Gulf Arabs v. Persian Gulf

Posted by Cutler on April 25, 2006
Iran, Iraq

The decision by CBS to air a 60 Minutes report–CIA offical Tyler Drumheller’s accusations that the Bush administration ignored warnings about faulty intelligence used to justify the invasion of IRaq–appears to be an odd choice. The program wasn’t a re-run, but it sure felt like old news. Perhaps it was intended to serve as a link to the developing story of Mary McCarthy, the CIA analyst fired recently for leaking classified information to reporters.

The story was a reminder of the particularly vapid mode of criticism that has animated much of the political squabbling over Iraq. Drumheller’s criticism is that the Bush folks knowingly lied. But the Drumheller segment also ends with the CIA official blasting the decision to invade as one of the most significant policy mistakes of all time. End of interview. He never explains this accusation. Simply that the Bush administration made that mistake “knowingly.” Doesn’t that cry out for elaboration?

Let’s stipulate that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence it used to justify the invasion. Let’s be “shocked, shocked” to find that lies were told. Then let’s move on. Beyond the game of gotcha, isn’t it time for the follow-up question: if the threat of WMD was not actually the reason you were so determined to go to war–just the one for public consumption–then what were the private reasons that motivated the invasion? Not the “personal” reasons–to avenge the Father or the kill the Father. And not just the most general reasons–oil, no doubt. But the more specific reasons behind the extraordinary decisions to remake the Iraqi political order: the initial attempt to terminate Sunni minority rule in Iraq and empower the Iraqi Shia.

I have tried to make some sense of this in my article, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.” One of the key issues raised there is the prospect that right Zionists (aka “neocons”) played the game in Iraq for very high stakes: reshaping the regional balance of power. The goal was to tilt power away from Sunni Arab dominance–the Gulf Arab states of Saudi Arabia and Sunni-dominated Iraq–in favor of a Shiite Gulf.

Earlier in April, Brian Lehrer of WNYC interviewed Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief of Al Hayat about Arab reaction to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Worth a listen. Nematt spoke about Gulf Arab concerns that a nuclear Iran would enhance its regional power. These concerns were not limited to the current regime, but also the regional power of Iran as such. Nematt emphasized the continuity of Iranian regional ambitions–relative to the Gulf Arabs–under the Shah and the Revolutionary regime. Regime change in Iran or not, the Arab states do not want a nuclear Iran.

Lehrer also interviewed an Israeli diplomat about Iran’s nuclear program. Not surprisingly, the Israelis are quite hostile to the Iranian Revolutionary regime acquiring nuclear weapons. More surprising, however, is that unlike the Gulf Arabs, right Zionists seem quite willing to contemplate a nuclear Iran after the fall of the Revolutionary regime. In June 2005 Michael Rubin, a Right Zionist at the American Enterprise Institute who served in Iraq as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, published an essay in The Forward entitled Washington Must Plan Today For Democratic Iran of Tomorrow.” In that essay, Rubin warns against the threat posed by the Iranian’s quest for nuclear weapons, but then comes to his central point:

A democratic Iran might not abandon its nuclear program, but neither would it sponsor anti-American terrorism, undercut the Middle East peace process or deny Israel’s right to exist. Democratization, therefore, can take the edge off the Iranian threat.

Right Zionists are hawkish about the current Iranian drive for nukes, but their preferred solution is not a direct military assault on Irans nuclear program.  They want populist regime change. Indeed, some understand that US efforts to repress Iranian nuclear ambitions incite popular nationalism and help stabilize an otherwise unpopular regime.

For Right Zionists, this is the preferred future regional balance of power: a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Israel (and a nuclear India?) aligned against Sunni Arab regional dominance (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan). Right Zionists do not like the Iranian Revolutionary regime, but unlike the Gulf Arabs they are far from hostile to Iranian regional power. Indeed, they cannot bring themselves to abandon the dream of restoring the Iranian-Israeli regional alliance the flourished under Nixon’s tilt toward the Shah. Right Arabists in the US (aka “realists”) howled against that regional shift during the 1970s and they have not stopped howling since the Bush administration started moving toward the invasion of Iraq.

For Right Zionists, the road to Tehran starts in Baghdad. First step: hand Iraq to the Shiite majority, under the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Second step: join Sistani in sparking a Shiite-led populist rebellion against his clerical opponents in Iran. Third step: exploit Sunni-Shiite rivalry over control of the Gulf–is it a Persian Gulf or an Arab Gulf?–in order to rebuild the alliance between a “democratic Iran” and Israel. Fourth step: pry the US away from its dependence on Sunni Arab regimes deemed hostile to Israel and/or unreliable to the US.

With apologies to 60 Minutes and Tyler Drumheller, the fact that the Right Zionists lied about intelligence on the road to war is small potatoes. The stakes in this war are far greater. The truly significant issue is not the secret lies behind the invasion, but the open truth behind the lies.

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