A “Government of National Unity” in Washington?

Posted by Cutler on May 11, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iraq

There have been times, especially in recent months, when Bush administration foreign policy factionalism looked like a thing of the past. Remember the good old days when Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld seemed locked in enormously weighty and bitter battles over the shape of US foreign policy in the Middle East? Nowadays, Condi Rice and Rumsfeld spar for fun over Rice’s acknowledgement that there might have been thousands of tactical errors made in Iraq, but then they take it all back with a “government of national unity” joint visit to Iraq.

“We just want to make sure there are no seams between what we’re doing politically and what we’re doing militarily. Secretary Rumsfeld and I are going to be there together because a lot of the work that has to be done is at that juncture between political and military,” Rice said.

For a while it looked like neither faction really had the energy to do battle on behalf of any kind of “Right Zionist” (aka “neocon”) or “Right Arabist” (so-called “realist”) vision for Iraq. Can’t we all just get along?

Or maybe the Right Arabists have simply won the day. Wolfowitz, Feith, and Libby are gone. If Khalilzad was once thought to be close to Right Zionists who favored Iraqi de-Baathification and Shiite empowerment, you wouldn’t know it from his extraordinary efforts as US Ambassador. His work on behalf of former Baathists and his willingness to risk war with Iraqi Shiites–not exactly moves lifted from the Right Zionist playbook. Rumsfeld is under seige from the Right Arabist military brass. And James Baker–a leading Right Arabist from the Bush Sr era–has been brought back (via Congress, but allegedly with White House support) to help manage Iraq.

Sure, Right Zionist David Wurmser still sits at the right hand of Vice President Cheney and Elliott Abrams still serves at the pleasure of Condi Rice. But they are “merely” deputies; maybe they prefer to stay close to power rather than resign as a matter of principle.

The abrupt departure of Porter Goss from the CIA might be about any number of things (including poker), but it may also represent another power grab by the Right Arabists. The Weekly Standard certainly fears as much.

We’re inclined to side with Goss in this dispute. But we are concerned that Goss left, or was eased out, for reasons of greater policy significance. And if this is the case, Goss’s leaving is not a good sign. Goss is a political conservative and an institutional reformer. He is pro-Bush Doctrine and pro-shaking-up-the-CIA.

John Negroponte, so far as we can tell, shares none of these sympathies. Negroponte is therefore more in tune with large swaths of the intelligence community and the State Department. If Negroponte forced Goss out… then Goss’s departure will prove to have been a weakening moment in an administration increasingly susceptible to moments of weakness.

This isn’t exactly triumphalist talk from the Right Zionist camp. The selection of Negroponte’s deputy–Michael Hayden–has brought howls of protest from those who see his selection as a move against Rumsfeld.

So, by some measures, the Right Zionists don’t count for much any more in the Bush administration. Many–like Michael Rubin and Barbara Lerner–long ago moved into the “opposition” once they saw their dreams for Iraq overrun by Right Arabists in Washington.

Funny thing, though: Re-Baathification in Washington looks far more advanced than it does in Baghdad. So long as Sistani moves from victory to victory, Right Zionists continue to be pleased with political results on the ground in Iraq, even as they lick their wounds back in Washington. In his recent Weekly Standard essay, “The Sistani Paradox: Building a democracy with the Ayatollahs We Have,” Duncan Currie writes:

Whether we like it or not, devout Muslims–not, alas, liberal secularists–offer the best hope for salvaging Iraq’s democratic experiment, because they represent broad swathes of Iraqi opinion… Ayatollah Sistani may be an imperfect vehicle for achieving our goals. (It is indeed depressing what passes for a “progressive” in the Muslim Middle East.) But he is a robust democrat who condemns terrorism and fervently wants to breach Islam’s separation from the modern world. In the great struggle of our time, that surely places Sistani on the side of the angels.

There was a time when one could claim that the “personnel is political” in Washington’s war in Iraq. Back then, the rise and fall of Right Zionist influence was measured by personnell decisions within the Bush administration. That time may have passed. Iraqi Shiites are a rising force in the Gulf and they will not be easily repressed. Right Zionists opened pandora’s box in Iraq. It is far from clear that Right Arabists will be able to close it, even as they move from victory to victory back in Washington.

5 Comments to A “Government of National Unity” in Washington?

  • I reckon the zionists are letting the arabists seem to win, because they are all planning to switch their support to the Dems, who will be all mega-zionist when the chips are down.

  • If the “Right Zionists” opened Pandora’s box then the Democrats will be there in ’08 to pour a bunch of salt on the whole affair. The AIPAC constituency is staunchly liberal when it comes to catering to Stateside politicians. From what my Jewish friends have been telling me, it sounds as if they are still very reluctant to admit that the ideological shift to the right is in fact nowadays more pro-Israeli than it had been previously. That being said, and the demographic voting patterns of American Jews, the Dems will need to continue to hold the bloody rag down on the wounds Israel has created with the Hamas government.

  • Where is Rumsfeld in all this? Is he being set up as the inner political straw man, being attacked by the realists generals and the Negroponti move at the CIA? According to Lerner he is the real, realist — who got railroaded (by who?) into all that neo-liberal snake oil CPA stuff that ruined the party. So if Rumsfeld is a realist, why are his attackers also realists?

  • “Where is Rumsfeld in all this?” This, along with the related question of Rumsfeld protege Cheney, is a great question that deserves a full reply. For the moment: Where does Lerner say Rumsfeld is the “real, realist”? Lerner loves Rumsfeld. True, I have been arguing that so-called neo-cons ARE “realist” and so our existing terms do not serve. But most folks–Lerner included, I think–would use “realist” as another word for an opponent of the neo-cons/Right Zionists. For Lerner, at least, Rumsfeld remains a hero for Right Zionists.  His attackers are Right Arabists.

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