Saudis Will Fill Vacuum Left by US in Iraq and Challenge Iran’s Pretensions

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OilTrans_nawaf.jpg
Read Nawaf Obaid today in the Washington Post. Read it carefully.
The preamble:

In February 2003, a month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, warned President Bush that he would be “solving one problem and creating five more” if he removed Saddam Hussein by force. Had Bush heeded his advice, Iraq would not now be on the brink of full-blown civil war and disintegration.
One hopes he won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.
Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.
Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave President Bush his word that he wouldn’t meddle in Iraq (and because it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn’t attack U.S. troops), these requests have all been refused. They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq. As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world’s Sunni community (which comprises 85 percent of all Muslims), Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene.

Obaid is a personal national security advisor to Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal and what he is writing is no doubt the public version of what King Abdullah told Cheney when the VP was summoned to Riyadh.
What Obaid has articulated here is not offered as a threat if the US leaves Iraq, which the US must do in my view. This is the first robust declaration that the Saudis are willing to fill the vacuum left by the United State in the region and knock back some of the unchecked expansion of Iranian influence in the region.
It’s not good to have rising powers with pretensions of future greatness clashing like this — but there is NO CHOICE.
And frankly, it’s much better to have the Saudis engaged that not engaged in Iraq. Iran must be balanced — and while this may seem like an escalation, it actually is an important potential cap on a worsening of this increasingly ulcerous mess in Iraq.
But what the Saudis are doing and what they need to be do is not new — it has been predicted for quite a while. And this is the consequence of the Bush administration’s failure to think strategically. We have now drawn Saudi Arabia into a potential collision that could destabilize that nation and seriously harm our access to vital oil and natural gas supplies.
So don’t blame the Saudis for seeing the world and their region as it is — not as George W. Bush fantasizes.

— Steve Clemons

Comments

98 comments on “Saudis Will Fill Vacuum Left by US in Iraq and Challenge Iran’s Pretensions

  1. Steve says:

    I’m not sure that Steve is entirely wrong in his assessment of a possible Saudi intervention in Iraq following an American withdrawal.
    Although Iran is far the more populous country with a larger military, Saudi forces are better trained, equipped and most likely of higher morale than the poorly equipped Iranians armed forces.
    Also, the Saudi intervention would differ in degree and in kind from that currently shouldered by the US. Rather than attempting to impose order and a broadly acceptable political solution upon the entire country, the Saudis mission would be limited to the defending a sympathetic population in areas of the country in which that community is dominant. No need to impose order on a hostile population nor to maintain any pretense of impartiality. In fact, by openly siding with and defending Sunni areas, the Saudi’s would effectively reduce the reliance of the Sunni population upon radical militants for security.
    While I agree that American withdrawal followed by Saudi intervention will almost inevitably trigger an Iranian intervention, I would expect the Iranians to behave in a similar manner to the Saudis. Why would they want to occupy parts of Iraq poor in oil, but rich in hostile Sunnis enjoying the direct military support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
    I don’t pretend that Saudi and Iranian interventions wouldn’t be dangerous developments (Iraqi Arab Shiites might resist Persian intervention), but there aren’t any safe options left in Iraq. Paradoxically, the presence of Saudi and Iranian forces may actually stabilize the situation and drain popular support borne of desperation from the militants of both communities.
    The danger I foresee is the potentially destabilizing effect of an Shiite victory in the civil war or the emergence of an autonomous (or semi-autonomous) Shiite state centered in Basra upon the oil rich, Shiite Eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Also overlooked is the likely Turkish intervention in Kurdistan once US forces leave. This likelihood would become a near certainty once others cross the southern and eastern frontiers.

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  2. owena says:

    This is very bad. The Administration has been making noise about “taking sides” in the civil war. Which means teaming up the the Shiites:
    http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/011374.php

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  3. grognard says:

    Saudi Arabia with a population of 21 million will not go up against Iran, population 68 million, alone. They will want a Sunni ally and the logical choice is Turkey. There is a problem with force projection for Turkey through the Kurdish areas, and it is not a forgone conclusion that the Sunni Kurds will want to join any Saudi movement to fight the Shi’a. If there is a real effort by Saudi Arabia to confront the Shiites look for diplomatic activity with the Kurds and Turkey, otherwise this is a bluff.

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  4. marky says:

    Great thread. I appreciated reading all the informative commentary from several people.

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  5. Pissed Off American says:

    If the U.S. is to extract any benefit out of this misguided expedition, this is how we could do it.
    Posted by steambomb
    Slow down, Steambomb. The insurgency is in its last throes. Besides, the oil revenues are gonna pay for this.

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  6. steambomb says:

    Frankly….. Our best option at this point in Iraq is to declare Kurdistan! Withdraw our forces to Kurdistan and bring Turkey into talks with the Kurds to end the sectarian violence perpetrated upon Turkey by expanding the kurdistan region to the south. Lets get on with it before we lose too many more of our men and women. Let the Shia deal with the bathist/suni element. If the U.S. is to extract any benefit out of this misguided expedition, this is how we could do it.

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  7. Jaded says:

    POA says: “Baker, the Saudis, Bush……..
    Anyone see the tendril of slime that connects the whole odorous mess??? Namely, the Carlyle Group, their holdings, and their dealings with the Saudis?…”
    Surely they contribute their expertise pro bono.

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  8. Chesire11 says:

    I have to agree with much of Den’s analysis. Neither the Saudi nor Iranian armed forces seem to be structured or trained to project force beyond their own nation frontiers. Providing arms and funds to indigenous proxies is much the more practical means of intervention.
    I also discount the Saudi threat to boost oil output and flood the oil market. All of the evidence I have read suggests that the Saudis are already producing at capacity with no additional capacity in the works. I have read speculation that their current practices and production rate may in fact already be degrading their oil fields and facilities.
    Dan also raises a good point when he questions the ability of Shiite militias to pacify the Sunni triangle, a feat that exceeded the capabilities of the United States Army and Marine Corps. Short of genocide, I don’t see any way for a Shiite central government to exert authority over the Sunni population.
    Finally, I’m not entirely convinced that the Saudis are particularly desperate for the United States to maintain a local military presence in the region as Dan suggests. The greatest threats to the House of Saud are internal, not external.
    Frankly, I’m not all that impressed with the capacity of any of the region’s militaries to embark in any sustained military activity far from base. I suspect that the Iran-Iraq War of the eighties may well have bogged down into a war of attrition largely because the respective armies eventually lost the limited ability to maneuver that they possessed at the outbreak of hostilities. They may well have bled each other white because, other than very localized operations, they were unable to do anything more.
    A high profile American presence only serves to enflame those domestic forces which pose the most serious threat to Saudi stability. I would think that the Saudi royal family would much prefer that we maintain the sort of “over the horizon” support that bolstered them throughout the eighties without provoking either Islamic radicalism or Arab nationalist sentiments.

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  9. ET says:

    Oh, come on. What’s wrong with those panty-waists? Are they day traders or investors?
    Stay the course! Be manly men! It’ll only take 2000 years and 25 million troops.

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  10. FFXI says:

    I am not a game, I am not a world, I am WOWgame

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  11. week says:

    The synchronously latest suit weapon+the latest FB+latest edition!Don’t enter a station to see!game

    Reply

  12. Dan Kervick says:

    My understanding, based on several news reports I have read recently, is that the Sunni Arabs in the Iraqi insurgency are convinced that after the US leaves they will easily overpower both the government and the Shiite militias, and sweep back into control of Iraq. I assume “control” here mainly refers to Baghdad.
    I don’t know for sure whether their confidence is justified, but it stands to reason since the bulk of what used to be the Iraqi army is now the backbone of the insurgency. The Sunnis are more sophisticated militarily, appear to have more firepower and have shown greater ruthlessness and effectiveness throughout the conflict. Clear Shiite success in controlling turf has been confined to places like Basra and Najaf where they are overwhelmingly the home team, and the Shiites and their government haven’t been able to win Baghdad despite the fact that they are the party that has received all the US backing, and have had the US army fighting on their behalf in a losing effort to repel the insurgency from the streets of Baghdad. So far, they haven’t shown themselves to be nearly as destructive, ruthless, or well-organized as the Sunnis, or as effective as a fighting force – particularly when it comes to blowing up things and people.
    So I imagine that unless circumstances change, when the US leaves the insurgency will overrun the Green Zone, defenestrate the government, make all out war on the Shiite population in Baghdad and take control of the city. Of course, they will probably begin fighting among themselves for supremacy as well.
    One difference between the current Sunni insurgency and the former Sunni power behind Saddam’s regime is that the Sunni community has been radicalized by the war. There was a burgeoning Islamist movement in Anbar province during the 90’s that Saddam had been increasingly forced to accommodate, and that movement is now very prominent in the insurgency. Many of the most active insurgent organizations have avowedly Islamist aims. Forget the problem of “foreign fighters”, which are a relatively small component of the insurgency. There is now a very active, homegrown Sunni jihadist movement in Iraq.
    I’m not sure what the Shiites can hold on to without Iranian help, and without continued assistance from the US, especially in the form of serious weaponry. But even with that support, it is nearly impossible to imagine the Shiites “winning” if that is supposed to include defeating the Sunnis in Anbar province and the other Sunni strongholds. The only reason there is any presence at all by the Shiite-lead government in places like Fallujah is that there are US marines stationed right outside the city who patrol it on a daily basis and barely keep the insurgency at bay inside the city. Once they are gone, the representatives of the government will be strung up in no time. They will probably run away long before then.
    There is much recent speculation that the Bush administration has decided in effect to switch sides, that they are forcing Maliki to separate himself entirely from the Shiite militias or be replaced by an ex-Baathist strongman, and that they are about to help the insurgents crush the Shiite militias. It should be nothing short of astonishing that after bitching for years about the absolute need to “defeat the terrorists” in Iraq, the administration is contemplating helping those same terrorits defeat the militias of their *allies* in Iraq, because they are all hot and bothered about Iranian influence in Iraq and the Middle East. In my view they should be aiming to work with the Iranians to help the Shiites and Kurds hold their own territories in southern and northern Iraq and contain the insurgency.
    Call me cynical, but I just don’t think the Saudis honestly care a whole lot about their Sunni brothers in Iraq. After all, these same Sunni Iraqis felt no compunctions about invading Kuwait in 1990 when they controlled the Iraqi government, and very well might have gone on to invade Saudi Arabia had there been no foreign intervention to repel them. So give me a break with the crocodile tears about the poor beleaguered Sunnis.
    What the Saudis *do* want is for the US to *stay in Iraq*. Recall that with the invasion of Iraq, the US abandoned their former military presence in Saudi Arabia. The permanent bases that were envisioned for Iraq were supposed to replace the lost bases in Saudi Arabia. It is probably the case that what the Saudis are most worried about, as always, is their *own population*. And they want their long-time military patrons to remain within shouting distance to continue to provide the protective muscle behind the House of Saud.
    To stiffen the spine of the Americans, the Saudis are publicly threatening to cause trouble in Iraq if the US leaves. This might very well be a bluff. But perhaps what they are also doing with this very public declaration is giving their good friend George Bush the political ammunition he needs to argue for a continued US presence in Iraq.

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  13. Den Valdron says:

    It’s not necessarily fore-ordained. Simply put, the Iranians have no incentive to throw their hat in, since the Shiites will probably come out on top. The Iranians are willing to accept or tolerate any compromise or functional arrangement within Iraq.
    It’s within reason for all the surrounding parties to step back and let the Iraqi’s work it out, maintaining good relations with as many factions as possible, but not meddling.
    On the other hand, when someone comes out and actually throws in, then that’s when it gets messy.
    This is the door the Saudi’s are looking at opening…

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  14. Marky says:

    ack.. *seem* foreordained

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  15. Marky says:

    Won’t the Saudi ruling family feel tremendous pressure from within the country to help their Sunni brethren in Iraq?
    Den, your analysis is good, as always, but short of a miracle, doesn’t this course some foreordained?
    The problem is Bush—not just his stay the course bullshit, but his inflammatory, insulting remarks, and the fact that Iraq policy is still formulated to create a good impression at home, no matter how bad the results are in Iraq.
    Bush just won’t be shut up.. he’s going to have things his way in the Middle East, come one Horseman of the Apocalypse or four.

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  16. Den Valdron says:

    By this time, I suppose its pointless to post, but I’ll offer a thought or two anyway.
    Saudi Arabia will not be stepping into the vacuum left by the US, no how, no way. Militarily, they simply cannot. Their armed forces barely have the manpower for domestic security, they have no spare troops for a major, long term, security mission in Iraq.
    Nor do I see the Saudi’s following through on a threat to dump so much oil on the market that the price collapses and so does the Iranian economy. Frankly, I don’t think that in the current market, they have the capacity to do it. In any case, such an action would be equally disastrous for Kuwait, Iraq, the UAE, Quatar, etc. Rather than seeing their economies wrecked, the other producers might curtail production to keep prices up. Saudi Arabia would not be well liked, or influential.
    The most likely outcome of Saudi intervention is the provision of money and weapons on an open ended basis to their proxies.
    This is bad, very bad.
    Here’s the thing. A regular ass civil war basically amounts to the parties using the resources that they’ve got within a country… ie, their territory, their populations, their funding, etc.
    Everyone sits down at the table, gets their cards dealt and away we go… winner take all.
    Now, the trouble is that if one of the players at the table gets a backer, they can keep on playing a lot longer than their resources would normally allow. In fact, they can keep on raising the stakes, and with unlimited backing, can drive the other players from the game.
    This is the role that Saudi Arabia proposes to play.
    Now here’s the problem.
    There’s no shortage of backers who are able to throw men, manpower, logistic support, air support, weapons, ammunition and effectively infinite quantities of money.
    The Israeli’s could play the same game for the Kurds, for instance.
    The Turks could ring the bell on behalf of the Turkomen.
    Iran could throw in on behalf of Dawa.
    Kuwait could make a play for a militia-for hire to control the southern oil fields.
    Syria could support the secular factions of Shiites.
    Hell, there isn’t a player in the region that couldn’t get involved in some way. And the war wouldn’t be confined to local backers: Russia, China, India, Pakistan might all get into the act.
    And then it gets nasty. Imagine a civil war where every warlord has an infinite line of credit, an open ended channel of guns, money and supplies. And the only restriction on him is that he cannot ever surrender, ever compromise. The river of guns and money flows so long as he is willing to fight.
    This is a recipe for hell on earth.

