2004-01-11 21:56:45 UTC
and their hysteria hair-triggers.
It's not implausible. After those Marines are done training for an
invasion and are to be sent to the Mediterranean, after all, as some
of us (ahem) have stated already, isn't it tempting to clean up
Lebanon or Syria itself?
Where are the Dim-O-Dwarves with this issue in their campaigns?
(Aside, that is, from Dean saying that Asad is a "statesman" or
something like that, or from his hard-core supporters, that Asad is
"misunderstood," or a "victim," such as from Israel ("who should give
back the Golan Heights" and whose ciitizens "ought to" go back to
living in bomb shelters nearly all the time).
Bush's advisers debating military force against Syria
Senior aides to President Bush are vigorously debating what to do
about Syria as evidence mounts that the government in Damascus is
stepping up support for the terror group Hezbollah and allowing
anti-American insurgents to reach Iraq, according to U.S. officials.
Civilians in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office are pushing
for military action and have drawn up plans for punitive airstrikes
and cross-border incursions by U.S. forces, according to three
But Bush's White House advisers, backed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff
and the State Department, are arguing against a new military venture
with much of the U.S. military tied down in Iraq and a
presidential-election year under way.
That view appears to have prevailed, for now.
"We've got all we can handle, and then some, in Iraq, and our military
is either stretched to the breaking point or already broken," said a
senior administration official. He and others spoke on condition of
U.S. officials, including those who oppose military action, say the
government of Bashar Assad continues sponsoring anti-Israeli and
anti-American terror groups, despite U.S. demands that it cease.
Iran, using Syria as a conduit, has resumed deliveries of supplies to
Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese-based Shiite group responsible for
bombing the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s,
the senior official said. Hezbollah also clashes periodically with
Israeli border forces.
Israeli media claimed yesterday that Syrian planes carrying aid to
Iran's earthquake victims returned with weapons for Hezbollah. Iran
denied the report, and U.S. officials in two agencies said they had no
information to confirm it.
Nor has Assad made good on a promise to Secretary of State Colin
Powell last summer to close the Damascus offices of Palestinian
terrorist groups, numerous officials said. While electricity and phone
lines have been cut, the groups continue to operate using cellphones
Damascus also is resisting returning about $1 billion in Iraqi assets
that Saddam had moved into Syrian banks, officials said.
The reassessment of Syria policy apparently began in late November,
officials said, when Rumsfeld distributed a memo known in government
as a "snowflake" complaining of Syrian behavior.
Rumsfeld charged that insurgents were continuing to cross unhindered
from Syria into Iraq to attack U.S. troops, according to a U.S.
official who has seen the document. He also suggested that Assad had
colluded with the senior Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali
Husseini al Sistani, who has issued edicts complicating U.S. plans to
organize a government.
"It came over like a brick through a window," the official said of the
Some of Bush's hard-line advisers have argued for two years that
Syria's regime should be the next U.S. target after Iraq.
Assad recently told a visiting American delegation that he has bent
over backward to accommodate U.S. pressure to patrol the border and to
crack down on terrorist financing.
Syria Role On Iraqi Arms Is Studied
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice reeled off a list of White
House grievances against Syria yesterday and said the administration
is investigating a report that Iraq stashed weapons of mass
destruction across the border in Syria.
Rice, briefing reporters in advance of President Bush's trip to Mexico
next week, said the United States will "tie down every lead" about any
possible disposition of unconventional weapons by Iraq, including the
possibility that some were smuggled into Syria. U.S. forces have
searched for months without finding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction,
a failure that has bedeviled the White House.
Rice said the United States has "a number of issues that we'd like to
talk to . . . the Syrians about." These include "the borders with Iraq
and what may have happened in the past there and what may be
continuing to happen there; Syrian support for terrorism in Damascus,
particularly support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and their relationship
with Lebanon in that regard," she said.
As for the possibility that Syria hid chemical and biological weapons
for Iraq, Rice said: "I don't think we are at the point that we can
make a judgment on this issue. There hasn't been any hard evidence
that such a thing happened. But obviously we're going to follow up
every lead, and it would be a serious problem if that, in fact, did
Administration officials have been expressing increasing frustration
with Syria and have said the country "is on the wrong side in the war
on terror." U.S. officials believe some key leaders of Saddam
Hussein's Baath Party escaped into Syria, which has a Baathist Party
regime and remains on the State Department's list of state sponsors of
terrorism. The administration also has complained that Syria has let
foreign fighters cross the border with Iraq to attack U.S. troops;
Damascus has denied that.
Rice was asked about reports claiming that Hussein used ambulances to
smuggle chemical and biological weapons to three sites hidden in Syria
in the months before the U.S. invasion in March. News services said
the claim was made yesterday on Britain's independent Channel 5 News
by a Syrian dissident, Paris-based human rights campaigner Nizar
Nayyouf, who said he had been given the information by a senior source
inside Syrian military intelligence he had known for two years.
