On his November trip to the U.S., Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi deputy prime minister in the “interim government” arising from the invasion he helped plan, visited Richard Perle in the latter’s suburban Washington home. There the two -- who go way back, friends since 1985 -- were joined by a Syrian gentleman named Farid Ghadry.
It was a triumphal homecoming for Washington insider Chalabi, who seemed to have fallen from grace last year when he was accused of passing U.S. secrets to Iran, had his Baghdad office ransacked by U.S. troops, and lost U.S. funding for his Iraqi National Congress. The INC had funneled “intelligence” to the neocon-dominated Bush administration, helping it build the bogus case for war, with stories disseminated through the establishment press to mislead the credulous and frightened American public. His credibility evaporated when U.S. forces found no WMD in Iraq, something he brushed off as easily as Wolfowitz had earlier. “As far as we’re concerned,” Chalabi told the Perle-connected Telegraph in March 2004, “we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. The Telegraph reported that Chalabi dismissed accusations that he deliberately misled the administration. We are heroes in error.”
Reports on his links to Iran apparently incurred the wrath of George W. Bush, who in May 2004 told King Abdullah of Jordan (where there’s a warrant out for Chalabi’s arrest on embezzling charges) that the monarch “can piss on Chalabi.” But rising from adversity, and despite his secularist credentials deftly making alliances with Shiite religious factions, Chalabi became a vice president in the client-regime formed last spring. Bush administration officials, considering their options, have felt it best to re-engage the scoundrel. During his U.S. trip he was honored with audiences with Dick Cheney as well as Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, and Treasury Secretary John Snow. He was feted at the Washington home of Republican lawyer Jeffrey Weiss and his lobbyist wife Juleanna Glover Weiss, at a party attended by former CIA chief James Woolsey, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, and Christopher Hitchens, along with Perle. There are no reports that anyone peed upon him, that no longer being U.S. policy.
And then there was this intimate reunion in the home of Perle, peerless neocon, dubbed “Prince of Darkness” by his friends. With Paul Wolfowitz, he was the chief architect of the Bush administration’s Middle East foreign policy leading up to the attack on Iraq. Here’s another peddler of disinformation, like Chalabi discredited and exposed to anyone paying attention. (My favorite Perle lie is: “Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn’t just there for a holiday. The meeting is one of the motives of an American attack on Iraq.” He said that to the Italian press in September 2002.) No stranger to controversy, he stunned an audience in London in November 2003 by declaring that “international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone.” He averred that “international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.”
Having stepped down from his position as chair of the Defense Policy Board in March 2003 amid conflict of interest charges, leaving the board entirely a year later, this advocate of international lawlessness has not been shunned by the establishment but retains some influence in the world. He regularly appears on TV talk shows or news programs in his capacity as Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, or wearing the hat of some other rightwing think tank representative. He talks about his recent book, coauthored by David Frum (former Bush speechwriter who coined the foolish phrase “Axis of Evil”) which as one critic puts it, “conveys a general sense that America is at war with Islam itself anywhere and everywhere: the contemporary Muslim world .... is depicted as one great cauldron of hate, murder, obscurantism, and deceit.” He warns “There is no middle way for Americans” other than this war on Islam, and like Douglas Feith and other neocons exploits the most ridiculous of historical analogies: “It is victory or holocaust.” Perle and Frum warn that any Palestinian state “will be another abject failure of the so-called peace process.” They call for the overthrow of the Iranian regime. And Syria? They just demand that it end support for Hizbollah (the Shiite-based Lebanese political party that is probably the most popular in Lebanon), get friendly with Israel which illegally occupies the Golan Heights, and adopt a “Western orientation.”
So here is this ferocious Islamophobe and proud advocate of international lawbreaking sitting there in his living room with convicted swindler and con-artist Ahmad Chalabi with this Syrian, Farid Ghadry, on hand. What might Ghadry have been doing there? Well, Ghadry, who left Syria at age 10 and holds U.S. citizenship, heads something called the “Syrian Reform Party.” He’s told the Wall Street Journal that Chalabi “paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria.” That explains his presence.
