Monthly Archives: September 2006

Rumsfeld & Cheney: The Untouchables

Posted by Cutler on September 30, 2006
Uncategorized / No Comments

As I noted in a previous post, Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, reports that former White House chief of staff Andy Card tried–twice–to oust Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Why did Card fail?

At one level, the answer seems simple enough: Rumsfeld retains the support of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Let us speculate wildly for a moment.

Imagine a scenario where Bush advisors move to dump Rumsfeld. Cheney threatens, “You touch Rumsfeld (my mentor, the man who gave me my start in life during the Nixon and Ford administrations) and you lose my cooperation.”

Now imagine that Bush advisors respond by saying to Cheney, “Nobody threatens the President. You are fired.”

End of story, right?

I have a civics question: Can the President of the United States fire the Vice President?

My uneducated sense of the Constitution: No.

The Vice President is elected. The Vice President does not serve at the pleasure of the President.

The best Bush could do is alienate the VP, not remove him.
Does anyone–including Bush advisors–think the President could survive a direct confrontation with a rebellious Vice President sniping at him?

Bush moved toward a confrontation with Rumsfeld in May of ’04 during the height of the Abu Ghraib revelations.

That lasted about two or three days. Then Cheney issued a statement calling Rumsfeld the best Secretary of Defense that the US has had. And that was that.

The last chance Bush advisors had to dump Rumsfeld and Cheney was in ’04 when they could have dropped him from the ’04 ticket. Didn’t happen.

End of story.

Beltway Insurgency

Posted by Cutler on September 29, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Foreign policy “realists”–the folks I call “Right Arabists”–are taking plenty of shots at Bush administration foreign policy ahead of the mid-term elections. By my latest count, it’s getting to the point now where there are eight-, nine-hundred attacks a week. That’s more than 100 a day. That is four an hour.

Well… that may not really be accurate. The passage above that begins “it’s getting to the point” is actually a line used by Bob Woodward in an upcoming CBS News 60 Minutes interview to describe the level of insurgent attacks on US forces in Iraq.

I would propose, however, that Woodward’s new book–State of Denial, published by Simon & Schuster, part of Viacom’s CBS Corp.–is the tactical equivalent of an IED in the beltway insurgency of “realists” against administration “neocons.”

Can we acknowledge that Woodward’s social function–whatever his own personal politics may be–is to “channel” internal rivalries within the Republican party? Woodward’s insurgents are Republicans, not Democrats.

It has ever been thus, since Watergate and the Nixon administration. Woodward books since 9/11–Bush at War and Plan of Attack–have chronicled the battles of Bush administration “realists” against Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the Neoconservatives.

So, too, it seems with State of Denial. The factionalism angle is played down by the official CBS line which emphasizes Bush administration “denial” regarding the level of insurgent activity in Iraq.

But those reporters who skipped the press release and grabbed a retail copy (did on-line book retailers blow Viacom’s embargo on the sale of the book before its official release?) suggest that Woodward has once again delivered up a chronicle of beltway insurgency.

From the New York Times:

The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms…

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as… so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls…

The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that “Rumsfeld doesn’t have any credibility anymore”…

Robert D. Blackwill, then the top Iraq adviser on the National Security Council, is said to have issued his warning about the need for more troops… [T]he White House did nothing in response…

Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff…made a concerted effort to oust Mr. Rumsfeld at the end of 2005, according to the book…

Two members of Mr. Bush’s inner circle, Mr. Powell and the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, are described as ambivalent about the decision to invade Iraq.

De-Baathification in Washigton?

A lot of the factionalism described in Woodward’s new book is old news. And it appears that Woodward may, in some respects, have chronicled the “last throes” of the beltway insurgency. Powell is long gone. So is Tenet. So is Blackwill. Card, too.

Lower level insurgents–like Paul R. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005–have also left the administration, although they have hardly been disarmed or neutralized.

Insurgent Infiltration of the Government

Much to the chagrin of Right Zionists, however, there beltway insurgency has not yet been completely purged from the administration itself.

Zalmay Khalilzad runs the show on the ground in Iraq and he–along with the military commanders–draw regularly from the Right Arabist playbook, tilting toward a new political and military accords with Sunni Arab forces and ex-Baathists.

Traditional State Department Right Arabists like Robert Zoellick, Nicholas Burns (number 2 and 3 at State, respectively) and David Welch at Near Eastern Affairs still give Right Zionist Elliott Abrams at NSC a run for his money in Middle East diplomacy relating to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Within the National Security Council, Abrams may have the Israel portfolio, but not Iraq. That honor goes to Meghan L. O’Sullivan, deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan–and, according to the New York Times, the most senior official working on Iraq full time at the White House.

Meghan O’Sullivan is no Right Zionist. She is, rather, a protégé of Richard Haass, the Right Arabist head of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Lawrence Kaplan, in a profile of Haass in the March 26, 2001 issue of The New Republic reported:

“[I]n recent weeks [Haass has] been peddling to administration officials recommendations gleaned from a policy paper titled, aptly enough, “Iraq: Time for a Modified Approach.” Written last month by Meghan O’Sullivan, who worked for Haass at the Brookings Institution, the brief for softening the sanctions regime neatly anticipates almost every utterance Powell has made recently about Iraq–from his insistence that loosening the embargo will dispel Arab anger to the old canard that “there is linkage to the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Bush, of course, inherited Haass from his father’s Middle East team. And, with him, he’s inheriting its worst inclinations.”

Similarly, AEI’s Michael Rubin has nothing nice to say about O’Sullivan. In a December 2005 National Review article, he described clashes she had with Right Zionist ally, Ahmed Chalabi:

“Chalabi agitated for direct elections and restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. He clashed with Meghan O’Sullivan, now deputy national security adviser for Iraq, when she worked to undermine and eventually reverse de-Baathification.”

Also, Michael Rubin in a February 2005 “Jerusalem Issue Brief” reports on O’Sullivan and Iran policy:

“New National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley’s decision to remove Richard Haass protégé Meghan O’Sullivan from the Iran portfolio (she retains her position as senior director for Iraq at the National Security Council) also bodes well for a more activist policy, especially as the new National Security team again reviews Washington’s policy – or lack thereof – toward Tehran. O’Sullivan had long been both dismissive of Iranian dissidents and a proponent of engaging the Islamic Republic.”

Over at State, there is Condoleezza Rice. Whatever the tension between Rice and Rumsfeld during the first term, Rice’s move to “foggy bottom” has convinced some Right Zionists–like Richard Perle–that the Secretary of State has subsequently been captured by insurgents there.

Then there is John Negroponte, the Intelligence czar. When an insurgent Intelligence underling leaked passages from the NIE report suggesting that the war in Iraq was fueling terror, the White House worked hard to smack down the idea.

Here is how Bush responded to the charge that the war in Iraq has fueled terror:

Some people have, you know, guessed what’s in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it’s naive. I think it’s a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe.

Negroponte’s response, courtesy of a Washington Post article entitled, “Iraq Just One Factor, Negroponte Says“:

“The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives”…

Finally, somewhere in all this lurks the figure of a “Right Arabist” Godfather, James A. Baker, III and his Iraq Study Group. Baker’s group is officially independent of the administration, but the White House went out of its way to formally “welcome” the formation of the group.

Among Right Arabists who contintue to “infiltrate” the administration, the well-timed leak remains the preferred IED.

Which Side Are You On?

Right Zionists know when they are getting hit. They are sitting ducks. And they don’t really have any way of protecting themselves.

Hence the complaint of Michael Rubin at the National Review blog “The Corner.”

[T]he real problem is within the intelligence community. Selective CIA leaks are the equivalent of intelligence officials running information operations on the American public. John Negroponte and Pat Kennedy, how long are you going to allow these leaks to continue? Do you really think it healthy in a democracy for the CIA and DIA to stray from intelligence collection and analysis into politics? How many investigations have you launched? How many have concluded?

Intelligence officials–along with military officers, diplomats, etc.–are running “operations,” but the target is not only the American public, but the administration itself.

Bush himself said as much, suggesting that the recent NIE leak was “politically motivated.”

Right. But the politics are intra-mural, within the Republican party.

Are the Beltway Insurgents willing to go so far as to directly support Democratic party efforts to win control of Congress? In some instances, Yes.

In other instances, the insurgents probably hope to use election-cycle leverage to press the administration to change its policies in order to appease the insurgency.

In 2004, some Right Arabists–including those closest to Bush Sr.–retreated from a direct confrontation with the administration if it meant handing victory to the Democrats (not altogether surprising if they fear that foreign policy under the Democrats would be at least as Zionist as it has been under Bush).

This was surely the case with Brent Scowcroft whose retreat was quite public.

In an October 14, 2006 interview with the Financial Times, Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his allies, Right Zionist influence might diminish in a second term, once free from domestic (read, pro-Zionist) electoral considerations:

“There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons…,” he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

“This is a man who’s really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind,” he said. “I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first.”

The implicit swipe at the power of the “Israel Lobby,” notwithstanding, the interview was surely signaled that Scowcroft a company would rather battle Zionists within a Republican administration than within a Democratic one.

Will Right Arabists begin to pull their punches as the mid-term elections approach?

Scowcroft waited until October 14. We still have a few weeks to go.

Or maybe this time, the Right Arabists are prepared to pull the trigger.

Rubaie Coup

Posted by Cutler on September 28, 2006
China, Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “security news” from Iraq continues to be very, very grim. According to a recent–if generic–AP report:

The bodies of 40 men who were shot and had their hands and feet bound have been found in the capital over the past 24 hours, police said Thursday.

All the victims showed signs of torture, police Lt. Thayer Mahmoud said. They were dumped in several neighborhoods in both eastern and western Baghdad, he said….

The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell… said murders and executions are currently the No. 1 cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad.

I continue to be amazed, however, that these stories run–day after day–without any real attempt to put them in a political context.

There is some talk that this violence is not actually “political” or even “sectarian” but simply the work of rogue gangs who thrive on kidnapping and murder amidst the chaotic lawlessness of a city and country that the US refuses to govern.

I’ve got no basis for understanding much about criiminal gang activity, but why all the torture? Surplus brutality for its own sake? Simple sadism, notwithstanding, I tend to think of torture as linked to threats and demands. Are there criminal bandits making demands for ransom? If so, I’ve never seen a single report about such demands.

If the violence is “political” or “sectarian”–the work of politicized death squads–then where is the attempt to situate the deaths on a political axis. Who were the victims? Shiites? Sunnis?

It almost feels like the daily drumbeat of news of “random” violence is accompanied by a news blackout on context. Such reporting only adds to the notion that someone–anyone–should put an end to this anarchy and madness.

Speaking of a Coup

The classic formula for ending “anarchy and madness” is a military coup. I cannot help thinking that the US continues to threaten a coup in Iraq.

The latest nod in that direction comes from a September 28, 2006 New York Times article, “Military Officials Add to U.S. Criticism of Iraq’s Government,” in which unnamed senior U.S. military officials slam the Maliki government on a variety of charges:

Referring to the problem of militias, he added, “There is going to come a time when I would argue we are going to have to force this issue.”