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  17. John says:

    Dan, you’re right. I should have encompassed Democrats and realists in the category of crooks and liars. The national security elite will surely find a pretense for going after strategic resources. If not justifiable with BS about freedom and democracy, human rights vs. terrorism, it will be some new cause that cloaks itself in honor and nobility and becomes the rallying cry for gullible Americans. The national security elite views energy issues as simply too important for democratic debate. Rational discussion of energy futures is off the table. Period. It’s worse than crazy, because the madness is intentional.

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  18. Dan Kervick says:

    **Democracy is a laudable goal, but it ain’t going to happen with this batch of crooks and liars. Get over it!**
    My only problem with this focus is that it encourgages Democrats in the view that once they are in charge, they will get democracy promotion *right*. And thus we will just get some new crackpot Democratic war of aggression to save souls for the god of democracy, in place of the current crackpot Republican war of aggression to kick generic Arab asses just to show them who’s boss. But I don’t care if it is Charlie Rangel drafting young Americans into the military meat grinder for the benefit of President Hillary’s true democracy crusade or Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney rounding up National Guardsmen to shock and awe Arabs into submission to the American hegemon. It’s all crazy.

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  19. Pissed Off American says:

    Baker, the Saudis, Bush……..
    Anyone see the tendril of slime that connects the whole odorous mess??? Namely, the Carlyle Group, their holdings, and their dealings with the Saudis?
    Is this Bush consigliere led “Iraqi study group” looking out for the Iraqis’ interests, our interests, or the Saudis? Or, quite simply, the Bush’s??? If you people think that this so called “study group” was concieved to do anything other than bail the Bush name out of the biggest clusterfuck ever launched by a presidential Adnministration in the history of the United States, than I gotta foolproof Anti-aging Enema Gell I want to sell you. There are LAYERS of plots and deceptions going on here, and Baker is in bed with the world’s premier batch of camel traders, mainly the Saudis. And you can bet that ANY policy decisions that Baker recomends will have been vetted by the Saudis, and by daddy Bush, before they EVER cross little Monkey Boy’s desk.
    Pay careful attention, folks, this mess ain’t going away. And the “fixers” and the “deciders” are in full CYA mode, and they don’t care who they fuck, kill, lie to, our ruin in their mad dash for the “I didn’t do it” platform. If it takes an American city, glowing in the dark, to distract us from the truth, then you can bet they won’t hesitate to light one up. Hitler only had the evil these bastards do. He didn’t have the toys these guys do. We’re in deep shit. Den had it right. They’re monsters, and they’re cornered.

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  20. PeterP says:

    My intuition is that a Saudi intervention in Iraq would be the first step in the disintegration of the Saudi regime itself — perhaps as part of a larger disintegration of the post-World War I order in the Middle East.
    In his Washington Post op ed, Nawaf Obaid refers to a new generation of Saudi princes eager to play the role of a regional power — to fill the vacuum left behind by the retreating Americans.
    I hope this is not true. It would be as unfortunate as hearing in 1913 that a rising generation of Austro-Hungarian aristocrats had ambitions of playing a greater role in the Balkans.
    The House of Saud is too weak, too corrupt, too unpopular — too anachronistic — to fill the muscular role Obaid suggests (threatens?) There are simply too many ways for Iran to retaliate, not least by stirring up trouble among S.A.’s own Shi’a minority.
    If we’re lucky, it’s just a bluff — a thinly-disguised plea by the House of Saud to its American protectors: Don’t leave us with the mess you have made. Because the Saudis can’t restore the old order in Iraq, or save the Sunnis. But they CAN light the fuse to their own destruction, which would make the Iraq War look like a minor traffic altercation.

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  21. John says:

    I continue to be amazed by these discussions of democracy in Iraq. It doesn’t matter whether Arabs want or don’t want democracy. It doesn’t matter whether Arabs are capable or incapable of democracy.
    It simply doesn’t matter because democracy has never been a goal of the Bush administration. Iraqi oil is the only goal of the administration. Democracy is nothing more than the Bush administration’s brand image. Like the rhetoric about WMDs, it consists of nothing more than atomized BS spewed across the airwaves with the intent of polluting any serious debate on Iraq and deceiving the public into believing that the administration’s goals are honorable and noble.
    Democracy is a laudable goal, but it ain’t going to happen with this batch of crooks and liars. Get over it!

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  22. Matthew says:

    So did Bush talk to Maliki or did Maliki talk to Bush? If these two guys were in prison, I think we know who would be getting the bottom bunk. Like so many times before, Bush swaggers over there–talks tough through his handlers–and then reveals his inner kitten. It’s a good thing that Hafez El-Assad isn’t still around. Bush would be handing over the White House China.

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  23. Dan Kervick says:

    I wonder how many discussions you have had in Arabic with ordinary Iraqis concerning these matters?
    Zero Publius. Admittedly, almost everything I know about the Arab world I have learned from reading of various kinds, and from conversations in English with Arabs and Muslim visitors here in the US. So if you have empirical evidence that the liberal democratic ideals you evoke are expressed in a broad-based popular movement in the Arab world, then I am open to hearing your case. But it is my sense that the liberal movement in countries like Egypt, for example, is a decidedly minority concern, with hardly more impact on the overall Egyptian society than the impact of the US Communist Party on American society in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s – not entirely negiligible, but not great.
    How many Iraqis, do you imagine, have read or even know the names of, Montesquieu, Plato, Aristotle and Locke? My guess is that most such philosophical discussions between western democracy promoters and Arab interlocutors are confined to rather small groups of cosmopolitan, west-leaning scholars who all-in-all reprepesent a tiny fraction of the people of the Middle East.
    I would strenuously reject your characterization of my views as paternalistic. Frankly, this strikes me as a projection on your part. It is rather the chauvinistic liberalizing zealots, not me, who regard efforts by the US and its representatives to spread democracy in the Arab world as the work of a politically “mature” society providing tutelege to an “immature” society. I don’t for a moment regard my own political culture as inherently superior and more “grown up” in comparison to the alternative political culture I described. I don’t think the Arab and Muslim worlds require Western parenting; nor do I think a passively superior, paternal attitude is appropriate either. I accept the people in those parts of the world as equals, with a culture that differs from my own, and believe it is up to them to work out their own futures, and adopt the political ideals that suit them.
    My typical reaction in encountering another culture is a sense of that culture as vast, myterious and complex beyond the limits of human understanding. Even those who are part of it achieve only a dim grasp of it in the course of a lifetime. It’s humbling, and provides no grounds for paternalistic superiority. It is both foolish and dangerous for foreign interlopers to attempt to remake it according to their own mental fixations and moral obsessions.
    I do not think democracy is incompatible with Islamic political culture. Iran has both a limited democracy (just as our own is limited, though in different ways) and a constitutional system based on separation of powers – though of course more explicitly theologically grounded than ours. But the culture of Persia, it seems to me, does differs in significant ways from that of the Arab world that surrounds it, where strong imperial governemt had a brief heyday and then largely disappeared.
    Yet I don’t doubt that true liberal believers can have some success in spreading the liberal gospel, just as other missionaries in the past had some success in bringing Catholicism, for example, to South America (much success) and China (much less success). But my feeling is that it is up to the people of the regions in question to determine which foreign ideas they wish to import and mingle with their own traditions. It is not for us to push those ideas down their throats.
    As you can probably tell, I have a rather skeptical attitude toward missionaries, their motivations and the benefiscence of their influence, and am not disposed to engage in missionary activity myself or to vote in favor of my country doing it. My skepticism extends to modern secular missionaries like the USIP. If somebody says to me “I would like to read that book”, then I will lend them my book. If they ask me, “What do you think the author of this book is saying, and how do you regard it?” I will tell them what I think. But I have no urge to go out among the gentiles to preach the word. I don’t regard the federalist papers as some sort of gospel to be spread, but as the product of unique historical circumstances. I rely on them for insight into the roots of our own political culture – not as an instruction manual for humanity.
    Missionaries do, I observe, always seem to follow in the wake of armies.

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  24. Chesire11 says:

    …additionally, the annual military expenditures of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are in the neighborhood of $25.4b vs. only $6.2b for Iran. (Source International Institute for Strategic Studies)

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  25. Chesire11 says:

    P.lukasiak-
    I referred to the CSIS publication “The Military Balance in the Gulf: The Dynamics of Force Developments” for force comparisons between Saudi Arabia and Iran. (http://www.csis.org/index.php?option=com_csis_pubs&task=view&id=1431)
    Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to imply that the Saudi military is well trained, merely that it would seem to operate at a somewhat higher level than the Iranian military and is equipped with more modern, combat ready systems.
    That said, the armed forces of both countries fall far short of western standards and aren’t well suited for sustained force projection or maneuver warfare. Both are better suited to static defense and have generally been poorly maintained.
    The Saudi Army numbers 124k regular forces organized into 9 combat brigades. Much of the force is dispersed due to internal security concerns and must coordinate multiple combat systems with unproven track records in desert conditions. Although only a portion of this force would be available to intervene in Iraq, protection of the Sunni community would require only a limited expeditionary force enjoying the support of the local population, not a massive army of occupation.
    Conversely, any Iranian attempt to eject a Saudi force would require much larger offensive operations. Although much larger, Iranian regular forces are comprised of poorly trained conscripts of mediocre quality. The Revolutionary Guards, while of better quality are thought to vary widely in capability and has only limited experience coordinating with regular army forces. Although they possess a larger tank force, only 1/3 of it is considered “modern” and much of it is no longer considered operational. The threat of a direct military response by the United States to Iranian intervention would put at significant risk of annihilation any regular formations deployed across the frontier and force Tehran to reserve large forces for homeland protection.
    Overall, the Iranian military is big, but slow, uncoordinated and poorly trained with limited ability to sustain remote operations and mindful of the constant threat of American airpower. The Saudis are smaller, slow, unmaneuverable and uncoordinated, but would be highly unlikely to venture beyond Sunni territory and would most likely enjoy American logistical support.
    Given these considerations I would (cautiously) expect intervention to produce rival spheres of influence with limited conflict between indigenous paramilitary forces, rather than direct conflict between Saudi Arabian and Iranian forces. (Mind you, I am not a policy maker, so I can afford to speculate freely about outcomes!)

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  26. PUBLIUS says:

    Dan:
    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to respond in detail to your arguments, but they strike me as paternalistic, condescending and egregiously misinformed about the realities of Arab desires on the individual and communal levels, particularly with regard to Iraq. I wonder how many discussions you have had in Arabic with ordinary Iraqis concerning these matters? I wonder how many Iraqi Sunnis, Iraqi Christians, Iraqi Jews, Iraqi gays, or Iraqi women you’ve discussed these matters with? How many Arab scholars and imams have you discussed the Federalist Papers with? Or are you basing your theories primarily on abstract reasoning, the Economist or a few Barnes & Noble books on the Arab world authored by scholars at Dartmouth? Based on your earlier comment, I strongly urge you to monitor and investigate the work of USIP, ICG and other groups seriously active in bringing the ideas of Montesquieu, Plato, Aristotle, Locke, and others which so many thought the American Republic would never fully embrace to the social and political development of countries such as Iraq which are trapped in time and struggling to emerge. Both of these organizations – and others – possess real (not imagined or theoretical) expertise in effecting the transformations you dismiss as impossible. Both of these organizations (and others) warned in 2003, correctly, of precisely the outcomes we see today and offered strategies and methods to prevent the disaster we now witness. Their learned counsels were rejected by the incumbent administration, which has consistently repudiated the value of competence in international relations, except when it comes to launching missiles with putative precision as a means of courting the goodwill of the addressees.

