by Paul William Roberts
According to the Iraqi newspaper Al- Quds al-Arabi, James Baker, the Bush familyâ€™s Mr. Fixit , recently met with one of Saddam Husseinâ€™s lawyers in Amman, Jordan, and told him that the former deputy prime minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, would be released from detention by December in order to negotiate with the US on behalf of factions of the Iraqi resistance movement still controlled by old Baâ€™ath Party leaders. Sources in Jordan tell me that the first stage of such negotiations has indeed already taken place. Two weeks ago, Aziz was whisked from his jail cell and, along with other representatives of Iraqâ€™s Sunni Resistance, taken for three daysâ€™ of secret discussions in Amman with senior US officials. It is heartening to note that this course of action was advised by the Atlantic Free Press three weeks ago. Aziz and his colleagues are currently discussing Americaâ€™s proposals with the divisional resistance leadership, whose response and counter-offers they will present to Washington early next month.
Jordanâ€™s Crown Prince Hassan tells me, furthermore, that Condoleeza Rice made a personal appeal to the Gulf Cooperation Council last month to act as intermediaries between the US and the armed Sunni resistance, not including Iraqi al-Qaeda leaders. Rice evidently joked during the closed-door meeting that â€œif Donald Rumsfeld could hear me now he would wage war against me fiercer and hotter than he waged in Iraq.â€
The official wing of US Government was represented in Gulf War 2: Retreat from Iraq by George W. Bushâ€™s security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who presented the following proposals regarding the future to Iraqi officials during his recent trip to Baghdad:
- Any initiative towards national reconciliation must now include Iraqi resistance and opposition leaders
- There must be a general amnesty for armed resistance fighters
- There must be a disbanding of militias and death squads
- Any federalist proposals dividing Iraq into three states must be abandoned in favor of a strong centralist authority combined with greater self-rule for local governors
- That oil revenues must be distributed more equitably for the benefit of all Iraqis, including the Sunnis whose region contains little of the resource
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki was evidently unable to accept
these proposals, or so I am told, because his office ties him
institutionally to the Shia parties, which view any concessions to the
Sunni as a religious betrayal. Iraqi Shia Muslims believe their moment
in history has arrived and they have finally thrown off a millennium of
Sunni domination. Most chickens still remain in their eggs, however, so
counting them may be misleading. The view in Washington is that
Al-Malikiâ€™s usefulness has ended, and a political coup is now underway
to oust him and reorganize his regime along lines more amenable to a
revival of Americaâ€™s old bias toward Sunni Arabs. In the Situation
Room, the situation always has room for change, and two opinions are
better than one even when theyâ€™re mutually contradictory.
Along with burying Al-Maliki in Quislingâ€™s Graveyard, some of the Pentagonâ€™s less repentant serial killers feel that cranking up the battle of Baghdad a notch would make an even better prelude to withdrawal, since it might help prevent US troops being picked off like lame antelope by a triumphant resistance.
In this, as in all Middle Eastern political poker these days, Teheran holds better cards than Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, or Baghdad. While state media ply us with tales of Iranâ€™s profligacy as chief arms merchant to violent dissent, the real story is that of Iranâ€™s restraint. There were larger shoulder-launched missiles to supply Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon â€“ ones capable of reaching every city in Israel â€“ yet Teheran chose not to make them available. There is an awful lot more that the Iranian military could provide to Iraqi resistance groups, too, yet to date it is the Russians, via Syria, who have provided most of the weaponry. Why is Iran so coy?
One could speculate that the Islamic Republic will not play its hand until Iranâ€™s air force includes nuclear missiles; or one could theorize that the Iranian clergy still hopes to extend national influence into Iraq along religious lines, without force. But no one in Iran is going to let us see what cards his country holds because they arenâ€™t playing poker there at all, theyâ€™re playing chess, the national game. Among its many shortcomings, the DC Situation Room lacks a really good chess player --- which is a pity, since chess is all they play in there.
Israel also used to display a blistering strategic chess game, where now all we see is a kosher ham-fisted version of checkers. Particularly in response to the elegant gambit played from Teheran, whose President Ahmadinejad is used like a Queen to carry out showily distracting but inconsequential assaults into enemy terrain, while the Bishops position themselves for far more lethal operations.