The official said political parties who were plundering ministries were squandering chances to make progress that could reduce sectarian violence.

“I can tell you in every single ministry how they are using that ministry to fill the coffers of the political parties,” the official said. “They are doing that because that is exactly what Saddam Hussein did”…

In recent weeks American and Iraqi officials have privately voiced concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki might not have the will or the political dexterity to bring the country together and avoid a full-scale civil war. Mr. Maliki, they say, is hamstrung and beholden to rival political parties with their own large militias.

Comments offered by senior United States military officials in the last few days have been even more pointed and take in not only the Maliki administration but also the whole of the Iraqi government bureaucracy. The senior military officials agreed to speak only without being identified, because of the delicate nature of the issue.

So, who will “bring the country together” if Maliki cannot do it?

I have no idea. But I do note that there is one Iraqi official who the Times quotes along with the US military officials: Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

A Newsweek profile from December 2004 referred to Rubaie as “Mr. Cellophane” because he is everywhere in the “New” Iraq, but remains largely invisible.

Amidst several political changes–from the US-appointed government of Iyad Allawi to the elected Maliki government, Rubaie has served as “National Security” advisor without interruption.

The Times quotes Rubaie on the current government:

“The situation is really serious,” Mr. Rubaie said. “There is no cohesion in the government to help him. There are so many circles he needs to take into consideration when he wants to make a decision. There is a lack of will to stop the violence among the politicians.”

Maybe Rubaie could… “help.” (Some are already predicting he will…)

The meaning of a Rubaie coup would depend on what he does and his base of support (aside from the US).

The Newsweek profile claimed that Rubaie is close to Sistani. And back in 2004 it was Rubaie who pressed for various “deals” with Sadr during his uprisings–only to have his deals undermined by Iyad Allawi. Rubaie is from the Shiite Dawa party–the same as Prime Minister Maliki.
It is, therefore, hardly clear that a Rubaie coup would make sense: he would hardly represent a radical break with Shiite rule.

Unless he was prepared to rely on a very different constituency for his support in a coup. If so, his Shiite credentials would tend to add an aura of “legitimacy” to what would, in effect, be an anti-Shiite coup.

I have no basis for thinking that Rubaie would make such a break.

I do note, however, that in Washington factional politics, Right Zionists seem surprisingly critical of Rubaie.

In a May 2004 article, Michael Rubin of AEI went out of his way to criticize Rubaie–although the charges against him were rather vague and confused:

On April 10, Bremer appointed Mowaffaq al-Rubaie to be Iraq’s National Security Advisor. Iraqis were flabbergasted. Rubaie was the butt of Iraqi jokes. Several different Iraqis say he charged Iraqi businessmen for introductions to CPA officials and access to the Green Zone. Iraqis ridiculed his lack of Iraqi support and his frequent appearances on television. “Mowaffaq’s constituency is CNN, BBC, and [the Arabic satellite network] al-Jazeera,” one Najaf businessman joked…

While State Department officials insisted that Rubaie was an important aide to Grand Ayatollah ‘Ali Sistani (Powell even dined with Rubaie during his September 2003 visit to Baghdad), Iraqis called Rubaie a fraud…

[M]any Iraqis remember… Rubaie’s time as spokesman for the Iranian-backed Islamist al-Da’wa party. Al-Dawa is suspected the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait.

Rubin charges Rubaie with being too close to Iran–a charge that would presumably apply to every other Dawa leader, including Prime Minister Maliki. This hardly makes him the obvious choice to lead an anti-Shiite coup.

But the real issue–for Rubin–would likely be the “dinner” with Colin Powell and his support from within the State Department.

This would make Rubaie a likely candidate to lead an anti-Shiite coup.

Right Zionists Ready to Move On?

There are news reports that Iraqi oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, will travel to China to discuss going forward with oil development contracts awarded under Saddam Hussein.

[Oil ministry spokesman] Asim Jihad told Reuters… “The minister will discuss with Chinese companies fulfilling previous contracts signed with the former regime.”

Iraqi oil officials have previously said they believe China will agree to develop the 90,000-barrel per day (bpd) Ahdab field in south central Iraq as the first project since the war.

The field, with an estimated development cost of $700 million, was awarded to China National Petroleum Corp and Chinese state arms manufacturer Norinco by Saddam.

The deal, like others signed by Saddam, was effectively frozen by international sanctions and then Saddam’s overthrow.

It is too early to get any reaction from Right Zionists. But this much is clear: Right Zionists like Richard Perle were quite clear, on the eve of the US invasion, that the collapse of the sanctions regime in the late 1990s forced the US to act: crumbling sanctions would mean that US rivals and competitors would get access to the oil.

For Right Zionists, China is a rival, not an ally.

If a Shiite Iraqi oil deal with China is not enough to tip the Right Zionists toward support for an anti-Shiite coup, I do not know what would.

Maybe a strategic reconciliation with Saudi Arabia on the basis of mutual animosity toward Iran?

Forget the Democrats

Posted by Cutler on September 27, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists / 5 Comments

As mid-term elections approach, it is reasonable to expect political partisans to try to make Iraq and terror into issues that divide Democrats and Republicans.

William Kristol is certainly correct to point out that Clinton’s red meat slap at Fox and the “right-wingers” behind ABC’s “The Path to 9/11” was a calculated piece of political theater. And Kristol is candid enough to acknowledge the flip side:

Republican efforts (engineered by the dastardly Karl Rove) to paint Democrats as unreliable in the war on terror… Bush and Rove have had a few good weeks on this issue.

The crux of Rove’s strategy is to transform all discussions of Iraq into discussions of terror. And Democrats will surely be tempted to try to claim this turf for themselves by suggesting that Iraq is now about terror because of Bush’s misguided war (good luck with that!).

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal seems to rejoice in all this.

When the New York Times published elements of a classified National Intelligence Estimate report suggesting that the war in Iraq had fueled terrorist activity, the Journal essentially begged for more. They published an editorial entitled, “Declassify the Terrorism NIE” (subscription only):

So here’s our suggestion for President Bush: Declassify the entire NIE…

As for the substance of the 2006 NIE’s alleged claims, does anyone doubt that many jihadis are rallying against the American presence in Iraq? The newspapers tell us that much every day. Whether the war in Iraq has produced more terrorist hatred than would otherwise exist, however, is a matter of opinion and strategic judgment.

The White House promptly adopted this strategy. More recently, in an editorial entitled “The Decision to Declassify,” the Journal‘s editorial page focuses on the response from Democrats:

The one policymaker who appears to have been swept away on the basis of the leak is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. After Mr. Bush made his announcement, Ms. Pelosi called for the House to go into a “closed” session — the first since 1983 — to discuss the NIE. We’ll set aside the manifest absurdity of the House going into “secret session” to discuss a classified document being made public. The point of Ms. Pelosi’s stunt is to gain traction for the Democratic campaign strategy of telescoping the national-security debate down to her party’s proposal to withdraw from Iraq, thereby neutralizing the GOP’s advantage when the debate is on the broader war on terror

We will hold an election in this country in six weeks and a bigger one in 2008. The war on terror — with or without Iraq — will be central to those votes. If declassifying this national intelligence estimate helps voters in that decision, so much the better.

Hmmm. Hardly shaking in their boots.

The weakness in the Pelosi’s position is not her “proposal” to withdraw from Iraq. The key problem there is that the rest of the Democratic Party refuses to embrace a populist anti-war position.

Instead, the weakness in Pelosi’s position is the effort to try to link Iraq and terror–to use Iraq to say that the war on terror is more serious than the administration acknowledges.

I believe that is what is called an own goal. “So much the better,” as the Journal says.

An “Establishment” Insurgency

On the war in Iraq, the Bush administration does actually face a political insurgency on the home front.

The base of that insurgency, however, arises from within the [Right Arabist] Foreign Policy Estabisment itself–the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass.

This, at least, is the common complaint among Right Zionists.  In a May 3, 2004 article at the National Review Online Michael Rubin of AEI lamented:

The State Department, CENTCOM, and CIA [argue] that only a strongman or benign autocrat can govern Iraq…

Who leaked the NIE to the New York Times? Was it a partisan democrat loyal to Pelosi? Not a chance.

Forget the Democrats.

All the likely suspects come from within the “Republican Establishment.”

The “Establishment” war against the Right Zionists began with the earliest factional fights over Afghanistan and Iraq. The insurgency has been relentless and it has all been “friendly fire” from within a divided Republican administration.

Who argued against toppling Saddam before the war, while most Democrats were preparing to vote for the war? Brent Scowcroft. No Democrat, he.

Who leaked Major General Antonio M. Taguba’s fifty-three-page report on Abu Ghraib to Seymour Hersh at The New Yorker?

Who published Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror? (Answer: Michael Scheuer, CIA.)

Who published Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror? (Answer: Richard Clarke, NSC).

Who has repeatedly slammed the administration for “De-Baathifying” and “Disbanding the army” in Iraq? Retired General Anthony Zinni.

Who went public with charges against a Neocon “cabal” within the Bush administration? Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Who continually calls for the head of Donald Rumsfeld? The military brass, most recently a group of retired officers including Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste.

Are these folks in a marriage of convenience with Democrats? Yes.

Are they anti-war pacifists or isolationists? Hell no.

The point was made by Dana Milbank in his Washington Post column, “For Democrats, Welcome Words on Rumsfeld–If Not the War.”

“Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader,” said Batiste, wearing a pinstripe suit, calling himself a “lifelong Republican” and bearing a slight resemblance to Oliver North…

“Our world is much less safe today than it was on September 11,” Batiste said, echoing the administration’s newly leaked intelligence estimate.

Batiste, who retired in protest rather than accept a three-star promotion, was a persuasive witness — and Democrats were joyous…

But Democrats, while celebrating Batiste’s criticism of the administration, exercised some selective listening at the hearing when Batiste and his colleagues offered their solution: more troops, more money and more time in Iraq.

The “real” domestic insurgency is led by Right Arabists who lost control of the ship of state after 9/11. For better or worse, the “real” domestic insurgency is not led by Democrats. It is led by Republicans.

Specifically, Right Arabists.

Right Arabist Republicans like George H.W. Bush.

Iraqi Partition: A Test of Iranian Influence?

Posted by Cutler on September 25, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Iraqi political elites have been wrangling over the issue of “regional autonomy” since early September when SCIRI introduced its push for the recognition of an autonomous southern Shiite region.

If the SCIRI move is viewed as part of an Iranian bid for power, then the battle lines that have formed over this issue may say something about the future of Iranian influence in Iraq.

An Iranian Push for Iraqi Shiite Autonomy?

Is Hakim acting as an agent of Iranian influence in this instance? I have no independent basis, at this time, for evaluating the “accusation.”

