they have also met with in the field. Indeed, it is a measure of his enormous political skills that–at a time in 2004 when things were not looking at all good for the Bush Doctrine’s prospects in Iraq–he succeeded in mobilizing enough support for its wildly controversial principles to run on them for a second term and win.

In other words: Right Zionists need to shut up and be grateful for what they get from Karl Rove.

Not only does this analysis suggest that there has been a kind of “triumph of politics” at work, but it also points to the necessity–from the perspective of Podhoretz–of subordinating Right Zionist ideals to political pragmatism: Rove does what is necessary to keep Bush in office and Right Zionists live within those boundaries.

Note well: Podhoretz offers no such peace pipe his ideological opponents. Scowcroft, for example, comes in for stinging rebuke as a figure “whose political purposes as an enemy of Israel are even [worse] than are those of the old foreign-policy establishment.”

Surely this makes it far more difficult to trace the splits between Right Zionists and Rove than it is to track parallel splits between Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

Perhaps the “peacekeeping” work of Podhoretz–aimed to quell the Right Zionist insurgency–is the best evidence we have of ongoing tensions between ideology and the triumph of politics.

Taking Casualties

Posted by Cutler on August 22, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

An editorial in today’s Financial Times–entilted “Stepping Up to the Plate in Lebanon“–discusses the French reticence to lead a “robust” Multinational Force in Lebanon.

Just last Thursday, Jacques Chirac, the French president, told Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, that France was ready to assume command of the bolstered UN force in Lebanon. But he has so far promised to increase the French presence in the country by a paltry 200 troops. Paris, whichrevelled in seizing a leading role in negotiations at the UN SecurityCouncil, seems to be having second thoughts about putting troops where its mouth is…

At bottom, the dilemma over sending in troops bears on an unwillingness to take casualties. Providing manpower for Unifil has long been a deadly assignment. France is also all too aware that its frequent calls for Syria to be brought to account could make it vulnerable to attack by Damascus’ supporters in Hizbollah.

This has only exacerbated anti-French sentiment in the US, with Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly calling Chirac a Wanker.

But if the French are having second thoughts, I continue to wonder why the US seems to not have even had “first thoughts” of sending US troops to Lebanon.

Back in the otherwise eerily similar case of the 1982 Israeli campagin in Lebanon, there were big factional fights in the Reagan administration over the issue with Secretary of State George Shultz and much of the NSC staff strongly in favor of projecting US influence in Lebanon through active military participation in a Multinational Force.

Today, there appear to be no public advocates for US troops in Lebanon.

John Bolton–US Ambassador to the UN, and a figure who might have been expected to champion US participation–shut down the discussion very quickly at the start of the current crisis.

The Washington Post ran a story on July 22, 2006 that quoted Bolton:

As far as boots on the ground, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards,” said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a sentiment also expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.

“I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces . . . are expected for that force,” she said.

So, what is the story here?

Have Right Zionists simply become more “pragmatic” now than they were back in the early 1980s? Are they implicitly acknowledging that Iraq has become such a quagmire than US troops are now overstretched?

[On the overstrethced issue: is that notion endorsed by all the “critics” who have insisted all along that Rumsfeld could have an should have sent 500,000 troops to Iraq in order to do it right? Now, with something less than 150,000 troops in Iraq, the US is unable to send, say, 50,000 troops to Lebanon?]

Or, perhaps Right Zionists would have argued for US troops in Lebanon if Bolton had not signaled early on that they need not waste any breath since a factional battle had already been quietly fought and lost within the administration.

Hence Bolton’s posture as a mere observer or fortune teller: it simply isn’t “in the cards”–regardless of the merits of the idea, from his perspective.

But if Right Zionists faced a quiet defeat within the Bush administration, who did them in? Was it the work of Right Arabists unwilling to risk a direct confrontation with Syria and/or Iran? Perhaps, although I think there may be good reason to doubt that.

Is it possible that Right Zionists were dealt a defeat at the hands of… Karl Rove?

There were rumors that Rove’s “in-house” slogan during the last Presidential election was “No War in 2004”–meaning no serious counter-insurgency activity that might produce US casualties. Such a rumor seems to have been given some support by the timing of the US assault on Fallujah which seemed to have been on hold for much of 2004, until Bush’s election was secured.

Is it possible that with mid-term elections on the horizon in the US, Rove is reluctant to risk US casualties in Lebanon–especially with the memory of the October 23, 1983 bombing of US Marine Barracks in Beirut that killed 241 US soldiers? A new “in-house” slogan: “No Barracks in 2006”?

All of this is speculation, of course.

But is it possible that all along Right Zionists have faced resistance, not only from Right Arabists, but from “political professionals” like Rove who detect–and “pander” to–an emergent, growing “isolationism” within the US and an indifference to the old motif of wartime sacrifice?

Why No US Troops in Lebanon?

Posted by Cutler on August 18, 2006
Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

It is clear that there isn’t going to be a “robust” multinational force–one strong enough to disarm Hezbollah–in southern Lebanon.

As Swopa at Needlenose has suggested, the French “hesistancy” can hardly come as a surprise to Israel–even though the Israelis now say they are “shocked, shocked” to discover that the multinational force is looking quite anemic. Swopa says…

[T]he Israelis and Americans… wanted a fig leaf to end a war that had backfired, and the French gave it to them by getting Hezbollah to agree to an “expanded international peacekeeping force” (wink wink, nudge nudge) that numerous realistic observers knew would probably never materialize.

As Praktike at American Footprints points out, Charles Krauthammer hasn’t yet given up hope on the idea that a force of some kind might be able to finished the job and disarm Hezbollah.

Krauthammer’s column in today’s Washington Post is entitled “A Moment to Be Seized in Lebanon.” Surely that title is an intentional, if tasteless, pun–a caustic reminder of those “seized” during the last multinational force in Lebanon. As Thomas Ricks and Robin Wright at the Washington Post recently recalled,

The last multinational force, deployed in 1982 and led by the United States, was repeatedly targeted by Muslim militants and forced to end its mission abruptly in 1984. U.S. forces were taken hostage. Marine Col. Rich Higgins was kidnapped shortly after he took over command of the U.N. Observer Group Lebanon in 1988. He died in captivity.

Surely all the wringing of hands about the multinational force begs a question:

Why No US Troops?

The most frequent answer seems to be that US forces are “overstretched.”

This was the explanation offered by Ricks and Wright on July 22, 2006 in the Washington Post,

In a departure from past peacekeeping missions to Lebanon, the force currently being discussed would not include U.S. troops, U.S. officials said yesterday…

U.S. forces are already stretched by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are no troops to spare for Lebanon, Pentagon officials said.

As reported by Defense News Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, provided some similar explanations on August 17, 2006.

No U.S. troops will go to Lebanon “because of the nature of the conflict there,” said Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs, the third ranking official at the State Department…

American troops have “raised so many different passions among the Lebanese public due to the history of our involvement in that country” and in the region, he said in comments to reporters.

The United States also won’t send troops to Lebanon because “we are engage elsewhere in the world — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Far East. We’re certainly doing our share for global stability,” Burns said.

The most clearly articulated of these explanations is the overstretched line: “we are engaged elsewhere.”