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  27. BMR says:

    Dan,
    You raise points that reinforce my own about the centrality of indigenous institutions in conferring legitimacy on democratic experiments–whether at the local or national levels. I also agree with you on the cynical approach taken by those who use the liberal argument as fodder for their democratization project in the Middle East. Unfortunately, I believe the reality of the region is far “greyer” than that–and requires much more circumspection about what might work and what won’t. In this, I do agree in part with Publius that certainly different tactics in aiding democratization would have yielded different results, but this may be just an academic point as clearly our inabilty to plan for or stabilize the security situation has dwarfed everything else by now. I take no pleasure in saying this, but I think that particular ship–democratization, especially liberal democratization, in Iraq–has left the harbor. We will be lucky now to emerge with one entity down the road, and probably happy if some sort of strongman is able to knit it together through some probably unpalatable steps with some minimal form of pluralistic governance.
    But I will nitpick one issue with you: it is grossly exaggerated to say that “in Muslim political thought” this or that is the case–especially in regard to God’s law/sovereignty vs. man’s. There is a strong and growing trend of Iranian Shi’a political thought that has emerged in the past decade–underpinning the Khatami movement of the 1990s–whose entire philosophical basis directly challenges the notion that God’s law is immutable and not subject to human interpretation (as well as simple administration). In fact, scholars like Soroush assert clearly that in order to be religious we must be democratic and that the people’s sovereignty is paramount. And guess what? The fundamental legitimacy that emerges from this line of argument is invaluable given how fragile democracy actually is. Unsurprisingly, his perspective is in fact hugely popular in Iran–based as it is on traditional Shi’a traditions of ijtihad, or religious interpretation, that is far more prevalent in Shi’a thought than in Sunni thought. And more significantly, it emerged politically in the 1990s as a result of internal Iranian politics, not external intervention which would have surely failed. Ironically enough, it also directly challenges the position of the radical Islamists running the show in Tehran that (a) only God’s law is sovereign,(b) only they can determine what God’s law is, and (c) they intend on telling you, whether you like it or not. So there you have it: here are the famously sought-after Muslim moderates, and guess where they live? In a charter member of the Axis of Evil.
    This indigenously developed counterpoint, in my mind, puts Iran light years ahead of not just Iraq, but also basically the entire Arab world in terms of the prospects for democracy. And it has echoes in the broader Muslim world, which gives me hope–but only if the local political landscapes are appreciated for what they can contribute–as you correctly point out.

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  28. Dan Kervick says:

    BMR,
    I think one way to look at the issue of democracy in the Arab and Muslim world, or any other part of the world for that matter, is to consider it from the point of view of local government – political organization on the smallest scales.
    Here in my state of New Hampshire, for example, there is a traditional (though eroding) preference for a highly democratic town meeting forms of government, administrated through boards of selectmen rather than mayors. New Hampshire also has the largest state house of representatives in the country – the third largest legislative body in the western world. This style of government was not imposed on us by external reformers, but is part of the “New Hampshire Way”, with deep roots in the state’s earliest political communities.
    What people do locally in the political realm expresses their instinctive and traditional political habits, their dominant ideals and presuppositions about how a community is to be organized and governed. My understanding is that in most of the Arab world local government is traditionally not elected and democratic on the western pattern, but is at least in some imperfect way partially representative. It tends to be both patriarchical and consultative, and political power and leadership are exercised through broadly enduring though gradually and continually shifting networks and alliances of family, clan and tribe. It is “authoritarian” in the sense that it is presumed to be natural that ultimate desision-making be vested in elders, sheikhs, notables or emirs who achieve their positions through an informal process of consensus and acclaim, a somewhat more formal process of conciliar input and clerical approval, and by having established their pre-eminence through displays of strength, authority and good judgement.
    Auhoritarian, patriarchal government is thus not some sort of despotic imposition or overlay upon the region of a form of government that runs counter the the grass roots aspirations and political habits of oridary people, but is a natural extension of a pattern of social and political organization with deep cultural roots in centuries of actual practice. However, we do see that some of the governments established my Western-influenced modernizers in the 20th century – in Egypt and Iraq for example – have sometimes been more ruthlessly efficient and totalitarian than other more traditional forms of government.
    Because of these traditional patterns of political organization in the Arab world, the attempt to establish western democracy in that world is not just a matter of “liberating” people to adopt a style of government most of them want, by scraping off a despotic overlay, but requires a radical transformation of habits and mores down to the grass roots and personal level. Of course, people almost everywhere say they want “democracy” – that word has become an almost universally popular and evocative label – perhaps like “justice”. But just as in the case of “justice”, what people mean by “democracy” varies widely from one part of the world to the next. The common core seems to be rule by the little guy – decentralized home rule of some kind as opposed to highly centralized rule by the central state – and a belief in the equality of all members of the community.
    Arab culture does in fact possess a strong ethos of social equality and freedom. In Muslim political thought, only God’s law possesses sovereignty, and the submission to that law is seen as a liberation from bondage to other human beings. No man is regarded as legitimately a subject of another man, and all are equally subject to the law of God. The ruler – from local sheikh to king – is not a superior being of any kind to whom all owe obedience, but an ordinarry person who has himslef submitted to God’s law, and granted by providence the duty of supporting that law on earth.
    Muslim political thinkers tend to reject democracy on the western model because the western ideology of democracy tends to teach that the people collectively are sovereign, that legitmate law flows from the sovereign, and that individuals thus owe fidelity to laws established by men. But in Muslim thought, no mere human being can establish law – he can only administer it. And the view that law flows from the will of the people is a heretical elevation of human beings to plane equivalent to God. To arrogate that role to oneself – even one’s whole community – is to impiously pretend to a god-like status.
    To recognize that western-style democracy is not a natural fit in much of the Arab and Muslim world is not to say that Arabs are “incapable” of democracy. Even to describe it in that way is to chauvinistic. Most Americans are not well-disposed toward socialistic or communistic forms of government. Does that mean they are “incapable” of these forms of government? Of course not. It just means that they are not inclined to practice those forms of government and are culturally resistant to them.
    What appears to be going on lately in both neoconservative circles and some of the more fanatical liberal circles is a spiteful, petulant and resentful reaction agaisnt the failure of the Great Democracy Project. If democracy refuses to “take root” in Arab societies, the tru believers reason, that must meen that there is something wrong with Arabs; that given the manifest superiority of democracy as a political system, people who cannot grasp this great fact must be culturaly or genetically inferior in some way. But can’t it simply be the case that the democratic style of government popular in much of the west is not in harmony with prevailing cultural traditions in other countries – and that that doesn’t say anything bad about those people or mark them as inferior in any way?
    The democratic partisans and missionaries are so obsessed by western democracy, it seems, and so inclined to see it as a political panacaea for fixing the worlds ills, that they believe that its failure to sweep the world amounts to a hideous and dolorous tragedy, and means that all those benighted non-democrats remain mired in slavery and tyranny and general awfulness. And yet throughout most of the world, throughout most of its history, people have not been governed democratically.
    Of course, some of the recent spite and sputtering about Arab incapacity or undeservingness is insincere – it is a last, desperate rhetorical ploy designed to goad and taunt western liberals into supporting the ambitious democracy-promotion agenda of the zealots. The zealots’ hope is that their target audience will respond by saying “Hey I’m a good liberal. I believe in the equality and perfectability of man, and that all human beings are equally capable of adopting enlightened ways and recognizing the natural laws and rights articulated in the western liberal tradition. The moral and rational superiority of liberal democracy to all other forms of goverment is obvious – even self-evident – and can be grasped by the whole human family, and by all rational animals. Thus I must acknowledge that Arabs and Muslims are capable of grasping the great Liberal Democratic Truth, and that deep in their hearts must already want that form of government. If I don’t acknowledge this, then I am implying Arabs are sub-human and cognitively deficient beasts, incapable of grasping self-evident truths. It is thus my duty, and the duty of all, to help other people achieve the True Way.”

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  29. p.lukasiak says:

    Although Iran is far the more populous country with a larger military, Saudi forces are better trained and equipped than the poorly Iranians armed forces and would enjoy logistical support from the US.
    where exactly are you getting your info on the Saudi army? From what I’ve read, they are neither well trained nor disciplined.
    Iran, on the other hand, has a “professional” military of about 130,000 that also includes 220,000 less professional “conscripts” (read, cannon fodder)— plus a Revolutionary Guard of 125,000. Iran’s policy of 18 months of compulsory military service also means that it has a vast number of men of military age with some military training that it can call upon.
    And while the Saudi’s probably have more “modern” equipment, the US embargo on military equipment for Iran has been notoriously porous–especially when it comes to weapons from China.
    Finally, the idea of the Saudi’s virtually annexing western Iraq as a protectorate is fraught with danger. The Baathists aren’t going to go for it, and the Saudi royals already have their own Islamic fundamentalist problem — al Qaeda wants to overthrow the royal family, and considers them apostates.
    This whole scheme, of course, is predicated on a projected “genocide” of Iraqi Sunnis at the behest of Iran. I really don’t see that happening — far more likely is that Sunnis will be expelled from Baghdad and Shiite majority areas as a precautionary measure — but that Iran will offer the Sunni’s Kirkuk (and take on the Kurds — and they’ll have Turkish support in doing so).

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  30. Peter Lee says:

    It would appear that all this posturing by the Saudis is about the much-mooted Shi’ite tilt option, in which the US concedes a civil war is going on in Iraq, decides the only feasible option is to let the Shi’as go all out to win the civil war, and stands back as the full fury of sectarian warfare is unleashed against the Sunni insurgency. Summoning Dick Cheney to Riyadh and announcing Saudi Arabia’s commitment to protect the Shi’ite community is an attempt to push America away from the Shi’ite option. I don’t think it will work and I suspect that talk of large-scale Saudi military involvement in Iraq is a bluff. Saudi Arabia will provide money and aid to the insurgency and maybe use its military and diplomatic good offices to establish safe enclaves inside and outside of Iraq for Sunni political and military forces. But I think they will have to be content with stemming the tide of the counter-insurgency and trying to create space for a negotiated settlement with the Shi’ite central government. I just don’t see Saudi Arabia overtly escalating the Iraq conflict to a regional war and earning the active and eternal enmity of Iran, even if Riyadh hopes to have the backing of Israel and the United States.

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  31. billup says:

    If the Saudis intervene in the Sunni areas of Iraq as we withdraw, and they take the Sunni’s under their wing as their protectors, this will be seen as a beneficent intervention, not hostile, with the intention of turning Iraq’s Sunnis away from the impossible goal of regaining ascendancy in Iraq, to finding themselves in a new relationship with neighboring Sunni states. Iran will not cross the border to confront a Saudi expansion into Anbar, nor will Turkey make a move on the Kurds as they have well understood the outcome of these events for a long time and will live with it. Saudi intervention is a beneficent step and will lead to a more smooth transition to the inevitable three state solution.

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  32. Chesire11 says:

    I’m not sure that Steve is entirely wrong in his assessment of a possible Saudi intervention in Iraq following an American withdrawal.
    Although Iran is far the more populous country with a larger military, Saudi forces are better trained and equipped than the poorly Iranians armed forces and would enjoy logistical support from the US. In addition, the Iranians would be under no illusions that direct military action against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be tolerated by the US; even after a humiliating retreat from Iraq, we would more than retain the capability of thwarting and vigorously punishing with air and naval forces in the region any move against Saudi territory or Saudi forces in Iraq.
    Also, the Saudi intervention would differ in degree and in kind from that currently shouldered by the US. Rather than attempting to impose order and a broadly acceptable political solution upon the entire country, the Saudis mission would most likely be limited to the defense of a sympathetic population in areas of the country in which that community is dominant. No need to impose order on a hostile population nor to maintain any pretense of impartiality. In fact, openly siding with and defending Sunni areas, the Saudi’s could effectively marginalize the Sunni insurgency.
    I am also unconvinced that the House of Saud would be deterred from intervention by fears of a domestic Sunni backlash. I would expect the threat of Sunni extremism to impel the monarchy towards rather than away from intervention. A Saudi royal house that idly observes the destruction of the Arab Sunni community in Iraq would discredit itself to its own population and actually strengthen the hand of radical Sunnis who denounce the royals as decadent leaches and western puppets.
    While I agree that American withdrawal followed by Saudi intervention will almost inevitably trigger an Iranian intervention, the Iranians may well behave in a similar manner to the Saudis. Why would they even want to assume the nightmarish burden of occupying the Sunni triangle – poor in oil, but rich in hostile Sunnis that even the US military proved incapable of defeating, now enjoying the direct overt military support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
    I don’t pretend that Saudi and Iranian interventions wouldn’t be dangerous developments (Iraqi Arab Shiites might resist Persian intervention), but there aren’t any safe options left in Iraq. Paradoxically, the presence of Saudi and Iranian forces may actually stabilize the situation and drain popular support borne of desperate insecurity from the militants of both communities.
    The dangers I foresee are the potentially destabilizing effects upon the oil rich, Shiite Eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Both intervention in support of the Iraqi Sunni community and/or some degree of Shiite ascendancy over Iraq or the establishment of a semi-autonomous Shiite state centered on Basra run the risk of inflaming separatist sentiments among the dissatisfied Shiites within the Kingdom itself.
    Also overlooked is the likely Turkish intervention in Kurdistan once US forces leave. This likelihood would become a near certainty once others cross the southern and eastern frontiers.
    There is no good solution to the current mess, but by increasing the security of the opposing communities, Saudi and Iranian forces could conceivable (but by no means certainly!) defuse some of the explosive pressures now at play.

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  33. Matthew says:

    I want to commend Publius for stating expressly what the Administration only hints at. Liberal Democracy produces governments that serve their own people. American policy has never been about helping the Arabs. Hence, the stated “desire” to build a liberal democracy in the ME is a farce. Bush demonstrates this when he claims that regional actors who do not support the US are not “legitimate” democractic actors. Iraq has exposed our hypocrisy.
    Now like Michael Richards and Mel Gibson, we might want to engage on a journey of healing….

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  34. Egypt Steve says:

    I can’t agree that it’s good for the Saudis to be involved in Iraq in the way described. What you’re going to get is a thousand Zarqawis — bunch of al-Qaida-oid lunatics blowing themselves up and sawing peoples’ heads off. I do agree, though, that we’ve got to get out and let the chips fall where they may. There’s nothing — *nothing* — that we can do to stop this train. We’re better off getting off now than riding it to the final blow-up.

