According to Gen. Wesley Clark, a senior U.S. military officer told him in the Pentagon as early as November 2001 that the administration planned, following the invasion of Iraq, to conduct campaigns throughout the Middle East and beyond. "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."
We're in the fourth year of that plan, which proceeds apace. Afghanistan and Iraq are conquered, dotted with U.S. military bases designed to be permanent. Libya's been removed from the target list, due to some canny machinations on Col. Muammar Qadhafi's part, and Somalia's drawing less attention than Sudan. But Syria, Lebanon and Iran remain very much in the crosshairs.
Flexibility is of course built in to the Plan. One can't predict all the international factors that might affect its timing, or the specific strategy appropriate for the planned regime changes. But plainly the first priority is to manipulate public opinion to acquire support for the planned attacks. That means coordinating the dissemination of disinformation through a compliant corporate press; posting paid agents within that press, and purchasing the services of others; and favoring the most bellicose and fascistic organs with official appearances. It means maintaining the population in a state of anxiety and paranoia through color-coded terror alerts, vague but alarmist announcements of al-Qaeda actions (although there have been none in the U.S. for three and a half years), and the repeated official assertion that another 9-11 is "inevitable." It means inculcating the belief in the masses that the "War on Terror" is a war on acohesive thing (like "communism") that will, like the Cold War, continue for generations, and must be accepted fatalistically as the destiny of the USA, and subtly linking that "war" with Christian fundamentalists' belief in an inevitable confrontation between Good and Evil leading up to the End Times. It means obtaining from a slavish, intimidated Congress carte blanche to attack and contain dissent through a regimen of regulations that vitiate the Constitution.
All this done, one wants to link Syria and Iran to the Iraqi resistance, depicted as "terrorist," link them to Palestinian nationalism (also depicted as "terrorist"), and raise a hue and cry about weapons of mass destruction as was done in the case of Iraq. Then look for opportunities to realize the aforementioned Five Year Plan.
What a godsend was the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri! It's allowed the Bush administration to ratchet up the campaign of vilification of Syria, preparatory to the planned overthrown of the Syrian regime, to new levels. The day after the event, it was clear that the U.S. government would exploit the tragedy to build its case for an attack on Syria. Never mind that Damascus immediately condemned the bombing as a "criminal act of terrorism," and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent his condolences to the Hariri family. Never mind that Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam, described by NBC as "a longtime friend" was among the first to visit Hariri's residence after his death and marched in the funeral procession. Never mind that a Syrian diplomat in Lebanon stated "We will miss him," or that Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman (repeat: spokeswoman, secular Baathist Syria being relatively progressive in regards to women's rights) Buthaina Shaaban said, "We want a full investigation to show who is behind this assassination." Never mind that Lebanese Information Minister Elie Ferzli called accusations that his or Syria's government assassinated Hariri "irresponsible." The U.S. government wants you to assume that Syria is responsible, and the corporate press takes its cue from the government.
MSNBC noted the night after the killing "growing suspicion that Damascus was involved." (Whose suspicion? On what basis? How'd it "grow" so fast?) State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was so coy. "I have been careful to say we do not know who committed the murder at this time," he declared, adding, ""It reminds us even more starkly that the Syrian presence in Lebanon is not good." Meanwhile Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, supported the U.S. ambassador's recall from Damascus, declaring, "I think perhaps tightening the screws somewhat more would be appropriate. Everything indicates that Syria is harboring terrorists." Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota agreed that recalling the ambassador was "a very serious step and will be an understandable signal to the Syrians" who "have been identified as a country that's engaged in state-sponsored terrorism." What they mean is that Syria has friendly ties with Palestinian nationalists and Lebanon's Hizbollah whom Washington labels "terrorists," and that "tightening the screws" on Syria for that reason is made more feasible by the assassination of Hariri---if only that assassination can be baselessly imputed to Damascus, which it obviously can be. (Remember the USS Maine!)
Why would Syria, which is in Washington's sights and trying to get out of them through rational if constantly rejected diplomatic efforts, assassinate this man?
Even if he did step down in protest of the presence of Syrian troops in the country?
What possible gain could accrue to Damascus from his murder in the present context?
Notice how the Syrian government has announced in the face of relentless pressure from Washington, and the large anti-Syria demonstrations in Lebanon (to which foreign parties may have made some contribution), its intention to withdraw more of the 14,000 troops currently deployed in Lebanon (down from the peak of 35,000 in a force originally sent at Lebanese Christians' request during the civil war in 1976, and subsequently validated by the Arab League). This suggests that Syria really doesn't want to be attacked by the U.S., or provide any pretext for an attack if it can help it---even though Syria plausibly argues that its troops are in Lebanon to provide stability in a country vulnerable to civil war and Israeli invasion. (By the way, in Lebanon there is one Syrian soldier per 270 Lebanese. In Iraq, there is one U.S. occupation soldier per 170 Iraqis. While the U.S. indignantly demands that Syria withdraw from Lebanon, its next door neighbor with whom it shares a history and culture, it insists on its own long-term military presence in a nation thoroughly alien to it, whose people have made it clear they want U.S. troops to go home. Don't expect CNN to point out this irony, or the irony in the fact that while Washington insists Syria leave Lebanon it puts no pressure on Israel to leave Syria's Golan Heights, a region of 1200 square kilometers---three times larger than Gaza---occupied since 1967 and illegally settled by 18,000 Israelis.)
