These Five Regimes Must Go
November 29, 2003
George W. Bush is right. Tony Blair is 'plenty independent'; he is no poodle. Or, if he is, he's succeeded in dragging his master through some pretty sticky bits of dog poop. Many of the present difficulties - including the Saddamite restoration movement on the streets of London last week - derive at least in part from the influence of the junior partner.
One or two readers may recall that a year and a half ago I was arguing that the invasion of Iraq needed to take place in the summer of 2002, before the first anniversary of 9/11. Unfortunately, President Bush listened to Mr Blair and not to me, and Mr Blair wanted to go 'the extra mile' with the UN, the French, the Guinean foreign minister and the rest of the gang. The extra mile took an extra six or eight months, and at the end of it America went to war with exactly the same allies as she would have done in June 2002. The only difference was that the interminable diplomatic dance emboldened M. Chirac and the other obstructionists, and permitted a relatively small anti-war fringe to blossom into a worldwide mass 'peace' movement. It certainly didn't do anything for the war's 'legitimacy' in the eyes of the world: indeed, insofar as every passing month severed the Iraqi action from the dynamic of 9/11, it diminished it. Taking a year to amass overwhelming force on the borders of Iraq may have made the war shorter and simpler, but it also made the postwar period messier and costlier. With the world's biggest army twiddling its thumbs in Kuwait for months on end, the regime had time to move stuff around, hide it, ship it over the border to Syria, and allow interested parties to mull over tactics for a post-liberation insurgency.
So, as far as timing's concerned, I think I was right, and Tony and Colin Powell and the other 'voices of moderation' were wrong.
Mr Blair seems to have secured an understanding from Mr Bush that he won't rush off and invade anywhere else, lest it place further 'strain' on the 'vital' 'alliance' with Old Europe. As I wrote last month, 'Iraq is the last war' - in the sense of large-scale battles live on CNN with instant critiques from studio guests. Henceforth, 'engagements in the war of terror will be swift, sudden and as low-key as can be managed'. Thus, the US Combined Joint Task Force in Djibouti announced last week that they'd scuppered several planned attacks on Western targets in the Horn of Africa and killed or captured at least two dozen plotters. The American troops arrived without fanfare in June last year, set up shop in an old French Foreign Legion post, and operate in seven countries in a region that's fertile soil for terrorist recruiters. Nothing the Task Force does will require UN resolutions.
The difficulty with this approach will be ensuring that it stays focused, is ambitious enough and moves quicker than the terrorists can adjust to it. It's also critical not to get thrown off course by the particulars of any one atrocity. For example, the slaughter in Istanbul was quickly attributed to 'al-Qa'eda', mainly on the strength of a passport conveniently found on site. But there's little evidence that 'al-Qa'eda', in the sense of a functioning organisation with deployable resources, still exists. Look at the map: the al-Qa'eda-affiliated Ansar al-Islam is said to be reconstituting itself just south of the TurkeyIraq border; would they not be just as likely a source of operatives for any action north of the border? What about the Baathist dead-enders? They're not all in Iraq: a lot of Saddam's intelligence apparatus snuck out in the first hours of the war with their Rolodexes intact, and they're at least as interested in targets of opportunity as the fellows stuck back in the Sunni Triangle. Or it could be some other group, similar to the Italian Islamists who've apparently targeted that country's defence minister for assassination. Or it could be some combination of the above.
The point is, any answer will do, as in the end they'll all have to be whacked. The reaction of Gozde Ciftlik, whose father, a security guard at the British consulate, died in the attack, is as good as any: 'Damn you,' she shouted, 'whoever you are.' The enemy is not, as Lee Kuan Yew observed this week, a traditional terror group such as the IRA or the Baader-Meinhof; nor is it even a Mafia-type coalition of distinct 'families'. Everywhere you look the lines are blurry: take one of my compatriots, Ahmed Said Khadr, known in the villages of Pakistan's tribal lands as 'al-Kanadi' - the Canadian - and, indeed, my country's most prominent contribution to this war. Mr Khadr is not just the highest-ranking Canadian in al-Qa'eda, but was also head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. There are signs that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qa'eda mastermind of 11 September, had ties to Iraqi intelligence. Membership in one group does not preclude simultaneous membership in another.
So the trick for the Americans is to keep their eye on the big guys rather than on this or that itsy-bitsy plotter. If you want to be able to get to anything like a victory in this war, there are five regimes that ought to be gone by the end of it. They are:
Boy Assad is in the unusual position, for a Middle-Eastern dictator, of being surrounded by relatively civilised states - Turkey, the new Iraq, Jordan and Israel. He has, by common consent, an all but worthless military. His Saddamite oil pipeline has been cut off. And yet he continues to get away with destabilising the region and beyond through Hezbollah; his grip on Lebanon; the men and weaponry Syrian terror groups have dispatched across the Iraqi border to aid Baathist remnants; his own stockpile of WMD; and (amazingly) the Syrian spies who managed to place themselves in what ought to be the world's most secure military base at Guantanamo.
And yet America continues to manage its relationship with Assad in state department terms, dispatching Colin Powell to Damascus with a polite list of 'requests', which are tossed in the trash before his plane's out of Syrian airspace.
