US hawks smell blood
By Jim Lobe
07/19/06 "IPS" -- -- WASHINGTON - Seeing a major opportunity to
regain influence lost as a result of setbacks in Iraq, prominent
neo-conservatives are calling for unconditional US support for
Israel's military offensives in Gaza and Lebanon and "regime change"
in Syria and Iran, as well as possible US attacks on Tehran's
nuclear facilities in retaliation for its support of Hezbollah.
In a Weekly Standard column titled "Our war", editor William Kristol
called Iran "the prime mover behind the terrorist groups who have
started this war", which, he argued, should be considered part of
"the global struggle against radical Islamism".
He complained that Washington recently had done a "poor job of
standing up and weakening Syria and Iran" and called on President
George W Bush to fly directly from the "silly [Group of Eight]
summit in St Petersburg ... to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation
that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our
"This is our war, too," said Kristol, who was also a founder and
co-chairman of the recently lapsed Project for the New American
Echoed Larry Kudlow, a neo-conservative commentator, at the
Standard's right-wing competitor, the National Review: "All of us in
the free world owe Israel an enormous thank-you for defending
freedom, democracy and security against the Iranian cat's-paw wholly
owned terrorist subsidiaries Hezbollah and Hamas.
"They are defending their own homeland and very existence, but they
are also defending America's homeland as our frontline democratic
ally in the Middle East," according to Kudlow, who, like Kristol and
other like-minded polemicists, also named Syria, "which is also
directed by Iran", as a promising target as the conflict expands.
The two columns are just the latest examples of a slew of
commentaries that have appeared in US print and broadcast media
since Israel began bombing targets in Lebanon in retaliation for
Hezbollah's fatal cross-border attack last Wednesday.
They appear to be part of a deliberate campaign by neo-conservatives
and some of their right-wing supporters to depict the current
conflict as part of global struggle pitting Israel, as the forward
base of Western civilization, against Islamist extremism organized
and directed by Iran and its junior partner, Syria.
This view was perhaps most dramatically expressed by the former
Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, in an appearance on
the National Broadcasting Co's Meet the Press on Sunday when he
described the conflict as "the early stages of ... the Third World
The effort to frame the current round of violence as part of a much
larger struggle - and Israel's role as Washington's most loyal
front-line ally - recalls the neo-conservatives' early reaction to
the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon on September 11,
Just nine days after September 11, Kristol and PNAC - whose charter
members included Vice President Dick Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld and half a dozen other senior Bush administration officials
- released an open letter to Bush that called for the United States
to retaliate not only against al-Qaeda and Afghanistan, but also
against Israel's main regional foes, beginning with Iraqi president
Saddam Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser
In addition, the letter advised, "any war against terrorism must
target Hezbollah. We believe that the administration should demand
that Iran and Syria immediately cease all military, financial and
political support for Hezbollah and its operations. Should Iran and
Syria refuse to comply, the administration should consider
appropriate measures of retaliation against these state sponsors of
"Israel has been and remains America's staunchest ally against
international terrorism, especially in the Middle East," the letter
asserted. "The United States should fully support our fellow
democracy in its fight against terrorism."
While the Iraqi and Palestinian components of PNAC's agenda were
soon adopted as policy and in essence achieved, neo-conservative
hopes that Bush would move on Hezbollah - as well as Syria and Iran
- eventually stalled as US military forces became bogged down in an
increasingly bloody and costly counter-insurgency war in Iraq.
As the situation in Iraq worsened, neo-conservative influence in and
on the administration also declined to the benefit of "realists"
based primarily in the State Department who favored a less
aggressive policy designed to secure Damascus' and Tehran's
cooperation in stabilizing Iraq and strengthen the elected Lebanese
government of which Hezbollah was made a part.
In that context, the current conflict represents a golden
opportunity for the neo-conservatives to reassert their influence
and reactivate their Israel-centered agenda against Hezbollah and
its two state sponsors.
"Iran's proxy war", blazed the cover of this week's Standard, which
also featured no fewer than three other articles, besides Kristol's
editorial, underlining Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas and
the necessity of the US standing with Israel, if not taking
independent action against Tehran and/or Damascus as recommended by
A major theme of the new campaign is that the more conciliatory
"realist" policies toward Syria and Iran pursued by the State
Department have actually backfired by making Washington look weak.
"They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought
possible a few years ago," wrote Kristol. "Weakness is provocative.
We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as
weak," he went on, adding that "the right response is renewed
strength", notably "in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran
[and] consider[ing] countering this act of Iranian aggression with a
military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities".
The notion that US policy in the region has become far too flaccid
and accommodating is echoed by a number of other neo-conservatives,
particularly Michael Rubin, a prolific analyst at the hardline
American Enterprise Institute and protege of Cheney confidant and
former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle.
In a companion Standard article, Rubin qualified recent State
Department policy as "all talk and no strategy" that had emboldened
enemies, especially Iran, to challenge Washington and its allies.
In another article for the National Review on Monday, bluntly titled
"Eradication first", Rubin elaborated on that theme, arguing that
diplomacy in the current crisis will only be successful "if it
commences both after the eradication of Hezbollah and Hamas, and
after their paymasters pay a terrible cost for their support. If ...
peace is the aim, it is imperative to punish the Syrian and Iranian
leadership," he wrote.
Above all, according to the neo-conservatives, the US position in
the region is now inextricably tied to the success or failure of
Israel's military campaign.
In yet another Standard article, titled "The rogues strike back:
Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah vs Israel", Robert Satloff,
executive director of the hawkish, pro-Israel Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, argued that "defeat for Israel - either on the
battlefield or via coerced compromises to achieve flawed ceasefires
- is a defeat for US interests; it will inspire radicals of every
stripe, release Iran and Syria to spread more mayhem inside Iraq,
and make more likely our own eventual confrontation with this
emboldened alliance of extremists."
Copyright Inter Press Service