Let me, just as an exercise, emulate Washington's suggestive technique. On September 26, 2004, senior Hamas leader Izz El-Deen Sheikh Khalil was assassinated by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israeli government did not confirm its responsibility, but everything indicates it was responsible for that criminal attack on foreign soil. Israel has been identified as a country that engages in such terrorism. Israel has more to gain than anybody if the mysterious assassination of Hariri abets the existing neocon plan to destroy the anti-Zionist regime in Damascus. Doesn't it? Or, gosh, might I be speaking tendentiously, like the above-cited Senators Hutchison and Dorgan? Some people might actually think that's wrong.
But back to Syria. Unfortunately it seems that in this instance, France and the U.S. are on the same page. France, the colonial power in Syria and Lebanon from 1920 to 1946, cosponsored last September's UN Security Council resolution demanding Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. In doing so it implicitly backed Washington's campaign of intimidation against Syria. This followed the joint Franco-American effort to oust Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the presidency in another former French colony, Haiti, and France's bloody military intervention (initially opposed, then supported, by the U.S.) in yet a other former possession, Côte d'Ivoire. Bush has just suggested, in Brussels, that Jacques Chirac might be "a good cowboy," and it just might be that two will team up to tackle that ornery li'l doggie, Syria. Might be some heavy horse-trading going on as we speak.
And then Iran.
Despite Europe's diplomatic efforts to resolve the contrived "crisis" over Iran's nuclear program, Britain's pointed objections to any U.S. attack, and the Bush and Rice charm offensive denying any near-term intention to bomb Iran, we're repeatedly told that all options are on the table. Rice pontificates that Iran must "live up to its international obligations," as though Teheran hasn't complied thoroughly with the IAEA and received from its director Muhammed ElBaradei confirmation that it has indeed met those obligations. The neocons remain determined to discredit and remove ElBaradei, as well as Kofi Annan. Cheney and Bush, as well as notorious neocon John Bolton, have suggested that Israel might ("on its own" as though it does such things without U.S. approval) attack Iran to defend its nuclear self. The U.S. sows suspicion about the very existence of any nuclear program in Iran, insisting that Iran with all its oil doesn't need nuclear energy, even though in the 1970s the U.S. actively promoted the Shah's nuclear program. It insists that Iran's perfectly legal ambition to control the whole nuclear cycle constitutes an intention to acquire nuclear weapons, and that Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium. Iran replies that while it opposes nuclear weapons as anti-Islamic, and will stand by the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is signatory, it must insist on its right to enrich uranium. This makes an attack very likely. The "secret" reconnaissance missions within Iran, and the U.S. spy drones violating Iranian air space suggests it's just a matter of time. And again, it's Year Four, in the Five Year Plan.
Former UNSCOM arms inspector and honest Republican ex-Marine Scott Ritter stated recently in a talk in Washington state that Bush had "signed off" on a decision to bomb Iran in June. Apparently Seymour Hersh will be forthcoming with details in an article in the New Yorker. This attack would seem to be a huge risk, further destabilizing all of Southwest Asia and undoing any recent improvements in the trans-Atlantic relationship. But perhaps the calculation is as follows. Despite the love-fest underway in Europe this week, the affirmations of the historic alliance rooted in common values, the neocon project will proceed. Europe will protest and NATO will suffer. Bush's team will risk that. They will woo France with a big role in Syria and Lebanon, and if the attack on Iran somehow leads to regime change, they'll divvy up the spoils there, as in Iraq, with loyal Britain. They will still get their empire, still come out with a strengthened hand vis-à-vis all rivals including the protesting Europeans, and still enhance the security of Israel. Their rosy scenario could be ruined if the people of the region (always left out of the imperialists' equations) do as they've done in Iraq and violently resist. But even then the imperialists might take it in stride; at just 1,500 U.S. dead in Iraq, and 155 in Afghanistan, the conquest of Southwest Asia so far has been a bargain.
* * * *
Scott Ritter, in the talk mentioned above, also dropped this bombshell: he said that U.S. officials falsified the January 30 Iraqi election results to reduce the United Iraqi Alliance (i.e., Shiite) percentage of the vote from 56% to 48%. This is of special interest to me; on a CounterPunch piece posted February 14, I posed merely for discussion the question, "Why, when it had been widely predicted that the Shiites' United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) would win about 60% of the vote, did it only get 48%?"
