After Iraq: Perpetual War and a Nuclear World

John Bolton is at it again. Just in case the Arabs were worried that the attack on Iraq is just the beginning of an American crusade, the Assistant Secretary of State for Disarmament Affairs rushed to confirm their worst fears.

Speaking on the U.S.-financed Arabic station Radio Sawa, Bolton declared: "We are hoping that the elimination of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be important lessons to other countries in the region, particularly Syria, Libya, and Iran, that the cost of their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is potentially quite high." The statement is especially significant, coming as it does from the man who went to Israel two months ago to promise Ariel Sharon that "it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards."

Of the list of likely villains, Syria -- Israel's neighbor -- is shaping up to be the strongest candidate for the next war of "liberation." The administration is already preparing the reasons why Syria should be the next in line -- for arming Saddam, hosting his hidden weapons, and supporting terrorism.

The early indications of Washington's intentions were contained in Rumsfeld's heavy-handed statements threatening to crack down on Syrian exports of weapons to Iraq. More importantly, the search for banned weapons in Iraq has not gone to plan -- the Iraqis did not oblige Washington by using any, and the best candidates for "disarmament" so far have been a couple of drums of pesticide. Just in case the much-desired WMD don't turn up soon, Israeli intelligence honcho Gen. Yossi Kupperwasser has already told a Knesset committee that "it is possible Iraq transferred missiles and weapons of mass destruction into Syria." While Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that there is no evidence to substantiate that claim, that assessment is doubtless subject to change if the White House so decides.

The U.S. has also complained about Syrian, and indeed Iranian, sponsorship of "terrorist" organizations like Hizbollah. Although no one except Israel and Washington define Hizbollah as terrorists, the administration's liberal use of the adjective, "terrorist," is geared toward a domestic audience - a strategy that worked very well in the case of Iraq. And the Bush administration would have little difficulty in proving that the Syrian Ba'athists are every bit as vicious and undemocratic as their Iraqi comrades. Following a relatively casualty-free war for the US in Iraq, there would be no difficulty in getting popular support for an attack on Syria.

The next few weeks will see a real test of just how strong the extremists are in Washington, and if Damascus is foolhardy enough to add to its jeopardy by hosting Saddam Hussein. There is, of course, no legal justification for such an attack, but having just flouted international law and the U.N. Security Council to go after Iraq, it is difficult to see any concern for world opinion holding the administration back. Besides, the prospect of actual resistance from other countries is minimal. At one time, war on Syria would have risked World War III, but not any more. While Putin may bluster, he is not going to stick his nuclear neck out for a former client-state.

The implications are worrying -- and not just for Syria or the other "axis of evil" countries. The more important concern is the effects on the global rules of engagement of this aggressive whack-em U.S. policy in a post-Cold War era. No conventional force can stand up against the world's lone superpower. The great levelers of the yawning technological divide between the U.S. and the rest of the world are terrorism -- which is impervious to the huge boosts in Pentagon spending on hi-tech killing machines -- and weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear missiles. It does not take a "rogue" state to draw the necessary conclusions from the very different U.S. policies toward North Korea and Iraq. The lesson is to follow in the nuclear footsteps of India and Pakistan -- that is the option that offers protection from the extremist hawks in the White House. Even the saintly South Africans may soon be dusting off their nuclear plans.

So while many Iraqis rejoice at the overthrow of their tyrant, the war fought ostensibly to disarm Saddam will almost certainly lead to massive nuclear proliferation. A world armed to the teeth may well be the true and lasting price we all pay for the war on Iraq.

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