Just the Beginning
Is Iraq the opening salvo
in a war to remake the world?
by Robert Dreyfuss
The American Prospect magazine,
For months Americans have been told that
the United States is going to war against Iraq in order to disarm
Saddam Hussein, remove him from power, eliminate lraq's alleged
stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and prevent Baghdad
from blackmailing its neighbors or aiding terrorist groups. But
the Bush administration's hawks, especially the neoconservatives
who provide the driving force for war, see the conflict with Iraq
as much more than that. It is a signal event, designed to create
cataclysmic shock waves throughout the region and around the world,
ushering in a new era of American imperial power. It is also likely
to bring the United States into conflict with several states in
the Middle East. Those who think that U.S. armed forces can complete
a tidy war in Iraq, without the battle spreading beyond Iraq's
borders, are likely to be mistaken.
"I think we're going to be obliged
to fight a regional war, whether we want to or not," says
Michael Ledeen, a former U.S. national-security official and a
key strategist among the ascendant flock of neoconservative hawks,
many of whom have taken up perches inside the U.S. government.
Asserting that the war against Iraq can't be contained, Ledeen
says that the very logic of the global war on terrorism will drive
the United States to confront an expanding network of enemies
in the region. "As soon as we land in Iraq, we're going to
face the whole terrorist network," he says, including the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic
Jihad and a collection of militant splinter groups backed by nations-Iran,
Syria and Saudi Arabia-that he calls "the terror masters."
"It may turn out to be a war to remake
the world," says Ledeen.
In the Middle East, impending "regime
change" in Iraq is just the first step in a wholesale reordering
of the entire region, according to neoconservatives-who've begun
almost gleefully referring to themselves as a "cabal."
the regimes in the region-first Iran,
Syria and Saudi Arabia, then Lebanon and the PLO, and finally
Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia-are slated to capitulate, collapse
or face U.S. military action. To those states, says cabal ringleader
Richard Perle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
(AEl) and chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an influential
Pentagon advisory committee, "We could deliver a short message,
a two-word message: 'You're next."' In the aftermath, several
of those states, including Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, may end
up as dismantled, unstable shards in the form of mini-states that
resemble Yugoslavia's piecemeal wreckage. And despite the Wilsonian
rhetoric from the president and his advisers about bringing democracy
to the Middle East, at bottom it's clear that their version of
democracy might have to be imposed by force of arms.
And not just in the Middle East. Three-thousand
U.S. soldiers are slated to arrive in the Philippines, opening
yet another new front in the war on terrorism, and North Korea
is finally in the administration's sights. On the horizon could
be Latin America, where the Bush administration endorsed a failed
regime change in Venezuela last year, and where new left-leaning
challenges are emerging in Brazil, Ecuador and elsewhere. Like
the bombing of Hiroshima, which stunned the Japanese into surrender
in 1945 and served notice to the rest of the world that the United
States possessed unparalleled power it would not hesitate to use,
the war against Iraq has a similar purpose. "lt's like the
bully in a playground," says lan Lustick, a University of
Pennsylvania professor of political science and author of Unsettled
States, Disputed Lands. "You beat up somebody, and everybody
Over and over again, in speeches, articles
and white papers, the neoconservatives have made it plain that
the war against Iraq is intended to demonstrate Washington's resolve
to implement President Bush's new national-security strategy,
announced last fall-even if doing so means overthrowing the entire
post-World War 11 structure of treaties and alliances, including
NATO and the United Nations. In their book, The War Over Iraq,
William Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Lawrence F. Kaplan
of The New Republic write, "The mission begins in Baghdad,
but it does not end there.... We stand at the cusp of a new historical
era.... This is a decisive moment. ... It is so clearly about
more than Iraq. It is about more even than the future of the Middle
East and the war on terror. It is about what sort of role the
United States intends to play in the twenty-first century."
Invading Iraq, occupying its capital and
its oil fields, and seizing control of its Shia Islamic holy places
can only have a devastating and highly destabilizing impact on
the entire region, from Egypt to central Asia and Pakistan. "We
are all targeted," Syrian President Bashar Assad told an
Arab summit meeting, called to discuss Iraq, on March 1. "We
are all in danger."