There's a credibility issue here. If Washington cannot impress its will on Assad when it's got 140,000 troops on his border, more distant enemies will draw their own conclusion. The US should not be negotiating with Damascus; he's the guy in the box, he's the one who should be sending his emissaries abroad to beg, not the state department. The US should also nix the plans to build a new pipeline from Iraq: Assad can have a terrorist state or he can have oil, but he can't have both. I was up on the IraqSyria frontier in May and, although it's certainly porous, porousness cuts both ways. It would concentrate Assad's mind wonderfully if the Americans were to forget where exactly the line runs occasionally and answer Syria's provocations by accidentally bombing appropriate targets on Junior's side of the border.
CNN had a headline this week: 'Compromise Struck On Iran's Nukes.' Not all of us are reassured to see the words 'Iran', 'nukes' and 'compromise' in the same sentence. The Europeans appear to have decided they can live with a nuclear Iran - or, at any rate, that they can't muster the will to police the ambitions of a regime just as wily as Saddam's but with four times the territory and mountains as high and as impenetrable as Afghanistan's. America needs to stand firm: a nuclear Iran will permanently alter the balance of power in the region, and not for the good. The best way to prevent it is to speed up the inevitable Iranian revolution. Iran has a young pro-American population; Washington should do what it takes to help their somewhat leisurely resistance reach tipping point.
3) saudi arabia
Strange developments are taking place in Washington: for the first time ever, the FBI is demanding access to the bank accounts of a foreign embassy, and it looks as if Prince Bandar's two-decade reign as Beltway power-broker has run up against its limits. Is Bush at last getting round to the House of Saud? Let's hope so. The war on terror is, in one sense, a Saudi civil war that the royal family has successfully exported to the rest of the world. The rest of the world should see that it's repatriated.
There are several ways to do that: first, Prince Bandar should be returned to sender. It's ridiculous that, on the one hand, America's ambassadors to Riyadh are all but hand-picked by the royal family, who insist the diplomats be non-Arabic-speaking and after a couple of years send 'em home and set 'em up in some lavishly funded Saudi think-tank; while, on the other, Prince Bandar sits in Washington like some colonial proconsul, effortlessly outlasting presidents and congresses. The Americans should demand a 'normal' ambassador - i.e., one who's not a member of the royal family and who buggers off after five years. Second, Washington should clamp down on the Saudis' bulk purchase of its diplomatic service: no US diplomat should be allowed to take a position with any organisation funded directly or indirectly by Riyadh. Third, for the duration of the war on terror, no organisation funded by the Saudis should be eligible for any formal or informal role in any Federal institution: it's almost laughable the way everyone - from the body that approves Muslim chaplains for the US armed forces to the diplomat the Pentagon sent to investigate Saddam's nuclear contacts in Africa, to the companies supplying the post-chad computerised voting machines for next year's elections - turns out to be on the Saudi shilling in one way or another.
More Wahhabism is in the terrorists' interest. Less Wahhabism is in America's interest. With that in mind, Washington should also put the squeeze on the Saudis financially: there's no reason why my gas-guzzling SUV should fund toxic madrasahs around the globe when there's plenty of less politically destructive oil available in Alberta, Alaska, Latin America and Iraq. Watching the House of Saud tearing itself apart will not be a pretty sight. But it's better than letting the House of Saud tear apart moderate Muslim communities everywhere from the Balkans to South Asia.
These days, Khartoum is officially 'co-operating' with the Americans. Quite what that means is unclear. But Sudan has been a critical source of Islamist manpower: its mujahedin have been captured as far afield as Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq. At home, two million people have been murdered in the past decade, and its Christian minority is vanishing. While this may have once been a matter of indifference to the West, it should not be now. America should be as hard on ethnic cleansing in the Muslim world as it was in the Balkans.
5) north korea
North Korea is one of four countries that have been assisting Iran with its nuclear programme. We can only guess its relationship to the world's less official nuclear programmes. Kim Jong-Il has no money and his preferred export drive is for a product only the crazies want. The terror groups have plenty of money and a great interest in acquiring a product not a lot of countries are offering. Sooner or later, they'll figure it out, if they haven't already. The North Korean regime is not long for this world; the only question is whether it falls before it's in a position to do any serious damage. If that doesn't look likely, the options are not good.
Profound changes in the above countries would not necessarily mean the end of the war on terror, but it would be pretty close. It would remove terrorism's most brazen patron (Syria), its ideological inspiration (the prototype Islamic Republic of Iran), its principal paymaster (Saudi Arabia), a critical source of manpower (Sudan) and its most potentially dangerous weapons supplier (North Korea). They're the fronts on which the battle has to be fought: it's not just terror groups, it's the state actors who provide them with infrastructure and extend their global reach. Right now, America - and Britain, Australia and Italy - are fighting defensively, reacting to this or that well-timed atrocity as it occurs. But the best way to judge whether we're winning and how serious we are about winning is how fast the above regimes are gone. Blair speed won't do. http://defenseofamerica.org/r/nf.html?i=5058&t=n