WASHINGTON -- Arab government officials and military officers, visiting the Near East and South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington last week, frantically asked their American hosts if Iraq was only the beginning of U.S. military intervention in their region. What worried them was the kind of American rhetoric they had been hearing and that was to be used three days later by a prominent Pentagon adviser who publicly declared World War IV.
It also worries the secretary of state. For all the chatter over whether the State or Defense Department will dominate post-war Iraq, what really concerns Colin Powell is broader policy after Saddam Hussein's regime falls. Does the United States intend a series of military interventions throughout the Arab world, or will it try to restore the country's tattered international standing?
Friends of Powell say he puts a high priority on improving spoiled multilateral relationships. While rifts with France and Germany are viewed by him as reparable, he knows the image of the U.S. in the rest of the world has never been so poor. That is of no great concern at the Pentagon, where the sword is seen as mightier than public relations polls. But the secretary of state believes President Bush shares his view rather than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's, about global American prestige.
That prestige suffers from events such as the April 3 conservative "teach-in" at the University of California at Los Angeles. Former CIA Director James Woolsey announced that the U.S. is engaged in World War IV (the Cold War, he said, was World III) that will last for years. Besides Iraq and al Qaeda, he identified as America's enemies Iran's mullahs and Syria's "fascists." Woolsey went on to warn America's friends in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that they are on the wrong side in this war.
Woolsey is not just another talking head. A Democrat who was President Bill Clinton's first director of central intelligence, he is a serious person who serves on Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board and is slated to be a minister in Iraq's military government. His rhetoric at UCLA may have been vivid, but it accurately reflects how senior Pentagon civilians think.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz distanced himself from his friend Woolsey's clash of civilizations between Christendom and Islam. What he said next, however, about alleged support for Saddam Hussein's regime, did not reassure Damascus.