Commentary Magazine


Topic: Riyadh

WEB EXCLUSIVE: America: The Left’s Dispensable Nation

It takes a world-class imagination to believe that the cause of democracy will not suffer from American neglect. Luckily for Peter Beinart, it takes only political bias to assert it. And so Beinart’s latest column at the Daily Beast attempts to rehabilitate the Obama administration’s freedom-neutral foreign policy by assuring us that “even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.”

Good to know. But in a post-American world, tyranny acquires jet engines. Beinart cites the Tunisian revolt as evidence of democracy’s global health.  One must ask: Wasn’t it liberal types like Beinart who rightly used to point out that toppling a tyrant in no way constituted the establishment of representative government? If Ben Ali’s flight from Tunis to Riyadh comprises democracy’s legs, Arab freedom is ready for a walker.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

It takes a world-class imagination to believe that the cause of democracy will not suffer from American neglect. Luckily for Peter Beinart, it takes only political bias to assert it. And so Beinart’s latest column at the Daily Beast attempts to rehabilitate the Obama administration’s freedom-neutral foreign policy by assuring us that “even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.”

Good to know. But in a post-American world, tyranny acquires jet engines. Beinart cites the Tunisian revolt as evidence of democracy’s global health.  One must ask: Wasn’t it liberal types like Beinart who rightly used to point out that toppling a tyrant in no way constituted the establishment of representative government? If Ben Ali’s flight from Tunis to Riyadh comprises democracy’s legs, Arab freedom is ready for a walker.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Race to Freedom

It’s only January 12, but this wins the award for cleverest human-rights campaign of 2011. The following comes from a petition put together by the organization CyberDissidents.org and is addressed to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah:

We would like to extend the opportunity to you to co-sponsor the First Annual Saudi Women’s Grand Prix. Many Saudi Internet activists have voiced their desire for equal rights between men and women and this initiative is a direct response to their pleas.

Saudi women from all walks of life will be invited to partake in the joys of race-car driving. We will live-stream video of this event on the Internet throughout the Middle East.

Hosting the First Annual Saudi Women’s Grand Prix in Riyadh would be a fitting symbol of Islamic tolerance and equality. Allowing women to drive in this Grand Prix will not undermine the fabric of Saudi society, but rather will be a small, incremental reform toward empowering females.

The Grand Prix can be held on March 10th to commemorate the fifteen Saudi girls who died on that day in 2002 as the Kingdom’s religious police blocked them from fleeing their burning school because they were not fully covered.

We look forward to your reply.

Don’t we all. The eclectic group of signatories includes Janet Guthrie, the first female driver in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, and former CIA director James Woolsey. The CyberDissidents website invites you to add your name to the list.

Lately, the Saudis have been making some noise about lifting the driving ban on women. But it will surely take public displays of outside pressure to move things to the tipping point. The Freedom Agenda may be dead at the White House, but Americans’ foundational pursuit of liberty for all will not be squelched by a spell of bad policy.

It’s only January 12, but this wins the award for cleverest human-rights campaign of 2011. The following comes from a petition put together by the organization CyberDissidents.org and is addressed to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah:

We would like to extend the opportunity to you to co-sponsor the First Annual Saudi Women’s Grand Prix. Many Saudi Internet activists have voiced their desire for equal rights between men and women and this initiative is a direct response to their pleas.

Saudi women from all walks of life will be invited to partake in the joys of race-car driving. We will live-stream video of this event on the Internet throughout the Middle East.

Hosting the First Annual Saudi Women’s Grand Prix in Riyadh would be a fitting symbol of Islamic tolerance and equality. Allowing women to drive in this Grand Prix will not undermine the fabric of Saudi society, but rather will be a small, incremental reform toward empowering females.

The Grand Prix can be held on March 10th to commemorate the fifteen Saudi girls who died on that day in 2002 as the Kingdom’s religious police blocked them from fleeing their burning school because they were not fully covered.

We look forward to your reply.

Don’t we all. The eclectic group of signatories includes Janet Guthrie, the first female driver in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, and former CIA director James Woolsey. The CyberDissidents website invites you to add your name to the list.

Lately, the Saudis have been making some noise about lifting the driving ban on women. But it will surely take public displays of outside pressure to move things to the tipping point. The Freedom Agenda may be dead at the White House, but Americans’ foundational pursuit of liberty for all will not be squelched by a spell of bad policy.

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Saudis and Lebanon

Among the many things confirmed by the latest WikiLeaks data dump is Saudi Arabia’s concern about the inroads of Iran in Lebanon. Moreover, a U.S. diplomatic cable from May 2008 confirms that Saudi thinking has been centered on a military response to the Iranian encroachment. These facts reinforce thoughts I voiced earlier this year about the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion military shopping list. But the apparent progress of Saudi thinking, from May 2008 to the summer of 2010, may be even more informative.

What the Saudis proposed in 2008 was a combined Arab peacekeeping force, deployed to Lebanon under UN auspices and supported with air cover and logistics by NATO. Having Arab forces on the ground in Lebanon — supplanting Hezbollah and Iran — was clearly the motivating factor. A force of this kind would have been lightly armed and dependent on the firepower of NATO, but it would have been Arab.

The arms sought by Riyadh in the $60 billion deal this year represent vastly more capability for an offensive military campaign than would be appropriate for a peacekeeping force. The Arab nations could have put together a peacekeeping force without buying anything new. Meanwhile, as I discussed in September, the Saudis face no threat for which the strike aircraft and assault helicopters in the new arms deal would fill a defensive role. The particulars of the deal indicate that offensive action is envisioned. And the campaign the hardware is best suited for is armed action against the Levant.

Concern about Iran (and, I suspect, about Turkey) increases the urgency of these preparations for the Saudis. The $60 billion arms deal was announced within months of a February meeting in Damascus — between Bashar Al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah — which was widely touted in the region as a “war council.”Arming up is not the Saudis’ only reaction: they sponsored a rare summit with Syria’s Al-Assad in Beirut in July and have kept a steady stream of senior Saudis going through Lebanon for one conference after another throughout the latter half of 2010. Establishing the Saudis — and, by extension, an Arab coalition — as leaders in resolving Lebanon’s internal instability is a central motivation for Riyadh.

The $60 billion arms deal indicates that the Saudis are not planning to leave the outcome to diplomacy, chance, or the United States. Population and geography mean the Saudis cannot launch an offensive strike without a coalition; it’s not something they foresee doing soon. It’s undoubtedly contingent on other developments. But what Americans should keep in mind is that the joust over Lebanon is a central front, not a sideshow, for the factions of the Middle East. This applies in the military as well as in the political realm. Lebanon, the most vulnerable nation bordering Israel, is key terrain — and it’s in dispute. Given the advanced state of Iran’s proxy campaign there — and the declining decisiveness of U.S. power — it’s also becoming urgent.

Among the many things confirmed by the latest WikiLeaks data dump is Saudi Arabia’s concern about the inroads of Iran in Lebanon. Moreover, a U.S. diplomatic cable from May 2008 confirms that Saudi thinking has been centered on a military response to the Iranian encroachment. These facts reinforce thoughts I voiced earlier this year about the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion military shopping list. But the apparent progress of Saudi thinking, from May 2008 to the summer of 2010, may be even more informative.

What the Saudis proposed in 2008 was a combined Arab peacekeeping force, deployed to Lebanon under UN auspices and supported with air cover and logistics by NATO. Having Arab forces on the ground in Lebanon — supplanting Hezbollah and Iran — was clearly the motivating factor. A force of this kind would have been lightly armed and dependent on the firepower of NATO, but it would have been Arab.

The arms sought by Riyadh in the $60 billion deal this year represent vastly more capability for an offensive military campaign than would be appropriate for a peacekeeping force. The Arab nations could have put together a peacekeeping force without buying anything new. Meanwhile, as I discussed in September, the Saudis face no threat for which the strike aircraft and assault helicopters in the new arms deal would fill a defensive role. The particulars of the deal indicate that offensive action is envisioned. And the campaign the hardware is best suited for is armed action against the Levant.

Concern about Iran (and, I suspect, about Turkey) increases the urgency of these preparations for the Saudis. The $60 billion arms deal was announced within months of a February meeting in Damascus — between Bashar Al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah — which was widely touted in the region as a “war council.”Arming up is not the Saudis’ only reaction: they sponsored a rare summit with Syria’s Al-Assad in Beirut in July and have kept a steady stream of senior Saudis going through Lebanon for one conference after another throughout the latter half of 2010. Establishing the Saudis — and, by extension, an Arab coalition — as leaders in resolving Lebanon’s internal instability is a central motivation for Riyadh.

