February 25, 2007

THE SALAFISTS WON'T LEAD THE REFORMATION:

THE REDIRECTION: Is the Administration's new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism? (SEYMOUR M. HERSH, 2007-03-05, The New Yorker)

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The "redirection," as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia's government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration's perspective, the most profound--and unintended--strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country's right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that "realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region."

After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq's Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is "a new strategic alignment in the Middle East," separating "reformers" and "extremists"; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were "on the other side of that divide." (Syria's Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, "have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize."

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee told me that he had heard about the new strategy, but felt that he and his colleagues had not been adequately briefed. "We haven't got any of this," he said. "We ask for anything going on, and they say there's nothing. And when we ask specific questions they say, 'We're going to get back to you.' It's so frustrating."

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney's office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon did not respond to specific queries but said, "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran.")

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

The new strategy "is a major shift in American policy--it's a sea change," a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states "were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq," he said. "We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it."

"It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what's the biggest danger--Iran or Sunni radicals," Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. "The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line."

Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration who also served as Ambassador to Israel, said that "the Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War." Indyk, who is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, added that, in his opinion, it was not clear whether the White House was fully aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. "The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq," he said. "It's doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down." [...]


On a warm, clear night early last December, in a bombed-out suburb a few miles south of downtown Beirut, I got a preview of how the Administration's new strategy might play out in Lebanon. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, who has been in hiding, had agreed to an interview. Security arrangements for the meeting were secretive and elaborate. I was driven, in the back seat of a darkened car, to a damaged underground garage somewhere in Beirut, searched with a handheld scanner, placed in a second car to be driven to yet another bomb-scarred underground garage, and transferred again. Last summer, it was reported that Israel was trying to kill Nasrallah, but the extraordinary precautions were not due only to that threat. Nasrallah's aides told me that they believe he is a prime target of fellow-Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives, as well as Sunni jihadists who they believe are affiliated with Al Qaeda. (The government consultant and a retired four-star general said that Jordanian intelligence, with support from the U.S. and Israel, had been trying to infiltrate Shiite groups, to work against Hezbollah. Jordan's King Abdullah II has warned that a Shiite government in Iraq that was close to Iran would lead to the emergence of a Shiite crescent.) This is something of an ironic turn: Nasrallah's battle with Israel last summer turned him--a Shiite--into the most popular and influential figure among Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. In recent months, however, he has increasingly been seen by many Sunnis not as a symbol of Arab unity but as a participant in a sectarian war.

Nasrallah, dressed, as usual, in religious garb, was waiting for me in an unremarkable apartment. One of his advisers said that he was not likely to remain there overnight; he has been on the move since his decision, last July, to order the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid set off the thirty-three-day war. Nasrallah has since said publicly--and repeated to me--that he misjudged the Israeli response. "We just wanted to capture prisoners for exchange purposes," he told me. "We never wanted to drag the region into war."

Nasrallah accused the Bush Administration of working with Israel to deliberately instigate fitna, an Arabic word that is used to mean "insurrection and fragmentation within Islam." "In my opinion, there is a huge campaign through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other," he said. "I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli intelligence." (He did not provide any specific evidence for this.) He said that the U.S. war in Iraq had increased sectarian tensions, but argued that Hezbollah had tried to prevent them from spreading into Lebanon. (Sunni-Shiite confrontations increased, along with violence, in the weeks after we talked.)

Nasrallah said he believed that President Bush's goal was "the drawing of a new map for the region. They want the partition of Iraq. Iraq is not on the edge of a civil war--there is a civil war. There is ethnic and sectarian cleansing. The daily killing and displacement which is taking place in Iraq aims at achieving three Iraqi parts, which will be sectarian and ethnically pure as a prelude to the partition of Iraq. Within one or two years at the most, there will be total Sunni areas, total Shiite areas, and total Kurdish areas. Even in Baghdad, there is a fear that it might be divided into two areas, one Sunni and one Shiite."