Rice said she "can't dismiss anything that we haven't had an
opportunity to fully assess," but she said the administration has no
"indications that I would consider credible and firm that that has
The smuggling report followed an interview this week in which Syrian
President Bashar Assad told London's Daily Telegraph that he would not
abandon his country's suspected chemical and biological programs
unless Israel gives up its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Syria And Turkey Defy The United States
by Patrick Seale
This week's visit to Turkey by Syria's young leader, President Bashar
Al Assad, is of considerable geo-strategic significance. It has taken
place in close coordination with Syria's ally Iran, whose foreign
minister, Kamal Kharazzi, was in Damascus on the eve of the visit,
while Turkey's foreign minister Abdullah Gul is expected in Tehran on
The three countries are intent on sending a firm message to the United
States about its policy in Iraq. They are telling Washington that Iraq
must remain a unitary state and that they will strongly oppose any
attempt to break it up into three mini-states, Kurdish, Sunni and
Shiite, as several influential American commentators have recently
been recommending. Above all, they are warning the U.S. not to
encourage the Kurds to seek permanent autonomy, let alone
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, has also said
this week that the dismemberment of Iraq would be a threat to his
This is the first time that the major states bordering Iraq have
publicly joined forces to check what they see as a dangerous American
temptation, strongly supported by Israel, to seek to weaken Iraq
permanently by rebuilding it on a federal basis, without a strong
center -- thereby dealing a blow to the entire Arab system.
No one in the region is seeking a confrontation with the United
States. The local states want to conciliate Washington, not to
threaten it. On receiving the new American ambassador to Syria this
week, Foreign Minister Farouq Al Sharaa went out of his way to stress
Syria's desire for dialogue and cooperation. President Assad has sent
a similar message in a recent interview with The New York Times. Iran,
in turn, has seized the occasion provided by the devastating
earthquake at Bam to signal that it is ready for friendlier relations
with the United States.
Every state in the region has had to recognize that America's armed
intervention in Iraq - and its declared intention to remain there for
several years - has profoundly altered the strategic environment. But
Syria and its neighbors want to remind Washington that hey, too, have
interests, which cannot be ignored. Syria, Turkey and Iran believe
they can help the United States to stabilize Iraq, but only if the
United States recognizes their security interests and concerns.
Fears about U.S. and Israeli policy
It is now widely recognized that the United States invaded and
occupied Iraq, following 13 years of punitive sanctions, not because
of the alleged danger from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction, nor because of his gross abuses of human rights, but
because a strong and independent Iraq was seen as a threat both to the
Western-dominated political order in the Gulf and to Israel.
The Washington hawks who pressed for war - several of them friends and
allies of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - made no secret of the
fact that, in their eyes, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was only the
first move in an ambitious project to reshape the entire Middle East.
Their hope was that, once Arab nationalism, Islamic militancy and
Palestinian resistance had been defeated, the Arab world could be
remade on 'democratic' lines, under a sort of U.S.-Israeli
The local states are now rebelling against this geo-political fantasy,
which they see as fundamentally hostile to their interests and
aspirations. This is the sense of President Bashar Assad's to Turkey,
and it is also the reason why Iran and Egypt are considering resuming
diplomatic relations after a breach of nearly a quarter of a century.
Regional states share a profound apprehension about the future
intentions of the United States and Israel. Do these powers want peace
and stability or are they planning further aggressions? How will the
U.S. deal with the resistance it continues to face in Iraq? What will
happen next June when it plans to hand back authority to the Iraqis?
How long will it maintain its armies at the heart of the Arab world?
Can the U.S., now in the hands of dangerous ideologues, be counted on
to behave rationally?
The fate of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, suffering
appalling hardship and daily killing in the face of apparent American
indifference, is another huge factor of uncertainty and instability,
not least because of the passions it arouses among the Arab and Muslim
The future of Syrian-Turkish relations
The Middle East peace process was among the subjects discussed this
week by President Assad and his Turkish hosts, with the suggestion
that Turkey might play a mediating role between Syria and Israel.
Assad has recently called on the United States to revive the Syrian
track of the peace process, and has indicated he is ready to resume
negotiations at the point at which they were broken off in 1999-2000
between his father and the then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.
But few observers believe Sharon is ready to return the Golan, which
is the price of a deal with Syria, or that the U.S., preoccupied with
Iraq, will put much energy into promoting an Israeli-Syrian
Both Syria and Turkey have no love for the 'neo-cons' now in power in
Washington or for their policies of preventive war and 'regime
change'. Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. deputy defense secretary, is generally
thought to have offended Turkey by pressuring it - unsuccessfully as
it turned out - to allow American troops through its territory to
attack Iraq last March. Syria, in turn, believes that the 'neo-cons'
have no interest in a regional peace, but would rather see the Syrian
regime overthrown, as Richard Perle, a leading 'neo-con' and Arab
hater, has advocated in a recent book.
