What Next?

James Zogby’s Column

Giddy over their perceived success in Iraq, some neo conservative ideologues are all ready preparing for the next battle.  During the past week, a number of individuals, who were prominent early advocates for a war with Iraq, have been issuing threats targeting a range of Middle East nations. 

In an article entitled, “Syria and Iran Must Get Their Turn,” Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute argued “It’s time to bring down the other terror masters…Iran at least, offers Americans the possibility of a memorable victory, because the Iranian people openly loathe the regime, and will enthusiastically combat it, if only the United States supports them in their just struggle….Syria cannot stand alone against a successful democratic revolution that topples tyrannical regimes in Kabul, Tehran, and Iraq.” 

Meanwhile Kenneth Adelman, another former Reagan Administration Defense Department official, focusing on the same two nations, pointedly argued that “the combination of totalitarianism and weapons of mass destruction is a deadly combination for the world…” although he added “I hope we could change these regimes without military force.”

Possibly the most bizarre threat came from another member of this group of war advocates, James Woolsey.  Woolsey, a former CIA director, who worked tirelessly after September 11 in a failed effort to establish a tie between Iraq and the September 11 World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks, last week observed that in his mind the United States was engaged in fighting World War IV, “a war that will last longer than World Wars I and II.” (For those of you who missed Woolsey’s bizarre history lesson, he reports that the Cold War was World War III.)

Speaking at a University of California event sponsored by a newly formed right-wing group called Americans for Victory over Terrorism, Woolsey described the goal of World War IV to be the creation of a new Middle East with targets including not only Syria and Iran but Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well.

Speaking directly to the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Woolsey noted, that as this “war” moves forward, “we will make a lot of people very nervous,” specifically noting “the Mubaraks and the Saudi royal family.”

It was possibly in reaction to these outlandish comments that late last week Woolsey was dropped from consideration for a position in the U.S.’s post-war Iraq interim authority. 

While their supporters have been so blatant in threatening to expand the war, officials in the Bush Administration have not been so bold or bellicose.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did issue a specific warning to the governments of Syria and Iran, but these warnings were limited to allegations of different forms of involvement in Iraq.  Secretary of State Colin Powell, for his part, echoed the same limited warning to Syria.

Other high-ranking officials in the Administration have also made veiled references to change in Syria and Iran.  A State Department official, for example, observed that having now used force in Iraq “we are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson…that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction are not in their national interest.”  Another U.S. official noted that while these other governments were of concern to the United States, “that doesn’t mean that we are actively contemplating use of force or an invasion.”  Vice President Cheney himself had the same message to offer in a speech he delivered last week in which he observed, “the United States and our coalition partners are showing that we have the capacity and the will to wage war on terror and win decisively.  We have a further responsibility to help keep the peace of the world and to prevent terrorists and their sponsors from plunging the world into horrific violence.”

Despite the well publicized toppling of Saddam’s statue in the center of Baghdad last week, Secretary Rumsfeld was correct to note that the war with Iraq was far from over and serious tasks remain.  Not the least of which are:

contending with the still very dangerous situation that exists in many parts of the country;

delivering much needed humanitarian aid to desperately impoverished Iraqi people;

restoring law and order and curbing chaos and internal disturbances that still plague many Iraqi cities;

restoring much needed services; and

moving toward some form of effective local governance.

It is quite remarkable that this war was begun without a full national discussion of its aims and without any discussion of its costs, consequences and the extent of U.S. commitment in the post-war reconstruction.  Only in the last week did Congress act on appropriating the funds to cover the beginning costs of the war and only now have a number of prominent Washington think tanks issued papers making recommendations for the post-war situation.  One of these began with the warning that it is a dangerous possibility that the United States could win the war and lose the peace. 

What is striking about these policy papers is that they almost all agree on two fundamental goals: limiting U.S. postwar engagement; and seeking early UN involvement in order to provide legitimacy leading to a transition of authority.

To date, however, both these goals appear to have been rejected by the Administration.

It is intriguing to note that the U.S. public is moving in the opposite direction.  A recent poll, for example, indicated that more than two-thirds of the public were decidedly opposed to expanding the war to Syria or Iran, while almost the same sized group felt that the United States should involve the United Nations quickly in the governance of Iraq. 

A more detailed poll by Zogby International done last week focused on how the public viewed the war and where it wanted to go next.  Not surprisingly support for the war itself is high with 75 percent of the public now supporting the war, a number that has continued to increase since a low of 47 percent supported the war in January of 2003.  And 80 percent of the public felt that removing Saddam Hussein from power would increase peace and stability in the Middle East.  On the other hand, this poll makes it clear that the public had no interest in carrying the war any further.  Seventy-five percent of those polled thought an attack against Syria and Iran would “destabilize the Middle East” and 70 percent of those polled believed that such an expansion of the war would “only worsen the U.S. image in the Arab world.”  When asked about other post-war objectives, 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would enhance the U.S. image in the Arab world and 76 percent indicated that they felt resolving the dispute would bring more peace and stability in the Middle East.

What next? At least the U.S. public is clear.  Toppling Saddam, they believe, was a good thing, but they are not supportive of an expansion of the war.  In fact, if they are listened to, the U.S. public is telling the Administration that their next steps in the Middle East should be to engage the United Nations in Iraq and to act to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.  The question remains will the public be heard or will the advocates for an expanded war have their way? 

Dr. James J. Zogby is President of Arab American Institute in Washington, DC.