Freedom on the March Update

Iraq:

The extent of the deterioration in US-Saudi relations was exposed for the first time today when Washington accused Riyadh of working to undermine the Iraqi government.

The Bush administration sent a warning to Saudi Arabia, until this year one of its closest allies, to stop undermining the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates, are scheduled to visit Jeddah next week. A diplomat in Washington said of the two governments: “There is a lot of bad blood between the two.”

Saudi Arabia:

The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve arms sales totaling $20 billions over the next decade for Saudi Arabia and its neighbours, The New York Times reported in Saturday editions.

Coming as some U.S. officials contend that the Saudi government is not helping the situation in Iraq, the proposal for advanced weapons for Saudi Arabia has stoked concern in Israel and among its U.S. backers, the Times said. The package of advanced weaponry includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades for its fighters and new naval vessels.

Israel:

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit said Saturday that Arab countries were waiting for a clear indication from Israel that it was interested in discussing peace with its neighbors.

Speaking to Al-Ahram newspaper, Abul Gheit said an Arab peace-for-land initiative that offers Israel normalization with the Arab world in return for a full withdrawal from land occupied during the 1967 Israeli-Arab war was aimed at establishing a Palestinian state through negotiations.

Abul Gheit said opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu told him during talks in Jerusalem earlier this week that he was not opposed to the initiative. Netanyahu was said to be opposed to the Arab peace plan because he redeemed it dangerous to Israel’s security.

I know what you’re saying right now. Wait a second, Lee, that last item doesn’t sound so bad. It’s not. Here’s some more details from occasional neocon supporter Amir Taheri:

The plan is the brainchild of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah who unveiled its basic principles almost five years ago. At the time, Israel dismissed the plan as nothing but a public relations exercise by the Saudis who wished to divert attention from the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Five years later, Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admit that the plan is a serious diplomatic proposal, and should be treated with something other than disdain.

The lesson to be learned here is that the people who have been saying all along that the Arab world can’t be trusted in the peace process have never really understood the real motivations of the leaders in that part of the world. September 11 didn’t just change how we perceive terrorism. It changed how the leaders in the Arab world saw it as well. It was no longer a local problem for them, it became a much more serious liability. And the Saudis, despite their many faults, understood that they were entering a time where they might not be able to use their longstanding trump card, antagonism of Israel, as much as they use to, if at all.

In 2002, when the Saudis first unveiled this proposal, Dick Cheney visited the Middle East with his own mission, to convince the Saudis and others to be on our side in the invasion of Iraq. At the time, two of the most prominent neocons, Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol, slammed Cheney’s efforts:

Nor is it entirely clear what message Cheney delivered to his Arab friends, even in private. We had hoped Cheney would approach the Saudi royal family with the same tough choice the administration presented Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf a few months ago: You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists. You decide.

Instead, Cheney seems to have avoided putting the Arabs on the spot. He told Arab leaders both publicly and privately that the United States had made no decisions regarding Iraq. This relieved the Arab leaders of the need to make a choice, at least for now. We have no doubt that Cheney made clear America’s grave concerns about Iraqi weapons programs, and he described the kind of inspections regime the United States wants in Iraq. But this was hardly news to Arab leaders. Probably the most surprising aspect of Cheney’s message, to those leaders, was that the United States still didn’t know what it wanted to do. As the vice president himself put it at a press conference with President Bush this past Thursday, “I went out there to consult with them, to seek their advice and counsel to be able to report back to the president on how we might best proceed to deal with that mutual problem.” Funny, that’s just what Warren Christopher said on his failed trip to Europe.

The Arab leaders, meanwhile, had their own game plan for the Cheney trip, and they stuck to it with impressive unity and determination. On the eve of Cheney’s arrival, Arab officials outlined their strategy to the Washington Post: “They intend to press the United States hard . . . to shelve any plan for a military strike against Iraq and to concentrate instead on [the Saudi peace plan] and on easing the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.” The goal was not to listen to American plans, but to change them, to force the United States to “re-examine” its policies in the Middle East. As one Saudi official told the Post, “The U.S. is concerned with an old issue, Iraq. They are making it a priority when it should not be. . . . Iraq can afford to be delayed. The other issue cannot.” In the tiny United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan told Cheney he was against a strike on Iraq and demanded that the Bush administration “stop the grave and continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.” Just about every other Arab leader told Cheney much the same thing.