The $60 billion arms deal indicates that the Saudis are not planning to leave the outcome to diplomacy, chance, or the United States. Population and geography mean the Saudis cannot launch an offensive strike without a coalition; it’s not something they foresee doing soon. It’s undoubtedly contingent on other developments. But what Americans should keep in mind is that the joust over Lebanon is a central front, not a sideshow, for the factions of the Middle East. This applies in the military as well as in the political realm. Lebanon, the most vulnerable nation bordering Israel, is key terrain — and it’s in dispute. Given the advanced state of Iran’s proxy campaign there — and the declining decisiveness of U.S. power — it’s also becoming urgent.

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Saudi Arms Sale: Which War in View?

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

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Riyadh Votes No-Confidence in Iran Sanctions

The report that Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli jets transit its airspace to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities indeed shows, as Jennifer noted, that progress in the “peace process” is not necessary to secure Israeli-Arab cooperation on a grave mutual threat. But it also constitutes a vote of no-confidence — by both Saudi Arabia and at least someone in the U.S. administration — in the anti-Iran sanctions that the UN Security Council approved last week.

At a time when the Muslim world is still seething over Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, nothing could be more embarrassing for Saudi Arabia than a report that it is cooperating with the hated Zionist entity in planning an attack on another Muslim country. Under these circumstances, only one thing could motivate a Saudi official to actually confirm this cooperation to the London Times: sheer terror.

And the report’s timing — just days after U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed the new round of toothless sanctions a great achievement, even as he openly acknowledged that they will not stop Iran’s nuclear program — makes the source of this terror clear: Saudi Arabia is now convinced that the West, in general, and Americans, in particular, will do nothing substantive to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has thus concluded that the only hope of making Tehran rethink the program’s wisdom is a credible threat of force. By agreeing to let Israeli jets transit its airspace, thus shortening the distance they would have to fly, Riyadh has greatly increased the credibility of this threat by making an Israeli strike more feasible.

The same logic applies to the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly and publicly trumpeted its efforts to thwart an Israeli strike; indeed, the Times reported that Washington still refuses to let Israeli jets transit Iraqi airspace, which the U.S. controls. Moreover, Obama continues to invest great efforts in outreach to the Muslim world. That a U.S. “defense source” confirmed this story to the Times and even asserted that the deal was concocted “with the agreement of the [U.S.] State Department” is deeply embarrassing to the administration, depicting it as downright hypocritical: publicly voicing full-throated opposition to an Israeli raid even as it secretly brokers a deal with Riyadh to facilitate such a raid.

And here, too, the motive is clear: at least someone in the administration has concluded that truly painful sanctions — the kind that might actually affect Tehran’s behavior — are never going to be enacted, so the only hope is a credible threat of military force.

It is, of course, encouraging to learn that both Riyadh and at least some parts of Washington still have a grasp of reality. Yet given the almost unanimous agreement among Western leaders that a military strike on Iran would be disastrous, it is deeply discouraging that they nevertheless remain incapable of mustering the will to enact the kind of sanctions that are the only alternative to such a strike — other than a nuclear Iran.

The report that Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli jets transit its airspace to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities indeed shows, as Jennifer noted, that progress in the “peace process” is not necessary to secure Israeli-Arab cooperation on a grave mutual threat. But it also constitutes a vote of no-confidence — by both Saudi Arabia and at least someone in the U.S. administration — in the anti-Iran sanctions that the UN Security Council approved last week.

At a time when the Muslim world is still seething over Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, nothing could be more embarrassing for Saudi Arabia than a report that it is cooperating with the hated Zionist entity in planning an attack on another Muslim country. Under these circumstances, only one thing could motivate a Saudi official to actually confirm this cooperation to the London Times: sheer terror.

And the report’s timing — just days after U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed the new round of toothless sanctions a great achievement, even as he openly acknowledged that they will not stop Iran’s nuclear program — makes the source of this terror clear: Saudi Arabia is now convinced that the West, in general, and Americans, in particular, will do nothing substantive to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has thus concluded that the only hope of making Tehran rethink the program’s wisdom is a credible threat of force. By agreeing to let Israeli jets transit its airspace, thus shortening the distance they would have to fly, Riyadh has greatly increased the credibility of this threat by making an Israeli strike more feasible.

The same logic applies to the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly and publicly trumpeted its efforts to thwart an Israeli strike; indeed, the Times reported that Washington still refuses to let Israeli jets transit Iraqi airspace, which the U.S. controls. Moreover, Obama continues to invest great efforts in outreach to the Muslim world. That a U.S. “defense source” confirmed this story to the Times and even asserted that the deal was concocted “with the agreement of the [U.S.] State Department” is deeply embarrassing to the administration, depicting it as downright hypocritical: publicly voicing full-throated opposition to an Israeli raid even as it secretly brokers a deal with Riyadh to facilitate such a raid.

And here, too, the motive is clear: at least someone in the administration has concluded that truly painful sanctions — the kind that might actually affect Tehran’s behavior — are never going to be enacted, so the only hope is a credible threat of military force.

It is, of course, encouraging to learn that both Riyadh and at least some parts of Washington still have a grasp of reality. Yet given the almost unanimous agreement among Western leaders that a military strike on Iran would be disastrous, it is deeply discouraging that they nevertheless remain incapable of mustering the will to enact the kind of sanctions that are the only alternative to such a strike — other than a nuclear Iran.

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Saudis Show “Linkage” Is a Farce

From the UK, the Times reports on Saudi Arabia:

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert. …

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.

Frankly, this is a more effective deterrent on the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions than anything Obama has done in eighteen months. And it proves how utterly false is Obama’s premise that progress on the “peace process” is required to gain the Arab states’ co-operation on Iran. Imagine if we had spent the last 18 months rounding up support from the Arab states on a shared defense pact, demonstrating America’s full support of Israel and making clear that the military option is perfectly viable. Instead, we have a tenser Middle East, a withering U.S.-Israel alliance, and an emboldened Iran. It is the greatest foreign-policy miscalculation in memory.

From the UK, the Times reports on Saudi Arabia:

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert. …

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.

Frankly, this is a more effective deterrent on the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions than anything Obama has done in eighteen months. And it proves how utterly false is Obama’s premise that progress on the “peace process” is required to gain the Arab states’ co-operation on Iran. Imagine if we had spent the last 18 months rounding up support from the Arab states on a shared defense pact, demonstrating America’s full support of Israel and making clear that the military option is perfectly viable. Instead, we have a tenser Middle East, a withering U.S.-Israel alliance, and an emboldened Iran. It is the greatest foreign-policy miscalculation in memory.

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Obama’s Iran Policy Is Producing Arab Fallout

A key concern of those who believe a nuclear Iran would be disastrous is that it would prompt “moderate” Arab states to switch into the Iranian camp — due to fear that America would be unable to protect them against a nuclear-armed neighbor and a desire to align themselves with the “strong horse,” which succeeded in going nuclear despite American opposition, rather than the “weak horse,” which proved unwilling or unable to prevent this development. But it now seems Iran won’t even need to obtain the bomb to make this happen: the growing realization that Washington has no real stomach for stopping it is enough.

This conclusion emerges from two incidents reported by Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el. First, Iran’s military exercises in the Persian Gulf this week were observed by “a high-level military delegation from Qatar. It was headed by Admiral Abed al-Rahim al-Janahi, who said his country wants to benefit from the Iranian experience, and that he was planning joint exercises for the two armies.”

This is particularly noteworthy given a fact that Bar’el didn’t mention: U.S. forces used Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base for their campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Qatar originally upgraded the base to lure the U.S. military. Now it’s planning joint military exercises with Iran.

Bar’el also quoted an Al-Arabiya interview with Turki al-Faisal, head of the King Faisal Institute of Global Strategic Studies — and also a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, a former ambassador to London and Washington, the Saudi foreign minister’s brother, and King Abdullah’s cousin. As such, Bar’el wrote, al-Faisal most likely represents the ruling family’s views.

And what are those views? Hitherto, Riyadh has considered Tehran its chief regional rival. But al-Faisal termed the Gulf states’ ties with Iran “historic ties that are built on interests, blood relationships and proximity.” He also opposed sanctions on Tehran, saying he prefers “dialogue,” and said Israel posed a far greater threat to the region than Iran does.

The prospect of a shift in Saudi Arabia’s allegiance ought to alarm even the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia is not only one of America’s main oil suppliers; it’s also the country Washington relies on to keep world oil markets stable — both by restraining fellow OPEC members from radical production cuts and by upping its own production to compensate for temporary shortfalls elsewhere.

Granted, Riyadh is motivated partly by self-interest: unlike some of its OPEC colleagues, it understands that keeping oil prices too high for too long would do more to spur alternative-energy development than any amount of global-warming hysteria. And since its economy depends on oil exports, encouraging alternative energy is the last thing it wants to do.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been generally effective as stabilizer-in-chief of world oil markets and has no plausible replacement in this role. And since the U.S. economy remains highly oil-dependent, a Saudi shift into Iran’s camp would effectively put America’s economy at the mercy of the mullahs in Tehran.

That’s a prospect that ought to keep Washington policymakers awake at night.

A key concern of those who believe a nuclear Iran would be disastrous is that it would prompt “moderate” Arab states to switch into the Iranian camp — due to fear that America would be unable to protect them against a nuclear-armed neighbor and a desire to align themselves with the “strong horse,” which succeeded in going nuclear despite American opposition, rather than the “weak horse,” which proved unwilling or unable to prevent this development. But it now seems Iran won’t even need to obtain the bomb to make this happen: the growing realization that Washington has no real stomach for stopping it is enough.

This conclusion emerges from two incidents reported by Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el. First, Iran’s military exercises in the Persian Gulf this week were observed by “a high-level military delegation from Qatar. It was headed by Admiral Abed al-Rahim al-Janahi, who said his country wants to benefit from the Iranian experience, and that he was planning joint exercises for the two armies.”

This is particularly noteworthy given a fact that Bar’el didn’t mention: U.S. forces used Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base for their campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Qatar originally upgraded the base to lure the U.S. military. Now it’s planning joint military exercises with Iran.

Bar’el also quoted an Al-Arabiya interview with Turki al-Faisal, head of the King Faisal Institute of Global Strategic Studies — and also a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, a former ambassador to London and Washington, the Saudi foreign minister’s brother, and King Abdullah’s cousin. As such, Bar’el wrote, al-Faisal most likely represents the ruling family’s views.

And what are those views? Hitherto, Riyadh has considered Tehran its chief regional rival. But al-Faisal termed the Gulf states’ ties with Iran “historic ties that are built on interests, blood relationships and proximity.” He also opposed sanctions on Tehran, saying he prefers “dialogue,” and said Israel posed a far greater threat to the region than Iran does.

The prospect of a shift in Saudi Arabia’s allegiance ought to alarm even the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia is not only one of America’s main oil suppliers; it’s also the country Washington relies on to keep world oil markets stable — both by restraining fellow OPEC members from radical production cuts and by upping its own production to compensate for temporary shortfalls elsewhere.

Granted, Riyadh is motivated partly by self-interest: unlike some of its OPEC colleagues, it understands that keeping oil prices too high for too long would do more to spur alternative-energy development than any amount of global-warming hysteria. And since its economy depends on oil exports, encouraging alternative energy is the last thing it wants to do.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been generally effective as stabilizer-in-chief of world oil markets and has no plausible replacement in this role. And since the U.S. economy remains highly oil-dependent, a Saudi shift into Iran’s camp would effectively put America’s economy at the mercy of the mullahs in Tehran.

That’s a prospect that ought to keep Washington policymakers awake at night.

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America in Retreat

Lee Smith writes that Obama’s Israel bash-a-thon is precisely the wrong strategic move:

Of course, Washington shaming Israel will please the Arabs—even U.S. allies like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Cairo, Egypt, that cheered on Jerusalem when it took on Iran’s assets Hezbollah and Hamas. Remember, the Arabs have been compelled by the American strong horse to swallow their pride for decades. But given that Arabs do not air their own dirty laundry for fear it will make them look weak, our public humiliation of an ally will earn us only contempt.

But here’s the most important thing: Even if you discount the centrality of shame and honor as operative principles in the Middle East, the Obama administration has blundered by jeopardizing not Israel’s stature but our own regional interests and the Pax Americana that has been ours over the last 35 years. Our position in the region depends on every actor there knowing that we back Israel to the hilt and that they are dependent on us. Sure, there are plenty of times we will not see eye-to-eye on things—differences that should be resolved in quiet consultations—but should any real distance open up between Washington and Jerusalem, that will send a message that the U.S.-backed order of the region is ready to be tested. And that’s exactly what the axis of resistance is seeing right now.

So the danger here is not that the nonexistent peace process will be imperiled but that this sends the wrong signal to Iran. We are not standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel but are moving toward a “containment” policy that imagines we can defend allies beneath our nuclear umbrella but not deprive the mullahs of nuclear weapons. In this light we see that “in rattling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cage, the Obama administration was warning Israel not even to contemplate an attack on Iran.” And the result, as we dump Israel and abandon efforts to stymie Iran’s ambitions, Smith says, is that “the American order of the region will be superseded by a new order in which we will play a secondary role at best. More likely, as Ahmadinejad and Assad say, it will mean a Middle East without American influence.”

If Smith is correct, then it is inaccurate to say that the last week is a dangerous distraction from our Iran policy. Rather, this is our Iran policy. Hobble and humiliate an ally, embolden adversaries, provide breathing space to the mullahs (did someone say something about sanctions at the end of 2009?), and hope that allowing the revolutionary Islamic state to acquire nuclear weapons will not come to be seen as the most dangerous foreign-policy calculation since the Munich Agreement.

How deliberate all this all is may be a matter of debate. What’s less in dispute is the inevitable result of a series of misguided moves by the Obama administration — each reinforcing the notion that we stand not with our allies or for our own national interests but merely for the proposition that conflict avoidance is the highest ideal. Obama intended to address “our standing in the world”. Little did we imagine where this was heading — a more innocuous and less reliable America, which is fast becoming an easier mark for despotic regimes.

Lee Smith writes that Obama’s Israel bash-a-thon is precisely the wrong strategic move:

Of course, Washington shaming Israel will please the Arabs—even U.S. allies like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Cairo, Egypt, that cheered on Jerusalem when it took on Iran’s assets Hezbollah and Hamas. Remember, the Arabs have been compelled by the American strong horse to swallow their pride for decades. But given that Arabs do not air their own dirty laundry for fear it will make them look weak, our public humiliation of an ally will earn us only contempt.

But here’s the most important thing: Even if you discount the centrality of shame and honor as operative principles in the Middle East, the Obama administration has blundered by jeopardizing not Israel’s stature but our own regional interests and the Pax Americana that has been ours over the last 35 years. Our position in the region depends on every actor there knowing that we back Israel to the hilt and that they are dependent on us. Sure, there are plenty of times we will not see eye-to-eye on things—differences that should be resolved in quiet consultations—but should any real distance open up between Washington and Jerusalem, that will send a message that the U.S.-backed order of the region is ready to be tested. And that’s exactly what the axis of resistance is seeing right now.

So the danger here is not that the nonexistent peace process will be imperiled but that this sends the wrong signal to Iran. We are not standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel but are moving toward a “containment” policy that imagines we can defend allies beneath our nuclear umbrella but not deprive the mullahs of nuclear weapons. In this light we see that “in rattling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cage, the Obama administration was warning Israel not even to contemplate an attack on Iran.” And the result, as we dump Israel and abandon efforts to stymie Iran’s ambitions, Smith says, is that “the American order of the region will be superseded by a new order in which we will play a secondary role at best. More likely, as Ahmadinejad and Assad say, it will mean a Middle East without American influence.”

If Smith is correct, then it is inaccurate to say that the last week is a dangerous distraction from our Iran policy. Rather, this is our Iran policy. Hobble and humiliate an ally, embolden adversaries, provide breathing space to the mullahs (did someone say something about sanctions at the end of 2009?), and hope that allowing the revolutionary Islamic state to acquire nuclear weapons will not come to be seen as the most dangerous foreign-policy calculation since the Munich Agreement.

How deliberate all this all is may be a matter of debate. What’s less in dispute is the inevitable result of a series of misguided moves by the Obama administration — each reinforcing the notion that we stand not with our allies or for our own national interests but merely for the proposition that conflict avoidance is the highest ideal. Obama intended to address “our standing in the world”. Little did we imagine where this was heading — a more innocuous and less reliable America, which is fast becoming an easier mark for despotic regimes.

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Cut the Gordion Knot, Already

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to deliver a “telling blow” against “global powers” on Feb. 11, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, and yesterday, right on schedule, we found out what that blow was. Iran, he boasted before a bussed-in crowd, is now a “nuclear state.” He and his Revolutionary Guards have not yet built a nuclear weapon, but they have — assuming they’re telling the truth — made enormous progress by enriching uranium at the crucial 20 percent threshold.

Yet while millions of Iranians are in open rebellion against their own hated government, the United States is still making policy as if they did not exist. Obama administration officials are ready to impose sanctions, but they’re doing it for the wrong reason. Sanctions, a senior official said, are “about driving them back to negotiations because the real goal here is to avoid war.”

All of us — Left, Right, and Center — worry about war with Iran. “Doves” hope to skirt a small- or medium-sized conflict, while “hawks” dwell on the threat of nuclear war. Doves would rather Iran get the bomb than go to war, while hawks would back anti-government demonstrators or destroy the weapons facilities outright. Every approach is risky, and I don’t know which is best, but this much is all but certain: we won’t be in the clear until the leadership, and perhaps the whole state, is replaced.