I do note, however, that Stratfor‘s September 6, 2006 report–“Iraq: Tehran’s Shiite Autonomy Solution” (subscription required)–does not hesistate to level the charge:

Combining existing provinces into federal zones would allow Tehran and its Shiite allies in Iraq to wield greater power over the Iraqi state by creating an additional layer of government…

SCIRI — led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who also heads the UIA — is the most powerful and pro-Iranian component of the UIA…

By rearranging the provinces into autonomous federal zones along the lines of Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, the pro-Iranian Shia have found a way to consolidate their gains over power and the oil resources in the south. The Iraqi Shia and their Iranian patrons are trying to make regional autonomy the rule rather than an exception limited to the Kurds.

Iraq: America’s Gift to Iran? (Beats a Cake and a Bible)

Ever since the US “helped” Iraqi Shiites win political control of Iraq (formally, at least), critics have been accusing the Bush administration of essentially turning Iraq over to Iran.

The charge of aiding Iran is one of the chief arguments behind the notion of Bush administration “incompetence.” After all, the Bush administration is clearly hawkish on Iran. So the enhancement of Iranian influence would have to be an unintended consequence of foolish “democratization” dreams.

Right Zionists were ready with a response: Iraqi Shiites are no friends of the Iranian regime. Michael Ledeen, for example, predicted in the New York Sun at the start of the war:

If we understand this war correctly, the Iraqi Shi’ites will fight alongside us against the Iranian terrorists, for the Iraqis want freedom, and they know they will not get any from the mullahs in Tehran.

I have previously written about the Right Zionist idea of a so-called Najaf-Qom rivalry (especially here). The notion prompted Swopa at Needlenose to comment on Cutler’s Blog:

I’ve been reading about (and generally sneering at) this Qom-Najaf stuff since the fall of 2003. I’ve seen very little evidence of it being true.Sistani and the Iranians may have their differences, but they’ll work them out after the Shiite parties have cemented their control over Iraq, not before.

Given what he has said elsewhere about the vacuity of Iraqi sovereignty, I doubt that Swopa would say that the “Shiite parties” have now “cemented their control over Iraq.”

Nevertheless, with the current impasse over the issue of “partition,” we may now be at a moment when Sistani and the Iranians may have to settle their differences, one way or the other.

Needless to say, the Sunni political establishment is extremely hostile to any partition schemes. But, as the Washington Post and other media outlets have been reporting, several key Shiite forces have joined Sunni politicians in opposing an autonomous southern Shiite (let alone a Kurdish region in the north, based in Kirkuk).

Sadr is opposed. And, according to a Gulf News report, both the Shiite Fadhila/Virtue party and the Karbala-based forces of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani are also opposed. None of this is shocking: each of these groups include militias that have clashed with SCIRI’s “Badr Brigades” militia.

So, in some respects, the key “swing” factor may turn out to be Sistani.

Where is Sistani?

The big, recent headline is that Sistani has essentially “retired.” We’ll see. I have my doubts.

The key partisans in the debate over partition certainly still seem to think Sistani matters.

The Kurds–who favor autonomy for Shiites as a way of enhancing their own autonomy leverage–were quick to suggest that Sistani supports partition. According to a Kurdish press report,

A representative of the revered Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah al-Sistani has told Muslims attending Friday prayers in the southern city of Nasiriya that the Islamic faith sanctions federalism, and that it is the correct system of government for Iraq.

“Federalism is a form of governance that has had a place in the history of Islam and which it allows,” said Mohammed Baqir al-Nasiri.

But the Sunni opposition also claimed to have Sistani on its side. According to a September 13, 2006 report in the Washington Post,

[Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mahmoud] Mashhadani said Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, had ordered Shiite politicians to back off from the plan in order to prevent bitter infighting.

So, which is it?

Maybe it is too soon to say. The most recent news–a Washington Post article entitled, “Iraqi Parties Reach Deal Postponing Federalism“–is that the legislature may vote later this week on a resolution, but even an affirmative vote would essentially delay any actual autonomy moves until 2008.

Maybe this goes to Swopa’s point that any differences between Sistani and Iran will be settled later.

It may be worth noting, however, that Sistani’s key ally in the government–Hussein al-Shahristani, the Oil Minister–has been pushing back against autonomy moves.

Most recently, he questioned the validity at Kurdish oil deals. According to the Financial Times,

Hussein al-Shahristani, the oil minister, was quoted by the state-run al-Sabaah newspaper as saying: “The ministry isn’t committed to oil investment contracts signed in the past . . . by officials of the government of the Kurdistan region which were announced as contracts for investment and the development of oil fields”…

The latest dispute comes as Iraq’s parliamentarians on Sunday agreed to begin debate on the issue of federalism, but said they would delay the creation of any new autonomous areas for at least 18 months.

Can Shahristani’s move against the Kurds be taken as indicative of Sistani’s view of partition, more generally?

Is the delay of Hakim’s autonomy move a sign that Iraqi Shiites–along with Sunnis–will, in fact, resist Iranian influence in Iraq?

How will Hakim and Iran respond to the failure of the autonomy push?

Right Arabists: A Hawkish Turn on Iran

Posted by Cutler on September 22, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / No Comments

This may seem like a strange time to predict that Right Arabists have taken a “hawkish” turn on Iran.

After all, was it not two days ago (Wednesday, September 20, 2006) that the Right Arabist establishment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) gathered–amidst howls of protest from Jewish and Zionist quarters–to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Where is the “hawkish” turn? The downgrading of the meeting from a “dinner” to ” light hors d’oeuvres on the side”? [The New York Times carefully reported of the hors d’oevres, “Mr. Ahmadinejad never touched them.”]

The invitation, notwithstanding, Ahmadinejad himself seems to have noted a somewhat surprisingly hawkish turn at the meeting. The Times quotes his concluding remarks to the CFR:

“At the beginning of the session, you said you were an independent group,’’ he said. “But almost everything that I was asked came from a government position.’’

Evidence of a “hawkish” turn among Right Arabists comes, not from the CFR meeting but from the recent pronouncements of Ray Takeyh, the CFR’s Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies.

By way of introduction, one might note that back in September 2003 Takeyh penned (with Nikolas Gvosdev) one of the most candid Right Arabist manifestos published on Iraqi politics, “Benign Autocracy is Answer for Iraq.”

The best that the United States can hope for is to encourage the rise of liberal autocracies that… while still maintaining close ties with the United States…

Instead of quixotic democratic schemes, Washington should create a strong central government in Baghdad, one that is responsive to its citizens but also capable of regulating local rivalries and is insulated from popular pressure.

The United States should select an efficient new leadership capable of initiating market and other reforms while also managing popular discontent with American policies…

Saddamism without Saddam, one might say.

While Takeyh may be more candid than some, his concerns are the standard concerns of Right Arabists.

Consider, for example, a September 18, 2006 Newsday essay–“New Sectarian Threats Rip Middle East“–published by Takeyh with his CFR colleague Charles A. Kupchan.

The strategic landscape of the Middle East is changing yet again as the emergence of a “Shia Crescent” running from Tehran to Beirut awakens a new sectarian divide. This earthquake began with America’s invasion of Iraq, a move that installed a Shia regime in Baghdad…

The intensifying rivalry between Shia and Sunnis promises to make an already volatile Middle East even more unstable. A new sectarian divide could sow domestic strife throughout the region, including in some of America’s key allies. Although predominantly Sunni, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has a large and restive Shia population in its eastern province. Bahrain, host to America’s Fifth Fleet, and Kuwait, a bastion of pro-American conservatism, both have sizable Shia populations.

As I suggested in my essay “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” such Right Arabist fears are longstanding.

It was precisely these concerns about “the emergence of a ‘Shia Crescent’ running from Tehran to Beirut” that led Right Arabist in the Reagan administration to “tilt toward” Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Likewise, it was the 1991 Shiite (and Kurdish) uprising against Saddam that led Right Arabists in the first Bush administration to prop up the Iraqi regime after expelling Saddam from Kuwait.

For Right Arabists like Takeyh, the catastrophic decision of the current Bush administration to push for “democracy” in Iraq has empowered Iran, just as Right Arabists long predicted.

In September 19, 2006 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Takeyh elaborated the point.

On September 12, a momentous event took place in Tehran. Iraq’s new premier, Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran eager to mend ties with the Islamic Republic. The atmospherics of the trip reflected the changed relationship, as Iranian and Iraqi officials easily intermingled, signing various cooperative and trade agreements and pledging a new dawn in their relations. It must seem as cold comfort to the hawkish Bush administration with its well-honed antagonism toward the Islamic Republic that it was its own conduct that finally alleviated one of Iran’s most pressing strategic quandaries. In essence, the American invasion of Iraq has made the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue even more difficult…

The ascendance of the Shiites maybe acceptable to the Bush administration with its democratic imperatives, but the Sunni monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the presidential dictatorships of Egypt and Syria are extremely anxious about the emergence of a new “arch of Shiism.” At a time when the leading pan-Arab newspapers routinely decry the invasion of Iraq as an U.S.-Iranian plot to undermine the cohesion of the Sunni bloc, the prospects of an elected Shiite government in Iraq being warmly embraced by the Arab world seems remote.

A Search for Common Ground with Iran

Nevertheless, Takeyh’s fears have, until now, been tinged with hope for finding common ground with Iran.

In January 2006, for example, Takeyh argued that Iran had reason to share his commitment to a strong, centralized government in Iraq. In an International Herald Tribune Op-Ed published with Charles A. Kupchan, Takeyh argued,

The United States and Iran have many common interests in Iraq, providing a unique opportunity for Tehran and Washington to edge toward normalization. Tehran, like Washington, is keenly interested in avoiding a civil war and sustaining Iraq as a unitary state. Iranian elites support a democratic Iraq, fully aware that consensual arrangements for power-sharing among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are vital to Iraq’s survival…

Iran’s seminaries, clerics, politicians and businessmen hold powerful sway over elites in Baghdad as well as local leaders. Tehran’s interest in preventing the fragmentation of Iraq gives it reason to encourage all Shiite parties, including the independent militias, to work with the central government and resist secessionist temptations.

Those hopes appear to have been dashed by the recent Shiite push for regional autonomy in Iraq. On September 11, 2006 the International Herald Tribune reported,

Over the weekend, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is close to Iranian leaders, renewed his call for a massive eight-province southern autonomous region, stretching from Kut to Basra, that would include much of the country’s Shiite population and oil wealth. Such a step, he suggested, is necessary to protect Shiites against a return to despotism.

As Takeyh conceded in a September 14, 2006 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered

Iraq is not going to have a strong central government. Iraqi constitution itself recognizes that Iraq will have strong provisional governments and a weak central government. In the future in ideal terms… contending federal enclaves would come together in the central government… But the future of Iraq as envisioned by the constitution and as developments on the ground are moving is likely to be a state with strong provinces and a weak central government.

Containment, Not Regime Change

Notwithstanding his alarm at the growing power of Iran and his disappointment regarding Iranian influence in Iran, it is important to note the ways in which Takeyh’s posture toward Iran–however hawkish it may now become–remains fundamentally different from that of Right Zionists and Neoconservative Unipolarists.

