Which country is next on the list?
The neoconservative agenda
By William Pfaff
Thursday, April 10, 2003 - IHT - PARIS: The Bush administration, determined to remake the
Middle East by remaking Iraq, now has the bit between
Few had seriously doubted that the military forces of
the United States would overcome Iraq's army in fairly
short order. It was the administration itself that
fueled contrary fantasies of military disaster caused by
the supposed threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
- weapons that might tomorrow be used against the
American "homeland" itself.
The balance of conventional forces said that Iraq's
defeat was a military inevitability; the single question
open to discussion was whether Iraq's population or a
part of it might rally to the invaders, or on the other
hand support irregular or terrorist resistance.
Quick victory now is taken for granted in Washington,
and the debate has moved on to two other matters: who
will govern a conquered Iraq, and which country will be
the next American target.
President George W. Bush went to Belfast on Monday to
discuss the first of those questions. Prime Minister
Tony Blair of Britain, who still believes that he can
bridge certain now-unbridgeable Atlantic differences,
settled for a common statement that the United Nations
will play a "vital" role in conquered Iraq.
That will not satisfy Europeans or others who insist on
international law, which holds that military conquest
affords only limited authority to alter the political
structure and rights of a defeated country - and limits
the disposition of such national assets and resources as
But even Secretary of State Colin Powell -
internationalism and multilateralism's bulwark in the
Bush government - has said that the United States has
not come all this way in order to let some other
authority dominate Iraq.
Given that possession is nine-tenths of the law, the
government of Iraq will undoubtedly be taken over by
former General Jay Garner - a protégé of Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a unilateralist - and his
shadow cabinet of former diplomats and businessmen named
as interim authority for Iraq.
The more important question is what country will be
Until now the existence of a "next" has been in some
doubt. But unless victory in Iraq is marred by a
punishing irregular resistance, or a persisting
political breakdown and factional struggle, the Bush
administration seems likely to proceed with the
neoconservatives' program for remaking, by military
means if necessary, the political culture of the Muslim
That means building on the political reconstruction of
Iraq to cause eventual "regime change," spontaneous or
otherwise, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Egypt and
Libya. (North Korea is another problem.)
The neoconservative publicist and Washington columnist
Charles Krauthammer says that if Iraq becomes "pro-
Western and if it becomes the focus of American
influence," an American presence in Iraq "will project
power across the region, [suffusing] the rebels in Iran
with courage and strength, and [deterring and
restraining] Syria." (I am quoting a summary of his
views recently published in the Israeli daily Haaretz.)
This will "enhance the place of America in the world for
the coming generation." The outcome "will shape the
world for the next 25 years."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is generally
acknowledged as the man whose determination and
bureaucratic skill turned President George W. Bush's
reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks into a decision to
overturn Iraq's regime. He calls the neoconservative
crusade to change the Arab world an application of "the
power of the democratic idea." His critics call him a
naive and dangerous ideologue. But his program, at this
moment of success in Iraq, seems the most important
single influence on Bush administration policy.
This is not good news. There are three things to be said
about the neoconservatives and what they want.
The first is that they act out of fear. They are
motivated by fear of terrorist bands, armed by Islamic
states, wielding weapons of mass destruction, even
though this is politically, technologically and
militarily highly implausible.
There is an element of hysteria in this fear, as there
was a quarter-century ago when Washington convinced
itself that a victory by peasant insurgents in Vietnam
would lead to world domination by "Asian communism" and
to the isolation and destruction of the United States.
Second, they are naive. Krauthammer says it is "racist"
to think that "Arabs" can't govern themselves
democratically. The problem in the Middle East is not
"Arabs." The problem is a powerful historical culture
that functions on categories of value absolutes and
religious certainties hostile to the pragmatic
relativisms of Western democracy. Military conquest and
good intentions will not change that.
Finally, the neoconservatives are fanatics. They believe
it is worth killing people for unproved ideas.
Traditional morality says that war is justified in
legitimate defense. Totalitarian morality justifies war
to make people or societies better.
International Herald Tribune