- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) — In this city obsessed with the Iraq confrontation, you can a hear a plan de jour, from the United States destruction of Syria to the dismemberment of the Saudi Arabia kingdom, to a plan where President George W. Bush will end up taking Jewish votes from the Democrats.

At the dinner tables and watering holes of this capital, the idea that Bush wants to invade Iraq solely to disarm Saddam Hussein, what the White House says, has given way to rumors of all sorts of plans to rewrite the map of Middle East to better ensure Israel's security.

Take Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of counter-terrorism operations of the CIA. He sees Bush heading for bigger game than just disarming Saddam Hussein. "Clearly Iraq is not the last phase of what the administration tends to do in the Middle East." According to the neo-con theory, he said, "Syria is to be the next target." He concurred with another view in Washington that holds that part of the Bush plan was to "wean the Jewish lobby away from the Democrats" and that "it's already pretty much happened." For decades, the Democratic Party had strong support in the American Jewish community, but Bush has been a strong supporter and close friend of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during the past two years and unwilling to have a meeting with Yasser Arafat.

Or Joe Klein writing in Time Magazine's Feb. 5 edition that "Israel is very much embedded in the rationale for war with Iraq. It is part of the argument that dare not speak its name, a fantasy quietly cherished by the neo-conservative faction in the Bush and by many leaders of the American Jewish Community."

Klein's article says this "fantasy" will "send a message to Syria and Iran about the perils of support for Islamic terrorists" and bring the Palestinians into line, shake what he calls the "wobbly Hashemite monarchy in Jordan." Klein said, "no one in the government ever actually says these things publicly."

The White House bristles that all these rumored plots, particularly one that suggests getting part of the Jewish vote, are in the words of deputy press secretary Scott McClellan "ridiculous." The president, he said, is concentrating on removing deadly weapons of mass destruction from the hands of Saddam Hussein and preventing them from falling into the hands of terrorists. The administration briefings turn aside questions on all these other plots, but they persist.

Former State Department and CIA counter-terrorism expert Larry Johnson told United Press International the next Bush target could very well be Syria. "The administration may be working on the theory that by taking care of a secondary target like Syria, you bring tremendous pressure on primary targets" such as Iran and may force changes in policy and behavior "without resorting to force."

"By rights," Iran "should be the next target since it's the largest state sponsor of terrorism," Johnson said.

Former CIA official Robert Baer, when asked about the master plan for the Middle East, told UPI last fall that Bush's team allegedly wanted "to divide up Syria, give part of Iraq to Turkey, overthrow the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, restore the Hashemites to the Hijaz," a very center of Saudi Arabian culture.

"The underlying motivation" for this, Baer said, "is Israel. They think the demographics are going badly for Israel, for the U.S." Israeli officials have long feared that the birth rate in Arab states would change the demographics of the Middle East in Arab favor, he said.

A State Department official and Middle East expert told UPI that she "first heard of the plan from ultra-conservative think tanks. They talked about how the Turks are our friend — let's have Turks invade northern Iraq. Turkey has an alliance with Israel and has difficult relations with Arab states and wants to maintain good relations with Tel Aviv, but it doesn't want to take part in dismemberment of an Arab state. That's a step too far."

But this foreign policy expert, who asked that she not be identified by name, told UPI, "There have been discussions to that effect in the administration. We go back to Hopkirk and the Great Game," referring to Peter Hopkirk, a British historian who wrote about the fight to control Central Asia by Russia and Britain in 19th century. She doesn't report solid plans inside the Bush team, but something worried her, she said.

"Are we recreating the Ottoman Empire?" she wondered. "If we gave Turkey Mosul and Kirkuk, the Iranians would move into the Shiite areas, and it would be a signal that regional powers have a green light to expand.

"It's very romantic, very silly. It's madness I think that they (Douglas Feith, a Defense Department planner and Vice President Richard Cheney) are living in some sort of 19rth century imperial phase where Britain did these things. It was before CNN too."

She added: "If we try to do these kinds of things we won't be able to travel anywhere in the world. I have heard a lot of horrifyingly scary things from people in the administration who just want to do things for the sake of pure power, as if as if there is not price to pay for it, in taking over the world."

Ken Pollack, an expert on Iraq and former CIA analyst at the Brookings Institution, described a little different version of the plan in December: "It's a truly bizarre strategic picture, a lot of truly weird ideas being discussed. All sorts of groups are advocating all sorts of things."

On the dismemberment of Iraq: "The United States has said officially no dismemberment, but there were big fights over it. The argument is that Iraq and Syria are not really states but artificial entities set up by the British after World War I. Well, setting up artificial entities didn't work for the British or the French, why would we want to try it?"

"In any case, the proposal to dismember Iraq was finally shouted down."

Even in Syria, the idea of a bigger U.S. war plan has taken hold, according to a report from a UPI correspondent in Damascus on Feb. 5: "Syria is making an intense diplomatic effort among its Middle Eastern neighbors and further abroad to prevent an apparently inevitable U.S.-led war on Iraq. Damascus suspects that Washington's plan to reshape the Middle East region after the removal of Iraq's Saddam Hussein includes Israeli hegemony over the region.

"Syria fears Washington would restructure the region in line with its new vision," a Western diplomat told United Press International. This vision, the diplomat said, sees Israeli hegemony as possible after the liquidation of the Palestinian cause and the acceptance of Israel continuing to occupy Syria's Golan Heights and the Shabaa farms. The latter is territory on the Israeli border that Syria says belongs to Lebanon but Israel insists is part of Syria."

Another worry is an influx of Iraqi war refugees and chaos on its border with Iraq should civil war break out there. Equally troubling to Damascus is a dread it shares with Ankara: the appearance on its border of an Iraqi Kurdish state that would be a lure for its own Kurds. These number 1.5 million or so in Syria and about 12 million in Turkey.

All this is a cause of genuine terror to Syria, the diplomat said.

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