Burns also hints that “the history of our involvement” raises “passions among the Lebanese public.” Like Hezbollah Shiites? The same Lebanese Shiites who killed 241 Marines with a 1983 truck bombing?

Are those “Lebanese” passions that are likely to be raised? Or US passions–especially among elements of the uniformed military still haunted by that loss?

And then there is the most opaque but intriguing Burns explanation: “the nature of the conflict there.” What does that mean? That we do not want to be seen joining Israel in a direct confrontation with Shiites? Afraid of a reaction among Iraqi Shiites?

Ken Silverstein emphasizes the overstretched explanation:

The uniformed military… is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source [“a well-connected former CIA officer”]. “They are saying ‘What the fuck?’” he told me. “Most of our combat-ready divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on their way, or coming back. The generals don’t like it because we’re already way overstretched.”

But back in late July, his CIA source suggested that the idea had not yet been ruled out:

According to the former official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a “multinational” deployment, and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

Who–according to Silverstein–might these “top administration officials” and “senior civilians at the Pentagon” be?

You guessed it…

The scenario of an American deployment appears to come straight out of the neoconservative playbook: send U.S. forces into the Middle East, regardless of what our own military leaders suggest, in order to “stabilize” the region.

I don’t dispute this. It has a certain logic to it. And yet, I can find no instance of neoconservatives banging the drum for US boots on the ground. Krauthammer doesn’t make the case–at least not explicitly–in his recent column where he insists that the multinational force is “so critical.”

At best, there is the following cryptic remark:

Now is [Hezbollah’s] moment of maximum weakness. That moment will not last long. Resupply and rebuilding have already begun.

This is no time for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations [John Bolton] to be saying, when asked about the creation of an international force, that “this really is a responsibility of the Secretariat.” Maybe officially, but if we are not working frantically behind the scenes to make sure that this preposterously inappropriate body gets real troops in quickly, armed with the right equipment and the right mandate, the moment will be lost.

Are French troops “real troops” in Krauthammer’s book? Or is that a nod toward a role for US troops?

I’m guessing that if Right Zionists really wanted US troops they might say so. They are not exactly shy or subtle. So, where is the demand for US troops?

Not a rhetorical question… has anyone seen Right Zionists banging the drum for US troops–as anticipated by Ken Silverstein?

Or is there some reason why that idea is a non-starter from the get go–even for “neoconservatives” who allegedly favor the projection of US military power anywhere and everywhere, even as an end unto itself, let alone when Israeli security is presumably at stake?

The Eyes of Alusi

Posted by Cutler on August 17, 2006
Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

As a reporter, Nancy Youssef has a peculiar approach to covering Iraq. She seems, at times, to view Iraq through the eyes of Iraq’s most pro-Israel Sunni Arab politician (only pro-Israel Sunni Arab politician?) MP Mithal al Alusi.

According to an Associated Press report, Alusi was part of Ahmed Chalabi’s inner circle until he made a 2004 trip to Israel that caused a firestorm in Iraqi political circles.

In an June 2006 post, I commented on a peculiar article by Nancy Youssef under the headline “Iran now enemy No. 1, Sunnis say: Fears fhift from Israel to Shi’ite nation next door“:

Sunni Muslims have begun to ask: Is Israel really Iraq’s enemy or is it neighboring Iran?

Sunnis are often not comfortable talking openly about Israel, especially in a region where most Arabs won’t refer to it by name and blame Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians. But privately, many have said Israel has not done anything lately to harm them, but Iran has…

While campaigning for a seat in the new parliament, Mithal al Alusi called for stronger ties between Israel and Iraq, and he appears to have won. He said some Iraqis are warming to a stronger relationship with Israel, in part because they are frightened of Iran’s influence. “They are afraid of Iran’s extremist political system,” he said.

Swopa at Needlenose subsequently mentioned this article in a very important post entitled “Switching sides on the Sunni-Shiite Seesaw.” In a ZNet article called “The Devil Wears Persian” I also discussed the ways in which Right Zionists who courted Shiite moderates in Iraq during “Act One” of the Bush Revolution might be attempting to cultivate a “marriage of convenience” between Sunni Arabs and Israel as “Act Two” of the Bush Revolution. The idea of such a “marriage” continues to have implications for political developments in Lebanon (discussed in recent posts here and here).

More recently, Youssef has been reporting on Prime Minister Maliki and his “security crackdowns” in Basra and Baghdad.

What is interesting about the Youssef reporting is not really what it tells about recent battles between rival Shiite factions–including the followers of Mahmoud al-Hassani in Basra and Karbala and the “Fadilla/Virtue Party” followers of Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi in Basra (for this, see the August 17, 2006 Washington Post article, “Rival Shiite Militias Clash in Southern Iraq“).

Youssef’s earlier report on the prospect of pro-Israeli, anti-Iranian sentiment among Iraqi Sunni Arabs was drawn from thin air; Alusi was her only real source, apart from one random “Sunni on the street” quote. Nevertheless, it was surprisingly “prescient” about emergent Right Zionist projects in the region. Perhaps her current reporting may be similarly indicative of things to come.

If so, then Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and his ally Moqtada al-Sadr might be in for a rough ride if Right Zionists have their way.

Back on July 4, 2006, Youssef reported that Maliki’s security crackdown in Basra had “failed.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s first major security initiative, a 30-day state of emergency intended to restore peace to Basra… appears to have failed, residents there report.

The state of emergency ended Saturday, but residents said that little had changed: Shiite militias and tribes still control the city’s streets, political factions still fight for control of the city, and Shiite Muslim militias still threaten Sunni Muslims with death

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Jawad al-Bolani, Iraq’s interior minister, who was named to the post seven days into the Basra plan, acknowledged that the initiative had not worked.

Even though Bolani seems to be the lead source on the “failed” crackdown, Youssef doesn’t deliver a quote from Bolani that makes the point.

Still–giving Youssef the benefit of the doubt, for the sake of argument–let’s say that Bolani did declare the Maliki crackdown a failure.

Youssef also reports that not everyone considered the crackdown a failure:

Basra’s governor, Mohammed al-Waili, a member of the Fadhila Party, one of the groups fighting to control the city, said he believed the plan had been successful

But there is a political dimension to these different perspectives. As I discussed in a previous post, Bolani was also from “one of the groups fighting for control of the city”–but from a group battling against Basra governmor Waili and the Fadhilla party.

So, it looks to me that the Maliki security crackdown in Basra ended in a victory for Waili and the Fadhilla party and a loss for Bolani and his patrons, Sheik Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi (“Prince of the Marsh Arabs”) and Ahmad Chalabi (for explanation of the Bolani-Muhammadawi-Chalabi alliance, see previous post).

Needless to say, Youssef writes of “failure” from the perspective of the Bolani-Muhammadawi-Chalabi alliance.

More recently Youssef filed a report entitled “Al-Maliki May Doom Baghdad Security Plan.”

The Baghdad security plan, which some cast as the last chance to avert a civil war, will be thwarted by Iraq’s prime minister because he is unwilling to tackle the country’s biggest security threat, many residents and politicians fear.

