Neocons' Iraq Strategy Now Focused on Syria
by Tom Barry
out of the political quicksand of Iraq, or at least burying the
bloody occupation as an embarrassing daily news item, is mission
number one for the Bush campaign.
U.S. troops and political capital from the mess the Bush administration
created in Iraq may be mission impossible. But the president's political
and ideological handlers have proved adept at spinning the administration
out of scandals and misadventures. Their operating principle, which
they enshrined as official national security strategy, seems to
be: the best defense is a good offense.
you are down in the polls and the "bring 'em on" machismo
no longer seems to get the patriotic rise it first did, the Bush
team doesn't retreat. It advances with more tough words backed by
military muscle and missionary zeal. The Bush administration still
has an itchy trigger finger, and is in search of another evildoer
before the U.S. occupation forces settled into Saddam Hussein's
palaces in Baghdad, the neoconservatives who have set the direction
of the Bush presidency's radical foreign and military policies were
looking toward Syria. Before the month is out, it's likely that
President Bush will announce new sanctions against Syria
accusing the northern neighbor of Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq of many
of the same offenses that were leveled against the Hussein regime
in Iraq. The charge list includes developing biological and chemical
weapons of mass destruction, condemning the U.S. occupation of Iraq,
supporting international terrorism, and succoring anti-U.S. and
anti-Israel guerrilla forces.
before the Iraq invasion, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control
and International Security traveled to Israel and promised Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon that "it will be necessary to deal with
threats from Syria, Iran, and North Korea afterwards." In April
2003 Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul
Wolfowitz warned: "There's got to be a change in Syria."
road to Damascus, which is at the center of the Bush administration's
roadmap for restructuring the Middle East, doesn't run directly
from Baghdad. Its starting points are in Washington, Jerusalem/Tel
Aviv, and Beirut charted by the neoconservative think-tanks,
the Christian Right, and the right-wing Zionists who move easily
back and forth between Capitol Hill and the Middle East.
neoconservatives harbor a deep sense of history one that
is shaped, they say, by the forces of good and evil and the righteous
and the appeasers. For the neocons, history also teaches the virtues
of certain political strategies, such as the necessity of establishing
bipartisan front groups and establishing the legislative foundation
for their agendas.
of the key figures who has set Washington on the road to Damascus
is Ziad K. Abdelnour, an expatriate investment banker from Lebanon
who, together with neocon supporters of Israel's Likud Party and
the Christian Right, established the U.S.
Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL) in 1997.
USCFL describes itself as the "cyber-center for Pro-Lebanon
Activism." USCFL was one of the leading proponents of the "Syria
Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003,"
which calls for a series of sanctions against Syria and which President
Bush signed on December 12, 2003.
Ahmad Chalabi, chief of the London-based and U.S.-financed Iraqi
National Congress (INC), the USCFL's Abdelnour is an expatriate
investment banker. He has lobbied the Bush administration and the
U.S. Congress for a U.S. foreign policy that mirrors the hard-line
position of Israel's Likud Party. Working closely with neocon supporters
on Capitol Hill in the late 1990s, Chalabi helped persuade Congress
to pass the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which provided support
for the Iraqi National Congress and other anti-Saddam Hussein forces.
The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 set the bipartisan foundation for
a military-induced regime change in Iraq. In the lead-up to the
U.S. invasion of Iraq, neocon polemicists such as Richard Perle,
William Kristol, and Bruce Jackson created the Committee
for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI) to consolidate bipartisan support
for the preventive war.
neoconservatives, strongly backed the right-wing Zionist lobby through
such groups as the Orthodox Union and the Jewish Institute for National
Security Affairs, have followed a similar strategy to advance their
agenda for political transformation in Syria and Lebanon. In much
the same way that they moved forward their agenda for regime change
in Iraq step by step, the neocon advocates for a radical transformation
in the Middle East have in the case of Syria and Lebanon also formed
a "front group" USCFL and supported bipartisan
legislation that establishes the political base for sanctions against
Iraq and eventual U.S. military action. USCFL's page of "selected
links" recommends just three lobbying organizations: Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, American Israel
Public Affairs Committee, and Christian Coalition of America.
a self-described "non-profit, non-sectarian think tank,"
states that it aims to rid the Middle East of "dictatorships,
radical ideologies, existential conflicts, border disagreements,
political violence, and weapons of mass destruction" and to
do so while abiding with the tenets of the Charter of the United
core supporters, which it calls its "Golden Circle," include
several members of the Bush administration: Elliott Abrams, Richard
Perle, Paula Dobriansky, Michael Rubin, and David Wurmser. Other
prominent neocons in the Golden Circle include Daniel Pipes (Middle
East Forum and U.S. Institute for Peace), Frank Gaffney (Center
for Security Policy), Jeane Kirkpatrick (AEI), Michael Ledeen (AEI),
David Steinmann (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs),
and Eleana Benador (Middle East Forum). Also included in this circle
of those who have donated $1,000 or more to USCFL is Rep. Eliot
Engel (R-NY), the congressional representative who was the main
sponsor of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration
Act of 2003.
