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

David Warren

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By way of Syria | President George W. Bush of the United States has been encountering hearing problems around the world, but they are beginning to evaporate. Among the dividends already harvested from the War in Iraq: sudden changes in attitude from the other two regimes he once listed in his "axis of evil".

Iran publicly declared it would not grant admission through its borders to members of Saddam Hussein's fallen regime, and that if they tried to enter illegally they would be apprehended and put on trial. (Hence their general movement westward.) No less than Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the hothead who has led crowds for a generation in chants of "Death to America", and has publicly boasted that the moment Iran has a nuclear weapon it will incinerate Israel, went on the record over the weekend proposing a national referendum to restore diplomatic relations with the U.S.

North Korea, which reduced its own anti-American rhetoric to zero during the short course of the war, has now announced that it is willing to have the multilateral talks with the U.S. and its neighbours that the U.S. government was insisting upon. The North Koreans explicitly withdrew several previous demands. Monitors in the Korean DMZ report a relaxation of the theatrical North Korean high alert.

Similarly elsewhere: even the Saudi regime is now publicly considering democratic reform proposals that would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago, and say they will allow some kind of national debate. The Turks have sent a delegation to Israel, offering the Israelis new investment opportunities in Turkey if they will help them repair recent damage to U.S.-Turkish relations. The new Islamic Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, suddenly mentions aloud the triple alliance of the U.S., Israel, and Turkey.

Against this new background, the Syrian Ba'athist regime of Bashir Assad has stood out like a sore thumb. Not only is U.S. intelligence quite certain that senior members of the Iraqi Ba'athist party were smuggled into Syria (with Russian help), but so were lethal Iraqi weapons systems, for hiding, both before and during the war. A great deal of evidence has accumulated on Syria's own sarin nerve gas programme, which includes actual deployment in missiles. Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese Hizbullah and other terrorists were meanwhile sent the other way, smuggled into Iraq both before and during the war -- and bodies of terrorists have been found all over Iraq carrying Syrian identity papers.

But topping this off, President Assad himself foolishly seized the moment of the U.S. invasion to play the demagogue before the pan-Arab media. In waves of anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric, he sought to pick up the torch as it was falling from Saddam's dead hand. While the rhetoric has cooled considerably in the last week, as this reputedly slow-witted Alawite ophthalmologist has noticed the scene focusing before his eyes, he has made his position plain. The entire barbershop choir of the U.S. administration -- Messrs. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Mistress Rice -- have taken turns issuing solo threats to the Syrian dictator. (Old Europe is appalled -- though as we might expect, not by what Assad said in the first place, but what the Americans said in response.)

The U.S. need to deal with Syria promptly has little to do with the easy availability of the freshly-arrived 4th Infantry Division next door -- which has been assigned to the delicate job of patrolling Iraq's occupied north. Though it is worth noting that the division, spared direct action by Turkey' s refusal to allow its earlier timely passage to that northern front, is America's most advanced ground force, the first in the world in which every vehicle and every one of its 30,000 soldiers are digitally networked. With customary air support it alone could pulp the Syrian regime in less than a fortnight, with two more divisions behind it in Iraq, pointlessly waiting their turn.

This has even less to do with the Bush administration's domestic agenda -- for which Mr. Bush could use peace, quiet, and a recovering economy, in preparation for next year's presidential election.

The real issue here is instead Israel/Palestine. President Bush has announced that he will attempt to lance this open wound, that has been festering for more than half a century, as part of the overall scheme to create a new order and a new atmosphere throughout the Middle East. Syria is not merely in its own right a rogue state and sponsor of international terrorism, but a key player in the Israel/Palestine question. Its continued effective occupation of Lebanon, and its hosting both there and in Damascus of a vast, chiefly Hizbullah terror army aimed against the Israeli state, as well as its own, stands directly in the way of any practicable permanent peace agreement.

Moreover, Bashir Assad has, in his rhetoric, continued to proclaim that the very existence of Israel is unacceptable to the Arabs. No peace agreement can possibly work, that simply ignores this Syrian menace. And this was demonstrated beyond doubt by the Syrian failure to restrict the Hizbullah, as its side of the bargain that allowed Israel to withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon in the peace initiative of ex-prime minister Ehud Barak. Instead, Syria directly assisted the Hizbullah in moving its positions forward to the new frontier.

Syria must be dealt with, but how? The Americans do not want a war, but are encouraged by the Turkish experience with Bashir Assad's late father, a mere five years ago. The issue then was Syrian hosting of anti-Turkish Kurd terrorists. The Turks moved a mighty army to the Syrian frontier, and triggered a series of incidents. They made plain to Hafez Assad that they would invade if he didn't evict Abdullah Ocalan and his Marxist PKK terror organization from their headquarters in Damascus. Lo and behold, they were evicted.

The U.S. is thus calculating, "like father, like son": that insuperable pressure, short of an invasion, can make the Assad regime change its entire way of looking at the world. It does not follow this is a bluff, however. The Bush administration is hardly prepared, after the cost of its mission to Saddam Hussein, to fritter away its credibility on Bashir Assad. As before, Mr. Bush will take his time, but in the end he will be prepared to liberate Syria and Lebanon, just as he liberated Iraq, if Assad does not "co-operate fully".

One sees in the background of this, from Bush administration statements and from what one may glean at large, the true roadmap for the voyage ahead. In effect, President Bush is making a pact with Ariel Sharon and Israel, that Mr. Sharon has already begun to acknowledge. "We will eliminate Hizbullah, and if necessary forcibly democratize the Palestinian Authority. In return you will bite the bullet, withdraw your Settlements from the West Bank, and recognize an independent Palestinian State."

The intention to act on such a large scope is implicit in everything President Bush has said. Diplomats and foreign governments have tended to respond only to the parts they least like. They would be well advised to begin looking at the whole, for as they should surely realize by now, Mr. Bush does, indeed, deliver on his promises.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

04/14/02: The future is now
04/10/02: The new day
04/08/02: Bagpipes in Baghdad
03/31/02: Behind
03/28/02: The triple war
03/26/02: Shields & lances
03/24/02: Shock & awe
03/21/02: To Baghdad!
03/19/02: Hostage crisis
03/17/02: Bush, the "UN's cowboy," is really the "un cowboy" --- a softie
03/17/02: United? Nations?
03/12/02: Blair goes wobbly
03/10/02: Ready aye ready
03/06/02: Logic of war
02/10/02: Play up, play up
01/30/02: No ambiguity
12/05/02: A farce
11/13/02: A game of chess
10/30/02: Material breach
10/21/02: Armed & dangerous
09/11/02: The enemy within
08/21/02: Bush v. world
08/06/02: Has Sharon gone 'wobbly'?
07/24/02: Evil Sharon
06/19/02: The end is nigh
06/17/02: Those darn American imperialists!

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