Sunday, May 13, 2007
Cheney's chess moves in the Middle East
Vice president Dick Cheney has embarked an a thankless and likely futile task - trying to shore up the Bush Administration's Sunni allies and come to some kind of face saving compromise with Iran.
This is being done in view of the total breakdown in political support at home for the Iraq war, the increased political stalemate among the three main Iraqi factions and our impending pullout...which several of my sources see as starting in late summer.
After a surprise visit to Iraq where he got a close up look at the mess and made a last ditch attempt to get the Iraqi government to pull itself together, Cheney hunkered down with our `eternal friends' the Saudis, arriving in Riyadh on May 12th for major face time with Saudi King Abdullah.
Joshua's Army members will remember that both Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Jordan's King Abdullah, both touted by the President as major US allies refused to come to Washington when they were invited there by the president back in April...so Cheney visiting them is a case of the mountain coming to Mohammed, to use the old phrase.
Cheney is seeking some coordination with the Saudis in advance of the Iraq pullout, and still attempting to exacerbate tensions between the Sunni autocrats and Iran. In this case, the baksheesh for the Saudis to double cross the mullahs is an offer by the Bush administration to double the Saudi air force in size, supposedly to increase its capability for contending with Iran's military in a showdown. This bribe was apparently first presented to our `eternal friends' by US defense secretary Robert Gates when he was in Riyadh last month, after three key meetings that took place after King Abdullah called our occupation of Iraq `illegitimate' and refused to come to Washington - one with Adm. William J. Fallon, chief of CENTCOM at the beginning of April, Gates on April 16, and two days later, April 18, with US state department Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield.
The idea, of course, is that the Saudis in the event of war could take out the antiquated Iranian air force and attack Iran's land based missile launchers to keep them from threatening the oil flow in the Gulf.
Apparently no one is considering that those jets could be used against a very different target than Iran, or perhaps even used against the West in conjunction with Iran.
The Saudi air force is small – about 350 aircraft - but modern and in good shape and the US is promising to upgrade and increase the Saudi air force with the new top-of-the-line F-16 Cs and Ds, F 15 Es and probably the F 22 Raptors. This would make the Saudi Air force the biggest in the Arab World, and give the Saudis parity with Israel's air force.... which is interesting in the face of the Saudi's threat to Israel, to accept their ultimatum or face war.
Needless to say, the Israeli government has protested strongly about the proposed deal...but, well, let's just say no one's listening too much to anything Olmert or his government has to say in Washington these days. The Bush Administration has completely re-oriented its Middle East policies around the Saudis and the UAE, something that will eventually come back to haunt us.
The background on this, of course, is that President Bush is likely backing off on two of his most deeply entrenched policies - an acceptance on a timetable for US forces to pull out of Iraq and acceptance of an agreement on uranium enrichment by Iran.
Friday, May 11th, Vice President Cheney stood on the deck of the USS John Stennis in the Gulf and stated that the US would “stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.”
Meanwhile, we've begun to trim down the US naval buildup opposite Iran, replacing the USS Boxer Strike group ( an amphibious assault ship) with the smaller USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike group.
I think the idea is to signal to Iran that in light of our withdrawal from Iraq, we might be ready to work out something.
I wouldn't be at all surprised for a diplomatic `breakthrough' with Iran along the lines of the deal the US just made with North Korea, with a conditional agreement to allow Iran to go forward with its enrichment of uranium in agreed upon quantities...which of course, assumes that the mullahs are going to keep to that agreement. In view of how they've honored their previous ones, I can't imagine why that would present itself as a viable strategic option - although in terms of domestic politics, Bush probably sees it as making sense and allowing him to ride out the next year and a half until he's safely out of office.
If this goes down this way, it will be an enormous victory for our enemies, a retreat and major loss of credibility for the US, and merely a costly postponement of a game that's already on the schedule to be played.