Monthly Archives: October 2006

Crude Benchmarks

Posted by Cutler on October 31, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

Liberally sprinkled amidst the news about Iraq is ongoing talk of “partitioning” the country. An article in the New York Times today includes a rather prominent discussion of support for such a policy among Democrats like Senator Joseph Biden and adivsors like Peter Galbraith.

Are there any signs that the Bush administration is seriously considering such an option?

Perhaps Saudi resistance to such an idea is enough to give credence to the fact that it is actually an option under consideration.

I tend to think that the function of the partition chatter has little to do with real options on the table and much more to do with ongoing negotiations over the Iraqi hydrocarbons law that will govern relations with the oil industry.

The US is firmly committed to centralized national control over the development of new oil fields. In this, they have the support of Sunni Arab political forces along with nationalist Shiite forces in Southern Iraq, including those loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.

The threat of partition, however, is being used to pressure these Sunni and Shiite forces to embrace particular oil policies that will be very unpopular with Iraqi nationalists, even as they are sought after by international oil majors.

The oil majors and the US are pressing for generous contract terms for foreign oil investment and use the threat of extremely generous regional contract terms on offer in the Kurdish north to extract similar concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

US pressure has not been subtle. An October 24, 2006 report in the Petroleum Review entitled “Iraqi Nadir” explains:

At the request of the US State Department, the USAID Agency has provided an advisor from consultancy firm BearingPoint INC (the former consulting arm of KPMG) to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki, to help in the drafting of a new petroleum law. Oil Minster Shahristani expects the new law to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament this year. This expectation might be somewhat premature, however, given that the economic policies pursued by the current government, influenced by the US, are not popular with the general public…

Most observers believe that the involvement of BearingPoint, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – as a condition of cancelling 30% of Iraq’s $39bn debt to the Paris Club of creditors – in drafting of the petroleum law is likely to result in handing over control of the development of Iraq’s oil fields to foreign oil companies. This policy, although supported by many in the government – namely Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi and Oil Minister Shahristani, who see a major role for foreign oil companies in Iraq’s oil industry – is understood to be strongly opposed by the majority of Iraqi people and by the oil industry trade unions. It could be seen as confirming the belief that the war was about oil after all.

It is in the context of these negotiations that the US–with the help of Joe Biden and the Kurdish Regional Government, if not the autonomy-minded Shiites of SCIRI–uses the threat of partition to leverage concessions from Iraqi nationalists.

This is a game of chicken that Shiite and Sunni nationalists are playing as well as the oil majors.

The question is this: who will blink?

There is no way that the oil majors would support the actual partition of Iraq. This is a bluff. And they will have to weigh the popular backlash–in the context of ongoing insurgencies–to an oil regime that appears to strip Iraqis of national treasure.

A June 2, 2004 analysis from the World Market Research Centre captures the idea:

[The] most important task… is the establishment of a new state-owned Iraqi national oil company (NOC) to oversee the existing functional companies (without ruffling too many oil industry feathers) and to set in place a framework by which INOC can most effectively co-operate with private investors, without antagonising the Iraqi nationalist constituency. This will be the issue on which [the Oil] ministry performance will be assessed and the one that will be most integral to shaping Iraq’s oil and gas future in the coming years.

How much more will the US and the oil majors risk further antagonising the Iraqi nationalist constituency in the hope of leveraging more lucrative oil deals?

[Update: in the post above, I wrote: “There is no way that the oil majors would support the actual partition of Iraq. This is a bluff.”  I want to register my own doubts about this assertion.

I have seen no evidence to support the idea that the international oil majors favor partition.  Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to rule out the idea that at least some oil majors might be looking for favorable “rules of the road,” even if the rules apply only to regional roads, rather than national highways.

The issue is not Kirkuk oil.  The question is Basra oil.  Do any of the oil majors think they can get favorable terms from Hakim and SCIRI’s proposed autonomous southern Shiite region, even amidst resistance from Sadrists and Basra’s Fadhila party, to say nothing of Sunni Arab insurgency?

For now, this remains a question…]


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

There are two events that sparked the recent clash between Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

The first is a recent round of US raids on Sadr City. As with at least one previous instance, Maliki denied any prior knowledge of the raid, even though Iraqi forces were involved.

The second event is the October 24, 2006 press briefing by Ambassador Khalilzad.

Khalilzad’s remarks are worth a closer look, if only because the Ambassador was unusually candid about several issues:

Iraq is strategically vital, due to its location and resources.

When was the last time anyone in the Bush administration even acknowledged that Iraqi “resources” were a “strategically vital” consideration for the US?

Khalilzad also does a little sabre rattling about Iran and Syria.

Those forces that constitute the extremist’s camp, including not only al Qaeda, but Iran and Syria, are at work to keep us and the Iraqis from succeeding…

The enemies of Iraq — Al Qaida, Iraq’s historic rivals and the local clients — concentrate their efforts on tearing the Iraqi people apart along sectarian lines.

Tragically, these efforts have had an effect. Now the primary source of violence is not simply an insurgency but also sectarian killings involving Al Qaida terrorists, insurgents, militias and death squads. Iran and Syria are providing support to the groups involved.

Khalilzad also reviews US strategy for dealing with the Sunni Arab insurgency:

[Another element in US strategy] is persuading Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and accept national reconciliation. We are reaching out to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan to help by encouraging these groups to end the violence and work for a united and independent Iraq, and to work against al Qaeda. These countries have promised to be helpful.

I cannot recall the last time a US official publicly noted that there may be a “regional angle” to the Sunni Arab insurgency, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan in key roles.

Presumably, the portion of the briefing that sparked the clash with Maliki concerned benchmarks and timetables.

We are helping Iraqi leaders to complete a national compact. Key political forces must make difficult decisions in the coming weeks to reach agreements on a number of outstanding issues on which Iraqis differ: enacting an oil law that will share the profits of Iraq’s resources in a way that unites the country — this is of critical importance; amending the constitution to make all Iraqis understand that their children will be guaranteed democratic rights and equality; reforming the De-Baathification Commission to transform it into an accountability and reconciliation program; implementing a plan to address militias and death squads; setting a date for provincial elections; and increasing the credibility and capability of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi leaders have agreed to a timeline for making the hard decisions needed to resolve these issues.

President Talabani has made these commitments public. The United States and its coalition partners will support Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in their effort to meet these benchmarks.

While most of the talk of “benchmarks” have been suspiciously vague, Khalilzad’s list is relatively specific.

Military Action Against Sadr

During the briefing, there was a question (the transcript on this site identifies the reporter as Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post) about Maliki and militias that anticipates the current impasse:

QUESTION: General Casey has repeatedly said that resolving the militia issue will take a military and political approach, but Prime Minister Maliki has made clear that he doesn’t want any kind of U.S. military action against the militias. He’s said that specifically (inaudible) Sadr City.

So when the question comes to it’s up to the Iraqi government to show resolve against the militias, they’ve already made clear that they’re not going to take a tough approach like the U.S. wants. And Muqtada al-Sadr has already said that his militia is not a militia per se and that he’s not going to disband it.

So absent any kind of military force against these militias and these death squads, who are the main component of violence right now, how are you going to stop the militias?

KHALILZAD: I don’t agree with your characterization.

I believe that the Prime Minister has said to me and to George that he believes in an integrated approach — political, yes. That’s the best approach if you can convince those that control militias to cooperate with the decommissioning, demobilization and integration plan. But he has said he does not rule out the use of force.

And we will see what happens, but I believe right now we are in the phase of developing a plan for how to move forward with a demobilization and decommissioning and reintegration plan. Our people, both from the military and civilian side, are working with a team that has been designated by the Prime Minister to develop such a program.

“We will see what happens.” What seems to have happened, for now, is that Maliki ruled out the use of force. But it ain’t over until its over. So, we will see what happens.

On a Hydrocarbons Law

Khalilzad makes clear that, for the US, the truly “critical” benchmark involves the passage of a new oil law, usually referred to as a hydrocarbons law.

The hydrocarbon law has been at the center of all the talk of a new Iraqi “Compact.”

Back in September 2006, the US and UN sponsored an International Compact for Iraq conference, held in Abu Dhabi.

“The bargain being struck here is economic reform by Iraq in return for financial support,” said U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, President George W. Bush’s special envoy on the talks. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad also attended the meeting…

The most urgent reforms sought by the international donors are a hydrocarbons law that would outline ownership and foreign investment in Iraq’s oil reserves and a reduction of government’s subsidies.

An Iraqi parliamentary committee has been working on the hydrocarbons law. An August 31, 2006 article published in International Oil Daily entitled, “Iraqi Panel Hammers Away at Draft Oil Law” (no online link, sorry) provides some details:

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, who heads the committee, said it has already resolved the issue of sharing oil revenues between the different regions of Iraq, but many other matters are still outstanding. These include the roles of the central and regional governments in managing reserves and production from fields that are currently not producing and the question of who will award lucrative oil contracts to foreign firms…

But leaders of the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority have voiced concern that the constitution, ratified in a referendum last year, could hand control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves to powerful new regional governments in the Shiite south and Kurdish north leaving their oil-poor areas in central Iraq with nothing…

The composition of the committee preparing the draft hydrocarbon law suggests that Sunni grievances and interests will not get much of a hearing, even though the issues under consideration are at the heart of power struggles between the different sectarian and ethnic groups in Iraq.

Two members of the committee have stood out so far: the Kurdistan regional government’s minister of natural resources Ashti Hawrami and Jabar Luaibi, the director general of South Oil Co.

Hawrami has been very active since his appointment earlier this year in drawing up an oil bill for the northern Kurdish region which gives the regional government extensive control over oil and gas fields independently of the central government in Baghdad…

Luaibi, a member of the majority Shiite community, has been instrumental in improving security in Shiite southern Iraq and ensuring uninterrupted exports from the region’s vast oil fields.

Salih, an influential figure in Kurdish politics, said the aim is to submit the draft law to parliament by the end of this year. Iraqi analysts expect to see clashes in parliament based on different interpretations of the constitution, especially on the vital issue of how to develop Iraq’s huge untapped oil reserves, most of which are located in southern Iraq.

According to an Associated Press report from September 10, 2006, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih (aka Barham Saleh) envisions the birth of what he calls a “Petro-Democracy” in Iraq.

