Alex's Outlook

Sunday, May 04, 2003

In what may go down as the fastest conquest in history of a country of comparable size, three American divisions demolished Saddam Hussein’s regime in 26 days. Failure to find any significant evidence of WMD notwithstanding, broad majorities of Americans are glad we fought the war in Iraq. The question now on everyone’s minds, especially the Arabs’, is: where next? Should we attack Syria, which has knowingly harbored numerous Iraqi officials and which the Israeli Mossad alleges is hiding Saddam’s chemical weapons? Or Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of terrorism and Islamic extremism in the world? What about Iran, which has sent guerillas and mullahs to infiltrate the Shia a.reas of Iraq to undermine the American occupation? Or North Korea? We could also rest on our laurels and wait until later before launching another war.

All of the above countries present a threat to American security, with the exception of Syria, which is more of a nuisance than an actual threat. President Bush has gained considerable leverage with his quick victory over Iraq, and he is in a very strong position to change the behavior of these rogue nations in one way or another.

Syria will be the easiest country to bend to our will. Syria has supported terrorism for decades, and more recently has provided safe harbor for many of Saddam’s cronies and possibly Saddam himself. Bush has already turned the screws on Syria to some extent by cutting off a large Iraqi oil pipeline to Syria, which takes a $1 billion bite out of Hafez Assad’s $7.5 billion budget. But Bush needs to go further: demand the unconditional return of Iraqis and all chemical weapons transported into the country, or face war. Even if the American people are not in favor of a war against Syria, they won’t care after Assad’s ramshackle military has been pulverized and another hostile regime has been toppled. From a legal perspective, Bush already has the authority he needs to go into Syria. Hafez Assad knows all this, and once he realizes Bush is serious he will do whatever he needs to save his own skin.

Iran has been much more aggressive in her anti-American designs since Iraq fell. Suspected Iranian agents murdered the Ayatollah al-Khoei, a highly respected Shia cleric who happened to be the leader of pro-Western Shi’ism in Iraq. Iranian mullahs and guerrillas have infiltrated several major Shia cities, and the Iranian-backed protests – especially in Karbala, Najaf and Kut – are already gathering force. Iran also has extensive connections to terrorists, especially Hezbollah. Finally, Iran has a rapidly accelerating nuclear program in plain sight of American spy satellites. Allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon would make any possibility of removing the anti-American regime that much more remote. One of Bush’s few high cards is the smoldering dissent within Iran. Thanks to the total failure of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran is today the most progressive, democratic and secular nation in the entire Muslim world (except Turkey). A near-revolution in Esfahan, Teheran and other Iranian cities badly rattled the Iranian government in late 2002 and early 2003. By supporting indigenous dissent in Iran, Bush can at least give back what he’s getting in Iraq. Of course, if Teheran still doesn’t get the message, President Bush can always apply military and diplomatic pressure until Teheran either folds or is overthrown. The Iranians’ current secularism and modernity make the country an ideal candidate for regime change. Bush should be ready to pounce by July 3, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians will take to the streets to protest for a democratic, secular government. One way or another, Iran’s guerilla tactics in Iraq and nuclear program at home need to be stopped.

The other two problem countries – North Korea and Saudi Arabia – are best dealt with via nonmilitary means. North Korea’s utterly ruined economy would make it susceptible to blockade, although that would require Chinese support. But the Chinese government has no interest in a Stalinist lunatic playing matches next door, and they already turned the screws on North Korea for a weekend to make them return to nuclear negotiations by shutting off all oil pipelines to North Korea. The Saudi royal family will remain as decadent and beholden to the mullahs as ever without the price of oil plunging, and the United States could best bring that about by cranking up oil production in Iraq, flooding the market with oil and bankrupting the terror-supporting Saudis. Of course, if Iraq brings energy independence to the United States, then the United States can simply go to war without worrying about our previous oil dependence on the Saudis.

The victory in Iraq has brought President Bush not only abundant political capital, but enormous international leverage as well. No longer is he shackled by the imagined legitimacy of the United Nations, nor manacled by irrational fears of “the q-word” (quagmire). But Bush doesn’t have much time. With every passing hour, the Iranians come closer to completing their first atomic bomb, and the North Koreans closer to mass-production of nuclear weapons (allowing them to sell nuclear weapons to the highest bidder). The time to bring sanctions on North Korea and bleed the ailing Iranian regime dry is now – not, for instance, November 7, 2004.


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