The real power in Teheran is an oligarchy linked to oil and interwoven with senior clerics yet essentially secular in its goals. Your media donâ€™t bother you with this reality, however, for reasons best known to themselves. To retain the status quo, however, the oligarchs must placate the impoverished masses with a myth of spiritual warfare in which Iran fights for God against Satan. God has just awarded one of Iranâ€™s citizens the deeds to Satanâ€™s embassy in Teheran in lieu of a cash payment for the fine imposed by a clerical court for wrongful imprisonment â€“ so the war is going well! At least no one in Teheranâ€™s corridors of power actually believes this yarn, though, while Washington is infested with religious psychopaths who seriously (or rather comically) think theyâ€™re up against a guy with horns who has set himself up as the Competition.
Of all the sins in existence, letting a human mind confuse fantasy with fact is right up there at the top. These are the same people, one ought not to forget, who want God included in science courses where the Bible will also be chief text. And they wonder why they are on a collision course with militant Islam --- not over basic principles, of course, but merely the choice of text? Hinduism didnâ€™t thrive during the Indian version of the Spanish Inquisition either, and the late Pope only apologized for the Holocaust a year before he died.
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President Ahmadinejad is not just a man of the Iranian people, he may well be the only man anyone in Qom has met who has actually worked for a living and possesses no kind of inherited wealth. The trouble with studying nothing but the Holy Koran is that, while you learn much about maintaining tyrannical power, you learn nothing about obtaining it in the first place. I have no doubts whatsoever about Ahmadinejadâ€™s loyalty to the Iranian masses, but I am not so certain about his loyalty to the clerical powers that be. If he felt the military were behind him, he would mata his own shah in a trice, I think, and seize the reins of absolute power from a corrupt oligarchy that has betrayed Iranâ€™s revolution for its own ends. He makes Machievelli look like Madeleine Albright: after all, the princely adviser never states that an eminence grise is obliged sometimes to give advice he knows is wrong in order to seize power himselfâ€¦
Good help is hard to find, however, and a good adviser is sometimes worth the risk that he will stab you in the back --- until he does, of course. Since good advice is almost as rare as honesty in Washington, it would not surprise me if the Al-Maliki putsch incorporates a US plea for help to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraqâ€™s most influential Shia cleric, who will have to weigh carefully his debts to Teheran against the lure of real political power in Baghdad.
Washington has accepted it is not in any position to call the shots in Baghdad any more, yet that will not mean it wonâ€™t try to call them. One major condition of the deal under which US troops will withdraw from Baghdad (but only to their desert bases) is that Iran does not try to extend its sphere of influence. Since Iran alone has the power to make sure this deal goes through, the best that US negotiators can do is get an agreement that Iran will not try to extend its sphere of influence immediately. This, and making sure Saddam isnâ€™t released from jail, is all that victory amounts to these days at mission control in the home of the brave. But, as King Lear noticed: â€œThe art of our necessities is strange and can make vile things seem precious.â€ Tariq Aziz was never an especially vile thing, yet his negotiating skills must seem precious beyond price in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
If I were Aziz, though, Iâ€™d assure myself a glorious page in the history books by insisting that pride of place be given to President Bush at the Grand Baghdad Banquet of Humble Pie, with George, Dick, Donny and Wolfo all helping to cut that first big slice, as they write checks handing back to Iraqis what they stole from them during the 21st Centuryâ€™s Greatest Crime So Far. But Mr. Aziz is far too good a diplomat for such a ploy. Besides, he spent the first few months of his captivity in Room 31 at Baghdad International Airport crying real tears over his involvement in Saddamâ€™s more notorious excesses. How good his negotiating skills are, though, remains to be seen --- after all, he couldnâ€™t negotiate his own exile during the fall of Saddamâ€™s regime, and was thus forced to surrender unconditionally to US authorities. Good to hear heâ€™s out on probation, though: three years is more than enough time for what he did. Indeed, his greatest crime is being Saddamâ€™s oldest friend and most loyal ally. I wonder what the status of that is now?
The day America admits it no longer produces diplomats able to hold their own in a serious global match will be the day it might be allowed back into the world community with observer credentials. Henry Kissinger was a better butcher than he was diplomat, but at least he knew how to sit down and deal. As Saddam Hussein will tell you --- since The Godfather is his favorite movie â€“ when the other mob leaders think Sonny has taken over the family, they start a war. Putting John Bolton in the UN is like making The Terminator President: a very bad idea someone in Washington will always be enamored with until an even worse idea occurs to them.
Paul William Robertsâ€™ latest book is the political novel Homeland, which has been called â€œthe darkest and most depressing work of fiction ever written.â€ [Shurely this title goes to George W. Bushâ€™s autobiography?-Ed.]