Sanctions might help at this point, but negotiations — which the unnamed official hopes to return to — will not. Resistance is at the core of the regime’s ideology. Expecting Ahmadinejad and Khamenei to give that up is like asking Fidel Castro to scrap socialism or Benjamin Netanyahu to let go of Zionism. The odds of it happening are near zero. If that was unclear a year ago, it shouldn’t be now.

No one can know if Iran’s opposition will topple the government, but the odds of it happening are well above zero. If Ahmadinejad and Khamenei bolt the country next month, will anybody really be all that surprised? It would look obvious and inevitable in hindsight. Pessimists say the regime is durable, and maybe it is, but communist governments in Europe looked that way, too, and they weren’t. CIA analysts said it about Iran’s shah in 1979, and they were wrong.

A civilian nuclear-energy program in a secular and moderate Iran won’t be a fraction as troubling as the current nuclear-weapons program in Khomeinist Iran. Politically moderate Iranians won’t nuke Israelis, Arabs, or anyone else, and they’re a lot less likely to even build the bombs in the first place. At the same time, Iran’s Islamic Republic regime has been a toxic menace in the Middle East for 31 years, even without nuclear weapons. It’s the biggest state sponsor of terrorists in the world, it has already ignited a number of conflicts, and it is not going to stop. If the goal here is to avoid war, as the administration says, even if the weapons program is mothballed, it won’t be enough. The rulers themselves are the problem.

Regime change is the bold stroke that would cut the Gordian Knot. It would decapitate the Iranian-Syrian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc. Jerusalem, Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran, Cairo, Riyadh, and Gaza would all breathe easier. As Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote two days ago, “A democratic revolution in Tehran could well prove the most momentous Mideastern event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.”

William Kristol wonders if the phrase “regime change” makes the administration uneasy, if it reminds the president and his advisers too much of George W. Bush. Maybe it does, although it shouldn’t — not if regime change comes from within rather than at American gunpoint.

Obama need not transform himself into a Reagan or Bush. If “regime change” tastes bitter, what’s wrong with hope and change in Iran? Instead of cajoling Khamenei — who will never negotiate in good faith — the president need only ask himself the following question when presented with policy options from his advisers: will this or won’t this shorten the lifespan of that government?

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to deliver a “telling blow” against “global powers” on Feb. 11, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, and yesterday, right on schedule, we found out what that blow was. Iran, he boasted before a bussed-in crowd, is now a “nuclear state.” He and his Revolutionary Guards have not yet built a nuclear weapon, but they have — assuming they’re telling the truth — made enormous progress by enriching uranium at the crucial 20 percent threshold.

Yet while millions of Iranians are in open rebellion against their own hated government, the United States is still making policy as if they did not exist. Obama administration officials are ready to impose sanctions, but they’re doing it for the wrong reason. Sanctions, a senior official said, are “about driving them back to negotiations because the real goal here is to avoid war.”

All of us — Left, Right, and Center — worry about war with Iran. “Doves” hope to skirt a small- or medium-sized conflict, while “hawks” dwell on the threat of nuclear war. Doves would rather Iran get the bomb than go to war, while hawks would back anti-government demonstrators or destroy the weapons facilities outright. Every approach is risky, and I don’t know which is best, but this much is all but certain: we won’t be in the clear until the leadership, and perhaps the whole state, is replaced.

Sanctions might help at this point, but negotiations — which the unnamed official hopes to return to — will not. Resistance is at the core of the regime’s ideology. Expecting Ahmadinejad and Khamenei to give that up is like asking Fidel Castro to scrap socialism or Benjamin Netanyahu to let go of Zionism. The odds of it happening are near zero. If that was unclear a year ago, it shouldn’t be now.

No one can know if Iran’s opposition will topple the government, but the odds of it happening are well above zero. If Ahmadinejad and Khamenei bolt the country next month, will anybody really be all that surprised? It would look obvious and inevitable in hindsight. Pessimists say the regime is durable, and maybe it is, but communist governments in Europe looked that way, too, and they weren’t. CIA analysts said it about Iran’s shah in 1979, and they were wrong.

A civilian nuclear-energy program in a secular and moderate Iran won’t be a fraction as troubling as the current nuclear-weapons program in Khomeinist Iran. Politically moderate Iranians won’t nuke Israelis, Arabs, or anyone else, and they’re a lot less likely to even build the bombs in the first place. At the same time, Iran’s Islamic Republic regime has been a toxic menace in the Middle East for 31 years, even without nuclear weapons. It’s the biggest state sponsor of terrorists in the world, it has already ignited a number of conflicts, and it is not going to stop. If the goal here is to avoid war, as the administration says, even if the weapons program is mothballed, it won’t be enough. The rulers themselves are the problem.

Regime change is the bold stroke that would cut the Gordian Knot. It would decapitate the Iranian-Syrian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc. Jerusalem, Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran, Cairo, Riyadh, and Gaza would all breathe easier. As Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote two days ago, “A democratic revolution in Tehran could well prove the most momentous Mideastern event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.”

William Kristol wonders if the phrase “regime change” makes the administration uneasy, if it reminds the president and his advisers too much of George W. Bush. Maybe it does, although it shouldn’t — not if regime change comes from within rather than at American gunpoint.

Obama need not transform himself into a Reagan or Bush. If “regime change” tastes bitter, what’s wrong with hope and change in Iran? Instead of cajoling Khamenei — who will never negotiate in good faith — the president need only ask himself the following question when presented with policy options from his advisers: will this or won’t this shorten the lifespan of that government?

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The Yemen Project

Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch have a useful think piece in the Wall Street Journal today on applying “smart power” in Yemen. Their series of excellent points culminates in the suggestion of Yemen as the venue in which to test a prototype multiagency task force designed to wield all the elements of national power — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — in the effort to produce stability in Yemen and immunize it against use by al-Qaeda. “Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington,” they point out, “it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.”

Kagan and Harnisch are right that the question of U.S. involvement in Yemen is not whether we will be involved but how. Their case is strong that our effort should be a multiagency one, rather than expanding from its current minimal level on the traditional model of military intervention. But however we organize it, the key to engaging with Yemen is understanding what we are walking into. Yemen’s internal battle is not being fought in a geopolitical vacuum, and our intervention there has the potential to turn very quickly into a proxy confrontation with other regional actors.

Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the most obvious one, along with Iran, which arms the Shia “Houthi” rebels against Yemen’s central government. But an increased level of U.S. effort is likely to draw in other actors, like Somalia’s radical al-Shabaab terror group, which promised last week to send fighters to Yemen in support of the Houthi rebels. This is a legitimate threat; Iran and Eritrea keep al-Shabaab armed, and maritime traffic between Somalia and Yemen is routine and very hard to interdict.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in Yemeni stability, meanwhile, is direct and proprietary. Riyadh is concerned about incursions into its territory, of course, but is equally concerned about Iran — or other outside powers — gaining influence over Yemen. Yemen’s location brings the most significant of suitors to its door: Russia and China are the two top suppliers of arms to the Saleh regime, and at the end of December, both of them capped decades of extensive involvement in Yemen with major financial assistance and cooperation agreements. We are not the only great power proposing to influence events in Yemen with monetary aid and military cooperation; in fact, we’re at the back of the line. Russia was reported a year ago to be planning to re-establish its Cold War–era naval base on Yemen’s Socotra Island and will not remain passive in the face of a U.S. policy adopted on the energetic lines proposed by Kagan and Harnisch.

Yemen is more than a poor, unstable nation that makes a natural hideout for al-Qaeda; it is, due to its location, a geostrategic prize. As the Nigerian airplane bomber demonstrated, we must increase our involvement there. This is an opportunity, not just a regrettable necessity, for both Yemen and us — if we approach it with positive objectives in mind. Succeeding there will inevitably have the effect of sidelining Iran and Russia, and we will need to be prepared for their reactions. We might even be able to achieve a limited partnership with the Russians if we avoid harboring illusions about their objectives. As Kagan and Harnisch suggest, a Yemen intervention looks like a natural fit for a high-level multiagency task force, as opposed to one centered mainly on military or intelligence activities. The “measure of effectiveness” for that task force would be its success in defining U.S. interests proactively rather than reactively, and in preparing us to deal with the interests already being actively asserted by third parties.

Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch have a useful think piece in the Wall Street Journal today on applying “smart power” in Yemen. Their series of excellent points culminates in the suggestion of Yemen as the venue in which to test a prototype multiagency task force designed to wield all the elements of national power — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — in the effort to produce stability in Yemen and immunize it against use by al-Qaeda. “Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington,” they point out, “it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.”

Kagan and Harnisch are right that the question of U.S. involvement in Yemen is not whether we will be involved but how. Their case is strong that our effort should be a multiagency one, rather than expanding from its current minimal level on the traditional model of military intervention. But however we organize it, the key to engaging with Yemen is understanding what we are walking into. Yemen’s internal battle is not being fought in a geopolitical vacuum, and our intervention there has the potential to turn very quickly into a proxy confrontation with other regional actors.

Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the most obvious one, along with Iran, which arms the Shia “Houthi” rebels against Yemen’s central government. But an increased level of U.S. effort is likely to draw in other actors, like Somalia’s radical al-Shabaab terror group, which promised last week to send fighters to Yemen in support of the Houthi rebels. This is a legitimate threat; Iran and Eritrea keep al-Shabaab armed, and maritime traffic between Somalia and Yemen is routine and very hard to interdict.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in Yemeni stability, meanwhile, is direct and proprietary. Riyadh is concerned about incursions into its territory, of course, but is equally concerned about Iran — or other outside powers — gaining influence over Yemen. Yemen’s location brings the most significant of suitors to its door: Russia and China are the two top suppliers of arms to the Saleh regime, and at the end of December, both of them capped decades of extensive involvement in Yemen with major financial assistance and cooperation agreements. We are not the only great power proposing to influence events in Yemen with monetary aid and military cooperation; in fact, we’re at the back of the line. Russia was reported a year ago to be planning to re-establish its Cold War–era naval base on Yemen’s Socotra Island and will not remain passive in the face of a U.S. policy adopted on the energetic lines proposed by Kagan and Harnisch.

Yemen is more than a poor, unstable nation that makes a natural hideout for al-Qaeda; it is, due to its location, a geostrategic prize. As the Nigerian airplane bomber demonstrated, we must increase our involvement there. This is an opportunity, not just a regrettable necessity, for both Yemen and us — if we approach it with positive objectives in mind. Succeeding there will inevitably have the effect of sidelining Iran and Russia, and we will need to be prepared for their reactions. We might even be able to achieve a limited partnership with the Russians if we avoid harboring illusions about their objectives. As Kagan and Harnisch suggest, a Yemen intervention looks like a natural fit for a high-level multiagency task force, as opposed to one centered mainly on military or intelligence activities. The “measure of effectiveness” for that task force would be its success in defining U.S. interests proactively rather than reactively, and in preparing us to deal with the interests already being actively asserted by third parties.

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Hezbollah’s Victory

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14’s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14’s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

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Appeasing an Arab Autocrat

After yesterday’s magnificent performance in front of the Knesset assailing “the false comfort of appeasement,” President Bush is in Saudi Arabia today to appease an Arab autocrat. Over tea, during meals, at a horse farm, our leader is humbling the United States.

He’s nominally there to celebrate 75 years of relations between Washington and Riyadh, but the real topic is the price of oil, which jumped more than three dollars today to hit a record high of $127.82 a barrel. For the second time this year, Bush has made a trip to the Saudi kingdom, which possesses the world’s largest reserves of this commodity, to ask King Abdullah to pump more of it. For the second time this year the monarch will politely refuse.

That does not mean that the Saudi will not take the offerings Bush has carried with him. The Kingdom will gladly accept American assistance to build a civilian nuclear energy program for the House of Saud, but this is not nearly sufficient to overcome its overwhelming interest in charging as high a price for oil as international markets will bear.

As we have seen, there is a high correlation between the possession of oil and authoritarianism. And at least for the foreseeable future, global economic development will only drive hydrocarbon prices higher. That means, if the world continues along its present course, democracies will become beholden to dictatorships, as today’s meeting in Riyadh suggests. If we want to avoid the spectacle of another president going hat in hand to Saudi Arabia–or worse, Russia, Venezuela, or Iran–then we have only one real option. We will, in short, need to further develop our own energy resources. We don’t need to achieve complete energy independence; we just need to do enough to affect prices at the margin.

So let’s be realistic. Appeasing oil producers, especially those who stand behind the OPEC cartel, is a dead end. The President can go to Riyadh seven more times before his term is out, and he still will not be able to convince the Saudis to drop prices. The solution to the energy crisis is within our own borders–and not in some horse farm in the middle of a faraway desert.

After yesterday’s magnificent performance in front of the Knesset assailing “the false comfort of appeasement,” President Bush is in Saudi Arabia today to appease an Arab autocrat. Over tea, during meals, at a horse farm, our leader is humbling the United States.

He’s nominally there to celebrate 75 years of relations between Washington and Riyadh, but the real topic is the price of oil, which jumped more than three dollars today to hit a record high of $127.82 a barrel. For the second time this year, Bush has made a trip to the Saudi kingdom, which possesses the world’s largest reserves of this commodity, to ask King Abdullah to pump more of it. For the second time this year the monarch will politely refuse.

That does not mean that the Saudi will not take the offerings Bush has carried with him. The Kingdom will gladly accept American assistance to build a civilian nuclear energy program for the House of Saud, but this is not nearly sufficient to overcome its overwhelming interest in charging as high a price for oil as international markets will bear.

As we have seen, there is a high correlation between the possession of oil and authoritarianism. And at least for the foreseeable future, global economic development will only drive hydrocarbon prices higher. That means, if the world continues along its present course, democracies will become beholden to dictatorships, as today’s meeting in Riyadh suggests. If we want to avoid the spectacle of another president going hat in hand to Saudi Arabia–or worse, Russia, Venezuela, or Iran–then we have only one real option. We will, in short, need to further develop our own energy resources. We don’t need to achieve complete energy independence; we just need to do enough to affect prices at the margin.

So let’s be realistic. Appeasing oil producers, especially those who stand behind the OPEC cartel, is a dead end. The President can go to Riyadh seven more times before his term is out, and he still will not be able to convince the Saudis to drop prices. The solution to the energy crisis is within our own borders–and not in some horse farm in the middle of a faraway desert.

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“Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.”

What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

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What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the “elimination” of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant “Death to Israel, Death to America!” That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that “the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.” And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It’s natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you.

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision of justice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evident right of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a gift from the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to secure peace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endless confrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and a voice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism. Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their God will not export violence, they will be partners in peace.

The fundamental insight, that freedom yields peace, is the great lesson of the 20th century. Now our task is to apply it to the 21st. Nowhere is this work more urgent than here in the Middle East. We must stand with the reformers working to break the old patterns of tyranny and despair. We must give voice to millions of ordinary people who dream of a better life in a free society. We must confront the moral relativism that views all forms of government as equally acceptable and thereby consigns whole societies to slavery. Above all, we must have faith in our values and ourselves and confidently pursue the expansion of liberty as the path to a peaceful future.

That future will be a dramatic departure from the Middle East of today. So as we mark 60 years from Israel’s founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arrive easily or overnight; it will encounter violent resistance. But if we and future Presidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in our ideals, here is the Middle East that we can see:

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world’s great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved — a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today’s oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists’ vision and the injustice of their cause.

Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a new period of tolerance and integration. And this doesn’t mean that Israel and its neighbors will be best of friends. But when leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings. With this change, Israel will open a new hopeful chapter in which its people can live a normal life, and the dream of Herzl and the founders of 1948 can be fully and finally realized.

This is a bold vision, and some will say it can never be achieved. But think about what we have witnessed in our own time. When Europe was destroying itself through total war and genocide, it was difficult to envision a continent that six decades later would be free and at peace. When Japanese pilots were flying suicide missions into American battleships, it seemed impossible that six decades later Japan would be a democracy, a lynchpin of security in Asia, and one of America’s closest friends. And when waves of refugees arrived here in the desert with nothing, surrounded by hostile armies, it was almost unimaginable that Israel would grow into one of the freest and most successful nations on the earth.

Yet each one of these transformations took place. And a future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, to make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of Israel’s independence, the last British soldiers departing Jerusalem stopped at a building in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. An officer knocked on the door and met a senior rabbi. The officer presented him with a short iron bar — the key to the Zion Gate — and said it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates of Jerusalem had belonged to a Jew. His hands trembling, the rabbi offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God, “Who had granted us life and permitted us to reach this day.” Then he turned to the officer, and uttered the words Jews had awaited for so long: “I accept this key in the name of my people.”

Over the past six decades, the Jewish people have established a state that would make that humble rabbi proud. You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side. God bless.

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Who Is Afraid of Iran’s Nukes?

Norman Podhoretz has been courageously making the case for a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear-weapon’s program for some time now. He also has — or had — been predicting that President Bush would carry out such a strike before the end of his presidency. As time grows short, that seems increasingly unlikely.

But let’s not rule it out entirely.We have already pointed to the fact that as Iran acquires sophisticated Russian air-defenses, which it may deploy as early as this fall, the execution of a U.S. strike will be greatly complicated and the risks associated with it will rise. It would be easier for the U.S. to the job before the SA-20s are pointing toward the skies.

There is another factor as well that pushes in the same direction: growing pressure from an insecure but highly influential ally in the region — and, no, it is not Israel.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a look at Saudi Arabian attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program:

senior and mid-level Saudi officials express an apparently unambiguous belief among the upper-echelon of the Saudi Government that the Iranian nuclear program does not solely exist for peaceful purposes. One senior Saudi official told staff confidently, “Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon.”. . . One senior long-serving U.S. diplomat in Riyadh said he had “never met anyone from the King on down who didn’t think it was a nuclear weapons program.”

