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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Taylor Marsh: "The New Sunni-Shiite Cold War"

He sure gets the scoops, doesn't he? hmmmm.

Thanks to TAYLOR MARSH for this insightful analysis of Hersh's newest article - THANK TAYLOR!

We can only hope it's a cold war. Seymour Hersh lays it out.

Think Iraq, only imagine the religious, tribal and sectarian carnage expanded
throughout the Middle East. Got that picture? Welcome to Mr. Bush's long-term
plan for the Middle East, pitting Sunnis and Shia in the hopes of allying the
former with Israel to contain the latter.

Today on CNN, Seymour Hersh talked about Iran and his new piece just out on
the realities we're currently facing. He talked about a plan wherein Mr. Bush
will decide to strike Iran and get the job done in what is called a "24
hour package." The strike would be decided, launched and completed within
24 hours. They're cocked and loaded and ready to pull the trigger. Shhhh.
Don't tell Congress. As Hersh also said, "I've been writing the same
story for a year. ..."
That's true, but this latest story from Hersh
and The New Yorker has a whole different expanse and complexity to

After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the
United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders
of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation
became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard
to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist
religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003,
Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed
that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni
extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam
Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties
between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years.
Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship
with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment
in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”;
she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran,
Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.”
(Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria,
she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

The Redirection, by Seymour Hersh

Throughout his piece, which is a must read, Mr. Hersh neglects one important Iraqi actor, which Mash talked about yesterday: al-Hakim. Interesting that this central figure goes silent here. Hersh is no dummy so it's got to be by design rather than omission. I guess "stay tuned" is about all we can take
from it for now.

Now, about our friends the Saudis.

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the
deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador
to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice
has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current
officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney’s
office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon
did not respond to specific queries but said, “The United States is
not planning to go to war with Iran.”)

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic
embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat.
They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that
greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in
the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s
a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel
said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there
was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,”
he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain


Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration
who also served as Ambassador to Israel, said that “the Middle East
is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War.” Indyk, who is the
director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution,
added that, in his opinion, it was not clear whether the White House was fully
aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. “The White House
is not just doubling the bet in Iraq,” he said. “It’s doubling
the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is
upside down.”

The issues swirling around Lebanon are what I've been hinting about recently,
especially on radio, because there has been a "fitna" or civil war
brewing since Olmert screwed up his over the top bombing of Lebanon, and did
it so poorly that it not only emboldened Hezbollah, but left the entire region
believing that Israel has a baffoon at the top. Olmert proved that not only
was he incapable of understand military issues, but he didn't have the spine
to back down once his blunder was exposed. This has left Lebanon vulnerable
to all sorts of realities. More from Hersh:

In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. “We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here,” he said. He related this to concerns that Iran or Syria might decide to turn Lebanon into a “theatre of conflict.”

(skip forward)

Nasrallah accused the Bush Administration of working with Israel to deliberately
instigate fitna, an Arabic word that is used to mean “insurrection and
fragmentation within Islam.” “In my opinion, there is a huge campaign
through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other,”
he said. “I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli
intelligence.” (He did not provide any specific evidence for this.)
He said that the U.S. war in Iraq had increased sectarian tensions, but argued
that Hezbollah had tried to prevent them from spreading into Lebanon. (Sunni-Shiite
confrontations increased, along with violence, in the weeks after we talked.)

Americans need to read up. This is getting very confusing for your average citizen, even for those who follow these things. The players are planning on the run to solidify turf, coupling with anything but the usual suspects, as they play with regional dynamite. It's one thing to want to move players around when enjoying a game of Risk, ala Dick Cheney. It's quite another to do it by throwing Israel and the Saudis together while Iraq is on boil.

So here is where we stand today. Iraq is in play, with the Saudis freaked out
about ethnic cleansing and a Shia crescent, while the U.S. ratchets up tensions
with Iran, who is linked in a swath of power from Iran to Lebanon, with Israel
getting more nervous by the day and the Saudis offering up all the cash they've
got to make certain that the Shia power is balanced with Sunni force, actually
dipping their diplomatic toes into a relationship with Israel, all the while
the United States agitates the situation, even though our influence in the region
has plummeted, giving the Shia and the Iranians a leg up. Got that? ...and that's
only the short version.

Now, getting out of Iraq won't begin to solve the challenges Mr. Bush and Dick
Cheney have put into motion. The Sunni-Shiite cold war is on, but it's doubtful
that any of these players will blink.

- posted by Taylor Marsh

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