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  35. BMR says:

    Publius,
    Your point regarding democracy promotion is noted (Posted by PUBLIUS at November 29, 2006 06:56 PM); I guess what I really meant to say is that a liberal democracy creation project in the hands of this administration was never a likely prospect.
    For what it’s worth, given Iran and Turkey’s modern political experiences, I still think that full-blown liberal democracy is a worthy but lofty goal in this region. It’s not that “those people” don’t “deserve it” or “want it”–it’s primarly that given their institutional weaknesses by and large I think the emphasis needs to be on a movement away from arbitrary/authoritarian politics and toward one where peaceful coexistence, growing pluralism and civil society take root. Ideally this would be grounded in indigenous institutions for the process to really be legitimate, especially in a region where external intervention and the illegitimacy that arises from it has been demonstrated to be largely doomed. This is something that was less of an issue in Japan, Germany, or Eastern Europe–all of whom had relatively extended experience with the institutions and forms of republican governance in one form or another and were not just carved out in the past 70 years. A more appropriate example might be Latin America, but Latin American in the 19th century following independence. Minority rights are indeed important–we just need to find a way to bring about the more fundamental transformations in a way that allows those dimensions to take root in a timely fashion.
    That’s my $.02…..

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  36. Michael says:

    I must say this has been a most useful and illuminating debate. Even the comments of Robert Morrow were welcome, as they reminded me just how juvenile and ill-informed this nation’s policy of “creative destruction” has been these last few years.
    I’ve long resisted the idea of partitioning the country formally known as Iraq, but after reading through the above, I suspect supporting planning for that inevitable outcome is indeed the best course. Someone mentioned “oriental wisdom” and that is one lesson we can take from the East: much better to work with prevailing forces rather than against them.
    So, let’s say that Iraq is divvied up, Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, the eastern, wealthier region achieving a stable orbit within the Iranian sphere, with the poorer, western parts propped up with Saudi oil revenues. While we’re at it, let’s also suppose that, as p.lukasiak suggests, the Saudis fund and promote stronger militaries in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, to counterbalance Iranian efforts towards regional hegemony. We might even hope that some manner of tolerably peaceful detente is achieved in the process, but where is Israel in all this? I’m no expert, but it seems hard to imagine Israel’s present government sitting on their hands while Iran’s influence grows and the Saudis build up modern armies on Israel’s doorstep.

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  37. billy says:

    I am with Robert Morrow on this.
    Create total chaos over there and have oil prices hover around $214.67 a barrel for 6 yrs.
    Then with the decadent American economy destroyed, Americans will be suffering so much that they will be coming home to Jesus by the 10s of millions, and hardcore traditional American values will take firm roots again for each of our family’s survival.
    Our decadent society will be rightly destroyed on a Biblical scale and we can start anew to rebuild our world in the image of how they lived on Leave It to Beaver.
    Hallajuleah, and Praise the Lord, who verily did send Our President as the avenging Archangel.

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  38. p.lukasiak says:

    Hey, what about destabilizing Iran and toppling Syria and going for total victory in the Middle East and reshaping that map for decades if not centuries. Do I hear any votes for that.
    sounds good to me…but can we wait until they’ve converted by car to run on tap water?
    *************
    How are the Saudis supposed to deal with that, and when do they start?
    well, since we’re looking at it from a long term perspective, I think building a credible military deterrent would be effective — that combined with a mutual defense treaty with (and helping to fund the modernization of the military of) nations like syria, eqypt, and jordan would give Iran considerable pause before they started acting like a regional hegemon.

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  39. marky says:

    Robert Morrow is probably expressing the fondest wishes of the Bush’s inner circle.
    Yes, expand the creative destruction.
    Heck, why stop with Iran and Syrian? Let’s attack Mexico and Madagascar too! Nothing to lose!

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  40. Robert Morrow says:

    Hey, what about destabilizing Iran and toppling Syria and going for total victory in the Middle East and reshaping that map for decades if not centuries. Do I hear any votes for that.
    It probably is in the longterm US national interest to do just that.

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  41. radish says:

    Huh. I have no idea what kind of brain fart caused me to place Iran on the Arabian peninsula. Please substitute “Persian Gulf.” Sorry about that.

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  42. radish says:

    > I don’t see the Saudi’s taking this kind of serious risk based on this kind of long term factor.
    Well, I wasn’t actually arguing that they were committed to that course of action so much as commenting about what their options are. But I don’t think their position otherwise is as strong as you seem to. In the short term, yeah, they’re better off keeping their heads down. But in the long run they have to either embrace Iranian regional hegemony or try to postpone/prevent it. I guess loss of influence at OPEC would be a symptom, not the disease.
    Otherwise the Iraqi Shia eventually marginalize the Sunnis (which is a terrible embarrassment to royals, who are supposed to be defenders of the faith) and stabilize (minus Kurdistan?) as another Islamic Republic and a close ally of Iran. Which in turn gives Iran a lot of leverage, even with Sunni states like Jordan. How are the Saudis supposed to deal with that, and when do they start?
    > support of an anti-Iranian insurgency will make the Saudi royals even more dependent upon US military support for its defense
    Ah, see, that there is where I think you’re not being anywhere near pessimistic enough. There’s a strong chance that at some point soon the royals will no longer be able to rely on US military support, period.
    At which point, poof! One of the pillars that props up the monarchy is gone. That doesn’t mean that Iran or Iraq can just waltz in and take over the way Saddam took Kuwait, but it does mean that Iran, with the only fully functional army on the Arabian peninsula, would have a hell of a lot of leverage. AFAICT supporting an anti-Iranian insurgency in Iraq would be the Saudis’ best bet under that scenario — they can’t beat Iran, but they can, probably, prevent Iraq from settling down into Iran’s orbit for many years to come. Only they can’t wait until the last minute to get started either.
    This is not to dismiss the “long line of rich Saudis” scenario BTW. In practice I suppose the princes will bail out and write checks from London. Also I worry that Does Eat Oats and Dan Kervick are right about partition (I definitely agree with Dan that if we had any sense we’d be sending flowers and chocolate to Iran).

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  43. wisedup says:

    The most recent news of the possible removal of US forces from Al Anbar province may be the first fruits of the Cheney-Saudi meeting. Leave our boys alone and target the Shias — and thus the Iranians.
    IMO Hadley’s brief was leaked by Cheney — he wants the democratic government of Iraq to fail, opening the way to a move against the Shia. GWB had better start looking after his back and getting his food tasted.

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  44. Small Axe says:

    I doubt very much that the SA army will be directly involved; they’re weak as piss. What I gather this means is that the Saudi government will begin to openly fund, train and equip Iraqi Sunnis, as well as facilitate international jihadists to fight against the Shia and Iranian influence there. This will help to burnish the Saudi monarchy’s reputation among those displeased with its close cooperation with the US, while keeping Saudi jihadists busy (and get a lot of them killed)and, perhaps, stealing bin Laden’s thunder. There was a similar rationale for the Saudi role in Afghanistan against the Soviets, i.e., enhance Saudi prestige in the Sunni Arab world, whle keeping local hotheads busy and attention focused away from the corrupt and abusive Saudi regime.
    What makes all of this so unreal is, as BMR pointed out early in the thread, that the GWOT appears to have painted us into a corner where our “best” option is for the US to link arms with the Wahhabists. We shit the bed when we invaded Iraq, and we can’t unshit it now.

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  45. Carroll says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/30/world/middleeast/30policy.html?_r=1&hp&ex=1164862800&en=1b8f934bb873891b&ei=5094&partner=homepage&oref=slogin
    Iraq Study Group produces a dud
    Where that leaves us……
    “clowns to the right of me, jokers to the left, and here I am stuck in the middle with you.”

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  46. ... says:

    i guess herb wears a tie and shaves… nice suggestion to think of mlk but perhaps you could think of others differently so that you don’t have to transplant them out of their own story..

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  47. Dan Kervick says:

    I continue to be frustrated by much of the discussion of the various proposals aimed at accepting the division of Iraq into separate autonomous regions or states. Most of those rejecting these proposals strike me as stubbornly, obstinately resistant to coming to grips with the actual situation in Iraq, and they remain committed against all evidence and rational expectation to an ideal of an Iraqi re-unification that is *never going to happen*.
    There are two main groups who do not want a dissolved, divided or federated Iraq: the Sadrists and the Sunni Arabs. Both are struggling for supremacy and outright control of the Iraqi state. The problem is that their competing agendas for an Iraqi future are absolutely incompatible. And the Sunni Arabs are themselves divided into factions with radically different visions of the country’s future. Many of the insurgent groups seek an Islamic state on a far more radical plan than anything that exists in Iran, for example.
    And yet it is these groups, those who are struggling for a *unified* Iraq, that are now the instigators of the majority of the violence! There are plenty of Kurds and Shiites who seem more than willing to work among themselves in their own provinces and regions for nothing more than home rule. But it is those megalomaniacal fanatics who *can not tolerate* this result – and that includes the United States – who are most responsible for continuing to inject violence into the situation.
    The question of division shouldn’t be seen as a matter of an “international conference” or some external chamber of wise men drawing lines on a map. The point is to recognize the natural endpoint of a process which is clearly and irrevocably underway, and to decide whether we are going to continue a futile struggle against that process, or work to limit the pain that will be caused by its unavoidable continuation. The point is that, given the conditions that actually now prevail in Iraq, it is the path toward *reunification* that promises to be longer and more corpse-ridden than the continuation of the path toward the devolution of the country formerly known as Iraq.
    As part of this process, the Sunni Arabs fighting in the insurgency must be made to understand that while they may never lose, they will also *never win*, and that they must begin to resign themselves to accepting the formula for autonomous regions that has already written into the constitution and that the Kurds and most of the Shiites have already begun putting into effect.
    But the insurgents will never stop fighting until they see very clearly that their hopes of restoring their former primacy are empty ones, and that their day as top dog over all of Iraq are over. So far they don’t get it, and thus they will continue to fight so long as that hope remains alive. And it will remain alive so long as US policy – a policy built on a fatal attraction to a moribund Iraqi government – encourages those hopes. Right now, everyone can see that the government is doomed, that US commitment to Iraq and its government are finite, and that even if the commitment were deeper we couldn’t prop up the Baghdad government indefinitely anyway. And the insurgents continue to hope that when that government falls, they will be the ones to topple it, and will be able to parlay that victory into a reassertion of Sunni power in Iraq. They see the Saigon moment coming, and believe that when that last helicopter leaves the Green Zone, it will be with Sunni Arab forces in hot pursuit on the roof of the building pushing them out.
    To firmly and decisively dash these hopes, and to devise for ourselves an exit strategy, we should be working with Iran right *now*. We should *want* the autonomous Shiite communities in Najaf and Karbala and Basra to establish and secure themselves. We should *want* them to have a powerful credible ally in the region against whom the insurgency cannot imagine it will ultimately prevail. If Iranian influence grows in Iraq to the extent that the Sunnis understand that the Shiites are not going to crumble, that Shiite autonomy is established and secure, and that the days of Sunni Arab domination of Iraq are over, that is a *good thing*.
    But they will continue to fight so long as they perceive the potential for ultimate weakness in the Shiite community, and continue to perceive that the US will simultaneously refuse to give the Shiites the tools they need to establish their autonomy, and will at the same time refuse to let the Iranians give them those tools.
    And they will continue to fiight so long as the US persists in the pursuit of its ridiculous endeavor to impose the rule of the central government in Baghdad upon Anbar province and the Sunni Arab cities and towns in central Iraq. We should not support any process that encourages the Sunnis to believe that they can once again control iraq. But we should also not support the violent extention of Shiite rule over those parts of Iraq dominated by Sunni Arabs. And yet that is what we are doing. It should be quite clear that the people in places like Fallujah will *never accept* such rule.
    I am astonished that people would suggest that we should now in effect *switch sides in the war* to help the Sunnis and the insurgency make war against the Shiites and eliminate the Shiite militias. Yes these militias are guilty of brutality and murder. But the Shiite militias have not caused one tenth of the amount of destruction inflicted upon Iraq by the Sunni insurgency, which has been blowing people up by the scores in Iraq with reckless abandon since the beginning of the war.
    The dominant political dynamic in Iraq was set in place by the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf war that followed in, and then the sanctions and no-fly zone period that followed both. All of these steps encouraged and aided the Shiite and Kurdish movements for autonomy. Most Americans saw these groups as oppressed, and their dangerous moves toward freeing themselves from the control of Saddam and Baghdad as liberatory movements. Well, you know what? These efforts at decentralization and destabilization of the Iraqi state worked. We succeeded in enabling these communities to escape the domination of their Tikriti overlords. And now some have decided at this very, very, very late date that we should try to undo the whole thing, and bring about some miraculous national movement and marriage of opposites in Iraq – or even worse that we should help the former overlords retake the country and re-subjugate their former subjects because we are now worried about the growth of Iranian influence. It’s too late. We can’t unscrew the pooch. And even if we could, such a reversal and betrayal would be a criminally immoral act.
    We never should have embarked on a policy of destroying the Iraqi state and crushing its regime. We should have worked to stabilizze the country, work on some formula for the international rehabilitation of Saddam and his government, and engaged ourselves with that government to push in the direction of modest reform. But we didn’t, and now it’s too late. Iraq is over, and we’re the ones who ended it.
    I’m sorry that the Sunni Arabs will be shut out to some extent from profiting as much as they might like from Iraq’s riches, and will no longer have their own fountains of petroleum to exploit. well that’s tough. They lose. They once ruled ruthlessly as a minority in Iraq, thanks largely to the largesse and indulgence of Western governments. And now the wheels of fortune have reversed.
    Iraq is divided, whether we want it to be or not. The process is about 2/3 of the way complete. The Maliki government is meaningless. It is as much a part of the permanent solution in Iraq as the Commonwealth of Independent States was in post-Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. It is little better than a transitional phase on the road to regional autonomy and we should accept that. Now I know talk of partition, separation etc. raises hideous nightmares in some people’s minds. I also understand that it is a tremendous blow to the pride of those who committed themselves to the Iraq Project of 2003 – because it is a tangible and undeniable symbol of failure and defeat. But we really must begin to recognize that the idiot, clueless US drive toward a reunification of Iraq would produce a far worse nightmare than the result of using our influence, and the good offices of influential states in the region, to encourage our respective clients to accept an autonomy scheme.
    Far from obsessing about checking Iranian power, the logic of the situation in Iraq and the Middle East demands that we should begin working to make the Iranians become our new best buddies in the Middle East. The scene has shifted. The tumblers have clicked. The equations have been rebalanced. The Middle East is a vastly different place new place than it was just a few years ago. And either we begin to align ourselves with the new reality, or we will continue to pay the price and continue mope around on the losing side of history. Iran is big and strong, and culturally strong, and is going to thrive, and it is going to have strong friends of one kind or anbother. And better us than China or Russia. Let’s get on with it. How many Iranian overtures are we going to reject before we grasp the obvious.
    As for the talk about the USIG and similar matters, I can’t believe people are still talking at this late date about made-in-America “civil society” makeover efforts in Iraq, as though they remained a viable and even relevant option. This is civil war! It’s not some think tank project for a bunch of bureaucratic wankers and dreamers.

