WASHINGTON--Does Syria want to become the Argentina of Iraqi war criminals? The analogy is apt, but it fails in one respect. Argentina took in Nazi fugitives after the Second World War out of sentimentality. It had a soft spot for Nazis. But it was hardly going to become the base for the destabilization of the new Germany.
Syria does not act out of sentimentality. Its harboring of high officials from Saddam's government is not an act of Baath Party brotherhood. It's a form of realpolitik, a postwar continuation of Syria's prewar opposition to America's aim to democratize Iraq.
Prewar, Syria conducted clandestine trade with Iraq and acted as an outlet for illegal Iraqi oil shipments. During the war, it sent weapons and fighters into Iraq with the hope of bloodying, if not stopping, the Americans. Postwar, it has become the refuge for Saddam's henchmen and a potential source of fighters, weapons and logistics for a guerrilla/terrorist campaign to drive America out of Iraq.
Sound far-fetched? Then you have forgotten your history. Syria did precisely that to the United States 20 years ago in Lebanon. It was Syrian-supported Hezbollah terrorists who blew up the Marine barracks, killing 241 and driving America out of Lebanon.
Syria did the same to Israel, which took Lebanon from Syria and the PLO in a war in 1982. Israel, too, was forced by Syrian-supported terror and a guerrilla war of attrition to choose eventual and humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon.
On March 27, Syrian President Bashar Assad deliberately drew the analogy and issued the challenge, hailing Iraq as ``a large Arab country with scientific, material and human resources ... able to accomplish, at the least, what Lebanon accomplished, and more.''
Why is he being so bold? First, because he fears that if the winds of freedom are allowed to blow from Iraq, they will topple him, yet another Baathist dictator who survives on terror and fear. Second, because having American military power next door might give encouragement to democratic opponents at home and constrain his capacity to support terrorism and suppress Lebanon (which Syria still occupies).
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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