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Jewish World Review May 1, 2003 / 29 Nisan, 5763

Michael Ledeen

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Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Incredibly, we are on the verge of repeating the terrible mistake we made at the end of the first Gulf War.

At the end of Gulf War I, the Iraqi occupiers had been routed from Kuwait, the road to Baghdad was wide open, the northern Kurds and southern Shiites were ready to overthrow Saddam's murderous dictatorship, Saddam had sent his family abroad and was preparing his own escape, and the entire Arab world awaited the imposition of an American imperium. Had they been in the Americans' position, they would have reshaped the region in accordance with their own interests, and they expected us to do the same.

Above all, they expected us to continue to Baghdad, to bring down Saddam's regime, and to install a government of our own liking. Contrary to legend, many of the Arab governments wanted us to do just that. Indeed, according to persons in a position to know, the Saudis themselves encouraged us to see the war through to a total victory that would have given us enormous leverage over future events, and not only in Iraq. For example, there was a possibility of eliminating the radical PLO (which had fully supported Saddam) from its dominant position, bringing a new generation of Palestinians to the bargaining table, and creating a Palestinian State that would live in real peace with Israel.

Instead, we stopped on a dime, settled for an inconclusive ceasefire, brought our troops home, and abandoned the Kurds and Shiites to Saddam's butchers. I called it "Desert Shame" and it laid the groundwork for the disastrous decade that followed. Having pressured the Saudis to cut off their traditional funding of the PLO, we soon implored them to resume it. The message spread throughout the region. Arafat regained his strength, those Palestinians who wanted real peace were enfeebled, and terrorism was revived. Having granted Saddam a stay of execution, we stood by as he reestablished his tyranny, crushed any remnants of the opposition, resumed support of the terror network, and reinstituted his weapons programs. We soon betrayed the Iraqi opposition forces in the north (the first of many betrayals of the several groups that compose the Iraqi National Congress), sending an unmistakable message to the region: The United States was not prepared to assert its values and its will in the Middle East.

Desert Shame was a pyrrhic triumph of legalistic technicality and diplomatic guile over the relentless pursuit of our national goals. The legalism was real enough, albeit only to those who wished to be prevented from achieving total victory: we had assembled a coalition to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and we felt obliged to stop at the borders of Iraq, even though many of our coalition partners encouraged us to continue.

The wishful thinking was of a sort that has continued to undermine our mission ever since: We convinced ourselves that there was no need to risk American lives or treasure, since the locals would do the job by themselves. This dovetailed neatly with the legalistic and diplomatic self-delusion, leading us to act as if the combination of public diplomacy (expressing our hope that the Kurds and Shiites would overthrow Saddam) and the political consequences of our military victory would produce the desired result without forcing us to dirty our hands in further actions, or tie us down in a feared Iraqi quagmire.

The current situation is eerily reminiscent of Desert Shame, even though many of the self-imposed restraints do not exist. Our mission is not merely "regime change" in Baghdad, it is to win the war against the terror masters in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Like Afghanistan, Iraq was only one battle in that war. It was folly to believe - as so many now confess they did believe - that we could deal with Iraq alone, and then work out a strategy for the others. As in 1991, many of our leaders expected that the spectacle of our victory in Iraq would have an inevitable ripple effect throughout the region, and that the Iranian people (for starters) would fulfill their oft-demonstrated dream of overthrowing the mullahs in favor of a democratic system.

Life is not often like that. If we want a free Iran and a free Syria - and we must, if we really want to win the war against terror - we will have to fight for it. Not militarily, in these cases, but certainly politically. Even as we prepared to invade Iraq, the Iranian and Syrian dictators increased their bloody repression, desperately trying to stave off their own day of reckoning. And, of course, the Iranians sent contradictory messages, alternately cursing us as agents of the devil, only to turn around and sing sweet songs of "better relations" even as they pursued a nuclear program that is on the verge of fulfillment (Revolutionary Guards officers were recently informed that a nuclear test is in the works later this summer).

Those who recently declared themselves surprised at the vigor of the Syrian/Iranian operations against us inside Iraq should have realized that the dictators of Damascus and Tehran so dreaded an American victory in Iraq, that they were compelled to come after us there. As Bashar Assad proclaimed in a marvelously candid interview shortly after the onset of the Iraq war, their model was Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s: a combination of terrorism and religious fanaticism to drive us out.

As in 1991, if we fail to pursue our maximum interests we risk defeat and humiliation. If the Iranians succeed in creating a rabid Islamic Republic in Iraq, we may be even worse off than we were with Saddam, and the various leaders of the terror network, from bin Laden to Mughniyah, from Zarkawi to Zawahiri, will gain new followers and resume their jihad with new fervor.

It is therefore disconcerting and discouraging to see the National Security Council's top man in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, sneaking off to secret meetings with representatives of the Iranian regime, and to see Secretary of State Powell enthusiastically contemplating a trip to Damascus. There is nothing to be gained from talking to the mullahs. They are declared enemies of everything we hold precious, and they are only trying to buy time, believing that once they have the atomic bomb we will be forever blocked from challenging them. And if the State Department is so desperate to talk to Assad, then make him swim the Atlantic and crawl to Washington to beg for survival. A Powell trip to Damascus will send a dangerous message to the region. By going there instead of summoning them, we will show weakness. And all will remember that, on the verge of a glorious victory in 1991, the same man called upon this president's father to stop short, turn around, and leave the forces of freedom at the mercy of the tyrants.

To be sure, George W. Bush is very different from his father. He does not sneer at "the vision thing," and he has spoken eloquently of the need for victory and of the danger of half measures. His instincts are as good as any president in memory. But time is very short, and he has been stalled before, first by the cunning Saudi "peace plan," and then by the long diplomatic ritual dance that inevitably led us into a blind alley at the United Nations. He cannot now permit himself to be drawn into a phantasmagorical "peace process" with the Syrians or into "private diplomacy" with the mullahs. He must insist that we take the battle to the terror masters, extend freedom throughout the region, and thereby win the war.


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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.

Up

04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
01/29/03: No Leader: France's Chirac is all about personal interest
01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
01/13/03: How we could lose
01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
12/13/02: The Heart of Darkness: The mullahs make terror possible
12/12/02: The Real War
12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen