Since November 30, 2006, I’ve been writing posts about a split among Right Arabists regarding Iran.
[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.
These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.
Now, all of this is big news. Saudi factionalism has become headline news with major stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
The split is about Iran, to be sure. But it is also about Saudi succession.
In a December 13 post, I speculated on the battle lines and got it wrong.
Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?
And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?
Cheney and the Sudairi Seven
Bandar is Cheney’s man (and vice versa). The rest of the Right Arabist establishment has lined up behind King Abdullah and the Faisal brothers, Turki (until recently Saudi Ambassador to the US) and Saud (currently Saudi Foreign Minister).
Cheney isn’t simply backing Bandar. Bandar–the son of Saudi Crown Prince Defense Minister Sultan–represents the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah.
Cheney’s top Middle East aide, David Wurmser is crystal clear about his preferences within the House of Saud, not to mention his vision for Iraq and Iran. From an article while he was still at the American Enterprise Institute:
To begin to unravel this murky business, it is necessary to go back to the mid-1990s, when a succession struggle was beginning in Saudi Arabia. This struggle pits the octogenarian king, Fahd bin Abdel-Aziz, and his full brothers in the Sudairi branch of the family (especially the defense minister, Prince Sultan) against their half-brother, Crown Prince Abdallah. King Fahd and the Sudairis favor close ties to the United States, while Crown Prince Abdallah prefers Syria and is generally more enamored of pan-Islamic and pan-Arab ideas…
In August, King Fahd fired his director of intelligence, Prince Turki al Faisal… Since the mid-1990s, Turki had anchored the Abdallah faction, and under his leadership Saudi intelligence had become difficult to distinguish from al Qaeda….
More recently, Turki bin Faisal’s full brother, Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal, unleashed his diplomats to write shrill and caustic attacks on the United States, such as the article a few weeks ago by Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in London, Ghazi al Qusaibi, calling President Bush mentally unstable.
The Baker Boys and King Abdullah
Meanwhile, the rest of the Baker Big Oil crowd backs Abdullah, favors dialogue with Iran, etc.
One sign the Baker fidelity to Abdullah came in the case of former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. According to reports (“Saudis Have Had Enough of US Ambassador,” UPI, September 25, 2003):
The U.S. capital is starting to buzz with questions about the early retirement of U.S. Ambassador to Riyadh Robert Jordan, apparently demanded by the Saudis. Jordan, a partner in the Baker, Botts law firm in Texas (as in former Secretary of State James Baker), is an honorary member of the Bush clan and his premature departure is a shock. The State Department has yet to confirm it, though Jordan has told friends that he’s heading back to Texas. His offense was to state too publicly — at private Saudi dinner parties — Washington’s preference for Crown Prince Abdullah to succeed the ailing King Fahd. This supposedly offended Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Jordan also annoyed other Saudis by insisting that any American wife of a Saudi citizen should get embassy or consulate help in marriage disputes and child custody cases.
Add to this the fact that Chas Freeman took swipes at Prince Bandar in 2005, and you can begin to see the outlines of a major split in Washington and Riyadh.
Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says Bandar “has basically been AWOL for years” but had been kept at his post because of “inertia at the top” of the Saudi royal family…
And then there is Flynt Leverett‘s 2005 celebration of the arrival of Prince Turki in Washington.
Which Way for the White House?
This split explains quite a bit about the US factional dynamics of the entire war in Iraq.
No wonder the White House Iraq Policy Review is delayed. Bush and Condoleezza Rice have to pick sides. They are both in way over the heads.
The obvious question: can Cheney and the Sudairi Seven triumph over Baker and King Abdullah?
Put differently, can Bush choose Baker and break his ties to Cheney? Or is Cheney too powerful to isolate?
The stakes could not possibly be any higher. The fate of US relations with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia–and Russia–likely hang in the balance.