While urging the US-appointed governing council to hurry up and advance towards establishing effective government in Baghdad – Washington’s top priority, there is much to do to ensure the embryonic entity’s survival while at the same time achieving steady oil production. The guerrilla challenge will have to be met and four threatening fronts tackled:
Iran presents the greatest and most complex menace to the Bush administration’s planning; the Saudi-al Qaeda front is staggering out of control; the Syrian-Lebanese-Hizballah front is being treated with applications of American soft soap; the Palestinian front is expected to turn from terror and embrace the role of US proxy.
This threat falls into six sub-fronts, each posing its own peril.
Nuclear weapons production: Washington must somehow prevent Tehran from realizing its ambition to build its own N-bomb.
Meddling in Iraqi Shiite affairs: Washington is more sanguine about this threat, convinced Tehran understands its own influence in the community depends on American good will. The Iranian Shiite bogeyman is therefore downplayed by the Americans who see advantage in cooperating with Tehran on this issue.
Oil production and exports: Washington seeks alignment with Tehran on oil strategy – including the future of Caspian Sea reserves.
Iran-Al Qaeda collaboration: Al Qaeda’s May 12 suicide attacks on foreigners’ dwellings in Riyadh revealed the turning point in the terrorist network’s relations with the Islamic Republic. Tehran was exposed as activating Al Qaeda terror controllers, supposedly “under arrest” in Iran, as their own terrorist cat’s paws to advance their political ends.
The US administration aspires to nip this relationship in the bud.
Manipulating Syrian-Hezbollah tie: Iran is boosting the strength of the Lebanese Shiite extremist Hizballah abetted actively by Syria. Together, they control arms and money transfers to the Hizballah and to the Palestinians in the West Bank, its partners in terror. The extremist group is being built up into an additional Iranian terrorist option with a built-in deniability factor. The Hizballah can always be presented as fighting for the Palestinian cause independently of Tehran.
What the United States hopes for is the disarming of the Shiite group and its conversion into a parliamentary party and part of the Lebanese political mainstream.
Domestic unrest: The wave of anti-government student and reformist protests that buffeted Tehran last month failed to dislodge the ayatollahs’ grip on government and ended in the jailing of most opposition ringleaders. Nonetheless, Washington – and the CIA in particular – believes domestic dissent still has a chance if it can tap into the reservoir of disaffection inside the religious and military establishments where some prominent figures are in favor of mending Iran’s bridges with the United States.
The top Bush team regards the six Iranian fronts as interlinking and interdependent in the sense that progress in any of them could potentially tilt the balance in Washington’s favor and unlock the door to a breakthrough on other contentious issues.
US President George W. Bush ordered US forces to quit Saudi Arabia by the end of October. Vice president Richard Cheney opposed the pullout at the time as a strategic blunder of the first order that will jeopardize Washington’s standing in Iraq, the Persian Gulf and perhaps beyond.
Now, pressure is building up on the president to revoke his order under the impact of the rising strength and belligerence of radical Muslims in the kingdom, notably the al Qaeda-linked Wahhabi backbone of the religious establishment, and the unabated flow of Saudi cash into terrorist coffers – including anti-American combatant elements in Iraq.
(See separate article on makeup of Iraqi guerrilla force.)
The anti-withdrawal camp is gaining ground from the quiet oil war waged by President Bush and Saudi rulers.
In preference to military action, President Bush has adopted the softly, softly, approach to Syrian president Bashar Assad, convinced that diplomatic and economic pressure will bring him round to meeting America’s demands.
In the first part of the Iraq War, direct action against Syria was seriously contemplated to choke off the flow of Arab fighters heading through Syria into Iraq to fight alongside Saddam’s army and also to retrieve the senior regime officials and weapons of mass destruction Syria was hiding as a service to the deposed Iraqi ruler. But then, on April 14, Bush cancelled an imminent US attack on Syria and opted for quiet diplomacy. This change of heart also lets the Hizballah off the hook because Assad’s sponsorship of the Shiite terror group is treated with the same kid gloves as his other misdemeanors. Washington is also intent on boosting the Rafiq Hariri government in Beirut, another protege of Damascus.
The Bush administration holds that if the abovementioned three fronts can be brought under control, the Palestinian Authority will fall into line as a willing American proxy. The creation of a Palestinian state in 2005 is the incentive offered for the Palestinian Authority to turn its back on Yasser Arafat and the path of terror and opt for a future as a political entity living under the wing of American economic aid and technology. The Americans do not see Palestinian terror disappearing altogether, but they believe that under its new leadership, the Palestinian Authority and its security services will abandon violence and focus instead on building the economic infrastructure of a new state.
Bush and his strategic aides would regard this culmination as major feat and an election asset available for Bush’s successor, a Republican presidential contender in 2008. Here again, Washington regards the interlinking of fronts and problems as offering the key to their solution. For instance, progress made on Fronts 1, 2 or 3 would cause Saudi, Iranian and Syrian support for Palestinian terror to dry up and be replaced by a flow of money to finance the creation of the instruments of a pacified Palestinian state.
These arguments are a red rag to Ariel Sharon.