Abdullah had seemed to be distancing himself from Washington in some recent comments. In February, he broke with U.S. efforts to isolate the radical Palestinian group Hamas by sponsoring the Mecca Agreement that created a Palestinian "unity government" fusing Hamas with the more moderate Fatah. In March, he surprised U.S. officials by calling the military occupation of Iraq "illegitimate" in a speech to an Arab League summit in Riyadh. He also nixed plans for a White House dinner in April.Since Dick Cheney apparently agrees, this is the position the U.S. will probably be taking over the next 18 months.
Abdullah's criticism of the "illegitimate" American presence in Iraq reflects the Saudi leader's deep misgivings about U.S. strategy there. Saudi sources say the king has given up on the ability of Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to overcome sectarian divisions and unite the country. The Saudi leadership is also said to believe that the U.S. troop surge is likely to fail, deepening the danger of all-out civil war in Iraq.
The Saudis appear to favor replacing the Maliki government, which they see as dominated by Iranian-backed Shiite religious parties, and are quietly backing former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and ex-Baathist who has support among Iraqi Sunnis. Allawi's advisers say that his strategy is to exploit tensions within the Shiite religious alliance and form a new ruling coalition that would be made up of Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shiites. Allawi's camp believes he is close to having enough votes, thanks in part to Saudi political and financial support.
The Bush administration appears to have little enthusiasm for an Allawi putsch, despite its frustration with Maliki. U.S. officials fear that a change of government in Baghdad would only deepen the political disarray there and encourage new calls for the withdrawal of troops.
The ferment in the region is driven partly by the perception that U.S. troops are on the way out, no matter what the Bush administration says. To dampen such speculation, Bush is said to have told the Saudis that America will not withdraw from Iraq during his presidency. "That gives us 18 months to plan," said one Saudi source.
This appears to be the other side of the Washington, D.C. Iraq-issue from the position the Democrats are taking. The so-called Surge is a stopgap tactic that delays efforts to require a troop pullout, and this Cheney-Abdullah initiative is the dream of some form of success in Iraq that remains for the NeoCons. If the Democrats succeed in passing some kind of legislation that requires an American troop pullout, the Cheney-Abdullah efforts will collapse. [Note: Yes, this is an oversimplification, but it is the kind of oversimplification that will drive the political debate.]
I'm surprised that Cheney and the Bush administration have been so totally secret about this initiative. They are so totally focused on secrecy that they don't trust the American public to understand a good argument. Although how good this argument really is certainly is open to question.
I guess that is the question. Cheney and the NeoCons cannot deal with being questioned because so many of their ideas are considered flawed by most people. Put it out to the public and they will be stopped. So they want the kind of unquestioned control that Saudi King Abdullah has over Saudi Arabia. Thus they have developed the idea of the Unitary Executive.
Complicated, isn't it?