Lebanon News

US-Israeli pressure on Syria has neoconservative pedigree

Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles exploring the recent legacy of neoconservative studies in Washington and Israel since the mid-1990s that recommend targeting Syria, among others, in the “war against terror.” The first article in Tuesday’s paper explored the 1996 report written for then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, entitled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. Today’s article explores the institutions and individuals behind a second document on Syria’s role in Lebanon.

WASHINGTON: The second document was published in 2000 by another neocon group, the Likud-oriented Middle East Forum (MEF) and a second, US-based Lebanese group closely tied to right-wing Lebanese groups, the US Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL), evidently as part of an effort to affect the public positions of major political parties for the election in the same year.

The report, Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: the US Role?, was co-authored by MEF president Daniel Pipes, who was named by US President George W. Bush to a position on the board of the US Institute of Peace despite widespread charges that he has promoted Islamaphobia with incendiary statements against Muslims and Arabs, and Ziad Abdelnour, who heads the USCFL.

Among the participants of the Lebanese Study Group, of which the report was a summary, were three of the participants who produced the 1996 report, including Perle, Feith, and David Wurmser. In addition to the last two, other signers who now hold office in the Bush administration included Elliott Abrams, currently the chief Middle East adviser in the National Security Council, the Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky; Michael Rubin, another Perle protege who currently works as a consultant to Feith and Paul Wolfowitz; and New York Representative Eliot Engel, the chief sponsor of the anti-Syrian legislation that was approved by the International Relations Committee last week.

Other prominent neocon signers included former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick who is also at AEI with Perle, Frank Gaffney, director of the  Center for Defense Policy, and David Steinmann, chairman of the board of advisers of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a lobby group specializing in persuading retired senior US military officials of the importance of a strategic alliance between the US and Israel.

The study stressed that “Syrian rule in Lebanon stands in direct opposition to American ideals,” and rued Washington’s habit since its precipitous withdrawal from Beirut in 1983 after a series of suicide attacks against its embassy and Marine barracks of engaging rather than confronting the regime, the only government on the State Department’s “terrorism” list with which Washington has full diplomatic relations. The group counselled a policy of confrontation, beginning with tough economic and diplomatic sanctions that could not be waived by the president. (Under the pending bill, the president is obliged to impose sanctions, but he may choose two from among a menu of half a dozen ranging from symbolic to severe ­ a somewhat more flexible formula). If such sanctions fail to ensure Syrian cooperation with US policy, military force must be contemplated, according to the 2000 report which said: “The Vietnam legacy and the sour memories of dead American Marines in Beirut notwithstanding, the US has entered a new era of undisputed military supremacy coupled with an appreciable drop in human losses on the battlefield,” as demonstrated in the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo campaign.

Such improvement in military technology, it went on, “opens the door to a similar decision to act for Lebanon’s endangered freedoms and pluralism. But this opportunity may not wait, for as weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities spread, the risks of such action will grow. If there is to be decisive action, it will have to be sooner rather than later.”

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, 18 months later, Syria again became a target ­ albeit not as much of a priority as Iraq ­ of the neocons. In an open letter to Bush on Sept. 20, associates of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a think tank closely tied to AEI, called for Bush to take military action in Afghanistan to remove the Taleban and destroy Al-Qaeda, to remove Saddam Hussein “even if the evidence does not link Iraq directly to the (Sept. 11) attacks, and cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it puts a stop to all terrorist acts emanating from territory under its control.

It went on to call on the administration to target Hizbullah in Lebanon and added: “We believe the administration should demand that Iran and Syria immediately cease all military, financial, and political support for Hizbullah and its operations. Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the administration must consider appropriate measures of retaliation against these known sponsors of terrorism,” the letter, signed by 39 prominent right-wingers, almost all of them neocons, urged.

Among them were Perle, Kirkpatrick, and Gaffney, as well as other major neocon figures, such as PNAC chairman William Kristol, who edits the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard; Robert Kagan; former Education Secretary William Bennett; former Commentary editor and Hudson fellow, Norman Podhoretz, and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, to name a few. (It is worth noting that prominent Bush administration figures who had signed previous PNAC statements or letters before taking office included Vice President Dick Cheney, his neocon chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby; Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Abrams, and Bolton). Against this background, as well as the context of the more-hawkish statements against Syria by neocons in and outside the administration since the US invasion of Iraq in March, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to extend his own “anti-terrorist campaign” into the heart of Syria itself ­  combined with the Bush’s justification of it as a legitimate act of self-defense against terrorism and the abrupt push (which is to say the collapse of resistance by the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency who favored engagement with Damascus which they deemed cooperative in the war against Al-Qaeda) to impose new sanctions on Damascus ­ is particularly suggestive not only of the likelihood of future confrontation, but of the growing convergence between Sharon’s and the Bush administration’s strategic perceptions, especially now that the US military is engaged in military operations in the heart of the Middle East.





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