ARE YOU SYRIA-OUS?

by , September 20, 2003

It would be funny if it wasn’t so ominous. Remember those “weapons of mass destruction” the Iraqis were supposed to be holding, poised to strike us at any moment? Yeah, that’s right, the ones that turned out to not exist – or were destroyed after Gulf War I. Or something. Well, anyway, it turns out they aren’t missing, after all – they were spirited over the border to Syria! Honest! Cross my heart and hope to die. If you don’t believe me, just ask John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control. Testifying before the House International Relations subcommittee, Bolton said the United States sees such reports “as cause for concern,” although they haven’t been confirmed. “We are continuing,” he averred, “to seek conclusive evidence”: the U.S. has raised the issue with the Syrians “on numerous occasions.”

Bolton – a key figure in the neocon clique that lied us into war with Iraq – drew up a familiar indictment: the Syrians are assembling “weapons of mass destruction,” sponsoring terrorism, and are even suspected of secretly building nukes. In short, the same accusations that turned out to be lies last time around, this time are leveled at Damascus, with the extra added twist that the Syrians are supposedly encouraging foreign volunteers to cross the border into Iraq to fight the occupation forces.

Readers of this story in the Forward will remember that Bolton was supposed to have testified in July, but the CIA and the State Department objected: in their view, the same people who gave us the Niger uranium forgery didn’t deserve an encore. Bolton’s assertions were reportedly debunked in a 38-page internal memo, and his testimony was delayed. Now the Energizer Warmonger has popped up again, spouting “intelligence” that has already been vetted and found wanting. What is going on here?

What we are witnessing is the culmination of a strategy clearly outlined in a 1996 paper prepared for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” This was a collaborative effort by Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser – a good number of whom are now ensconced in high positions in this administration. The paper outlined for then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a new Israeli strategic vision that would not only rid the Israelis of their Palestinian problem, but give them “breathing space” and revitalize the Zionist dream of a Greater Israel:

“Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria’s regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq.”

Rolling back Syrian influence in Lebanon, and even calling for strikes within Syria itself, the authors of “A Clean Break” laid out a road map for making the Middle East safe for Israel – one that had nothing to do with creating a Palestinian state. Syria was seen as the main enemy, but, in their view, the road to Damascus had to start in Baghdad – as it has. Using the U.S. as a blunt instrument, Israel has shaped its strategic environment. While the Coalition Provisional Authority hasn’t restored the Hashemites quite yet, Bolton’s testimony signals that the second phase of Operation Clean Break is underway.

Among the most militantly obnoxious of the neocons, Bolton’s belligerence is underscored by his tone of unbridled arrogance:

“Of course,” he testified,

“I will have much more to say on all of these subjects during the closed hearing, and I look forward to a more specific and detailed discussion than we can have in an open hearing. As we all recognize, the importance of protecting and preserving vital intelligence sources and methods necessarily and properly restricts what we can say publicly. Nonetheless, the conduct of national security requires that we take all available information into account, which I believe we will be able to do in a classified session.”

In other words: it’s none of the public’s business why or how we might go to war. The neocons know what’s best for us. And, no, we can’t say who is the source of this endless stream of fabrications, fibs, and crude forgeries. That information is “properly restricted.”

In his concluding remarks to the committee, Bolton invoked the specter of “the destructive potential of terrorism on September 11,” leading one to wonder when we’ll be hearing that the Syrians were really behind 9/11. Maybe we can put Laurie Mylroie on the job, under contract with the Office of Special Plans.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Syria has been our ally in the war against Al Qaeda:

“Syria and the United States have shared intelligence about al-Qaeda, according to U.S. government sources, and FBI and CIA officials have reportedly traveled to Syria to meet with Syrian intelligence officers. The two countries are also said to be cooperating to gather information about what the September 11 hijacker Muhammad Atta did while researching his university thesis in the Syrian city of Aleppo in the 1990s and about Syrian-born individuals who investigators say were connected to the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, involved in the September 11 attacks. Syria has reportedly allowed U.S. officials to put questions to an alleged al-Qaeda associate who it’s holding, a Syrian-born German citizen first detained in Morocco.”

Syria is a regional test for the U.S. Here is an Arab country, seen by Israel as an implacable enemy, uniquely positioned to give the U.S. invaluable cooperation. The American interest is clearly rapprochement, while the Israeli interest is just as clearly confrontation. As to whose interests will prevail, in the struggle within the administration, I am in no position to predict – only to hope.

Israel’s lobby in the U.S. is pushing hard to impose economic sanctions on their next target, and pressuring this administration to ratchet up the rhetoric. Karl Rove’s “no war in ’04″ rule, discussed in my last column, may not be able to withstand their machinations. We are a border incident away from taking the war into Syria, and beyond.

Read more by Justin Raimondo