Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Surge Success and the Saudis

Iraq the Model has bird eye reports from Baghdad on the Surge:
Although attacks happen here and there, the general feeling is still closer to hope and appreciation of the plan than pessimism. More families are returning to the homes they were once forced to leave, and we’re talking about some of the most dangerous districts such as Ghazaliya and Haifa Street. Al-Sabah reports that yesterday alone 327 families returned home and that the scene of vans loaded with furniture of refugees leaving Baghdad is no more. There were times when the average was around 20 a day. The 327 figure brought the total to more than 500 families across Baghdad.
Al-Hurra TV aired a report on the story and interviewed some of the returning Baghdadis, one man said “those who returned earlier and saw the change in the situation called us and encouraged us to return, and I too will encourage the rest to come back”. The report showed those families asking the army to stay and not abandon their neighborhood, and showed the officer in charge giving his number to the locals so that they can contact him directly in case of emergency.
Fresh from brokering a deal between Hamas and Fatah Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan is now trying to strike a deal between Iran and the US while isolating Syria.
That leaves Saudi Arabia and the hyperkinetic Bandar. In his last visit to Washington he offered a rosy report on his travels. Iran, he assured his American friends, had been taken aback by President Bush's recent shows of strength (The Surge; Rancher) in the region, by the failure of his administration to collapse after midterm elections and by the unanimous passage of a U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for failing to stop its nuclear program. The mullahs, he said, were worried about Shiite-Sunni conflict spreading from Iraq around the region, and about an escalating conflict with the United States; they were interested in tamping both down.
Again it says something when our enemies are rooting for the Democrats; they seem to have the same goals. Remember Bandar is working in Saudi Arabia’s interest, not ours, and the assertion that Iran is concerned about Sunni Shia violence rings hollow when you consider the fuel Sadr’s death squads have thrown on that fire. Nevertheless if he can split Damascus from Tehran it will help the region allot, especially Lebanon. However Amerji at A Heretic’s Blog advises caution.
In truth, however, it is indeed still too early in the day to celebrate and uncork those champagne bottles. This is not a done deal by far, and there are still plenty of opportunities to sabotage the whole thing. Moreover, the scenario itself does seem to call for some kind of a showdown with the Assads, who seem to be the ultimate losers here. Such a showdown, even if limited, is not going to be a rosy affair.
Joshua Landis at SyriaComment.com doesn’t like the idea of Saudi Arabian interference in these matters because he feels they will stoke the sectarian flames by ratcheting up fear of the Shia. However he thinks it might bear some fruit in Lebanon if Bush backs up the Saudis.
If Saudi Arabia can broker a Lebanon compromise by giving the opposition a larger role in the cabinet, will Washington agree to the Saudi brokered terms? There will be many in the White House and in Beirut who will try to torpedo it. Maybe that is the best diplomats in Washington can do at the moment? Better to have some diplomacy rather than none. All the same, the President of the United States should have the vision to carry out his own diplomacy. Those who expect Saudi Arabia to isolate Syria and Iran, will be deceived. In some respects, Washington is using the KSA to do what the Baker-Hamilton report recommended: get Iraq's neighbors together. Hopefully Washington will not spurn the results.
I am surprised that we are trying to get Iran to abandon Syria rather than the other way around. Of the two Iran is by far the greater danger to the region. What could Saudi Arabia give the Iranians that they would agree to abandon their nukes? I don’t think that the nukes are even on the table and if not what makes Iran think the issue will no longer be an issue? March 14 agreeing to allow Hezbollah more power, an agreement made at the point of a gun, helps us how? Is it not another victory for Hezbollah, a reward for their terrorism? Even the Mecca Agreement strengthens Hamas at a time we are trying to isolate them and prop up Fatah. As always Saudi Arabia, our erstwhile ally in the WOT, hurts more than they help. I want the Syrian Iranian relationship shattered as much as anyone but not if it means allowing Iran nukes and Hezbollah more power in Syria. Thanks but no thanks.

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