As I have argued in several previous posts (here, here, here, and here, for starters), Right Zionists are hawkish toward the incumbent regime–what they call “official Iran.” But in the long run, Right Zionists are not at all “anti-Iranian.” Indeed, they dream of restoring US and Israeli alliances with a strong, post-revolutionary regime, grounded in what they call “eternal Iran.”

For Right Zionists, regime change is the essential–if missing–ingredient US policy toward Iraq.

Not so Right Arabists like Takeyh.

Back in the 1970s, Right Arabists criticized US reliance on the Shah to police the Persian Gulf because they feared that the US-Iranian alliance under Nixon and Kissinger was an attempt to tilt the balance of power away from the US-Saudi alliance.

The last thing Right Arabists want to see is a restoration of a powerful US-Iranian alliance.

Takeyh said as much in his recent Senate testimony where he rejected reconciliation, proposing instead a “model of engagement” for containing Iranian regional power.

In essence, this model of engagement does not seek reconciliation between the two antagonists

The proposed engagement strategy appreciates Iran’s resurgence and seeks to create a framework for limiting the expressions of its power. The purpose of engagement is not to resolve all outstanding issues or usher in an alliance with the Islamic Republic…

As such engagement becomes a subtle and a more effective means of containment.

Indeed, in his Newsday essay, Takeyh insisted,

[T]he Bush administration’s top priority must be containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran: Unipolarists vs. Right Zionists

Posted by Cutler on September 20, 2006
Iran, Right Zionists, Unipolarists / 1 Comment

What’s the matter with Iran?

Let me rephrase that: What, exactly, is the Bush administration’s problem with Iran? What are the administration’s grievances and what are the likely remedies?

As usual, the answers may depend on a prior question: who is running this show?

I’m far from convinced that the so-called “neoconservatives” are steering the ship of state. But let’s map their grievances and remedies, just in case.

Norman Podhoretz recently noted,

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

Where Iran is concerned, those neoconservatives who oppose military action, and detect no possibility of even relatively free elections there, have instead placed their hopes in an internal insurrection that would topple the mullocracy and replace it with a democratic regime. They also keep insisting that the failure of this long-predicted insurrection to materialize is largely the fault of the Bush administration, whose own failure to do everything in its power to help the democratic opposition is in their eyes a blatant betrayal of the Bush Doctrine.

On this account, Richard Perle, one of the most influential of the neoconservatives, is furious with the president (in whose administration he formerly served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board). “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)” reads the headline of a piece he recently published in the Washington Post. Here Mr. Perle charges that Mr. Bush has “chosen to beat . . . an ignominious retreat” by yielding to the State Department’s wish “to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.” In thereby betraying the promises of his own doctrine, Mr. Perle adds, the president has crushed the hopes that his “soaring speeches” had once aroused in the young democratic dissidents of Iran.

Am I the only one who thinks Podhoretz is distancing himself from the “internal insurrection” camp? Something about how they “keep insisting” on the same thing they have “long-predicted,” notwithstanding its “failure” to materialize. Wouldn’t Podhoretz find less dismissive ways of writing this sentence if he thought an internal insurrection was likely?

Later in his essay, Podhoretz returns to the issue of Iran in order to respond to Perle’s charge that Bush is now appeasing the regime through diplomacy, but he never responds to the charge that an internal insurrection might be in the offing if only the Bush administration would embrace Iranian dissidents.

Podhoretz and his son-in-law, White House NSC staffer Elliott Abrams, are likely on the same page in this regard.

Note, for example, the public disappointment expressed by the “democratic dissidents” who recently attended a White House confab on Iran, co-hosted by Abrams and the State Department’s Nicholas Burns.

There was virtually no discussion of… US plans to give millions of dollars to Iranian pro-democracy activists. Instead the agenda was dominated by Iran’s nuclear programme, and the US diplomatic approach at the United Nations to stop it. “They are obsessed with the nuclear issue,” commented one Iranian.

Either Abrams was biting very hard on his tongue during this meeting–subordinating himself to Burns without a public fight–or Abrams and Burns agree that the regime change/popular insurrection idea is dead.

Regarding the confrontation over Iranian nukes, Podhoretz denies that Bush has blinked.

To me (pace Richard Perle), it has seemed more likely that he has once again been walking the last diplomatic mile… The purpose… is… to show that the only alternative… is military action.

Robert Kagan–a neoconservative who has not given up on Mr. Bush–puts this well in describing the negotiations as “giving futility its chance.”… [O]nce having played out the diplomatic string, Mr. Bush will be in a strong political position to say, along with Senator John McCain, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb–and not just to endorse that assessment but to act on it.

Needless to say, a ritualized walk down the diplomatic path will not necessarily put the Bush administration in a “strong political position” internationally. It did not do so in the case of Iraq. And, if Chirac has anything to say about it, the same will hold true in the case of Iran.

The emphasis on nukes, rather than internal insurrection, may be the most instructive element here.

The neoconservative split over Iran hinges on divergent priorities with the so-called “neoconservative” movement.


There is a neoconservative camp–call them “Unipolarists” after Charles Krauthammer’s famous 1990 Foreign Affairs essay, “The Unipolar Moment“–for whom battles with countries like Iraq and Iran are most important for the way in which they project American power around the world. As such, the real targets are not only the oil-rich states and Arab street. Unipolarists also favor massive demonstrations of American power and resolve as a shot across the bow of potential “Great Power” rivals including France, Russia, and especially China.

Unipolarists include Krauthammer, but also William Kristol. Indeed, the unipolarist vision was a primary inspiration for Kristol’s “Project for A New American Century.”

It must also be said–although it is not said often enough–that the patron saint of unipolarists is Senator John McCain, as much as it is George W. Bush. Back in 2003, the Washington Post called Kristol a “champion of John McCain during the 2000 primaries.”

Both Kristol and McCain have, at various times, criticized Rumsfeld for favoring “military transformation” (and force protection?) over “boots on the ground.” Boots on the ground are presumably essential for a “New American Century.”

For Unipolarists, military action in Iran is urgent–even if highly risky–because the US cannot possibly afford to back down from any challenge if it has any chance of beating back Great Power antagonists. Chinese and Russian engagement with Iran actually precludes the possibility of a US compromise with the Iranian regime. Even if Unipolarists might have wanted to find a way of engaging Iran at some point during the 1990s, Chinese and Russian efforts to curry favor with the Iranian regime represent an implicit challenge to US power so long as US policy was, for better or worse, isolation of the regime.

Right Zionists

The “neo-conservatives” I identify as Right Zionists have a somewhat different profile than the Unipolarists. As I explained in my profile of Right Zionists, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” this faction of the neo-conservative movement is primarily focused on the strategic position of Israel within the Middle East.

Needless to say, most Unipolarists are also Zionists. But there is a difference in emphasis between the two camps and this difference helps explain the split regarding Iran.

At the heart of Right Zionist interest in Iran is the so-called “Doctrine of the Periphery” whereby Israel seeks to build regional alliances by promoting and exploiting divisions between hegemonic Sunni Arab nationalist rulers and various peripheral populations–Persians, Turks, Kurds, etc. who might be willing to collude with Israel against a common enemy.

Iran under the Shah figured prominently in this scenario and the fall of the Shah represented a crisis for the Doctrine of the Periphery. Israel lost an ally in the Shah, but whatever the tensions between “official Iran” of the Shiite revolution and Israel, Right Zionists have never renounced the hope of restoring an alliance with “eternal Iran.”

For Right Zionists, the possibility of Arab-Persian rivalry for control of the Gulf makes Iran and indispensible ally.

A populist insurrection in Iran offers the prospect–for Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen at AEI–of restoring a powerful (even nuclear) US- and Israel-aligned Iran to its proper place in the Gulf: as a rival to Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the Gulf.

The Neo-conservative Split on Iran

At present, Unipolarists have essentially accepted that Iran is an enemy of the US (and Israel) and seek to beat the regime into submission–either through the use of military force or threats of the use of military force.

Right Zionists, however, accept that Iran is currently an enemy of Israel. Unlike those who want to beat Iran and vanquish the enemy, Right Zionists need to win “eternal” Iran as an ally.

A weak, isolated Iran may be the endgame for Unipolarists–and Right Arabists.

Not so for Right Zionists.

As it happens, the key split in the Bush administration right now is probably between Unipolarists bent on military confrontation and Right Arabists committed to diplomatic containment of a relatively weak revolutionary regime.

For now, the Right Zionists–and their dreams of a populist, pro-“Western” insurrection–appear to be out of the running.

When Right Isolationists Became Right Arabists

Posted by Cutler on September 15, 2006
Isolationism / 2 Comments

Once upon a time, right-wing isolationists in the United States managed to be relatively even handed in their condemnation of American imperial entanglements.

Take, for example, an essay by the late Murray N. Rothbard, written in October 1990, entitled “Mr. Bush’s War.” Rothbard proclaims his central message:

U.S., stay the hell out of the Middle East!

His first target is US entanglement in Saudi Arabia, specifically George H.W. Bush’s “great tenderness and concern for the cartelist Saudis.”

U.S. out of Arabia!…

[T]he long-term “friendship” with the “pro-West” despots of the Saud family… has been concretized into Aramco (the Arabian-American Oil Co.), the Rockefeller company that has total control of Saudi Arabian oil – and long-time heavy influence, if not control, over U.S. foreign policy. After World War II, Aramco (owned 70 percent by Rockefeller companies – Exxon, Mobil, and Socal, and 30 percent by Texaco) produced all of Saudi oil…

During the 1970s, Aramco was “nationalized” by Saudi Arabia, a process completed in 1980. But the nationalization was phony, because the same Aramco consortium immediately obtained a contract as a management corporation to run the old, nationalized Aramco…

It all boils down to a happy case of the “partnership of industry and government” – happy, that is, for the Saud family and for the Rockefeller oil interests…

[The 1990 war with Iraq] is a war of the Rockefeller Empire against a brash interloper…

Must Americans fight and die, and American taxpayers be looted, so as to ensure further profits for the Rockefeller Empire? That is the choice that faces us all.

But Rothbard’s even handedness guaranteed that he would also target what he took to be another source of American entanglements in the Middle East.

[T]he influence of the powerful Zionist lobby. Saddam Hussein poses no threat whatever to the American consumer, or to U.S. national interests, but he does pose a threat, not only to Rockefeller profits, but also to the State of Israel. Note how the Zionists in the media and in Congress are leading the pack calling for war, and how they call, with relish, for “destroying Saddam and his military capacity.”

Rothbard criticized Arabists and Zionists who would entangle the US in the life of the Middle East:

Two of the most powerful influences on American foreign policy are the Rockefeller interests and the Zionist lobby. When those two groups join, look out! How can the average American and American interests ever prevail?

Let us set aside, for a moment, the provocative idea that these “two groups” might “join” together. I have written something about this in an essay entitled “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Some of Rothbard’s equal opportunity anti-imperialism has taken a hit on the road to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Today, the Zionist influence in Washington continue to be targeted by a whole range of critics. But there are signs that recent events took some out of the wind out the sails of anti-imperialist criticism of the US-Saudi alliance.