"They want to foment revolution in
Iran and use that to isolate and possibly attack Syria in [Lebanon's]
Bekaa Valley, and force Syria out," says former Assistant
Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Edward S. Walker, now
president of the Middle East Institute. "They want to pressure
[Muammar] Quaddafi in Libya and they want to destabilize Saudi
Arabia, because they believe instability there is better than
continuing with the current situation. And out of this, they think,
comes Pax Americana."
The more immediate impact of war against
Iraq will occur in Iran, say many analysts, including both neoconservative
and more impartial experts on the Middle East. As the next station
along the "axis of evil," Iran holds power that's felt
far and wide in the region. Oil-rich and occupying a large tract
of geopolitical real estate, Iran is arguably the most strategically
important country in its neighborhood. With its large Kurdish
population, Iran has a stake in the future of Iraqi Kurdistan.
As a Shia power, Iran has vast influence among the Shia majority
in Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, with the large Shia population in
Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province and among the warlords
of western Afghanistan. And Iran's ties to the violent Hezbollah
guerrillas, whose anti-American zeal can only be inflamed by the
occupation of Iraq, will give the Bush administration all the
reason it needs to expand the war on terrorism to Tehran.
The first step, neoconservatives say,
will be for the United States to lend its support to opposition
groups of Iranian exiles willing to enlist in the war on terrorism,
much as the Iraqi National Congress served as the spearhead for
American intervention in Iraq. And, just as the doddering ex-king
of Afghanistan served as a rallying point for America's conquest
of that landlocked, central Asian nation, the remnants of the
late former shah of Iran's royal family could be rallied to the
cause. "Nostalgia for the last shah's son, Reza Pahlavi ...
has again risen," says Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer
who, like Ledeen and Perle, is ensconced at the AEI. "We
must be prepared, however, to take the battle more directly to
the mullahs," says Gerecht, adding that the United States
must consider strikes at both Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps
and allies in Lebanon. "ln fact, we have only two meaningful
options: Confront clerical Iran and its proxies militarily or
ring it with an oil embargo."
Iran is not the only country where restoration
of monarchy is being considered. Neoconservative strategists have
also supported returning to power the Iraqi monarchy, which was
toppled in 1958 by a combination of military officers and Iraqi
communists. When the Ottoman Empire crumbled after World War 1,
British intelligence sponsored the rise of a little-known family
called the Hashemites, whose origins lay in the Saudi region around
Mecca and Medina. Two Hashemite brothers were installed on the
thrones of Jordan and Iraq.
For nearly a year, the neocons have suggested
that Jordan's Prince Hassan, the brother of the late King Hussein
of Jordan and a blood relative of the Iraqi Hashemite family,
might re-establish the Hashemites in Baghdad were Saddam Hussein
to be removed. Among the neocons are Michael Rubin, a former AEI
fellow, and David Wurmser, a Perle acolyte. Rubin in 2002 wrote
an article for London's Daily Telegraph headlined, "lf Iraqis
want a king, Hassan of Jordan could be their man." Wurmser
in 1999 wrote Tyranny's Ally, an AEI-published book devoted largely
to the idea of restoring the Hashemite dynasty in Iraq. Today
Rubin is a key Department of Defense official overseeing U.S.
policy toward Iraq, and Wurmser is a high-ranking official working
for Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International
Security John Bolton, himself a leading neoconservative ideologue.
But if the neocons are toying with the
idea of restoring monarchies in Iraq and Iran, they are also eyeing
the destruction of the region's wealthiest and most important
royal family of all: the Saudis. Since September 11, the hawks
have .launched an all-out verbal assault on the Saudi monarchy,
accusing Riyadh of supporting Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization
and charging that the Saudis are masterminding a worldwide network
of mosques, schools and charity organizations that promote terrorism.
It's a charge so breathtaking that those most familiar with Saudi
Arabia are at a loss for words when asked about it. "The
idea that the House of Saud is cooperating with al-Qaeda is absurd,"
says James Akins, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia
in the mid-1970s and frequently travels to the Saudi capital as
a consultant. "lt's too dumb to be talked about."
That doesn't stop the neoconservatives
from doing so, however. In The War Against the Terror Masters,
Ledeen cites Wurmser in charging that, just before 9-11, ''Saudi
intelligence had become difficult to distinguish from Al Qaeda."
Countless other, similar accusations have been flung at the Saudis
by neocons. Max Singer, co-founder of the Hudson Institute, has
repeatedly suggested that the United States seek to dismantle
the Saudi kingdom by encouraging breakaway republics in the oil-rich
eastern province (which is heavily Shia) and in the western Hijaz.