The plan calls for U.S. forces to sweep neighborhoods and help restore services, eventually leaving the capital under Iraqi military and police control. If that happens, U.S. troops could begin to withdraw

[M]any Iraqis fear the plan is doomed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s willingness to attack Sunni insurgents but not the Shiite militias that support his Dawa political party

He must change. This is not his private office. He should represent all Iraqis,” said Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Shiite member of parliament. The Baghdad security plan “is the last chance for al-Maliki.”

Ok, ok. Wait just a second. Alusi is here described as a “Shiite.” But the whole fuss about Alusi has always been that he is Sunni. That, at least, is what seemed to impressive to Thomas Friedman and others who sing his praises…

And please… spare me the RNC midterm election slogan that if only Maliki would crack down on Shiite militias, then”U.S. troops could begin to withdraw… ” Please. Bush has been clear: “”as long as he’s president, we’re in Iraq.”

The crucial information, however, is that folks like Alusi are on the verge of breaking with Maliki over his refusal to crackdown on Sadr.

But the frustration–and, presumably, the blame–is not simply with Maliki. Youssef writes:

U.S. officials have been hesitant to criticize the Mahdi army publicly, out of fear that doing so would spark more violence

In other words, “U.S. officials”–like Maliki–are also to blame. More Right Zionist frustrations, to be sure.

Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Posted by Cutler on August 16, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Can’t we all just get along? At least the “rejectionists”?

I have in mind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Likudnik Dore Gold who find common ground in their analysis of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Here is an Associated Press report on Assad’s speech from Tuesday, August 15, 2006:

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad yesterday said that America’s plan for a “new Middle East” collapsed after Hezbollah’s successes in fighting against Israel…

“The result was more failure for Israel, its allies and masters,” he said.

On the same day, Dore Gold was a guest on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal (no transcript is available on-line; transcription is my own; citation is minutes and seconds into Washington Journal program). Gold was just as clear as Assad. He said Israel required a period of “tremendous introspection” and “self-criticism” because the “goals” of the campaign in Lebanon “were not reached” (40:37).

Both Assad and Gold contrasted the recent failures with with Israel’s 1982 campaign.

Assad explained,

Bashar said this war revealed the limitations of Israel’s military power.

In a 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli forces surrounded Beirut within seven days of invading, he said.

“After five weeks it [Israel] was still struggling to occupy a few hundred metres.”

“From a military perspective, it [the battle] was decided in favour of the resistance [Hezbollah]. Israel has been defeated from the beginning,” Bashar said.

“They [Israelis] have become a subject of ridicule.”

Gold made a similar point, emphasizing that “air platforms” can tackle long-range missiles coming from Lebanon, but ground troops are required to deal with the “greater challenge” of short-range rockets:

In Israel’s Lebanon War of 1982, northern Israel was struck by Katusha rockets, launched not by Hezbollah but by the PLO.

At that time, Israel invaded Lebanon with three divisions and within 48 hours all Katusha rocket fire from southern Lebanon into northern Israel had been terminated” (46:32).

The blame will probably fall hardest on Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. According to Time, Halutz was quoted on July 14th saying,

“In this day and age, with all the technology we have, there is no reason to start sending ground troops in.”

As the campaign wore on, Halutz began to change his tune. On July 21, 2006 the Jerusalem Post quoted Halutz:

You cannot plant a flag in the ground with an F-16.”

Even then, however, the Israeli Cabinet apparently rejected the call by Halutz for significant ground troops. According to a July 27 Jerusalem Post report:

[T]he security cabinet decided on Thursday against significantly widening the IDF’s operations in southern Lebanon, rejecting a recommendation by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to escalate the offensive against Hizbullah…

As a result of the cabinet decision, the IDF said the operation in Lebanon… would retain its current format, according to which brigade and battalion-level forces – not division-level as Halutz had requestedcarry out pinpoint incursions on specific targets.

Whatever the actual source of the Israeli failure, the Syrian and Iranian victory dances are in full swing.

(Needless to say, Dore Gold is not celebrating the Israeli defeat–although his allies in the Likud party will certainly try to make political hay in Israel from the need for political “introspection” and “self-criticism” in light of the Kadima party’s responsibility for military failure.)

Assad: Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Syrian President Bashar Assad is not only celebrating victory over Israel. He is also going out of his way to snipe at other players in the region. A UPI report entitled “Assad Slams Lebanon Foes,” suggests that Assad used his speech to attack elements of the Lebanese government:

Syrian President Bashar Assad has snapped at anti-Syria Lebanese groups, accusing them of complicity with Israel in the war against Hezbollah.

In a speech Tuesday… Assad made it a point to brand as “traitors” the so-called “March 14” gathering of multi-sectarian Lebanese groups opposed to Damascus…

Assad accused his Lebanese opponents of having encouraged Israel to wage war on pro-Syria Hezbollah in order “to boost their political stance” on the international level…

Assad… said the role of anti-Damascus groups is to salvage the Israeli governmentwhich was embarrassed by its defeat at Hezbollah’s hands.

They will do that either by provoking strife in Lebanon to move the crisis from inside Israel to the Lebanese scene or by forcing the disarmament of Hezbollah’s resistance,” Assad said.

Furthermore, the Boston Globe carries and Associated Press report that says Assad also implicitly attacked Arab regimes–like Saudi Arabia and Egypt–that criticized the initial Hezbollah raids into Israel:

In his speech, Assad lashed out at Arab regimes that criticized Hezbollah for capturing two Israeli soldiers July 12 and setting off the war. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan — all US allies — opposed Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the conflict.

We do not ask anyone to fight with us or for usBut he should at least not adopt the enemy’s views,” Assad said.

Oqab Sakr, a Lebanese analyst, said Assad’s remarks were tantamount to “a final divorce from the Arab regimes and a full marriage with Iran.”

Quite a bit is riding on whether Oqab Sakr is correct in his assertion that Assad has initiated “final divorce” proceedings from Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

It is the notion of such a divorce that leads Juan Cole to suggest that in these attacks,

Al-Asad is playing into Israel’s hands

[He] seems to want to pit Hizbullah against the reformers. But that is exactly what the Israeli hardliners were hoping for, as well.

According to the Boston Globe article, Assad has already prompted an Egyptian backlash:

A front page editorial in a state-run Egyptian newspaper derided Assad’s speech–a rare overt criticism by one Arab government of another. Al-Gomhuria daily scoffed at Assad, saying he was celebrating “a victory scored by others.”

“You should be prepared now for political and economic pressure put on you because of this speech,” it said.

Assad’s bold tone is intended to cement his earlier political victories in Lebanon–discussed in previous posts here and here.

If Assad is risking a backlash, it will not likely emerge independently from Lebanese political officials like Prime Minister Siniora or Lebanese MP Saad Hariri. They may have the will to battle Syria and disarm Hezbollah, but they almost certainly lack the power to do so.

Unless, that is, they have the support of the Saudis. Hariri and Siniora will both take their cue directly from the Saudis.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Daily Star reported that Siniora was under pressure from Hezbollah–back in January 2006–to declare that “the resistance is not a militia.”