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  48. Carroll says:

    O.K., my little brain is tired of all this policy wonkering.
    I think I have now made myself sick enough to lay off the news for 12 hours at least after reading Tom, my brain is flat, Freidman’s column on how Iraq is not our fault because Arabs and Muslims are a inferior species not capable of being civilized…they just aren’t geneticaly suitable for capitalism…er….democracy according to Tom.
    Puke, demonize them to invade them, demonize them to take the rap for our failures.

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  49. Easy E says:

    “Chinese Fire Drill”? Speaking of this and all the preceding posts, amazing how China stays out of the fray. Just how does China fit into the latest scheme and is there anything that the U.S. can learn from oriental wisdom?

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  50. Prabhata says:

    Steve, you believe that if the Saudis become engaged in Iraq, it’s a good thing to balance Iran. That threat is close to blackmail because the Saudi’s engagement in Iraq is a recipe for a regional war that will cripple the oil supply to Europe, China, Japan and India.
    I doubt the Saudis will carry out their threat which is aimed at the Democrats.

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  51. serial catowner says:

    It’s hard to see how the Saudis can do much better than us, but it’s also hard to see how they could do much worse.
    Who knows, maybe the ability to speak the language, a long history of actually having been in the region, and a shrewd appreciation of when compromise is needed might work better than sending in armed uniformed men.
    It seems obvious that the Bushies were never serious about Iraq, either from a constitutional inability to be serious, or a simple lack of intellectual ability. I believe that at least the Saudis would approach the task with a high degree of motivation.

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  52. Does Eat Oats says:

    Lookie here, fellas and gals, there is not nor will there ever again be an Iraq. Understand fully this, then you will all come around to having to devolve into a controlled partition process that take into consideration the realities of who controls what territories historically and let it fall into place within the strictures of a regional conference whose members wish first and foremost to avoid rip roaring chaos. Deals will be made and the results will resolve the situation unless some party is intransigent in the face of realities and wishes for their own destruction while plunging the region into turmoil. So let’s get some serious partition talks going and smoke out al_Qaeda who would be the only entity to want a hell on earth in the ME.

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  53. Marky says:

    Publius,
    nicely said…
    Bush and his razor thin “mandate” majorities have been a perfect demonstration of the illiberal tyranny of the majority which the founders here strove to prevent.
    Elections are only a means to totalitarian power for Bush—or ignominity, as seems to be his fate in the end.

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  54. PUBLIUS says:

    BMR:
    Thank you for your insightful response (Posted by BMR at November 29, 2006 02:18 PM) to my remarks. I wholly agree with everything you said with the exception of this portion below with which I strenuously disagree:
    “What you’re saying, I gather, is that democracy that gives rise to views we don’t like is undesirable. Newsflash: Liberal democracy in Iraq is simply unrealistic, and always has been. A more open and stable system, however, isn’t necessarily although it looks less and less likely. So whether Iran opposes liberal democracy or not, it really wasn’t ever a viable long-term option for Iraq.”
    No, I do not quarrel with undesirable international relations outcomes resulting from indigenous democratic policy-making in systems of LIBERAL democracy where a relatively enlightened polity obtains. (Admittedly, this subject warrants a day-long colloquium of back and forth among experts such as the one Fareed Zakaria flirted with in a closed discussion in Washington in 2003 around the time of “Mission Accomplished”.)
    More specifically, I strenuously disagree with your assertions that “Liberal democracy in Iraq is simply unrealistic, and always has been” and that “whether Iran opposes liberal democracy or not, it really wasn’t ever a viable long-term option for Iraq.” A review of the history of transitions of illiberal undemocratic societies into comparatively liberal democratic societies (Eastern European states, Germany, Japan and even newly emerging South America and NOT Russia) and a serious investigation into the meager investments at civil society development efforts in Iraq and their results is in order. You will be surprised, and you will see immediately why I advise serious and targeted investments, as does Nye, in “smart power”. Democrats now control the purse strings. If they are smart, they will use our funds more wisely than Republicans did in the so far failed nation building enterprise.
    Finally, the most salient features of our liberal democratic system are (1) protection of minority and individual rights in such a manner that majority will can be trumped through the power of one or more branches of government and (2) separation (as opposed to permissible influence) of religion from government policy-making.
    BTW, Radish gets the prize for most cogent and realistic analysis of the day here.

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  55. p.lukasiak says:

    So yes they can project some force, if they’re desperate enough.
    good analysis…
    that being said, your analysis suggests that the primary motivations for the Saudi royals to support a fundamentalist based (in essence, al Qaeda or a variant thereof) insurgency in Iraq would be to
    1) remain the 800 pound OPEC gorilla
    2) focus Saudi fundamentalists on targets other than themselves….
    I personally don’t see reason one as a legitimate motivation — sure, Saudi’s may be “first among equals” right now, but that won’t change in the near term if Iran overruns Iraq — the Iraqi oil infrastructure will take a tremendous amount of time to redevelop, and I don’t see the Saudi’s taking this kind of serious risk based on this kind of long term factor.
    Nor do I see reason two as making a lot of sense, except in the very short term, because it represents a major paradox — support of an anti-Iranian insurgency will make the Saudi royals even more dependent upon US military support for its defense — and its the US presence and influence (including the “corrupting” influence of “western values) over the Saudi royals that Islamic fundamentalists most resent.
    Ultimately, I agree with someone who wrote above that the most likely outcome of this threat is long lines of disgustingly rich Saudi’s seeking “political” asylum in the US and elsewhere…. It will be interesting to see how the US react if/when fundamentalists take over Saudi Arabia, and demand repatriation of the wealth of the exiles — and a threat to cut off oil if their wealth is not returned to the Saudi people

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  56. Marky says:

    At some point, the terrorist attacks on the oil supply will spread to other countries if the conflict spreads.
    That will be a happy day for the oilmen around Bush.

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  57. radish says:

    > Prince Turki al-Faisal and what army?
    This is a reasonable question, also raised by p. lukaisak, and I don’t see where anybody addressed it, so… Al-Faisal isn’t talking about conventional military intervention, the “threat” of crashing oil prices is just posturing, and the Saudis have no intention ever of going to war directly with Iran. What al-Faisal is talking about is sponsoring the insurgency, and especially encouraging jihadis to help out.
    Iraq is a classic security dilemma. A Shia-controlled government leaves the (Sunni) insurgency with no choice but to fight to the death, since they would be (are being) decimated anyway. The US departure means the Saudis either have to show that they can protect Iraqi Sunnis, or watch helplessly as Iran gradually replaces SA as the de facto leader of OPEC and 800 lb gorilla of the region. If the only way they can do that is to back the insurgency and try to undermine Iranian influence, then that’s what they’ll do.
    The Saudis don’t have any military worth talking about. But what they do have is a lot of influence over a largish population of suicidal proto-guerillas. Mujaheddin may be as close as they can get to force projection (and there’s no way in hell that they would take this battle into Iran) but it’s nothing to sneeze at either. In fact it’s probably enough to prevent Iraq from becoming a stable Shia state for the foreseeable future.
    Plus it’s familiar territory for them, because Saudi domestic stability depends on quietly encouraging Saudi funnymentalists to take their hostilities out on other countries instead of overthrowing the Royal House. The Royals fund the radicals and tolerate them and infiltrate them — keeping their friends close and enemies closer, as it were. They’ve been doing it for a long time, and they’re very good at it. If they want fatwas that legitimize attacks on the government of Iraq they know who to talk to. All they have to do is persuade the (secular) insurgency to cooperate with the (theocratic) jihadis.
    So yes they can project some force, if they’re desperate enough. Yes, it’s risky and it wouldn’t be decisive, considering how bad the fighting already is. But depending on how much worse things get after the US leaves, they may not feel that they have a better choice. Bad all the way around any way you look at it. Dark clouds, scary monsters, etc.

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  58. PUBLIUS says:

    A little known fact in the general public is that the ISG is a project of USIP, hosting the key event on Monday. The Bush administration’s 3 years of disdain for Iraq reconstruction work by USIP as well as the Republican party’s contemptuous allocation of funds for USIP’s Iraq reconstruction budget bode ill for this administration taking any of its recommendations seriously, bold or vapid. And, no, I am not employed by USIP, but it is richly apparent that their work in Iraq needs massive increases in $upport in the order of billions of dollars.

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  59. p.lukasiak says:

    wonder how the Saudi public has reacted to their statements…
    my guess is that they see it the same way as most sensible people do — as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
    Like I said in the beginning of my post, this is completely the work of the Bush and Cheney. I personally think that what it signifies is that the ISG will now, contrary to CW of two weeks ago , be calling for a “timetable for phased withdrawn” and from Iraq when it releases its report.
    The deterioration in Iraq has been so swift and severe that other “ideas” have been taken off the table as events have progress faster than the “consensus” process — the “baseline” of those discussions was an Iraq of 3-6 months ago, and Baker et.al. read the papers, and know that is no longer the reality in Iraq.
    So this op-ed is Bushco’s response — get Saudi Arabia to issue an IDLE threat of a region wide war if the US leaves “uninvited” as a means of continuing the war for the next two years. Bush simply refuses to admit that he has failed, and has presided over the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history—and rather than face that fact, he will send more thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis to the slaugterhouse.

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  60. Carroll says:

    Posted by p.lukasiak at November 29, 2006 04:12 PM
    >>>>>>>>>
    You are probably right. I haven’t been to Saudi but friends who lived there some years ago said Saudi society in general was as spoiled, if not more so than us Americans..wonder how the Saudi public has reacted to their statements…?

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  61. Carroll says:

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran 29 November 2006
    Posted by Katie at November 29, 2006 02:46 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Who knows what is in Ahmadinejad’s heart..but his letter is excellent PR because it contains observable truths…the reason the US PR hasn’t worked on the ME is people believe their own lying eyes.

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  62. p.lukasiak says:

    I smell a bluff — one designed specifically on behalf of the Bush regime for consumption of American readers.
    Saudi’s “army” consists of no more than 200,000 troops, and is known for its absenteeism and lack of discipline. And it does not have a draft.
    Iran, on the other hand, has a “regular” army of 350,000 (including 220,000 conscripts), (plus and additional 125,000 strong “revolutionary guard), and requires 18 months of military service for all males. While these “conscripts” do not recieve the same level of training as the professional military, the very existence of a huge pool of former conscripts means that Iran could far more quickly mobilize should the Saudi’s attempt to carry out their threat.
    Moreover, the Saudi’s also know that the “oil weapon” is a very blunt sword indeed…. Saudi Arabia could attempt to ramp up production — but Iran can very easily prevent most Saudi oil from reaching the marketplace by blocking the Straits of Hormuz (simultaneously preventing Kuwait, Qatar and other US allies from exporting oil as well, driving the price of Iranian oil throught the roof, and putting the US economy into the dumpster.)
    So militarily, the Saudi’s aren’t really a threat to Iran.
    Moreover, there are two other factors involved here — First there is the very strong presence of Sunni fundamentalists who would love to take advantage of the situation, and overthrow the Saudi royal family. Secondly, the Saudi’s also have a considerable (15% of the population) Shiite minority that is concentrated in its eastern (and oil producing) provinces — and the Saudis have a long history of oppression and discrimination against that minority….
    In other words, anyone who thinks that the spoiled rotten Saudi royalty would risk everything in order to act on their threat against Iran is nuts. (I fully expect the right-winger to believe it….)

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  63. Carroll says:

    And let me say one more thing.
    This idea of ‘Balance” Steve refers to is ridiculous…”balancing” Iran seems to mean ensuring the same status quo of Saudi and Israel as powerhouses, not creating a true balance of power in the ME.
    Continuing to “protect” Saudi and “protect” Israel as “the powers” is not balance and is not going to work. Not unless you are willing to kill off a lot of people to keep the same old, same old.

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  64. .......... says:

    After reading Ahmadinejad’s letter I am firmly convinced that he reads the comments on this blog and has fashioned his letter out of their content. There is little difference between Ahmadinejad’s sentiments and those that regularly appear here, and that is no coincidence.

