October 24, 2005
Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who
specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a
contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. His book, Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, will be published by Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books in the fall .
The news from Syria shows that the neoconservative plan for the Middle East is still in play.
Three years ago, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was widely viewed as the
first chapter of a region-wide strategy to remake the entire map of the
Middle East. Following Iraq, Syria and Iran would be the next
targets, after which the oil-rich states of the Arabian Gulf, including
Saudi Arabia, would follow. It was a policy driven by neoconservatives
in and outside of the Bush administration, and they didn’t exactly make
an effort to keep it secret. In April, 2003, in an article in The American Prospect titled "Just the Beginning
," I wrote: "Those who think that U.S. armed forces can complete a tidy
war in Iraq, without the battle spreading beyond Iraq's borders, are
likely to be mistaken." And the article quoted various neocon
strategists to that effect:
"I think we're going to be obliged to fight a regional war, whether
we want to or not," says Michael Ledeen, a former U.S. national
security official and a key strategist among the ascendant flock of
neoconservative hawks, many of whom have taken up perches inside the
U.S. government. Asserting that the war against Iraq can't be
contained, Ledeen says that the very logic of the global war on
terrorism will drive the United States to confront an expanding network
of enemies in the region. "As soon as we land in Iraq, we're going to
face the whole terrorist network," he says, including the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO), Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and a
collection of militant splinter groups backed by nations—Iran, Syria
and Saudi Arabia—that he calls "the terror masters."
"It may turn out to be a war to remake the world," says Ledeen.
In the Middle East, impending "regime change" in Iraq is just the first step in a wholesale reordering of the entire region.
As the war in Iraq bogged down, and as a public outcry
developed in the United States against the neoconservatives over the
apparently bungled war, another sort of conventional wisdom began to
take flight. According to this theory, the United States no longer had
the stomach—or the capability—to spread the war beyond Iraq, as
originally intended. Our troops are stretched too thin, our allies are
reining us in and cooler heads are prevailing in Washington—or so the
But the news from Syria shows that the conventional wisdom is wrong.
The United States is indeed pursuing a hard-edged regime change
strategy for Syria. It’s happening right before your eyes. With the
ever-complacent U.S. media itself bogged down in Iraq, and with the
supine U.S. Congress unwilling to challenge our foreign policy
apparatus, Syria is under the gun. As in Iraq, the United States is
aggressively pursuing a regime change there without the slightest
notion of what might come next or who might replace President Bashar
Assad. Might it be the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood, by far the most
powerful single force in largely Sunni Syria? Might the country
fragment into pieces, as Iraq is now doing? The Bush administration
doesn’t know, just as they didn’t know what might happen to Iraq in
2003. But they are going ahead anyway.
It isn’t just the repercussions of the U.N.-led investigation into
the assassination of former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose
murder may or may not have been arranged by Syria’s intelligence
service. Since 2003, the United States has sought political and
economic sanctions against Syria (long before Hariri was killed);
sought to isolate Syria diplomatically; singled out Syria for its
support for Sunni insurgents inside Iraq; issued a series of ominous
threats against the Syrian regime ("our patience is running out with
Syria," warned Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. proconsul in Iraq); and,
according to an October 15 New York Times article, begun threatening "hot-pursuit" and other cross-border military action against Syria. That Times piece noted, in part:
A series of clashes in the last year between American and Syrian
troops, including a prolonged firefight this summer that killed several
Syrians, has raised the prospect that cross-border military operations
may become a dangerous new front in the Iraq war, according to current
and former military and government officials.
There is even a Syrian version of Iraq’s charlatan Ahmad
Chalabi, and there are rumors that Kurdish rebels in Syria northeast,
along the Iraqi border, are getting support from Iraqi Kurds who are
part of the current interim government in Baghdad.
Various U.S. Syria analysts who have not swallowed the
neoconservative Kool-Aid argue that the United States is pursuing
Regime Change II in Syria. Among them is Flynt
Leverett, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution, who
suggests that Assad is moving slowly in the direction of political and
economic reform—and might want our help. Others, including several
former U.S. ambassadors, tell me that Syria can be a key partner in
quieting down the crisis in Iraq, but U.S. belligerence is driving
Syria in the other direction. And Scott Ritter and Sy Hersh, speaking
in New York last week, noted that Syria (and its spy services) has been
an important behind-the-scenes partner in attacking Al Qaeda since
2001. But "So what?" argue the neoconservatives. It’s regime-change
time, and they won’t let rational arguments get in their way.
The brilliant Syria weblog Syria Comment, written by Joshua Landis, had this to say on Sunday:
Here is a most extraordinary letter from Syria's Ambassador in
Washington Imad Mustapha to Congresswoman Sue Kelly, which has come
into my possession. It explains how the American Administration has
been stonewalling Syrian cooperation on a host of issues. It explains
how Syria is being set up to fail so that the US can isolate it and
carry out a process of regime-change at the expense of Iraqi stability
and the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. It explains how
the U.S. administration's policy of forcing regime change in Syria is
trumping the need to save lives in Iraq. …
For over a year Syria has been trying to cooperate with the West on
the Iraq border, on the issue of terrorism finance, on the issue of
stopping Jihadists from getting into Syria, on intelligence sharing,
and on stabilizing Iraq.
Washington has consistently refused to take "Yes" as an answer. Why?
The only credible reason is because Washington wants regime change in
Read the rest of Landis here, including the astonishing full text of Ambassador Mustapha’s letter.
So I ask: Is it possible, after everything we’ve learned about the
Bush administration’s lies and deception over Iraq, after the
staggering cost of that misguided war to the United States, is it
possible that the American body politic is going to let Bush, Cheney
and Co. get away with shattering another Middle East state?
It’s possible. Because it’s happening.