The Enemy of my Enemy

THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY….Over at the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh says the Bush administration is honing its plans to attack Iran. Meanwhile, the London Times reports that if Bush actually goes through with an attack, “up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.”

I have a limited interest in both stories. Contingency plans are a dime a dozen, and breathless British press reports are about a dime a thousand. I hope the Times is right, but I’m not holding my breath.

In any case, Hersh’s story has far more of interest than its throwaway lines about military planning. The gist of his piece is that the Bush administration has essentially decided to redirect its attention away from radical Sunni jihadists — i.e., the folks who attacked us on 9/11 — and instead take sides in the brewing Sunni-Shiite civil war in the Middle East. In fact, he says we’ve pretty much decided to throw in our lot with the Saudis and buddy up with the al-Qaeda wannabes:

This time, [a] U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at — Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

….During a conversation with me, [a] former Saudi diplomat…objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”

….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.”

Is this true? Who knows, since the sources mostly seem to be Hersh’s usual anonymous cast of ex-spies, ex-consultants, and ex-diplomats. But the story is plausible. Having never really believed in the threat of non-state terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the first place, the Bush administration may now have come full circle from 9/11, tacitly teaming up with Sunni jihadists in the hope that they’ll help us take out the state-based terrorist threat of Iran — after which, presumably, the jihadis will all go home to watch TV and raise their families. Just like they did after the Afghanistan war.

Lovely, no? And one more thing: Hersh says the covert side of this plan is being run by the vice president’s office. Which means, of course, that it will be handled with the same finesse in international relationships and grounding in reality that Dick Cheney is famous for.

Read the whole thing for more. And buckle your seat belts.