"President Bush is committed, pretty far down the road. The logic of events says you can’t go halfway. You can’t liberate Iraq, then quit."
That’s the little Lenin of the neocons, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. In spite of the story being bruited about that Condolezza Rice reined in the gung-ho guys in the Pentagon at the last moment and barely avoided a U.S. invasion of Syria the White House is denying it Kristol is right. George the Great can hardly contain his own Greatness within the arbitrary boundaries drawn by the British Foreign Office on the map of the Middle East. The incision has been made, and the Bushies have no choice but to keep operating, whether they like it or not. Bush implied as much in his speech to the troops, as he strutted about in his flight suit, his helmet tucked neatly under his arm:
"The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 and still goes on. Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world and will be confronted."
Translation: Syria you’re next!
A "terrorist" is not just a member of Al Qaeda, in the Bushian lexicon: now Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Shi’ite groups in Iraq that sympathize with the Iranian regime all are in the sights of this administration, which has initiated a new kind of urban renewal project in the region. After the bulldozers do their work, a new Middle East is supposed to rise out of the rubble one that is "democratic," secular, and could easily be mistaken for the Middle Western areas of the good old United States like those American compounds in Saudi Arabia. But does anyone really believe for a minute that Iraq can be turned into, say, Arizona? This "democratization" campaign is a crock. Something else is going on here….
An "outlaw regime" is, potentially, any and all Middle Eastern governments with the glaring exception of Israel, the one nation in the region that we know has nuclear weapons and much else. We know because we paid for them. While we question captured Iraqi scientists searching frantically for evidence of Iraq’s legendary "weapons of mass destruction," Mordecai Vanunu sits in an Israel maximum-security prison in solitary confinement, having spent 12 of his 18 year sentence in solitary confinement. He was imprisoned after being kidnapped by the Mossad off a London street for revealing the truth about Israel’s nuclear weapons.
But this is not hypocrisy: Israel, you see, is a "democracy." Never mind that its Palestinian helots are dispossessed of their land and disenfranchised as well. The hallmark and guiding principle of U.S. policy in the region is simple: one standard for the Arabs, and another one for the Israelis.
Bashar al Assad found this out when tried to explain to Colin Powell why Israel, too, must get rid of its WMD. Powell’s response to the Syrian suggestion that the U.S. back their proposed UN resolution to rid the entire Middle East of nukes and other WMD, submitted to the Security Council on Friday, was to reject out of hand the principle of evenhandedness:
"Clearing such weapons from the region is a long-standing U.S. goal, but now is not the time to address that matter," is how Ha’aretz characterized his attitude.
The Syrians know what’s up: Assad rushed to assure Powell that anti-Israel groups headquartered in Damascus would be expelled. But the Israelis and their "free Lebanon" contingent have been raising doubts about how much control the Syrian President has over his own country, and now that meme has made it into this New York Times op ed piece written by a CIA analyst:
"Mr. Assad was only 34 when he became president upon the death of his father, Hafez, in June 2000. Until then, most of his political career had been spent as head of the government-run Syrian Computer Society. Still encumbered by several of his father’s key advisers, he does not yet have the standing to make fundamental changes in policy on his own. One has only to observe the Syrian president in meetings where he is accompanied by his foreign minister (in office since 1984) or his vice president (a key regime figure since the 1970’s) to appreciate the constraints he faces."
"There are consequences lurking in the background," growled Powell on the Sunday morning talk show circuit. The President will "have all his options on the table" if Syria doesn’t hop to it. Are we talkin’ war? Powell’s answer: "There are many ways to confront a nation." Yes, and our neocons know each and every one of them, including sanctions, a propaganda war, and a new selection in the Hitler of the Month Club.
What is lurking in the background is the neocon network that has burrowed its way up to the highest levels of this administration and is on a roll. These guys aren’t going to miss their opportunity to raise the banner of Imperial America in the Middle East and, incidentally, smite Israel’s enemies in one fell swoop before the American public catches on to their game. As CIA analyst Flynt Leverett relates:
"The military victory over Saddam Hussein’s regime has empowered some officials in the Bush administration to push for similarly decisive action against other state sponsors of terrorism. For the hardliners, Syria has become the preferred next target in the war on terrorism. I know because I’ve been hearing the argument a lot in recent days. For the last eight years, I have been directly involved in United States policymaking toward Syria, as a CIA analyst, on the State Department’s policy planning staff and at the White House. In all that time, I have never seen officials as willing to take on the Syrian regime as they are today."
