There Goes the Neighborhood

Posted by Cutler on December 04, 2006
Iran, Iraq

When Democrats look around for aWhen Democrats look around for a way to criticize the Bush administration on the war in Iraq without taking a stand on some of the tougher political issues involved, they have often adopted a page from the standard Right Arabist playbook: bring in Iraq’s neighbors.

Outgoing UN General Secretary Kofi Annan has recently adopted and promoted the idea of an international conference.The idea of dialogue seems so innocuous that liberals in the US might have been a bit surprised to learn that several Iraq politicians have rejected the idea.

The “latent” meaning of the international conference idea is rendered clear by the partisan responses emerging in Iraq.

The key political opponents of the international conference are Shiite leaders, including SCIRI’s Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and–allegedly–Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They are joined by leading Kurdish figures, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

These political forces represent the “80 percent solution” that originally animated Right Zionist policy in Iraq.

The International Conference represents one element in a long-term Right Arabist push back against the 80 percent solution.

Hence, it has won the support of Iyad Allawi–the ex-Baathist long favored by Bush administration Right Arabists and the figure appointed as first Iraqi Prime Minister by the US and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi–along with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

These Iraqi battle lines have been at the core of US policy since the end of Operation Desert Storm.

The central question right now is balance of power within the Bush administration regarding these competing forces.

How do you read the tea leaves?

Where does Iran fit in all this?

Annan and James Baker endorse a dialogue that includes not only Saudis and Jordanians, but also Iran and Syria. Does an international conference represent a tilt toward Iran? Or an instrument designed to contain Iran?

Likewise, does the 80 percent solution represent a tilt toward Iran? Or is it a major step toward a US policy of regime change in Iran?

What does it mean that Hakim rejects the international conference and presumably welcomes the 80 percent solution?

Does Hakim represent a tilt toward the incumbent Iranian regime? Or does Hakim serve Sistani and represent an in independent Iraqi Shiite position that shifts the center of gravity from away from the Iranian city of Qom and toward the Iraqi city of Najaf?

[Update: a bunch of sources–Informed Comment, Missing Links, and Robert Dreyfuss at–are all reporting that another prominent ex-Baathist, Saleh Mutlaq, is joining Iyad Allawi in supporting Annan’s international conference.

No surprise here.  The bigger news is that all three sources are also saying that Mutlaq (also Salih al-Mutlak) and Moqtada al-Sadr have agreed to join together in a new nationalist parliamentary front on the basis of common opposition to the US military occupation and to the breakup of Iraq into relatively autonomous regions with control of new oil field development.  All of the sectarian violence has functioned to shift the axis from an anti-US nationalist insurgency toward a sectarian axis that pits Shiiites and Sunnis against each other.  Sadr and Mutlak represent an effort to restore the nationalist, anti-occupation axis.
Finally, a word on Robert Dreyfuss.  Notwithstanding his impressive “progressive” credentials (The Nation, Mother Jones, The American Prospect), I am more convinced than ever that his writing about the war in Iraq is fundamentally flawed because it adopts the perspective of Right Arabist imperialists.

In the past, he has articulated what appeared to be a particularly “amoral” perspective on the regime of Saddam Hussein, as when he celebrated the idea that the US would “Bring Back the Baath.”

Now, however, he adopts a shrill and deeply moralistic tone as the Bush administration once again flirts with Iraqi Shiites, describing the upcoming Washington  visit of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim as “Bush’s Meeting with a Murderer.”

The Left can either be moralistic and idealistic about foreign policy or it can be cynical, amoralistic and “realistic” about foreign policy.  But to deploy these discourses so unevenly, however, smacks of rank hypocrisy.  Dreyfuss has become nothing more than a pawn for one side of an intra-imperialist factional game.]

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