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  65. Carroll says:

    The more I think about this Saudi threat/bluff/declaration the worse it becomes.
    As I have watched the ME nightmare unfold I occasionally go back to one of the first papers I read three years ago, written in 1992, when trying to educate myself on the US ME attitude and involvement.
    I keep going back to it because it explains how all the varied interest of ME countries minipulate the US in our self interested interference in the ME to their own advantage.
    What it boils down for me is the realization that a policy of “allies” and “non allies” as a means of insuring US interest is a never ending cycle of de-stablization, not stablization in the ME.
    All the game players and jugglers of power bases like to argue that the ME is too complicated, has too many varied interest to ever be a stable region. While it is true that it has complicated quilt, that is the very reason why the US needs to adopt a simpler and more uniform policy for the entire ME.
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-177.html
    The “Green Peril”:
    Creating the Islamic Fundamentalist Threat
    by Leon T. Hadar
    Leon T. Hadar, a former bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post, is an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

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  66. David Noziglia says:

    Some small points of issue:
    I keep reading this crap about partitioning Iraq, and can only think of two things.
    1) Althought the horrendous savagry of the civil war is changing this, real boundaries between the tribal groups — as was true in Bosnia, as was true in the Former Soviet Union states — do not exist. Often, members of different tribes live in the same cities, streets, buildings, and bedrooms.
    2) What about those Iraqis who do not belong to the three big tribal groups that everyone talks about? What happens to Turkomen, Chaldeans, Christians, and, yes, even Jews in these countries where citizenship, legitimacy, and life are measured by one’s membership in a certain tribe?
    Next: Has anyone realized that the best thing that could possibly happen to the Suunis in Iraq would be to get cut off from any oil revenues at all? One of the many curses of the countries in the Middle East is the curse of the free ride. Saudi Arabia, of course, is exibit A. Vast, unearned revenues are NOT a good thing. Many Sunnis, before their country was destroyed, were the central corps of the professional middle class in that country, and if they lost access to oil revenues that average Iraqis never saw in any case, they would get real jobs, build back their schools and universities, and probably end up far better off that the Shiia sitting on their pools of oil.
    Finally, my two cents on the initial theme of this string: Never happen. Any time a Saudi tells you that he will do something, the only thing certain is that he won’t do it. There may be a hidden agenda here, but we will get absolutely nowhere counting on the promises of any Saudi, official or not. They promised to rewrite their textbooks (which form the curriculae of the madrassas in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and everywhere else in the world, including in the U.S.) calling on the faithful to kill all non-believers way back in 2001, and it has yet to happen.

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  67. leveymg says:

    Steve –
    My first reaction when I heard this was to scoff at the Saudis. “Will all 6,000 shiehks now strap on kevlar and chopper into Baghdad?”, I wrote at DU.
    But, a few hours have given me a chance to think through the consequences of what the pending U.S. withdrawal from Iraq really means. I now think it’s more likely that the Saudi Royals will be lined up at the USCIS Asylum Office in Arlington, VA before the second Bush term is over.
    I’m also going to buy some long, flannel underwear before Winter sets in here in Washington.
    All nervous kidding aside, this looks to be a very mixed-bag for all parties involved:
    THE UP SIDE: Six months ago, I would have said War was next. Now, it looks more like the Grand Compromise with Iran that’s been urged by realists from a lot of sides for a long time.
    There’s still plenty of room for spoilers in the kitchen, though. There will be a price to pay for this, of course, and how that breaks down isn’t too hard to see. Dubya is being dragged into this with his nails in the sod, the present Israeli government probably will not survive, gas prices may go up and the Dollar down (we did LOSE the war in Iraq, after all), the Chinese are getting ready to dump our bonds (but, maybe have been convinced to again delay that inevitability), and the Russians are delighted.
    Keeping my fingers crossed and nose held.
    THE DOWN-SIDE: Houston – we have a problem.
    If we give Iraq to the Saudis to tussle with Iran, who will likely end up eating the smaller dog? And, then the Turks will have to fight for
    Kurdistan, and the Euros will fight us (in the shadows), the Israelis will fight Hamas and Hezbollah, and the Russian and Chinese and the multinational oil companies will clean up after the ashes settle in Saudi Arabia.
    Got the picture?
    We can’t let that happen. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States supply a quarter of the world’s oil. What do you think’s going to happen to the price of energy if we wipe our hands and go home, leaving them to their own devices?
    What do you think is going to happen to the price of oil if we send in the Marines? Same thing.
    Either there’s a comprehesive regional settlement — the Grand Compromise that realists have been praying for — or we’re all going to be cold and broke by the end of this Winter.
    – Mark

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  68. Herb says:

    I know this is too late to say after you all have read that letter from one we all know to be a madman. But read it as if our own Martin Luther King had written it, or re-frame your thoughts on it as if King wrote it (without, of course, all the Muslim stuff; only the ideas) and we might be able to get a positive message from it instead of the ravings of a madmen who wants Israel wiped off the face of the Earth, and never wears a tie looking like an unshaven bum in Salvation Army store clothes!

    Reply

  69. K says:

    Oh, Oh, my, my!
    A big “Never Mind” on my correction and my allegation. I’m all flushed with excitement that I misread and jumped the gun.
    But I still stand by my Holiday wishes to one and all, of course.

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  70. Katie says:

    Oh, my!
    I forgot to correct the forth paragraph where is written “Were we not faced with the activities of the US administration ….” should be “Were we NOW faced with the activities of the US administration …..”
    Looks like nefarious forces tried to sabotage this holiday greeting of Peace from the get go.
    This is probably the type if free speech on the internet that Newty had in mind of curbing.
    Oh, Happy Day ! Joy To the World ! And Season’s Greetings to All.

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  71. PUBLIUS says:

    For all interested in these matters and able to attend this address by an important Iraqi Shi’a decision-maker (who acceded to the religious role after his brother was assasinated in 2003) in Washington on Monday, here are the details:
    Reconciling Iraq: The Perspective of HE Sayyed Abdul Aziz Alhakim, president of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
    Public Event
    Date and Time
    Monday, December 4, 2006
    3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
    Location
    U.S. Institute of Peace
    1st Floor Conference Room
    1200 17th St, NW
    Washington, DC 20036
    http://www.usip.org/events/2006/1204_alhakim.html
    From Wikipedia:
    Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (Arabic: عبد العزيز الحكيم ) (born 1953) is an Iraqi theologian and politician and the leader of SCIRI, the largest political party in the Iraqi National Assembly.
    He was a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and served as its president in December 2003. Brother of the Shia leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, he replaced him as leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq when Mohammed Baqir was assassinated in August 2003 in Najaf.
    He was born in 1953, the son of Grand Ayatollah Muhsin Al-Hakim, the spiritual leader of the world’s Shi’a from 1955-1970. He played a leading role in the Safar Intifada in 1977 and was imprisoned in 1972, 1977 and 1979. He went into exile in Iran in 1980, where he was a founder member in 1982 of SCIRI and headed their military wing, the Badr Brigade. He was the top candidate listed for the United Iraqi Coalition during the first Iraqi legislative election of January 2005 but has not sought a government post because the Alliance had decided not to include theologians in the government.

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  72. Katie says:

    There is a wonderful letter that has been written to us today by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Readers of the Washington Note should be particularly encouraged by this communication of hope, as follows
    In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
    O, Almighty God, bestow upon humanity the perfect human being promised to all by You, and make us among his followers.
    Noble Americans,
    Were we not faced with the activities of the US administration in this part of the world and the negative ramifications of those activities on the daily lives of our peoples, coupled with the many wars and calamities caused by the US administration as well as the tragic consequences of US interference in other countries;
    Were the American people not God-fearing, truth-loving, and justice-seeking, while the US administration actively conceals the truth and impedes any objective portrayal of current realities;
    And if we did not share a common responsibility to promote and protect freedom and human dignity and integrity;
    Then, there would have been little urgency to have a dialogue with you.
    While Divine providence has placed Iran and the United States geographically far apart, we should be cognizant that human values and our common human spirit, which proclaim the dignity and exalted worth of all human beings, have brought our two great nations of Iran and the United States closer together.
    Both our nations are God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking, and both seek dignity, respect and perfection.
    Both greatly value and readily embrace the promotion of human ideals such as compassion, empathy, respect for the rights of human beings, securing justice and equity, and defending the innocent and the weak against oppressors and bullies.
    We are all inclined towards the good, and towards extending a helping hand to one another, particularly to those in need.
    We all deplore injustice, the trampling of peoples’ rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings.
    We all detest darkness, deceit, lies and distortion, and seek and admire salvation, enlightenment, sincerity and honesty.
    The pure human essence of the two great nations of Iran and the United States testify to the veracity of these statements.
    Noble Americans,
    Our nation has always extended its hand of friendship to all other nations of the world.
    Hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living amongst you in friendship and peace, and are contributing positively to your society. Our people have been in contact with you over the past many years and have maintained these contacts despite the unnecessary restrictions of US authorities.
    As mentioned, we have common concerns, face similar challenges, and are pained by the sufferings and afflictions in the world.
    We, like you, are aggrieved by the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people. Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine. In broad day-light, in front of cameras and before the eyes of the world, they are bombarding innocent defenseless civilians, bulldozing houses, firing machine guns at students in the streets and alleys, and subjecting their families to endless grief.
    No day goes by without a new crime.
    Palestinian mothers, just like Iranian and American mothers, love their children, and are painfully bereaved by the imprisonment, wounding and murder of their children. What mother wouldn’t?
    For 60 years, the Zionist regime has driven millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes. Many of these refugees have died in the Diaspora and in refugee camps. Their children have spent their youth in these camps and are aging while still in the hope of returning to homeland.
    You know well that the US administration has persistently provided blind and blanket support to the Zionist regime, has emboldened it to continue its crimes, and has prevented the UN Security Council from condemning it.
    Who can deny such broken promises and grave injustices towards humanity by the US administration?
    Governments are there to serve their own people. No people wants to side with or support any oppressors. But regrettably, the US administration disregards even its own public opinion and remains in the forefront of supporting the trampling of the rights of the Palestinian people.
    Let’s take a look at Iraq. Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced. Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially. With the presence of the US military in Iraq, nothing has been done to rebuild the ruins, to restore the infrastructure or to alleviate poverty. The US Government used the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but later it became clear that that was just a lie and a deception.
    Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated.
    In Iraq, about one hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers, separated from their families and loved ones, are operating under the command of the current US administration. A substantial number of them have been killed or wounded and their presence in Iraq has tarnished the image of the American people and government.
    Their mothers and relatives have, on numerous occasions, displayed their discontent with the presence of their sons and daughters in a land thousands of miles away from US shores. American soldiers often wonder why they have been sent to Iraq.
    I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure.
    Noble Americans,
    You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. God knows who these detainees actually are, and what terrible fate awaits them.
    You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed “war on terror.” But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations.
    The US administration’s illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of “the war on terror,” civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed. Even the privacy of individuals is fast losing its meaning. Judicial due process and fundamental rights are trampled upon. Private phones are tapped, suspects are arbitrarily arrested, sometimes beaten in the streets, or even shot to death.
    I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.
    The US administration does not accept accountability before any organization, institution or council. The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council. But, I do not intend to address all the challenges and calamities in this message.
    The legitimacy, power and influence of a government do not emanate from its arsenals of tanks, fighter aircrafts, missiles or nuclear weapons. Legitimacy and influence reside in sound logic, quest for justice and compassion and empathy for all humanity. The global position of the United States is in all probability weakened because the administration has continued to resort to force, to conceal the truth, and to mislead the American people about its policies and practices.
    Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior and they showed their discontent in the recent elections. I hope that in the wake of the mid-term elections, the administration of President Bush will have heard and will heed the message of the American people.
    My questions are the following:
    Is there not a better approach to governance?
    Is it not possible to put wealth and power in the service of peace, stability, prosperity and the happiness of all peoples through a commitment to justice and respect for the rights of all nations, instead of aggression and war?
    We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.
    But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?
    If that were possible, then why has the problem not been resolved?
    The sad experience of invading Iraq is before us all.
    What has blind support for the Zionists by the US administration brought for the American people? It is regrettable that for the US administration, the interests of these occupiers supersedes the interests of the American people and of the other nations of the world.
    What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors? Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?
    I recommend that in a demonstration of respect for the American people and for humanity, the right of Palestinians to live in their own homeland should be recognized so that millions of Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and the future of all of Palestine and its form of government be determined in a referendum. This will benefit everyone.
    Now that Iraq has a Constitution and an independent Assembly and Government, would it not be more beneficial to bring the US officers and soldiers home, and to spend the astronomical US military expenditures in Iraq for the welfare and prosperity of the American people? As you know very well, many victims of Katrina continue to suffer, and countless Americans continue to live in poverty and homelessness.
    I’d also like to say a word to the winners of the recent elections in the US:
    The United States has had many administrations; some who have left a positive legacy, and others that are neither remembered fondly by the American people nor by other nations.
    Now that you control an important branch of the US Government, you will also be held to account by the people and by history.
    If the US Government meets the current domestic and external challenges with an approach based on truth and Justice, it can remedy some of the past afflictions and alleviate some of the global resentment and hatred of America. But if the approach remains the same, it would not be unexpected that the American people would similarly reject the new electoral winners, although the recent elections, rather than reflecting a victory, in reality point to the failure of the current administration’s policies. These issues had been extensively dealt with in my letter to President Bush earlier this year.
    To sum up:
    It is possible to govern based on an approach that is distinctly different from one of coercion, force and injustice.
    It is possible to sincerely serve and promote common human values, and honesty and compassion.
    It is possible to provide welfare and prosperity without tension, threats, imposition or war.
    It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets.
    Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.
    What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.
    I am confident that you, the American people, will play an instrumental role in the establishment of justice and spirituality throughout the world. The promises of the Almighty and His prophets will certainly be realized, Justice and Truth will prevail and all nations will live a true life in a climate replete with love, compassion and fraternity.
    The US governing establishment, the authorities and the powerful should not choose irreversible paths. As all prophets have taught us, injustice and transgression will eventually bring about decline and demise. Today, the path of return to faith and spirituality is open and unimpeded.
    We should all heed the Divine Word of the Holy Qur’an:
    “But those who repent, have faith and do good may receive Salvation. Your Lord, alone, creates and chooses as He will, and others have no part in His choice; Glorified is God and Exalted above any partners they ascribe to Him.” (28:67-68)
    I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.
    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran 29 November 2006

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  73. Carroll says:

    My first question would be what is the Saudi military going to do different from the US forces that are in Iraq now?
    Move in and kill off all the Shi’a forces?
    Is that their plan to control the situation?
    This is the neo’s wet dream. More chaos. And everyone is stepping right into it with threats or bluffs and calculations of how to hold on to their power potty seats when things do blow up.
    I suggest that the US immediately and OFFICIALLY give most favored nation status and equal ally protection to EVERY country in the ME…and see what happens then. That ought to confuse the hell out of everyone long enough for everybody including the US to rethink their positions.