The chief reason for the isolationist “hush” about Saudi Arabia is almost certainly the vehemence of Zionist attacks on the US-Saudi alliance.

Symptomatic of this shift is the writing of Justin Raimondo (for a Right Zionist profile, see Stephen Schwartz, “Justin Raimondo: An American Neo-Fascist), a disciple of Murray Rothbard and the editoritorial director of

Back in February 2001, Raimondo was no friend of US entanglements in Saudi Arabia. In an article entitled, “What’s Up with the Saudis?“, Raimondo summed up his sense of the Bush administration:

The oil fields of Saudi Arabia have been defended by US troops as if they were they were the personal property of US policy makers – and, in an important sense, they are. This administration, famously dominated by Big Oil, makes no distinction between the corporate interest and the national interest, and will not give up the Arabian peninsula without a fight. But whom will they fight? Certainly not the Saudis…

[T]he real center of the action is in Riyadh, where the fate of the Middle East is being decided with virtually no press coverage…

In Iran, the government held Americans hostage for months while the world watched – and the Ayatollah brought down a US President. In Saudi Arabia, today, the same thing is happening, but we hear nary a peep out of our government or even a single journalist. Now, I ask you: what’s up with that?

Am I the only one who think of them as fightin’ words?

After 9/11–in an article entitled “A Saudi-9/11 Connection?“, Raimondo was even more tough on the US-Saudi alliance.

[I]f we want to trace the mysterious origins of the Ladenite movement, its sources of income and support, then the logical place to start is the land of Mecca and Medina, the seat of the House of Saud…

And here is the real kicker: check out his relatively flattering reference to Stephen Schwartz–the same guy who penned the Right Zionist attack on Raimondo cited above.

As Stephen Schwartz points out in his interesting but flawed essay on the religious roots of the Ladenite movement, the Saudis have the strongest ideological links to Al Qaeda. Both Bin Laden and the Saudi royal family, as adherents of the Wahabi sect, uphold the same fundamentalist vision that animates the Taliban. But there is, apparently, more than an ideological connection: while Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, assured Larry King the other day that Bin Laden was “the black sheep of the family,” a story came out the day after the 9/11 attack that Bin Laden was buddies with Turki al-Faycal, the Saudi spy chief fired in August by royal decree.

Why “interesting but flawed”? Presumably, “interesting”=anti-Saudi entanglements; “flawed”=insufficiently isolationist or anti-Zionist.

In any event the reference to Schwartz’s essay as “interesting” should not be taken to mean that Raimondo was somehow sympathetic to Right Zionists after 9/11. Indeed, he was quite certain that he was implicitly attacking Right Zionists in his challenge to the US-Saudi alliance.

It is interesting that [a] statement put out by 46 neoconservatives demanding that Bush expand the war to include Syria, Iran, and Iraq, as well as part of Lebanon, excludes the most likely suspect – the Saudis. No doubt they – who fulsomely support our military intervention in the region on behalf of the Saudi monarchy – would be greatly disturbed by the possibility of a Saudi connection to 9/11. For it would call into question the whole basis of our policy in the Middle East: indeed, it would deal that misguided and dangerous policy a body-blow from which it would never recover.

Up to this moment, Raimondo is the rightful heir to the Rothbard’s even-handed anti-imperialism.

What changed?

Anti-imperialists realized two things:

First, by January 2002 Raimondo and many others recognized that Right Zionists (including Stephen Schwartz!) were actually beating the drums for war with the Saudis. Surprise!

Neoconservative ideologues such as Daniel Pipes and Stephen Schwartz, see Wahabism as the totalitarian flavor of the new millennium, just as the varieties of socialism (Stalinism and Nazism) were the scourge of the twentieth century.

Second, it seemed like the Right Zionists were running the show.

Right Zionists were (correctly) viewed as leading advocates of the US invasion of Iraq and the Saudis and their allies in the US seemed quite opposed to the US effort to topple Saddam and terminate Sunni Arab rule.

Raimondo noted (in his January 2002 article “The War Against the Saudis“) that Right Arabists like Colin Powell were holding the line against the war.

While [the] State Department is struggling to undo the damage done by the anti-Saudi media and the Lieberman-Levine assault in Congress, a grand coalition of [pro-Israel Democrats] and [Right Zionists are] pushing for World War III in the Middle East.

This is the root of the “hush” regarding the old US-Saudi alliance.

One might even say that there has been a quite, tactical “marriage of convenience” between Right Arabists and anti-imperialist isolationists.

A keyword search on “Saudi Arabia” at indicates that the most recent opinion piece posted by Raimondo’s site was back in 2005 and it was an essay by Juan Cole entitled “What Michael Moore (and the neocons) don’t know about Saudi Arabia” in which Cole is hopeful that the US will utilize an opportunity “to solidify relations with this flawed but key ally.”

Cole, needless to say, is hardly an acolyte of Murray Rothbard. But the notion that Saudi Arabia is a “key” ally was–once upon a time–a favorite target of libertarian, anti-imperialist isolationists.

See, for example, a December 2002 Cato Institute essay by Doug Bandow–“Is Terrorism the Price of Saudi Oil?“–that tries to suggest that the US could do without “this unnatural international friendship.”

For all that, Bandow doesn’t join the Right Zionist demonization of Saudi Arabia. One has to care much more about Saudi Arabia than Bandow does to hate them as much as the Right Zionists. Bandow’s essay represents something like isolationist indifference.

Nor need Washington treat the Saudis as enemies. Rather, the U.S. simply should reorder its priorities, accepting a cooling of the relationship…

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the marriage of convenience between Right Arabists and anti-imperialist (and anti-war) isolationists rested on a kind of “tactical” logic insofar as Right Zionists were driving the ship of state. The basic tactic of triangulation–the enemy of my enemy is my friend–is based on the prioritization of some battles and the suborination of others.

With the ascendance of Right Zionist influence within the Bush administration, anti-imperialist isolationists might have reasoned that Right Arabist attacks on Right Zionists represented an indispensable element of a coalition movement.

When do movements become ensnared by the long-term habits formed in the embrace of short-term tactics?

Are Right Zionists still running the show in Washington? This is a complicated question to answer, given the fact that the contest for power between Right Zionists and Right Arabists continues unabated, especially on the central questions of Iraqi politics.

What would it take for anti-imperialist isolationists to renew the critique of the US-Saudi alliance?

If Right Arabists are calling the shots, would anti-imperialists switch gears, tactically? What would that look like?

The answer may have urgency.

When a leading Right Arabist like James Baker is in Iraq to talk to Sunni leaders (Washington Post, “Baker Meets Sunni Leaders in Iraq“), one might be forgiven for anticipating that a US-backed, pro-Saudi, pro-Baathist coup might be in Iraq’s future–rolling back the entire Right Zionist agenda for the political transformation of Iraq. The restoration of “Saddamism without Saddam.” Or, given the halting nature of his trial, maybe with Saddam.

To listen to them howl, it would seem that Right Zionists long ago decided that their agenda in Iraq had been eclipsed by a pro-Saudi, Right Arabist restoration in Washington.

Either way, Right Zionists are not the only imperialists in town.

Murray Rothbard seemed pretty clear about that. But Murray Rothbard is dead.

Everybody Hates Sadr

Posted by Cutler on September 14, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

Moqtada al-Sadr plays an unusual role on the chess board of US factional politics in Iraq.

As a radical Shiite–one who allegedly favors direct clerical rule and orthodox governance of everyday life–his ascendance is presumably a crisis for Right Arabists in the US foreign policy establishment who fear that the war in Iraq has facilitated the rise of a Shiite crescent in the Middle East.

As a radical Shiite–one who has consistently challenged the “moderate” leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani–he becomes a target for Right Zionists. As William Kristol and Rich Lowry suggested in their September 12, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Reinforce Baghdad,”

[T]he violence perpetrated by the Shiite militias is directly related to politics. It is part of a power play by the likes of Moqtada al-Sadr to marginalize moderate figures such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Sistani’s recent statement of disgust with Iraqi politics suggests that Sadr’s gambit may be working. Sending more American troops at this juncture would not be a simple-minded and clumsy substitution of military force for political finesse. It would be an attempt to influence Iraq’s political situation in our favor.

It should come as no surprise, then, that foreign policy factional players in the US who disagree about most things in Iraq seem to agree on one thing: everybody loves hates Raymond Sadr.

There are those–including elements of the US military–who fear that a direct assault on Sadr is simply too dangerous, politically and militarily, because everybody (in Sadr City) loves Sadr. But this is simply a tactical issue. Even these folks would like to target Sadr if they thought they could get away with it.

But this map of Sadrist political contours, viewed through the lens of US factionalism, doesn’t tell the whole story.

On the crucial question of regional autonomy/partition–where most Right Zionists support Shiite and Kurdish pressure for the breakup of Iraq and most Right Arabists stand firmly with those who favor the old unity maintained under Sunni Arab rule–Sadr stands with Sunni Arabs against the sectarian breakup of Iraq.

This was made clear, in recent days, as other elements of the Shiite governing coalition pressed for regional autonomy. According to the Washington Post article “Sadr Holds Out Against Plan to Divide Iraq,”

Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, remains adamantly opposed to a controversial plan to partition Iraq into a federation of three largely independent regions, a top Sadr aide said Monday.

Sadr’s objection to the plan remains steadfast despite a meeting Sunday night in Najaf between Sadr and his intermittent rival Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the prominent Shiite political party that is leading the push for federalism.

Sadr’s bloc broke with Hakim’s party to support the Sunni boycott on Sunday. That move prompted Hakim to meet later in the day with Sadr and then with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, although he declined to describe their conversations.

On this question, then, Sadr stands with Sunni political elites and their Right Arabist allies in Washington. And, for what it is worth, Sadr apparently has an ally in George W. Bush on this question.

I argued some time ago that this made Sadr’s position on partition was best explained by pragmatic politics relating to his unique situation as a leader of poor Shiites in Sunni-dominated Central Iraq. And I also argued that on this issue Sadr is a natural ally of Right Arabists.

Insofar as partition is the issue, the real split in Iraq is between Sunni Arabs and Sadrists, on the one hand, and the “mainstream” Shiites and Kurds, on the other.

Nowhere has the evidence of such an alliance been more visible than in recent debates over partition.  A Washington Post article entitled “Federalism Plan Dead, Says Iraqi Speaker” tells the story:

[Parliamentary Speaker] Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said in an interview that legislation to implement a concept known as federalism, which threatened to collapse the country’s fragile multi-sect government, would likely be postponed indefinitely after a meeting of political leaders on Wednesday….

“It is not possible to venture or to start the application of federalism now.”

“Look, Iraqi blood is more important than federalism,” he said.

So, in light of the alliance between Sunni Arab politicians like Mashhadani and Shiites aligned with Sadr, why don’t Right Arabists in the US embrace Sadr?

The answer may be that for Right Arabists opposition to partition–important as it is–is still less important than one other issue: an ongoing, forceful US military presence in Iraq.