So while we’re now stuck in Iraq, spending billions of dollars to arm the country that’s trying to overthrow a government that we’re spending billions of dollars to prop up, the rest of the Arab world is still trying to continue moving forward on an Israeli peace proposal that all the very serious people mistakenly thought was just a ruse. And it should be obvious to even the most casual observer that if we’d just listened to the leaders in the region in 2002 and focused on solving the problem that they wanted to solve, rather than assuming that they had ulterior motives, we’d be in a much better state of affairs today.

Comments

  1. 1

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The Saudis stand to lose more than the Israeli trump card — they stand to lose their control of world oil markets, as well. The real shift in power is occurring, not in Riyadh or Jerusalem, but thousands of miles away in Caracas, where Hugo Chavez sits atop three times as much oil as the entire Middle East. All it takes for oil power to shift from the Saudis to Chavez is for crude prices to stay above $40. Below that price, and Venezuela’s heavy oil stays in the ground; above that price, Chavez controls a trillion barrels of economically recoverable petroleum.

  2. 2

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Saudi Arabia, of course, will remain a crucial oil supplier for decades to come. But after Venezuela ramps up their production capacity, the Saudis will no longer be able to turn the spigot on or off to control supply or prices. Within a decade or less, that power will be held by Venezuela.

  3. 3

    Right Stuff spews:

    There is some merit to arming Saudi Arabia…
    Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia all evenly matched militarily…..? might just keep them all in check.

  4. 4

    spews:

    Roger – I hear it’s very difficult and expensive to harvest Venezuela’s heavy crude in the Orinoco. Chavez seems to be shooting himself in the foot by kicking out the oil majors – unless he’s planning to bring in other players like the Chinese.

  5. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @3 Or it might cause the Middle East to blow up. Wingnut formula for peace: Stack kegs of gunpowder to ceiling, then play with matches.

  6. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @4 Chavez didn’t “kick out” the oil majors. He raised their taxes (from 1% to 16%) and nationalized the reserves (what belongs to Venezuela, will benefit Venezuelans instead of Exxon shareholders). Not a very radical program, when you look at the details. And only two of the majors left; others decided to stay. As for difficult: No more difficult than deep-sea drilling, arctic drilling, or mining tar sands in the Canadian subarctic (where trucks drive across frozen lakes to bring in supplies). As for expensive: About $40 a barrel (compared to $1.50 in Saudi Arabia and about $25 on the North Slope) … and the market price of crude is what, $76? About a 90% profit margin there. Looks economically viable to me, especially when you consider that “cheap” sources of conventional petroleum will peak soon, demand is growing, and an increasingly greater proportion of the supply mix will consist of crude from harder and more expensive sources as far ahead as the eye can see.

  7. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 Perhaps Mr. Chavez would be more willing to sell his country’s oil to us, instead of the Chinese, if our government would stop trying to kill him.

  8. 9

    spews:

    Lee

    I had posted on the Arab League mission to Israel a few days ago at SeattleJew, mainly because I felt the media have been focussed on the more serious issue of Lohan.

    I share your enthusiasm, but would point out that this is more two sided than you suggest. The Israelis have been receptive as well, BUT they have had to deal with the Palestinian side that has not been supportive and, of course, the hezbollah issues.

    Part of the reason for the Saudi proposal is their disgust with the corrupt Palestinain rule. The problme is, this SHOULD have led to reform in Palestine, instead it led to the Hamas revolution and Hamas is a RE$AL threat to the Saudis.

    The Iranians, Hamas, and Muslim Brotherhood have all offered frightening alternatives to the Arab establishment. As bad as these organizations look to us, they offer a (sort of) democratic alternative to the Saudi aristocracy or Egyptian/Syrian etc secular corruptate dictatorships.

    In that sense this peace offer may be a Hobson’s choice. Choosing between Hamas irredentism and support for the Saudi plutotheologists could be problematic ..kid of like dealing With see SeattleJew the fundie’s Xtain support for Israel.