USCFL lists Amin Gemayel, who as Lebanon's president in 1983 signed
an aborted peace treaty with Israel, as a leading supporter. Although
there are a few Muslims in USCFL's Golden Circle, most of the Lebanese-Americans
associated with USCFL are Christian, including Abdelnour. In its
selected links, USCFL includes the Guardians of the Cedars, a fascistic
Christian Right Lebanese organization that has a military wing.
may be "non-sectarian," but its list of core supporters
and the "pro-Lebanon" groups listed on its website signal
its neoconservative and pro-Likud sympathies. Among the organizations
interlocked with USCFL's Golden Circle include Foundation for the
Defense of Democracies (FDD), American Enterprise Institute (AEI),
Project for the New American Century (PNAC), Center for Security
Policy (CSP), Middle East Forum, Hudson Institute, and Jewish Institute
for National Security Affairs (JINSA).
1999 Abdelnour founded the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin (MEIB),
which is the USCFL's monthly online publication. Michael Rubin is
on the editorial board and Gary C. Gambill, an associate with the
Middle East Forum and Freedom House, is the editor. In 2002, Daniel
Pipes of the Middle East Forum (MEF) became a co-publisher of MEIB.
The MEIB concentrates on "internal political developments in
the Middle East, especially those that are thinly covered in other
English-language publications." (In 2000 Pipes
coauthored a jingoistic report with Abdelnour that advocated
the use of U.S. military action to force Syria out of Lebanon and
to disarm Syria of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. Virtually
all 31 signatories of this MEF report, which was used to persuade
Congress to introduce and pass the Syria Accountability and Lebanese
Sovereignty Restoration Act in 2003, are USCFL members, and several
became high officials or advisers in the Bush foreign policy team,
including Abrams, Perle, Feith, Dobrianksy, and Wurmser.
2000 report by Pipes and Abdelnour concluded that that "Syrian
rule in Lebanon stands in direct opposition to American ideals."
It strongly criticized Washington's policy of engaging Syria rather
than confronting it. The Lebanon Study Group of the Middle East
Forum advocated harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions. "The
Vietnam legacy and the sour memories of dead American Marines in
Beirut notwithstanding," the group observed, "the United
States has entered a new era of undisputed military supremacy coupled
with an appreciable drop in human losses on the battlefield."
Finally, said the report, "If there is to be decisive action,
it will have to be sooner rather than later."
Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of
2003, which received overwhelming support in both the House and
the Senate, is a public law that aims: "To halt Syrian support
for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, stop its development
of weapons of mass destruction, cease its illegal importation of
Iraqi oil and illegal shipments of weapons and other military items
to Iraq, and by so doing hold Syria accountable for the serious
international security problems it has caused in the Middle East,
and for other purposes." It is designed to punish Damascus
for its alleged links to terrorist groups and its alleged efforts
to develop weapons of mass destruction. It bans all transfers of
"dual-use" technology to Syria. In addition, the act recommends
an arsenal of sanctions against Syria, including: reducing diplomatic
contacts with Syria, banning U.S. exports (except food and medicine)
to Syria, prohibiting U.S. businesses from investing or operating
in Syria, restricting the travel of Syrian diplomats in the United
States, banning Syrian aircraft from operating in the United States,
and freezing Syrian assets in the United States. Although the bill
obligates the executive branch to enact at least two of the recommended
sanctions, it does permit the president to waive the sanctions if
it is determined that they would harm U.S. national security.
commended Rep. Engel for his leadership in moving the bill through
the House, and also expressed its special appreciation for the strong
support provided by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and to Senators
Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) "for pioneering
it in the Senate."
appointment of David Wurmser, a long-time advocate of U.S. military
action against Syria, to the staff of Vice President Cheney in September
2003, followed by the president's signing of the Syria Accountability
act in December were widely regarded as another signal that the
U.S. regional restructuring crusade might soon be embarking on the
road to Damascus. If the president imposes sanctions against Syria
rather than attempting to engage it through diplomatic channels,
it's likely that the Syrian regime will be painted with the same
fear-mongering brush used to justify the invasion of Iraq. With
Osama bin Laden still on the lam and bedlam in occupied Iraq, the
Bush administration needs to refocus public attention on another
evildoer which, not so coincidently, is also the next preferred
target of the Likudniks in Israel.
Barry is policy director of the Interhemispheric
Resource Center (IRC). Posted with permission from Foreign Policy