Baghdad’s best hope for boosting its moribund oil output is working with major international companies in production-sharing deals, Iraq’s deputy prime minister said Sunday…

He spoke of Iraq emerging as a “secure petro-democracy”…

The deputy prime minister said he expected the law setting ground rules for managing Iraq’s huge petroleum reserves would be approved in parliament by year’s end.

“This will open Iraq’s oil sector for investment,” Saleh said. “We know what it takes. It takes partnerships with international oil companies.”

Big oil companies have told the U.S. government they are willing to send crews to Iraq to explore and pump oil — regardless of the violence — as long as there are legal ground rules for their participation, said U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt.

“The oil companies have told us they need to know what the rules of the road are,” said Kimmitt, President George W. Bush’s special envoy for the Iraq donor talks…

“Iraq needs investment. Iraq needs to send a strong signal to the international community about investment in oil,” the deputy prime minister said. “We need to push liberalization and open our markets.”

Asked about the most appropriate model of foreign investment for Iraq, Saleh advocated production-sharing agreements — known as PSAs. Under such arrangements, oil companies are typically granted a share of the crude they produce to offset their investments.

“I’m personally in favor of PSA agreements,” Saleh said.

For US officials and international oil companies, Saleh is sounding all the right notes when he speaks about PSA agreements, liberalization, etc.

But the crucial question regarding what Bush envoy Robert Kimmitt calls the “rules of the road” for oil investment concerns the explosive question of regional autonomy.

The committee drafting the hydrocarbons law is dominated by Shiite and Kurdish figures committed to regional control over the agreements dealing with the vast undeveloped fields that are currently not producing.

Is the US still committed to pushing for centralized national control over such agreements?

The Iraqi parliament recently voted to grant increased autonomy to regional federations. Kurds and the pro-autonomy Shiite coalition that dominates Parliament won a little help from some Sunni political figures to win passage of the plan.

“This is the beginning of the plan to divide Iraq,” said Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni National Accordance Front, which boycotted the vote along with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada Sadr’s party and the Shiite Fadila party. “We had hoped that the problems of sectarian violence would be resolved…”

If the Bush administration is still committed to “national unity”–including centralized control over the development of new oil fields–then this once again puts the US in an “objective” alliance with Moqtada Sadr and Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi, the religious leader of the Fadhila or Virtue party, based in the oil-rich southern Shiite city of Basra.

A US Alliance with Sadr and Yacoubi Against Regional Autonomy?

Given the enormous tensions between the US and the Shiite radicals among Sadrist and Fadhila forces, it hardly seems plausible to mention a US alliance with these figures.

Nevertheless, if the US wants to resist moves toward regional autonomy, then they will find allies in Sadr and Yacoubi.

Are there any signs of such an alliance?

The only such sign concerns Khalilzad’s press briefing reference to the urgency of setting a date for provincial elections.

In many provincial elections in the south, Sadr and Yacoubi will do very well. Khalilzad knows this; so do the Shiites.

Recent clashes in southern Iraq have pitted anti-autonomy Sadrist forces against the pro-autonomy SCIRI forces.

Is it possible that US pressure for provincial elections aims to empower the Sadrist forces as a bulwark against SCIRI’s autonomy moves?

The Sadrists certainly appear to be headed in that direction. An October 25 Associated Press report on the Shiite militia clashes in southern Iraq includes the following:

“There is a huge conspiracy supervised by the U.S. occupation to target the Sadrists,” said lawmaker Hassan Shanshal, a supporter of al-Sadr…

Looming ahead, however, is a battle the two sides will certainly fight–a contest over nationwide local elections for provincial councils.

The last vote in 2005… allowed SCIRI to take control of almost all of southern Iraq’s provincial councils as well as those in Baghdad. The Sadrists are eager to wrest away political hold on local government…

Al-Sadr, who has often derided his SCIRI rivals for their close ties to Iran, also is opposed to federalism…

“We will not be dragged into a fight,” said Nasser al-Saadi, a Sadrist lawmaker. “Instead, we will prepare for the elections and, when we take control of local governments, we will not allow federalism.”

The key question, then, is not how various Iraqi factions position themselves on the question of regional autonomy.

The most critical question is this: how do US factions position themselves on the question of regional autonomy and who is navigating the US ship of state?

Does the US support centralized control of Iraq, or regional autonomy?

Raids on Sadr City: Maliki Strikes Back

Posted by Cutler on October 25, 2006
Iraq / No Comments

It looks to me like Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has decided that his bread is buttered in Baghdad, not Washington.

More specifically, he has affirmed his allegiance to Moqtada al-Sadr, rather than US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Now that his bread is buttered, we’ll find out if his days are numbered.

Here is the latest news from the Guardian on Maliki’s strident news conference:

The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today denounced a US raid against a Shia militia position and denied that his government had agreed to a timetable to crack down on violence.

Mr al-Maliki said he had not been consulted about the operation to snatch a militia commander from inside Sadr City and insisted, “It will not be repeated”. He also hit out at an announcement yesterday by the most senior US general in Iraq, General George Casey, and the US ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, stating that the Iraqi government had agreed to a timetable to curb violence in the country.

I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it,” he told a news conference…

The timeline plan outlined yesterday by Mr Khalilzad was believed to have grown out of recent Washington meetings at which the Bush administration sought to reshape its Iraq policy amid mounting US deaths and declining domestic support for the 44-month-old war.

The fact of the Raids on Sadr City surely reflects pressure from the US military brass for a crackdown on Sadrist forces, if not Moqtada al-Sadr himself.

Maliki has denounced such raids before and recently demanded that US forces release a leading Sadrist.

In this instance, it appears that the US was looking for the “Keyser Söze” of Sadr City, Abu Dera (aka, Abu Dereh). According to the New York Times:

Iraqi forces and American advisers entered the far northern tip of the [Sadr City] district, the domain of an infamous Shiite guerilla leader known by his Iraqi nickname, Abu Dera, and immediately came under fire…

Residents said that Abu Dera, whose real name is Ismail al-Zerjawi, was not among those captured, though his son was wounded and his cousin killed. Once loyal to Mr. Sadr, Abu Dera broke away in 2004 and now runs his own influential crime ring. He is famous among Shiites, who put his image on their cellphones and refer to him as the Zarqawi of the Shiites, a reference to the former Al Qaeda leader who exhorted Sunni Arabs to kill Shiites.

[By the way: this is a far more detailed profile of Abu Dera than I’ve seen elsewhere. Type “Zerjawi” into Google News and so far the search engine returns only a question: “Did you mean Zarqawi?”]

US pressure on Maliki to crack down on the Sadrists is essentially a demand that he abandon and betray a significant element of his own political base in exchange for continuing US “support.”

Maliki has refused that exchange. He now risks losing US support.

For the record, AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–a leading Right Zionist–probably isn’t going to shed any tears for Maliki. In his latest missive, he wrote:

We should expect a few Iraqi governments to collapse before we start seeing real progress. Yet our presence in Iraq is the key to ensuring that Shiite-led governments don’t collapse into a radical hard core.

Gerecht is still standing by the Right Zionist idea of an alliance between the US and moderate Iraqi Shiites.

He is simply having trouble finding the moderate Iraqi Shiites.

Baker Group: The Neocon Gloves Come Off

Posted by Cutler on October 24, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

I ordinarily try to offer an interpretive “reading” of articles to which I link.  For now, however, the following rant by AEI’s Michael Rubin–a full-throated critique of James Baker and his Iraq Study Group–will have to speak (or scream) for itself!

Here is the link: “Conclusion First, Debate Afterwards

A taste:

While bipartisan, the groups are anything but representative of the policy debate. I personally withdrew from an expert working group after concluding that I was meant to contribute token diversity rather than my substantive views.

Many appointees appeared to be selected less for expertise than for their hostility to President Bush’s war on terrorism and emphasis on democracy….

Baker and the Baath

Posted by Cutler on October 23, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

All the signs these days are pointing in one direction: a triumphant return of Right Arabist influence in Washington and a corresponding return of Baathist influence in Bagdhad.

Just like the old days of Operation Desert Storm and its most cynical aftermath: Right Zionist encouragement of Shiite/Kurdish forces, followed by a Right Arabist pact with Saddam’s Baathist party.

In Washington, the Right Arabists at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs are so eager for the dawn of a new day that they have gotten a bit ahead of themselves. As the Washington Post reports in an October 23, 2006 article entitled, “Fernandez Apologizes for Iraq Remarks“:

The State Department official in charge of public diplomacy for the Middle East apologized Sunday for telling the Arabic language Al-Jazeera television station that the U.S. had displayed “arrogance and stupidity” in Iraq.

Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, made the remarks in an interview that aired Saturday on the Qatar-based channel, which is carried by satellite and is closely watched in the Arab world.

Speaking in Arabic, Fernandez discussed topics such as the United States’ willingness to talk with insurgent groups in an effort to advance national reconciliation in Iraq.

“We tried to do our best,” he said during the interview, which aired late Saturday. “But I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq.”

As wire service accounts of his remarks began to appear, the state department initially said that Fernandez had been misquoted.

On Sunday, the agency posted a comment from Fernandez on its Web site apologizing for the remarks.

“Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase ‘there has been arrogance and stupidity’ by the U.S. in Iraq,” Fernandez said in the statement. “This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize.”

In truth, Right Arabists have been saying this all along. Most, however, have either done so anonymously or have waited until after leaving the service of the Bush administration.

The loose talk from Fernandez might indicate that he anticipates that Right Arabist criticism of the war will soon become official policy, presumably after the mid-term elections when James Baker’s Iraq Study Group issues its recommendations.

The other major sign of a major shift comes from the Baathist insurgents themselves.

According to an Associated Press report (via the International Herald Tribune), the US has been reaching out to Baathist insurgents:

A man claiming to be a member of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party told a television interviewer the United States was seeking a face-saving exodus from Iraq and that insurgents were ready to negotiate but won’t lay down arms.

The interview with “Abu Mohammed”, a pseudonym, was taped several days ago in Beirut, Lebanon, according to Ghassan Ben Jeddou, the network’s bureau chief in the Lebanese capital….

