A year ago, as I was finishing the first draft of The War Against the Terror Masters, I wrote that Syria and Iran could not tolerate an American success in Iraq, because it would fatally undermine the authority of the tyrants in Damascus and Tehran. Since we had taken too long to move on from Afghanistan to challenge the regimes of the terror masters, they had forged an alliance and would cooperate in sending terror squads against our armed forces, with the intention of repeating the Lebanese scenarios in the mid-Eighties (against the United States) and the late Nineties (against Israel).
Our diplomats didn’t believe a word of it. After all, as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said just a few weeks ago, “Iran is a democracy,” and thus is qualitatively different from Iraq and North Korea. State has been pursuing some sort of deal with the Iranian regime since the start of the Bush administration, and didn’t want to be bothered — either with the facts, or with those annoying presidential statements that branded Iran a terror state governed by self-appointed religious fanatics. As for Syria, Foggy Bottom has long considered the Assads as potential allies (remember how Warren Christopher waited patiently on the runway in Damascus during one of his “peace process” jaunts, only to be dissed? Remember how Henry Kissinger once called Hafez Assad “the most fascinating leader in the Middle East”?) and until a few days ago was working on a strategic partnership.
But war has a way of destroying the self-serving ambiguities of the diplomatic crowd, and in recent days we have heard some pretty tough words from both the secretary of state and the secretary of defense warning Syria and Iran to stop their lethal support of Saddam Hussein’s crumbling regime, lest we treat them as hostile countries.
Just as I have been saying for these many frustrating months, we would find ourselves in a regional conflict, whatever we wanted, and whatever fanciful ideas the likes of Armitage and policy-planning chief Richard Haass conjured up for their personal satisfaction.
Now, Eli Lake of UPI reports that the government is aware of Iranian terrorist operations inside Iraq, and there have been many stories reporting Syria’s campaign to send terrorists across the border to attack us. In truth, we didn’t need intelligence to know this was going on, because the Iranian and Syrian tyrants had announced it publicly. Assad gave an interview recently in which he proclaimed — in words that could have been taken right out of my book — that Lebanon was the model for the struggle that had to be waged in Iraq against Coalition forces. And Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave a speech a few weeks ago in which he said that the presence of American troops in Iraq would be even worse for Iran than the hated regime of Saddam Hussein.
So they are coming to kill us, which means that there is no more time for diplomatic “solutions.” We will have to deal with the terror masters, here and now. Iran, at least, offers us the possibility of a memorable victory, because the Iranian people openly loath the regime, and will enthusiastically combat it, if only the United States supports them in their just struggle. One may legitimately ask if the Iraqi people are fully prepared for the burdens of democracy after the mind-numbing years of Saddam (I think they are, mind you, but the question is fair), but there is no doubt that the Iranians are up to it. And Syria cannot stand alone against a successful democratic revolution that topples tyrannical regimes in Kabul, Tehran, and Iraq.
This is the path — the correct path — that the president has charted, despite the opposition of so many of his diplomats, and despite the near-total indifference of the Western press to the plight of the Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian people. It is the path that most fully expresses our own revolutionary tradition, and gives the peoples of the Middle East the chance to recapture their dignity by empowering them to govern their own lands. Finally, for those obsessed by the Arab-Israeli question, it is the best chance for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. President Bush has said that he will not support a Palestinian state that is governed by people hostile to democracy. Yet it is impossible for a democratic Palestine to emerge, let alone survive, so long as the dominant countries in the region are tyrannical supporters of terrorism.
If, at long last, we are going to transform the Middle East in the name of the democratic revolution, it is madness to entrust this task to a Department of State that clearly does not believe in it. State, and with it CIA, does not believe that democracy can succeed in the Middle East. That is why they have long supported a coup in Baghdad, rather than regime change. That is why they have violently opposed the Iraqi National Congress, which has fought for democracy for more than a decade, only to be repeatedly betrayed and sabotaged by the United States government.
Yet Congress, seemingly unaware of the urgency of the moment and the years of blunders that contributed so much to the current crisis, has now voted to put all the money earmarked for the “reconstruction” of Iraq — which is to say, the creation of the post-war Iraqi polity and society — entirely in the hands of the Department of State.
If this is permitted to stand it will make the creation of Iraqi democracy even more difficult than circumstances demand. The White House has said that it opposes this centralization of authority in the hands of the State Department, and it is likely that the president will veto the proposal, as he should. But, like our appointed diplomats, our elected representatives need a crash course in democratic revolution, the better to advance our cause, defeat our enemies, and save the lives of our incredible fighting men and women.
We have written an exceptional page of military history in Iraq, but it can be undone by suicidal political blunders in the region in the very near future. It’s time to bring down the other terror masters.
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.