At first, Siniora resisted.  According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

Shortly thereafter, however, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdel-Aziz Khoja was quoted in the Daily Star as saying,

[Saudi Arabia] is proud of Hizbullah’s achievements,” adding that the “disarmament is an internal issue and should be resolved by the Lebanese.”

In almost no time, Siniora reversed himself and the Lebanese government officially declared that Hezbollah was a resistance movement, not a militia (presumably meaning it would not have to be disarmed under the terms of UN Resolution 1559). Hezbollah promptlly ended its boycott of the Lebanese government. On February 2, 2006 the BBC reported:

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told the Lebanese parliament on Thursday that Hezbollah had always been considered a resistance movement.

“We have never called and will never call the resistance by any other name but the resistance and it is a national resistance and we will not use any other expression to describe it but national resistance,” he said.

Then, as now, Siniora will take his cue from the Saudis.

So, in turn, will the French–who seem unlikely to put much into a multinational force unless Hariri and Siniora are prepared to disarm Lebanon.

According to the Financial Times:

French officials on Tuesday insisted Paris would resist leading a bolstered international force in southern Lebanon without Lebanese government assurances that Hizbollah, the militant Shia group, would be disarmed.

Paris’ requirements were spelled out on the eve of Wednesday’s visit by Philippe Douste-Blazy, French foreign minister, to Beirut – a visit likely to prove pivotal in deciding the fate of the multinational UN force proposed to police the fragile ceasefire between Hizbollah and Israel.

Officials in Beirut made clear that the army would not clash with Hizbollah and risk provoking internal conflict. Late on Monday, Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defence minister, told the local LBC television that the army had no intention of disarming Hizbollah in the south.

He suggested that Hizbollah understood that weapons could no longer be visible in the buffer zone, but said that if troops came across missiles they would not take them away.

Much, then, depends on the Saudis. Presumably, the future of the “marriage” (between Iran and Syria, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the other) is the main topic today when the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki meets in Jeddah today with Saudi Arabia’s King Abudullah.

Would love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

Status Quo Ante

Posted by Cutler on August 14, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / No Comments

A Wall Street Journal editorial–entitled “Status Quo Ante“–sums up what I take to be the disappointment of Right Zionists.

Ever since war broke out last month on the Israeli-Lebanese frontier, the Bush Administration has said it wouldn’t tolerate a return to the “status quo ante,” in which Hezbollah behaved as a power unto itself within the Lebanese state. Yet after reading the text of the U.N. Security Council’s cease-fire resolution adopted unanimously on Friday, we’d say the “status quo ante” is nearly what we’ve got.

And perhaps worse than that, because Hezbollah has now shown it can battle Israel to a military draw. The new resolution does call for disarming Hezbollah, just as resolution 1559 previously did, but without saying who will do it. Presumably that task is intended for the Lebanese Army, which is supposed to occupy the parts of southern Lebanon from which Hezbollah launched its attacks on Israel. But Lebanon’s army is a weak force, consciously undermined over the years of Syrian occupation, and is largely Shiite. There’s reason to doubt it will be able to disarm Hezbollah’s still-powerful Shiite military.

That just about says it all. If the point of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon was to disarm Hezbollah, that goal has proven elusive and–given the state of Lebanon’s politics–looks unlikely to be met any time soon.

Yesterday’s news of an impasse in the Lebanese Cabinet (discussed in a prior post)–where Hezbollah ministers balk at any move by the government of Prime Minister Siniora to disarm Hezbollah–is an exact replica of a similar crisis that began in December 2005.

According to the Daily Star, ministers from the two Shiite factions–Amal and Hezbollah–began a boycott of the Cabinet on December 12, 2005. At that time, they reportedly demanded, as a condition for their continued participation in government, that Lebanon send a letter to the UN Security Council saying that the Lebanese government had fulfilled the conditions of UN Resolution 1559..

Lebanon’s governmental crisis faced new complications Monday, with Christian ministers refusing one of the conditions set by the Shiite ministers to return to Cabinet. Talking to The Daily Star, Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis said his party, the Lebanese Forces, was not about to accept addressing the UN Security Council with a letter saying that the internal part of Resolution 1559 was implemented.

Resolution 1559 calls for, among other things, the disarmament of Hizbullah and Palestinian militias, but the Lebanese government had said the issue should be solved through internal dialogue.

However, addressing a letter to the UN indicating that Lebanon has fully implemented 1559 has emerged as one of the main demands of the ministers of Hizbullah and the Amal Movement to end their 15-day-long boycott of Cabinet meetings and to resume their duties.

At first, Prime Minister Siniora dug in his heals–at least in part to appease UN Security Council–especially, the United States. According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

The spokesperson said that: “Such a statement would mean that UN resolution 1559 had already been implemented and thus put Lebanon in a state of confrontation with the Security Council.”

It was at this moment that the Saudis and Syrians met in January 2006 to try to patch things up.

At first, Siniora balked when the Saudis began to push accomodation with Syria and Hezbollah. According to a Daily Star article (“Lebanon Cool at Saudi Plan on Syria Ties,” January 18, 2006; unavailable on-line):

The Saudi plan made public this week seeks to patch up Syrian-Lebanese differences since the February killing of a Lebanese ex-prime minister in which a U.N. probe has implicated Syrian officials. More bombings have followed the assassination.

“This (Saudi) paper does not meet Lebanese ambitions,” Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora told reporters. “We see that there are steps that need to be stressed, beginning with the security situation and the need to stop the killing machine.”…

“To be precise on this subject, these are Syrian ideas that Prince Saud al-Faisal carried, there is no Arab initiative yet,” Siniora said.

Before long, however, Siniora was recalled to Saudi Arabia for a friendly visit and quickly changed his tune. According to a Daily Star article (“Siniora Sees Primary Role for Saudis,” February 15, 2006; unavailable on-line):

During his one-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday to revive Arab mediation efforts, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora reiterated that Saudi Arabia “was and will still be the main support for Lebanon.” Siniora has been meeting with Arab officials such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, both of whom have proposed the Arab initiative to “ease the tensions between Lebanon and Syria.”

The initiative is now being revived after it was thwarted when it was leaked last month to the leaders of the March 14 Forces, who viewed it as a “Syrian initiative that wants to restore Syria’s control on Lebanon.”

The revivial of the Saudi initiative took the wind out of any effort to disarm Hezbollah–and, not coincidentally, probably helped dull the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

According to the Associated Press:

U.N. investigators had earlier implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005. Among those linked to the killing was Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and Assad’s brother-in-law.

After the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, the pressure on Shawkat seemed diminished. According to another Associated Press report, the UN pushed back the deadline for concluding the investigation.

Chief investigator Serge Brammertz, earlier reported to the Security Council that progress was being made but he refused to repeat accusations that top Syrian officials with links to President Bashar Assad were responsible.

It would seem that the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah have done little to change any of this.

Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledges that the Lebanese government may not have the power to disarm Hezbollah, even if it had the will to do so.

As to the will to disarm Hezbollah, that remains fragile at best. With its most recent retreat from participation in the Cabinet, Hezbollah is calling the bluff of Prime Minister Siniora.

