The Arabian Gambit
Cheney will plead with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud to quell the Sunni insurgency, but the King will make Cheney aware of the opinion of the Arab world—that American policy in the region is driving the engines of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.Like pieces on a planetary chessboard, George Bush and Dick Cheney are hurtling about in the Middle East – the region that has obsessed their presidency and placed them in check. Last week, Cheney made the dramatic and potentially reckless move of seizing control of US negotiations himself, a task previously delegated to Condoleezza Rice and other members of the miserable minions now racing about the planet in a desperate search for a safe passage away from the increasingly dire circumstances radiating outward from the quagmires of Iraq.
Rice has been demoted and is now offering olive branches to North Korea and saddled with the ignominious task of threatening the Iraqis led by Nuri Al-Maliki with unspecified consequences if they do not immediately, “Unite!” Maliki responded with a maudlin television address imploring his people to unite behind his leadership only to suffer the deepening ignominy of being bombarded with a hail of stones when his motorcade arrived at a ceremony mourning the deaths of 215 people in a bombing incident last week. Catcalls recently greeted Iraq’s Prime Minister, who may not serve his nation much longer in his present capacity.
Escalating fusillades from within his own political party forced Cheney to launch what will be seen in years to come as his desperate Arabian Gambit. In October, James Baker leapt out from behind the arras to lead the public assault on neoconservative ideology when he launched an attack on the White House’s Iraq policy in the final weeks of the campaign in the crucial midterm elections. As head of the Iraq Study Group, Baker decided that enough was, indeed, enough, and he made public the consensus of opinion of his vaunted group, a bipartisan pastiche of political figureheads.
In one fell swoop, the head of the ISG publicly adopted what had been the Democratic Party’s official position on Iraq: phased disengagement from Iraq in coordination with the reigning regional powers and a palpable increase in the pressure on Israel for honest negotiations with the Palestinians. Baker’s onslaught – and it was a brutal stab in the political heart – followed years of stonewalling, refusals, rebukes and repudiations by Cheney and his weak and spineless surrogate of a president, George Bush, the Younger who had failed to respond to the rising volume of pleas for reason emanating from the charmed circle of George Bush, the Elder and the slightly more rational zones in the Republican Party, a political entity now almost entirely bereft of sanity, composure, balance or judgment.
In the months preceding Baker’s frontal assault on the Bush-Cheney presidency, it is now possible to discern a crescendo of covert attacks that were designed to pique the consciences of the errant White House and force them to take positive action, but they were having have none of it.
According to the intelligence establishment, Bush, the Younger’s war in Iraq is igniting flames under the boiling cauldrons of Islamist extremism and multiplying the already alarming number of suicide bombers, plane-hijackers and mass-murderers of every kind.One clearly covert political gambit: the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – a product of no less than sixteen US intelligence agencies – revealed that the American occupation of Iraq compromised and exacerbated the White House’s presumed policy of waging war on terrorism. According to the intelligence establishment, Bush, the Younger’s war in Iraq is igniting flames under the boiling cauldrons of Islamist extremism and multiplying the already alarming number of suicide bombers, plane-hijackers and mass-murderers of every kind, type and description in a bizarre process that is seriously undermining the national security of the United States.
In the silence of their still classified conversations, Cheney and Bush sought to preserve the NIE in total secrecy – lock it in a strong box and shut it away from the curious eyes of the press, the media and, of course, the American people who authorized it in the first place. But, their insidious plan to maintain a stonewall of silence about the NIE was thwarted when a still unidentified whistleblower leaked the devastating document to the American media in September during the fall campaign for the midterms.
The leak of the NIE was a fell stroke that wounded the Republican White House at a critical juncture in US political history. In clear syncopation with the leaked NIE, Baker held an unprecedented series of press conferences and briefings that hit front pages with magnum force. The war in Iraq was a disaster and American foreign policy was coming apart at the seams, Baker warned in more diplomatic language that spoke volumes to the American people. In recent days, the decline of the dollar to historic lows is merely one of the many high prices to be paid for the past five years of Republican incompetence and outright deconstruction of the fabric of American society, culture and government.
It is now clear that the covert prelude to these overt attacks was long and extensive. Now that Baker’s vaunted ISG is in the final stages of preparation of their recommendations, Cheney and Bush have moved feverishly to protect and preserve what little is left of their cherished policy – open-ended occupation of oil-rich Iraq. The American people who voted in the elections forced their hand, and their responses are now blatant, obvious, clumsy and panic-driven. Here are two cases of evidence to diagnose the current atmosphere in the West Wing as panic-driven.
Now that Baker’s vaunted ISG is in the final stages of preparation of their recommendations, Cheney and Bush have moved feverishly to protect and preserve what little is left of their cherished policy – open-ended occupation of oil-rich Iraq.
For starters, the not-so subtle racist attack on Jim Baker presents clear evidence of panic and paranoia in the West Wing. In a report leaked to the international media, some Bush-Cheney loyalist brought global attention to the boring fact of Jim Baker’s Afro-American relatives in the US. James Otis Baker, a cousin of Jim Baker through a slave owned by his forefathers in Texas, was contacted by representatives of the world press to confirm his genealogical relation to the former Secretary of State.
