by Gary Leupp
"Oh yes, sir, not only is it Afghanistan. There's a list of countries. We're not that good at fighting terrorists, so we're going after states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Iran. There's a five-year plan."
-- A Pentagon general to Gen. Wesley Clark, Nov. 2001
As someone who believes that the Bush administration fully intends to implement the neo-con plan for regime change in Syria, Iran, and Lebanon in the next couple years, I've watched it and the compliant media build the cases necessary for attack. Just as the disinformation apparatus spun out charges one after one against Iraq (many of them now forgotten, although they produced a climate of fear and hatred and served their psy-war purpose at the time) from 9/11 to March 2003, so they have piled on accusations and insinuations against Syria, Iran and Lebanon's Hizbollah.
These charges collect, growing ever more shrill. Syria stands accused of sponsoring terrorism, having weapons of mass destruction, facilitating foreign fighters' entry into Iraq (to fight other foreign fighters in Iraq), hosting fleeing Iraqi Baathists, providing banking services for the Iraqi insurgents, occupying Lebanon in defiance of the people's will, encouraging Hizbollah attacks on Israel, orchestrating a legal change authorizing an extension of the (Christian pro-Syrian) Lebanese president's term, and (although this is only insinuated) assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Every Palestinian suicide-bomber attack on Israelis is laid at the Syrian doorstep. "Axis of Evil" component Iran is also charged with sponsoring terrorism, assisting anti-US forces in Iraq, and funding Hizbollah and Palestinian organizations. In addition it's accused of seeking to produce nuclear weapons. As was case with Iraq, the possible presence in Iran of al-Qaeda forces fleeing Afghanistan in 2001-2 has been represented as active Iranian complicity in al-Qaeda terrorism. Hizbollah, long vilified by the U.S, is repeatedly linked to terrorist actions taken in Israel by Palestinian groups. The list of reasons for regime change lengthens.
But there have been some developments this month that some interpret as setbacks for the neo-cons' Five Year Plan. The administration has agreed to support the Europeans' negotiations with Iran pertaining to the Iranians' nuclear program, and by some accounts to accept Hizbollah's role in Lebanese politics. There is a curious dialectic at work here, but I don't think it fundamentally affects the Plan.
Following the February 14 assassination of Rafik Hariri, the U.S. baselessly implicated Syria, stepping up the pressure on Syria building since the passage of UNSC resolution 1559 last September. Anti-Syrian demonstrations conducted by young well-heeled Lebanese, labeled by the mainstream press the "Cedar Revolution" and compared to the U.S.-financed "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine (but labeled the "Gucci revolution" by critically-minded observers) culminated in a rally of 70,000 March 7 demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops. The U.S. press true to form lauded the "successes" of Bush's Middle East policy, driven supposedly by the heroic impulse to bring "freedom" to benighted Arabs, and pronounced the president's policies vindicated by the happy telegenic faces in Beirut.
Syria buckled under, and declared it will withdraw the last 14,000 of the 45,000 troops it has deployed in Lebanon originally at Lebanese request. To save face it stated that it is merely following through on the Taif agreement of 1989.
The U.S. responded: That's not good enough. Bully Bush brandishing Resolution 1559 (as though it held greater weight than any of the resolutions pertaining to Israel blithely ignored by the Jewish state) demanded all Syrian forces be out by May. Upping the ante, he also demanded the 1000-plus intelligence officers be withdrawn as well. (But given the nature of the intelligence field, it will be difficult to ascertain whether any Syrian spies remain. Thus it will always be possible, citing unspecified intelligence sources, to assert that some intelligence officers linger and hence Syria is "defying the international community" by their presence. As was the case with Iraq, the U.S. heaps upon Syria demands that it either cannot meet or cannot prove having met; the point is not really to get Assad to change but to change -- i.e. topple -- the Syrian regime and implant a client pro-U.S., Israel-friendly one. By the way, surely there are U.S. intelligence officers in Lebanon; wasn't CIA station chief William Buckley executed there by kidnappers in 1984? What if Syria was to demand, tit-for-tat: "Get your spies out and we'll do the same?")