Recall that what Chalabi did, and which Ghadry so admires, was to facilitate the U.S. invasion of his country. He did so with much support from Perle when the latter chaired the Defense Policy Board, funneling lies to the neocon-staffed Office of Special Plans that were then broadly circulated to generate support war. That campaign’s been pretty well discredited, and the neocons have taken some blows lately (notably the indictment of “Scooter” Libby), but the broad plan requiring further war-promoting lies remains on track. That plan is set out in the document “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” authored by Perle and several of his neocon cronies (including Douglas Feith and David Wurmser) in 1996. Prepared for the Israeli (rather than U.S.) government, it suggests “rolling back Syria” by first “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq -- an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” It’s echoed in the statement made by a general at the Pentagon to Gen. Wesley Clark in November 2001. He declared there was a “five-year plan” for military action against not only Afghanistan and Iraq, but “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan. There’s a list of countries.”
The “Clean Break” co-written by Perle was written for Benjamin Netanyahu, the incoming Israeli president at the time, and apparently prepared by its authors in their capacity as dual-national Israeli citizens. The “Break” paper urged use of U.S. power to deal with Israel’s enemies, and the neocons seem to make no distinction between U.S. and Israeli interests. They have been closely aligned with the Likud Party and with Ariel Sharon, although Sharon’s now broken away from that party, leaving it in Netanyahu’s hands. I suspect that Perle and the neocons generally will tow the more extreme anti-Palestinian line, that of Netanyahu.
The U.S. government recently asked Sharon for suggestions about who ought to succeed Bashar Assad, following the planned overthrow. But the Israelis at a high-level meeting stated that they didn’t have a better alternative. (So they didn’t suggest Farid Ghadry, although his presence in Perle’s living room suggests that the trio for their part might envision him the Syrian Chalabi.) Rice has recently made a point of stating that the U.S. seeks “behavior change” rather than “regime change” in Syria, which I initially thought reflected a waning in neocon influence and a more rational understanding of the limits of U.S. power given the ongoing unpopular war in Iraq. But it may also reflect the Sharon government’s desire to deal with a weakened, isolated regime in Damascus rather than some possibly Islamist unknown.
Perle for his part would apparently like to see Israeli action against Syria. Following Israel’s October 2003 bombing of Syria condemned by the U.S.’s European allies as “unacceptable” he told an Israeli audience, “I am happy to see the message was delivered to Syria by the Israeli air force, and I hope it is the first of many such messages.” He surely wants the U.S. to effect regime change. “Why have we put up with [Assad] as long as we have?” he and Frum ask in their book. Ghadry, sitting in Perle’s living room, probably asked the same question.
In April 2003 Ghadry wrote, “the U.S. must take control of its responsibilities as a supreme world power and create the World Order Bush Senior so profoundly believed in… No one better that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle understood how essential it is to show the world that the U.S. is about to enforce the ‘New World Order’ starting with the most lethal of regimes, that of Saddam Hussein… [T]he U.S. has a golden opportunity to enter Damascus to completely eradicate the Ba’ath Party of Syria the way it did with the Ba'ath Party of Iraq.” Ghadry backed off from advocating an invasion, but wrote that the U.S. had “a golden opportunity…to impose on Syria a new party led by western educated and secular visionaries.” (Like himself, no doubt. But one of the key components of Ba’athism, as Ghadry well knows and as all Americans subject to simplistic anti-Arab propaganda should find out, is precisely this western-style secularism! The three pillars of Ba’athism are pan-Arabism, secularism, and Arab socialism. Michel Aflaq, a Christian Syrian, was one of the founders of the Baathist movement in the 1930s. Ghadry himself belongs to the Christian minority who constitute 10% of the Syrian population, who under secular Baathist rule enjoy equal rights with Muslims. That’s why Iraqi Christians, relatively safe under the secular Baathist rule of Saddam Hussein, are fleeing to Syria these days from their country “liberated” by the U.S. but morphing into an intolerant Shiite Islamist theocracy!)
At the same time Ghadry urged Bush to add to the three main goals of U.S. Middle East policy (protecting oil supply, nonproliferation, and defending Israel) the noble goal of promoting democracy. (This was some time before this became the main justification for the “War on Terror” -- the argument that the Middle East left to its own devices produces terrorism and so must be forcibly democratized to make Americans safe.) “The U.S. victory lap must go through Syria if the Middle East is to expect peace and prosperity,” Ghadry wrote. “Rolling steel on the streets of Damascus will position the U.S. historically as savior of democracies rather than chasers [sic] after democracies.”
