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Drifting
A bit of a silence settles in the war on terror.


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Michael Ledeen

The Washington Post gets full marks for exposing the alarming lack of seriousness with which President Bush is now dealing with what is euphemistically called “The Global War Against Terrorism.” Numerous key positions–including the State Department’s top slot, vacated at the end of last year by Cofer Black, and the head of the new counterterrorism center–are vacant, and the National Security Council is working hard to define our current strategy, led by the impressive Frances Townsend.

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After nearly four years?

Indeed, if you talk to military officers engaged in the GWOT, more often than not you will hear a lament, because that war has yet to be defined. Despite all of the president’s tough talk, despite the often extraordinary performance of our soldiers and some notable accomplishments by intelligence officers, the “enemy” remains vague, and we are mainly playing a sucker’s game of responding to attacks and helping those who help us on the ground, as in post-Fallujah Iraq. Our other main claim to fame in fighting terrorism, Afghanistan, is currently suffering from cynical neglect by us and our allies, and from considerable corruption, some of it our own.

Another Turning Point

In short, as the president’s critics are rightly reminding him, more time has passed since 9/11 than transpired between Pearl Harbor and the surrender of the Japanese empire, and our most lethal enemies are still in power and still killing our people and our friends. It is good that the desire for freedom is now manifest among the oppressed peoples of the Middle East and Central Asia, and it is very good that dramatic strides toward self-government have been taken by the Georgians, Kyrgistanis, Ukrainians, Iraqis, and Lebanese. But it is not good enough. Indeed, it is shameful that we have yet to seriously challenge the legitimacy of the terror masters in Tehran and Damascus, who represent the keystone of the terrorist edifice.

Our enemies know this, because, to their delight and perhaps their surprise as well, they are still in power throughout the Middle East. Until and unless they are removed, the terror war will continue, our friends in the region will be killed, tortured, and incarcerated, and the president’s vision of regional democratic revolution will go down the memory hole. He is at yet another great turning point, and, as after the fall of Afghanistan and again after the defenestration of Saddam’s Baghdad, he is drifting, perhaps hoping that he has risked enough, that history is firmly on his side, and even–although it is hard to imagine–that the Europeans are helping the spread of freedom.

It is not so. In matters of war, peace, and revolution, winners are characterized by the constancy of their vision and the relentlessness of their pursuit of it. The French, Germans, and British are trying to restrain the revolution, not to encourage it, as their pathetic vaudeville-style negotiations with Iran abundantly demonstrate. One expects to hear one of their foreign ministers on the evening news, pronouncing Groucho’s immortal words: “I got principles. And if you don’t like ‘em, I got other principles…”

President Bush has indeed unleashed the specter of revolution upon the hidebound and tyrannical rulers of the Middle East, but they have not accepted it as their destiny. Indeed, in several of the main battlegrounds–Iran and Syria, for example–advocates of freedom are being rounded up and delivered to jailers, torturers, and executioners. A month ago, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, sensing that Washington had lost its nerve, arrested Nizar Restinawi, one of the founders of the Arab Human Rights Organization, and a vigorous opponent of the oppression to which his people have been long subjected. Then, 40 students were arrested in Latykiah. No explanation was offered. In mid-May, the widely respected Kurdish Sufi leader, Sheikh Maachouk Khaznawi, was kidnapped by the authorities. Ten thousand people marched in protest, as the regime announced it had no knowledge of Khaznawi’s fate. A few days ago, Assad ordered the arrest of the head of the Arab Human Rights Organization, Mohammad Raadoun.

Why Some Silence?

So far as I can tell, no one in this administration has denounced the new wave of oppression, as one would have expected them to have done. Why the silence? Does the president believe that democracy will spread even if outspoken democrats are crushed? Does he believe that the Assad regime can be reformed? To speak so clearly for the spread of freedom, and then remain mute when those who rise in support of freedom are bludgeoned, is to repeat the terrible mistake of his father in 1991, who infamously inspired an uprising against Saddam and then abandoned the Shiites and Kurds to mass graves and torture.

On Iran, our language is as tougher, and it is most welcome. On the eve of Memorial Day, Secretary Rice proclaimed Iran “probably [?] the most important state sponsor of terrorists, including terrorists who are doing their best to frustrate the hopes of the Palestinian people for a state” and branded it as “a country that does have (an) abominable human rights record.” Fine words, but, as in the Syrian case, they do not deal with the matters at hand. Iran is headed toward another phony presidential election on June 17, with the usual charade intended to deceive all would-be appeasers into believing that Iranian elections are like those in Wichita, Kansas. More than 1,000 candidates stepped forward, and the Guardian Council (that is, the Guardians of the mullahcracy) selected six, including one of the country’s leading murderers, former president Rafsanjani. The impotent group known as the “reformers” protested their exclusion, whereupon the Great Dictator Khamenei added two of them to the list.

The Iranian people are not deceived, and all reliable reports from Iran tell us that few of them intend to vote. Knowing this, the regime has announced that non-voters will be treated as criminals, deprived of educational opportunities, forbidden to travel, and banned from government employment. Why have our diplomats not denounced the electoral scam and the frantic efforts to compel the Iranians to act in the pathetic comedy? The most authoritative religious figure in Iran, the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, told Reuters that the Iranians understood the election was a fraud, because the president has no authority. Khamenei holds it all. In open rebellion against the Islamic Republic, Montazeri said that the Supreme Leader “should limit his role to religious matters and to ensuring that laws conformed to Islam.” In short, that the Islamic Republic must be dismantled. Meanwhile, the Iranians and the Syrians continue to support the terror war against us in Iraq. Here again, everyone knows it–nobody raised an eyebrow at the recent rumors that Zarqawi had taken refuge in Iran, because everyone knows he has long had Iranian support for his barbaric actions–yet our leaders are strangely unwilling to draw the obvious conclusion: The regimes must go.

I do not understand why Bush, Rice, and Rumsfeld should be less forthcoming than an 83-year-old Grand Ayatollah under virtual house arrest in Qom. In his final days in office, Colin Powell went around the world announcing that the United States was not calling for regime change in Iran, and no one in Washington has gainsaid those words. Nor has anyone called for regime change in Damascus. In each case, official rhetoric, and apparently formal policy as well, are directed toward matters of less significance in the Global War: the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian mullahs, and the domination of Lebanon by the Syrian Baathists and their murderous Hezbollah allies. Yet it is clear to anyone with eyes to see that even these lesser goals cannot be accomplished so long as Assad rules Syria, and the mullahs rule Iran.

There is no escape from these imperatives, and no amount of clever diplomatic scheming with the failed governments of France and Germany–both of whom have been boisterously rejected by their own electorates in the past two weeks–and the feckless British Foreign Office can possibly accomplish them. If President Bush is serious about spreading freedom, then he must finally and openly demand an end to the dictatorships that oppose freedom with all their might.

Freedom is our greatest weapon against the terrorists, and we do not always need to send armies to support its spread. Syria and Iran are ripe for revolution, and the dictators know it. The revolutionaries are looking to Washington for clear and material support. They are not getting it today. Twice in the past, the president slid into a similar funk, first permitting himself to be gulled by the Saudis into believing he had to make a deal with Arafat before he was entitled to liberate Iraq, then permitting the British to drag out the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom with endless votes in the Security Council. Each time he realized his error, and pressed on with greater vigor. It’s time for him to do that again. He should revisit his definition of the Global War on Terror: a battle against a network of terrorists, and the countries that support them. A long battle perhaps, but a clear one, with clearly identified enemies and with a wide variety of tactics to bring them down.

Faster. Please?

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.



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