Who's next?

Posted: Apr 15, 2003 12:00 AM

The Bush Administration is obliquely serving notice on Syria that it could be the next country liberated in the war on terror.  Mr. Bush's critics at home and abroad are horrified at the possibility that this conflict might take such a turn.  If they wish to avoid such a step, however, they should learn a signal lesson from the now-nearly-accomplished liberation of Iraq:  War is more likely to be made unnecessary if would-be critics support the President, than by their opposing him.

 After all, it now seems clear that Saddam Hussein made the latest -- and probably last -- of his famous miscalculations by believing that the United States would be talked out of, or otherwise forestalled from, launching military operations against Iraq.  In the end, he bet his regime on the ability of peace activists and sympathetic veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council to prevent Gulf War II.  If all else failed and President Bush actually initiated hostilities, Saddam evidently felt confident of his forces' ability to shed enough American blood to inflame anti-war movement and assure his survival yet again.

 With the swift and decisive destruction of the Iraqi regime, things should look very different to the remaining members of the "Axis of Evil" (North Korea and Iran) and other rogue states like Syria.  If not encouraged to believe otherwise, these countries' governments --which are no less odious than the one ruled until recently by Saddam Hussein -- have every reason to believe that they are at risk of meeting a fate similar to his, unless they undertake significant and far-reaching changes. 

 Syria most especially has cause to take seriously President Bush's demands for behavior modification.  Like Iraq, it is a long-time sponsor of international terrorism.  Most of the world's terror organizations have long been given headquarters, branch offices and/or training facilities on Syria's territory or in Syrian-controlled Lebanon.

 Like Iraq, Syria has also been involved for decades in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  In addition to its own chemical and biological stocks, and considerable quantities of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles for their delivery, Damascus may have acquired some of Saddam's WMD spirited out of Iraq.

 Lately, the Syrian regime has foolishly offered Mr. Bush several further justifications for the use of force against it.  It appears to be granting refuge to members of Saddam's ruling clique; on Sunday, U.S. forces captured his half-brother, Watban Ibrahim Hassan, near Mosul on one of the principal roads leading to Syria.  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said other Iraqi officials have been allowed to elude capture by transiting Syria for third countries.

 The U.S. government has alleged that Syrians have also provided night-vision equipment and presumably other war materiel to enable Saddam loyalists to attack American servicemen and women.  Worse yet, they have permitted another deadly export: "busloads" of non-Iraqi death squads, some of whom have been apprehended with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and leaflets offering bounties for those who kill U.S. personnel.  These are indisputably unfriendly acts.

 President Bush has said that, in the war on terror, countries are either with us or against us.  While some in the CIA and State Department insist that the Ba'athist regime in Syria qualifies as being among the former insofar as it has provided us with some helpful intelligence, a net assessment suggests that such assistance is more than offset by Syria's ill-concealed efforts on behalf of our enemies. 

 Should the Syrians fail to end such hostile activity forthwith, the United States and a coalition of the willing should bring to bear whatever techniques are necessary -- including military force -- to effect behavior modification and/or regime change in Damascus, as well.  By so doing, freedom stands to get a two-fer: liberating both Syria and Lebanon, the country Hafez Assad rapaciously colonized in the mid-1970s and that Damascus has brutally dominated ever since, despite a formal, international commitment to relinquish it some twenty years ago. 

 Few steps would do more to create an opportunity for a real, just and durable Arab-Israeli peace than to accompany the liquidation of Saddam's support for suicide bombers and other forms of terror with the elimination of the Syrian/Lebanese base of operations of and much of the support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which Attorney General John Ashcroft has described as "one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world."  The region's transformation -- and its hopes for a more peaceable future -- could be decisively advanced if behavior modification and/or regime change were to follow in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

 It should come as no surprise that there will be other fronts in the war on terror.  As George W. Bush made known shortly after September 11, 2001, this is a global conflict that will take years to wage.  With luck, by making an object lesson of Iraq to other enemies in that war and by garnering the broadest possible support for doing so, we can accomplish the conditions required for the Free World's victory without further resort to large-scale military operations.