One recent report from an Israeli source, Ynetnews, suggests some signs of political will among pro-Saudi Lebanese politicians to take on Hezbollah. But I can find no confirmation of the quotes from other news sources and it seems like slim pickings–as the analyst suggests:

We will obtain revenge against those who got Lebanon entangled,” Saad Hariri said fearlessly, while Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Hizbullah of working for Iranian and Syrian interests, and not in the favor of Lebanon.

The Druze, the Sunni Muslims, some of the Maronite Christians, and maybe even some of the Shiites are lying in wait for Nasrallah,” explained Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon.

There is no doubt that they will hurl accusations at him for wreaking havoc in Lebanon, and there is no doubt that the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons will be raised.

But nonetheless, it still seems that there is no one who can disarm Hizbullah apart from Nasrallah himself. And southern Lebanon is the organization’s ‘home.’ It is reasonable to assume that it will do everything to rehabilitate and arm itself,” he added.

Only Nasrallah can disarm Nasrallah. Seems unlikely to me. How about you?


Just watched “Team Freedom” (Bush, Cheney, Rice) gather for a press conference to discuss the “Freedom Program” in the Middle East. Notwithstanding a lot of Right Zionist rhetoric, it was clearly a concession speech. At one point, in a response to a question about claims that Hezbollah won Bush said, “If I were Hezbollah I would claim victory, too.” Of course, he meant that everybody always tries to spin the news to their own advantage. But it was a telling statement. I don’t have a transcript yet, but there was also lots of talk about how “difficult” the battle against terror can be.

I think it might not be possible to overstate the importance of this defeat for the Bush administration. Either it marks a very new moment in US relations with Israel–and will undermine all future efforts to by Right Zionists to argue that Israel can help the US police the Middle East–or it will prompt the Bush administration to redouble its commitment to never lose again. I predict the former. This defeat is a far greater disappointment to Right Zionists than just about anything that has happened on Sistani’s watch in Iraq.

One final thought on the likelihood of anyone disarming Hezbollah now.

How about the French?

Not so much…

Here is the New York Times report:

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, told Le Monde on Saturday that the purpose of the enlarged Unifil would not include the disarming of Hezbollah by force. “We never thought a purely military solution could resolve the problem of Hezbollah,” he said. “We are agreed on the goal, the disarmament, but for us the means are purely political.”

That is the kind of immediate backtracking from the resolution that worries the Israelis, and which they say justifies their continuing military offensive to push Hezbollah back beyond the Litani, because they do not believe that the Lebanese Army, even with Unifil, will do it.

A Foreign Ministry official pointed out that it was Mr. Douste-Blazy who, in Beirut, called Iran “a force for stability in the region” when Europe is trying, with the United States, to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

Lebanese PM to Iran: Over the Limit

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are some important signals–quite mixed right at the moment–coming from Lebanon about the balance of power in Beirut.

First, the news from Saturday, August 12th that the Lebanese Cabinet unanimously approved the UN cease-fire plan. The Associated Press reported:

Lebanon’s Cabinet accepted the U.N. cease-fire plan to halt fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters on Saturday, moving the deal a step closer to implementation, the prime minister said.

It was a unanimous decision, with some reservations,” Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said in announcing Lebanon’s acceptance of the resolution after a four-hour Cabinet meeting.

Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fneish, minister of hydraulic resources, said the two members of the Islamic militant group who are part of the Cabinet expressed reservations. Particular concern was raised over an article in the resolution that “gives the impression that it exonerates Israel of responsibility for the crimes” and blames Hezbollah for the monthlong war, he said.

Maybe the reservations were about the balance of responsibility and blame. But I tend to doubt it.

Today (Sunday, August 13th), Lebanese unanimity looks far more fragile and the reason seems to turn two very important and related issues: disarming hezbollah and deploying the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon.

According to reports, Hezbollah has now dug in its heels on the all-important issue of disarmament. Here is the latest report from Reuters:

A Lebanese cabinet meeting set for Sunday has been postponed because of divisions over whether to discuss the disarmament of Hizbollah guerrillas, a government source said.

Hizbollah had some observations over … the discussion of their disarmament,” the source said…

On July 27 the cabinet approved a Lebanese seven-point plan that among other things called for weapons to remain only in the hands of Lebanese authorities…

A U.N. Security Council resolution to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah calls for the “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than the Lebanese state.”

This has been a sticking point–especially for Hezbollah and Iran–all along.

Indeed, if anyone was looking for signs of Saudi-Iranian tension, this is the place to look.

After the July 27th seven-point plan was approved, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Beirut for talks. According to a report in the Daily Star, Mottaki was clear about his own reservations about “initiatives proposed so far” (i.e., the Siniora seven-point plan) at that time:

“We believe that the initiatives proposed so far by the various parties to achieve a cease-fire are divided into two parts,” said Mottaki.

He added: “The first part includes a halt to the Zionist attack, and any other item which would gather a consensus from all Lebanese.”

The second part would include all the items which “do not enjoy the approval of all parties, and this would be solved through future negotiations.”

Needless to say, the disarmament of Hezbollah constitutes the central “item” for Iran that does not “enjoy the approval of all parties.”

Mottaki’s implicit criticism brought a sharp rebuke from Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. According to Stratfor:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki “went over the limit” in implying he had reservations about Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s seven-point plan to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Siniora told the French-language newspaper L’Orient Le Jour in an interview published Aug. 4. During his recent visit to Beirut, Mottaki had said there was no rush to discuss questions beyond an immediate cease-fire.

As I have suggested in a previous post, it is not a great stretch to consider Siniora as a Lebanese proxy of the Saudis.

Right Zionists would like nothing better than to see this split widen into a full blown conflict.

Khalilzad on Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on August 12, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The New York Times includes an article today entitled “U.S. Ambassador Says Iran is Inciting Attacks.” I bring it up primarily because it relates directly to my recent post–“Keyser Söze in Sadr City“–and the notion that recent US raids in Sadr city are aimed at a “splinter” group of Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The Times reports:

The Shiite guerrillas behind the recent attacks are members of splinter groups of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia created by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalilzad said.

The splinter groups have ties to Iran, which is governed by Shiite Persians, and to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Arab militia in Lebanon that has been battling Israel for a month, the ambassador added.

There is evidence that Iran is pushing for more attacks, he said, without offering any specifics. But he acknowledged that there was no proof that Iran was directing any particular operations by militias here

Despite the recent attacks by the splinter groups, Mr. Khalilzad insisted that the most powerful Shiite leaders in Iraq had not yet pushed for more violence against the Americans, even though Iran would like them to. That includes Mr. Sadr, he said.

“Generally the Shia leadership here have behaved more as Iraqi patriots and have not reacted in the way that perhaps the Iranians and Hezbollah might want them to,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

All of which goes to my prior speculation about “Sadr’s own complicity in a purge of more radical, anti-US Sadrist factional players.

It should also be noted that Khalilzad has frequently tried to advance “Right Arabist” goals during his tenure as US Ambassador in Iraq. I would note that his desire to pin US troubles in Sadr City directly to Iran–even as he acknowledged that there was “no proof” of this–certainly does little to challenge my argument–in a previos post–that in the current context, many Right Arabists are as “hawkish” on Iran as Right Zionists.

