Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Turki Trot

Coming, as it does, against the backdrop of the Sunni-Shi’a war now raging in Iraq, and within weeks of such noteworthy events as the “summoning” of Dick Cheney by Saudi King Abdullah, and the James Baker plan for privatizing the Iraqi oil infrastructure, Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal’s abrupt Monday resignation raised many an eyebrow around Foggy Bottom, and above the eyes of others who might call themselves, shall we say, Mideast curious.

It has been noted, with ominous portent, that the same Prince Turki abruptly resigned his post as head of the Saudi intelligence service on September 4, 2001. The London Times, so I’ve read, reported that Turki was the long-time intelligence contact for Osama bin Laden.

It was also reported that Prince Turki leaves his post after only 15 months, while the previous ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, held on to the job for 22 years. It is said that Ambassador to the US is a gig Saudis like to keep.

And then there is a story in today’s New York Times: there, Helene Cooper paints a “grim” picture, or, rather, reports on a “grim what if” posed by the Saudis should the US choose to back out of Iraq and/or initiate some sort of dialogue with Iran. The Sunni Saudis, so it seems, say they will be compelled to financially back Iraqi Sunnis as a counterweight to perceived Iranian influence with Iraq’s majority Shi’a.

It was the conveyance of this “information” (let’s not call it an “ultimatum,” such a nasty word) that was the purpose of that face-to-face between our Veep and the Saudi King, by the way.

(Remember when it was the US that used to let Arabs and Africans do the dying in our proxy wars with the Soviets? Ah, good times. Now it is US troops caught in the middle of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.)

And, all of this—all of this—makes for especially interesting background when all of us contemplate this “New Way Forward” that our purported leader, President Bush, is supposed to roll out next week in late January. Consider, if you will, the White House’s rapid tap dance back from the Iraq Study Group report. That page-turner suggested a drawdown of US forces in Iraq and the possibility of talking with Iran about regional security (though, it should be noted, other ISG recommendations seem very Saudi-friendly).

Consider, also, a piece in today’s Los Angeles Times detailing the Pentagon’s very serious consideration of what they are calling the “double down” strategy. And, really, what could be a better name for a strategy that has us raising the stakes on an already losing bet? The Pentagon, and maybe the Joint Chiefs, too, seem to like the idea of gambling the lives of an additional 40,000 US soldiers and untold billions more dollars on a last roll of the dice to give Bush a “victory” rather than an exit strategy. And, most notably here, the bolstered force would be used to “take out” Shi’a strongman Moqtada al-Sadr.

This increase will require either an increase in the size of both the Army and the Marines—all-volunteer forces already having trouble meeting recruitment goals—or the mobilization and remobilization of even more of the National Guard. It will be up to incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates to sort out those “details,” I guess.

So, with all that in mind, let’s talk Turki. The now former Ambassador is considered one of the biggest proponents of continued and increased US involvement in Iraq. Does his return home signal a win or a loss on that front?

Prince Turki is also the brother of current Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Prince Saud is apparently quite ill, as is his wife, and is looking to resign. Previous US Ambassador Prince Bandar apparently covets the post. But so might Turki, a rival of Bandar (or so I am lead to believe). Will the choice of Bandar or Turki to replace Saud signal a direction for US or Saudi Iraqi policy?

I have to say that the pragmatic, reality-based guy in me chooses to see this as palace intrigue, first and foremost, but the reality-based guy in me keeps getting tripped up by the Tinkerbelle-istas (clap louder!) in control of the US ship of state.

It is also possible that we are witnessing the beginning of a much bigger Middle East shake up. . . OK, that is probable, not just possible. Many oil experts believe that Saudi Arabia reached peak production in 2005. In other words, it is all down hill from here. As Saudi oil reserves dwindle, so does their influence, globally, regionally, and over their own bumptious populace. If the Saudi Royal Family thinks the same as the “experts,” then panic is setting in all over Riyadh.

It is not unimaginable that when the Princes are done jockeying for power at home, they might start jockeying for power in Anbar Province, and then over greater Iraq. . . especially the oily parts.

And, given our Decider’s inability to decide on any kind of way forward in Iraq, new or otherwise, these kinds of complications are needed about as much as a turkey needs an ax.


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