“The [Baathist] party and other insurgency factions are ready to negotiate with the Americans,” said the man, whose face was concealed.

The occupier has started to search for a face-saving way out. The resistance, with all its factions, is determined to continue fighting until the enemy is brought down to his knees and sits on the negotiating table or is dealt, with God’s help, a humiliating defeat.”

So, all of this points to a politics of Restoration.

These are not insignificant signs. Nevertheless, I reiterate here a few words of caution from a previous post

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee 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.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

News of the death of the Right Zionists might be greatly exaggerated. Rumors of a nod toward the Right Arabists could be nothing more than a head fake for domestic political consumption.

Cheney and the Israel Lobby

Posted by Cutler on October 22, 2006
Iran, Iraq, libya, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

A new musing on some old news.

How and why did Cheney go from being a business dove–a leading US Oil Industry figure lobbying for an end to US sanctions against Iran and Libya (and perhaps Iraq)–to become the leading hawk on Iraq and Iran (but, presumably, not Libya)?

Back on July 26, 2001, Carola Hoyos and Guy Dinmore published an article in the Financial Times entitled “US Senate backs renewed sanctions on Iran and Libya” (can’t find it on-line, sorry).

Oil executives from companies such as Conoco and Chevron had high hopes that the energy sector background of Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney would prompt a resumption of US business ties with Iran, which has the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves. Mr Cheney was an especially vocal opponent of sanctions against Iran during the five years he headed Halliburton, an oil services company.

But in their new role, two factors in particular have limited their willingness to soften their stance on Iran: Russia and Israel.

The Russia angle may prove to be the more decisive factor. More on that soon.

For now, though, amidst all the debate over the “Israel Lobby” (the original essay seems to have been pulled from LRB website…) it is worth noting the following from a May 24, 2001 Financial Times article by Edward Alden, “US Congress Moves to Extend Sanctions” (available on-line through a third party here):

The US is set to renew its economic sanctions on Iran and Libya, perhaps for up to five years, despite the Bush administration’s promise of a thorough review of US sanctions policy.

The pre-emptive move by the US Congress will seriously complicate both the administration’s effort to re-think US sanctions, and its desire to expand US access to new oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea region.

Representative Benjamin Gilman and Howard Berman yesterday introduced legislation to extend the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) for five years. The bill has more than 180 co-sponsors in the House, and could be pushed to a vote as early as next month, well in advance of the August 5 expiry of ILSA.

On the Senate side, a companion bill has more than 60 co-sponsors, a solid majority

The Bush administration had been expected to push for an easing of the Iran and Libya sanctions. US oil companies with close ties to top Bush officials, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, are eager to resume operations in oil-rich Iran.

Also, the administration immediately launched a review of sanctions policy, and has been working to ease the embargo on Iraq.

But congressional proponents of the sanctions regime, backed by the powerful pro-Israel lobby, have moved aggressively to head off any debate over ILSA.

William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a business group that opposes sanctions, admits it will be “an uphill battle” to block extension of ILSA.

If I were the Israel Lobby (i.e., AIPAC) looking to publicize its power, I would cite this Financial Times analysis everywhere I could.

The Israel Lobby delivered up a surprise veto-proof majority in Congress against Cheney.

What’s a vice president to do?

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The pre-emptive strike in Congress that may have prompted a pre-emptive strike in Iraq–and perhaps Iran.

Questions abound, among them, how/why did the Israel Lobby either drop the ball or simply lose more recently on the Libya issue?

And then there is the whole Russia question.

Still, I thought this bit of history might be worth remembering.

Amara Clashes

Posted by Cutler on October 20, 2006
Iraq / 3 Comments

There are confusing and conflicting reports coming out of Amara (sometimes Amarah), scene of recent violence involving Sadrist forces and local police.

A little background context might be helpful here.

Amara is home to Abdel-Karim al-Mohammedawi, widely known as the ‘Prince of the Marshes.

The current Interior Minister of Iraq, Jawad al-Bolani was formerly an aide to Mohammedawi. According to a June 10, 2006 report in the New York Times Bolani began his contemporary political career working with Moktada al-Sadr.

When the British abandoned (or, more accurately, fled) Amara two months ago, Mohammedawi complained that they left the city in corrupt hands.

An August 26, 2006 New York Times report included the following from Mohammedawi:

”[Amara] was handed over to a corrupt authority…” said Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent tribal leader in Amara. ”What do you think the attitude of an ordinary citizen would be….”

Who was this “corrupt authority” of which Muhammadawi was complaining?

The answer seems to the SCIRI and its Badr Brigades.

An Associated Press report from October 19th seems have captured the details of the current conflict:

Clashes erupted Thursday between Mahdi Army fighters and policemen defending their headquarters in the southern city of Amarah after the family of a senior police officer struck back against his suspected killers, kidnapping the teenage brother of the Shiite militia’s commander, police said.

The family of Ali Qassim al-Tamimi, the chief of police intelligence in Maysan, the province of which Amarah is the capital, said they would not release 19-year-old Hussein al-Bahadli until the culprits in al-Tamimi’s death were surrendered

Al-Tamimi was killed Wednesday by a bomb planted on the highway between Amarah and the city of Basra farther south. He was killed along with four of his bodyguards…

Tamimi is known to be a member of the Badr Brigade, a militia linked to Iraq’s largest religious Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. The family maintains that the rival Mahdi Army of radical anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was behind his murder

The Mahdi Army commander in Amarah is sheik Fadel al-Bahadli…

A Call to Arms Against Sadr/Maliki

Posted by Cutler on October 20, 2006
Iraq, Military Brass / 1 Comment

Throughout the past year, the US has repeatedly gone to the brink of a direct clash with Sadr and then retreated.

The latest provocative spark comes from the Shiite city of Amara. Reuters has the following report:

The violence in Amara, in Maysan province where militias and tribes exert huge influence, started after the disappearance of the brother of a senior Mehdi Army leader. Suspecting he had been detained by police, militias attacked police stations with rocket-propelled grenades and and rifle fire, [a security] source said.

The British formally tranferred control of Amara to Iraqi security two months ago. Now, the BBC is reporting that British troops are poised to move back into the city.

Will this latest clash be the start of something big? Or, will various envoys arrive on the scene to negotiate another retreat from the brink?

Time will tell.

But one thing is quite clear: there are some forces spoiling for a fight with Sadr.

CNN’s military analyst, General David Grange, was just on the air (no transcript available yet [Update: here is the link to the CNN transcript; thanks TR) and he was totally adament: this is a potential turning point and the US has no choice but to launch a ruthless assault on the city of Amara.

[Y]ou have to be ruthless like Grant during the Civil War. And right now they cannot let the militia get away with taking over a city. Right now, it’s a test. And if they let this go, it will definitely be — definitely be — not maybe — a turning point for the results of what will happen in Iraq.

The only thing right now, in a situation like this, that those that are violating the law of Iraq understand is ruthless pursuit. That’s all they understand. And I would seal off the complete city. And I would go in, hopefully not do a lot of collateral damage, but if it happens, so be it.

If Grange represents anything close to the rage of the military brass in Baghdad then Amara may, indeed, become a test case of sorts, not only a battleground for clashes between US/UK forces and Sadr, but also a battleground between the military brass in Iraq and the political forces that have repeatedly retreated from the brink of a direct confrontation with Sadr.

Grange’s rage may be quite indicative of a larger frustration within the military. How else to explain yesterday’s the extraodinarily gloomy vote of no-confidence articulated by the top US military spokesman in Iraq, General William Caldwell.

As the Financial Times reports, Caldwell barely contained his frustration at Iraq political pressure to retreat from a confrontation with Sadrist forces:

The US military wants Mr Maliki to stop protecting radical Shia groups such as the Mahdi Army militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In a virtually unprecedented criticism of the Iraqi leadership, Gen Caldwell said US forces had been forced to release Sadrist organiser Mazin al-Sa’edi on Wednesday, one day after his arrest on suspicion of involvement in violence, at the prime minister’s request.

Bush may think Maliki is doing a “heck of a job,” but Caldwell and the rest of the military brass seem to have run out of patience.

Can Bush resist military pressure for a new deal–one that might include the “collapse” of the Maliki government and risk a direct, bloody and costly clash between US troops and Sadrist forces–until after the November mid-term elections?

Military Brass vs. Rove. Place your bets.

US & Sadr: Brink and Back

Posted by Cutler on October 18, 2006
Iraq / 1 Comment

I can’t help thinking that US foreign policy factionalism is playing a role in recent flip-flops over US policy toward Sadr.

As Swopa was quick to note, the US moved against a key Sadr aide yesterday. An “eruption” seemed plausible.

Well, somebody seems to have thought better of that idea.

Today, Muwaffaq Al Rubaie–Iraq’s national security advisor and a figure with “close ties” to some in the US–announced that Prime Minister Maliki had “ordered” the US to release the Sadrist figure, Sheikh Mazen Al Saedi. According to one news report, Saedi has, in fact, been released.

Questions of the day:

Who was behind the move to clash with Sadr?

Who was behind the decision to retreat from the brink?

Not easy questions, especially since everybody hates Sadr.”

Haass Style

Posted by Cutler on October 17, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / 1 Comment

The Financial Times published a Richard Haass Op-Ed yesterday. It will also host an online discussion with Haass on Friday October 20, 2006. Post your questions now!

Haass runs the Council on Foreign Relations. He was James Baker’s top deputy on Iraq when the US opted to keep Saddam in power so he could crush the Shiite rebellion back in 1991. He continues to help define what it means to be a “realist” and a Right Arabist.

The Haass FT Op-Ed from October 16th is entitled “A Troubling Middle East Era Dawns.”

As Right Arabist doctrine, there isn’t much that is unexpected.

Gone is a Sunni-dominated Iraq, strong and motivated enough to balance Shia Iran

Iran will be one of the two most powerful states in the region. It is a classical imperial power, with ambitions to remake the region in its image and the potential to translate objectives into reality.

As I’ve argued in previous posts, Right Arabists fear Iranian regional power.

Contrast this with Right Zionists who don’t like the incumbent Iranian regime but yearn for Iranian regional power once the old US-Iranian alliance of the 1970s has been restored to its former glory.