Saudi officials believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon in order to become a regional superpower, to alleviate a sense of marginalization, to serve as a deterrent, and to be a more dominant force in the Gulf. While senior Saudi officials describe a nuclear-armed Iran as “an existential threat,” most Saudi officials do not believe Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia worries that Iranian nuclear weapons would encourage and enable the Iranians to pursue a more aggressive, hegemonic foreign policy in the region. However, it would be inaccurate to completely characterize SAG [Saudia Arabian government] anxiety regarding Iranian nuclear weapons as a purely “balance of power concern.” Based largely on Iran’s subversive activities directed against the Saudi regime in the 1980’s, some senior Saudi leaders find a nuclear-armed Iran especially disconcerting. Such past Iranian subversion efforts has imbued the senior Saudi leadership with an intense distrust of Tehran.

What do the Saudis think should be done about the mounting danger?

When presented with a hypothetical choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a U.S. [preventive] attack, a significant number of Saudi officials interviewed explicitly or implicitly preferred a U.S. attack. A correlation seems to exist between the seniority of Saudi officials and views on Iranian nuclear weapons. More senior Saudi officials tended to be more “hawkish” in their viewpoint toward Iran. Some key Saudi officials believe a U.S. attack could set the Iranian nuclear program back over a decade. More cautious members of the senior inner circle express concern that a military attack would affect “everything and will not be easy to pull off,” and doubt whether a U.S. attack could destroy all key components of the Iranian nuclear program. Based on U.S. actions in Iraq, some key Saudi officials feared a “nightmare” scenario in which the U.S. attacks Iran but fails to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Saudis have a lot of oil, a lot of money, and a lot of influence in Washington. If the U.S. does take action, and if it is successful, they will surely reap some of the credit. And if it goes badly, we will surely hear from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that the “Israel Lobby” is to blame.

Norman Podhoretz has been courageously making the case for a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear-weapon’s program for some time now. He also has — or had — been predicting that President Bush would carry out such a strike before the end of his presidency. As time grows short, that seems increasingly unlikely.

But let’s not rule it out entirely.We have already pointed to the fact that as Iran acquires sophisticated Russian air-defenses, which it may deploy as early as this fall, the execution of a U.S. strike will be greatly complicated and the risks associated with it will rise. It would be easier for the U.S. to the job before the SA-20s are pointing toward the skies.

There is another factor as well that pushes in the same direction: growing pressure from an insecure but highly influential ally in the region — and, no, it is not Israel.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a look at Saudi Arabian attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program:

senior and mid-level Saudi officials express an apparently unambiguous belief among the upper-echelon of the Saudi Government that the Iranian nuclear program does not solely exist for peaceful purposes. One senior Saudi official told staff confidently, “Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon.”. . . One senior long-serving U.S. diplomat in Riyadh said he had “never met anyone from the King on down who didn’t think it was a nuclear weapons program.”

Saudi officials believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon in order to become a regional superpower, to alleviate a sense of marginalization, to serve as a deterrent, and to be a more dominant force in the Gulf. While senior Saudi officials describe a nuclear-armed Iran as “an existential threat,” most Saudi officials do not believe Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia worries that Iranian nuclear weapons would encourage and enable the Iranians to pursue a more aggressive, hegemonic foreign policy in the region. However, it would be inaccurate to completely characterize SAG [Saudia Arabian government] anxiety regarding Iranian nuclear weapons as a purely “balance of power concern.” Based largely on Iran’s subversive activities directed against the Saudi regime in the 1980’s, some senior Saudi leaders find a nuclear-armed Iran especially disconcerting. Such past Iranian subversion efforts has imbued the senior Saudi leadership with an intense distrust of Tehran.

What do the Saudis think should be done about the mounting danger?

When presented with a hypothetical choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a U.S. [preventive] attack, a significant number of Saudi officials interviewed explicitly or implicitly preferred a U.S. attack. A correlation seems to exist between the seniority of Saudi officials and views on Iranian nuclear weapons. More senior Saudi officials tended to be more “hawkish” in their viewpoint toward Iran. Some key Saudi officials believe a U.S. attack could set the Iranian nuclear program back over a decade. More cautious members of the senior inner circle express concern that a military attack would affect “everything and will not be easy to pull off,” and doubt whether a U.S. attack could destroy all key components of the Iranian nuclear program. Based on U.S. actions in Iraq, some key Saudi officials feared a “nightmare” scenario in which the U.S. attacks Iran but fails to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Saudis have a lot of oil, a lot of money, and a lot of influence in Washington. If the U.S. does take action, and if it is successful, they will surely reap some of the credit. And if it goes badly, we will surely hear from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that the “Israel Lobby” is to blame.

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Fuel for Terrorism

The New York Times ran a long, interesting article on Sunday detailing how Iraqi insurgents manage to siphon off oil from the Baiji refinery in order to fuel their terrorism. What caught my eye in particular was this sentence ,which describes other sources of funding for the extremists:

A military official familiar with studies on the insurgency estimated that half of the insurgency’s money came from outside Iraq, mainly from people in Saudi Arabia, a flow that does not appear to have decreased in recent years.

The Saudi government has made a big show of cracking down on Islamic extremists, as I got to see first-hand when I visited the kingdom in the fall. But while the Saudis have undoubtedly been effective in moving against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–the terrorist group which most directly threatens Riyadh–it appears they have been less willing and/or less effective in stopping the flow of support from Saudi Arabia to other terrorists groups. Assuming that the New York Times is right, this is further evidence that the Saudis still aren’t doing enough to crack down on terror finances.

The New York Times ran a long, interesting article on Sunday detailing how Iraqi insurgents manage to siphon off oil from the Baiji refinery in order to fuel their terrorism. What caught my eye in particular was this sentence ,which describes other sources of funding for the extremists:

A military official familiar with studies on the insurgency estimated that half of the insurgency’s money came from outside Iraq, mainly from people in Saudi Arabia, a flow that does not appear to have decreased in recent years.

The Saudi government has made a big show of cracking down on Islamic extremists, as I got to see first-hand when I visited the kingdom in the fall. But while the Saudis have undoubtedly been effective in moving against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–the terrorist group which most directly threatens Riyadh–it appears they have been less willing and/or less effective in stopping the flow of support from Saudi Arabia to other terrorists groups. Assuming that the New York Times is right, this is further evidence that the Saudis still aren’t doing enough to crack down on terror finances.

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Arabic Media Shifts

Robert Worth has a couple of fascinating dispatches in the New York Times from the frontlines of the battle for hearts and minds in the Arab world.

In this article, he reports that Al Jazeera has been muzzled by its owner, who also happens to be the ruler of Qatar—Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Before, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rivalry, Al Jazeera used to be fierce critic of the Saudi royal family. No longer. Now, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rapprochement in the face of a common threat from Iran, Al Jazeera is giving the Saudis a pass even when, as with the recent case of a rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes, they richly deserve criticism.

In this article, Worth reports on how Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera’s chief rival, has shaken up satellite television news in the Middle East. Thanks in part to Al Arabiya’s influence, its director, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, says that Al Jazeera is taking a more neutral tone in coverage that used to be pro-jihad and anti-American:

He runs through a list of changes: the insurgents in Iraq are no longer called the muqaawama, or resistance; instead they are musulaheen, or armed men. Iraqis killed by Americans are not necessarily “martyrs.” Now, they are just civilians who have been killed.

“Three years ago, most of the TV stations — and you can add to that the newspapers and Web sites — were taking one side on most issues,” he says. “They were very much for the resistance in Iraq.” As for Al Qaeda, “it was, if not celebrated by the media, then accepted, and in a big way defended by them.”

Today, that is no longer true. “Now Jazeera is a very soft, reasonable station when it comes to the Iraqis,” Mr. Rashed says, with an ironic twinkle in his eyes.

This might also be seen as evidence of how Al Qaeda’s atrocities have redounded against the terrorist organization, costing it support in the Middle East. Perhaps Al Qaeda’s biggest mistake, however, was to launch an offense against the Saudis in 2003. That changed the Saudi official attitude toward jihadism from being positively encouraging to being more worried about its destabilizing effects on the kingdom. Al Arabiya, in case you hadn’t guessed, is owned by the Saudis. As someone who has been (and remains) pretty critical of the regime in Riyadh, I have to give them credit where credit is due, even if their actions are entirely self-interested.

Robert Worth has a couple of fascinating dispatches in the New York Times from the frontlines of the battle for hearts and minds in the Arab world.

