Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Arab reflections of the latest Bush "strategy"

Asharq al-Awsat says this morning that its Washington sources assured it that Bush plans to rely primarily on his "Arab friends" to help him in Iraq, rather than relying on direct talks with Syria and/or Iran, as recent reports had suggested. Specifically, Bush will be relying on Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt to "support [Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki] in facing down the Shiite religious figure Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army is behind a lot of the attacks in Iraq." The newspaper cites a high official in the Bush administration.

This suggests that Washington, by elevating Moqtada to Public Enemy # 1, is marketing to Riyadh a campaign focusing initially on what you could call the Shiite "near enemy", Moqtada (in contradistinction to the Shiite farther enemy, Iran).

With respect to Jordan, Al-Quds al-Arabi reports that Amman has rejected a request by Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Haniya to visit Jordan as part of a Mideast tour, providing further evidence (if any were needed) that Jordan is adopting the "near enemy" strategy too, Hamas being supported by Iran. It is worth recalling King Abdullah's remarks over a year ago about the dangers of a "Shiite crescent", remarks dismissed at the time as an exaggeration. Increasingly it seems he really meant it.

(However, there is something about Washington's approach to the Palestinian issue that seems to be bothering King Abdullah. In his speech yesterday for the opening of the new session of Parliament, he repeated Jordan's support for the Palestinians, but he also said Jordan would reject "any solution that is oppressive, or that is achieved at the expense of Jordan." The Al-Hayat report didn't explain what he was getting at exactly).

More important, it appears that since Cheney's Saturday visit to Riyadh and the resignation of Zelikow, Saudi Arabia, at least, is worried about US plans with respect to the farther enemy, Iran. The Saudi cabinet held its first meeting Monday November 27 following the Saturday Cheney visit, and they issued this statement (according to Al-Hayat on Tuesday):
[Cabinet] took up [the question of] the direct influence the United States exercies in the region, and the importance lf [seeing that] this influence is in keeping with the reality of the region, and is in conformity with the historic balances, and [is exercised] in support of [the region's] stability, and is in search of equitable methods for participating in the ending of [the region's] disputes.
Here we have the Saudi government post-Cheney-visit telling the United States it should "respect the reality" of the region, including its "historic balances", and that when it comes to solving regional disputes the United States ought to search for "equitable methods" for its participation in the problem-solving. A pretty clear indication that they heard something from Cheney that frightened them.


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