As the Times article suggests,

Mr. Khalilzad’s comments also reinforce the observations of some analysts that the rise of the majority Shiites in Iraq, long oppressed by Sunni Arab rulers, is fueling the creation of a “Shiite crescent” across the Middle East, with groups in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon working together against common enemies, whether they be the United States, Israel or Sunni Arab nations.

Just to be clear: that is the whole ball of wax–Act Two of the Bush Revolution–in a nutshell.  The “United States, Israel [and] Sunni Arab nations” fighting against “common enemies” of a “Shiite crescent.”

Who Killed the Cedar Revolution?

Posted by Cutler on August 11, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

George Ball, in his canonical 1992 Right Arabist book The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel, 1947 to the Present (hereafter, PA), argues that the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon had two objectives.

At a minimum, Israel wanted to undermine the PLO as a political force in Lebanon. Likewise today, only with Hezbollah playing the role of the PLO (the distinction is mainly important because it has significant implications for the reaction of the Arab world; the PLO could rely on far greater support from Gulf Arabs than Hezbollah).

But, Ball insists, Israel’s “first objective” was accompanied by its second:

“the installation of a minority Maronite Christian government to rule over a Lebanese protectorate which would conclude a separate peace with Israel” (PA, p.120).

Ball calls this second objective the “grand design” that dates at least as far back as David Ben-Gurion’s 1948 diary entry cited by Ball:

“the weak link in the Arab coalition is Lebanon… A Christian state must be established whose southern border will be the Litani. We shall sign a treaty with it” (PA, p.120).

As regards the current situation, a very similar “dual objective” position has been outlined by Dore Gold in his July 17 brief regarding the outbreak of fighting with Hezbollah, “The Opening Round of Iran’s War Against the West.”

Gold elaborates the specifics regarding a “first objective”:

So what should be the aims of the entire Western alliance – including Israel – in the current conflict? The chief goals are: First, full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that call for the complete dismantling of Hizballah and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israel-Lebanon border instead. Second, the removal of all Iranian forces and equipment from Lebanese territory, along with any lingering Syrian presence.

But Gold goes on to suggest that the contours of a contemporary “grand design.”

At the same time, there is a need to recognize that this is a regional war. Iran is seeking to dominate Iraq, particularly its southern Shia areas – the provinces where British troops are deployed – and hopes to encircle both Israel and the Sunni heartland of the Arab world. Syria is Iran’s main Arab ally in this effort. There is no question that Iran’s main aim is to dominate the oil-producing areas by agitating the Shia populations of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Defeating Iran’s opening shot in this Middle Eastern war is not just Israel’s interest, but the collective interest of the entire civilized world.

There are at least two things worth mentioning in reference to Gold’s grand design. First, unlike the 1982 Israeli invasion described by Ball–which aimed to court Lebanese Shia animosity toward Sunni and PLO political domination–the current “design” is intended to court Sunni Arab animosity toward Hezbollah, Syrian, and Iranian political domination in Lebanon.

Second, Gold’s “design” has not necessarily been adopted by the incumbent Israeli government. Gold is a Netanyahu Likudnik. Labor party Zionists like David Kimche who favor negotiations with Syria were relieved when the Likuk party–which refused to join Sharon in the formation of the “centrist” Kadima party–did relatively poorly in the most recent Israeli election.

Indeed, there are signs that the Right Zionists (neocons; US Likudniks) may be closer to power in Washington than they are in Israel. This may account for some of the recent tension between the Right Zionists in Washington and the government of Israel.

See, for example, an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “US Neocons Hoped Israel would Attack Syria.”

The White House, and in particular White House advisors who belong to the neoconservative movement, allegedly encouraged Israel to attack Syria as an expansion of its action against Hizbullah, in Lebanon. The progressive opinion and news site reported Monday that Israeli sources say Israel’s “leadership balked at the scheme.”

See, also, Charles Krauthammer’s criticism of the Olmert government, noted in a previous post.

War As Politics?
In his account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, George Ball suggests,

“Israeli leaders knew that timing was of the essence. Lebanon was required to elect a new president by August 23, 1982, and the IDF had to be in Beirut before that… Israel’s problem was to find, or create, an ‘internationally recognized provocation’…” (PA, p.122).

Back in ’82, Ball reports “a terrorist group obligingly furnished Israel with at least a shadowy casus belli by shooting in the head an Israeli envoy post in London” (PA, p.123).

In 2006, the July 12 Hezbollah raid furnished the casus belli.

The Israeli response to the Hezbollah raid is not merely “disproportionate,” however. It involves ambitious goals that seek to go beyond a return to the “status quo ante,” as Secretary Rice said at the start of the crisis.

So if the Hezbollah raid was the “manifest” trigger, what was the “latent” trigger, in terms of long-term Right Zionist “grand designs”?

Can the current war be either divorced from–or worse, at odds with–an Israeli agenda for the long-term contours of Lebanese politics?

One increasingly popular view is that the Israeli military tactics have actually undermined Israel’s political objectives. This perspective finds some support in an important Newsweek article, “Now Comes the Next War.”

Soon comes its next fight—a postwar political reckoning. Whether the [Hezbollah] party emerges from the current conflict weaker or stronger—and stronger seems the answer now—it will then have to battle the country’s other political, religious and ethnic groups for the soul and identity of Lebanon…

This face-off will transcend borders, for it is a microcosm of the wider struggle in the Middle East. On one side is the American-led West and Israel, with some very quiet Arab allies; on the other is the movement to affirm an Arab-Iranian-Islamist identity…

Even now, the military clash is largely a political war of wills, deterrence and resistance, at least in Hizbullah’s view. Holding out for a month and emerging to negotiate a ceasefire represents, to many, a considerable victory. Yet within Lebanon itself, the fighting has both accelerated and camouflaged deep political tensions.

Before the war, just over half the Lebanese said they supported Hizbullah’s role as an armed resistance group that deterred Israeli attacks. Two weeks after the fighting started, more than 85 percent of Lebanese in one poll said they supported Hizbullah’s military attacks against Israel. This included 80 percent of Christians, a figure that was obviously inflated by anger against Israel for its savage attacks against all parts of Lebanon, not just Hizbullah strongholds in the south.

Joshua Landis over at Syria Comment has been quoted along similar lines in the Los Angeles Times.

The decision by President Bush not to support the Lebanese government’s plea for a cease-fire, even though that government has been backed by the United States, has dealt a further blow to public feelings about the U.S. in the region.

Members of the governing bloc in the Lebanese parliament, led by Saad Hariri, “are the most pro-American Arabs in the Middle East. They have promised, ‘America will protect us if we stand against Syria,’ ” said Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Now Israel is “blowing the hell out of them, and America isn’t taking one step to protect them,” Landis said. “The whole Arab world is going to look and see that Hariri has been sacrificed on the altar of Israeli power.…”

The most important thing to know about Saad Hariri is not that he is “the most pro-American” Arab in the Middle East, but that he is the most pro-Saudi Arab in Lebanon.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the father of Saad Hariri. It was the murder of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 that focused a powerful spotlight on Saudi-Syrian rivalry over political and economic control of Lebanon, especially once Saudi Arabia pushed Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

For Right Zionists, the murder of Hariri established the conditions for a dramatic realignment of Lebanese politics by prying Saudi Arabia away from Syrian and Iranian political forces in Lebanon. In the so-called “Cedar Revolution” Right Zionists hoped to establish and support an alliance between Lebanon’s pro-Saudi Sunni Arab political forces–now led by Saad Hariri and Rafik Hariri’s former aide (and current Lebanese Prime Minister) Fouad Siniora–and the traditional anti-Syrian Christian (and Druze) opposition that Israel has always courted.