In the American heartland, this sort of coverage - which is not news - is blatant racist muck-raking timed to perfection to reduce Baker’s credibility in the run-up to the release of the formal report from the ISG. Meant to embarrass Baker, I believe that this racist attack will simply make him more resolute. In the early years of the Bush-Cheney White House, this is the sort of assignment that once fell from Cheney’s lips to the ears of Scooter Libby. Whether Libby or some other ‘source’ launched the racist assault is currently unknown, but it is clearly the desperate act of a panic-driven West Wing now reeling out of control.
Secondly, Dick Cheney’s sudden urge to lead the diplomatic agenda from the front is a strong shred of evidence for political panic now gripping the West Wing. Uncharacteristically, Dick Cheney flew to Riyadh to negotiate personally with the King of Saudi Arabia in order to wrest control of the swiftly deteriorating diplomatic situation. Cheney’s diplomatic desperation represents a perfectly clear indication of panic setting in amongst the cobwebs now adorning the West Wing.
Cheney’s meeting in Riyadh with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud reveals a good deal about the dynamics of diplomacy at the White House, and it is not that difficult to predict the content of their private negotiations. Cheney would raise the convergent issues of peace, security, oil and currency while wheedling, cajoling and imploring the King to use his benign influence to help quell the troubling insurgency amongst the Sunni population of Iraq. With Cheney’s cards now face up on the table, the King would counter with his own views on peace, security, oil and currency. Using quiet, elegant and diplomatic tones, the King would observe that the Vice President holds the power to quell the Sunni insurgency, himself - by simply removing US troops from harms way and redeploying them to bases outside of the region as suggested in recent days by their good friend, former Secretary of State, James Baker.
Over and above that obvious point of dialogue, the King might well remind Cheney that America’s real problem in the region is not WMDs in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, but the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the total lack of progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians during the presidency of Bush, The Younger. In 2002, concerned for the welfare of the region, King Abdullah launched his own initiative for peace. Known as the Arab Peace Plan, King Abdullah’s initiative proposed that Israel should withdraw from: the Gaza Strip (ordered by Ariel Sharon); the West Bank (abandoned as a result of Israel’s loss in its recent ill-advised war against Hizbullah) and the Golan Heights (on the table to bring Syria into the regional solution). The Arab Peace Plan was abandoned after it met opposition from Israel and Arab nations. In recent weeks, King Abdullah has visited key Arabic nations in preparation for crystallizing a new thrust for peace across the region.
There is little doubt that the King would make Cheney aware of the opinion of the Arab world - that American policy in the region is driving the engines of Islamic fundamentalism that could threaten to widen into an awesome arc of power dominated by the Shiite majorities arrayed from Iran through southern Iraq and into the oil rich regions of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. After that remarkably insightful dialogue, the Vice President could then return to Washington where he can continue to deny to himself and others that there is any magic bullet for quelling the Iraqi insurgency while awaiting hopeful word from the photo-opportunity that is masquerading as a summit conference between Bush and Maliki in Jordan.
America’s standing in the world is imploding at a frightening pace. Last week, Bush the Elder became upset when speaking before what he anticipated would be a docile audience in oil-drenched Abu Dhabi. Easily reduced to tears with his thyroid condition, the former president was assailed by taunts, jeers and catcalls when he was forced to defend his son’s presidency.
Elsewhere, the Shiite faction in Bahrain have gained 16 seats in their parliament that consists of only 40 members. This is a political phenomenon. The Shias only contested 17 seats, and if they had campaigned for all 40; they would have won many more. This Shiite ascendancy could presage a foreboding end for the reign of the Sunni monarchy, and Bahrain is merely one nation where the Shiites are now awakening to the potential of political power.
Tony Blair has been actively promoting his brand of moderate Islam and offering Pakistan a mere #480 million (circa one billion dollars) to fight terrorism. Their reply: we need a Marshall Plan to defeat the Taleban. Apparently, they are thinking in much larger terms than the Prime Minister, say, a hundred billion or thereabouts for openers.
In a parallel development and coming only days after he ordered the assassinations of leaders of Hamas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been ordered (by Cheney, no doubt) to launch his own vaguely half-hearted peace initiative. Offering the Palestinians little more than the release of what he describes as a large number of prisoners, Olmert hopes to provide the fig leaf to Bush and Cheney in their desperate attempt to avert full-scale civil war in Iraq. Let us hope that the prisoners are exchanged, and progress is made; but it will have to come with the approval of the broad swathe of Arabic nations in the region who are hopefully aligning under the leadership of King Abdullah.
At the same time, the powers of the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expanding in direct proportion to American contraction. Ahmadinejad’s grasp is obviously tightening on the reigns of Shiite political power extending from Iran to Iraq then through Syria and Jordan to Southern Lebanon where Hizbullah guards the ramparts of Islamic nationalism.