Since at least July 2004 Ghadry has been writing that Syria is “working closely with Al-Qaeda’s Zaqawi” and has a nuclear program. In November 2005 he declared that after the invasion of Iraq Syria “decided to quietly wage a war of insurgency against the United States” because it “does not want a democracy to flourish next door.” (Odd then that the top Iraqi leaders ushered into power by the occupation declare friendship for both Tehran and Damascus.) He elaborates that, “It is estimated that up to 1,000 U.S. armed forces were killed in Iraq as a result of Syria’s Ba’ath logistic support for a potent insurgency including providing open training facilities in Syria and preparing cars for suicide missions.” Estimated by who, I wonder?
This is what we call building a case for an attack, and indeed Ghadry seems to hope for that when he says he has “almost absolute knowledge that the United States will not deal with the Assad regime any further and that it is looking seriously at regime change.” His party wants “help to overthrow the regime,” but he adds, “what we do not want is interference the way it is happening in Iraq today with members of the government more loyal to U.S. intelligence agencies than to their own people.” (As I interpret this, he’s saying that the neocon plan for Iraq -- putting Chalabi, despised by the CIA, in power as opposed to using more loyal longtime operative Iyad Allawi -- would be appropriate for Syria, with him playing Chalabi.)
Oh, to have been a fly on that living room wall and hear these gentlemen plot! Because the plot is the point. Forget all the specific proposed rationales for a harder, tougher line on Syria. We used to read about the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, until the troops were all expeditiously withdrawn this year under U.S. pressure. We read of Syrian support for “terrorist” organizations, and although these are organizations targeting Israeli occupation rather than the U.S. Homeland, for Perle they’re all al-Qaeda-like evils that ought to face American wrath. We read of weapons of mass destruction, with John Bolton claiming (over CIA objections) in 2002 that Syria possessed chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs threatening the world. We read about Syria “not doing enough” to prevent “foreign” (fellow Arab) jihadis from crossing a long porous border with Iraq, and abetting the resistance in Iraq (against truly, totally alien foreigners) by providing banking services. We read most recently of the supposed evidence for Syrian responsibility in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, appearing with exquisite timing to cap the accumulated mass of damning charges. We read this ever-lengthening list of reasons why the government of Bashar Assad is evil, “on the wrong side of history” -- because the thorough defamation of Syria is needed to prepare the public to accept what the neocons are planning next. Ghadry echoing these charges adds legitimacy to them because, after all, he’s from Syria having lived there until he was 10.
The plot to topple the Damascus regime was hatched long before the Hariri assassination and immediate propaganda campaign linking it to Syria, the charges of Syrian complicity in the Iraqi insurgency, the accusations of harboring Iraqi Ba’athists, the insinuations (first aired by Sharon in December 2003, then repeated by a Syrian defector quoted by the Telegraph, just what you’d expect) that the missing Iraqi WMDs must have been transported to Syria. It has meant, just as in the run-up to the war on Iraq, piling up accusation upon accusation encouraging a subliminal link to 9-11 -- even though Syria’s actually helped in the campaign against al-Qaeda, and like Saddam’s Iraq sees Islamic fundamentalism as a threat and enemy.
Many of the neocon plotters central to the Iraq War disinformation project have left their posts after getting the main job done. Wolfowitz, Feith, Grossman, Zakheim, Libby and of course Perle. But there are more of these neocons, positioned strategically, networking, sharing a common ideology and vision, moving slowly but surely towards the realization of their agenda. Hadley, Wurmser, Abrams, Hannah, Bolton, Joseph. . . . Their agenda is nicely summarized by Michael Ledeen, who seems deeply implicated in the Niger uranium lie, and who wrote in December 2001 in the National Review that, “We need to sustain our game face, we must keep our fangs bared, we must remind them [‘our enemies in the Middle East’] daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our dead, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.”
In an that same neocon publication, Ghadry called Ledeen “my friend.” Here’s a man with friends who lie, who want blood, who delight in the humiliation and degradation of their enemies. Unknown compared to his partners at the party, his future is worth following.
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The big difference between the Iraq War propaganda campaign and this one is that this one more incorporates the United Nations into building the case for action. Like the Iraq campaign, it required an act of Congress (the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003) generally maligning the country and authorizing the president to take various measures against it. But this was followed up in September 2004 by the UN Security Council Resolution 1559, co-sponsored by the U.S. and France, urging Syria to withdraw its troops in Lebanon (there at Beirut’s invitation) and to disband all militias in the country. The latter refers principally to a militia formed by Hizbollah. This was a major diplomatic triumph for the plotters in that it brought France, which Perle had earlier dubbed an “enemy” for its failure to approve the Iraq War, on board Phase II of the program. Then following the February 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1636 in October, appointing a commission headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis to investigate the crime. While incomplete and dubious, the findings of the investigation have already been seized upon to intimate that high-ranking Syrian officials were responsible for the murder.