Just seemed fishy to me then. Now I'm trying to imagine how Shiites are going to feel if they indeed come to believe that they were ripped off big time by the supposed champions of "democracy." Please, Scott, give the world the details.
* * * *
I see that Reuters reports today: "In its drive to stop Iran gaining any ability to make nuclear weapons, the United States is ready to give European allies only until June to cajole Tehran before Washington seeks U.N. sanctions, U.S. diplomatic documents show." So June it will be then.
And now another godsend to those salivating over an attack on Iranian ally Syria: the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed at least four Israelis. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who typically like to take credit for what they really do, have all denied responsibility. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, without naming anyone, attributes the attack to "a third party," lending support to the thesis immediately floated in the western press: Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, is the culprit. But Hizbollah has indignantly denied responsibility.
Cui bono? The U.S. and Israel depict Hizbollah as a terrorist organization backed by Syria. Actually, Syrian-Hizbollah ties are complicated historically, but Washington sees both as "evil." Hizbollah, rooted in Lebanon's vast Shiite community (40% of the Lebanese population) has indeed flourished while Syrian troops have maintained their presence in the country. Having inflicted a humiliating defeat on Israeli aggressors in 2000, forcing them to withdraw from southern Lebanon, Hizbollah continues to attack the Israeli state, proudly and openly. But again, it denies involvement in yesterday's attack.
I'm going to go out on a limb and prophesize, hoping my prophesy is wrong. But I just betcha. Bush will run with this "Hizbollah did it" thesis; it will become a "Syria did it" thesis, and while in the real world the Syrian regime tries to avoid doing anything that might abet Washington's project to overthrow it, Washington and Tel Aviv will take some action soon to inflict some punishment for unproven crimes. No matter that even Bob Novak declares there's "absolutely not a scintilla, not a shred of evidence to connect Syria with the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister. None. Zero."
Before Bush's Tribunal of Freedom and Godliness, Syria stands guilty until proven innocent. The sentence on its regime was pronounced even before this Year Four, as was the sentence on Iran. The plan is to execute both before Year Five. "This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," declared Bush in Europe. "Having said that, all options are on the table." Indeed all the cards are on the table, they are all ridiculous, because they're all in the same suit, all marked: "Attack!"
* * * *
Later Saturday night, 10:10 EST. MSNBC headline: "Israel Blames Syria for Tel Aviv Attack." Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is blaming Islamic Jihad. So maybe I was wrong in predicting that the fault would gravitate from Hizbollah to Syria. Maybe the more vilified party, and bridge to the targeted Damascus regime, will be Islamic Jihad. Recall how in October 2003 Israel bombed Syria following an Islamic Jihad attack on a restaurant in Haifa.
Today, according to MSNBC, Mofaz "did not immediately threaten retaliation against" Syria. But the attribution of fault is now official, and I again prophesy: Israel will hit Syria, with full U.S. multi-party support, as the neocons in Washington ponder how to best achieve hegemony over the "Greater Middle East."
* * * *
Sunday morning: The Independent now reports that "Islamic Jihad also reversed earlier denials of involvement by claiming responsibility on a website. 'Thank God for the courageous martyr Abdullah Saeed Badran, 21, from Tulkarem who managed to blow himself up at the entrance to the Stage nightclub on the coast of Tel Aviv, killing or wounding more than 50 Zionists,' the statement said."
I wonder about that "also," which pops out oddly in the body of the text, implying that this news is part of an accumulation of evidence indicting Syria and Islamic Jihad for the Tel Aviv bombing. But the bulk of the article suggests that Syria indeed has no connection to the attack and is making every effort to dissociate itself from it. It cites a Syrian statement that Islamic Jihad's Damascus offices have been shut down. (This action was taken many months ago on the demand of Colin Powell.) The article notes that despite the website claim, "there is still uncertainty" about "who had recruited" Badran. It states that "there is no immediate sign of [Israeli] military reaction" against Syria.
But recall how Richard Perle stated following Israel's attack on Syria in October 2003: "I am happy to see the message was delivered to Syria by the Israeli air force, and I hope it is the first of many such messages."
Recall how Paul Wolfowitz stated, "There will have to be change in Syria, plainly."
How John Negroponte said, "Syria is on the wrong side in the war on terrorism," and how Colin Powell declared, "if President Assad chooses not to respond [to U.S. demands], if he chooses to dissemble, if he chooses to find excuses, then he will find that he is on the wrong side of history."
Recall how neocon heavy John Bolton was scheduled to tell members of a House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee that "Syria's development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons had progressed to such a point that they posed a threat to stability in the region"---until the intelligence community protested that this assertion was just not believable.
These people lie. They set people up. Then they attack. You just watch.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades. He can be reached at: email@example.com.