Haass well understands that the demand for various routes to Right Zionist regime change in Iran all ultimately aim to increase Iranian regional power after the incumbent regime has been replaced with one aligned with Israel and the US.

Set aside, for the moment and for the sake of understanding the fears of Right Arabists, the “sanity” of these Right Zionist aims.

Haass–for all his antipathy toward the regional power of Shia Iran–rejects all ideas that center on regime change.

On a military strike on Iran:

To be sure, there are things that can be done. Avoiding an over-reliance on military force is one. Force is not terribly useful against loosely organised militias and terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the local population and prepared to die for their cause. Nor is there reason to be confident that carrying out a preventive strike on Iranian nuclear installations would do more good than harm. Military force should be a last resort here

Not endorsed. (Not ruled out, either).

On democratic regime change in Iran:

No one should count on the emergence of democracy to pacify the region. Creating mature democracies is no easy task. Those who grow up in democracies can still carry out terrorism; those who win elections can opt for war.

Ok, then. What’s left?

Diplomacy… One step that could only help would be to establish a regional forum for Iraq’s neighbours to help manage events there akin to that used for Afghanistan. This would require ending US diplomatic isolation of both Iran and Syria, which in any event is not working…

Surely, it is this kind of talk earns Haass the titles of “realist” and “pragmatist,” if not peacenik.

But the real impulse here is not Right Arabist pacifism. As Haass says himself, the real impulse is fear of the “imperial power” of Shia Iran and the threat a “Shia Crescent” would pose to Sunni Arab regional hegemony.

The “diplomacy” Haass has in mind is not for harmonious US relations with Iran. That is the Right Zionist game. The ideal of Haass diplomacy with Iran is the survival but containment of the incumbent Iranian regime.

All of this justifies great concern but not fatalism. There is a fundamental difference between a Middle Easthousing a powerful Iran and one dominated by Iran.

In the present context, Right Arabists are left defending efforts to contain “a powerful Iran” as a way of forestalling the formation of a Middle East “dominated by Iran.”

Haass talks peace with “official” Iran because his real war is with Right Zionists dreaming of “eternal Iran.”

[Update: The Haass Op-Ed discussed above is an abridged version of a longer essay published in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Highlights omitted from the Op-Ed:

It is true that mature democracies tend not to wage war on one another. Unfortunately, creating mature democracies is no easy task, and even if the effort ultimately succeeds, it takes decades. In the interim, the U.S. government must continue to work with many nondemocratic governments

Iran is a more difficult case. But since regime change in Tehran is not a near-term prospect, military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran would be dangerous, and deterrence is uncertain, diplomacy is the best option available to Washington. The U.S. government should open, without preconditions, comprehensive talks that address Iran’s nuclear program and its support of terrorism and foreign militias. Iran should be offered an array of economic, political, and security incentives. It could be allowed a highly limited uranium-enrichment pilot program so long as it accepted highly intrusive inspections. Such an offer would win broad international support, a prerequisite if the United States wants backing for imposing sanctions or escalating to other options should diplomacy fail.

The Middle East will remain a troubled and troubling part of the world for decades to come. It is all enough to make one nostalgic for the old Middle East.

I note, with great interest and humility (given my own prior reading of his FT Op-Ed, above), that Haass does not endorse containment or deterrance of Iran in the longer essay.  Instead, he endorses the incentive package most recently offered the Iranians…

Right Lightning, Left Thunder*

Posted by Cutler on October 16, 2006
Isolationism, Right Arabists / 1 Comment

How will the critics respond if the Bush administration capitulates to Right Arabist pressure (i.e., James Baker’s Iraq Study Group) and inaugurates an end-of term “clean break” with the Right Zionist course in Iraq?

Partisans, Plain and Simple

To be sure, some Iraq war critics are plain and simple partisans. These folks will attack the Bush administration for anything it decides because it derides the decider. Plain partisans feign passing interest in Iraq, but a change in course in Iraq would hardly register as significant.

The outcome: plain partisans will turn on a dime along with any change in the Bush administration. Without ever noticing, they will purge themselves of Right Arabist complaints about Iraq (too few troops, missionary zeal for democracy, naive de-Baathification, Zionist manipulation) and adopt the American Enterprise Institute homepage as their own. There they will find Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, and others lamenting the madness of US policy in Iraq (heavy-handed military occupation, coddling of dictators, naive re-Baathification, Saudi manipulation).

Plain partisans will be reliably critical of any shift in Bush administration policy. Trouble is, many of these same folks may be completely disarmed when Bush passes the torch to a Democratic administration. Anybody but Bush, right?

Such an administration could be given a free hand, when it comes to the substance of policy and the depth of sacrifice required, simply because it is not the Bush administration.

Not a particularly powerful basis for critically confronting a Democratic party that led the US to war in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam–just to name a few of the big military adventures of the 20th Century.

Foreign Policy Partisans

Unlike “plain partisans,” some anti-war activists actually dug in and developed commitments to a “line” on Iraq.

Many of these “foreign policy partisans” may have started as “plain partisans,” but they developed a specific critique of the Right Zionist character of Bush administration policies in Iraq.

That critique mirrored, in many respects, the critique offered up by the Right Arabist establishment that found itself suddenly in the “opposition” after September 11th.

Unlike “plain partisans” who risk serious cooptation only after 2008, “foreign policy partisans” face a more immediate risk of cooptation insofar as the Bush administration is currently contemplating a dramatic and decisive shift toward Right Arabist influence.

Such a shift may not actually come to pass. But if it does, “foreign policy partisans” will find themselves cheering for the Right Arabist establishment and the Bush administration.

In some cases, the “marriage of convenience” that linked foreign policy partisans of the Left to the Right Arabist establishment may endure. (Others will split, but the breakup is going to be awkward after all the sweet nothings whispered).

“Foreign policy partisans” most at risk are the ones whose critique has been the most narrowly focused on the Right Zionist menace.

Exhibit A is surely Robert Dreyfuss. But there is no reason to pick on Dreyfuss simply because he offers up such low-lying fruit.

There are plenty of writers whose critique of Right Arabists is quite dull.

Take, for example, a recent article in The Nation by David Corn, “Who’s Running Afghan Policy?

Corn begins with what would seem to be a pretty harsh critique of Meghan O’Sullivan, White House NSC deputy for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several months ago a leading American expert on Afghanistan was meeting with Meghan O’Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser in the Bush White House. The topic at hand was the attitude of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, toward the revived Taliban insurgents operating out of Pakistani territory…

[An expert meeting with O’Sullivan referred] to the Durand Line… [to note] that US efforts in the region are complicated by pre-9/11 history. O’Sullivan, according to this expert (who wishes not to be named), didn’t know what the Durand Line was. The expert was stunned. O’Sullivan is the most senior Bush Administration official handling Afghanistan policy. If she wasn’t familiar with this basic point, US policy-making on Afghanistan was in trouble.

Corn seems to be moving toward a harsh critique of O’Sullivan.

It doesn’t happen. Why? Corn explains:

O’Sullivan is not the issue. She is a protégé of Richard Haass, who left the State Department as policy director in July 2003 and became president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and she is neither a neocon nor an ideologue

The problem is that O’Sullivan, who is in her mid-30s, is not an expert in the field and does not have the stature to take on heavyweights in the Administration (say, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld). Worse, she has two briefs: Afghanistan and Iraq. Either project would (or should) be more than a 24/7 job for a senior Administration official…

O’Sullivan gets a (paternalistic) pass from Corn. Why? Apparently, any friend of Richard Haass is a friend of The Nation these days.

A pity, given Corn’s concern that “Pakistan has been colluding with the Taliban.”

As I mentioned in a recent post, Right Arabists are arguably the ones responsible for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, not because they lost out to Rumsfeld but because they won that factional fight back in 2002.

Insofar as Right Arabists recapture the ship of state, foreign policy partisans seem set to be disoriented and defanged.

Partisanship–whether plain and simple, or foreign policy focused–will not serve in the current context.

The foreign policy establishment has been engaged in an intramural rivalry between two factions–Right Arabists and Right Zionists–that offer different paths for policing US interests in the Middle East.

Those who pick a side in that battle risk being subsumed by it.

What is needed is a consistent and even-handed anti-imperialist politics.

*The title of this post owes its inspiration to an essay by Scott Tucker.

Baker’s Coup

Posted by Cutler on October 14, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

There is increasingly high-profile chatter these days about James Baker’s Iraq Study Group and the idea of a pro-Sunni Arab coup in Iraq.

After a flurry of speculation that Baker would embrace the breakup of Iraq, I think that idea has been put to rest.

In his October 9, 2006 appearance on The Daily Show, Baker was asked by Jon Stewart (Part 2 at 2:16), “You Gonna Split it Up?”

BAKER: “No, no, I don’t think we can do that.”

But then Baker quickly recovered and provided the formal response:

BAKER: “Although, we haven’t ruled anything out, Jon… That’s still one of the things we are looking at.”

Notwithstanding Baker’s back pedaling, the Right Arabist consiglieri spoke his mind and no one should be surprised by his opposition to a Right Zionist/Dem Zionist plan for the breakup of Iraq.

It should also be obvious that Baker will be praised by many as a voice of reason, but Right Zionists will protest if Baker’s Right Arabist position becomes policy.

The Eli Lake at the Right Zionist New York Sun has already published one sign (among others) of Right Zionist dissent, almost surely from one of the token Right Zionists (like Reuel Marc Gerecht) who have been part of the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups.”

Here is the New York Sun article, which includes leaked details of the Study Group’s work:

On PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show,” Mr. Baker… hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was “democratic” and one that was merely “representative.”

“If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success,” he said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. “Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative,” the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

There are at least two significant questions swirling around all the talk about impending Right Arabist coups in Washington and Baghdad.

1. Is it Real or is it Rove?

Robert Dreyfuss thinks his Right Arabist friends are on the verge of seizing control of the ship of state.

The realists may not be in charge, yet, but they’re getting there. John Warner is the muscle behind Frank Wolf, who created the ISG, and Warner isn’t happy. The military, behind Warner, ain’t happy, either.

Dreyfuss is right about Frank Wolf. And about the military brass.

But is Dreyfuss right that their campaign against Right Zionist influence in the Bush administration is actually “getting there”?

His pal Laura Rozen isn’t buying it.