    Still, the image of the two Arab ministers meeting in Isarael with Zipporah Livni was VERY exciting.

    The question is how can the US support this effort? Der Decider has lost so much credibility that the idea of using the prestige of Camp David again seems unlikely to go anywhere. Could the Israelis and the Arabs settle this on their own?

    Some thoughts on what could help:

    Egypt: tight cotnrol of the gaza border.
    US .. ask some non Bushies to help … Powell???
    Saudi Arabia … the new arms proposal is bad for peace. It gives SA a first strike capability vs Iran AND Israel. Not a good way to build trust.
    Israel official restatement of earlier commitments ot the tunnel and the integrity of the West Bank.
    Egypt, offer to add land in the Sinai to the deal.
    China … dipping a toe in by supporting the Arab League?

  9. 10

    spews:

    Roger

    I think you over-estimate the b=vlaue of Venezuelan oil. At these prices a LOT of oil becomes feasible … Canadian tar sand, artic shelf, etc.

    I do agree that we need to get a lot more balanced news from Venezuela. Obama’s statement seemd to me to be refreshing (if unintended).

  10. 11

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    SG @9: “It gives SA a first strike capability…” Well, no, it does not. Not that any sane person would support this sale under current circumstances.

    Any Israeli support for the Saudi plan, especially from the likes of Netanyahu, is simply a dodge. The Israeli refusal to take real diplomatic advantage of their stunning military victory in ’67 will be one of the most tragic lost opportunities in history.

    Sad, too. For the future of Zionism appears grim.

  11. 12

    Right Stuff spews:

    Roger Rabbit says:

    @3 Or it might cause the Middle East to blow up. Wingnut formula for peace: Stack kegs of gunpowder to ceiling, then play with matches.

    Ok Rog nice one.
    Right back at ya…..

    Moonbat formula for peace…Invite murdering rapists over for dinner and a talk, then give them nuclear technology.

  12. 14

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    I don’t understand the outrage.

    Figures.

    (Lee: Request deletion of posts 13 & 14. Off topic).

  13. 15

    spews:

    @11

    Sorry but the entire reason for laser guided bombs is to give first strike capability. Obviously the intent is to balance ma likely Irani nuclear threat but this is a first strike capability and SA only likely targets are Iran and Israel.

    As for Israels’s failure to take advantage of the 67 war, … lets see what they did do:

    1. The Sinai agreement,
    2. Hashemite control over the temple mount.
    3. Agreeing with the Palestinian’s stated goal of independence from Jordan.

    What exactly do you think Israel might have done differently in the time since 67?

  14. 21

    michael spews:

    @7&8

    Didn’t Chavez do, pretty much, what Mexico did?

    And please people, it’s a question not an assertion.

  15. 23

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Let’s find a great big dog for MTR to beat on, then turn them loose in a cage together and see who wins.

  16. 26

    spews:

    re 24: I posted my comments several hours ago and you deleted the post I was responding to as well as mine and Roger’s response. So, in answer to your query (which I am assuming is not merely rhetorical, all I can say is, I don’t recall.

    You would have to repost all the comments you deleted, after which I could respond to your question, OR, delete this post and #24 — which, I am sad to say — is off topic.

  17. 28

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    @15: “Sorry but the entire reason for laser guided bombs is to give first strike capability”.

    I presume you are referring to Israel’s “non-existent” nuclear weapons that the Saudi’s somehow must know the location of…unless, of course, the U.S. programmed that info into the ‘laser guided bombs’ as a purchase bonus. Otherwise, I could only conclude you really do not know what ‘first strike’ means.

    “What exactly do you think Israel might have done differently in the time since 67?”

    Well, lessee.. they might have given the land back..like ALL of it or at least not embarked on a nearly half century of creeping confiscation coupled with economic and social humiliation of the Palestinians.

    But, it’s an ugly can of worms from all perspectives, that’s for sure.

  18. 30

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    @21: Mexico expropriated the foreign oil companies in 1938. Since that time, the government entity known as PEMEX has extracted, refined and\or sold Mexico’s oil.

    Hugo has merely raised their taxes, not kicked the oil companies out of the country.

