WASHINGTON: A group of Bush Administration hawks, many of them Jewish, has begun openly portraying Syria as the next candidate for “régime change” in the Middle East‹though making clear they do not envisage Iraq-style US military intervention.
Widely described in Washington political and media circles as the “Neo-conservatives”, ‘Neo-cons,’ for short, the group includes deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, a close adviser to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Among other leading lights are William Kristol, editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard, who is close to Vice-President Dick Cheney, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Speaking on NBC¹s ³Meet the Press² at the weekend, Mr Wolfowitz reiterated US allegations that the régime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been allowing military equipment and fighters into Iraq to support its fight against US and British forces.
”There¹s got to be a change in Syria,” he said. “The Syrians need to know they¹ll be held accountable.”
Emphasising what he saw as the longer-term impact of the defeat of Saddam Hussein¹s régime, he said: “I think a lot of countries, including Syria, will eventually get the message that it¹s much better to come to terms peacefully with the international community, to not acquire weapons of mass destruction, not use terrorism as an instrument of policy.”
Mr Perle said in an interview this week: “You can arrive at Damascus and ask a taxi driver to take you to one of several terrorist organisations.”
But on the issue of possible US military action, he added: “There are different ways to get people to change, and I hope the example of Iraq after Afghanistan will prove persuasive “
”We should be using all the instruments of US influence to accomplish that purpose, and most of those instruments are not military.”
Some in the Bush Administration were explicitly playing down the prospect of direct US action against Damascus‹ and of possible links between the Syrians and Saddam Hussein.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was “no evidence” to support recent allegations by Israeli leaders‹and some US intelligence officials, which suggested Iraq might have moved weapons of mass destruction across the border into Syria.