If that alliance–the so-called “March 14 Forces,” named for the day in 2005 when there were huge anti-Syrian rallies in Beirut one month after Mr Hariri’s assassination–was strong and steady prior to the Israeli invasion, then it would be difficult to discern what plausible Israeli advantages might have been anticipated on the basis of the invasion.

Although it is far from certain that the invasion will in any way help the “March 14 Forces,” Israel might have had good reason to fear that prior to the Hezbollah raid, Saudi Arabia was doing everything within its power to paper over Saudi-Syrian tensions in Lebanon and to re-align pro-Saudi forces in Lebanon with pro-Syrian forces and Hezbollah.

Setting aside some fo the important details of Saudi involvement in Lebanon after the murder of Hariri, it is clear that by January 2006 a Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was in the works.

According to news reports (here and here) and commentary (esp. that of Pat Lang, here, and–for a different interpretation–that of Tony Badran, here) the deal was sealed at a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi Kind Abdullah in January 2006.

As Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis suggested at that time,

Now, Washington will have to deal with the Kingdom. If the “kowtow” was convincing, Abdullah et al will not want their “satellite” disturbed much more.

It is into this context–not the full-flowering of the Cedar Revolution–that Israel intervened.

Will the Israeli invasion “save” the Cedar Revolution and reinvigorate Saudi-Syrian tension? It may be too early to say for sure, but the chances look increasingly slim.

Did the Israeli invasion “kill” the Cedar Revolution? No. It was already dead.

Keyser Söze in Sadr City

Posted by Cutler on August 08, 2006
Iraq / 2 Comments

The US seems to be once again spoiling for a fight in Sadr City. According to a report in the Washington Post (“US-Backed Operation Targets Shiite Slum“), the raid took place in the predawn hours of Monday morning.

US forces led a raid in March 2006, and a set of raids again in early July. I offered an alaysis of the July raids in a previous post.

Swopa has been minding the “Sadr City Volcano” (here and here) waiting for it to blow, especially in light of Sadrist anger over US-backed Israeli attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon and a new intensification of US forces in Baghdad. The Associated Press reported that “hundreds of thousands” of Shiites marched through Sadr City on Friday (August 4th) chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”

By some measures, the Monday morning raids might be interpreted as either US “punishment” for Friday’s Sadr City march and/or as the force that finally blew the lid off the Sadrist volcano. The Post article suggests that US and Iraqi forces met considerable resistance:

The Iraqi troops who conducted the raid, along with their U.S. advisers, came under fire at the outset, the statement said, and “the fire lasted for the duration of the operation and continued as they left the neighborhood.”

The raid prompted Prime Minister Maliki to disavow and condemn the action of the US and his own armed forces. According to South Africa’s

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he had not authorised what he called Sunday’s “unjustified” night time assault by Iraqi troops and US advisers on a target in the impoverished east Baghdad suburb of Sadr City…

Speaking on state television, Maliki said such raids “should not happen again in order to protect the reconciliation process.

“I reiterate my rejection to such an operation and it should not be executed without my consent. This particular operation did not have my approval.”

So, is this the beginning of a major eruption?

Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. An Associated Press report by Robert H. Reid in the Washington Post (“Firebrand Critic More Cautious“) notes the “failure to launch.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces strike the Baghdad base of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr–but his gunmen hold their fire. U.S. soldiers kill 15 of al-Sadr’s followers, drawing little more than a few perfunctory complaints.

That’s a dramatic departure in style for the youthful firebrand, who launched two major uprisings against the American-led coalition two years ago when U.S. authorities closed his newspaper and pushed an Iraqi judge into issuing an arrest warrant against him.

An article in the Boston Globe quotes an anonymous US official in Baghdad:

“It’s true that we are targeting death squads, but we are not going after the Madhi Army in particular,” said a US official based in Baghdad, speaking in a telephone interview on condition of anonymity. “If we were, it would be much more violent here. It would be a very big fight.”

The attempt to distinguish between “death squads” and the “Madhi Army” may sound like a self-serving qualification (like the distinction between terrorists and insurgents, I suppose). But the interesting part of the quote is the frank acknowledgement that any move on the Madhi Army as such would be “a very big fight”–bigger than the current level of resistance to US raids. In other words, the official is downplaying the extent of the current level of resistance.

If so, it may be because there may be more than a merely semantic difference between the “death squads” in question and the Madhi Army. Consider, as I did in my previous post on US raids in Sadr City, that the Sadrist “movement” is split and that Sadr is essentially acquiescing in US attempts to crush a “rogue” Sadrist faction.

Who is Abu Dereh?

Back in the July raids on Sadr city, the US claimed that its true target was a militant leader involved “in the transfer of weapons from Syria into Iraq” in an effort to break away “from his current insurgent organization.”

Local residents in Sadr City suggested that the intended target of the operation was a figure named “Abu Dera.”

In mid-July, Phillip Robertson filed a three-part article (here, here, and here) for in which he provided a profile of Abu Dera (or, Abu Dereh in Robertson’s spelling) that paints a portrait that resembling the portrait of Keyser Söze painted by Roger “Verbal” Kint (played by Kevin Spacey) in the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects.

All sorts of rumors and myths circulate about Abu Dereh. One myth has him driving deep into Sunni-held territory in Anbar province and burning entire villages, while another says that he was a refugee of the great marshes in the south, and when Saddam drained them as punishment for the uprisings after the first gulf war, he fled to Sadr City, or Thawra as it was called. Abu Dereh, which means “father of shield” (“shield” is a proper noun in Arabic), is not his real name, it is a nom de guerre. Whenever it was uttered, the Baghdadi who hears it becomes serious and drops his voice so he could not be overheard.

Robertson doesn’t give much credence to the idea of any kind of split between Abu Dereh and Sadr:

Dereh is a shadowy figure who has deep connections with the Mahdi Army. A spokesman for the group, Abdel Hadi Al Darragi, has stated that Abu Dereh is not part of the Mahdi Army, but this is implausible. Anyone operating openly in Sadr City would almost certainly have at least tacit support from Sadr’s men. Sadr City is tightly controlled by the Mahdi Army and other groups are not allowed to operate there.

Sadr has plenty of reason, like the character in The Usual Suspects, to invent such a figure and then to deny any responsibility or connection in order to disguise his own complicity. I get that.

Sometimes, however, there are real splits for real reasons. I have in mind chiefly the possibility of movement factionalism over Sadr’s decision to participate in government prior to the complete withdrawal of US forces.

When factional fissures do develop, the “nearest” enemy is often enemy number one despite–or, better, because of–broad areas of overlapping political agendas and/or geographic proximity.

