December 29, 2006
|Widening The War||Iran Iraq Palestine/Middle East|
Two important items from Swoop. First, regarding the White House's Middle East counteroffensive following the November elections and the Iraq Study Group recommendations. Swoop:
During his current consultations on the new strategy for Iraq, President Bush has told those advising him that he is not interested in any proposals that do not involve "success." "Anyone who does not believe in victory should leave the room right now," was how he began one consultation session. Top National Security Council officials are describing the Iraq Study Group as "discredited" and "dead and buried." Instead a new policy is taking shape. Based on recent discussions between former Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan and NSC Middle East Director Elliott Abrams, this policy foresees a central role for Saudi Arabia as a supplier of money and weapons to local conflicts involving Iranian surrogates. This is already happening in Lebanon, where anti-Hezbollah groups are receiving substantial Saudi help. Israeli intelligence officials are also encouraging these moves. "What we are seeing here," a second NSC official commented, "is the Administration's counter-attack to the ISG. Bush wants to negotiate from strength not weakness. He is trying to create new facts on the ground. This is an ambitious strategy. If it works, it allows us to recover much of the ground that Iraq has cost us. The opposite is also true. This strategy could double our losses. The key point here is that the Administration is still playing for a win in the Middle East. It is not leaving quietly." [Emphasis added]
Second, on Iran. It's not just a question of Iran's nuclear program. Far from it. Swoop:
A change of emphasis is taking place in the US approach to Iran. State Department officials tell us that they now see the nuclear weapons issue as just one aspect of a more all-encompassing competition with Iran. "It is clear that Iran is challenging us for mastery of the Middle East. Lebanon, Syria, the peace process, terrorism, energy: We are always bumping up against Iranian meddling. The stakes go far beyond nuclear weapons. It is clear that we have to orientate our policy so that we can teach Iran a decisive lesson." Support for this policy of long-term confrontation with Iran extends widely inside the Administration and Washington’s political elites. How this confrontation expresses itself remains undecided, with the military option still confined to the group around Vice-President Cheney and his circle. This group is, however, actively seeking international support. Privately the conservative Arab leaders of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council are urging the US to mount a broad counter to Iran. [Emphasis added]
Joshua Landis at SyriaComment speculates that the White House is using Saudi Arabia as a cutout to fund covert action in the Middle East, à la Iran-Contra. Excerpt:
The NSC diehards and Bandar (with Israeli coordination) have been working on a covert action program, the purpose of which is to strike back at Iran through surrogates, with the arrangements made in such a way as to obviate the need for a Presidential Covert Action Finding, which in today's Washington could not be kept secret. The Saudis would play the role of paymasters and prospective unindicted co-conspirators in case the operation is exposed (which seems to be the likely outcome). [...]
The sudden unannounced departure of Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki suggests that Saudi Arabia will be the financier of this operation. Prince Bandar bin Sultan's return to Washington in the form of his young protégé, Adel al-Jubeir. Polished and American-educated, Mr. Jubeir, 44, once worked for Prince Bandar when he was ambassador to Washington. Over the past few months, we know that Prince Bandar has been visiting Washington frequently, staying at the Hay Adams Hotel and visiting people at the White House. He was not notifying Prince Turki of these visits, which has been a flagrant and insulting breach of diplomatic protocol, to say nothing of its personal discourtesy to his own brother-in-law.
Another curiosity has been the repeated rumors of a meeting between Bandar and some unidentified Israelis, time and place unspecified. (The strongest rumor was that one meeting took place in Amman last summer.) The rumors have been persistent, and deserve some credence. [Emphasis added]
So, the American people think they got their message across in the November elections, and following the Iraq Study Group report they think Bush's current round of policy discussions is aimed at doing what everybody else wants: extricating the US from Iraq. But if the stories above are accurate, what's happening is quite the opposite: Bush is raising the stakes, widening the war, counter-attacking with "victory" — whatever that may mean — still the goal. It's crazy, but when has that ever stopped them?