We’ve been here before.
In the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Right Arabists like Reagan administration Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger responded by bolstering US relations with Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The goal was both to reassure the Saudis that the US would not retreat from the Gulf and to help the Saudis and Iraq defend the Gulf against Iranian influence.
Today, as the US is bogged down in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and, according to Gates, the State Department) wants to send the same message, allegedly offering to sell Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs to the Saudis.
Part of the story centers on Washington’s efforts to construct and maintain a broad coalition against Iran.
But Gates appears also to feel the need to “reassure” the Saudis of US support, more generally, if only to keep Riyadh out of the hands of Moscow.
Q Mr. Secretary, could we go back for a moment to your visit here in Israel? (I thought ?) you (were discussing ?) your concerns about future U.S. arms exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. And were you able to reach any kind of understanding on — (inaudible) — any Israeli fears that there may be?
SEC. GATES: We did talk about that. And I talked about the — first of all, I made it clear that it’s a State Department program, not a Defense Department program. But that I thought that, look, we need to look at the circumstances in terms of the overall strategic environment and in terms of the concerns of other neighbors (more over ?) Iran, perhaps, than Israel, and that they needed to take into consideration the overall strategic environment and how that has changed. So I made it pretty clear that there are alternatives for their neighbors in terms of sophisticated weapons, and that needed to be taken (into consideration ?) as well.
Q Could you just expand on that a little bit? You say there are alternatives?
SEC. GATES: Well, I’m confident the Russians would be very happy to sell weapons in the region.
Gates may simply be playing the Russian card to snow the Israelis, but Gates may be something of a Russia hawk and Putin’s historic February visit to Saudi Arabia might have raised alarm bells at the Pentagon (as it certainly did for Ariel Cohen over at the Heritage Foundation).
Back in the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s tilt toward Saudi Arabia created a serious dilemma for Right Zionists (aka, Neocons) feared stronger ties between the US and Saudi Arabia at least as much as they feared the revolutionary regime in Iran.
Today, leading Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen present themselves as supremely hawkish on Iran, ruling out any diplomatic settlement with Iran, etc.
And Ledeen, in particular, likes to talk about how the Iranians declared war on the United States in 1979 and have been waging that war ever since:
The Ayatollah Khomeini branded the U.S. “The Great Satan” in 1979, and Iranians and Iranian proxies have been killing Americans and American friends and allies ever since…
Be that as it may, Ledeen and Co. have not always favored confrontation with Iran. The reason is quite simple: Right Zionists consider the Arab Gulf to be a permanent enemy of Israel while they consider “eternal Iran” an essential ally.
Indeed, Ledeen and the Right Zionists were the architects of the plan to reach out to Iran during the Reagan administration (the so-called Iran-Contra affair) and Ledeen’s diplomatic drum beat continued until after the Gulf War.
In a previous post, I have recalled some of Ledeen’s earlier, more “diplomatic” positions:
Some “Right Zionist history” may help make the point: way back on July 19, 1988, Michael Ledeen–famous for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair–published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Let’s Talk With Iran Now” (I couldn’t find an on-line copy. Link anyone?). Here are some excerpts of his position at that time:
The United States, which should have been exploring improved relations with Iran before… should now seize the opportunity to do so. To wait might suggest to even pro-Western Iranians that a refusal to seek better relations is based on an anti-Iran animus rather than objections to specific Iranian actions.
Those Iranians who have been calling for better relations with the West have clearly been gathering strength… Among the advocates of such improved relations are two leading candidates to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani and the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri…
Yet there has been no sense of urgency among our top policymakers to design and conduct a policy toward Iran–in part because our top officials, traumatized by the Iran-contra scandal and the hearings and investigatiosn that followed, were determined to to be caught dealing with the Iranians…
Yet past mistakes should not prevent the Administration from pursuing the clear chance for a potential breakthrough in one of the more strategically sensitive areas of the world.
Same theme, again, in a February 1, 1991 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Iran–Back in the Game,” as the US waged war against Iraq.
Iran is once again a player in the Great Game, even to the point of being able to contemplate territorial acquisitions of its own once Iraq has been defeated…
Iran will be seated at the table when the new Middle Eastern order is designed at war’s end, and it will not be easy for the U.S. to know how to deal with it. For there is no country in the world that American diplomats have shunned so totally, indeed avoided so compulsively, as Iran. We have done so primarily for political reasons; ever since the Iran-Contra affair, no American leader has wished to be caught talking to an Iranian, even though many recognized the many sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran.
It would have been wiser to have dealt with the Iranians earlier, but we now have little choice in the matter. Our contacts will surely increase, and President Rafsanjani and company will likely sit at the postwar negotiating table, thereby producing the great historical irony that Saddam Hussein, the conqueror of Persia, will have forced us to resume sensible relations with a reemerging Iran.
The immediate political question today is whether the Israeli government will mobilize Congressional opposition to the recent proposal to sell arms to the Saudis. This may depend, in part, on the balance of forces between Right Zionists in the US and the ruling Kadima party in Israel.
But equally important in the long term may be whether and under what circumstances Ledeen, or some of his Right Zionist allies, might break ranks with the proposed Saudi-Israeli, anti-Iranian coalition and discover “sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran” and move to thwart their “real” enemy, King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia.
If such an abrupt reversal is in the cards, it may be helpful to understand why Ledeen reversed himself after 1991.
What made Ledeen move from diplomacy to regime change? What would it take for him to move back?
This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t know and it seems important.
Ledeen could tell us, but he may be too busy covering the tracks of his previous preference for “diplomacy” and pretending to have been fighting the Iranians “ever since” the revolution of 1979.