With Dick Cheney arriving in Baghdad to growl at the Maliki government today as part of his "Guns 'N Oilwells" Tour of the Middle East, it appears that U.S. media attention has turned for now to Cheney's favorite oil men, the Saudis.
David Ignatius in today's Washington Post says that Cheney's main purpose will be to convince the Saudis to hold off from wrecking Maliki and tell them that the U.S. won't withdraw from Iraq during the last 18 months of the Bush presidency.
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.Allawi, however, is once burned, twice shy with the Bush administration and has been building a cross-sectarian (not just secular) coalition of groups who all share a desire to see the occupation ended sooner rather than later - a coalition that might even include mainstream Sadrists according to some reports. His momentum inside Iraq and with the Iraqi populace may well be unstoppable by now. Too, Bush's promise may yet prove to be an empty one upon which he is unable to deliver. The Saudis aren't fools and know all this - which means they will continue to plot their own course which may or may not be in line with the Bush administration's, depending upon circumstance. But Ignatius seems to have faith that "hard-nosed" Cheney will deliver what the administration says he will and convince the Saudis to act in American interets rather than their own..
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.
Ignatius writes that the binding glue which holds the shaky Saudi - Bush administration alliance together is mutual fear of Iran...which brings me neatly to the other major item concerning the Saudis today. Editor and Publisher reports that, in a WaPo online chat, military journalist Thomas Ricks was asked why the media concentrates on warnings about Iranian weapons allegedly being used in increasing numbers against Americans in Iraq but little has been said about Saudi money purportedly flowing to the insurgents. His answer is illuminating:
There was a lot of quiet talk among US officers in Iraq about the role Iran was playing in Iraq, especially with sophisticated bombs, but you didn't see much talk in the media about the Iranian role until top US officers and and the Bush Administration started talking about it.The problem, Ricks thus admits, is that corporate media's reporters have become mere stenographers for the Bush administration. The age of investigative journalism, of going out and finding what those in power won't tell you, is past.
Likewise, if they started talking about the money trail from Saudi Arabian citizens, you'd see more stories about it. But they don't like to talk about it. It is something that many journalists ask about, but you have to have something to print beyond rumor.
Just yesterday I asked a Defense official about this and got almost nothing from him.
Cheney isn't getting an easy ride from the Arab press however. Newspapers in four of the five states he will visit have together called for his impeachment, led by the Saudi Al-Hayat who called him the "war party kingpin." At the same time, an influential London-based Arab daily warned "Arabs Beware, The Criminal Is Coming To You." All reminded their readers that Cheney was the architect of the Bush administration's fixing the intelligence around the his policy of invading Iraq and that his former company, Halliburton, has made a fortune from that invasion and its aftermath.