|Cheney's new adviser has sights on
By Jim Lobe
- A neo-conservative strategist who has long called for
the United States and Israel to work together to "roll
back" the Ba'ath-led government in Syria, has been
quietly appointed as a Middle East adviser to Vice
President Dick Cheney.
David Wurmser, who had
been working for the undersecretary of state for arms
control and international security, John Bolton, joined
Cheney's staff under its powerful national security
director, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in mid-September,
according to Cheney's office.
The move is
significant, not only because Cheney is seen
increasingly as the dominant foreign policy influence on
President George W Bush, but also because it adds to the
notion that neo-conservatives remain a formidable force
under Bush, despite the sharp plunge in public
confidence in Bush's handling of post-war Iraq resulting
from the faulty assumptions propagated by the neo-cons
before the war.
Given the recent intensification
of tensions between Washington and Damascus - touched
off by this month's US veto of a United Nations Security
Council resolution deploring an Israeli air attack on an
alleged Palestinian camp outside Damascus - Wurmser's
rise takes on added significance.
The move also
follows House of Representatives' approval of a bill
that would impose new economic and diplomatic sanctions
Wurmser's status as a favored
protege of arch-hawk and former Defense Policy Board
chairman Richard Perle at the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI) also speaks loudly to Middle East
specialists, who note Perle's long-time close
association with Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld
and Rumsfeld's chief deputy Paul Wolfowitz.
Wolfowitz was the first senior administration
official to suggest that Washington might take action
against Syria amid reports in April that Damascus was
sheltering senior Iraqi leaders and weapons of mass
destruction in the wake of the US invasion.
"There's got to be a change in Syria," Wolfowitz
said, accusing the government of President Bashar Assad
of "extreme ruthlessness". Rumsfeld subsequently accused
Syria of permitting Islamic "jihadis" to infiltrate Iraq
to fight US troops.
Perle, who last week was in
Israel to receive a special award from the Jerusalem
Summit, an international group of right wing Jews and
Christian Zionists who describe themselves as defenders
of "civilization" against "Islamic fundamentalism", has
made no secret of his own desire to confront Damascus.
In a series of interviews, Perle applauded
Israel's attack on Syrian territory - the first since
1967 - in alleged retaliation for a Palestinian suicide
bombing in Israel. "I am happy to see the message was
delivered to Syria by the Israeli Air Force, and I hope
it is the first of many such messages," he said.
Perle said he hoped the US would itself take
action against Damascus, particularly if it turned out
that Syria was acting as a financial or recruiting base
for the insurgency in Iraq. "Syria is itself a terrorist
organization," he asserted, insisting that Washington
would not find it difficult to send troops to Damascus
despite its commitment in Iraq. "Syria is militarily
very weak," added Perle.
Damascus has been in
Wurmser's sights at least since he began working with
Perle at the AEI in the mid-1990s.
latter part of the decade, he wrote frequently to
support a joint US-Israeli effort to undermine then
president Hafez Assad, in hopes of destroying Ba'ath
rule and hastening the creation of a new order in the
Levant to be dominated by "tribal, familial and clan
unions under limited governments".
was precisely because of the strategic importance of the
Levant that Wurmser advocated overthrowing Saddam
Hussein in favor of an Iraqi National Congress (INC)
closely tied to the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.
"Whoever inherits Iraq dominates the entire
Levant strategically," he wrote in one 1996 paper for
the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and
Political Studies (IASPS).
Israeli-born spouse Meyrav Wurmser heads Middle East
studies at the neo-conservative Hudson Institute, was
the main author of a 1996 report by a task force
convened by the IASPS and headed by Perle, called the
Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000.
The paper, called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy
for Securing the Realm", was directed to incoming
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
featured a series of recommendations designed to end the
process of Israel trading "land for peace" by
transforming the "balance of power" in the Middle East
in favor of an axis consisting of Israel, Turkey and
To do so, it called for ousting Saddam
and installing a Hashemite leader in Baghdad. From that
point, the strategy would be largely focused on Syria
and, at the least, to reducing its influence in Lebanon.
Among other steps, the report called for Israeli
sponsorship of attacks on Syrian territory by "Israeli
proxy forces" based in Lebanon and "striking Syrian
military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove
insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria
"Israel can shape its strategic
environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by
weakening, containing, even rolling back Syria," the
report argued, to create a "natural axis" between
Israel, Jordan, a Hashemite Iraq and Turkey that "would
squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula".
"For Syria, this could be the prelude to a
redrawing of the map of the Middle East, which could
threaten Syria's territorial integrity," it suggested.
A follow-up report by Wurmser titled "Coping
with Crumbling States", also favored a substantial
redrawing of the Middle East along tribal and familial
lines in light of what he called an "emerging phenomenon
- the crumbling of Arab secular-nationalist nations".
The penchant of Washington and the West in
general for backing secular-nationalist states against
the threat of militant Islamic fundamentalism was a
strategic error, warned Wurmser in the second study, a
conclusion he repeated in a 1999 book, Tyranny's
Ally, which included a laudatory foreword by Perle
and was published by the AEI.
While the book
focused on Iraq, not Syria, it elaborated on Wurmser's
previous arguments by attacking regional specialists in
US universities, the State Department and the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) who, according to him, were
too wedded to strong secular states in the Arab world as
the preferred guarantors of regional stability.
"Our Middle East scholarly and policy elite are
informed by bad ideas about the region that lead them to
bad policies," he charged, echoing a position often
taken by Perle.
In the book's acknowledgments,
Wurmser praised those who most influenced his work, a
veritable "who's who" of those neo-cons most closely
tied to Israel's far right, including Perle himself,
another AEI scholar, Michael Ledeen and undersecretary
of defense for policy and the man in charge of post-Iraq
war planning, Douglas Feith.
former CIA director James Woolsey, who has called the
conflict in Syria the early stages of "World War IV",
Harold Rhode, a Feith aide who has also called himself
Wolfowitz's "Islamic affairs adviser" and INC leader
Wurmser also gave thanks to
Irving Moskowitz, a major casino operator and long-time
funder of Israel's settlement movement, whom he
described as a "gentle man whose generous support of AEI
allows me to be here".