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  74. Marky says:

    Aren’t things moving quite rapidly, besides being out of Bush’s control?
    I get the sense that major changes could occur within days, and not for the better.

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  75. Oglethorpe says:

    Publius, as for your #5,
    It is far less radical to partition Iraq than to descend into regional warfare.
    The neighbouring countries full well know this and would welcome a peaceful solution rather than 10 years of bloody strife.
    The path of least resistance is thoughtful partition that is in the interest of all.

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  76. BMR says:

    Publius,
    It appears we certainly do share much more in our view of this than separates us. In the interest of continuing an interesting discussion, I have some responses to your points:
    1) “The Iranian government has conveyed to Saudi Arabia in unmistakable terms that if the United States attacks Iran and Saudi Arabia does anything other than stay out of the conflict as a neutral by-stander, Iran will attack Saudi Arabia. That constitutes a threat against Saudi Arabia in my book, even if done in a defensive light.”
    I don’t know the veracity of your source, but for the sake of argument I’ll accept it as valid; agreed that it is threat, but this still doesn’t convey to me a desire to go over the brink into some sort of Armageddon. It seems more like a routine statement given regional and Iranian-Saudi bilateral history.
    2) “I have full faith in Iran’s adherence to pragmatic and loyal pursuit of its interests. I have zero faith in the current Iranian government’s good faith adherence to American national interests in the region.”
    That to me is not the real question; it’s frankly obvious that this would be the case. The real question is can we recognize the areas of overlap between the two? From my point of view there are in fact large zones of overlap between US and Iranian regional interests and it is incumbent on Tehran and Washington to act on them if they seek to avoid conflict.
    3) “The Iran of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is not the Iran of Khamenei/Khatami or Khomeini. Ahmadinejad has displayed that he does not fear the Abyss or he is the world’s most strident bluffer. Either way, the course is perilous.”
    Clearly, Iran’s domestic context has changed, although making this claim means you acknowledge that there are indeed moderates in Iran. The prevailing consensus among hardliners in Washington is that there were never any and still aren’t any. But also agreed that the course regarding Iran is perilous. No one ever said it wouldn’t be–but we certainly have made it worse through our own actions regarding Tehran since 9/11.
    4) “Iraq is crawling with Iranian spies, agents and operatives. Good luck to today’s CIA in detecting them and their stratagems. Inviting Iran to participate as a “partner” in the reconstruction of Iraq is as idiotic as inviting Al Qaeda elements and Sadr militia members into the Iraqi police force and military, as has been done by the Bush administration’s incompetent nation building effort.”
    I also don’t envy the CIA in keeping up with Iran’s activities there given the many advantages the Iranians have. But we don’t need to naively view constructive Iranian involvement as the silver bullet in order to consider ways in which to work with them and many others to reverse the downward spiral in Iraq (just as viewing them as the bogeyman responsible for everything bad in Iraq is just as misplaced).
    5) “What the Bush administration has failed to do is to comprehend that unfettered democratic rule in any nation building experiment, particularly in theocratic Middle East environments, is NOT in our interest. Liberal democracy in the Middle East is in our national interest as well as in the interest of reliable international commerce in the region (oil) and the interest of human rights for all sectarian groups there. Today’s Iran would be opposed – I’m certain – to the promotion of LIBERAL DEMOCRACY in Iraq if that were an objective pursued through coherent measures.”
    Here I do disagree a bit, although there’s a lot in your comment…..democracy of any sort would be in our interest if it (a) allows for a pluralistic political system, (b)peaceful transfers of power, and (c) is grounded in indigenous insitutions, making it legitimate and durable. What you’re saying, I gather, is that democracy that gives rise to views we don’t like is undesirable. Newsflash: Liberal democracy in Iraq is simply unrealistic, and always has been. A more open and stable system, however, isn’t necessarily although it looks less and less likely. So whether Iran opposes liberal democracy or not, it really wasn’t ever a viable long-term option for Iraq.
    6) “Religion. Shi’a or Sunni in the current environment mixed with military and geopolitical calculations = volatile. Far too many analysts speak of Shi’a or Sunni “sectarian differences” as a check box cliche discussion point and with far too little understanding of the interests of the relevant groups and the capacity for combustion when the priorities of that force mixes with the calculus of reason.”
    I agree that this has rapidly become cliched. But my mentioning of the sectarian schism goes far beyond this sort of superficial analysis. Islam in Iran today, specifically, is different than in the Arab world, for a lot of reasons. Underlying the divisions/tensions between the Shi’a/Sunni conflict is the Arab/Persian divide, a far older and more meaningful cleavage for most Iranians who are not in fact that religious. In addition, Iran is the only regional country that has lived under the rule of the Islamists of the modern type (unlike those in Saudi) and its political culture today is well-informed by that disappointing experience. Although there is some similarity in the rhetoric used by Arab Sunni radicals and that employed by the regime in Tehran (particularly regarding Israel and the US), it masks greatly different perspectives on Islam and regional affairs.

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  77. Oglethorpe says:

    Publius,
    \
    The Bidens of the world have no say.
    The neighbouring nations of Iraq have say as to the future of the region, and its boundaries. I leave it to them and reject any outside interference in a regional settlement of bounds. Common sense dictates partition that satisfies the aspirartions of the Shiite south, the Kurdish north, with the Sunnis being satisfied with Baghdad and being brought under the wing of neighbouring Sunni nations who do have oil and can get US $$$ (Jordan) to help alleviate hardship. Consideration of a “You broke it, you fix it Tax,” that would go to the Sunni partitioned region, should be imposed on oil from the region destined for US consumption .
    No Shia claims on northern oil; theres plenty in the south; greed must be overcome.
    The Sunnis will not be profiting from oil rich territories of the south. They know this. Perhaps a compromise can be worked out between Sunni and Kurd concerning northern oil; its in the best interest of all.
    I’ve asked the Iraqi people if they want continued internal strife and bloodshed, or would they accept partition along sectarian bounds. The Shiite and Kurds said they are amenable to such a solution while the Sunni, not so much unless they are not left completely out in the cold.
    The writing is on the wall for all to see. Regional leadership by the Saudis is needed to bring together all players to address partition in the name of avoiding regional chaos.

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  78. Taylor Marsh says:

    After Mr. Cheney was summoned to Saudi Arabia, you just had to know something was about to shift. I, frankly, take this as something long overdue, but at the same time, it also illustrates just how bad the situation in the whole region has gotten. As you state, Steve, many will see this as escalation, though it seems to me that because of Mr. Bush’s horrendous handling of the Iraq war it’s actually desperation.
    When you couple this with the leaked memo, which now has Maliki canceling, not only the meeting today but dinner with Mr. Bush tonight, it’s hard to see how Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Egypt can stay out of the mess in Iraq. Someone competent must push back against Iran. That certainly isn’t Mr. Bush or anyone in his Administration at present.

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  79. PUBLIUS says:

    One element of a realistic, progressive solution to the disaster is to provide a $5 BILLION budget to these incredibly effective if stressed efforts:
    http://www.usip.org/iraq/index.html
    Today’s Republicans would never think of doing so. Democrats need to begin thinking of what that $5 BILLION can and would do in the next 2 years leading up to a possible change of commander-in-chief. Ask Joseph Nye (and other pragmatists) for some realistic ideas.

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  80. Dan Kervick says:

    Steve, you say:
    “What Obaid has articulated here is not offered as a threat if the US leaves Iraq, which the US must do in my view. This is the first robust declaration that the Saudis are willing to fill the vacuum left by the United State in the region and knock back some of the unchecked expansion of Iranian influence in the region.”
    Well, it certainly sounds like a threat to me!
    Nobody could imagine that a Saudi intervention of the kind Obaid contemplates could have a happy outcome. The injection of Saudi troops into Iraq in order to “protect” the Sunni community, a community which is at the same time engaged in open warfare against much of the Shiite and Kurdish communities, in highly contested areas, is surely more than a plan for “engagement”. It’s a war plan. It would certainly be no less a war than the US is engaged in right now. And there would be this difference: The Iranians are very unlikely to intervene directly in Iraq so long as the US is there. But they will have fewer compunctions about stepping in to square off against the Saudis if they feel that their interests are threatened, as they clearly would be. And what do you think will be the reaction of Shiites in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province if Saudi forces invade Iraq to help their Sunni co-religionists kill more Shiites?
    Obviously, the Saudis would prefer that the US be the one to do the costly and dangerous “checking” of Iran. So what Obaid is saying to us is “If you don’t stay in Iraq, then we will have to go in ourselves – and the result won’t be pretty. It will likely be an expanded regional war that spans both sides of the Persian/Arabian Gulf.” He knows very well that even thinking about such a scenario is enough to make US strategic planners pee their pants – and that’s the whole point of this pointed message with its haughty injunction against “leaving uninvited.” Now whether Obaid is telling the truth about the allegedly irresistable pro-intervention domestic pressure inside the kingdom that would be brought to bear following a US withdrawal, or is just bluffing, I can’t say.
    Until Iraqis themselves have reached a political settlement, there is no way that the presence of foreign troops – particularly on behalf of any one particular community – can be a force for stability in Iraq. Perhaps at some point Iraqis will settle on a system of autonomus regions, after which there will be clear spheres of interest with defined borders for foreign forces to police and stabilize. If the Saudis can get the Sunni Arabs to accept such a situation, and the Iranians can similarly prevail upon Shiite groups to accept the same thing, then it is *conceivable* that a peacekeeping presence with the Saudis in Sunniland and Iranians in Shiiteland could help bring stability – conceivable, but still, I think, unlikely.
    But right now there is a civil war in Iraq, with violently contending parties struggling for control of the central state. In such a situation, intervening forces with their own sectarian favorites and clients only become part of the war, and serve to expand it beyond its present confines to their own countries.
    I’m not so convinced about the need to check Iranian power. Iranian interference in Iraq has been quite restrained so far, considering the circumstances, and I don’t think ordinary Iranians are at all eager for a repeat of the Iran-Iraq war. And it is not the Iranians who are sending their apparatchiks abroad to to write articles in major American newspapers threatening to invade foreign countries.

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  81. PUBLIUS says:

    and
    5) Have you bothered to investigate what the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey would think of your radical plan? Hint: you should.

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  82. PUBLIUS says:

    For the Bidens of the world and the others calling for the ripping up of present day Iraq:
    1) What boundaries do you propose and what approach do you propose to get all three primary groups to agree to the boundaries you propose?
    2) What do you do with the majority Shi’a interest in profiting from the oil rich Kurdish areas?
    3) What do you do with the regional Sunni majority interest in seeing the Sunni minority profit from oil rich territory?
    4) Have you asked the Iraqis what they think since we claim to support the expression of democratic will on fundamental questions facing peoples aka self-determination?

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  83. Oglethorpe says:

    I am calling for a regional conference to address the partition of Iraq into a sovereign Shiite south, a sovereign Kurdish northeast that includes Kirkuk, and a divvying up of the remainder between the Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians and the beloved Turks, or maybe not the Turks. Bahgdad goes to the Sunnis except Sadr City. And everybody is happy or at least not at each others throats which is the other alternative. Iraq was an artificial political conglomeration anyway; best it be done over correctly.

    Reply

  84. PUBLIUS says:

    BMR:
    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to respond in detail to all of your points. I agree with almost everything you say. For the most part, where you disagree with me, it is due to imprecision on my part or misunderstanding of my purposes on yours.
    A few quick points:
    1) The information I have received indicates the Iranian government has conveyed to Saudi Arabia in unmistakable terms that if the United States attacks Iran and Saudi Arabia does anything other than stay out of the conflict as a neutral by-stander, Iran will attack Saudi Arabia. That constitutes a threat against Saudi Arabia in my book, even if done in a defensive light.
    2) I have full faith in Iran’s adherence to pragmatic and loyal pursuit of its interests. I have zero faith in the current Iranian government’s good faith adherence to American national interests in the region.
    3) The Iran of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is not the Iran of Khamenei/Khatami or Khomeini. Ahmadinejad has displayed that he does not fear the Abyss or he is the world’s most strident bluffer. Either way, the course is perilous.
    4) Iraq is crawling with Iranian spies, agents and operatives. Good luck to today’s CIA in detecting them and their stratagems. Inviting Iran to participate as a “partner” in the reconstruction of Iraq is as idiotic as inviting Al Qaeda elements and Sadr militia members into the Iraqi police force and military, as has been done by the Bush administration’s incompetent nation building effort.
    5) Yes, Iran can be “constructive as far as we are concerned”, i.e. in promoting undefined democracy in Iraq. I’m happy to acknowledge that much even if unfashionable. Unfettered democratic rule in Iraq = Shi’a dominance/enhancement of Iranian ascendance in the region. What the Bush administration has failed to do is to comprehend that unfettered democratic rule in any nation building experiment, particularly in theocratic Middle East environments, is NOT in our interest. Liberal democracy in the Middle East is in our national interest as well as in the interest of reliable international commerce in the region (oil) and the interest of human rights for all sectarian groups there. Today’s Iran would be opposed – I’m certain – to the promotion of LIBERAL DEMOCRACY in Iraq if that were an objective pursued through coherent measures.
    6) Religion. Shi’a or Sunni in the current environment mixed with military and geopolitical calculations = volatile. Far too many analysts speak of Shi’a or Sunni “sectarian differences” as a check box cliche discussion point and with far too little understanding of the interests of the relevant groups and the capacity for combustion when the priorities of that force mixes with the calculus of reason.