"After [Hussein] is removed, there will be an earthquake
throughout the region," says Singer. "lf this means
the fall of the [Saudi] regime, so be it." And when Hussein
goes, Ledeen says, it could lead to the collapse of the Saudi
regime, perhaps to pro-al-Qaeda radicals. "ln that event,
we would have to extend the war to the Arabian peninsula, at the
very least to the oil-producing regions."
"I've stopped saying that Saudi Arabia
will be taken over by Osama bin Laden or by a bin Laden clone
if we go into Iraq," says Akins. "l'm now convinced
that's exactly what [the neoconservatives] want. And then we take
Iraq, too, could shatter into at least
three pieces, which would be based on the three erstwhile Ottoman
Empire provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra that were cobbled
together to compose the state eight decades ago. That could conceivably
leave a Hashemite kingdom in control of largely Sunni central
Iraq, a Shia state in the south (possibly linked to Iran, informally)
and some sort of Kurdish entity in the north-either independent
or, as is more likely, under the control of the Turkish army.
Turkey, a reluctant player in George W. Bush's crusade, fears
an independent Kurdistan and would love to get its hands on Iraq's
northern oil fields around the city of Kirkuk.
The final key component for these map-redrawing,
would-be Lawrences of Arabia is the toppling of Assad's regime
and the breakup of Syria. Perle himself proposed exactly that
in a 1996 document prepared for the Institute for Advanced Strategic
and Political Studies (IASPS), an Israeli think tank. The plan,
titled, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,"
was originally prepared as a working paper to advise then-Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. It called on Israel to
work with Turkey and Jordan to "contain, destabilize and
roll-back" various states in the region, overthrow Saddam
Hussein in Iraq, press Jordan to restore a scion of its Hashemite
dynasty to the Iraqi throne and, above all, launch military assaults
against Lebanon and Syria as a "prelude to a redrawing of
the map of the Middle East [to] threaten Syria's territorial integrity."
Joining Perle in writing the IASPS paper were Douglas Feith and
Wurmser, now senior officials in Bush's national-security apparatus.
Gary Schmitt, executive director of the
Project for a New American Century (PNAC), worries only that the
Bush administration, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
and Vice President Dick Cheney, might not have the guts to see
its plan all the way through once Hussein is toppled. "lt's
going to be no small thing for the United States to follow through
on its stated strategic policy in the region," he says. But
Schmitt believes that President Bush is fully committed, having
been deeply affected by the events of September 11. Schmitt roundly
endorses the vision put forward by Kaplan and Kristol in The War
Over Iraq, which was sponsored by the PNAC. "It's really
our book," says Schmitt.
Six years ago, in its founding statement
of principles, PNAC called for a radical change in U.S. foreign
and defense policy, with a beefed-up military budget and a more
muscular stance abroad, challenging hostile regimes and assuming
"American global leadership." Signers of that statement
included Cheney; Rumsfeld; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz;
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
Peter W. Rodman; Elliott Abrams, the Near East and North African
affairs director at the National Security Council; Zalmay Khalilzad,
the White House liaison to the Iraqi opposition; 1. Lewis Libby,
Cheney's chief of staff; and Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), the president's
brother. The PNAC statement foreshadowed the outline of the president's
2002 national-security strategy.
Scenarios for sweeping changes in the
Middle East, imposed by U.S armed forces, were once thought fanciful-
even ridiculous-but they are now taken seriously given the incalculable
impact of an invasion of Iraq. Chas Freeman, who served as U.S.
ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, worries about
everything that could go wrong. "It's a war to turn the kaleidoscope,
by people who know nothing about the Middle East," he says.
"And there's no way to know how the pieces will fall."
Perle and Co., says Freeman, are seeking a Middle East dominated
by an alliance between the United States and Israel, backed by
overwhelming military force. "lt's machtpolitik, might makes
right," he says. Asked about the comparison between Iraq
and Hiroshima, Freeman adds, "There is no question that the
Richard Perles of the world see shock and awe as a means to establish
a position of supremacy that others fear to challenge."
But Freeman, who is now president of the
Middle East Policy Council, thinks it will be a disaster. "This
outdoes anything in the march of folly catalog," he says.
"lt's the lemmings going over the cliff."
ROBERT DREYFUSS is a Prospect senior correspondent.