The problem with Sadr, for Right Arabists (and, to be sure, Right Zionists) is not that Sadr is too close to Iran (he is arguable less close than the defenders of Shiite autonomy). It is not his vision of everyday life (do Right Arabists even care?).

The problem with Sadr is that he continues to demand US withdrawal from Iraq.

According to a September 13, 2006 Associated Press report (via the Guardian), Sadr made has once again made a push for US withdrawal.

A group of lawmakers tried to take advantage Tuesday of the unpopularity of U.S. troops among many Shiite and Sunni legislators to seek approval of a resolution setting a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops – which the mainstream Shiite-dominated government has so far refused to do.

Sponsored by supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and some Sunni Arabs, the resolution managed to get 104 signatures in the 275-member parliament before was effectively shelved by being sent to a committee for review.

The Associated Press report suggests that the Shiite-dominated government has refused to support a demand for US withdrawal. True enough. But according to some reports, it was Sadr’s erstwhile ally on partition–the Sunni Arab Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud Al Mashhadani–that scuttled the resolution.

Wasn’t Sadr’s participation in the government–a government formed under the watchful eyes of US military occupation–a sign that he was moderating his line on US withdrawal?

Sadr looks increasingly “Leninist” in his approach to participation in government. Here is one of his key aides, Mustafa Yaqoubi, in an interview for another Ellen Knickmeyer Washington Post profile by Sudarsan Raqhavan and Ellen Knickmeyer on Sadr entitled, “Sadr, A Question Mark in Black.”

“We have entered a political game,” said Yaqoubi, who wore a black turban signifying his descent from the prophet Muhammad. “We entered this government to use it as a weapon to make pressure on the occupiers.”

Maybe it is too obvious to have to say, but the “problem” with Sadr–apart from any of his complex relations with sectarian factionalism–is that he and his movement appears to be relentlessly opposed to the US occupation as a matter of…dare I say it?…principle.

If so, his nationalist principles–and credentials–are even more intense than those of Sunni Arab policians like Parliamentary speaker Mahmud Al Mashhadani.

The Call Never Came

Posted by Cutler on September 11, 2006
Isolationism / 6 Comments

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

A prescient notion from R.E.M. back in 1988, the waning days of Cold War apocalypticism. The reference, it seems clear now, might just as well have been to September 11th.

In his column over the weekend, Frank Rich of the New York Times led the way with a piece called, “What Happened to the America of 9/12?” that notes and largely bemoans the idea that one might “feel fine” in the wake of 9/11. Rich illustrates the point with reference to a 9/11 photo by Thomas Hoepker.

Mr. Hoepker’s picture can now be found in David Friend’s compelling new 9/11 book, “Watching the World Change,” or on the book’s Web site, It shows five young friends on the waterfront in Brooklyn, taking what seems to be a lunch or bike-riding break, enjoying the radiant late-summer sun and chatting away as cascades of smoke engulf Lower Manhattan in the background.

Mr. Hoepker found his subjects troubling. “They were totally relaxed like any normal afternoon,” he told Mr. Friend. “It’s possible they lost people and cared, but they were not stirred by it.”

At some level, Rich has mixed feelings about indifference to Apocalypse:

What [the photographer] caught was this: Traumatic as the attack on America was, 9/11 would recede quickly for many. This is a country that likes to move on, and fast. The young people in Mr. Hoepker’s photo aren’t necessarily callous. They’re just American. In the five years since the attacks, the ability of Americans to dust themselves off and keep going explains both what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong on our path to the divided and dispirited state the nation finds itself in today.

The upside (“what’s gone right”) might smack some readers as pretty faint praise and even Rich is ambivalent, at best:

What’s gone right: the terrorists failed to break America’s back. The “new” normal lasted about 10 minutes, except at airport check-ins…

The culture, for better and worse, survived intact…

The day that changed everything didn’t make Americans change the channel, unless it was from “Fear Factor” to “American Idol” or from Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton.

This is supposed to be the good news. But Rich doesn’t seem to really have his heart in it (“for better or worse”). In fact, this is really the bad news:

But even as we celebrate this resilience, it too comes at a price. The companion American trait to resilience is forgetfulness. What we’ve forgotten too quickly is the outpouring of affection and unity that swelled against all odds in the wake of Al Qaeda’s act of mass murder.

The problem, in this forgetting, doesn’t really turn on the issue of affection, however. It turns on the issue of self-sacrifice and self-subordination to a larger good. And this is the real loss, according to Rich.

Mr. Bush was asked at a press conference “how much of a sacrifice” ordinary Americans would “be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines.” His answer: “Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever.”

And so here we are five years later. Fearmongering remains unceasing. So do tax cuts. So does the war against a country that did not attack us on 9/11. We have moved on, but no one can argue that we have moved ahead.

Frank Rich is certainly right about one thing: no one can argue with this assessment, at least at the New York Times.

It turns out that Rich’s column is the “official” line at the Times–evidenced by the editorial “9/11/06” that begins by lamenting–with Frank–that we are no longer the America of 9/12:

The feelings of sadness and loss with which we look back on Sept. 11, 2001, have shifted focus over the last five years…

[W]e cannot really imagine a world in which [9/11] never happened…

What we do revisit, over and over again, is the period that followed, when sorrow was merged with a sense of community and purpose. How, having lost so much on the day itself, did we also manage to lose that as well?

What was the point of this “sense of community and purpose”? Once again, the real issue is sacrifice.

[T]he nation was waiting to find out what it was supposed to do, to be called to the task that would give special lasting meaning to the tragedy that it had endured…

But the call never came

Our role appeared to be confined to waiting in longer lines at the airport. President Bush, searching the other day for an example of post-9/11 sacrifice, pointed out that everybody pays taxes.

That pinched view of our responsibility as citizens got us tax cuts we didn’t need and an invasion that never would have occurred if every voter’s sons and daughters were eligible for the draft. With no call to work together on some effort greater than ourselves, we were free to relapse into a self-centeredness that became a second national tragedy.

Frank Rich may be right that “no one can argue” that moving on means moving ahead, but I am going to give it a try.

Maybe the best way to begin is with the mismatch between all the liberal yearning for a politics of sacrifice and the attempt to fashion a critique of the war in Iraq.

The Times editorial proposes that the invasion of Iraq “never would have occurred if every voter’s sons and daughters were eligible for the draft.”

I think that might actually be true. The Vietnam era anti-war movement was largely built by a self-interested refusal to sacrifice. As critics of that movement never tire of observing, draft resistance was linked to a new, TV generation–a “me” generation, I think–that knew nothing about the meaning generated in self-sacrifice.

This refusal to sacrifice continues to haunt the reputation of the Vietnam resisters. The real glory goes to those who make the ultimate sacrifice. Hence, the “greatest generation” continues to be the one that gave it all in World War II, not the one that refused to go in Vietnam.

By what twist of logic, then, does the New York Times editorial simultaneously suggest that a draft would have generated a more potent movement against the invasion of Iraq, even as they bemoan the “relapse into a self-centeredness that became a second national tragedy.”

That self-centeredness would have been the key to draft resistance.

As it is, that self-centeredness has dramatically reduced the threshold of popular tolerance for US casualties, even without the draft.

But the Times keeps pining away for “a call to work together on some effort greater than ourselves” as if wartime self-sacrifice was not the premier emblematic figure for “some effort greater than ourselves.”

And it is not simply the “liberal” New York Times that yearns for a culture of sacrifice. At Ben at Latent State has noted in his superb essay on the cultural politics of post-9/11 America, the neoconservative architects of the invasion of Iraq have been just as upset with Bush for refusing to “issue the call” to sacrifice. The discourses of the New York Times and the Weekly Standard are indistinguishable on this point.

Although some critics on the Right and Left of Bush tend to blame him for his refusal to issue the call to sacrifice, the Bush administration’s “failure of nerve” is probably best understood as a reflection of the popular culture.

As Frank Rich understands, the issue is not Bush. The real force that undermines the spirit of sacrifice is TV, from “‘Fear Factor’ to ‘American Idol’ or from Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton.”

Thaddeus Russell has recently suggested–in his extraordinary essay, “Beyoncé Knowles, Freedom Fighter“–our much-maligned commercial popular culture may also be the most potent weapon in battling jihadists.

If no one can argue against the bipartisan yearning for sacrifice, then why are the sages of sacrifice feeling so embattled on this fifth anniversary of September 11th?

To quote the great radical feminist Ellen Willis, “It’s the culture, stupid.”

Afghanistan: The Salad Days

Posted by Cutler on September 07, 2006
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

It will be tempting for critics of the Bush administration to read news of a new peace treaty between Taliban forces and the Pakistani government as one more way to criticize the war in Iraq.

“See?… We were supposed to be fighting the actual war on terror. But we didn’t. Instead we were distracted by a cabal of Neoconservatives into fighting the wrong war in Iraq. Now, our real enemies are on the rise again in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

(Has somebody already said all this? Probably. The “quote” above is hypothetical, but I would welcome any links).

There are both dangers and errors in this tempting line of criticism.

Danger, Will Robinson…

The danger, for the Left, is in trying to hit the Bush administration from its Right.

File this under “Careful What you Wish” (CWW for the IM crowd?).

Do you really want to be more hawkish than this administration? Or is this simply about demonstrating Bush administration hypocrisy?

Do you really prefer a consistent Bush administration that actually stays the course in its Global War on Terror?

Some may very well answer, Yes. Such hawks should not hide behind the softer charge of hypocrisy so they can “hang” with the groovy anti-war crowd.

For those who answer, No, it might make more sense to understand why the Bush administration has let Afghanistan slip.

Remembering Factionalism: The Salad Days

With the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, let’s take a stroll down memory lane back to the early days of the War on Terror.

There is a tendency to think of Afghanistan as the “consensus” war and Iraq as the source of discord. Not so within the Bush administration.

Factionalism after 9/11 did not start because some in the administration wanted to talk about Iraq. It started with Afghanistan.

Recall, for example, a Willliam Kristol Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “Bush vs. Powell,” archived on the website of the Project for a New American Century.

It is a great opening salvo in the factional war between Right Zionists like Kristol and Right Arabists like Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The president devoted a good chunk of his speech to an indictment of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan: “In Afghanistan we see al Qaeda’s vision for the world. Afghanistan’s people have been brutalized . . . we condemn the Taliban regime.” Further: “By aiding and abetting murder the Taliban regime is committing murder.”…

On Sunday, by contrast, the secretary of state drew a distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban, and more or less dismissed concerns about the Taliban: “With respect to the nature of the regime in Afghanistan, that is not uppermost in our minds right now. . . . I’m not going to say that it has become one of the objectives of the United States government to either remove or put in place a different regime.”

At the time, it might have seemed like Powell was simply playing the anti-war dove. Maybe. But there were also regional strategic issues involved.

The Taliban was a product of the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis were closely aligned with the Saudis. Right Arabists were not prepared to break any of these ties.

By contrast the “Northern Alliance” (remember them?) were aligned with Iran and India. And India was closely aligned with Israel. And Iran was once Israel’s best friend in the region. Right Zionists wanted to topple the Taliban as the first step in a regional re-alignment that would ultimately break the alliance between the US and the Saudis.