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  85. schlock puppette says:

    The illustrious Habibi is absolutley right! A conference of regional states needs to be held to discuss the redrawing of the political map with regards to Iraq. Iraq needs to be divided up so that all neighbouring states are satisfied. This is the way out from the edge of abyss and conflict, and it is in everyone’s interest to participate faithfully and get these trying times behind them. All will have to give something, disguard old prejudices for a peaceful solution in return. Hail Habibi!

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  86. Charles says:

    Prince Turki al-Faisal and what army?

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  87. Habibi Bubibi Shabibi says:

    The Saudis will eventually annex all the Sunni territory that was in Iraq; the Kurds with Kirkuk, and the Shiites with the Basra oil region will become sovereign. Bahgdad? they’ll figure something out after all factions, Sunni, Shiite, Kurd are assured that they will get the territories they want. It will be a relatively peaceful solution with the Saudis leading the way.

    Reply

  88. BMR says:

    Publius,
    I agree with you on the likely consequences of Saudi involvement of the sort Obaid outlines. But I think you’re also fundamentally confused about Iran’s foreign policy goals:
    “Iran has previously threatened Saudi Arabia with war. Iran and many of the jihadists in the region, for which many of the dictators of the region (friendly and unfriendly) hold sympathy, have a long standing track record of looking into the proverbial Abyss and jumping right over into Hades.”
    Iran’s foreign policy has been remarkably pragmatic since the end of the Iran-Iraq War–which, if you’ve forgotten, was initiated by Saddam Hussein. A couple of relevant points: Iran has never “threatened war” in any real way against the Saudis—especially since the mid-1980s and the ebbing of overheated revolutionary rhetoric. Second, while Iran’s ties to Hezbollah and Palestinian groups clearly do exist, Iran has also helped us get out of the hostage crisis in Lebanon when it deemed it worthwhile to do so; supported the Northern Alliance–arguably keeping it alive almost single handedly in the 1990s; and aided Christian Armenia vs. Shi’a Azerbaijan/Turkey. Third, Tehran made a concerted effort in the 1990s to improve the overall regional security situation in the Persian Gulf, reestablishing good ties with the Saudis and signing security agreements with them and Oman. All during the period of US-led “dual containment.” Do I also need to repeat the fact that Iran was instrumental in aligning the Northern Alliance with US goals after 9/11? Or that it hasn’t “gone over the abyss” in Iraq? If you think they have, you are just flat wrong; were they to do so, then I can tell you with all certainty that we ain’t seen nothing yet as far as instability/chaos/conflict in Iraq. That is, they can be and have been constructive as far as we are concerned—even if it is not in vogue to acknowledge it.
    Lastly, mixing Iran in with the “jihadis” is a colossal error. Iran’s Islamist radicalism is quite different—both quantitatively and qualitatively. Iran’s Islamists control a non-Arab state which presents them with a whole range of different concerns than jihadi movements in the Arab world or Pakistan; they are Shi’a, which makes them theologically different in crucial ways and puts them at odds with Sunni jihadism/Wahhabism. Do not make the mistake of equating Sunni jihadism with Iran’s revolutionary rhetoric or post-1979 government.

    Reply

  89. PUBLIUS says:

    Some figures on S.A.’s military:
    http://www.nationmaster.com/country/sa-saudi-arabia/mil-military
    The most telling statement in the article referenced is this advice from Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, who said in a speech last month that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” It is a variation of the Pottery Barn rule – you broke it, you fix it. The world expects nothing less. Iraqis expect nothing less. The Middle East expects nothing less. Honorable and strategically advantageous extrication of the United States from this disaster commands nothing less.
    The persisting myopia among many of the experts in the foreign policy establishment of Washington in perceiving and creating options to resolve the disaster George W. Bush foreseeably created in Iraq is staggering. I do not rank Steve among the myopic, but it’s been richly apparent for years now that the foreign policy community of decision-makers and opinion leaders in Washington is overpopulated with well credentialed hand wringing defeatists who possess meager diplomatic vision (mostly on the left) or with incompetents (mostly on the right).
    Saudi Arabia’s unilateral intervention into Iraq to protect the Sunni minority would be an unmitigated disaster and virtually guarantee Iranian involvement – a recipe for a true conflagration such as we have never seen in the Middle East.
    Saudi Arabia’s unilateral military involvement in Iraq must be blocked at any price.
    United States troop withdrawal of significant magnitude in the final 2 years of the Bush presidency is not a realistic outcome, either from a military perspective or from the viewpoint of Republican domestic political strategy.
    Iran has previously threatened Saudi Arabia with war. Iran and many of the jihadists in the region, for which many of the dictators of the region (friendly and unfriendly) hold sympathy, have a long standing track record of looking into the proverbial Abyss and jumping right over into Hades. How quickly we forget the Iran-Iraq war which was a brutal and costly (lives and treasure) war of attrition. Bilateral or unilateral, picayune remedies for this disaster remain – as they always have been – grossly inadequate. $500 million from S.A. to rebuild Iraq is grossly inadequate. It is time for bold strategic objectives and concerted MULTI-lateral international action of the highest order, very unlikely under the current presidency under the best of circumstances and even less likely in the waning years of a presidency in which the key players are more concerned with protecting their prerogatives than protecting the national interest of the United States or solving one of the world’s most pressing and contentious international conflicts.
    I look forward to discussing in person some of these issues with the readers of this blog who have contacted me for further analysis at the conference being held in Washington this weekend. We must begin seriously conceiving SOLUTIONS and resist the perilous temptation to throw our hands up in the air in fatalistic resignation even if prospects for implementation of pragmatic solutions under the current president remain doubtful.
    PUBLIUS

    Reply

  90. BMR says:

    Steve,
    I couldn’t disagree with you more about this being a potential “cap” on the instability created by our overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Saudi support of Saddam was directly responsible for extending the Iran-Iraq War for years after Saddam’s invasion and defeat in the first few years of that conflict–to the tune of tens of thousands of dead and hundreds of billions of dollars in costs. This is nothing less than the Saudis grasping at their last straw–direct intervention in the hope of stemming the tide now flowing in favor of a Shi’a controlled Iraq.
    But the simple question is this: in what fantasy land do you think the Iraqi Shi’a will ever give up their status as Iraq’s largest and most powerful group, especially after the history of how they were treated by Iraqi Sunnis? The answer is quite simply, probably never. In that context, the more we strive to create an open political system there, the more we empower the Shi’a. Whether the Saudis intervene or not, it should be clear that the Shi’a game is a long-term one, and we are losing sight of that. 10 years down the road, they will be in charge of that country, or whatever is left of it. If they are smart, they will also strike a deal with the Kurds for a federated state and strengthen their hand even more. The Sunnis stand little chance of controlling events there regardless of whether we stay or go, or the Saudis enter or don’t.
    And isn’t it the ultimate irony that you are championing the expansion of Wahhabism–the very root of the Sunni Islamist campaign against the West as embodied by al-Qaeda–as a solution to the crisis caused by our “war against terrorism” after 9/11? You mean to tell me that all of a sudden Iran and Shi’ism are a greater “threat” to us than the movement that actually has attacked us? I think you should reflect on that a bit more before buying hook, line, and sinker into the Saudi and Washington drummed up bogeyman of “Iranian influence.” If Iran disappeared tomorrow, the Iraqi Shi’a would still be there, and still be doing the same things.

    Reply

  91. John says:

    We should extend this discussion past the point “realists” dare to tread (at least in public):
    1)US protection of Saudi Arabia serves to protect the Saudis only against regional rivals, because there are no global rivals that can project power into the region.
    2) If the Saudis lose confidence in US protection, they lose their incentive to sell the US oil at a discounted price and to continue providing energy to the Western liberalized trading system, where prices are extremely volatile.
    3) Saudi Arabia would achieve far greater revenue security by signing long term energy contracts with China and other Asian consumers, where most of their energy already goes.
    4) Such a mercantilist move would jeopardize future Western energy supplies.
    Neocons tried to solve this problem by occupying the oil fields and opening the spigots in Iraq. Their dreams were summarily defeated by instability, which they did not foresee and which killed investment. Distribution routes from the Caspian basin have been blocked by Iran and instability in Afghanistan. Bombing Iran would doom any dreams the West might have of obtaining Persian energy or energy distribution routes.
    If the “realists” want to play a constructive role, they need to start by talking about the real problem, what the stakes are, and then looking for solutions. Buying into the administration’s BS about freedom, democracy, and imminence of an “Iranian bomb” does nothing to advance a solution to the imminent problem.

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  92. b says:

    Steve – you are wrong here – this certainly is a serious threat – and an offer.
    All out regional war in the ME, especially between both sides of the Persian Gulf will endager world oil supply and the world economy will tank.
    That is the threat.
    The offer is Saudi payed Sunni brigades in Anbar and cheap gas at the pump.
    The price the US has to pay to avoid the threat and to get the carrot is keeping its troups in Iraq.
    What will the Democrats do? What will the Neocons do?
    More at my site:
    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2006/11/thr_gorilla_ste.html
    The Gorilla Steps In And Offers A Deal

    Reply

  93. ckrantz says:

    Isn’t the start of a regional war? And why should the Shia in Iraq and Iran accept any kind of saudi intervention quietly. The saudis may be serious but the cynic in me says its sounds more like a cover for a further U.S presence in Iraq.

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  94. dan says:

    Steve
    Bear in mind that in spite of a history of lavish military spending and some top-of-the-line US military hardware, when Saddam rolled into Kuwait the Saudis cried uncle and invited the US in to do the actual fighting. US forces didn’t leave until 2003, after the invasion of Iraq had taken place. The Saudi princes and their acolytes in the military will do nothing that actually puts them in danger of bleeding.

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  95. Zathras says:

    What struck me was how radical a departure this is from the traditional Saudi indirection when it comes to regional affairs.
    Conscious of their country’s weakness compared to some of its neighbors and despite its wealth, Saudi leaders have generally been circumspect about making public commitments as to what they would do in response to contingencies (in recent years they have been more direct in saying what they think other governments should do). It’s no surprise that they are nervous about the Iranians; that has been a theme of Saudi diplomacy ever since the Shah fell. But the threat to use force — even if what it might mean in practice is a Saudi effort to co-opt Sunni Arab radicals in Iraq and within Saudi Arabia itself and direct their fanaticism against Iran — is new.
    Another interesting thing about Obaid’s column is the bald assertion of Saudi leadership of the world’s Sunni Muslims. Said assertion has obvious value in a future face-off with the Shiite Iranian regime — it is the reason Sunni Muslims (as distinct from the governments of mostly Sunni Muslim countries, which will be worried about the oil problem) should see the situation as their problem rather than as a local quarrel. But it has other implications as well. Many governments have reason to challenge such a claim of leadership, and Sunni Muslims (especially those outside the Arab world) may well wonder why they should accept leadership from Saudis now when the issue at hand is a crisis generated by the very people — Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgents — on whose behalf Obaid is now threatening to intervene.
    Be that as it may, it is impossible to imagine a Saudi government that retained confidence in American leadership allowing an easily identifiable and only nominally unofficial spokesman to publish a column like this. Past American administrations did not have to show the obsequious deference to Riyadh characteristic of the first Bush administration to convince the Saudis that the United States was taking their interests into account. There is obviously a lot of doubt about that now.

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  96. grytpype says:

    It is encouraging that someone is thinking about now to handle the situation after Iraq inevitably collapses and we have to pull out. We need to get in front of the problem and deal with the aftermath instead of vainly trying to prevent it.

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  97. Steve Clemons says:

    cringing, I will post something later tonight that outlines Saudi Arabia’s relative power status in the region — including military. Read what I post and then let me know your thoughts. Will try to get it up tonight DC time.
    But don’t run from this. Iraq’s civil war will become a regional conflagration if the REGION itself doesn’t stop it….and to do that, nations need to put themselves on the line so that the leaders and commanders can stare into the abyss and see the horror of what could be unleashed — triggered as it were by the horrible missteps of our country.
    But this is not a casual deal — and I think that even though things could get worse, they might not if the other big stakeholders in the region move in….they must.
    Steve Clemons

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  98. cringing says:

    Steve: this sounds like another advertisement for disaster. You say, “This is the first robust declaration that the Saudis are willing to fill the vacuum left by the United State in the region and knock back some of the unchecked expansion of Iranian influence in the region.”
    This is the first I’ve heard that the Saudis have any such capability. What and who can they deploy that would match the growing strength of Iraq’s Shias, even if our troops were to remain in Iraq? How would Saudi Arabia protect itself and Iraq’s Sunnis?
    How does this Saudi statement make any sense at all?

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