  19. 31

    Tuor spews:

    It seems to me that the Israeli government has been using the Palestinians the same way we’ve been using Islamo-fascists: as a means of asserting control over their own citizenry, only the Israelis have been doing it for a lot longer.

    What should they have done differently? They should either have given the land back, or they should’ve forced out *all* of their enemies from the lands they had captured, then put up whatever defenses were necessary to keep them from coming back. Instead, Israel has kept the Palestinians in a perpetually agitated state, which has led to the rise of some very horrible people, much as what happened in Germany after WW I helped bring about the rise of Hitler.

    Create the problem, then provide a solution that results in increased government control. Rinse and repeat as needed.

    Also, for a country that supposedly respects democracy, our actions towards the Palestinians after they elected a lot of Hamas members to their government is very telling, as is our (and Israel’s) treatment of Abbas. So much for the will of the People, eh?

  20. 32

    Mark spews:

    Damn I would love to see Hugo Chavez big fat head instantly become the “pink mist”. Wouldn’t that be priceless? Danny Glover and Cindy Sheehan would be heartbroken, but the rest of the civilized world would uncork the bubbly.

  21. 33

    Puddybud spews:

    Pellethead@7: You’s almost correct pellet maker.

    Chavez took over 60% of all oil projects and nationalized the electrical company. Many US little people in these companies were hurt. But Moonbat!s like headlice missed that point.

  22. 34

    spews:

    @31
    Tuor,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. The Israeli government has perpetuated two myths in order to maintain its occupation of the Palestinian terrorities:

    a) Their religion makes them want to kill all non-believers
    b) They’re not capable of governing themselves

    It’s identical to the neocon message.

  23. 35

    Right Stuff spews:

    @31&34

    1)Arafat turned down a peace offer that would have given Palestine it’s own state.
    2)Hamas is a terrorist organization now in control.

    @31 specifically. Saddam Hussein was “re-elected” with 100% of the vote. By your logic we should have respected the “will of the people”?

    Israel is surrounded by enemies that want to wipe them from the face of the planet. Start with that premise and you might be on to something.

  24. 36

    spews:

    @35
    @31 specifically. Saddam Hussein was “re-elected” with 100% of the vote. By your logic we should have respected the “will of the people”?

    If you can’t distinguish between the Palestinian elections of last year and the fake elections that took place in Iraq, you’re not ready for this discussion.

    Israel is surrounded by enemies that want to wipe them from the face of the planet. Start with that premise and you might be on to something.

    No, what we’re saying is that that premise is rooted in mythology. And in case you want to argue that I’m some naif about this part of the world, I have relatives in Tel Aviv.

  25. 37

    DannyK spews:

    But, don’t you see? They told us what they actually thought, knowing that we wouldn’t believe what they were telling us and that we would believe they meant the exact opposite, and act accordingly… thus falling into their cunning trap!

    This shows that you just can’t trust some people.

  26. 38

    Tuor7 spews:

    @35,

    It is comfortable to devolve an argument to a simple slogan, but generally, it’s a very lazy intellectually. The situation with Israel and the rest of the Middle-east does NOT boil down to, “They hate us and want to kill us.” If you watch a lot of headline news, where they intentionally try to reduce the complexity of issues to sound-bites so as to not cause the viewer to actually have to think, then the above statement may seem plausible. But the truth is more complicated.

    The current situation is the result of several decades of actions, both good and (mostly) bad, on all sides involved. If you look at what is motivating the various parties, you wont find a lot of altruism or concern for the average joe by *anyone*, including us. This is, IMO, like many things, mostly about power and money, NOT about religious ideology. Religious ideology is just another tool that these people use to get what they want.

    Lastly, I believe that the way to win the so-called “War on Terror” is to address the root causes, and those are almost entirely a matter of socio-economics, NOT religion. As much as some people like to de-humanize suicide bombers and other such people, they *are* human. There is a saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” It is one I think of frequently. Maybe you should, too.

  27. 40

    spews:

    @38
    Tuor,
    I replied a little too tersely to the comment at #35, but you’ve responded to it brilliantly.

