A House Divided

Posted by Cutler on January 30, 2007
Right Arabists, Saudi Arabia

James Baker James Baker’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee promises to once again bring into focus the ongoing significance of US foreign policy factionalism, both in relation to Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, etc.

That factionalism appears to have divided many long-time friends of the House of Saud.  The House of Saud continues to show similar signs of stress although it is far from clear how much the Saudi fissures are developing autonomously and how much they are being cultivated by US factions.  I suppose there is also a scenario that would have US factionalism cultivated by the Saudis, although I do not find this particularly plausible.

I would continue to code the Baker faction of Right Arabists as allied with Saudi King Abdullah, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, the recently recalled Saudi Ambassador to the US.  This Baker/Faisal faction continues to try to mediate strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Right Arabists at the New America Foundation, including Flynt Leverett and Steven Clemons appear very closely aligned with the faction.

The Iran hawks are represented by the Cheney coalition of Right Arabists and Right Zionists and appear allied with Prince Bandar and his father, Saudi Defense Minister and Crown Prince, Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.

A recent newspaper interview with Saudi King Abdullah prompted some strikingly different interpretations.  The Financial Times suggested that the King had issued a stark warning to Iran.  But “Badger”–the Arab press translator over at Missing Links–offered up a very different interpretation that emphasized reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Badger notes that his interpretation is actively contested by Mamoun Fandy.  Badger describes Fandy as a “Saudi bigshot,” a columnist for Asharq al-Awsat, and a former senior fellow at the James A Baker III Institute of Public Policy.  [Are there other “former” Baker Institute Fellows who side with Cheney on Iran?  Or does Fandy’s link to the Baker crowd imply that Baker is not quite so dovish on Iran after all?  Or is Fandy simply interpreting but not endorsing the King’s remarks?]

Badger doesn’t say much in his post about the larger factional context, but I think it emerges from his discussion of the Fandy article.  Badger writes/translates/paraphrases:

Fandy says the king’s whole point in talking about an “unsatisfactory situation” in the Middle East was to warn Iran: First against underestimating the danger it is facing from the United States; and second against the consequences of its continued involvement in Palestine…

It was on account of the seriousness of the situation, Fandy says, that the king sent Prince Bandar to Tehran for talks. Bandar is the person that is used when a tough message has to be presented bluntly and unvarnished. He is like Cheney in that respect, Fandy explains…

[T]he king referred in the interview to “nests” or “dens”–Fandy doesn’t quote the exact interview remarks here–but Fandy says this is a reference to “cancerous colonies” broadcasting on internet sites of unknown origin deceptive and lying reports about Arab affairs, and more than that, they have penetrated Arab news (outlets) “including the official ones” with the aim of upsetting regional stability, and making it appear that any Arab effort to stand up to Iran is merely a case of doing America’s bidding.

It is possible that Fandy’s remark about penetration of Arab news outlets “including the official ones” is tantamount to an admission that the Fandy hard-line position isn’t the only position, even within the sphere of Saudi officialdom.

Indeed, Fandy’s position is almost certainly not the only position within Saudi officialdom.  Hence the signs of factional strife, with Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and more hanging in the balance.

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