So how coordinated is [Baker’s] book roll out (Comedy Central, Meet the Press, NPR this morning) with the White House in advance of the November election? My sense: totally coordinated. Is it not a very deliberately timed reach out and wink and nod to GOP realists — see, we are listening to you? The adults are in the house?… Seems Baker is a witting campaign prop being coordinated by the White House to communicate the message, the realists will be in charge of foreign policy the next two years. Without the White House having to say it, or it necessarily being true.

There is important precedent for this interpretation.

A Rozen reader (“JR”) suggests from 1972.

James Baker ploy is a subtler version of Kissinger’s Oct 1972 appearance at which he touched the breast pocket of his suit and said, about Vietnam, that the Nixon Admin had a plan for peace (‘…peace is at hand.’). Shortly after the election, the Paris peace talks broke down and two months later, the Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong began.”

As I noted in a September post, there is another, more recent example: the 2004 Presidential election.

In an October 14, 2004 interview with the Financial Times, Brent Scowcroft suggested that during the first term, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had Bush “wrapped around his little finger.”

However, Scowcroft assured his Right Arabist allies, Right Zionist influence would diminish in a second term, once the Bush administration was fee 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.”

In addition to being an implicit swipe at the domestic political power of the “Israel Lobby,” the interview was surely designed to produce a ceasefire in the Beltway insurgency against Bush.

The trouble is, it wasn’t true. Election year 2004 was the high point for Bush administration Right Arabist policy in Iraq.

In 2004, Bremer reversed de-Baathification orders and appointed an ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the designated Prime Minister. In Fallujah, US forces handed power to a Baathist. The US even abandoned its new Iraqi flag in favor of the old Saddam-era flag.

Then came the November presidential election.

The polls closed and US forces swept back into Fallujah.

Then came a series of votes–in January, October, and December 2005–that swept Iraqi Shiites into power.

Scowcroft, it seems, had been a campaign prop–witting or unwitting. Nothing more.

Will it be different this time?

I have my doubts, if only because–pace Scowcroft–I think the 2004 case–Fallujah, etc.–makes it clear that domestic political pressures (Rove) tend to put a brake on some of the most “adventurous” and “costly” Right Zionist policies. This administration is most “audacious” when it is most immune from retail politics.

2007 could be another year of living dangerously.

2. “Can we do it? Yes we Can!”

Robert Dreyfuss–aka, Bob the Baathist–is certainly keen to see the US return power to the Baathists, presumably as a way of getting US troops home.

Would it actually work? Would it turn out that way?

Swopa, for one, has long warned that such a move would likely generate a massive Shiite uprising.

The madness of contemplating a coup, though, is that the same Shiite religious hierarchy which swept Allawi out of power through general elections in January 2005 has feared such a coup as their nightmare scenario all along, and so would almost instantly call for a popular uprising that would put the U.S. in helicopters-on-rooftops departure mode.

The Shiite popular uprising is one problem. And then there are the Sunni insurgents who don’t want to align themselves with the US, even in exchange for a role in governance.

So, it would be a bloody mess (expect a media blackout, though; only the discredited Right Zionists will be complaining about the slaughter… the Right Arabist establishment that has been so happy to be featured on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” while Right Zionists rule will suddenly stop taking her phone calls. Perle and Wolfowitz might call, but will Amy Goodman welcome them? We’ll see).

But will it lead to “helicopters-on-rooftops” departure mode for the US?

I don’t know. That may be one scenario. But the other scenario is a replay of the Shiite uprising of February/March 1991.

In that scenario, US troops align themselves with the old Iraqi military. Who will stand up for the Iraqi Shiites?

Not Iran. Iran stood by in 1991. And Baker wants to “talk” to Iran because he is going to make sure they will stand by this time, in exchange for a security guarantee.

Not the Saudis, Egyptians, or Jordanians who have been complaining about a Shiite Crescent.

And not the British.

Indeed, if the Baker coup is coming then it may be time to dig up the old files on British campaigns to crush a Shiite rebellion and re-install Sunni Arab minority dominance when they inherited/”invented” Iraq from the Ottomans after World War I.

Clinton’s Right Arabists

Posted by Cutler on October 13, 2006
Dem Zionists, Right Arabists / No Comments

In a previous post, I noted that Bill Clinton’s references to “President Bush’s neo-cons” conveniently overlooked “neo-con” influence in the Democratic party and in his own administration.  Walter Slocombe at the Pentagon.  James Woolsey at CIA.

But maybe Clinton was trying to signal a change.  Perhaps the Democratic party wants to make a bid to become the party of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

Add this to the evidence pile: Hillary Clinton did a little singing from the same songbook over at the New York Daily News.

“If we could get some adult supervision right now in the administration with respect to their war strategy, this could be handled,” she said…

“I believe that if President Bush woke up tomorrow and said that he would substitute Jim Baker or Colin Powell or Brent Scowcroft or somebody who actually knows how to do things in the real world for Rumsfeld, I think the entire world would say ‘Okay, you’ve got another chance, we want to listen to you again.'”

Wow.  Really?

Going for the George H.W. Bush vote in 2008?

Good luck with that.

Friendly Fire

Posted by Cutler on October 12, 2006
Isolationism / 1 Comment

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been fighting an insurgency from within the ranks of the US Army.

Lately, however, Rumsfeld has been taking some “friendly fire” from some of his closest allies in that fight, especially his hand-picked Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker.

Background: the Revolt of the Generals

The “revolt of the Generals” is not a recent phenomenon and isn’t only about policies specific to Iraq.

The Pentagon insurgency began before September 11th and long before the invasion of Iraq. If we are allowed to ask of these “dead enders” why they hate him, the central grievance is clear enough:

Rumsfeld is, among other things, a “military transformation” guy who favors technological innovations that give air power and special ops–rather than traditional Army “boots on the ground”–central stage in military planning.

Much of this is well documented in a book by Washington Times military correspondent Rowan Scarborough in his 2004 book, Rumsfeld’s War. The chapter-section called “Guerrilla Warfare” that discusses the development of an “anti-Rumsfeld insurgency” in the Pentagon covers the period before September 11th.

After September 11th, Rumsfeld used his new-found influence to pursue a relentless counter-insurgency campaign against his Pentagon critics. Well-known casualties include former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki.

Shinseki made the traditional case for the primarcy of Army boots on the ground–as a matter of general strategic planning, more specifically, in the case of Iraq.

Shinseki was publicly rebuked by Rumsfeld Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and when Shinseki “retired,” Rumsfeld appointed a “Special Forces” guy–General Schoomaker–as Army Chief. First time ever. Rumsfeld was obviously looking for a loyal military transformationalist.

Schoomaker, Embedded

Fast forward to the Annual Convention of the “Association of the U.S. Army,” currently underway in Washington.

On Wednesday (October 11, 2006), General Schoomaker spoke to the Army Association. C-Span covered the event (no link at this time; the video is not yet up on the C-Span website).

Schoomaker began his remarks by recognizing various notables in the audience. Top billing went to (Retired) General Eric Shinseki.

I don’t know much about Army protocol, so I wasn’t sure if this was unusual or meaningful. But the applause generated by the name Shinseki was undeniably meaningful.

It soon became clear that Schoomaker was intentionally sending a message with his nod to Shinseki.

Has Schoomaker joined the insurgency?

His central critique is actually the same one articulated by “liberal hawks”: the Bush administration has failed to cultivate the “political culture of sacrifice” required for war.

I cannot yet find a full-text, on-line transcript of the speech. But the Army Association website does include some key passages.

The nation has had a “tepid” response to the war against global terrorism, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker said Oct. 10, arguing that the country needs to make both a financial and spiritual commitment to the ongoing struggle.

Schoomaker, addressing the Annual Meeting of the Association of the United States Army, sharply contrasted the post-9/11 civilian reaction with the mobilization and grand consensus – and financial support — that emerged during the Second World War and Cold War.

“In many ways, the nation’s response to war has been tepid,” Schoomaker said.

Schoomaker warned that “we are much closer to the beginning than the end of this long conflict.”

In order to successfully reach the end of the conflict, the military will require renewed public support, both in terms of dollars and political leadership, Schoomaker said.

“Ultimately victory requires a national strategic consensus, evident in both words and actions,” he said. “While such a common strategic foundation, understood and accepted by the American people, existed during the Cold War, in the form of our strategy of containment, it is not yet evident that such common understanding exists today. … Another 9/11 should not have to occur to shake us into action”…

Schoomaker pointedly compared U.S. defense spending during the Second World War with the current outlays. During that war, the defense budget reached 38 percent of the gross domestic product, as compared with more 14 percent during the Korean War, and roughly 10 percent during the Vietnam War. Current military outlays are at less than 4 percent, Schoomaker said.

“Let there be no mistake: Our soldiers’ effectiveness in battle, both today and tomorrow, ultimately depends on a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them and their families properly,” he said. “This is a matter of national priorities, not a matter of affordability.”

Of course, the aim here is to rally for more DoD and, specifically, Army funding. Nothing surprising in that. Just the “military-industrial complex” talking, some folks might say.

But it is an implicit rebuke of the Bush administration tax cuts, etc.

Stars and Stripes puts the speech in the larger context of friction over military budgets.

A complacent nation might applaud its soldiers, but if it doesn’t back up that praise in the form of hard cash — funding — the praise is hollow, Schoomaker said.

He compared this spending to the height of the Reagan defense buildup in the mid-1990s, when defense spending was 6.2 percent of GDP, and Vietnam, when defense expenditures were 10 percent of GDP.

“The nation’s got to step up here,” Schoomaker told the reporters.

Schoomaker is so concerned that the Army is being underfunded that he refused to turn in the Army’s proposed fiscal 2008-to- 2013 spending plan by its Aug. 15 deadline after the Pentagon proposed a fiscal 2008 Army budget of $114 billion.

The assumption, Schoomaker said, was that the Army is receiving the lion’s share of the billions of dollars in supplemental wartime spending that Congress has approved, and “if we just keep the supplementals up that it will compensate for this pressure” of so-called “baseline” cuts.

“But you don’t get well on supplementals,” Schoomaker said. “There’s very strict rules for supplementals. They have to be tied to consumption in the fight … [and] that does not transform you … it [just] attempts to keep you where you were.”