March 8: In response to all the above, Hizbollah organized a massive rally of 500,000 in Beirut to express gratitude to Syria, and to demand that the U.S. stop interfering in Lebanese affairs. Christians and Sunnis as well as Shiites participated in this nationalist-themed demonstration. It was too huge for the U.S. media to ignore, although it was downplayed, and explained away by some (like Al Hunt on CNN's "Capital Gang") as involving thousands bussed in from Syria.
The U.S. responded to the embarrassingly substantial demo by intimating that it would be willing to accept a Hizbollah role in Lebanese politics, but quickly backtracked on the question (suggesting ongoing debate in the administration) and pressured the EU that has long resisted such a move to list Hizbollah as a "terrorist organization." In return for Europe's shift, the U.S. agreed to support Europe's efforts to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. If Iran agrees not to enrich uranium, the U.S. will support Iran's admission into the WTO and won't object to its purchase of spare civilian aircraft parts from the EU.
Do these moves represent some slippage in the neo-con program, or just clever tactics? I think the latter. The new Euro-American united front will tell Hizbollah, "We understand you are the largest political party in Lebanon and command much respect and support. We know that the Lebanese constitution revised in 1989 gives the Christian minority 50 percent of parliamentary seats and the presidency, and so long as you agree with that set-up and also disband your militia and cease attacks on Israel we'll take you off our terror list and work with you." Hizbollah will say "no thank you," and so despite its show of strength March 8 will remain a target. Thus the Lebanese state in which Hizbollah plays a prominent mainstream political role will remain a target, along with Syria.
Iran, allied with Syria and Hizbollah and enjoying cordial relations with the still unannounced quasi-independent regime in U.S.-occupied Iraq, will say "no thank you" to the U.S.-EU offer to exchange airplane parts for Iran's unquestionable right by international law to enrich uranium. This for the Iranians is a matter of national pride, and the neo-cons know it. They also know that the Netherlands, Japan and other nations without nuclear weapons programs have been allowed to master the nuclear cycle. But U.S. policy has been to deny Iran, specifically, that right for one reason alone: Israel.
Iran, of course, has stated repeatedly that it does not plan or wish to produce nuclear weapons, and its religious leadership has condemned them as "un-Islamic." Iran has opened itself up to the most intrusive IAEA inspections ever; the agency head Mohamed ElBaradei has reported no evidence that Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program; and a Bush-appointed bipartisan commission investigating the issue states that U.S. intelligence provides no evidence either.
But the neo-cons aren't impressed with such reports. They reason that if Iran enriches uranium, there's the possibility it will produce nuclear weapons and use them against Israel. To quote Gen. Clark again: he told the Guardian in August 2002 that, "Those who favor [the attack on Iraq] now will tell you candidly, and privately, that it is probably true that Saddam Hussein is no threat to the United States. But they are afraid at some point he might decide if he had a nuclear weapon to use it against Israel."
Not against the U.S. but against Israel. Bush administration policy is to prevent any nation hostile to Israel (any embracing the historical narrative according to which the settler-state established itself at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population) from mastering the nuclear cycle since such mastery would constitute an "existential threat" to the Jewish state. One could argue, as some do, that a nuclear Iran would merely counterbalance the existing nuclear Israel and that the two could coexist as did the U.S. and USSR throughout the Cold War, when the "mutually assured destruction" doctrine prevailed. But the Bush administration has made its policy clear: if Iran seems poised to enrich uranium, either Washington or Israel (remember the bombing of Osiraq in 1981?) will preempt that possibility.
The Bush administration meanwhile knows that Syria will not be able to demonstrate compliance with Washington's mounting demands, and that Hizbollah will not dismantle its much-admired militia that drove the invading Israelis from south Lebanon in 2000. They know Iran will not -- in deference to the feelings of a nuclear power illegally occupying and settling Arab lands and brutally suppressing a popular uprising -- agree to accept second-class citizenship in the community of nations by agreeing to never, ever do what international law allows: enrich uranium. The neo-cons know that when Syria, Hizbollah and Iran say no to their accelerating schedule of unreasonable demands, they'll maintain their case for attacks. But this time they'll have Europe (notably a wheeling and dealing imperialist France, which is doing business with the U.S. regarding its former Syrian and Lebanese colonies, to say nothing of Haiti), on their side as they pursue their five-year regime change plan.
Reprinted by permission
March 18, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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