He went on, "I can say that President Bush is lying when he says he does not want Iraq to be partitioned. All the facts occurring now on the ground make you swear he is dragging Iraq to partition. And a day will come when he will say, 'I cannot do anything, since the Iraqis want the partition of their country and I honor the wishes of the people of Iraq.' "

Nasrallah said he believed that America also wanted to bring about the partition of Lebanon and of Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country "into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq." In Lebanon, "There will be a Sunni state, an Alawi state, a Christian state, and a Druze state." But, he said, "I do not know if there will be a Shiite state." Nasrallah told me that he suspected that one aim of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer was "the destruction of Shiite areas and the displacement of Shiites from Lebanon. The idea was to have the Shiites of Lebanon and Syria flee to southern Iraq," which is dominated by Shiites. "I am not sure, but I smell this," he told me.

Partition would leave Israel surrounded by "small tranquil states," he said. "I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states," he said. "In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East."

In fact, the Bush Administration has adamantly resisted talk of partitioning Iraq, and its public stances suggest that the White House sees a future Lebanon that is intact, with a weak, disarmed Hezbollah playing, at most, a minor political role. There is also no evidence to support Nasrallah's belief that the Israelis were seeking to drive the Shiites into southern Iraq. Nevertheless, Nasrallah's vision of a larger sectarian conflict in which the United States is implicated suggests a possible consequence of the White House's new strategy.

In the interview, Nasrallah made mollifying gestures and promises that would likely be met with skepticism by his opponents. "If the United States says that discussions with the likes of us can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region, we have no objection to talks or meetings," he said. "But, if their aim through this meeting is to impose their policy on us, it will be a waste of time." He said that the Hezbollah militia, unless attacked, would operate only within the borders of Lebanon, and pledged to disarm it when the Lebanese Army was able to stand up. Nasrallah said that he had no interest in initiating another war with Israel. However, he added that he was anticipating, and preparing for, another Israeli attack, later this year.

Nasrallah further insisted that the street demonstrations in Beirut would continue until the Siniora government fell or met his coalition's political demands. "Practically speaking, this government cannot rule," he told me. "It might issue orders, but the majority of the Lebanese people will not abide and will not recognize the legitimacy of this government. Siniora remains in office because of international support, but this does not mean that Siniora can rule Lebanon."

President Bush's repeated praise of the Siniora government, Nasrallah said, "is the best service to the Lebanese opposition he can give, because it weakens their position vis-à-vis the Lebanese people and the Arab and Islamic populations. They are betting on us getting tired. We did not get tired during the war, so how could we get tired in a demonstration?"

There is sharp division inside and outside the Bush Administration about how best to deal with Nasrallah, and whether he could, in fact, be a partner in a political settlement. The outgoing director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, in a farewell briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in January, said that Hezbollah "lies at the center of Iran's terrorist strategy. . . . It could decide to conduct attacks against U.S. interests in the event it feels its survival or that of Iran is threatened. . . . Lebanese Hezbollah sees itself as Tehran's partner."

In 2002, Richard Armitage, then the Deputy Secretary of State, called Hezbollah "the A-team" of terrorists. In a recent interview, however, Armitage acknowledged that the issue has become somewhat more complicated. Nasrallah, Armitage told me, has emerged as "a political force of some note, with a political role to play inside Lebanon if he chooses to do so." In terms of public relations and political gamesmanship, Armitage said, Nasrallah "is the smartest man in the Middle East." But, he added, Nasrallah "has got to make it clear that he wants to play an appropriate role as the loyal opposition. For me, there's still a blood debt to pay"--a reference to the murdered colonel and the Marine barracks bombing.

Robert Baer, a former longtime C.I.A. agent in Lebanon, has been a severe critic of Hezbollah and has warned of its links to Iranian-sponsored terrorism. But now, he told me, "we've got Sunni Arabs preparing for cataclysmic conflict, and we will need somebody to protect the Christians in Lebanon. It used to be the French and the United States who would do it, and now it's going to be Nasrallah and the Shiites.

