Op-Eds, Friedman and Obaid
Two fellow Brandeis alums have interesting, but completely over-panicked, Op-Eds out today:
Thomas Friedman writes (New York Times, ‘Ten Months of Ten Years,’ November 29, 2006) that “[Iraq] is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war…Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war—it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down.”
This is a fresh take on the “Is it or isn’t it a civil war yet?” debate. But ultimately is a convenient way of not admitting that one had been hasty in labeling the mayhem a “civil war” in the first place. Friedman does not seem to have the intellectual honesty to admit a mistake on this one so he resorts to a rhetorical exaggeration. This is the “if you can’t solve a problem, expand it” school of fig-leafing a flawed assessment. Plus, it is much more self-gratifying to argue, as he condescendingly does later in the column, that Iraq just wasn’t primed to be “progress-prone.” Never mind that all sorts of dark forces came out of the woodwork—sometimes egged-on by Friedman’s First-Class-ticket-paying Persian Gulf hosts (…I know it’s a low blow)—to hobble Iraq’s progress.
Then there’s Nawaf Obaid’s piece in the Washington Post (‘Stepping Into Iraq; Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves,’ November 29, 2006) that argues that the Saudi royals would be compelled to take on the role as defender of Iraq’s Sunnis in facing down Iran’s Shi'a menace. Obaid is the “anti-Adel Jubeir,” and he speaks for Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington and ex-intelligence chief and one-time patron of Osama Bin Laden.
The Op-Ed makes sure to point out that “The opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect official Saudi policy,” which in the inverted jargon of the region means that this is indeed Saudi policy. The context is that the Saudis feel that the U.S. is allowing Iran to win in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and will soon accommodate Iran’s expansionism and projection of strength throughout the region. The Saudis have decided to do take on the role of propping up the ‘fighting’ Iraqi Sunnis “with weapons and financial support” along with Jordan, after the lesser financial powers like Qatar and the Emirates decided to acquiesce to a larger Iranian and Shi'a role. Of course, this little Saudi memo came in the wake of VP Cheney’s “huddle” with King Abdullah.
In the autumn of 2003, a Belgian-made semi-automatic rifle bearing the insignia of the Saudi National Guard was purchased in Fallouja for $350. Saudi weapons coming into Iraq is not a new phenomenon, and neither is the money flow. Official Saudi culpability is this long-standing supply chain is a debatable issue.
The Saudis have recently pledged to built a multi-billion dollar barrier all along the Saudi-Iraqi borders to prevent smuggling and terrorist infiltration. This project is support to take 5 years to complete. In light of Obaid's piece, it seems that the Saudis simply want to keep the fire they are kindling in Iraq contained beyond their borders.
But the precedent of extending Saudi patronage as the “defender of the Sunnis” outwards to Iraq (and to Lebanon and consequently to Syria) can be mirrored by Iran’s “defense of the Shi'a” in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Sunni Iraq is resource-poor, while the Shi'a portion of Saudi Arabia is where all the oil is. Iran has plenty of incentive and past experience (go back to the early 1980s) in trying to do win this lucrative prize. They also have a more sophisticated intelligence and logistical network. But for the most part, the Iranians have been dormant. Now, the Saudis have declared that the race for dominion of the region is on. Iran can cite Obaid’s Op-Ed as the opening salvo.
And this whole line cannot be good for America, because the Saudis are basically encouraging the Iraqi Sunnis to keep fighting by promising them aid and support for their pipe-dream of taking back Iraq and fighting Iran. But these same Sunnis are killing Americans too in the meantime, and prolonging their fight means more American casualties.
Forget all the above and focus on this rumor—and be mindful I am calling it a rumor and nothing else: Soviet-era Russian light-arms shipments (most notably anti-armor projectiles) are arriving at Saudi ports and not ending up in the Saudi arsenal. They were supposed to be sold to Syria but the Russians backed out of the deal. Why did that happen and where are these arms going after making it to Saudi shores?