Sunday, December 03, 2006

Plugged-in Saudi writer: The Baker-Gates program will reflect the Saudi wish-list

Mamoun Fandy, a writer who is close to the Saudi king, and who used to be a senior fellow at James Baker's research institute, has some remarkable things to say in his regular Monday column in Asharq al-Awsat, something Abu Aardvark alerts us to in the thumbnail sketches on the lefthand side of his website.

Fandy says in his amusing way that he got this information from the bright lights in the sky over Doha at the opening of the Asian Games, and for some reason he feels it necssary to remind us how right he has been in some of his prior predictions. Let's skip that part. Here's his prediction:

John Abizaid needs to be replaced as head of the US Central Command (CentCom), headquartered in Qatar and covering the Mideast from Egypt to Afghanistan, and probably he will be replaced at least in a few months time, because his views on strategy no longer reflect the realities in the field. This is embellished in several ways. Maliki is said to have complained about this to Bush; other Arab foreign ministers to Rice in Jordan. Abizaid's recent congressional testimony and a speech at Harvard all reflect the same disconnect between realities and strategy. Fandy tells us all of this without explaining specifically what the problem is, except that the security situation in Iraq is intolerable, and elsewhere in the region, for instance you can sometimes hear the chanting of A-Qaeda groups even within earshot of US bases. In other words, things are generally spinning out of control, and Fandy says Abizaid isn't on top of this.

Moreover, says Fandy, the Baker Report is going to recommend New Strategic Directions, and the new Defence Secretary Gates is going to be on the same page with this, so there will be a need for a CentCom chief who is too. Abizaid will be too Rumsfeldian for the new strategy. Again, all of this without explaining what specifically is involved.

Best man for the job will be David Petraeus, who has been successful in earlier assignments, and who could easily be promoted from three- to four-star general and given the job. What would it mean?

Finally, in the last two paragraphs of this, Fandy tells us one specific thing this change would involve. Here's the way he puts it:
The first thing this change will mean is a change in the operating strategy, in the way CentCom deals with the terrorist groups in the region, and there will be two parts to this, military and political. Perhaps we will be seeing more visits [to CentCom] from countries that border Iraq, and from other important countries in the region, looking for the application of security measures to limit entry of terrorists into Iraq, along with a request for an increase in US forces in the region in keeping with the size of the danger. And perhaps the new general will see the need for controntation, and not for discussions, with Iran!

More US troops; better Iraq-border security and a more confrontational attitude to Iran. Less talk of negotiating with Iran. Given who is writing this we can assume this is what the Saudi regime wants; and given his line about having seen this written in the night sky over Doha, we can also assume that they think they are going to be successful.

There's more:
David Petraeus, or whatever other general takes the place of Abizaid, will have to be a part of the new strategy of the US administration, and will have to be more proactive, and perhaps less diplomatic, in explaining conditions in the field to Washington and to the neighboring states [neighboring Iraq]. We read the leaked Hadley memo that was printed in the New York Times, and that implied changing the head of the Iraqi government. The fact is that stability in Iraq and the region requires change not only in Iraq, but on both sides, that of the government of Iraq and the American administration. Change in Centcom leadership in Qatar is part of the overall change that is required by the new strategic balance.

So: A more aggressive military strategy, particularly vis-a-vis Iran, less talk of discussions with Iran, as part of an overall change that includes among other things toppling the Maliki government. This is the Saudi wish-list, and it is also where the Baker-Gates program is heading. Nice to know where the decisions are being made.


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