No longer even bothering to hide their Likudnik loyalties, Bush’s top advisors on the wrong side of the Powell-Rumsfeld divide are plumbing for war. Newt Gingrich’s blast at Powell’s "ludicrous" trip to Damascus was just the first salvo. The Secretary of State was quite right in his reply: the President was the real target of the Newtster’s ire. Gingrich’s diatribe was a shot across the bow at the first sign of hesitation by George the Conqueror in pressing on with what the more maniacal neocons gleefully refer to as "World War IV." Get on with it, George or else.
On the Iranian front, the threat to "isolate" Teheran is a hollow one: it is the United States that is being isolated, as an American viceroy appoints a largely secular civilian junta dominated by Iraqi exiles to build a nation where the imams rule. How is it "isolating" the Iranians to invite the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), armed and trained by Teheran, into the new Iraqi "interim" government?
Powell’s bluster is a smokescreen for what amounts to a de facto US-Iranian alliance: after all, the Americans knocked off Iran’s principal enemy, and immediately turned their sights on Syria. Rumors that the Iranians promised to allow the use of their airspace for the attack on Iraq may not have been entirely unfounded. In any case, a January trip by Assad to Teheran was cancelled at the last minute, and Syrian-Iranian relations, never all that cordial to begin with, have never been worse. If the Americans amputate the Syrian wing of the secularist Ba’ath party, Iran’s ayatollahs won’t shed a tear, nor will the Turks, who have outstanding issues with Damascus. When it comes Syria’s turn to be "liberated" from its sovereignty, the Turkish parliament may prove far more cooperative with Washington. Syria is surrounded by enemies, and it is only a matter of time before they pounce with the U.S. leading the way.
Seen as a grand-scale replication of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the invasion and occupation of Iraq begins to make at least some kind of twisted sense. The goal of U.S. war plans in the region, like the strategic thrust of Israel’s fight against the Palestinians, is to destroy the secular-modern Arab entities the Ba’athists of Iraq and Syria just as the Israelis trained their fire on the PLO, and encouraged the development of religious rivals to Arafat, even going so far as to fund the early growth of Hamas.
Ever since Bashar al Assad succeeded his father, the Israelis have feared a U.S. rapprochement with Syria: the former London-based opthamologist is Hafez al Assad’s second son, and never intended to inherit his father’s power. But the death of the family’s first-born male heir, Basil, thrust him into the leadership. Bashar started out as a reformer, and hopes were high, but the reforms were stalled by the resistance of the Ba’athist old guard. Now the news that the Syrian President had offered to negotiate directly with the Israelis before the invasion of Iraq lends credence to his reputed willingness to compromise and break the logjam blocking Middle East peace. Naturally, Ariel Sharon rejected the offer. Why should the Israeli Prime Minister bother talking with Assad when he can send his American errand boy to do the job?
Not that there is anything for Syria to negotiate except the terms of its surrender.
As the pretexts for Gulf War II are torpedoed, one by one, the real reason for the invasion of Iraq becomes more obvious with each passing day. As "weapons of mass destruction" fail to turn up, and the fabled Al Qaeda-Iraq link is less convincing than ever, the swiftness of the American victory underscores the reality that Saddam never was a military threat to begin with, either to his neighbors or to us. What, then, was the point of this war?
In 1996, Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser collaborated on a policy paper for then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which declared "A Clean Break" with the "defensive" strategies of the past:
"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."
The Israelis, and their American amen corner, have always understood that the road to Damascus runs through Baghdad. As the authors of "A Clean Break" presciently put it:
"Syria enters this conflict with potential weaknesses: Damascus is too preoccupied with dealing with the threatened new regional equation to permit distractions of the Lebanese flank. And Damascus fears that the ‘natural axis’ with Israel on one side, central Iraq and Turkey on the other, and Jordan, in the center would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula. For Syria, this could be the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East which would threaten Syria’s territorial integrity."
That not a few of the authors of this policy paper are now high officials in charge of directing America’s foreign policy means that this strategy can now by implemented by the U.S. government.
That’s what the invasion of Iraq was all about. Syria was always the real target of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," and this post-war diplomatic dance with Damascus confirms it. As Pat Buchanan put it in The American Conservative:
"We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people’s right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity."
Will this same gang of warmongers entrap us in a war with Syria, and drag us back into Lebanon, where we are sure to confront the ghosts of our past errors? The battle-cry has already been sounded: Stay tuned as we hear news of Syria’s "weapons of mass destruction" and the inevitable question: "Is Saddam in Syria?"
As Yogi Berra once said: "This is like deja-vu all over again!"