Kristol (with Robert Kagan) wrote a follow-up on the factional battle over Afghanistan in a November 26, 2001 Weekly Standard article entitled “A Winning Strategy.”

The original strategy, promoted especially by State Department officials under Secretary of State Colin Powell, in cooperation with the CIA, was unenthusiastic about too rapid a military advance by the Northern Alliance against Taliban positions in the north and around Kabul, and was therefore not designed to aid such an advance.

From the very outset, even before the bombing began on October 7, there was a fundamental disagreement between the Pentagon and the State Department over how to manage the situation in Afghanistan. On September 26, the Washington Post reported an “ongoing debate” between the State Department and the Pentagon over the objective. Pentagon officials wanted to “ensure that the campaign ends with the ouster of the Taliban.” But State Department officials argued the administration should “be cautious and focus on bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.” Secretary Powell was reluctant to make the overthrow of the Taliban the stated objective of the war.

The State Department’s position reflected concern for the sensitivities of the Pakistani government and its nervous president, General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan had long supported the Taliban, and the government wanted a guarantee that some Taliban elements would have a share in any postwar government. The Pakistanis were also acutely hostile to the Northern Alliance and wanted to make sure that it would be kept out of a new government or would have at most a minimal role…

[T]he State Department pursued what became known as the “southern strategy.” State Department and CIA officials worked arduously to put together a Pashtun coalition acceptable to Pakistan. In the process, attempting to sweeten the pot, the State Department made a significant compromise regarding the future role of the Taliban. Secretary Powell, meeting with President Musharraf in the second week of October, agreed with the Pakistani president that “moderate” Taliban members might be able “to participate in developing a new Afghanistan.”

This is the background story of factionalism that led us to the current moment in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Those who want to use the fact of a resurgent Taliban to whip the neocons for their war in Iraq should be very clear: you are playing on their home turf.

The Right Zionists would be the first–indeed, they were the first–to criticize Right Arabist compromises with Musharraf and the Taliban.

Iraq: Back to Square One

Posted by Cutler on September 06, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

The “political” scene in Iraq has been muddling through for some time now, not least because of major inconsistencies in US policy.

At the start of the war, the US made different–and largely incompatible–promises to different sectors of Iraqi society.

Iraq’s Sunni military officers were told that the US was interested in nothing more than “Saddamism without Saddam.”

Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds were told to prepare for a social revolution in Iraq: de-Baathification and the end of Sunni minority rule in Iraq.

Since those days, the Bush administration has flip-flopped on this question, twisting and turning with dramatic but totally inconsistent policies, each favored by rival Bush administration factions (for the latest salvo in that factional war, see Right Zionist Frank Gaffney‘s most recent attack on Right Arabist influence at the State Department).

Paul Bremer’s May 2003 de-Baathification order–hailed by Right Zionists–was immediately followed by Bremer’s own efforts to take it all back, culminating in the US appointment of ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi as the Iraqi Prime Minister in June 2004–a victory for Right Arabists.

Then the US sponsored elections in 2005–celebrated by Right Zionists–but continued, under Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, to seek reconciliation with various elements of the Sunni resistance, as suggested by Right Arabists.

After all this wavering and waffling, it was beginning to look like the US might simply stall indefinitely on these questions, keeping all parties in Iraq “on their toes” through policies designed to keep everyone guessing about US intentions.

That trend may continue, but there have been some signs in recent days that the US may be pressed to come clean on the old, central political issue of Sunni minority rule.

Bring Back the Baath

On the Sunni side, there was the extraordinarily clear and simple statement by a group of Sunni tribal leaders: Bring Back Saddam Hussein.

The news came in a September 3, 2006 Washington Post article entitled, “A Demand for Hussein’s Release,”

A coalition of 300 Iraqi tribal leaders on Saturday demanded the release of Saddam Hussein so he could reclaim the presidency and also called for armed resistance against U.S.-led forces.

The clan chieftains, most of them Sunni Arabs, included the head of the 1.5 million-member al-Obeidi tribe, said they planned to hold rallies in Sunni cities throughout the country to insist that Hussein be freed and that the charges against him and his co-defendants be dropped.

These are hardly the first signs of Sunni Arab resistance to US policy. That is not the novelty. What is striking about the statement is the simplicity of the demand: let’s go right back to SQUARE ONE.

Nothing subtle here like support for an ex-Baathist like Allawi. Not Saddamism without Saddam. Nope. Saddam Hussein himself.

Sistani: Can You Hear Me Now?

At roughly the same time, there have been some rumblings from Grand Ayatollah Sistani–the most senior Shiite cleric in Iraq.

On the one hand, there is the widely circulated September 3, 2006 report in the Telegraph that Sistani is essentially quitting the political front.

I will not be a political leader any more,” he told aides. “I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters.”…

Asked whether Ayatollah al-Sistani could prevent a civil war, Mr al-Jaberi replied: “Honestly, I think not. He is very angry, very disappointed.”

He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani’s decision. “He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him,” he said. “After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad.”

The guilt-tripping about how nobody comes to visit anymore seems to have worked wonders: the same Washington Post article that reported on the “Free Saddam” confab also reported that Sistani had a special visitor:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to the southern city of Najaf on Saturday to discuss the deteriorating security situation with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite leader in Iraq. Sistani’s office said in a statement after the meeting that he supported Maliki’s 28-step national reconciliation plan and called on the government to quickly reduce violence in the country before other groups, such as armed militias, fill the void.

If folks at the Telegraph thought that Sistani’s complaint that nobody comes to visit made him sound like he was settling in for life as a retired grandparent, Sunni political leaders in Iraq were not so sure.

According to an Associated Press report, Maliki’s visit to Sistani prompted complaints from Sunni MP Saleh al-Mutlaq:

Al-Mutlaq… unleashed a barrage of criticism against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national unity government, saying it should not be taking its cue from the top Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

“…I say we don’t need to visit anyone as a government, an independent government that should be making its decisions on its own, not based on (directions) from a religious authority.”

Maliki went to see the Ayatollah with recent “coup” rumors on his mind.

Back in late July 2006, reports of such a coup hit the US media. An article in the Washington Post quoted concerned Shiite politicians:

Hadi al-Amiri, a member of parliament from Iraq’s most powerful political party, said in a speech in the holy city of Najaf that “some tongues” were talking about toppling Maliki’s Shiite-led government and replacing it with a “national salvation government, which we call a military coup government”

A new government would mean “canceling the constitution, canceling the results of the elections and going back to square one . . . and we will not accept that,” he said.

Amiri is also a top official in the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the leading member of a coalition of Shiite political parties governing Iraq.

At that time, bloggers in the US (including Praktike and Swopa) wondered how Sistani would respond to such a coup?

So, it seems, did Prime Minister Maliki.

According to at least one report on Arab media coverage of the meeting, Maliki got nod he was looking for from Sistani:

In a press conference following the meeting, Maliki told journalists that ‘Sistani stands as a support for the government,’ emphasizing that the government was able to solve the problems in the country and not ‘a salvation government’ which ‘enemies of the political process’ call for.

And, not coincidentally, Sistani got confirmation that Maliki would resist calls to dump Sistani’s closest ally in the government, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani.

Far from stepping back from the “political front,” Sistani may actually be stepping up.

Amidst all the political alternation of Bush administration policy and the recent chatter about US support for a coup, Sistani seems ready to press the Bush administration for some clarity, especially with reports in the news that James Baker–Secretary of State during the administration of George HW Bush and a leading Right Arabist critic of Shiite empowerment–was in Iraq meeting with Sunni leaders.

Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s Shiite Deputy President, made a “private visit” to Washington to meet with administration figures including Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

According to a Jackson Diehl column in the Washington Post–“Not Wanted: An Exit Strategy“–Mahdi was sent to Washington on behalf of Sistani to ask, amidst all the factionalism and waffling in the Bush administration, if the US was prepared to back Shiite rule or support an anti-Shiite coup:

[Mahdi] was here to deliver a message, and ask a question, on behalf of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who remains Iraq’s single most influential figure — and the linchpin of the past 40 months of political reconstruction. Sistani’s message to Bush, Mahdi told a group of reporters I joined last week, was that “Iraqis are sticking to the principles of the constitution and democracy.” But the ayatollah wanted to know if the United States is still on board as well.

“It’s a critical moment. We want to be sure that we understand perfectly what’s going on, and what is the real strategy of the United States in Iraq,” Mahdi said. “We read in the press about different perspectives and attitudes. That’s why we want to be clear — whether there is a Plan B.”

According to a report in the Financial Times (Guy Dinmore, “Bush Holds to Rhetoric of No Appeasement As Critics Fred Over Failures,” September 4, 2006; subscribers only), Mahdi got something like an answer from Washington:

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s vice-president, said he came to Washington last week to ask Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, the vice-president, what their “real strategy” was in Iraq, whether there really was a “plan B” as talked about in the media – all in the context of US domestic politics and the election build-up. In reply, he was told the Bush team would hold “steady”.

Mr Abdul-Mahdi also carried an unusual verbal message to the White House from Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shia Muslim cleric. The spiritual leader expressed Iraqis’ commitment to democracy and their constitution and called on “others” to stick to those principles.

A regional expert who advises the White House said Mr Abdul-Mahdi came to Washington because the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, was losing its trust in Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to Baghdad.

Was Sistani comforted to know that the Bush administration would hold “steady”? In the context of all the administation’s zigzag approach to Iraqi politics, what would it even mean to hold “steady”?

How long can the Bush administration delay the day of political reckoning with a “steady” policy of oscillation and vacillation?

Sistani, for one, seems ready for a reckoning.

Ask Not..

Posted by Cutler on September 02, 2006
Isolationism / 5 Comments

As a new academic year begins on college campuses in the US, the time may be right for a discussion of the changing state of “anti-war activism.”

The old anti-war activism is gone; long live the “new isolationism.”

On August 31, 2006, Andrew Rosenthal published a provocative New York Times essay entitled, “There Is Silence in the Streets; Where Have All the Protesters Gone?

I suppose the most obvious answer is “long time passing.”

Indeed, nostalgia for the “real” anti-war movement–the one against war in Vietnam–has haunted every subsequent US military action. Nothing has measured up. (Just ask the boomers.)

Kennedy spoke for the Vietnam generation: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Those were the days, I guess.

Rosenthal’s most basic observation is this:

Student protesters helped drive Lyndon Johnson — in so many ways a powerful, progressive president — out of office because of his war. In 2004, George W. Bush — in so many ways a weak, regressive president — was re-elected despite his war. And the campuses were silent.

No doubt.

Although there have been a couple of small, awkward “rallies” at Wesleyan University–the infamously “progressive” campus where I work–the place has been very quiet since the US invasion of Iraq.

There was a brief burst of protest when America first invaded Iraq. But if there is a college movement against the war, it’s hiding pretty well.

Right again on timing. There were protests at Wesleyan at the start of the “War on Terror.” Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when popular sentiment was strongly supportive of military action, there were protests at Wesleyan. Not only against war in Iraq, but even against war in Afghanistan.