Sadr’s top aides condemned the US raids, but seemed quite satisfied by Maliki’s apologetic televised comments. Indeed, according to an Associated Press report in the Guardian, the Sadr forces have called for restraint and a bit of house cleaning:

In a statement read out at all Mahdi Army offices, al-Sadr urged his militiamen to be “calm and patient, and avoid being drawn into civil war,” said the cleric’s aide, Mohammed al-Fartousi.He said al-Sadr urged the militiamen to purge all those who bring the Mahdi Army into disrepute. They should also “denounce the kidnapping of Iraqis, denounce destruction of mosques and denounce killing of innocent people,” said his aide, Mohammed al-Fartousi.

See, now, to me that sounds pretty much like the Sadrists are not so unhappy with US assistance in the dirty business of an internal purge aimed at insulating Sadr from some of his more unruly ranks as he marches toward the political incorporation within a US-backed regime.

Maybe Sadr’s call for a purge is simply a smoke screen to disguise his own complicity in kidnapping, death squads, sectarian violence, etc.

Or maybe Maliki’s “outrage” at the US raid is the smoke screen–to disguise his and Sadr’s own complicity in a purge of more radical, anti-US Sadrist factional players.

Got a hunch?

Seems Like Nothing Has Changed (Since 1982!)

Posted by Cutler on August 07, 2006
Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

I know it seems like Condi Rice has been stalling on the whole diplomatic search for an immediate ceasefire. And I’m sure it seems like the delays have been designed to give Israel time to score some military victories on the ground in Lebanon before introducing a UN resolution. As it turns out, Rice was simply being gracious, insuring that US or Israeli policy would be frozen in time during my two-week absence. Thanks Condi! Go right ahead, now…

The US and the French have hammered out a draft UN “ceasefire” resolution, but as currently written it won’t amount to much. As the Washington Post (“Rice Calls Plan at U.N. Crucial Step to Peace“) reports,

The resolution does not call for Israeli troops to immediately withdraw from Lebanon, a point that has drawn sharp opposition from key players in the conflict…

The United States and France agreed on the proposed Security Council resolution Saturday to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group. The resolution calls for a “full cessation of hostilities,” including the immediate end of Hezbollah attacks and “all offensive military operations” by Israel.

So, Israel can stay in Lebanon, Hezbollah must stop all attacks and Israel only has to stop “offensive” operations. What does a “defensive” operation look like under these circumstances?

An obscure footnote in Caspar Weinberger’s 1990 memoir, Fighting for Peace, recounts a similar ceasefire deal from an earlier Israeli invasion of Lebanon:

“One of the… more creative interpretations of the term “cease-fire” was [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s claim, after the Israeli Defense Forces invaded Lebanon in June 19982, that he did not believe a cease-fire was a “cease fire in place.” And so the Israelis felt they could advance as long as they did not fire, and if the other side fired to halt the Israeli advance it was a violation of the cease-fire” (FFP, p.141).

Rice herself was quick to point out that any deal at the UN would not necessarily lead to a halt in the fighting. Reuters reports,

If that resolution can be quickly voted on, Rice said, “I would hope that you would see very early on an end to large-scale violence…

That does not necessarily mean an end to all fighting in the short run because “these things take a while to wind down,” and there could be skirmishes for some time to come, she said.

“We’re trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years. So it’s not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council,” Rice said.

As Tony Karon has suggested over at Rootless Cosmopolitan

The purpose of the cease-fire deal, though, may not be to end the fighting — which Rice herself seems to admit is unlikely — but rather to make another attempt at winning diplomatic endorsement for Israel’s military campaign by isolating Hizballah as the obstacle to an internationally sanctioned peace.

No real signs of Bush administration retreat, here. Still, there are signs of disappointment. I have in mind Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post column from Friday (“Israel’s Lost Moment“):

There is fierce debate in the United States about whether, in the post-Sept. 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability. Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America’s war on terrorism…

The United States… has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later.

I gather things are not going so well (from a strategic, in addition to a humanitarian, perspective) on the ground in Lebanon. Krauthammer blames the Israeli political leadership. But Hezbollah resistance is probably the real story here, at least according to the New York Times article, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Suprises Israel with its Training, Tactics, and Weapons.”
All of which begs the question: What Were They Thinking?

I have tried to discern various elements of a Bush administration “strategy,” most recently in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Now, Matt over at Il Cattivo Soggetto/The Bad Subject has offered up a critique of this idea:

The Right-Zionist strategy always struck me as a massive gamble, and now it just seems like a stupid one…

While Hezbollah no doubt miscalculated the new Israeli government’s willingness to use it’s military might, they may yet have the last laugh. The US and Israeli plan, if indeed Cutler’s analysis is correct, is more and more imperiled with each day this conflict drags on. Israel has seriously miscalculated Hezbollah’s military capability…

At the outset, Saudi and Egyptian reaction to the Israeli offensive was measured, and many in the region were quick to lay the blame on Hezbollah’s adventurism. But with no end in sight, these same people are feeling the heat.

The first point seems quite right, although the battles continue.

On the consequences of “heat” on Arab leaders, the jury remains out. An Arab League delegation has promised to take Lebanon’s concerns about the current UN resolution language–especially its failure to demand an immediate Israeli ceasefire and withdrawal–to the UN. But I think a case could be made that Arabs are still holding their fire until the Israelis have been forced to hold theirs.
The idea of a strategic plan also comes under attack because there are signs–in the Financial Times–that the Bush administration is unwilling to back regime change in Iran:

And here’s another kink in the theory: the admnistration disappointed Iranian exile activists last week during a meeting focusing on Iran’s nuclear capability. Not only did Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser, and Nicholas Burns, a State Department official in charge of the Iran portfolio, tell the Iranian exiles that the US had no intention of broadening the conflic to Syria and Iran, they even “argued against regime change,” according to one of the attendees. And this at a “gathering of 30 Iranians, including analysts, academics and members of religious and ethnic minorities, was billed by the White House as a ‘historic first step in promoting personal freedom and liberty in Iran.'”

I think the report surely indicates that the Cheney administration isn’t yet ready to go public with an active campaign against Iran–especially with things going poorly against what is arguably something of an Iranian proxy army in Lebanon. Still, the meeting–and the sour comments from disappointed Iranian dissidents–is an important news story.

Finally, I note that the Right Arabist dissent remains pretty muted. I have in mind here Brent Scowcroft’s Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon.” Scowcroft doesn’t seem quite so upset with what is happening in Lebanon than what might happen “beyond” it once Israel has done the deed.

Of course, it is a Right Arabist plea for dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issue as the “root” of the crisis. I’ll grant that. So he leads with the language of dissent:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that a simple cease-fire in Lebanon is not the solution to the current violence. She says it is necessary to deal with the roots of the problem. She is right on both counts. But Hezbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948.

But after that, it becomes pretty clear that Scowcroft has no critique of the Israeli war against Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

The current crisis in Lebanon provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible…

A comprehensive peace settlement would not only defang the radicals in Lebanon and Palestine (and their supporters in other countries), it would also reduce the influence of Iran — the country that, under its current ideology, poses the greatest potential threat to stability in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.

Ironically, there is more Rigth Zionist disappointment than Right Arabist dissent. At least for now…