- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

LONDON, March 22 (UPI) — The inner circle of extremely influential people within the upper echelons of the Bush administration known as "the Neocons" are by now back-slapping one another and congratulating themselves that the war on Iraq has finally become a reality.

This tightly-knit group of neo-conservatives includes, among others, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the highly influential Chairman of the Defense Policy Board. You can rest assured that this same group is now actively planning "Phase Two" of their multi-layered and far-reaching Middle East strategy.

Indeed, their Machiavellian stratagem calls for nothing short of redrawing the current map of the Levant and the re-shaping of its current borders.

Their belief is that the time has come to re-think global policies, to re-visit the entire geo-political situation and to be brazen and courageous enough so as to "address troublesome states" in ways never imagined before. As the popular saying in the American boardroom goes, it's time to think outside the box.

Under that heading, of course, comes Iraq, which is presently being addressed in the form of an American-led invasion meant to enforce regime change. The "Coalition of the Willing," as President George W. Bush calls his 35-nation alliance, is meant to remove Saddam Hussein and his ruling Baath Party from power, and to find and neutralize potential weapons of mass destruction. That plan is now well underway.

But Iraq is far from figuring alone in that league of potentially "rogue states." It is only the first of many steps. Remember the "axis of evil" speech given by Bush in his State of the Union address shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks? Well, this is what this is all about.

While the president's short list comprised only three nations — Iraq, Iran and North Korea — the Neocons' list of potentially troublesome countries is a much more ambitious one. Syria, and even Saudi Arabia figure prominently on the list of nations requiring "special attention."

In recent months there has been much talk in Washington of going as far as "breaking up" Saudi Arabia into several smaller, and thus more manageable entities. But these discussions passed by almost unnoticed while the main focus centered around the political debate raging over the Iraq issue.

Far-fetched? Hardly. Their view of the Middle East is, in fact, quite simple. It revolves around the belief that the region is so unstable, that unless the United States actively and aggressively takes matters into its own hands, the region will forever continue to stew in political and economic instability for decades to come. As a result, unless the problem is addressed, it will likely drag the rest of the world into socio-economic chaos along with it, ultimately resulting in more catastrophic September 11s.

As Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair told his nation on the day British troops entered into battle against Iraq, "to deal with future threats peacefully is to deal with present threats with resolve."

They cite as examples the post 9/11 financial downturn in global economies and the devastating impact it had on world markets; massive loss of revenue calculated in the trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of lost jobs and scores of bankruptcies.

In today's "village economy" what transpires in one part of the world has direct economic impact in other parts of the globe. As the sole remaining super power, the United States wants to ensure economic stability, if for no other reason than to guarantee its own economic well-being and stability.

Furthermore, the current Islamist threats posed by the likes of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network are believed to be the direct result of continuing political, religious, ethnic and economic instability plaguing the Middle East.

That is compounded by the unwillingness of the current crop of Mideast leaders to address their own burning issues. A good example is the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the Desert Kingdom, from where 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers originated, and Saudi Arabia's continued refusal to address those social issues and enact much needed changes.

The cataclysm of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, acted as a rude wake-up call to America. The attacks by 19 Arab terrorists pushed home the belief that immediate action was paramount in order to insure that such attacks on America and its allies were not repeated in the future. This offered the Neocons all the more incentive to pursue their plans.

That thinking partially explains President Bush's obsession in eliminating Iraq as a potential threat to America's security, an America still economically staggering from the drastic economic repercussions of 9/11.

This policy — of preemptively eliminating potential threats — was made clear by the president in his televised Oval Office address to the world the night hostilities by the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq commenced in the early hours of March 20. Said a somber-looking Bush: "We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."

Blair's statement closely mirrored President Bush's. It was not possible to make a clearer statement and a clearer warning to the rest of the region that the time for change has now come.


(Claude Salhani is a senior editor with United Press International in Washington, DC.)

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