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Jewish World Review April 16, 2003 / 14 Nisan, 5763

Seth Gitell

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On to Syria? | To White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Syria is a "terrorist state" and "rogue nation." To Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "the Syrian government is making a lot of bad judgment calls Even Secretary of State Colin Powell got into the act, warning they "should review their actions and their behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction but especially the support of terrorist activity."

In these statements are we seeing the fulfillment of the prediction made by Washington Monthly contributing writer Joshua Micah Marshall, who even before Baghdad fell, was writing of the hawk plan to widen the Iraq War to the entire Middle East? Marshall begins his piece with a probable scenario, America victorious in the war with Iraq. "U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence of biological and chemical weapons in Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border..." Marshall's scenario leads to a terrorist attack committed by Hezbollah, a group sponsored by Syria and Iran and a wave of terror-related arrests in the United States. "To most Americans, this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had gotten ourselves into this mess in the first place," he writes. "But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated."

Take a breath, Joshua. While Marshall should be credited for teasing out such an audaciously creative -- and amazingly accurate scenario -- he's permits himself to get carried away. (Of course, he's not the first writer to make such an assertion. Richard Byrne, writing in the December 19, 2002 issue of the Boston Phoenix, predicted that the Syrian-sponsored terrorist group Hezbollah would be "the Bush administration's next target.) There's no question that many of the largely neoconservative policy thinkers who've been pushing war with Iraq did so because they forsee benefits to the entire region from the removal of Saddam Hussein. (The Weekly Standard editorial this week does state "if five years from now Iran is a nuclear power, Syria is still harboring terrorists, and Saudi Arabia is exporting violent Wahhabism, the opportunity to have made the Iraq war a world changing event will have been missed.")

But Marshall's assertion that "each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement" goes too far. Marshall is careful enough to qualify his point, writing the administration is attempting "to use U.S. military force, or the threat of it" against every regime in the region. But Marshall seems to gloss over his own qualification, the "threat of it" part.

My interpretation of what is happening, unlike Marshall's, is that the administration is banking on the power of images. With Saddam Hussein removed, with video of Baghdad residents toppling his statues and other Iraqi citizens running through the streets looting like the "day of grace" New York Mayor David Dinkins gave to Brooklynites for the Crown Heights riots, the despots in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia will take notice. Foreign policy operates on credibility. During the 1990s, Bill Clinton made a science of balancing carrots and sticks to solve international crises. Sometimes, such as the bombing of Serbia in conjunction with Croatian ground forces in 1995, Clinton's policies worked. But othertimes Clinton's half-hearted cruise missile strikes sent the wrong message to Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden: that the US would only go so far to back up its warnings and pronouncements.

But Bush changed all that. By indicating that he would expend blood and treasure on toppling Hussein -- and while short in duration and low in casualty numbers it still took an emotional toll on all Americans -- Bush gains instant credibility both in the Middle East and around the world. The point here moving forward is that the US ought not intervene military in all these various locales. The threat of force is enough. But in order to be credible, the force must be there.

That's the situation now with Syria. Nobody really believes the US is just going to "preemptively" pour into Syria. Syria, to be sure, has some of the qualities that helped bring about the end of Hussein's regime. The Syrian Ba'ath Party is brutal, responsible for the deaths of some 20,000 citizens in the city of Hama, which had revolted against Bashar Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad. Syria has also engaged in an occupation of its own for more than two decades, its presence in Lebanon. And it has been a sponsor of terrorism. But unlike Saddam Hussein, who agreed to give up its quest for weapons of mass destruction as a condition to ending the 1991 Gulf War -- and remaining in power -- Syria has generally kept its trouble-making to a limited scale. The facts that Hussein had invaded Iran, used chemical weapons against his own people at Halabja, invaded Kuwait and directed SCUD missiles at Israel made him an easy target for removal. On top of all that, the US had to engage in a 12-year cat and mouse game with Iraq to render the inspection process done. We're not even at the start of that with Syria.

The most likely next step is sanctions. Powell yesterday threatened Syria with diplomatic and economic sanctions for harboring leading members of Hussein's regime. New York congressman Eliot Engel, a Democrat, is pushing a proposal called the "Syria Accountability Act and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act". Under that law the US would sanction Syria would be curtailled unless it withdraws from Lebanon, ceases development of weapons of mass destruction, and stops sponsoring terrorist groups.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

04/11/03: US must help Iraq achieve a democratic government which poses a threat neither to its own people nor to its neighbors in the region --- - what Michael Kelly would have wanted
04/04/03: Fighting house to house
03/21/03: After the war Will Bush's promise of democracy for Iraq be kept?
03/12/03: The North Korean hawks are missing the big picture
02/21/03: Urban fight: Military takes lessons from Mogadishu, Chechnya, Jenin
02/13/03: Imagine that, Bin Laden not listening to Chris Matthews!
02/06/03: Powell's powerful presentation
02/05/03: Making the case that Saddam Hussein is linked with Al Qaeda
01/31/03: Gen. Schwarzkopf is against going to war with Iraq. Since he messed things up so bad the first time around, why is anyone listening to him now?
01/24/03: Cynthia McKinney for president
01/16/03: The Sharpton test
01/13/03: Lieberman is in a pickle --- and it's becoming increasingly more sour
12/26/02: Where does the war on terror go from here?
12/23/02: Why democracy never came to Iraq after the last Gulf War
12/20/02: Vermont governor Howard Dean hopes to bridge the gulf between New England and the Western states, and bypass the socially conservative South. Should John Kerry be worried?
12/18/02: No Gore 2004: Follow the Money
12/06/02: Gore, like Dicken's Jacob Marley, Dead as a Door-nail
10/24/02: War with Iraq may not happen, after all
10/22/02: Winning European hearts and minds
10/18/02: Lieberman makes 'em laugh --- on purpose
10/04/02: Hawking an interpretation (in which Scott Ritter tells our columnist to 'go to H-LL!')
09/13/02: Bush Challenge to U.N. Members: Are You Better than League of Nations?
09/06/02: Iraq attack: Ritter's reversal
08/30/02: Stick with comedy, Jon Stewart
08/16/02: Green around the gills: Nader Effect could cost the Dems the election in three states
08/01/02: Gore's low profile is no accident
07/31/02: President Hillary? Despite her denials, candidacy is not that unlikely
07/26/02: On the road with John Kerry
07/17/02: Meet the 'Clinton' of the 2004 New Hampshire primary
07/12/02: Ancient rivalry: Williams vs. DiMaggio
07/10/02: Warrior spirit
05/08/02: Hosting a TV show will keep Clinton off the streets
04/26/02: Truth in advertising in SaudiLand --- and ours
02/28/02: Time for hipsters to do a reality-check

© 2002, Seth Gitell