Follow-up on Syria

Just a short post to note that Michael Gerson’s notion that the U.S. mount cross-border raids into Syria — in part because Iran was just too tough for the moment – was followed up not only by Max Boot’s suggestion that the U.S. forces hold the Damascus International Airport hostage, but also by commentary from the increasingly fevered swamps of The National Review’s “Corner” blog. Michael Ledeen and Mark Steyn wrote that they were deeply disappointed that stronger action was not recommended and were particularly provoked by Gerson’s phrase description of Damascus’ (and Tehran’s) roles as mere “accelerants to Iraq’s frothing chaos.”

“Talk about understatement!” complained Ledeen in the latest iteration of his “Terror Masters” thesis, entitled “Michael Gerson Doesn’t Get It.”

“Both Syria and Iran train, arm, fund, and guide the terrorists. Almost all the suicide terrorists come into Iraq via Syria where they have been indoctrinated (or lied to; many of them believe they are going to fight us, not martyr themselves. They are then ordered to drive a vehicle somewhere, and it’s blown up en route. Others are chained to the steering wheel, even). The Syrians don’t “allow the transit” of these people; they organize it, as part of the war against us and the Iraqis. As for the Iranians, the provide indispensable support to al Qaeda in Iraq, to the Shi’ite militias, and to assassins who kill anyone who gets in the way of jihad. Moreover, their military forces are on the ground in Iraq. We’ve arrested some of them, and killed others.

So they’re not just “meddling.” Indeed, they come close to being the basic engine of the terror war itself. The blockbuster revelation from Gerson is that Tony Blair recently told him that if Iran and Syria were eliminated from the battlefield [sic],”the situation in Iraq would be very nearly manageable.” I think that’s another understatement; we could do without the “very nearly.”

No surprise, then, that Gerson has no stomach for forceful action against the Syranians [sic?]. He’s for sanctions-plus-hard-bargaining.”

“I don’t believe the President thinks of Syria and Iran as mere ‘accelerants’,” Steyn replied in a contribution titled “Worse ‘N Gerson.” “But it’s unnerving that someone so close to him these past six years does.”

To which Ledeen replied despairingly:

“Remember he’s been brainwashed by his Ignorance Community and Foggy Bottoms for more than six years, and they have told him that Syria is an ally, and Iran is a normal country, and that patience will eventually lead us to the Heavenly Land. He obviously has a strong attachment to Condi and she agrees with the Gerson assessment of the Syranians [sic?]. I don’t think Laura or Karen is pushing him to get tough with the mullahs and Assads. Gates let it be known that his mission was to get out of Iraq.

“That leaves Cheney, who, despite what a Guardian article recently claimed, is unlikely to prevail in any debate in the Oval Office on this subject. Ergo, if we’re to read the president’s mind on the basis of his actions—from personnel to policy—don’t we have to conclude that Gerson is speaking for him?”

Now, it’s true that Ledeen acts sometimes as the Eeyore of the militant Likudniks at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), constantly doubting that his dreams of “faster, please” – that is, aggressive moves to oust regimes in Syria, Iran, previously in Iraq (his recent insistence to the contrary notwithstanding), and, perhaps Saudi Arabia, too – will really come true or that the true freedom fighters in the administration, presumably led by Bush himself, can ultimately prevail against the appeasers and apparatchiks at the State Department, the CIA, and military brass, and I suspect that his comment about Cheney, in particular, may have been provoked in part by the reported departure next month from the administration of the vice president’s senior Middle East advisor and author of the famous “Clean Break” paper, David Wurmser. It was Wurmser who had been peddling an “attack-Iran” scenario allegedly on behalf of Cheney earlier this spring but whose real obsession over the past dozen or more years has been “regime change” — if not nation-state destruction — in Syria via Iraq and the wider Arab world. Nonetheless, Ledeen’s gloom at this point is noteworthy, particularly in light of the Guardian article by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, “Cheney Pushes Bush to Act on Iran,” to which he refers, if not entirely persuasive. (Neither, I think, is the article itself, although I tend to share its pessimism about an eventual attack on Iran. It has been known since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit here last month that the U.S. and Israel would review the situation vis-à-vis Iran and its nuclear program early next year, presumably after a new round of Security Council sanctions and approval of pending sanctions legislation here.)

Still, the context in which this sudden spate of hawkishness directed against Syria by Gerson et. al. — The ‘Wall Street Journal’s’ Bret Stephens also wrote a very strange commentary on Damascus’ alleged occupation of four percent of Lebanon’s territory this week – is intriguing, coming as it does, amid reports of ongoing mediation efforts between Israel and Syria by Turkey and Qatar, as well as a lengthy news piece, which was posted in full on Joshua Landis’ blog, SyriaComment, by the Journal’s Jay Solomon on the outreach by administration hard-liners, led by Elliott Abrams, to Syria’s opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, even at the risk of alienating AEI’s favorite Syrian exile, Farid Ghadry. To what precise end, other than as yet another source of leverage and pressure on Bashar Assad remains unclear, especially given the conclusion by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Middle East specialist Anthony Cordesman that “[T]he US cannot take any practical steps toward regime change in Syria…”

For more on both Washington’s courtship of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (one wonders whether Abrams has demanded that it recognize Israel’s right to exist as Washington has demanded of the Palestinian branch, Hamas) and on the reported impending departure of Wurmser from the vice president’s office, check out Daniel Levy’s blog this week.

Sponsor of the post: Canadian Pharmacy

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.