Into this turbulent scenario and driven into a state of heightening panic that is entirely of his own making - Bush the Younger will visit the kingdom of Jordan to meet one unhappy bureaucrat, his hand-picked Prime Minister of US-Occupied Iraq, The Right Honourable Nuri Al-Maliki. A summit between the two “leaders” in Baghdad was summarily vetoed apparently by the Secret Service, quite simply because the security situation in Baghdad defies description. Precarious, to say the least, chaotic to say the worst, diabolical would probably be the most accurate term for the latest reports are devastating: 148 more Iraqis and two more GIs killed this past weekend as the sectarian clashes become increasingly violent in the run-up to the deeply unpopular (read: detestable) Bush-Maliki summit.
This summit appears as if it has been designed to produce images of two leaders who are hated by their own peoples – as well as the rest of the global populations – in a star-crossed rendezvous that could ignite explosive repercussions. That their meeting is ill-timed to coincide with another potentially explosive confrontation in the Middle East - between the deeply vilified and openly Islamophobic Pope Benedict XVI and the Islamic leaders of Turkey - presents a troubling set of inflammatory circumstances that warrant a watchful eye and a steady hand on the tiller of national security agencies everywhere.
Turkish protest against the Pope.
All of these coalescing events strengthen the hand of the most virulently anti-American forces in the region. Led by Moqtada Al-Sadr, the Mehdi Army is the most potent political force in US-Occupied Iraq. With the compelling demeanour of a zealous mullah, Moqtada Al-Sadr gains strength from every droop in American stature. As if he and his army were a monolithic stalagmite magically gaining in stature from each and every drop of American blood, Moqtada Al-Sadr issued a stunning challenge to Maliki’s rule last week. Warning that the Sadrists would leave the Maliki government and labelling President Bush, the Younger as, “the criminal,” Sadr’s Press Secretary put the world on notice that the Mehdi Army has not yet begun to fight – but it might someday soon, very soon, indeed.
In the interim, Moqtada Al-Sadr is probably the one person who has prevented all-out civil war. In recent statements, Sadr has called for calm amidst the rising surges of attacks against his political base in Sadr City, the Shiite ghetto of Baghdad. At this point in time, Sadr is the best thing the west has going that “might” help avert civil war even though some ill-guided American officials want him to be arrested – a ploy that would backfire immediately and explode in Bush’s metaphorical face. Today, arresting Sadr would have been like Bush arresting Howard Dean or Hillary Clinton or Rahm Emanuel in the run-up to the midterm elections. It would produce a stunning backlash that would tilt the nation over the brink into an ultra-violent orgy of sectarian strife – ie. an explosive civil war.
The Commander-in-Chief of the most awesome military juggernaut in the known universe – even though the most powerful politicians in the nation he purported to “liberate” are now castigating him as an outright “criminal”– should not underestimate the hellish repercussions for US troops in Iraq through the continuation of his ill-fated and provocative occupation. Even Bush, the Younger should, by now, realize that US policy is driving Islamic extremism and threatening the security of the Middle East as well as South East Asia, Europe, parts of Africa and America.
The truth is appallingly simple. Iraq is now dividing and engaging in a political and sectarian civil war that is a direct product of the ill-conceived US occupation. Worse. Continuing American involvement will unquestionably precipitate more violence, ultra-violence and calamity on the nation that was to have become the shining neoconservative beacon of democracy to inspire and enthral the rest of the civilized world.
The limitations of President Bush the Younger are no longer obscured from the vast majority of people on the planet where he holds the largest amount of destructive power in the history of civilization. In Washington and across red state America, the people are openly asking themselves whether their president is falling under the influence of his old nemesis: alcoholism. Neither are the ethical standards and political objectives of his Vice President - who is now universally recognized as the eminence grise of the ill-starred Bush administration - obscured from the visions of the overwhelming majority of the American people. This is Cheney’s White House, Cheney’s presidency, Cheney’s war(s) and Cheney’s economy now collapsing under the unbearable weight of Cheney’s deficits.
Today, it seems ironic that the peoples who have borne the brunt of the Bush-Cheney tirades, diatribes and demonizations over the past five years – the Arabic Muslims – are now being cultivated, nurtured, groomed and courted in earnest as the solution to America’s prickly political problems – most of which began as paranoid fantasies in the minds of alarmists, extremists and scores of neoconservative charlatans.
That this theatre of the absurd state of US diplomacy is being driven by Bush, the Younger’s and Cheney’s fears of the ISG and its alliance with the Democrats is more than blatantly obvious.
In years to come, Cheney’s Arabian gambit will be a source of diplomatic howls of derision - a bumbling charlatan’s ploy driven out of sheer desperation that is about four years too late.
Michael Carmichael is a historian and author based in Oxford, England, UK. He is the founder and chief executive officer of planetarymovement.org. This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author. The complete illustrated and referenced article "Death of a Presidency" by Michael Carmichael is online here.
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This story was published on November 29, 2006.