So the assassination has already proven profitable for the plotters. In its aftermath, the U.S. demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon in accordance with Resolution 1559, and it did so, in fear and trembling, beating the U.S.-imposed deadline. Meanwhile the Bush administration echoed by the corporate press depicted large anti-Syria demonstrations in Lebanon as reflecting the popular will, ignoring a million-strong pro-Syria rally hosted in part by Hizbollah. The U.S. was finally able to convince the majority of the European Parliament to so list Hizbollah in March 2005. (But interestingly France and the UK still don’t do so, heeding the Lebanese government’s appeal to recognize Hizbollah as a legitimate political party.)
The paradox of the moment is that even as the neocons suffer some setbacks (the Libby indictment chief among them), their program proceeds apace. Bolton plays a key role in its execution, bludgeoning the “international community” that he once bullied into repealing UNGA Resolution 3379, a community hesitant to back the Iraq War and fearful of the consequences of unbridled imperial power, into approving moves against Syria and Iran. He was the first top official to add Syria to the “Axis of Evil.” Small wonder that the Bush administration, failing to win Congressional approval for Bolton’s nomination, posted him to the UN anyway thinking he’s the best man to urgently build the case for action against these two additional targeted nations in the “Greater Middle East.” These two nations that if they follow the neocon agenda will constitute an oil-drenched reformed-Muslim American empire from the Hindu Kush to the borders of Israel.
The plan is clear enough. For Iran, emphasize the nuclear issue. Haul Iran before the Security Council, contending that its concealment of some nuclear energy development activities between 1985 and 2003 (which are about as serious as those of South Korea) places it in violation of the Non-Proliferation Agreement and justifies international sanctions. Obtain through carrot or stick Russian and Chinese abstentions on a resolution imposing sanctions, or at least maintain a united front with Britain and France, whose stances more impact U.S. public opinion than those of the Cold War enemies. That could make it politically possible to take action against Iranian nuclear facilities, or to justify “independent” Israeli action. Attempt, short of a probably unfeasible Iraq-style invasion, various measures including tactical nuclear strikes to obtain regime change in Tehran before the cowboy president’s term is up.
For Syria, use the terrorism issue. Declare, whether it’s true or not, that the Mehlis investigation clearly fingers Syria as the culprit in Hariri’s death, and that that assassination is emblematic of all the evils that emanate from Damascus. Downplay the dramatic withdrawal of the Syrian troops and up the hurdle, claiming that Syria still maintains a vast intelligence apparatus in Lebanon, knowing that given the nature of spy activity spies’ existence is always disavowed by governments, so the accusation can just hover there, improvable, so long as it’s useful while of course the U.S. maintains its own spy apparatus anywhere it wishes without apology!
As action looms, cite examples of Syrians killing Americans in Iraq. Remind the American people that in 1983 Hizbollah allied with Iran killed 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut who were just there to spread some of that American goodness in the wake of the Israeli invasion. (Having killed Americans in their invaded country, Hizbollah has to be terrorist, and in order to defend the American Homeland, it and its state sponsors need to be defeated.) Trot out before the cameras a genuine Syrian, who has what he calls “a market-driven vision and liberal views” and is a great friend of such liberals as Richard Perle and Michael Ledeen, and have him authoritatively affirm all the above and promise that the troops will be greeted with flowers. Have him say, “Over 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq as a result of Syria’s support for the suicide mission terrorists, and these killings won’t stop until there’s regime change in Damascus” and get that splashed on the front page of the New York Times and in your face on Fox and CNN. Create your own empire-reality in contemptuous affront to empirical reality, and afterwards when your faked reality loses credence, put some loyal Syrian on camera, with what’s left of downtown Damascus in the background. Have him offhandedly acknowledge that what he said before was not important, but that now that the U.S. forces have arrived, he and his group are “heroes in error.”
Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe they could achieve this plan, this plot. But I think once again of the murderous plotters in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, who knew that “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,” and that they would need to “take the current where it serves, or lose our ventures.” The neocons are desperate to accomplish their ventures; Ledeen’s calling, “Faster, Please!” even as the cabal of which he’s a part comes under scrutiny by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and others. The administration has suffered more setbacks since the living room gathering last month. But the neocons, who have steered its course so far, are not in a retreat mode. Their critics and all reasonable people should remain at elevated (yellow) alert at the terror threat they pose.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: [email protected]