"The most important story in the Middle East is the growth of Nasrallah from a street guy to a leader--from a terrorist to a statesman," Baer added. "The dog that didn't bark this summer"--during the war with Israel--"is Shiite terrorism." Baer was referring to fears that Nasrallah, in addition to firing rockets into Israel and kidnapping its soldiers, might set in motion a wave of terror attacks on Israeli and American targets around the world. "He could have pulled the trigger, but he did not," Baer said.


Obviously siding with the Wahabbists authoritarians against the messianic democrats would be bassackwards--it's the kind of mistake that got us all into this mess in the first place.


MORE:
The Surge (Peter W. Galbraith, 3/15/07, NY Review of Books)

As everyone except Bush seems to understand, Iraq's Shiite-led government has no intention of transforming itself into an inclusive government of national unity. The parties that lead Iraq define themselves--and the state they now control--by their Shiite identity. For them, Saddam's overthrow and their electoral victory is a triumph for Islam's minority sect that has been 1,300 years in the making and a matter of historic justice. They are not going to abandon this achievement for the sake of a particular Iraqi identity urged by an American president.

Sunni Arabs are implacably opposed to an Iraq ruled by Shiites who want to define their country by the religion of the majority. Most see the current Iraqi government as alien and disloyal to the Iraq the Sunni Arabs built. (On the gallows, Saddam spoke for many Sunni Arabs when he warned against the Americans and "the Persians," by which he clearly meant Iraq's Shiite rulers.) The Sunni Arabs will not be reconciled with what they see as small measures, such as a guaranteed share of petroleum, a relaxation of de-Baathification laws, or constitutional amendments. They object to the very things that are quintessential to the claims of the Shiites, namely Shiite rule and the Shiite character of the new Iraq.

Bush's strategy depends on the Iraqi police and army eventually taking over from US forces. Somehow the President imagines that Iraq's army and police are exempt from the country's sectarian and ethnic divisions. In reality, both the army and police are as polarized as the country itself. US training will not make these forces neutral guarantors of public security but will make them more effective killers in Iraq's civil war. It is hard to see how this is in the US interest. The execution of Saddam--in which, as Iraqi officials subsequently admitted, members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army participated--illustrated just how pervasive is the militia penetration of Iraq's security services. Since the advocates of the President's surge strategy have had no idea about how to make Iraq's police and army committed to an inclusive Iraq, they simply pretend the problem does not exist.

At best, Bush's new strategy will be a costly postponement of the day of reckoning with failure. But it is also a reckless escalation of the military mission in Iraq that could leave US forces fighting a powerful new enemy with only marginally more troops than are now engaged in fighting the Sunni insurgency. The strategy also risks extending Iraq's civil war to the hitherto peaceful Kurdish regions, with no corresponding gain for security in the Arab parts of the country.

Until now, US forces in Iraq have been fighting, almost exclusively, the Sunni Arab insurgency. Bush's new plan calls for the US military to initiate operations against the Mahdi Army (and related militias) as well, a measure that could mean US forces will become embroiled in all-out urban warfare throughout Baghdad, a city of more than five million. In addition, the Mahdi Army has members throughout southern Iraq, in the Diyala Governorate northeast of Baghdad, and in Kirkuk. While many Shiites do not support al-Sadr (the Mahdi Army has had armed clashes with the Badr Organization belonging to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, or SCIRI, one of the two main Shiite parties), the Mahdi Army is a formidable force comprising as many as 60,000 armed men.[2] With Bush ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran, the Iranian government may see a broad-based Shiite uprising against the coalition as its best insurance against a US military strike. It has every incentive to encourage--and assist--the Mahdi Army in organizing such an uprising. Iran has sufficient influence with Iraqi Shiite groups--including SCIRI--to ensure at least their neutrality in a clash with the Mahdi Army.