Instead of $114 billion in fiscal 2008, Schoomaker and other Army leaders say a baseline budget in the $138 billion range is required.

Army leaders are now negotiating with senior Defense Department officials over the additional $24 billion, he said.

Asked whether he threatened to resign over the issue if the Pentagon won’t add the funds, Schoomaker said no.

“It’s not useful to walk around here threatening anything,” he said.

Some will say Schoomaker has simply “recognized reality.”

Others will say he has been “captured” by the Army brass he was supposed to “reform.”

Some may sugget that he is actually trying to coopt the Shinseki insurgency before they manage to undermine the big-budget, Boeing-led military transformation “Future Combat System” (FCS) program so near and dear to Rumsfeld and Schoomaker.

In any event, the ongoing insurgency at the Pentagon makes it clear that Karl Rove’s White House continues to prefer for political populism over politically risky demands for painful sacrifice.

For this, the Bush administration continues get hit its Right as well as its Left.

My question is simple: is Karl Rove right?

Is a “tepid” war on terror all that the political culture will allow?

Clinton’s Neocons

Posted by Cutler on October 11, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

In his recent “outburst” on Fox news, President Clinton talked about “All of President Bush’s neo-cons.”

Clinton had less to say, on Fox, about his own neo-cons.

But Clinton–and “Dem Zionists“–are not quite always so hostile to neo-cons.

The politics of the war in Iraq do not really divide on partisan lines.

That is one reason to suspect that Democrats who have refused to embrace a populist anti-war position during the Bush administration are likely to renew major elements of the Right Zionist project in the Gulf if they are empowered to do so in upcoming elections.

De-fending De-Baathification

Take, for example, the crucial question of dismantling the Iraqi army in May 2003.

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni has called the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army the Bush administration’s “worst mistake” in postwar Iraq.

That, at least, was his sense of things back in November 2003, according to a Washington Post article from that time–“Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?

The old article worth reviewing again because the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and de-Baathify the Iraqi state is back in the news with the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq that Cheney and Rumsfeld were the driving forces behind that decision.

Today, Zinni’s criticism has become the “common sense” regarding the war. Almost everybody agrees with Zinni; if there are major disagreements they involve ways to fix the problem now that the damage has been done.

Almost everybody agrees with Zinni.

But even after the rise of the Iraqi insurgency there were two US foreign policy figures who continued to explain and defend the rationale for de-Baathification.

Feith Leads the Way

The first figure is now quite infamous: Douglas J. Feith.

Feith served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and is the Bush administration Right Zionist most closely identified with the manipulation of pre-war intelligence and the failures of post-war planning.

His infamy was probably secured when General Tommy Franks–who commanded US forces in the invasion of Iraq–referred to Feith as the “dumbest [expletive] guy on the planet.”

In a May 28, 2003 press conference, Feith defended the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

Q My name is Saeb Erekat from al Quds Newspaper. Mr. Feith, in the last few days, we have witnessed increased attacks on American forces in Iraq. Do you attribute this to the dissolution of the Iraqi armed forces? And was that wise to do? And in retrospect, do you think that the policy — not in retrospect, in effect, the policy of applying de-Ba’athification to the entire bureaucratic infrastructure in Iraq is really wise in terms of getting Iraq back on its feet since you would need a lot of this talent and ability and technical capabilities and so on? Thank you.

MR. FEITH: We view the de-Ba’athification policy not only as wise but as indispensable to the effort to create a free Iraq… There was — we got a lot of Iraqis coming forward and saying that people would not feel comfortable cooperating with us, talking to us, working with us, if they felt that they were going to remain subject to retaliation by the Ba’ath Party elements. And it is — it is clear that the future of Iraq as a free country depends on people in the country believing and seeing that the Ba’ath Party is gone and that it’s not going to come back, and that the remnants of the Ba’ath Party are not going to be in a position to control the administration of the country or to physically attack the people who are going to be creating a free Iraq…

Apart from Feith defense of the policy–which came in the very early days after the decision was announced–is there anyone else who defended the policy?

Feith’s Fellow Traveler: Walter Slocombe

During the Clinton administration, Walter Slocombe occupied the exact same post that Feith would later occupy during the Bush administration.

Slocombe served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1994 to 2001.

But Slocombe is far less famous/infamous than Feith. To date, the poor fellow doesn’t even have his own wikipedia entry.

Nevertheless, he is a crucial figure for understanding the partisan contours of Iraq war politics.

According to that old Washington Post article, “Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?,” from November 20, 2003, Slocombe played a major role in the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces.

Of course, all the “other” Right Zionists players were involved. And nobody should try to pin the deal on Slocombe as a way of deflecting blame from the Bush administration.

However, it is also worth noting: long after Slocombe had left the service of Paul Bremer, whose Coalition Provisional Authority was in full retreat from its earlier policy and was now re-Baathifying as quickly as it could–Slocombe continued to make the case for de-Baathification.

And Slocombe’s explanation for the policy is far more candid about the geopolitical stakes than Feith’s. Slocombe emphasizes that his focus was on the contours of Sunni-Shiite political power in Iraq.

Slocombe’s line was the same during his service as it was later.

As a government official, Slocombe explained the policy–and warned against a tilt toward re-Baathification–in a November 5, 2003 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “To Build an Army.”

[I]t’s being argued by some that… the United States could and should have relied on Saddam Hussein’s old army and saved itself the trouble of creating a new one. Some even say we should try to do that now by recalling the old army to service some six months after its defeat.

It’s an argument that doesn’t add up. Given our objective of replacing Hussein’s regime, and not just its leader, it would have been a mistake, I think, to try to convert an army that was a principal tool of his oppressive system into the armed guardian of a new democracy…

Some observers… say that we should have called the departed soldiers back. Hussein’s army, however, consisted entirely of conscripts below officer level, most of them Shiites, who were badly mistreated by the overwhelmingly Sunni officers. Those conscripts were delighted at the opportunity to escape the abuse, corruption and misery of the old army. They certainly weren’t going to heed the call of their officers to return, and we were not about to send press gangs out to round them up.

Thus any recalled “army” would have consisted almost entirely of officers from the absurdly top-heavy senior ranks.

Slocombe supported dismantling the Iraqi army as one element of a larger campaign to depose the Sunni governing elite.

In April 1, 2004 remarks entitled “Inside Iraq” delivered to the Commonwealth Club after he had left the Coalition Provisional Authority, Slocombe continued to emphasize the Sunni-Shiite political dynamic.

[The Iraqi army] was a conscript army. Most of the officers – well over 80 percent – were Sunni; most of the enlisted – probably 80 percent, higher than the population percentages – were Shia. And the conscripts went home. They liked the idea that they were formally excused from their obligations. They were not paid, so they hardly became unemployed. They were a lot more useful for the society home with their families. There was no question of getting them to come back.

We could have gotten a lot of officers. The Iraqi army had 11,000 general officers… The sensible thing to do was to start from the bottom and build up.

As Slocombe explained in the November 2003 Washington Post article “Wrong Turn at a Postwar Crossroads?“:

“This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute and done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad. It was discussed,” Slocombe said.

For Slocombe, disbanding the Iraqi army was a political decision. It didn’t “mistakenly” alienate the Sunni officers. It did so intentionally, as part of a larger project of transforming the regional balance of power.

My hunch is that Dem Zionists will join Slocombe in defending this project long after the Republican party has returned to its Right Arabist roots.

Baker’s Iraq Study Group

Posted by Cutler on October 10, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Arabists / 2 Comments

In a previous post I suggested that it would be very peculiar if Jame A. Baker, III–one of the leading Right Arabists in the foreign policy Establishment–embraced plans for a decentralized Iraq, as reported by the London Times.

I did not know, at that time, that Baker had appeared on ABC’s “This Week” the day before, talking about Iraq. I still have not seen an on-line transcript of the interview. But the Associated Press (via the International Herald Tribune) has offered up some quotes that only add to my sense that Baker is likely to favor an anti-Shiite coup, rather than regional autonomy for Shiites and Kurds.

Baker said, “if we picked up and left right now” Iraq would be plunged into “the biggest civil war you’ve ever seen,” with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved…

“[At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991,…] [a]s much as Saddam’s neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in ways that would play into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran,” Baker said.

Today in Iraq, “The risk is certainly there, the same risk,” Baker said.

Same risk. Same neighbors. Same Baker.

From De-Baathification to Decentralization

Posted by Cutler on October 09, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

Two items in the news–both discussed in a Sunday post by Juan Cole–warrant some additional attention.

The first item–quite plausible and very interesting–concerns a Reuters report that Cheney and Rumsfeld led the campaign for the fateful May 2003 decision to support Iraqi de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi army.

The second item–totally implausible and quite startling–concerns a London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group “may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions.”

Cheney/Rumsfeld: No Likudniks, They

The report on Cheney and Rumsfeld arises from the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq. The Blunkett “revelations” accompany the release of his new memoir, The Blunkett Tapes: My Life in the Bearpit.

Reuters reports:

David Blunkett, Home Secretary at the time of the invasion, told newspapers that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could not diverted from their goal of dismantling the Iraqi Ba’athist government system.

“We dismantled the structure of a functioning state,” he said, adding that the British view was: “Change them by all means, decapitate them even, but very quickly get the arms and legs moving.”

Blunkett’s account is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the idea that the British opposed de-Baathification, favoring some form military decapitation that would allow for Saddamism without Saddam in post-invasion Iraq.

Second, it suggests that the policy of de-Baathification had the support of Bush administration principals, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Here is Cole on the Blunkett story:

Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed that the idea of dismantling the Baath-dominated Iraqi army and bureaucracy in May of 2003 came from US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (It is often blamed on proconsul Paul Bremer, but it has all along been obvious that he was ordered to do it by higher-ups). A precise timeline for the development of this policy (which had been ruled out at the Pentagon as late as March 15) and a precise account of where it came from has never been published.

It would be important to know what the role of the Likudniks was in this regard: Irv Lewis Libby and John Hannah in Dick Cheney’s office, and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and the neo-plumbers of the “Office of Special Plans“– i.e. Abram Shulsky, David Wurmser, Michael Rubin and others at the Pentagon. The decision was clearly against US interests, but an Iraq without an army may well have had a special appeal to Rightwing Zionists and their Chalabist allies among the Iraqi expatriates.

