- Sidelined by their failed predictions for Iraq and US
President George W Bush's efforts to reassure voters he
is not a warmonger, prominent neo-conservatives and
their Christian Right allies are nonetheless trying hard
to prepare the ground for future US adventures in the
Echoing increasingly threatening
noises from the government of Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon about preventing Iran from developing a
nuclear weapon, neo-cons are calling for Washington to
undertake covert action, at the very least, to oust what
some of them call the "terror masters" in Tehran as part
of a more general "World War IV" against alleged Arab
and Islamic extremism. (The Cold War is widely
considered as World War III.)
Some neo-cons are
even complaining that if Bush had been serious about the
"war on terrorism", he should have taken on Iran after
Afghanistan, rather than Iraq.
"Had we seen the
war for what it was, we would not have started with
Iraq, but with Iran, the mother of modern Islamic
terrorism, the creator of Hezbollah, the ally of
al-Qaeda, the sponsor of [Abu Musab al-]Zarqawi, the
longtime sponsor of Fatah and the backbone of Hamas,"
wrote part-time Pentagon consultant Michael Ledeen of
the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) this week.
His article also reprised an argument he first
made three years ago - that the Iranian people were
already rising up against the mullahs and needed only a
little nudge from Washington to succeed.
Neo-conservatives are also busy stoking tensions
with Syria, even amid indications that Washington and
Damascus are feeling their way toward some kind of
"modus vivendi" that may even include joint military
patrols along the latter's porous border with Iraq.
Last week they heard from a Syrian exile, Farid
Ghadry, who apparently aspires to become the Ahmed
Chalabi - the neo-con boosted leader of the exiled Iraqi
National Congress whose standing in Washington plummeted
after it was alleged he passed secrets to Iran - of his
In addition to lobbying for the
pending Syria Liberation Act, which would commit the US
government to "regime change" in Damascus, Ghadry
charged that the government of President Bashir Assad
was building "a new colony of terrorism" for youths in
Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
who led the charge to war in Iraq, have steadily lost
influence over US policy in Baghdad since a year ago,
when US troops found themselves welcomed by a serious
and growing insurgency rather than the flowers and
sweets the neo-cons had predicted.
At the same
time, Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, was
reported to have told unhappy war hawks in the Pentagon
and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, the two neo-con
strongholds, that Bush's re-election prospects would be
greatly enhanced if there was "no war in '04".
Led by arch-realists Secretary of State Colin
Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage, the State
Department gradually wrested control over policy towards
Syria and Iran. With US troops bogged down next door, a
policy of confrontation, as advocated by neo-cons, not
only risked another war, the realists argued, but could
also invite more damaging efforts by both Damascus and
Tehran to destabilize Iraq.
Wary engagement with
both countries has thus become official policy. The
recent visit by a high-level US delegation to Damascus
and the invitation of European and Arab allies and
Iraq's neighbors to attend a US-sponsored meeting on
Iraq in Tehran later this fall mark hard-fought advances
in the State Department's agenda.
But while the
neo-cons may be down, they are by no means out. As more
than one foreign-policy analyst has noted, no neo-con
within the administration has resigned or been fired,
despite their responsibility for the Iraqi quagmire and
public calls by even some senior Republican lawmakers
and retired military officers that they be ousted.
Some analysts have argued the neo-cons remain in
place only because their departure now would amount to
an admission by the administration - and thus Bush
himself - that serious mistakes had been made. In this
view, Bush would purge them in a second term, as he
continued along the State Department's "realist" line.
But a growing number of observers, particularly
in the State Department and the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), are coming to the conclusion that the
neo-cons may actually enjoy greater influence if Bush
In just the past few days, for
example, an article, The State Department's Extreme
Makeover, published by online magazine Slate and
attributed to an "anonymous" veteran foreign service
officer, made precisely this argument.
It is in
this context that neo-cons' recent efforts to focus
their fire on Syria and Iran, in particular, should be
Ghadry spoke at an all-day symposium
co-sponsored by the Committee on the Present Danger
(CPD), a predominantly neo-conservative lobby group set
up in August, and by the Foundation for Defense of
Democracies (FDD), a group created two days after the
September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, whose
views largely mirror those of Israel's ruling Likud
On FDD's board of advisers are prominent
neo-cons and Iraq war boosters, including former Defense
Policy Board chairman and Ledeen's sidekick at AEI,
Richard Perle; AEI fellow Jeane Kirkpatrick; and former
CIA director James Woolsey, who also co-chairs the CPD.
Joining them are Weekly Standard editor Bill
Kristol, whose own Project for the New American Century
first named Iran and Syria - as well as Iraq and the
Palestinian Authority - as targets of the "war on
terrorism", in an open letter published just 10 days
after September 11.
The conference was addressed
briefly by telephone by former secretary of state George
Shultz, the group's new co-chair, while Woolsey
announced that former Czech Republic president Vaclav
Havel and former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar
had agreed to head an international chapter.
Keynoters for the symposium, titled "World War
IV: Why We're Fighting, Whom We're Fighting, How We're
Fighting", included Woolsey, who has long spoken of the
fight against "Islamo-fascism" - defined as including
"the mullahs of Iran", the Ba'athist parties of Iraq and
Syria, and "the Wahhabis", of which the al-Qaeda
terrorist group is a part - as the equivalent of a world
On hand was Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz, whose participation appeared not only to
provide an official sanction of the radical agenda, but
also to confirm that the neo-con faction within the Bush
administration is alive, kicking and unashamed despite
the quagmire in Iraq.
Norman Podhoretz, who has also used "World War IV" as
his favored description for the challenges Washington
faces in the Near East, in particular, made a rare
He called Israeli tactics in
the occupied territories a "model for how to fight this
kind of war", and asserted that "Iran is unquestionably
on the agenda" of a second Bush administration.
"I have no doubt that we're going to have to do
it and do it fast," he declared, noting there were "many
different instrumentalities" at Washington's disposal
for dealing with the mullahs and their nuclear program.
Podhoretz, whose son-in-law Elliott Abrams is
the Middle East director on the National Security
Council staff, also offered a sweeping vision of what
the region might look like when the US triumphed.
Stressing the long-held Likud view that the
nations of the region were artificial creations forged
out of the defeated Ottoman Empire, he suggested, 'What
was done in the aftermath of World War I can be undone
in World War IV."
Two days later, the FDD helped
convene the Middle Eastern American Convention for
Freedom and Democracy to elaborate a foreign policy
towards the region by several dozen mostly sectarian
groups, including the American Coptic Association, the
American Maronite Union, the Southern Sudanese Voice for
Freedom, the Assyrian American National Federation, the
Chaldean National Congress, the American Middle East
Christian Association, Jews Indigenous to the Middle
East and North Africa and the Washington Kurdish