And for many students, the February 15, 2003 global protests against the war seemed pretty intense, inspiring, and powerful.

Then came the actual invasion of Iraq, and everything fell silent.

(A subsequent letter to the New York Times correctly notes, in response to Rosenthal, that there have been many anti-war protests. Notwithstanding the tireless efforts of organizers, I wonder if even they would think of this as a time of significant mobilization? No complaints about abathy and indifference within the US?)

Some students seem to have been surprised, demoralized, and demobilized when the US went to war anyway, even though they had protested.

This is surely an unintended consequence of overly romanticized 60’s nostalgia: a few good protests and you stop a war. Maybe it would help if we started noticing that most of the best, most powerful elements of the ’60s–from anti-war activism to feminism and gay liberation took root in the 70’s.

Nevertheless, I do not begrudge contemporary students their demand for instant gratification. The “problem”–if there is one–is not that college students are too demanding but they are not quite demanding enough.

And I don’t entirely buy the “demoralized and demobilized” story.

Rosenthal raises the issue of “moral clarity.”

Vietnam never had the moral clarity that the 9/11 attacks provided to this generation’s war. But in Iraq that proved to be a false clarity…

Of course, this explains nothing, since the largest protests came between the (presumably pro-war) “moral clarity” of 9/11 and the recognition of the “false clarity” in Iraq after post-invasion revelations regarding WMDs, etc.

It seems to me that campus protests stopped because many students knew that they favored peaceful negotiations, etc. over military action.

But once the US was in Iraq, many students adopted a position that echoes Colin Powell’s famous invocation of the (false) Potter Barn rule: you break it, you own it.

Students at elite private colleges–the same ones that generated much of the early anti-war sentiment in the 60s–are often encouraged embrace a notion of responsibility for the world. Part of preparing for power, I suppose.

To students ready to inherit the mantle of responsibility, the rush to military action and the neglect of legitimate international channels for conflict resolution surely seemed irresponsible. Hence the protests.

On the other hand, post-invasion “help” (i.e., occupation) seems–to such students–more responsible than withdrawal. Hence the awkwardness at poorly attended rallies.

After the invasion, such students replaced their anti-war protest hats with their imperial peace corps, caring hats.

It is on the issue of caring that the Rosenthal essay falters.

This, perhaps, is the ultimate difference between the Vietnam generation and the Iraq generation: When you hear Young and Company sing of “four dead in Ohio,” their Kent State anthem, it’s hard to imagine anyone on today’s campuses willing to face armed troops. Is there anything they care about that much?

Unfortunately, “caring”–about Iraq, at least in the abstract–helps explain why campuses are silent. The students who “care” the most are the ones least likely to protest and demand US withdrawal. Even as the Bush administration’s occupation looks like a disaster, it is a disaster that those who care most want to inherit and improve. As Thomas Friedman says, “We’ll take it from here.”

Rosenthal also mentions the draft as a crucial difference and he is surely right about this one:

But because there is no draft… no young person has to fear being conscripted into the fight.

This is surely true on the campuses of elite private liberal arts colleges. But the point actually goes to the heart of the issue of caring.

In the Vietnam era, protesters gave a lot of lip service to caring about the Vietnamese, but Rosenthal is probably right to imply that much of the movement was enormously self-interested in a very narrow but very potent way: students did not want to sacrifice their lives.

The movement never depended on caring. Today, with no draft on campus, caring is all we have. And it curbs enthusiasm for US withdrawal.

At the same time, Rosenthal totally conflates campus life with popular sentiment in the United States and assumes that real power and influence may come from the former rather than the latter. This is a very big mistake.

Rosenthal acknowledges,

a majority of Americans now say they oppose the war and no longer trust Mr. Bush’s leadership of it.

But he never explores possible implications–politically, for the Bush administration, or militarily, for the execution of the war.

Rosenthal says,

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Americans find it much easier to stay silent when there is no shared sacrifice.

I would propose the opposite: because there is no notion of “shared sacrifice” for this war (Bush has repeatedly been attacked from the Right and Left for refusing to sound the call…), American public opinion has been highly intolerant of US casualties.

And there is no notion of “shared sacrifice” because Karl Rove is afraid that there is no appetite for sacrifice in the land.

The campuses are silent. But “Americans” are not. They speak against the war–at least not when the pollsters call.

Surely there is something far less communitarian and collectivist about polling sentiment, relative to mass rallies. A pity for those who seek, in an anti-war movement, the kernal of a collective and transcendent spirit.

For those who wish to obstruct war, however: are we sure that popular sentiment–in an age of commodified politics where politicians pander to polls–is less powerful than campus protest rallies?

Americans–and not primarily the ones on elite liberal arts campuses–do not “care” enough about Iraq to sacrifice lives for it.

And as for Iraqis, I trust that many surely “care” enough about the US occupation to tell us how they are feeling. The word is “insurgency.”

One can be disgusted with carnage in Iraq and still recognize that, given the number of US soldiers killed, the popular threshold of tolerance for U.S. casualties is much lower than it was in previous wars.

And the refusal to “take casualties” has almost certainly influenced political and military decisions to send fewer troops than the Generals wanted.

“Force Protection” is the name of the game in Rumsfeld’s world of military transformation.

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what your country can do for you.

The new isolationism recognizes sacrifice, but like Bartleby, the Scrivener, it would “prefer not to.”

For all that, one would be mistaken to confuse it with powerlessness.

What is the power of indifference, especially in relation to fighting and dying?

Krauthammer: We Must Pretend

Posted by Cutler on September 01, 2006
Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Keep hope alive.

That seems to be the thrust of a Charles Krauthammer essay–“Hezbollah’s ‘Victory’“–in today’s Washington Post.

The hope in question? Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution. As I noted in a previous post (and again, here), the Cedar Revolution was, in many respects, dead upon arrival when the latest hostilities broke out between Israel and Lebanon.

Some of Krauthammer’s article is, by its own estimate, simply wishful thinking:

We must pretend that Security Council Resolution 1701 was meant to be implemented and exert unrelieved pressure on behalf of those Lebanese — a large majority — who want to do the implementing.

At least Krauthammer implicitly acknowledges that there is no real prospect of UN forces disarming Hezbollah.

But Krauthammer also engages in some “analysis” that may also represent a kind of wishful thinking. He insists that the Cedar Revolution–a revolution in Lebanese politics–retains intact:

True, under the inept and indecisive leadership of Ehud Olmert, Israel did miss the opportunity to militarily destroy Hezbollah and make it a non-factor in Israel’s security, Lebanon’s politics and Iran’s foreign policy…


Hezbollah’s political gains within Lebanon during the war have proved illusory. As the dust settles, the Lebanese are furious at Hezbollah for provoking a war that brought them nothing but devastation — and then crowing about victory amid the ruins.

Hezbollah is under renewed attack — in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, as well as by many Lebanese, including influential Shiite academics and clan leaders. The Arabs know where their interests lie. And they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.

So, here is the old hope: Arab-Iranian tension will allow Israel to play the Arabs against Iran.

How is that going, so far? Wishful thinking?

In Lebanon, I see know sign that Hezbollah has been politically weakened, and Krauthammer doesn’t offer much support for such a claim:

Even before the devastation, Hezbollah in the last election garnered only about 20 percent of the vote, hardly a mandate. Hezbollah has guns, however, and that is the source of its power. But now even that is threatened.

Of course, this is a bit of sophistry. The real issue is not Hezbollah’s political support nationally, but among Lebanese Shiites. Here, I would wait to see evidence that they have any less of a mandate than they did before the recent fighting began. Surely it would be a major strategic error to undermine Hezbollah’s grassroots support in southern Lebanon. Does Krauthammer really belive that the primary source of Hezbollah’s political power comes from the barrel of a gun?

But there is the neighborhood, as Krauthammer says: “Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt” etc.

Here, I would also propose that some caution is in order. Krauthammer’s analysis rests on some tenuous assumptions.

He insists that “The Arabs know where their interests lie.” True enough. But his emphasis is on Iran: “they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.”

If we are talking about the Saudis, it might be worth noting that they have two relatively distinct “interests”–one relating to Syria and one to Iran.

Most of the heat that initially sparked the Cedar Revolution was between the Saudis and Syria, not Iran. The issue was not the disarmament of Hezbollah, but control of the Lebanese Presidency–specifically, Syria’s move to have Lebanese President Lahoud remain in office for a third term–and, implicitly, control of the economy.

On this front, the sparks have once again begun to fly. There are live tensions between the Saudis and the Syrians and–as I noted in a previous post–these tensions may have become worse since the end of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

Right Zionists in the US, like the Saudis, have little patience for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Krauthammer wants to keep the heat on the Syrian President:

We should be especially aggressive at the United Nations in pursuing the investigation of Syria for the murder of Rafiq Hariri…

Likewise, Right Zionists like James Woolsey were clear at the start of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah that he was ready to take the fight to Syria. At the time, Woolsey told Fox News,

I think we ought to execute some air strikes against Syria, against the instruments of power of that state, against the airport…

At least part of the trouble–for Krauthammer and Woolsey–is that Right Zionists aren’t running the whole show in Israel.

Shimon Peres is part of the Olmert government. And Peres-aligned Zionists want to open a dialogue with Syria, presumably in an effort to pry Syria away from Iran.

See, for example, the essay by Ron Pundak of the Peres Center entitled “There Is Someone to Talk To.”

For a similar perspective, see the recent essay by Dennis Ross–“A Cease-fire Reality: Dealing with Syria“–in the Washington Post.

The Bush administration, which has expressed an interest in weaning Syria away from Iran, won’t be able to do that without talking to the Syrians.

Moreover, there is far more evidence of current Saudi tension with Syria than there is of current Saudi tension with Iran.

True, the Saudis are certainly supportive of US efforts to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But Iran’s priority in Lebanon is Hezbollah and as I noted in a previous post, the Saudis–and their proxy in Lebanon, the Siniora government–made peace with Hezbollah back in January.

Krauthammer says that “Hezbollah” is under renewed attack in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt. Most of the media reports that received attention in the US were about Syria–not Iran or Hezbollah–coming under renewed attack in such newspapers.

If the Peres crowd is hoping to pry Syria away from Iran, the Saudis may be trying to pry Iran–and Hezbollah–away from Syria. Indeed, this has been a risk for the Syrians since the advent of Saudi-Syrian tensions.

Where are the signs of Saudi-Iranian tensions? Immediately after the ceasefire took hold in Lebanon–amidst a veritable shouting match between Syria and Saudi Arabia–Saudi King Abdullah hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for a meeting in Jeddah.

Did you hear lots of shouting and name-calling after that meeting? I didn’t.
Did you see Saudi Kind Abdullah welcome the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to Jeddah? Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see the Saudis roll out the red carpet for the Syrians.

The “hope” for Right Zionists, if there is any, would seem to be in the future of Saudi-Syrian tensions. I’m not sure the Saudis are actually spoiling for a battle with Iran right now.

Have I missed the signs of the times?