Fighting Iran -- With Patience (Jim Hoagland, February 25, 2007, Washington Post)
"There is movement behind the scenes," a European diplomat who closely follows Iran told me last week. "The Iranians are nervous and want to get engaged." Details of a confidential Iranian proposal that has been circulating in Brussels and Tehran for four months support the view that there could be an opening on the Iranian front despite the angry rhetoric from Iran triggered by last week's new indictment of its nuclear ambitions by the International Atomic Energy Agency. [...]

The change on North Korea is described by former administration officials as a strategic decision by the president to start "to pry the lid off" of that starving, tyrannized remnant of the Cold War by offering Pyongyang a path for peaceful change. Cooperation in the six-party negotiations would also help stabilize China's relations with Japan and the United States, in this view.

The president reportedly surprised Chinese President Hu Jintao during their lunch at the White House last April by suggesting that, if the nuclear impasse could be resolved, the time was right for a formal peace treaty to end the Korean conflict. And when North Korea defied Chinese "advice" by conducting a nuclear test in October, China became more engaged in pulling Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. [...]

Last autumn, Iran's Ali Larijani told European Union negotiator Javier Solana that Iran could accept the Russian-E.U. proposal for an international consortium to enrich and reprocess nuclear fuel for Iran -- if the enrichment and reprocessing were done on Iranian soil.

A diplomatic device known as a nonpaper (so its existence can be denied) and dated Oct. 1, 2006, describes a "gentlemen's agreement" by the two diplomats to use the proposal "to help open the way to negotiations." When I telephoned him in Berlin last week, Solana affably but deftly warded off questions about the nonpaper, then added: "Nothing has been agreed. Nothing has been put forward in formal terms."


Rebel Shiite cleric reining in militia; motive questioned (DAMIEN CAVE, 2/25/07, The New York Times)
Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric and founder of the Mahdi Army militia, discovered recently that two of his commanders had created DVDs of their men killing Sunnis in Baghdad.

Documents suggested that they had received money from Iran.

So he suspended them and stripped them of power, said two Mahdi leaders in Sadr City, the heart of al-Sadr's support here in the capital.

But did he do so as part of his cooperation with the new security plan for Baghdad, which aims to quell the sectarian violence tormenting the city? Because his men had been disloyal, taking orders from Iran, whose support he values but whose control he fights? Or was it just for show -- the act of an image-conscious leader who grasped the risk of graphic videos and ties to Tehran and wanted to stave off direct U.S. action against him?


Bush to warn leader of Pakistan on aid (David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, February 25, 2007, NY Times)
President George W. Bush has decided to send an unusually tough message to one of his most important allies, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces became far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda, senior administration officials say.

The decision came after the White House concluded that Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Bush during a visit here in September. Musharraf insisted then, both in private and public, that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in one of the country's most lawless border areas would not diminish the hunt for the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban or their training camps.

Now, American intelligence officials have concluded that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt, and that while Pakistan has attacked some camps, its overall effort has flagged.


'History will see Blair as Churchillian' (Colin Freeman, 25/02/2007, Sunday Telegraph)
Tony Blair's backing for the Iraq war will be honoured by history in the same way as Churchill's decision to fight Hitler, Iraq's former prime minister has told The Sunday Telegraph.

In remarks that will be a welcome fillip to Mr Blair, Ibrahim al-Jaafari said that getting rid of Saddam Hussein would be a legacy that future generations of Britons would be "proud of".

Mr Jaafari spoke out at the end of a week in which Mr Blair faced some of his toughest criticism yet over his decision to back George W Bush and join in the 2003 invasion.


More FDRian. Churchill led the Allies. Mr. Blair has followed W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 25, 2007 1:11 PM
Comments

BTW: Has anybody ever seen Baker and Bandar together? I thought not. They're really the same person, plus or minus a pillow.

Posted by: ghostcat at February 25, 2007 2:16 PM

"Sunni-Shiite Cold War" Feel like a very hot war to those who were suicide bombed or burnt by militias.

Posted by: ic at February 25, 2007 3:17 PM

It would be a helpful exercise for you if you did.

Posted by: oj at February 25, 2007 8:16 PM
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