  28. 41

    Tuor7 spews:

    Lee @38,

    I started to respond that way,too. The whole “Israel is surrounded by enemies! We must help them!” argument tends to infuriate me. But then I realized that if I responded the way I was originally going to respond, I would’ve been letting him dictate my response and maneuver me into a bad position. I had to erase my words several times before I was calm enough to do that. :P

    I think that we, as people, *really* need to hesitate and look at what we’re saying. The lines between various ideologies have gotten very deep and wide so that meaningful discussion is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. Things are devolving into a numbers game: a sort of inverted ideological war of attrition, with emotion replacing reason and sloganeering with meaningful debate.

    One of my many wishes is that people would stop just accepting whatever some authority says as being true, and to start digging and thinking for themselves. Even if they *are* being told the truth, there is the whole question of context and meaning that surrounds it. People need to learn to *understand* rather than just know something. The world is not a game of Trival Pursuit or Jeopardy.

    Anyhow, I need to figure out a way to stop being so long-winded in my posts here. :P

  29. 42

    Right Stuff spews:

    Tuor and Lee
    Maybe I was too sarcastic in my post.

    The palestinians had the opportunity for exactly what they ask for. Their own state……and turned it down.

    Now that leads me to believe that Palestinians are not actually interested in their own state, rather that they want all of Israel.

    My “surrounded by enemies” comments come from historic attacks on the state of Israel. That would include last summers bombardment by rockets from Lebanon.
    Israel has been attatcked by Syria, Militants from Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.

    IMHO it appears that Israel is extending the olive leaf in all cases here. Conversely, her enemies continually attack.

  30. 44

    Tuor7 spews:

    Right Stuff @42,

    As I said previously, decades of bad choices by all sides have led us to where we are today. Israel is certainly not innocent in what has been going on. It is important to remember that the news we get about what is going on over there is slanted, mainly by omission.

    I’m not saying that the people in power amongst the Palestinians are good and upstanding people: I expect they’re all a pretty corrupt bunch. The thing is, I don’t view Israeli leadership as being much, if any, better.

    Israeli is NOT a weakling. Not only do they have a lot of very good military hardware, tech, and training, but they have us helping them out in many non-direct ways (meaning our troops aren’t being used directly). They know this and so does everyone else.

    As I also said previously, it seems to me that the Israeli government is keeping the pot boiling. They do this using various economic and political maneuvers: areas in which the Palestinians have no leverage whatsoever, and the results of which our news agencies tend to gloss over. Instead, they focus on the bombings and whatnot, without giving much airtime to the conditions which reduce people to such desperate and typically ineffectual acts.

    It may seem to you that I’m pro-Palistinian, or anti-Israeli. I’m neither. However, it appears to me that few of the people in power on any side of this really want peace or some sort of settlement of the issues. The Israeli power elite can use the Palistinian issue to bolster their poll numbers and gain acceptance for various policies that increase their power and prestige. The Palistinian leaders/strongmen do much the same, but in a less sophisticated manner. The people who lose in this are the regular people of both countries, who must live in fear, being oppressed by their own governments and are liable to being killed or captured by those of the other side without warning. I think it’s a tragedy all around.

  31. 45

    ArtFart spews:

    The Bush administration’s most ardent wacko supporters are drooling over Hal Lindsey’s latest scenario in which they all get to step on the Great Escalator to Heaven after a great battle in which Isreal seized “all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates”.

    The Bushistas themselves just think war is good business.

  32. 46

    spews:

    @43
    The palestinians had the opportunity for exactly what they ask for. Their own state……and turned it down.

    Now that leads me to believe that Palestinians are not actually interested in their own state, rather that they want all of Israel.

    No, Yassir Arafat was a man who failed his own people out of greed and selfishness. The Palestinian people should not be punished for being led by a crook any more than any other people who are led by crooks.

  33. 47

    spews:

    IMHO it appears that Israel is extending the olive leaf in all cases here. Conversely, her enemies continually attack.

    It’s not so simple. There have also been many times that the Israelis have had a chance to extend an olive branch and haven’t, instead choosing to expand settlements or conduct military operations. There is blame on all sides in this mess. To say that the Israeli government is always trying to advance peace is ignoring a lot of history.