In this article, he reports that Al Jazeera has been muzzled by its owner, who also happens to be the ruler of Qatar—Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Before, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rivalry, Al Jazeera used to be fierce critic of the Saudi royal family. No longer. Now, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rapprochement in the face of a common threat from Iran, Al Jazeera is giving the Saudis a pass even when, as with the recent case of a rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes, they richly deserve criticism.

In this article, Worth reports on how Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera’s chief rival, has shaken up satellite television news in the Middle East. Thanks in part to Al Arabiya’s influence, its director, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, says that Al Jazeera is taking a more neutral tone in coverage that used to be pro-jihad and anti-American:

He runs through a list of changes: the insurgents in Iraq are no longer called the muqaawama, or resistance; instead they are musulaheen, or armed men. Iraqis killed by Americans are not necessarily “martyrs.” Now, they are just civilians who have been killed.

“Three years ago, most of the TV stations — and you can add to that the newspapers and Web sites — were taking one side on most issues,” he says. “They were very much for the resistance in Iraq.” As for Al Qaeda, “it was, if not celebrated by the media, then accepted, and in a big way defended by them.”

Today, that is no longer true. “Now Jazeera is a very soft, reasonable station when it comes to the Iraqis,” Mr. Rashed says, with an ironic twinkle in his eyes.

This might also be seen as evidence of how Al Qaeda’s atrocities have redounded against the terrorist organization, costing it support in the Middle East. Perhaps Al Qaeda’s biggest mistake, however, was to launch an offense against the Saudis in 2003. That changed the Saudi official attitude toward jihadism from being positively encouraging to being more worried about its destabilizing effects on the kingdom. Al Arabiya, in case you hadn’t guessed, is owned by the Saudis. As someone who has been (and remains) pretty critical of the regime in Riyadh, I have to give them credit where credit is due, even if their actions are entirely self-interested.

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Jihad’s Own Patriarch

On Wednesday, longtime jihad apologist Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch and Archbishop of Jerusalem, lashed out against Israel once again. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against,” Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before the Christian holiday.

In his address, which he read in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Sabbah’s rap sheet of anti-Semitism and Islamist sympathy is long and storied, and well worth reading. However, his recent claim itself demands rebuttal, lest people begin weighing in with the “he’s a bad guy, but . . .” canard.

It’s worth noting that the Patriarch himself is emissary of a state—the Vatican—the citizens of which are “subject to the sovereignty of the Holy See” as well as emissary to a state that’s declared Islam its official and sole religion. It’s this habitual blindness to contradiction that characterizes analyses of Israel, whether by interested or non-interested parties.

Israel is simply the most religiously plural state in the Middle East—by an enormous margin. Muslims and Christians have equal rights under Israeli law: they vote in elections; they hold elected positions; they enjoy religious freedoms; and so on. This is to say nothing of the humanitarian purpose served by Israel’s open-door policy for Jewish refugees.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians may be imprisoned for their beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of non-Muslim religions is illegal. In Jordan, Jews are denied citizenship. A true representative survey of the region’s discriminatory policies could fill a library, let alone a blog posting. When the head rabbi of Riyadh speaks up, perhaps the issue of Israel’s religiously exclusionary nature can be revisited.

On Wednesday, longtime jihad apologist Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch and Archbishop of Jerusalem, lashed out against Israel once again. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against,” Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before the Christian holiday.

In his address, which he read in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Sabbah’s rap sheet of anti-Semitism and Islamist sympathy is long and storied, and well worth reading. However, his recent claim itself demands rebuttal, lest people begin weighing in with the “he’s a bad guy, but . . .” canard.

It’s worth noting that the Patriarch himself is emissary of a state—the Vatican—the citizens of which are “subject to the sovereignty of the Holy See” as well as emissary to a state that’s declared Islam its official and sole religion. It’s this habitual blindness to contradiction that characterizes analyses of Israel, whether by interested or non-interested parties.

Israel is simply the most religiously plural state in the Middle East—by an enormous margin. Muslims and Christians have equal rights under Israeli law: they vote in elections; they hold elected positions; they enjoy religious freedoms; and so on. This is to say nothing of the humanitarian purpose served by Israel’s open-door policy for Jewish refugees.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians may be imprisoned for their beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of non-Muslim religions is illegal. In Jordan, Jews are denied citizenship. A true representative survey of the region’s discriminatory policies could fill a library, let alone a blog posting. When the head rabbi of Riyadh speaks up, perhaps the issue of Israel’s religiously exclusionary nature can be revisited.

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Hamas at the Hajj

There is a story that went unnoticed in the furor over the NIE last week, a story that also contains elements of deception and perfidy. This one reveals where two of America’s key Arab allies stand when it comes to the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority had made a special arrangement with Israel to allow 2,000 Palestinians to leave Gaza in order to make the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. These Gazans were to leave Israel by way of the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza and the Allenby Bridge crossing in the West Bank, their PA-organized travel meant to show the residents of Gaza that Mahmoud Abbas can make things happen for them — in contrast to Hamas. But Cairo and Riyadh had made their own special arrangement with Hamas.

The Egyptians allowed 700 Palestinians on Monday and 1,300 on Tuesday to cross the border into Sinai, where buses were waiting to take them to Saudi Arabia.

“The Egyptians stabbed us in the back,” a senior PA official said. It turned out that the move had been coordinated with the Hamas government and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi embassy in Cairo swiftly processed the Gaza pilgrims’ visa applications sent by the Hamas government, while the Saudi embassy in Amman held up all the visa applications sent by the PA, even those of West Bank pilgrims. The PA, which had invested huge efforts in organizing the pilgrims’ trip to Saudi Arabia in a bid to improve President Mahmoud Abbas’ status in the Gaza Strip, was enraged by Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s conduct.

Not a very nice thing to do to the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Not a very nice thing to do to Condi Rice and the peace process, either. So why did these two countries pull such a petty and antagonistic stunt?

The Egyptians have been worried since the summer that Israel and America will succeed in isolating Gaza, and that Israel would thereby be able to accomplish the total severance of contact between the two territories. Since only Israel and Egypt share a border with Gaza, if Israel manages to get itself off the hook for providing fuel, electricity, water, and the like to Gaza, then these will become Egyptian responsibilities — and Gaza will have been turned into largely an Egyptian, instead of Israeli, problem.

Obviously, the Egyptians want none of this, which is why they’ve become so remarkably unable to stop the proliferation of smuggling tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border, a subterranean network that allows Hamas terrorists to train in Iran, import explosives and rockets, and thereby ensure that Gaza will indeed remain Israel’s problem. So the Egyptians showed up in Annapolis, smiled wryly, winked at the Saudi foreign minister, and returned home to continue doing their part to keep Hamas in the picture and to make Abbas look foolish (which is never very hard).

What are the Saudis up to? It seems plain to me that the Saudis have never been on board with the idea of isolating Hamas. Recall that the Saudis hosted the leaders of Hamas and Fatah in Mecca early this year to encourage the formation of a national unity government. This obviously was a colossal failure, as a few months later Hamas showed the Saudis what it thought of reconciliation by instigating its six-day gangster takeover of Gaza. But the Saudis remain undeterred, and this weekend hosted Hamas’s Damascus-based leader, Khaled Meshal, once again for national-unity talks. The Saudis continue to encourage the political currency of Hamas because they wish to prevent the group from completely casting its lot in with Iran, and also because they see the Hamas-Fatah fight as a needless distraction from the more important, and beneficial, Palestinian fight against Israel. And now they have been joined by Egypt.

None of this is to suggest that the Abbas government, even with Saudi and Egyptian support, would be able to accomplish much more than the mau-mauing of a few more billions from western governments and the UN. But the hajj scandal does go a long way to illustrate the extent to which America’s Arab allies, which Annapolis was largely convened to cajole into the peace process, care little for America’s strategy, or for the peace process itself. Secretary Rice, of course, has been silent on the matter, lest it be revealed as another embarrassing demonstration of the flawed thinking behind Annapolis, and indeed of the improbability of her larger revitalization of the peace process.

There is a story that went unnoticed in the furor over the NIE last week, a story that also contains elements of deception and perfidy. This one reveals where two of America’s key Arab allies stand when it comes to the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority had made a special arrangement with Israel to allow 2,000 Palestinians to leave Gaza in order to make the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. These Gazans were to leave Israel by way of the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza and the Allenby Bridge crossing in the West Bank, their PA-organized travel meant to show the residents of Gaza that Mahmoud Abbas can make things happen for them — in contrast to Hamas. But Cairo and Riyadh had made their own special arrangement with Hamas.

The Egyptians allowed 700 Palestinians on Monday and 1,300 on Tuesday to cross the border into Sinai, where buses were waiting to take them to Saudi Arabia.

