Some see victory extending beyond Iraq
By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The fall of Baghdad is a victory not only for the U.S. military but for an influential group of foreign policy hard-liners who have realized the first step in a bold plan to reorder the Arab world and global institutions.
In Damascus, Syria: An anti-war protester holds a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad at a demonstration on March 31. By Hussein Malla, AP
The loose-knit group, whose core includes Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, sees the war in Iraq as a model for the world's lone superpower. The group believes that with or without international consensus, the United States should move with force to pre-empt security threats and spread democracy and free-market economics to remaining pockets of authoritarianism, primarily in the Middle East.
While U.S. officials emphasize the enormity of the tasks that need to be completed in Iraq, some administration supporters already are proclaiming the birth of a new historical period and suggesting that regime change in Iraq could be followed soon by Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
James Woolsey, a member of a Pentagon advisory board and former CIA director who is close to Wolfowitz, told students in Los Angeles last week that the Cold War was World War III and the United States is now engaged in "World War IV" against Iran's religious rulers, "fascists" in Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists.
Others are not so bellicose.
"We appear to be moving at last from the post-Cold War era ... to the time of an enduring Pax Americana," says Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Borrowing a line from Secretary of State Dean Acheson, an architect of the global realignment that followed World War II, Donnelly says, "we are present at the creation" of a truly new world order.
But instead of working through the multilateral institutions Acheson helped shape, the United States — with the help of like-minded allies — would determine the international agenda. Organizations, such as the United Nations, would be relegated to secondary roles as deliverers of humanitarian aid and keepers of the peace.
Even Richard Haass, the relatively dovish director of policy planning at the State Department, concedes that the United States has gone from "reluctant sheriff" under President Clinton to a "robust" lawman, leading posses "in a world that has some characteristics of the Wild West."
This paradigm shift is both exhilarating and anxiety-producing.
"I hope we don't find ourselves doing the same thing in Syria and North Korea," former senator Donald Riegle, a Michigan Democrat, told a dinner at the German Embassy on Wednesday night. "There are limits to how much we can do to set the world right."
As difficult as it has been, war in Iraq may have been the easy part. The hard-liners' agenda has many steps, each harder than the last:
* Creating a representative, stable government in Iraq. The Pentagon has set up its own office to administer post-Saddam Iraq, with the intention of gradually handing power to an Iraqi interim government. As early as next week, it will convene its first conference of Iraqi exiles and prominent figures within the country to discuss the way forward.
But the killings Thursday in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf of two rival clerics, who were trying to reconcile, gives an indication of the intense religious and ethnic disagreements that will make Iraq difficult to govern.
* Limiting the role of the international community. The Bush administration wants the United Nations and a variety of countries to contribute humanitarian aid to Iraq. But several European countries see a much broader role for world institutions, suggesting that NATO could contribute peacekeepers for Iraq to re-establish civil order.
"Give it to them (the Europeans) before they change their minds," says retired Gen. William Odom, director of national security studies for the Hudson Institute. "The task in Iraq will make the Balkans look simple."
The administration appears to have rejected a formal role for the Europeans or the United Nations in shaping Iraq's postwar government. "The future of Iraq is going to be made in Iraq by Iraqis," a senior State Department official says. "If they want to help out, great. If not, as my mother used to say, tant pis." (French for "too bad.")
* Resuming work on an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Brokering peace, or at least trying to, is crucial, because the failure to resolve this conflict is the chief indictment of the United States in the Arab world — and could undercut everything else U.S. policymakers are trying to achieve. The administration has promised to publish soon a "road map" for creation of a Palestinian state that was prepared last year by U.S., European, Russian and U.N. diplomats. But the Israeli government objects to a number of its provisions, and it remains unclear how hard the White House will push such a difficult issue as the United States enters a presidential election period.
Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president who has helped end numerous conflicts, including the 1999 Kosovo war, says reaching a "fair deal" for Israelis and Palestinians is the most important thing the Bush administration could do beyond stabilizing Iraq. It would help heal the diplomatic wounds caused by opposition to the war, Ahtisaari says, and underpin future democratic expansion.
* Targeting other "rogue" states. Even as war continues in Iraq, Bush administration officials have made threatening statements about other countries the White House considers as threats.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have suggested that Syria could be the next target if it does not end its support for the remnants of Saddam's regime and for anti-Israel terrorist groups.
U.S. forces bombed Iraqi positions near Syria on Thursday, and special operations forces monitored the border to try to prevent Saddam supporters from escaping or new fighters from entering Iraq, U.S. officials said. "The Syrians are behaving badly, they need to be reminded of that, and if they continue ... we need to think about what our policy is," Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Asked if there were plans to send U.S. forces into Syria, Wolfowitz replied: "None I know of," but said that it would be "a decision for the president and the Congress."
Administration supporters also hope Saddam's fall will weaken Syria's economy. The influential lobby group, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has been arguing that future Iraqi oil shipments should no longer be exported through Syria but through Turkey and Jordan instead.
The Bush administration also is stepping up efforts to undermine the government of Iran, which along with Iraq and North Korea forms President Bush's "axis of evil." The United States has a new Web site in Iran's Farsi language and is increasing anti-regime broadcasts on radio and TV.
John Bolton, the hawkish undersecretary of State, told an AIPAC convention last week, that "in the aftermath of Iraq, dealing with the Iranian nuclear weapons program will be of equal importance as dealing with the North Korean nuclear weapons program."