There’s been a lot of speculation that Iraq was just the first in a line of nettlesome problems in the Middle East that neo-cons wanted to “solve.” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview almost a year ago that Iran should be the next target. However, it seems Washington has decided to step up its campaign against Syria.
U.S.-led coalition troops treat wounded soldiers after an attack on a Humvee on the main road about 50 miles south of Baghdad. The extent of the soldiers’ wounds was unclear. (Greg Baker — AP) Click to enlargeLast weekend, “to caution Israel’s enemies at a time of heightened tensions in the region and concern over Iran’s alleged ambitions,” Washington revealed that Israel now has land-, air- and submarine-based nuclear launch capability. This came just days after Turkish lawmakers voted to send up to 10,000 troops to Iraq. With the Turks now a dues-paying member of the “Coalition of Willing,” this means Syria is effectively surrounded. Remember that the major fighting in Iraq ended with Syrian and American forces skirmishing on the border, and now Damascus is pressed on the north and south by the formerly neutral Turkey and its old enemy Israel. The pressure is on Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to cease support for groups such as Hizballah and other groups operating out of Damascus. Asad is facing a dangerous gamble: Is the United States bluffing in its deployment of its and its allies’ forces around Syria in an attempt to force behavior change? Will a regime change follow if Syria’s behavior doesn’t alter?
Adding further to pressure is the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 (HR 1828). It passed the House this week, and particular note should be paid to Section 4 — Statement of Principles:
- Syria will be held responsible for attacks committed by Hizballah and other terrorist groups with offices, training camps, or other facilities in Syria, or bases in areas of Lebanon occupied by Syria;
- the United States shall impede Syria’s ability to support acts of international terrorism and efforts to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction;
- the Secretary of State will continue to list Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism until Syria ends its support for terrorism, including its support of Hizballah and other terrorist groups in Lebanon and its hosting of terrorist groups in Damascus, and comes into full compliance with United States law relating to terrorism and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 (September 28, 2001);
- efforts against Hizballah will be expanded given the recognition that Hizballah is equally or more capable than al Qa’ida;
- the full restoration of Lebanon’s sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity is in the national security interest of the United States;
- Syria is in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 520 (September 17, 1982) through its continued occupation of Lebanese territory and its encroachment upon Lebanon’s political independence;
- Syria’s obligation to withdraw from Lebanon is not conditioned upon progress in the Israeli-Syrian or Israeli-Lebanese peace process but derives from Syria’s obligation under Security Council Resolution 520;
- Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States;
- Syria will be held accountable for any harm to Coalition armed forces or to any United States citizen in Iraq due to its facilitation of terrorist activities and its shipments of military supplies to Iraq; and
- the United States will not provide any assistance to Syria and will oppose multilateral assistance for Syria until Syria ends all support for terrorism, withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon, and halts the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction and medium- and long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.
Note that many of these principles are almost identical to those expressed against Iraq, particularly the violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, the weapons of mass destruction and its ties to terrorism — in this case Hizballah, which has been promoted to Al Qa’ida rank in evil. Even the “axis of evil” rhetoric has been heated up, as this statement from the office of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, illustrates:
Syria is a government at war with the values of the civilized world and a violent threat to free nations and free men everywhere. We’ll send a clear message to President Asad and his fellow travelers along the axis of evil: The United States will not tolerate terrorism, its perpetrators, or its sponsors. And our warnings are not to be ignored. (Emphasis added — Ed.)
Stratfor.com notes that the capture of Baghdad shocked the Arab world, and the United States seized the psychological initiative with the city’s fall. The United States went from being perceived as a hated but impotent power to a hated but feared one. Since the fall of Baghdad, however, the perception that the United States is bogged down by guerillas has taken hold and much of the initiative has been lost. The passage of HR 1828 and the coalescing of a regional coalition against Syria is required if the United States’ is to regain its footing and momentum. If pressure by Washington works, then Syria will reduce support to terror groups targeting Israel and halt the flow of fighters into Iraq. If it doesn’t, the United States will need to deal with Syria by force.
Related link: Why Iraq?