I think it has been clear for some time that the policy did have considerable appeal to Right Zionists. No surprise there.

Prior to the Blunkett claims, one might have even suspected that de-Baathification was championed exclusively by Right Zionist deputies who snuck one past distracted principals like Cheney and Rumsfeld.

This has never seemed particularly persuasive or plausible.

But Blunkett’s assertions move the spotlight off the role of the deputies and onto the role of Cheney and Rumsfeld.

As I have argued in a previous post entitled “Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney,” both of these figures had long-established records as Right Arabists, not Right Zionists.

So what were Cheney and Rumsfeld doing supporting de-Baathification?

Blunkett has made some news. But his claims only provoke more questions. On this, I completely agree with Cole: we need a precise timeline and a precise account. None have been written.

The Baker Boys

The London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group favors decentralization in Iraq simply defies all logic. Given the surprising turns of this administration, however, that may not be enough to render it false.

Nevertheless, I’ll eat my hat if this one turns out to be true.

James Baker one of the towering figures of the Right Arabist Establishment and was the principal most clearly identified with the decision to keep Saddam Hussein in power at the end of “Operation Desert Storm” rather than support rebellions by Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in search of autonomy.

Like de-Baathification, the defenders of decentralization tend to be Neocons and Zionists (Likudniks and Dem Zionists) who favor US alliances with Shiites and Kurds.

Right Arabists in Washington who favor Sunni Arab regional dominance–along with Sunni Arab regimes and most Iraqi Sunni Arabs–have vehemently opposed all policies that would compromise the “Arab” unity of Iraq.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is one of the four “participating groups” that formally constitute the Iraq Study Group. Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is the most prominent and vocal opponent of plans that support the decentralization of Iraq.

A look at the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups” does little to point toward support for decentralization of Iraq. Right Arabists are well represented (Amy Myers Jaffe, Chas W. Freeman, etc.).

The most prominent Right Zionist involved–AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–favors Shiite power in Iraq but has also looked hopefully to Shiite nationalists like Sadr to hold Iraq together. In a January 2006 Weekly Standard essay entitled “Devout Democracies,” Gerecht argued:

[T]here remains the huge fact of the Shiite population in Baghdad, which would be excluded from any Shiite semi–autonomous zone in the south. Baghdad is a majority Shiite city. And it simply cannot be compared to any other city in Iraq-certainly not impoverished and broken Basra, the other possible pole of Shiite urban influence. (The impoverished Shiite south of Iraq actually reminds one of Afghanistan.) For the foreseeable future, the centripetal power of Baghdad will remain. The exclusionary, defensive, federalist impulses of the Iraqi Shiite community… can go only so far before they provoke real, paralyzing Shiite resistance from Baghdad. If for no other reason, the Baghdad Shiite factor will likely guarantee sufficient tolerance toward the Sunnis for democratic progress to continue.

If Baker–and his Iraq Study Group–has flipped on this issue, it would represent an immense earthquake within the factional fault lines of the Republican foreign policy Establishment.

The only comparable Right Arabist defection?

Cheney and Rumsfeld’s support for De-Baathification.

Iran Plan?

Posted by Cutler on October 07, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

The “Iran Question” makes my head hurt.

The reason has been pretty clear since the ’06 Lebanon War. You can see early signs of turbulence in my ZNet essay “The Devil Wears Persian.”

“Dual rollback” is a two act play:

Act One: Target Iraqi regional power, with the acquiescence of Iran.

Act Two is just beginning….

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

Right Zionists will find that they have powerful allies… in Washington (Right Arabists) — the very folks who worked most diligently against them during Act One.

[T]he emergence of a new Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis against Iran will almost certainly mean that dissent — facilitated by Right Arabists during Act One — will prove far more difficult during Act Two.

Dissent may prove more difficult. So, too, analysis.

Act II?

Any “Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis” against Iran (“Act II”) would muddy all the factional lines from Act I that have served as guideposts for understanding the contours of the Bush administration.

A case in point of potentially muddied factional lines: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s most recent trip to the Middle East.

There has been considerable media speculation that Rice went to the region in an effort to build support for a united front against Iran.

Take, for example, Jon Leyne’s BBC news analysis, “Iran Behind Rice’s Mid-East Tour.”

Why did Condoleezza Rice come to Israel and the West Bank earlier this week?

Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran.
[S]tate department counsellor Philip Zelikow seemed to give the game away in an address to a Washington think tank on 15 September.

“For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to co-operate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.”

No mention of Iran, but the implication is clear.

See similar speculation by Ehsan Ahrari here.

As I noted in a previous post, speculation of this type has increased dramatically with news of a secret Saudi-Israeli summit to discuss Iran.

As Eli noted in a comment to a previous post, this scenario has generated considerable enthusiasm among “Dem Zionists” like MJ Rosenberg at the Huffington Post.

Or, Act I?

My head starts hurting right about here. The cognitive dissonance I am feeling probably has its source in a comparable dissonance I detect in Right Zionist circles.

Take, for example, Michael Ledeen’s recent essay, “Cognitive Dissonance: The Bush Administration on Iran.” It is an elaborate critique of Condoleezza Rice and her most recent statements on Iran from an interview with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal.

[Condoleezza Rice] hopes sanctions will have an effect on Iranian officials who “do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they’re headed toward.” Stephens, shocked that Rice apparently thinks there are legitimate interlocutors in power in Tehran, presses her, and she responds, “I do not believe we’re going to find Iranian moderates… The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?”

As Stephens dryly remarks, there are lots of Iranian “reasonables.” They comprise upwards of 80 percent of the population. But we are not supporting them; instead we are dithering around in negotiations designed by Europeans whose greatest fear is not Iranian terrorism, but American action in the Middle East. And when Secretary Rice starts talking about diplomacy, there is a change in focus. She’s no longer talking about the war, she’s talking about the nuclear program.

In short, she has no serious intention of challenging the Tehran regime…

It is impossible not to be struck by the cognitive dissonance between this interview and the many speeches by the president in which he has all but called for regime change in Iran.

If this be “Act II,” then Ledeen does not appear to be on board.

One reason Ledeen is not on board is that Rice is “talking about the nuclear program” while he wants to talk about regime change.

Iranian nukes and Iranian regime change are potentially very different questions. They are mostly unrelated (Right Zionists who favor regime change wouldn’t much mind a nuclear Iran once it is pro-Western).

The nuke and regime change issues may also be at odds with one another if all the talk about Iranian nukes helps the Iranian regime consolidate its popularity among Iranian nationalists.

This difference–between nukes and regime change–not only marks a division between Right Zionists and Right Arabists, but between Right Zionists and Neocon Unipolarists.

Like Ledeen, Michael Rubin also seems unimpressed by the direction of US policy. He has had nothing good to say about Rice’s visit to the Middle East. Writing on the NRO blog, Rubin complained that Rice sold out Egyptian dissidents and the whole “Bush Doctrine.”

Rubin doesn’t seem to think that Rice’s attempts to curry favor with Arab regimes is part of some Right Zionist game plan for a united front against Iran.

Indeed, at this point, one is hard pressed to find Right Zionists discussing recent Bush administration Middle East policy in the same enthusiastic tone that marked the Lebanon War.

At the time of the Lebanon War in July 2006, Right Zionists like Dore Gold wrote about an “Opening Round” in a battle between Iran and the West.

But that “Gold” opportunity–to the extent that it ever existed–was slammed shut by the failure of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon.

Where does that leave Act II?

If the Rice trip to the Middle East was a “second round” in Act II, somebody forgot to tell the Right Zionists.

Where is the evidence of Neocon enthusiasm?

This is not a rhetorical question. I am asking: has anyone seen any signs?

If the Right Zionists are disgruntled, are the “Unipolarists” more hopeful?

Or is it just Dem Zionists?

As Michael Rubin says,

It’s almost as if Kerry won and named Nicholas Burns is Undersecretary of State.

Dem Zionists” and Right Arabists.

[LATER: If “Act II” requires Right Zionists to court “Arab moderates” in search of a united front against Iran, would this actually extend so far as to tolerate an anti-Shiite coup in Iraq?

Or is all the talk of a coup in Iraq simply an older story: the denouement of “Act I,” the eclipse of Right Zionist influence, and the triumph of the old Right Arabist establishment.]

A Really Lame Duck

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

There is talk these days of a Republican “perfect storm” that threatens to drown the reckless rightwing crew that have been steering the ship of state since 9/11.

If so, then the mid-term elections should result in huge losses for the Republicans and set the course for a great reversal in 2008. Hence the clocks counting down the days of the Bush Presidency.

Maybe this is a perfect storm.

But we may be in for a rough ride. And the Democrat’s GPS is on the blink.

Cheney Gone Wild

One of the frightening things about Cheney is that he seems live as though his heart [sic] might go at any minute. No future political plans. No aspirations beyond the current administration.

Cheney’s permanent lame duck status has given him an unusual level of insulation from the kind of “political” accountability that derives from the commodification of politics–polling, the next election cycle, etc.

The result has been an unusually high level of “ideological” and ambitious foreign policy, to say the least.

Thus far, however, one might imagine that these tendencies have been qualified, to some extent, by Karl Rove and the Republican party Congressional leadership who do have an eye on the next election.

This, at least, is the conclusion of the ideologues. See, for example, Norman Podhoretz on the role of “politics” in slowing the pace of the Bush revolution.

At least until the mid-term elections.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol offers hope to the so-called “ideologues”: after the mid-terms, everything is possible.

Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

More US casualties.

(During the interview, Kristol does begin to say that he would “support” an increase in US casualties. This should come as no real surprise given his devotion to the cultural politics of “sacrifice”).

This may be wishful thinking on Kristol’s part.

But what if Kristol is right?

What if Rove is restraining the Neocons because of his long-standing recognition of the powerful, “new isolationism” that runs through US political culture?

Will the passing of the mid-term elections release the Neocons from Rove’s shackles?

If so, then this is actually the calm before the storm.

What if the gathering storm includes a dramatic move to finish out the administration with “rollback” in Iran?

Would it be an enormously risky move that would almost certainly generate extraordinary instability?


But “with any luck,” the Democrats will be left holding that bag.

