Politics & Policy

Syrious Threat

This can still go bad.

During the long months between the destruction of the Taliban’s nightmare state in Afghanistan and the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, you had only to carefully read the newspapers to see what was coming, because the Middle East was suddenly full of “impossible” activities. My favorite example is the numerous airplanes flying back and forth between Baghdad and Tehran.

For many years, the Baghdad-Tehran route had been reserved for warplanes planning to drop bombs. Following the liberation of Afghanistan, when the terror masters of Iran and Syria “knew” that we would henceforth focus our wrath on Saddam Hussein, the planes carried intelligence officers and military leaders. They were planning the terror war in Iraq that now goes under the label “the insurgency.”

As I wrote at the time, the Iraqis, Syrians, and Iranians (with considerable support from the Saudis) had a precise model for the post-Saddam terror war. Indeed, it had already been successfully tested: the murderous assault against us (and the French) in Lebanon in the mid-1980s. That terror campaign was led by Hezbollah, a recent Iranian creation, under the guidance of its operational chieftain, Imad Mughniyah, then and now the most fearsome terrorist operative.

While Hezbollah was based in Lebanon, and thus subject to Syrian territorial control, it owed obedience to Iran, and no major undertaking could be launched without Iranian approval. As we learned during the dealings for the release of American hostages, whenever the Iranian government decided that one should be released, Hezbollah leaders traveled to Tehran, and the release took place upon their return.

The close Iranian/Syrian/Iraqi cooperation in 20002 and 2003 was abundantly documented in the newspapers, and in convincingly authoritative form. Bashar Assad laid it out in a published interview, and the Iranians said as much–although, having honed their deceptive skills over many millennia, they were not so foolish as to say it explicitly. It has duly come to pass. The deus ex machina of the “insurgency,” Zarqawi, operated from Iran, recruited in Europe, and organized the training of terrorists in Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians have worked like Siamese twins in a desperate effort to drive us out of Iraq, and the terror war will continue until somebody wins, and somebody loses. Either we defeat them, and drive them from power, or they will defeat us, and drive us out of Iraq, with all the terrible global consequences that would follow.

We are still apparently unwilling to face this unpleasant reality, for we are still not actively waging this war against the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran. Calling for withdrawal from Lebanon, and for freedom throughout the region, is a good start, but it is not good enough. With very rare exceptions, democratic revolutions–including our own–needed external support in order to win. Solidarity in Poland, Socialists in Portugal, followers of Corazon Aquino in the Philippines and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, the Orange revolutionaries in Ukraine, and others around the world, got real help from us, from communications gear, money, and informative broadcasting to tactical advice. So far as I know, we have not yet given anything like that to the Iranians and Syrians who suffer under the dark towers of the Islamic republic and the Baathist state.

In part this is due to the amazing performance of the Iraqi people, who have demonstrated patience, courage, and tenacity far beyond any reasonable expectation. We have also been able to avoid making the necessary commitment to regime change in Damascus and Tehran because of the extraordinary performance of our armed forces in Iraq, despite the near-disastrous decision by Viceroy Jerry Bremer that the Marines lift the siege of Fallujah nearly a year ago, thereby breathing new life into a jihad that was on the verge of an historic defeat. When the jihadis were finally destroyed in November, they scattered all over Iraq and into Syria, thereby laying the groundwork for the historic elections the following month.

Finally, and paradoxically, we have finessed the issue of defining and applying a broad war strategy against Syria and Iran, because democratic revolution is spreading. We would love to think that its success is now inevitable, saving us the hard work of providing the revolutionaries with the support that they in fact badly need. Machiavelli warned that the most dangerous moment for any leader comes at a time of glorious victory, for he will be tempted to rest, and bask in his glory, thus increasing his vulnerability. That is why the Marines teach their officers that the best moment for a counterattack comes immediately following a defeat, for the enemy will be least prepared for it.

This is not a moment to bask in glory, or to believe that history is irrevocably on our side. We must press ahead, buoyed by the spectacle of the rising revolutionary tide. There have been significant pro-democracy demonstrations in Syria, alongside those in Lebanon, and the tempo of protest against the Iranian mullahcracy is also rising.

Iran’s coal workers, like most of the working class in the major sectors of the country’s economy, have not been paid for many months, and they are demonstrating. Graffiti demanding a national referendum that would confirm the illegitimacy of the regime have appeared on walls in most of the major cities. Students in Isfahan–traditionally the engine of national revolution–hooted down one of the regime’s candidates for president in June’s elections, and chanted a Persian anthem instead of the Islamic theme when he attempted to defend himself.

There have also been many explosions and fires of late throughout Iran, including at two major mosques (frequented by top leaders and their families), the biggest automobile plant, the Tehran bazaar (two bombings), and the briefly noted event near a nuclear installation that was first described by the official news agency as an American missile attack, then changed to a fuel tank that fell from an Iranian aircraft, and then finally as the result of “friendly fire.” No one knows if these events are coordinated, but they are bad signs for the mullahs.

The Syrian and Iranian regimes are flexing their muscles at us in Lebanon by herding the Syrian guest workers and the faithful of Hezbollah into Beirut’s streets. At the same time, they are increasing their dreadful repression of anyone who openly criticizes them. They know their own people hate them, and are ramping up the domestic terror that enables them to stay in power. They are also maintaining the awful kill rate in Iraq, hoping against hope to inspire either a civil war or an accelerated American withdrawal.

Calling for the quick departure of Syrian troops and intelligence officials from Lebanon is all to the good, but it is only a small step in the necessary campaign to remove the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran. As the distinguished Israeli military analyst Ze’ev Schiff noted a few days ago, Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers work hand-in-mailed-glove with Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley–long the preeminent site of terrorist training in the Middle East. They must go, both because they are part and parcel of the terror network with which we are at war, and also because their expulsion will mark a public defeat of the two regimes we wish to bring down.

Alongside these diplomatic actions, we must actively assist the revolutionary forces. They need several things–above all, accurate information about the real state of affairs inside their own countries. Iranians in Tehran may be better informed about events in Washington than about those in other Iranian cities like Isfahan, Tabriz, and Shiraz. Soviet dissidents will tell you that radio stations like Radio Liberty were invaluable because they transmitted news about internal Soviet affairs. There are many excellent Iranian radio and television stations in California, Great Britain and Europe. We should support them so that they can broadcast round the clock. The pro-democracy forces also need communications tools to better communicate with one another. During the Cold War, fax machines were revolutionary devices; nowadays they are more likely to be BlackBerrys, Thuraya phones, and the like. Along with carrying the news, these devices, along with the broadcasts, can communicate the lessons we have learned about the most effective methods of nonviolent conflict.

The revolutionaries also need the wherewithal to paralyze their countries, so that millions of people can organize and sustain the mass demonstrations that will eventually bring down the regimes. In particular, workers’ organizations need access to a strike fund, so that workers can leave their jobs, knowing that there will be money with which to feed their families. Recognizing this, the Ayatollah Khomeini arranged for the delivery of bags of rice to working-class households on the eve of the 1979 revolution. Turnabout would be delicious fair play.

The president has committed himself and his administration to the liberation of Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. This cannot remain a merely rhetorical commitment. If his fine words are not followed by effective action, we may yet again be branded “paper tigers.” The revolutionary changes in the Middle East are the ripple effects of the serious action we took in Afghanistan and Iraq, and people are now risking their lives for freedom in the believe that the United States will stand beside them. We must show them we are serious. It isn’t very hard, and there are plenty of people in the government and in the armed forces who know how to do it. They are awaiting their orders.

Faster, please. This can still go bad.

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.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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