“The Egyptians stabbed us in the back,” a senior PA official said. It turned out that the move had been coordinated with the Hamas government and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi embassy in Cairo swiftly processed the Gaza pilgrims’ visa applications sent by the Hamas government, while the Saudi embassy in Amman held up all the visa applications sent by the PA, even those of West Bank pilgrims. The PA, which had invested huge efforts in organizing the pilgrims’ trip to Saudi Arabia in a bid to improve President Mahmoud Abbas’ status in the Gaza Strip, was enraged by Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s conduct.

Not a very nice thing to do to the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Not a very nice thing to do to Condi Rice and the peace process, either. So why did these two countries pull such a petty and antagonistic stunt?

The Egyptians have been worried since the summer that Israel and America will succeed in isolating Gaza, and that Israel would thereby be able to accomplish the total severance of contact between the two territories. Since only Israel and Egypt share a border with Gaza, if Israel manages to get itself off the hook for providing fuel, electricity, water, and the like to Gaza, then these will become Egyptian responsibilities — and Gaza will have been turned into largely an Egyptian, instead of Israeli, problem.

Obviously, the Egyptians want none of this, which is why they’ve become so remarkably unable to stop the proliferation of smuggling tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border, a subterranean network that allows Hamas terrorists to train in Iran, import explosives and rockets, and thereby ensure that Gaza will indeed remain Israel’s problem. So the Egyptians showed up in Annapolis, smiled wryly, winked at the Saudi foreign minister, and returned home to continue doing their part to keep Hamas in the picture and to make Abbas look foolish (which is never very hard).

What are the Saudis up to? It seems plain to me that the Saudis have never been on board with the idea of isolating Hamas. Recall that the Saudis hosted the leaders of Hamas and Fatah in Mecca early this year to encourage the formation of a national unity government. This obviously was a colossal failure, as a few months later Hamas showed the Saudis what it thought of reconciliation by instigating its six-day gangster takeover of Gaza. But the Saudis remain undeterred, and this weekend hosted Hamas’s Damascus-based leader, Khaled Meshal, once again for national-unity talks. The Saudis continue to encourage the political currency of Hamas because they wish to prevent the group from completely casting its lot in with Iran, and also because they see the Hamas-Fatah fight as a needless distraction from the more important, and beneficial, Palestinian fight against Israel. And now they have been joined by Egypt.

None of this is to suggest that the Abbas government, even with Saudi and Egyptian support, would be able to accomplish much more than the mau-mauing of a few more billions from western governments and the UN. But the hajj scandal does go a long way to illustrate the extent to which America’s Arab allies, which Annapolis was largely convened to cajole into the peace process, care little for America’s strategy, or for the peace process itself. Secretary Rice, of course, has been silent on the matter, lest it be revealed as another embarrassing demonstration of the flawed thinking behind Annapolis, and indeed of the improbability of her larger revitalization of the peace process.

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Sharif’s Return

The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

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The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

The Saudis are understandably determined to preserve their long-standing links with Pakistan. The ties are long and deep: the Saudis and Pakistanis worked closely together in the 1980’s, for example, to support the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis provided bases, training, and handlers; the Saudis (along with the Americans) provided the cash.

There are even unproven suspicions (denied vehemently by both sides) that the links may include Saudi financial contributions for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, in return perhaps for an understanding that Pakistani nuclear technology will be made available to the Saudis should they ever need it. That possibility is no longer so far-fetched: If Iran develops its own nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia may well feel compelled to match the “Persians.”

That could set off a destabilizing Middle Eastern arms race and raise the odds that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of jihadist terrorists. But from the Saudi perspective, going nuclear could be a necessary step toward preserving their security and prestige. If so, it would be helpful to the Saudis to have in Pakistan a leader who would offer Riyadh all the cooperation it needs. And Sharif fits the bill better than Bhutto.

But the Saudis had better be careful what they wish for. If Sharif is less dogged than, say, Bhutto would be in cracking down on jihadists, the results could come back to haunt the Saudis. Pakistan, after all, has become a haven of al Qaeda extremists who hate the Saudi regime at least as much as they hate America and Israel. It is in the Saudis’ interests to have the Pakistan government defeat the jihadists—something that Pervez Musharraf has not been willing or able to do and that Sharif may or may not be willing to do either, but that Bhutto has promised to do. Of course the ability of any of these leaders to stop the growth of Islamic radicalism may be limited because of the unwillingness or inability of many in the Pakistani security forces to fight especially hard against their Muslim “brothers.” But it would certainly be helpful to have a leader who appears more emotionally committed to the fight than Musharraf has been or than Sharif may be.

There is nothing wrong with allowing Sharif to compete in free elections; they would not have any credibility if he were barred. But one wonders how much covert support the Saudis may be providing him beyond simply his plush ticket back.

The Saudis had better be careful not to compromise their long-term interests in return for short-term gain—a mistake they last made in the 1990’s when, working hand-in-glove with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, they funded the most radical mujahideen groups fighting in Afghanistan. Many of those Afghan veterans then journeyed back to Saudi Arabia and formed the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group that Saudi security forces have been battling for the last several years.

Saudi Arabia has already imported one plague bacillus; it should be wary of a re-infection.

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“United Like a Single Fist”

Yesterday, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez met with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran after both of them had attended the OPEC summit in Riyadh over the weekend. In the Iranian capital they continued their attack on the dollar that they had started a few days earlier.

In Saudi Arabia, the Iranian president, backed by Chavez, had wanted the thirteen-member cartel to price oil in a currency other than the American unit—such as the euro—or at least with reference to a basket of currencies. Saudi King Abdullah blocked that idea, but only for the present. The summit’s final declaration contains vague language about “financial cooperation” among the group’s members, and Iran’s oil minister later said that the words meant a reconsideration of acceptance of the dollar.

For now, America’s allies inside OPEC can hold off Ahmadinejad and Chavez because the price of oil has skyrocketed as the greenback has fallen. Yet continued erosion of the dollar will strengthen their case that our currency is “worthless paper”—as Ahmadinejad said in Riyadh—and should they prevail, they will have gone a long way toward dethroning it as the world’s reserve currency. The menacing pair—“united like a single fist” in Chavez’s words—knows what’s at stake. “God willing, with the fall of the dollar, the deviant U.S. imperialism will fall as soon as possible too,” the Venezuelan leader said after his meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran.

There have been bouts of dollar selling in the past, but our currency has nonetheless retained its central role in the financial markets. Yet at some point, people will stop accepting the buck as its value decreases. Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen made headlines at the beginning of this month when her sister-manager revealed that she demanded to be paid in almost any currency other than the dollar—even when working for a U.S. company. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has repeatedly reaffirmed America’s strong-dollar policy, but it’s clear the Bush administration does not intend to do anything to stop what looks like a free fall.

The President’s apparent lack of concern is a mistake of enormous proportions: all his international problems will become immeasurably harder when no one wants our currency and American financial sanctions become meaningless. Ahmadinejad and Chavez are normally full of bluster, but they have now found a tactic that can injure the United States. That’s because irresponsible economic policies over the course of past administrations have essentially handed our adversaries in Iran and Venezuela a weapon.

Yesterday, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez met with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran after both of them had attended the OPEC summit in Riyadh over the weekend. In the Iranian capital they continued their attack on the dollar that they had started a few days earlier.

In Saudi Arabia, the Iranian president, backed by Chavez, had wanted the thirteen-member cartel to price oil in a currency other than the American unit—such as the euro—or at least with reference to a basket of currencies. Saudi King Abdullah blocked that idea, but only for the present. The summit’s final declaration contains vague language about “financial cooperation” among the group’s members, and Iran’s oil minister later said that the words meant a reconsideration of acceptance of the dollar.

For now, America’s allies inside OPEC can hold off Ahmadinejad and Chavez because the price of oil has skyrocketed as the greenback has fallen. Yet continued erosion of the dollar will strengthen their case that our currency is “worthless paper”—as Ahmadinejad said in Riyadh—and should they prevail, they will have gone a long way toward dethroning it as the world’s reserve currency. The menacing pair—“united like a single fist” in Chavez’s words—knows what’s at stake. “God willing, with the fall of the dollar, the deviant U.S. imperialism will fall as soon as possible too,” the Venezuelan leader said after his meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran.

There have been bouts of dollar selling in the past, but our currency has nonetheless retained its central role in the financial markets. Yet at some point, people will stop accepting the buck as its value decreases. Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen made headlines at the beginning of this month when her sister-manager revealed that she demanded to be paid in almost any currency other than the dollar—even when working for a U.S. company. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has repeatedly reaffirmed America’s strong-dollar policy, but it’s clear the Bush administration does not intend to do anything to stop what looks like a free fall.

The President’s apparent lack of concern is a mistake of enormous proportions: all his international problems will become immeasurably harder when no one wants our currency and American financial sanctions become meaningless. Ahmadinejad and Chavez are normally full of bluster, but they have now found a tactic that can injure the United States. That’s because irresponsible economic policies over the course of past administrations have essentially handed our adversaries in Iran and Venezuela a weapon.

Read Less




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