Just a follow-up on my baseless speculation post of yesterday. Things are becoming clearer, though I'd say they're still far from clear. First, here's a chronology, as far as we know it:
November 6: Donald Rumsfeld writes memo on options for Iraq. Three of the options include withdrawing troops:
¶Conduct an accelerated draw-down of U.S. bases. We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases. Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007.
¶Retain high-end SOF capability and necessary support structure to target Al Qaeda, death squads, and Iranians in Iraq, while drawing down all other Coalition forces, except those necessary to provide certain key enablers for the ISF.
¶Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and Coalition forces (start “taking our hand off the bicycle seat”), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.
November 7: Republicans suffer historic losses in mid-term election mostly because of widespread dissatisfaction with the war.
November 8: Donald Rumsfeld
fired resigns. Stephen Hadley writes memo questioning whether Maliki is able to effectively lead Iraq. It also suggests pressing Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to support Maliki, possibly in a coalition with Sunnis. Finally, it suggests pressing the Saudis to provide leadership to end Sunni violence in Iraq, "connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action."
November 16: Laura Rozen reports that Cheney is contemplating a tilt to the Shiites.
November 25: Cheney is summoned to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis tell him that they might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in the event the US pulls its troops out of Iraq. They also tell him that they oppose negotiations with Iran. Finally, they push him to pressure Israel for a peace settlement for the Palestinians. Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki does not accompany Dick on this trip, which is unusual.
November 27: Prime Minister Olmert lays out plan for peace with Palestinians.
November 29: Hadley memo leaked to NYT's Michael Gordon.
On the same day, Nawaf Obeid publishes op-ed in WaPo calling for Saudi intervention if the Americans begin to withdraw from Iraq.
Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave President Bush his word that he wouldn't meddle in Iraq (and because it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn't attack U.S. troops), these requests [for aid to Iraqi Sunnis] have all been refused. They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq.
To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse.
Official Saudi sources immediately claim the op-ed is not true.
Also on the same day, Moqtada al-Sadr withdraws from the governing coalition in Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki suddenly backs out of a scheduled 3-way meeting with Bush and King Abdullah of Jordan.
Also, the last day the ISG meets to deliberate on their report.
November 30: Bush meets with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
December 3: Rumsfeld memo leaked to NYT's Michael Gordon.
December 4: Bush meets will Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of SCIRI. Blair-Bush meeting announced.
December 6: ISG Report released. It endorses negotiations with Iran and Syria, a peace process for Palestine, and no open-ended commitment of US troops. The only Saudi the ISG officially meets with is Prince Turki al-Faisal, then Ambasador to the US.
Bush and Rice quickly come out against engagement with Iran.
Nawaf Obeid fired from consulting job with Embassy to US.
December 7: Bush meets with Blair.
December 8: AP reports that Saudis are funding the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
December 9: WaPo reaffirms Rozen's reports of Cheney-supported tilt to the Shiites.
December 10: A profile celebrates Prince Turki's success as an Ambassador, while contrasting that success with Prince Bandar's, the Ambassador who preceded him. The profile describes Prince Turki as favoring both stepped up efforts for peace in Palestine and negotiation with Iran and Syria (King Abdullah is said to oppose the latter policy).
December 11: The day after the profile appears, Prince Turki "retires" suddenly and returns to Saudi Arabia. News reports suggest the sudden move may relate to a succession struggle with Prince Bandar over the Foreign Minister position. One Saudi insider explains,
This is a very high-level problem; this is about Turki, the king and Bandar. ... Let’s say the men don’t have a lot of professional admiration for each other.
The same day, Gulf Arab states announce plan for peaceful nuclear technology.
On the same day, talks to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are reported. BushCo denies any involvement.
Breaking with long-standing tradition (though likely by accident), Israeli Prime Minister Olmert effectively admits Israel has nuclear weapons.
December 12: Bush meets with Iraqi Vice President Hashemi. He also postpones his planned December 18 unveiling of his new plan for Iraq.
Shew. There's a whole shitload going on in the Middle East (and I've left out Lebanon, though I may go back and fill it in), and it sure looks like it's heading to (as Juan Cole calls it) The New Middle East Cold War: Saudi/Israel/Lebanon versus Iran/Syria/Iraq/Hizbullah.
Here are some thoughts/questions:
- Did the same person who leaked the Hadley memo leak the Rumsfeld memo? Depending on timing, Rummy may have received Hadley's memo. Though it's worth noting, Laura Rozen reported on Hadley's memo before Gordon published it.
- The timing of Dick's Shiite tilt is odd. It precedes--yet continues after--his "summoning" to Saudi Arabia. Is Dick still going to pursue this strategy?
- I may be talking outtamyarse. But if I had to bet money, I'd say the Prince Turki's "retirement" is really a sign that he lost a battle with King Abdullah and Bandar over how confrontational Saudi Arabia would be on Iraq. It think it's even possible that Obeid (who quoted extensively from Abdullah) wrote his op-ed at the favor of the King. Most notably, though (if the SF Chronicle profile is correct), it appears that Prince Turki favored negotiations with Iran, whereas Abdullah strongly opposes them.
- I need to go back and fill in the development of Israel's peace overtures. How does its timing correlate with Lebanese unrest, the ISG report, and the Saudi "summoning"?
- How realistic/reliable is Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim going to be as a negotiating partner? Looks like we're about to find out. It also looks like we're about to see how strong Moqtada al-Sadr really is.