Q: Mr. President, Secretary Rumsfeld said today he thinks Syria is harboring some Iraqi leadership. Could Syria face military action if they harbor these people?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Syria just needs to cooperate with us. We've made -- I made that clear on Friday. I will, if need be, reiterate it today. The Syrian government needs to cooperate with the United States and our coalition partners and not harbor any Baathists, any military officials, any people who need to be held to account for their tenure during what we are learning more and more about. It was one of the most horrendous governments ever.
Q: Could they face military action if they don't cooperate?
THE PRESIDENT: They just need to cooperate.
Remarks of George W. Bush, South Lawn, April 13, 20031
The emerging confict between Bashir Assad's Syria and the administration of George W. Bush seemed a natural consequence to me a few weeks ago. The history of Baathist Syria
, the Golan Heights
, and the meeting of American and Israeli neoconservative strategy
all pointed to growing trouble at Damascus
. Whatever Syria might be or do, it stands squarely in the way of a new American demand
for 'regional reform,' 'redrawing the map of the Middle East,' 'freedom
' and above all 'security,' in the context of 'opposing terrorist organizations.' Syria, officially at war with Israel for 50 years, is so thoroughly unhip to the new boss that Ari Fleischer
declared "Syria is indeed a terrorist nation." 2
"Can you imagine the effect on the Arabs if Iraq gets out of this war intact? It took just five days for all the Arabs to be defeated by Israel in the 1967 war. And already we Iraqis have been fighting the all-powerful Americans for five days and still we have held on to all of our cities and will not surrender. And imagine what would happen if Iraq surrendered. What chance would the Syrian leadership have against the demands of Israel? What chance would the Palestinians have of negotiating a fair deal with the Israelis? The Americans don't care about giving the Palestinians a fair deal. So why should they want to give the Iraqis a fair deal?"--British-educated Iraqi businessman to Robert Fisk 3
So today most of the people resisting American order on 'Free Iraq' are not the hapless Iraqis, they are foreign Arabs, mostly Syrian. Syria and other locals see this war as a terrible intrusion, a direct attempt to impose regional order upon the unruly Muslims with a view to securing the oil market and securing Israeli regional hegemony. Bush will consider opening Iraq's oil taps to threaten the nearby regimes, I mean "spread the seed of democracy." Jordan's and Syria's fragile economies were supported by cheap Iraqi oil, and the economic shock could crack these states, to say nothing of troubled nations like Saudi Arabia which would reach economic crisis with only a small drop in oil prices. The oil situation alone presents the United States precarious ethical decisions which will impact all Middle Easterners dramatically. Despite the local vortices of militarism, religious passion and ancient rivalries Bush is wandering into, we have merely been told the simple reassurance that 'the outcome is certain.' Hubris? Yes, and supreme confidence in a transcendant moral and military order enforcing the demands of Jerusalem and Washington über alles.
"We are not under pressure. Sometimes we see things the same way, sometimes we view them differently. But our relationship is very close. Our relationship with the White House has never been so good. I would like to emphasize that we are not in a conflict with the U.S. I do not live with a feeling that we are under any threat." -- Ariel Sharon interviewed by Ari Shavit, April 14. 4
The Bush Administration is packed with neo-conservative ideologues at the sub-cabinet level of many departments. These people see the Middle East from the perspective of the Likud, oil companies, and the increasingly allied Israeli and American military-industrial complexes. Indeed, this Tuesday, when a delegation from Israel visited Washington, one of the American representatives had already written policy proposals for the Likud Party in 1996.
It was considered significant that the White House meeting with Mr. Sharon's aides on Tuesday was attended on the American side not only by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, but by others in the administration whom Israel considers more sympathetic. These other officials included Elliott Abrams, the top White House adviser on the Middle East, as well as I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and Douglas J. Feith, under secretary of defense for policy. --NY Times, April 17. 5
A central maxim of neocon thought is "Moral Clarity and the Use of Force
," which was their principle when they worked under Reagan to help topple the Soviet Union. It seems to have worked well enough against the Russians, but today's Neocon strategy depends on the projection of power from Israel, especially against Syria. Consider the following excerpt from "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm
," a document Richard Perle
, Douglas Feith
and others wrote to advise the Netanyahu administration in 1996. Until very recently, Perle was chair of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. Feith is still the Pentagon's Undersecretary for Policy.
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.
Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan "comprehensive peace" and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program, and rejecting "land for peace" deals on the Golan Heights.
No wonder that Sharon finds his relationship with the White House so close. So what has Perle opined lately towards devious Damascus?
Perle said that if the Bush administration were to learn that Syria had taken possession of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, "I'm quite sure that we would have to respond to that. It would be an act of such foolishness on Syria's part, that it would raise the question of whether Syria could be reasoned with. But I suppose our first approach would be to demand that the Syrians terminate that threat by turning over anything they have come to possess, and failing that I don't think anyone would rule out the use of any of our full range of capabilities." 6
Or more directly, in an American Enterprise Institute forum: "I would hope that Congress would take a look at helping those who want to free Syria from the tyrannical rule of the Ba'ath Party." 7
But now he's talking about American interests, isn't he? Do the Republicans and the Likud see anything differently?
This invasion of Iraq has widened opposition to the flexing of U.S. power. It is in the plain and direct interests of Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey to see off the Americans from Iraq as quickly as possible. Every day that the American and British armies remain in Iraq, the less stable Arab societies become. What forces are destined to emerge from this new instability are mostly unknown, but frightening.
Those honorable Americans who laid it on the line these past weeks out in the desert are looking around now. They see the troubling dimension of armed resistance there. Many, if not most, of the fighters roaming around are cells of young Syrians who hate America. The battle for Baghdad has mostly been won. So can Iraq be stabilized in favor of American plans, against the many local groups who stand to lose if America gets a firm hold?
Conflict with Syria is natural, if you accept the Golan occupation without question, if you've spent the last few months rooting for the Ba'ath to get peeled off another ancient Arab capital. One regime is sorta like another. They support Terror. They harbor other Ba'ath, they sent Saddam military aid this spring. Enemy? Of course.
Attacking Syria in a variety of ways is a natural consequence of our neoconservative ideas currently in power in Washington and Jerusalem. Ambitions, ambitions. So what's between Damascus and Tehran? Kurds. Iraq. Hezbollah. And starting today, the Pentagon.
So please sit quietly and accept this without question, if you're a real patriot: Natural enemies. Ba'ath is terror. Golan is Israel. Hegemony is Freedom.
1: Remarks by the President Upon Arrival From Camp David: April 13: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/04/20030413-1.html
2: White House Press Briefing: April 15: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/04/20030415-6.html
3: Robert Fisk, The Guardian, March 26: http://argument.independent.co.uk/low_res/story.jsp?story=390867&host=6&dir=140
4: Ariel Sharon interview, April 14. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=283284
5: White House Is Pressing Israelis to Take Initiatives in Peace Talks, NY Times, April 17: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/17/international/middleeast/17DIPL.html
6: Perle's Strong Warning to Syria, April 12: http://www.iht.com/articles/93022.html
7: Hawks recycle arguments against Syria, April 17: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_17-4-2003_pg4_7