|Familiar hawks take aim
WASHINGTON - Many of the same people who
led the campaign for war against Iraq signed a report
released three years ago that called for using military
force to disarm Syria of weapons of mass destruction
(WMD) and to end its military presence in Lebanon.
Among the signers are several senior members of
the administration of President George W Bush, including
the chief Middle East aide on the National Security
Council, Elliott Abrams; Undersecretary of Defense for
Policy Douglas Feith; Undersecretary of State for Global
Affairs Paula Dobriansky, and Michael Rubin and David
Wurmser, senior consultants to both the State Department
and the Pentagon on Iraq policy.
were Richard Perle, the powerful former chairman of the
Defense Policy Board; former United Nations ambassador
Jeane Kirkpatrick; Frank Gaffney, a former Perle aide
who heads the Center for Defense Policy; Michael Ledeen,
another close Perle collaborator at the American
Enterprise Institute; and David Steinmann, chairman of
the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
The study, "Ending Syria's Occupation of
Lebanon: The US Role", was co-authored by Daniel Pipes,
who has just been nominated by Bush to a post at the US
Institute of Peace, and Ziad Abdelnour, who heads a
group founded by him called the United States Committee
for a Free Lebanon (USCFL). The study was released by
Pipes' group, the Middle East Forum.
whose 67 "Golden Circle" members include virtually all
of the 31 signatories of the report, has been a major
force behind the Syria Accountability and Lebanese
Sovereignty Restoration Act that was just reintroduced
in the House of Representatives last week by
Representatives Eliot Engel, a USCFL member, and Ileana
The legislation, which had 150
co-sponsors in the House last year, would impose
far-reaching economic and diplomatic sanctions against
Syria until the president certified that that it had
stopped all support to Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and
other groups that Washington considers terrorist, and
the government withdraws its estimated 20,000 troops
from Lebanon, and takes other measures long demanded by
"Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is
defeated," Engel said, "it is time for America to get
serious about Syria. The United States must not tolerate
[its] continued support of the most deadly terrorist
organizations in the world, its development of weapons
of mass destruction, and its occupation of Lebanon."
He said a companion measure, co-sponsored by
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republic Senator
Rick Santorum, will soon be introduced in the Senate.
The action comes amid a two-week-old flurry of
threats by top administration officials against Syria
over its alleged failure to cooperate with Washington's
military campaign against Baghdad. Those threats
culminated on Sunday when Bush himself accused Syria of
having chemical weapons, although he did not specify
whether they were home-grown or received from Iraq for
safe-keeping, as alleged by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon earlier this year and repeated by senior Pentagon
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has
accused Syria of harboring members of Saddam's regime,
and asked, whether Damascus was "next" after Iraq,
replied that "it depends on people's behavior".
Intelligence officials told reporters that Rumsfeld had
ordered the drawing up of contingency plans for a
possible invasion of Syria and that Feith, the
Pentagon's number three official, had begun work on a
policy paper about Syria's support of terrorist groups.
"There's got to be a change in Syria," said
Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz on a TV network
news program. "It is a strange regime, one of extreme
ruthlessness." At the same time, former Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) director James Woolsey, a
favorite of Wolfowitz and Perle, who may be tapped to
play a top political role in post-war Iraq, declared
that Washington was fighting enemies in a "World War IV"
that includes "fascists of Iraq and Syria", a reference
to Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party.
have contributed to the growing impression that
administration hawks do indeed consider Syria next on
the list, although some have also made clear that if
President Bashar Assad - whom CIA sources have said has
generally cooperated with US efforts against al-Qaeda
and Osama bin Laden - meets a number of demands,
possibly including turning over Iraqi officials who may
have entered Syria, he is unlikely to face the full
force of US military power, at least for now.
Still, there is no question that the hawks,
boosted by the easier-than-expected victory in Baghdad,
are eager to throw their weight around, particularly in
Syria's direction. This is especially true of the
neoconservatives closest to the right-wing Likud Party
in Israel which, 19 years after US Marines completed a
humiliating withdrawal from Beirut in the wake of a
series of deadly bombings committed by the Syria-backed
Hezbollah, appears itching to get revenge.
Indeed, it was Assad's father Hafez who
single-handedly frustrated US efforts to convert the
1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon into a major strategic
advance in the region. At the time, Abrams, Perle,
Kirkpatrick, Gaffney and Ledeen were all serving in the
Ronald Reagan administration.
in Lebanon's civil war in 1975 and has kept tens of
thousands of troops there since, although they have
become increasingly inconspicuous over the past decade.
Except for the 18 months that followed Israel's 1982
invasion (which was led by Sharon), Damascus' influence
has been decisive in Beirut's foreign and defense
The 2000 study by Pipes' Middle East
Forum stressed that "Syrian rule in Lebanon stands in
direct opposition to American ideals", and it rued
Washington's habit since 1983 of engaging rather than
confronting the regime, the only government on the State
Department's "terrorism" list with which Washington has
full diplomatic relations.
The "Lebanon Study
Group" urged a policy of confrontation, beginning with
tough economic and diplomatic sanctions that could not
be waived by the president and, if necessary, military
force. "The Vietnam legacy and the sour memories of dead
American Marines in Beirut notwithstanding," the group
wrote, "the United States has entered a new era of
undisputed military supremacy coupled with an
appreciable drop in human losses on the battlefield."
"This opens the door to a similar decision to
act for Lebanon's endangered freedoms and pluralism. But
this opportunity may not wait, for as weapons of mass
destruction capabilities spread, the risks of such
action will rapidly grow," the group warned in an echo
of similar arguments the hawks deployed prior to the
Iraq invasion. "If there is to be decisive action, it
will have to be sooner rather than later."
USCFL, which lists Amin Gemayel - who as Lebanon's
president signed an aborted peace treaty with Israel in
1983 - as the top figure in the Lebanese opposition on
its website, appears to enjoy strong backing from both
the Christian Right and far-right Jewish
neoconservatives, such as Perle, Ledeen, Steinmann,
Pipes and Gaffney.
While a handful of the
Lebanese-Americans listed in its "Golden Circle" are
Muslim, most, including Abdelnour, an investment banker,
are Christian. A plurality of "Golden Circle" members
appears to be Jewish-Americans.