The fact that U.S. President George W. Bush is only ten months away
from a presidential election, while Sharon is facing increasing
opposition at home, only adds to the general apprehension and
Such is the context for the current striking improvement in
Syrian-Turkish relations, cemented by Bashar Assad's visit to Ankara,
the first by a Syrian head of state since the Second World War. As it
follows a visit by the Syrian president to Athens last month, it
indicates that Syria is seeking to strike a balance in its relations
with Greece and Turkey. Syria had previously tilted strongly towards
Greece, largely because of Turkey's close ties with Israel.
The suggestion today is that the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, is in turn seeking to strike a balance in Turkey's relations
with Israel and the Arab states, as well as to distance himself from
Sharon's aggressive policies towards the Palestinians and Syria.
Turkish sources say that Erdogan has been angered by reports that
Israeli agents have been encouraging Kurdish separatism in northern
Iraq, as they have often done in the past during the long history of
conflict between the Kurds and the Baghdad government.
Two subjects were not raised in Ankara this week because they would
have spoiled the cordial atmosphere. The first concerns the Turkish
province of Hatay, formerly the Syrian sanjak of Alexandretta, which
France, then the mandatory power in Syria, ceded to Turkey on the eve
of the Second World War. The Syrians have not forgotten or forgiven
this flagrant act of political immorality, but few Syrians can hope
the territory will ever be recovered. The Turks have their own, even
older, grievance dating back to the First World War when, they would
claim, the Arabs, lured by false promises of independence by Britain,
'stabbed the Ottoman Empire in the back'.
The second question not raised in Ankara this week has been a burning
issue for years. Syria's contention is that Turkey's large-scale
programme of dam-building and irrigation in south-east Anatolia is
starving it of a fair share of Euphrates water, vital to the life of
Syria's own Jazira province. In retaliation, Syria for many years gave
shelter to the Kurdish separatist leader Abdallah Occalan, and
provided his men with training camps in Lebanon's Bekaa valley. War
between Turkey and Syria was averted in 1998 only when Syria agreed to
expel Occalan, who now languishes in a Turkish prison.
Today, united in their joint defense of Iraq's territorial integrity,
the two neighbors have decided resolutely to put such disputes behind
them and look to their joint defenses in a dangerously unsettled
Washington hawks' new plan for war
Seek "regime change" in Syria and Iran, risk a nuclear war on the
Korean peninsula--and punish France while you're at it. That's the
advice of two leading Washington "hawks" for how the Bush
administration should overcome the problems it faces occupying Iraq.
Richard Perle, a leading "neo-conservative" member of the Pentagon's
Defense Policy Advisory Board, and David Frum, the former White House
speechwriter who was fired after bragging that he came up with George
Bush's "axis of evil" slogan, claim that their book An End to Evil is
a "manual" for how to win the "war on terror."
The problem, they believe, is that the U.S. slowed down its military
machine--when it should have stepped on the accelerator. Perle and
Frum propose world domination in a few easy steps.
For starters, they say, the U.S. should cut off Syria's oil imports
from Iraq, raid the country to hunt "terrorists" and seize arms sold
by Iran. Next, Washington should give up on talks with Iran and equip
Iranian dissidents with arms and military supplies.
The Bush White House should also demand an immediate end to North
Korea's nuclear program--and impose an all-out blockade if its
government refuses. And just 15 years after the fall of the Berlin
Wall, Perle and Frum want Europe divided again. "We should force
European governments to choose between Paris and Washington," they
Some of this bluster is an attempt to change the subject after the
failure of hawks' predictions of a post-war paradise in Iraq. The
daily misery and humiliation of living under the thumb of the U.S.
military has only strengthened the resistance to occupation in
Iraq--and mounting numbers of soldiers U.S. killed and maimed has made
a mockery of the neo-conservatives' claim that Iraqis would welcome
This new neo-conservative manifesto for pre-emptive war will be used
by some to justify a vote for the Democrat candidate against George
Bush in the November elections. But in fact, Democratic frontrunner
Howard Dean isn't opposed to pre-emptive military strikes. He only
opposes bragging about them.
"Dr. Dean said he would strike all hard-edged references to
pre-emptive strikes in the United States national security
strategy--without actually abandoning pre-emption as an option," The
New York Times reported. Dean himself stated: "Of course we're going
to use our force at our discretion to protect the United States. To
say that we've never had a pre-emption policy would be foolish."
The neo-cons around Bush are among the nastiest and most brazen
proponents of U.S. imperialism. But the Democrats have their own
lineup of imperialist politicians waiting in the wings.