Bush's Axis of Upheaval

"The day of your liberation is near," said President Bush Monday night in a message to the Iraqi people. In his primetime speech on television, declaring his resolve to topple Saddam Hussein, Bush once again touched on the familiar theme of a democratic future for Iraq. "When the dictator has departed, (the Iraqis) can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation," he said.

Despite the stirring rhetoric, however, there is evidence that democracy may not be an essential part of the neoconservative grand vision for the Middle East. The breakdown of national states and the chaos that could result may be just as acceptable an alternative for the some in the Bush administration and the men who are shaping its foreign policy.

"Whenever I hear policymakers talk about the wonders of 'stability,' I get the heebie-jeebies," wrote Michael Ledeen, a "scholar" at the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in early 2000. "That is for tired old Europeans and nervous Asians, not for us."

"In just about everything we do, from business and technology to cinema and waging war, we are the most revolutionary force on earth. We are not going to fight foreign wars or send our money overseas merely to defend the status quo; we must have a suitably glorious objective," said the former "anti-terrorism" consultant for Italian military intelligence and the Reagan administration, who is counted among the very few foreign policy analysts regularly consulted by Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's political eyes and ears at the White House.

Ledeen, a long-time associate of office-mate and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, with whom he founded the right-wing Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA), is so excited about the impending invasion of Iraq and its regional implications that he can scarcely contain himself.

"As soon as we land in Iraq, we're going to face the whole terrorist network," he told Robert Dreyfuss in the latest edition of The American Prospect. By that he meant not only al-Qaeda, Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, nations that he calls "the terror masters".

"I think we're going to be obliged to fight a regional war, whether we want to or not," Ledeen added. "It may turn out to be a war to remake the world."

Like his fellow neo-conservatives who shuttle in and out of the Bush administration, like, say, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Ledeen insists that Iraq will be the first "domino" to fall in what will become a democratic revolution that will spread the blessings of liberty and representative government across the Arab Middle East.

Indeed, Bush himself adopted that vision as the official position of the U.S. government three weeks ago in a major policy address at -- not insignificantly -- the leading neocon think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute. "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region," he told his audience.

But the overwhelming consensus among Middle East experts both inside and outside the government is that such hopes bear no relation whatsoever to an achievable reality. According to one intelligence official, restoring a strong central government in Baghdad is the best that Washington can hope to achieve.

Indeed, the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research recently circulated a classified report to top policymakers entitled "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes," which, according to one unnamed official quoted in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, concludes that hopes for a democratic transformation of the region are "not credible."

The bureau's conclusion, which is said to reflect the views of most Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysts as well, also echoes the views of independent analysts and retired diplomats who have spoken out against the current policy and its optimistic assumptions.

"It may be excusable as a fantasy of some Israelis reacting to the trauma of the second intifada," said Anthony Cordesman, the normally taciturn Mideast specialist at the conservative Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). "As American policy, however, it crosses the line between neo-conservative and neo-crazy."

"The idea of instant democratic transformation in the Middle East is a mirage," asserted four veteran democracy and regional specialists at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Besides, they concluded, "If a tidal wave of political change actually came to pass, the United States would not be even remotely prepared to cope with the resulting instability."

The experts agree that a U.S. invasion will most likely bring instability throughout the region. "Democratic imperialism promises not only to liberate the Arabs from despotic rule but also to unleash the sectarian, ethnic and ideological animosities that historically have torn them apart", warned Richard Joseph, a Mideast scholar at the University of Texas, in a recent Financial Times column.

But the prospect of chaos may not be unattractive to neo-conservatives like Perle, Ledeen, Wolfowitz and his deputy, Douglas Feith.

In fact, some analysts suggest that, in the probable event that democracy does not sweep the region, the default option -- fragmentation and disintegration of Arab states -- corresponds all too neatly with the long-held dreams of some on the Israeli right. Such a scenario was spelled out in an influential article published on the eve of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 by Oded Yinon, who at that time was attached to Israel's foreign ministry. Published by the World Zionist Organization, the paper, "A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s," urged policies that promote the dissolution of Arab states into different ethnic and sectarian groupings. It also expressed the hope that the war then raging between Iran and Iraq would result in the break-up of the latter into at least three states for the three major groups -- Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi'ites.

According to Uri Avnery, a veteran Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who led Israel's ultimately disastrous invasion of Lebanon shortly after Yinon published his piece, entertained some of the same ideas at the time.

"(Sharon's) head was full of grand designs for restructuring the Middle East, the creation of an Israeli 'security zone' from Pakistan to Central Africa, the overthrow of regimes and installing others in their stead, moving a whole people (the Palestinians) and so forth," he wrote last Fall. "I can't help it, but the winds blowing now in Washington remind me of Sharon. I have absolutely no proof that the Bushies got their ideas from him, even if all of them seem to have been mesmerised by him."

It is not necessary for Bush to be enchanted with Sharon simply because some of his closest advisers, including Perle, Feith, and David Wurmser (who now works on post-invasion Iraq in the State Department), were already working toward a similar scenario in 1996 when they prepared a memorandum for Sharon's Likud rival, former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In addition to the idea of ousting Saddam Hussein and restoring the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, the paper touted re-establishing the "principle of pre-emption" against Syria and groups in Lebanon, in part by securing alliances with different ethnic and tribal groups within these nations.

While the administration and its neo-con members and cheerleaders may prefer a democratization of the region, the possible fragmentation of the Arab world, in their eyes, is not an unattractive prospect.

"It's a war to turn the kaleidoscope, by people who know nothing about the Middle East," a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, told the Prospect. "And there's no way to know how the pieces will fall."

George Bush may truly believe that "the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty." But his Mideast plan does not require them to achieve it.

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