From: Yahoo News.
WASHINGTON -- Just beneath nearly every serious dinner table conversation in Washington these days lies one gnawing question: "Has the Bush administration really moderated, or is it going ahead with its original plans to use military force all over the Middle East, regardless?"
People pause and wonder. On the one hand, the administration is showing moderation with China, with India, even with troublesome North Korea, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leading the way. But on the other hand, there are all kinds of little indications that the Great War for the Middle East is still alive and well -- and that all the negative indicators from Iraq are having precious little effect on the administration.
Take the increasingly troublesome situation with Syria. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, says publicly that the United States' "patience with Syria is running out." Other U.S. officials are saying that we are considering military strikes on the Syrian border; and some well-informed observers believe the worst.
"There's been frequent criticism of the administration for not having a policy on Syria," Dr. Flynt Leverett, former national security adviser on Syria to the White House and now with The Brookings Institution, said at the recent conference of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. "Now they have a policy, 'regime change on the cheap.' We've decided we need to get rid of another Baathist leader in the Middle East, and we're stepping up contacts with the Syrian opposition in exile. Of course, this doesn't reflect on-the-ground realities -- and what if Syria were to collapse? It's at least as complicated a society as the Iraqi one. There will be chaos, and any regime that would emerge would be anti-American.
"Please tell me what is advanced by these policies?"
Of course, President Bush, backed up by neoconservatives with their aggressive ideas of an "American Imperium" across the world, originally included Iran and North Korea in his list of "evil" targets. Recently published notes from a conversation between the president and British Prime Minister Tony Blair indicate that Bush also "wanted to go beyond Iraq" in terms of searching out illicit weapons, even to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. And while there are more moderate voices around him now, there is still little indication that Bush is thinking of anything less than total victory.
Meanwhile, where have the neocons -- who constituted the deputies in every important organ of government under Bush and were able to push America into war in Iraq with amazingly little opposition -- gone? Paul Wolfowitz is president of the World Bank; Douglas Feith, one of the most ferocious, has left the Pentagon; writers like Bill Kristol and others still say that the war was right -- it was the implementation that was screwed up.
One of the many odd things about the neocons: They go in and out of public discourse, depending upon whether their argument seems, at that moment, to be winning or losing. Some are tending toward the Democrats and calling themselves privately "neo-progressives." You don't see them very much right now, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. Some are still avid to attack Iran, as it refuses to give up its nuclear experiments.
The ground-level realities of the situation, such as the dwindling number of available American troops, do not reach the neocon mind. They are fanatics, and fanatics never take responsibility for their actions or share in the danger they so casually construct for others.
Meanwhile, in Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad is in enough trouble of its own, with the U.N. investigators of the assassination of the popular Rafiq Hariri in Lebanon having named four pro-Syrian Lebanese security officials as suspects, followed by this week's apparent suicide of Syria's powerful interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan.
One well-informed expert here is certain that the United States will not go into Syria, despite all of the talk and provocation. "It would be unbelievable," Dr. Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland told me. "It would be anarchy. Syria is the home of the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. One reason they (the administration) are focusing on the Syrian situation is to shift attention from Iraq and the U.S. over the war. Pressures on Syria? Yes, but that's different than invading. There are lessons to be learned from Iraq, and one of them is that anarchy is the mother of terrorism.
"And the Iran issue is the strangest of all. The reality of it is that there IS no military option available there."
In fact, our dinner-table questions go unanswered. We have an administration that got itself -- and, most unfortunately, also us -- into a war in the single most violent, rebellious and bitterly divided country on Earth. And just around the dark corner, the radical neocons are still hanging about. Please feel free to call me with any easy answers.
I spent 90% of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted - George Best