And they will finally deliver the political culture of sacrifice for which Kristol has been pining but which Rove has been unwilling to deliver.

Iran: Who “Sexed Up” the Intel?

Posted by Cutler on October 04, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists / No Comments

Apparently, Washington Post reporter Ellen Knickmeyer isn’t going to fall for any “sexed up” intelligence reports in the run up to a war with Iran.

Confronted with allegations that Iran is arming Iraqi militias, Knickmeyer has penned an article–“British Find No Evidence of Arms Traffic from Iran“–suggesting these accusations may be fabricated.

Britain, whose forces have had responsibility for security in southeastern Iraq since the war began, has found nothing to support the Americans’ contention that Iran is providing weapons and training in Iraq, several senior [British] military officials said…

“It’s a question of intelligence versus evidence,” Labouchere’s commander, Brig. James Everard of Britain’s 20th Armored Brigade, said last month at his base in the southern region’s capital, Basra. “One hears word of mouth, but one has to see it with one’s own eyes. These are serious consequences, aren’t they?

They are. Allegations that Iran or its agents are providing military support for Iraqi Shiite Muslim militias and other armed groups is one of the most contentious issues raising tensions between Washington and Tehran…

Evidence of Iranian armed intervention in Iraq is “irrefutable,” one U.S. commander in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, told Pentagon reporters in August. The lead U.S. military spokesman in Iraq renews the allegation almost weekly in Baghdad…

Iraq’s remote Maysan province is “a funnel for Iranian munitions,” said Wayne White, who led the State Department’s Iraq intelligence team during the war and now is an adjunct scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. White said that in the first year of the occupation a well-placed friend had seen “considerable physical evidence of it, and just about everyone in al-Amarah knew about it.” Al-Amarah is the commonly used name of Maysan province…

[One quick clarification before moving to the heart of the matter: Why does Knickmeyer try to make these into “the Americans’ contentions” refuted by “Britain“? The US has been banging this drum. But–notwithstanding the investigations by these British military officials–“Britain” has hardly been silent on the issue. It was, after all, Tony Blair who issued one of the earliest, most explicit, high profile accuastions concerning Iranian efforts to arm Shiite militias back in October 2005. If “Britain” has made an about-face on this issue, Knickmeyer should dig up the PM’s retraction of the accusation. I couldn’t find one…]

White Wash

Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that Knickmeyer and her British sources have actually managed to debunk some trumped up charges about Iranian efforts to arm Shiite militias.

One of the most revealing elements in this exposé is the source of the drumbeat for the Iranian link.

Right Zionists?

Well, nobody should underestimate Right Zionist animosity toward the Iranian regime–or Sadr’s Shiite militia.

But in this instance the leading Iran hawk cited by Knickmeyer is a Right Arabist, Wayne White.

In several prior posts (here, here, and here, for example), I have argued that the same Right Arabists who seem so “dovish” on Iraq are usually quite hawkish on Iran.

That is why it should not be all that surprising to find Wayne White banging the drums about Iran.

Check out White in an appearance–opposite Right Zionist Reuel Gerecht–on The News Hour from September 21, 2005.

All of his points are drawn from the Right Arabist playbook:

WAYNE WHITE: The whole issue of militias here is critical. Throughout the country, militias have not been taken down as they were supposed to be… They’ve even been used unwisely, I believe, in some of our operations against Sunni-Arab strongholds in northwestern Iraq…

US military commanders, that the insurgency cannot be taken down militarily. It must… the solution must be political. And on a political front, we’re only moving forward in fits and starts and in some areas not at all. So that’s very, very distressing.

For White, the Shiite militias represent a crisis; the Sunni insurgency can and should be coopted.

Needless to say, this map of the world drew fire from Gerecht:

REUEL GERECHT: I would dissent a little bit. I think the American military sometimes is giving it an easy way out. I think much of the American military has not wanted to engage in a counterinsurgency campaign…

[T]he notion that you’re going to get a political solution to the Sunni insurgency I think is a bit overstated. I don’t think it’s possible to have that political solution unless you have an active counterinsurgency campaign where the Americans actually try to occupy the ground and ensure that cities remain clean of insurgents. We haven’t seen that. So far the Pentagon has gone has shown no desire to go in that direction…

All of which only goes to show that White–the guy Knickmeyer hits for sexed up “intel” on Iran–is a classic Right Arabist.

Funny, I thought Right Zionists were the only imperialists and warmongers capable of such skulduggery.

True Believer, Indeed

Posted by Cutler on October 02, 2006
Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

If you take your news and your cues from CBS’s 60 Minutes, then I suppose you might believe that the Bush administration is now completely dominated by Neoconservatives–“true believers” and democratic idealists who reject the amoral realism that allowed the US to ally itself with undemocratic regimes in the name of geopolitical stability.

Just listen to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from her interview with Katie Couric, entitled “Condoleezza Rice: True Believer.”

I’m a true believer in the process of democratization as a way to overcome old wounds. And I believe that if we don’t do that, then people who have had their differences, people who have resolved their differences by violence or by repression, are never going to find a way to live peacefully together,” she says.

Is it really priority number one in terms of philosophically and pragmatically for the United States to be spreading democracy around the world?” Couric asks.

“Well, first of all, the United States is not spreading democracy. The United States is standing with those who want a democratic future,” Rice explains.

That was last week.

This week, however, priority number one is “standing with” the Saudi Royal family.

The Washington Post headline: “Rice Seeks Saudi Help to Stabilize Iraq.”

Needless to say, Rice doesn’t need Saudi help to democratize Iraq. Democracy in Iraq–a series of elections and a Constitutional ratification vote in 1995–brought Iraqi Shiites to a position of formal political power.

Rice nees to Saudis to stabilize Iraq because the Saudis are allied with the folks who are busy attacking the Shiite government.

During the trip, she plans to have a group meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the six Gulf Cooperation Council states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman….

“The countries that we are meeting … is a group that you would expect to support the emerging moderate forces in Lebanon, in Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories,” she added.

“I want the Saudis’ involvement in the stabilization of Iraq…

Saudi Arabia has a lot of standing with a number of the forces in Iraq and they have actually been very helpful in trying to get Sunnis involved in the election,” Rice said.

“So I think it would be very helpful if they were supportive of, and working toward, helping Prime Minister (Nuri) al-Maliki’s national reconciliation plan,” she added.

“They can rally people around the national reconciliation government. They have a lot of contacts among the tribes.”

“They have already been helpful. I’d like them to continue to be helpful,” she added.

Maybe I’m missing the point, but my guess is that Secretary of State Rice isn’t going to play hardball with the Saudi Monarchy regarding their own democratic legitimacy. And maybe I’ll be surprised by what unfolds, but I doubt Rice is going to “stand with” Saudi “liberals,” democrats, and dissidents while seeking help from the Royal Family.

Probably won’t press for elections anytime soon.

All of which goes toward two important points:

First, Bush administration rhetoric about democracy has little to do with its actual policies, even in the center of its foreign policy focus, the Persian Gulf.

You would have to ignore the howls of protest among Neocons in order to convince yourself that the Bush administration is actually standing with supporters of democracy–in either anti- or nominally pro-US regimes.

It isn’t so in Iran or Syria.

It isn’t so in Egypt. It isn’t so in Jordan. It isn’t so in Libya. It isn’t so in Saudi Arabia. Nevermind United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Second, the decisive battles within the Bush administration has never even been about idealistic principles of democracy.

Sure, some Neocons talk a lot about the principle of democracy.

But these folks have always been either marginal to the process or using democracy-talk to mask a decidedly “realist” agenda for tipping the balance of power in the Gulf toward a projected pro-US Shiite Crescent.

It is this “realist” Right Zionist agenda that was at the heart of US policy in Iraq. And it is this Right Zionist agenda that generates so much friction with the Saudis.

Hence, the extraordinary news of plans for a Saudi “fence” to protect the House of Saud from the Shiite Crescent.

In the Right Zionist war in Iraq, Saudi regional power was a key target.

Right Zionists and Right Arabists agree which each other that the Saudi regime fears Shiite regional power.

Richard Perle and David Frum, in their book An End to Evil (hereafter, EE) agree that the House of Saud has good reason to fear a Shia Gulf.

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

Sounds just like the realists — but with a crucial twist. Unlike Right Arabists, Perle and Frum think that Shiite control of Arabian Peninsula oil would be catastrophic for the Saudi state, but think it “might be a very good outcome for the United States” (EE, p. 141).

That dream is fading fast, as the US runs, hat in hand, to the Saudis.

The purpose of Rice’s visit with the Saudis surely undermines her status as a “true believer.”

But the “true belief” in question has little to do with democracy and everything to do with Iraq as the pivot upon which turns the balance of power in the Gulf.

The revolution that Rice is going to “sell out” is not only–or even primarily–a “democratic” revolution, but a Right Zionist one.

News of the death of the Right Arabist Establishment is greatly exaggerated.

Salted Peanuts

Posted by Cutler on October 01, 2006
Isolationism / No Comments

Today’s Washington Post includes an excerpt–“Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism“–from Bob Woodward’s new book State of Denial.

In a previoius post, I have discussed Woodward’s latest discussion of Bush administration factionalism.

The WaPo excerpt includes interesting news that Cheney regularly turns to Kissinger for advice.

The bit of advice that Woodward reports concerns cautionary words from Kissinger regarding the political culture of sacrifice in the US.

Woodward writes,

Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War…

In his writing, speeches and private comments, Kissinger claimed that the United States had essentially won the war in 1972, only to lose it because of the weakened resolve of the public and Congress…

Victory had to be the goal, he told all. Don’t let it happen again. Don’t give an inch, or else the media, the Congress and the American culture of avoiding hardship will walk you back…

The president can’t be talking about troop reductions as a centerpiece,” Kissinger said. “You may want to reduce troops,” but troop reduction should not be the objective. “This is not where you put the emphasis.”

To emphasize his point, he gave Gerson a copy of a memo he had written to President Richard M. Nixon, dated Sept. 10, 1969.

Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded,” he wrote.

The “new isolationism” is all about those salted peanuts. And the “American culture of avoiding hardship.”

Kissinger is right. The new isolationism constitutes a grave and growing threat to US imperial ambitions.