The neocons' next war
Hardliners in the Bush administration
are trying to widen the Middle East conflict to Iran and Syria,
not stop it.
by Sidney Blumenthal
The National Security Agency is providing
signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran
are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires hundreds
of missiles into northern Israel, according to a national security
official with direct knowledge of the operation. President Bush
has approved the secret program.
Inside the administration, neoconservatives
on Vice President Dick Cheney's national security staff and Elliott
Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East
on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing
NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and
Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing
of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the
program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA,
has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.)
The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility
of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between
Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is
said to have been "briefed" and to be "on board,"
but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative
scenario. Her "briefing" appears to be an aspect of
an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently
she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose
her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its
development of nuclear weaponry.
Rice's diplomacy in the Middle East has
erratically veered from initially calling on Israel for "restraint,"
to categorically opposing a cease-fire, to proposing terms for
a cease-fire guaranteed to conflict with the European proposal,
and thus to thwarting diplomacy, prolonging the time available
for the Israeli offensive to achieve its stated aim of driving
Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. But the neocon scenario extends
far beyond that objective to pushing Israel into a "cleansing
war" with Syria and Iran, says the national security official,
which somehow will redeem Bush's beleaguered policy in the entire
In order to try to understand the neoconservative
road map, senior national security professionals have begun circulating
among themselves a 1996 neocon manifesto against the Middle East
peace process. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for
Securing the Realm," its half-dozen authors included neoconservatives
highly influential with the Bush administration -- Richard Perle,
first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith,
former undersecretary of defense; and David Wurmser, Cheney's
chief Middle East aide.
"A Clean Break" was written
at the request of incoming Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu and intended to provide "a new set of ideas"
for jettisoning the policies of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of trading "land for peace,"
the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established
negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance
of Likud's terms, "peace for peace." Rather than negotiations
with Syria, they proposed "weakening, containing, and even
rolling back Syria." They also advanced a wild scenario to
"redefine Iraq." Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow
become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain "control"
of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them "wean the south Lebanese
Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria."
Netanyahu, at first, attempted to follow
the "clean break" strategy, but under persistent pressure
from the Clinton administration he felt compelled to enter into
U.S.-led negotiations with the Palestinians. In the 1998 Wye River
accords, concluded through the personal involvement of President
Clinton and a dying King Hussein, the Palestinians agreed to acknowledge
the legitimacy of Israel and Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from
a portion of the occupied West Bank. Further negotiations, conducted
by his successor Ehud Barak, that nearly settled the conflict
ended in dramatic failure, but potentially set the stage for new
At his first National Security Council
meeting, President George W. Bush stunned his first secretary
of state, Colin Powell, by rejecting any effort to revive the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When Powell warned that "the
consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,"
Bush snapped, "Sometimes a show for force by one side can
really clarify things." He was making a "clean break"
not only with his immediate predecessor but also with the policies
of his father.
In the current Middle East crisis, once
again, the elder Bush's wise men have stepped forward to offer
unsolicited and unheeded advice. (In private they are scathing.)
Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Israel and Syria and
now the director of the James Baker Institute at Rice University,
urged on July 23, on CNN, negotiations with Syria and Iran. "I
come from the school of diplomacy that you negotiate conflict
resolution and peace with your enemies and adversaries, not with
your friends," he said. "We've done it in the past,
we can do it again."
Charles Freeman, the elder Bush's ambassador
to Saudi Arabia, remarked, "The irony now is that the most
likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer
Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed
in Baghdad." Indeed, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
came to Washington in the last week of July he preceded his visit
with harsh statements against Israel. And in a closed meeting
with U.S. senators, when asked to offer criticism of Hezbollah,
he steadfastly refused.
Richard Haass, the Middle East advisor
on the elder Bush's National Security Council and President Bush's
first-term State Department policy planning director, and now
president of the Council on Foreign Relations, openly scoffed
at Bush's Middle East policy in an interview on July 30 in the
Washington Post: "The arrows are all pointing in the wrong
direction. The biggest danger in the short run is it just increases
frustration and alienation from the United States in the Arab
world. Not just the Arab world, but in Europe and around the world.
People will get a daily drumbeat of suffering in Lebanon and this
will just drive up anti-Americanism to new heights." When
asked about the president's optimism, he replied, "An opportunity?
Lord, spare me. I don't laugh a lot. That's the funniest thing
I've heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what's Iraq?
A once-in-a-lifetime chance?"
The same day that Haass' comments appeared
Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush's national security advisor and
still his close friend, published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post
written more or less as an open letter to his erstwhile and errant
protégé Condoleezza Rice. Undoubtedly, Scowcroft
reflects the views of the former President Bush. Adopting the
tone of an instructor to a stubborn pupil, Scowcroft detailed
a plan for an immediate end to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict and
for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, "the
source of the problem." His program is a last attempt to
turn the president back to the ways of his father. If the elder
Bush and his team were in power and following the Scowcroft plan,
a cease-fire would have been declared. But Scowcroft's plan resembles
that of the Europeans, already rejected by the Bush administration,
and Rice is the one offering a counterproposal that has put diplomacy
into a stall.
Despite Rice's shunning of the advice
of the Bush I sages, the neoconservatives have made her a convenient
target in their effort to undermine all diplomatic initiatives.
"Dump Condi," read the headline in the right-wing Insight
Magazine on July 25. "Conservative national security allies
of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration's
national security and foreign policy agenda," the article
reported. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a member of the
Defense Policy Board, was quoted: "We are sending signals
today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously
you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're
doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out
of us is talk."
A month earlier, Perle, in a June 25 Op-Ed
in the Washington Post, revived an old trope from the height of
the Cold War, accusing those who propose diplomacy of being like
Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who tried to appease
Hitler. "Condoleezza Rice," wrote Perle, "has moved
from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away.
What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval
Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It
is, rather, that she is now in the midst of and increasingly represents
a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies
even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel
the appeasement of our adversaries."
Rice, agent of the nefarious State Department,
is supposedly the enemy within. "We are in the early stages
of World War III," Gingrich told Insight. "Our bureaucracies
are not responding fast enough. We don't have the right attitude."
Confused, ineffectual and incapable of
filling her office with power, Rice has become the voodoo doll
that Powell was in the first term. Even her feeble and counterproductive
gestures toward diplomacy leave her open to the harshest attacks
from neoconservatives. Scowcroft and the Bush I team are simply
ignored. The sustained assault on Rice is a means to an end --
restoring the ascendancy of neoconservatism.
Bush's rejection of and reluctance to
embrace the peace process concluded with the victory of Hamas
in the Palestinian elections. This failure was followed by a refusal
to engage Hamas, potentially splitting its new governmental ministers
from its more radical leadership in Damascus. Predictably, the
most radical elements of Hamas found a way to lash out. And Hezbollah
seized the moment by staging its own provocation.
Having failed in the Middle East, the
administration is attempting to salvage its credibility by equating
Israel's predicament with the U.S. quagmire in Iraq. Neoconservatives,
for their part, see the latest risk to Israel's national security
as a chance to scuttle U.S. negotiations with Iran, perhaps the
last opportunity to realize the fantasies of "A Clean Break."
By using NSA intelligence to set an invisible
tripwire, the Bush administration is laying the condition for
regional conflagration with untold consequences -- from Pakistan
to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Israel. Secretly devising a scheme
that might thrust Israel into a ring of fire cannot be construed
as a blunder. It is a deliberate, calculated and methodical plot.
Middle East watch