That the rhetoric used to justify war against
Iraq sounds eerily similar to the case being made to start a war against Iran
and Syria is not purely a coincidence. Many of the advocates of a muscular policy
against countries regarded as outside the pale or perceived as a threat to Israel
come from the same circle of neoconservatives, "resident scholars,"
and sound-bite experts who move seamlessly from think-tank to advocacy group
to academia and back again. The pundits who made the case that led to the Iraq
catastrophe are continuing to urge a larger, greater war that would engulf the
entire Middle East, though many of them are now arguing that negotiations should
precede nuking, if only to prove that diplomacy does not work.
The desire to remake all of the Middle East, not just Iraq, has been around
for some time. In April 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, Deputy Secretary
of Defense Paul Wolfowitz warned, "There's got to be a change in Syria."
Friends of Israel have frequently argued that Iran was the "real"
enemy in 2003, not Iraq. As before, the advocates of war are being seconded
by major voices in the media, including The Wall Street Journal, Fox
News, US News & World Report, and The Weekly Standard. All
of the arguments against Iran, Syria, and Iraq have a common source, and they
all make two basic points that are constantly repeated for maximum impact: the
"axis of evil" states are developing weapons of mass destruction and
supporting terrorism. To make the case even more compelling, the assumption
is then made that the weapons of mass destruction will inevitably be given to
the terrorists to use. More recently, the allegations that Iran is supporting
Iraqi insurgents and that Syria has been letting foreign jihadists infiltrate
across its border have been added to the mix to make the case that Damascus
and Tehran are actively engaged in killing American soldiers.
Current efforts to generate war hysteria parallel developments in 2002-3, in
the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. To generate bipartisan support for the
war, leading neoconservatives including Bruce
Jackson, Richard Perle, and William Kristol launched in 2002 the Committee
for the Liberation of Iraq. Active on the committee were Stephen Solarz, Robert
Kagan, Newt Gingrich, and James Woolsey. Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman
served as honorary chairmen. They were supported by a broad range of other groups
sharing the same agenda, notably the American Enterprise Institute and the Jewish
Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). The Committee was disbanded
after Iraq was invaded. Mission accomplished.
Currently, groups similar in sound and style have been actively making the
case for war against Iran and Syria. Organizations like the Foundation for Democracy
in Iran (FDI) and the Lebanon Study Group are essentially neocon-funded-and-staffed
advocacy groups that argue for the military option as the only way to end the
threats posed by "rogue regimes." The FDI, which is headed by Kenneth
R. Timmerman and includes fellow neocons Joshua Muravchik and Peter Rodman as
founding members, features on its Web site
the headlines "How to Topple the Mullahs" and "There Is an Alternative
to the Baker-Hamilton Capitulation." All three are regarded as particularly
close to the Israel lobby, and Timmerman in particular has frequently been linked
to Mossad. He published a newsletter in Paris some years ago, Med News,
that was believed to be funded by the Israeli intelligence service, and Mossad
almost certainly provided material for his book Countdown to Crisis: The
Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran. He has also written The French Betrayal
of America. The FDI also cites American Enterprise Institute alum Michael
Ledeen as an apparent authority on Iran, which is not at all surprising, as
Ledeen is a self-described expert on practically everything. Referring to Iran
and Syria, Ledeen has written, "It's time to bring down the other terror
masters. Faster, please."
The Lebanon Study Group, which issued its 48-page strategy document in 2000
calling for ending Syria's presence in Lebanon, featured many of the same players.
Richard Perle, Doug Feith, and Elliot Abrams were all signatories of the call-to-arms
manifesto, which was co-authored by Daniel Pipes. Ironically, the report pitched
its argument around the need the preserve Lebanon's Christian community. Christians
have been in sharp decline in the Middle East since 2001, largely because of
the collateral damage caused by aggressive Bush administration policies such
as those advocated by the Lebanon Study Group. Congressman Eliot Engel of New
York, a signatory to the document, followed up on its recommendations by introducing
the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act, which was passed with
overwhelming majorities in Congress in 2003.
The founder of the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL), Lebanese
businessman Ziad Abdelnour, co-authored the Lebanon Study Group report with
Pipes. The Committee has been relatively quiet since the passage of the Syrian
Accountability Act in 2003, but it once included a whole pantheon of neocon
luminaries in its Golden Circle of contributors, including Abrams, Perle, Feith,
Ledeen, Paula Dobriansky, Michael Rubin, David Wurmser, Frank Gaffney, and Jeane
Kirkpatrick. When the USCFL was founded in 1997, it found supporters among neoconservatives,
Christian Zionists, and the Likud Party of Israel. It has links to the Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee, and the Christian Coalition on its
Apart from the incestuous nature of the groups advocating terrible retribution
for recalcitrant Arabs and Persians, there are several major logical disconnects
in the case being made against Syria and Iran. There is no actual evidence that
either Syria or Iran has any weapons of mass destruction program. Saddam Hussein
used chemical weapons against the Iranians between 1983 and 1986, but the Iranians
did not retaliate in kind, possibly because they were either not able or unwilling
to do so. Iran's government insists that its nuclear program exists for the
peaceful generation of electricity, and there is no actual evidence to suggest
that it is anything but that, only suspicions. Syria likewise might well have
limited bio-chem weapons capabilities, but it has never used such weapons and
evidence that they exist at all is lacking. Damascus does not have the technical
capabilities to develop a nuclear weapon, and it is not likely that it will
ever have the resources to do so.
Regarding the terrorist links, attempts to tie Iran to al-Qaeda are far-fetched
for a number of reasons, including the historical antipathy of al-Qaeda to the
Shi'ite religion. Syria likewise has no demonstrable ties to al-Qaeda. Both
Iran and Syria do have links to Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as to several Palestinian
terrorist groups, including Hamas. The groups in question all have one thing
in common: they are directed against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and
parts of south Lebanon, not against the United States. As such, whatever one
believes about the rights and wrongs of the Israel-Palestine conflict, these
groups do not constitute a threat to the United States, and their relationships
with Syria and Iran should not constitute a casus belli for Washington.
Former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a Christian, has recognized Hezbollah
as a "respected and legitimate part of the Lebanese people and government."
Most Lebanese would agree, in spite of real concerns about the long-term political
objectives of the group, particularly in light of Hezbollah's extremely popular
defeat of Israel's July 2006 invasion. A solid majority of Palestinians voted
for Hamas the last time they were allowed to cast ballots, an exercise in democracy
that the Bush administration is not likely to permit a second time.
Finally, there is the argument that Iran in particular and Syria to a lesser
extent are both responsible for killing "our soldiers" in Iraq. One
thing that all the stories about alleged Iranian and Syrian involvement have
in common is their lack of substantiating detail. The stories are light on names,
dates, places, and corroborating information. Most rely on anonymous government
sources or unsourced assertions that are presented as fact.
In March 2006, even Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
admitted that there was no evidence to back up the claims of direct Iranian
involvement in the development of the more effective IEDs. IEDs, which have
been used by the Irish Republican Army and the Basque separatists ETA among
others, are not an Iranian innovation or something that is unique to Tehran's
arsenal. The Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein included many specialists in ordnance-design
working in its armories, nearly all of whom have been unemployed since 2003.
Iraq's arsenals contained all the artillery shells and bombs one might possibly
need to construct huge and highly sophisticated roadside weapons, all without
any need for Iranian assistance. By one estimate, Iraqis have enough high explosives
on hand to continue IED attacks at the current rate for the next 274 years.
Hopefully, the United States will not still be occupying Iraq at that time.