- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Unfinished duty

Former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. blamed a “30-year chronicle of abject failure” for the September 11 attacks on the United States, as he praised President Bush for taking the war to the terrorists.

Mr. Haig, in a recent foreign policy speech, criticized the three previous presidential administrations for emboldening terrorists by failing to present strong American responses to attacks. He leveled his harshest indictment against the Clinton administration.

In his speech to the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, he also called Russian President Vladimir Putin an “authoritarian” and argued that NATO remains an essential part of world security.

Mr. Haig faulted former President Ronald Reagan for withdrawing troops from Lebanon in 1984, after car bombings against the U.S. Marine barracks and the American Embassy.

“The Reagan administration failed in a way that encouraged the terrorists,” he said.

Mr. Bush’s father made Saddam Hussein “not just a survivor but a hero” in the eyes of anti-American extremists, by leaving him in power in Iraq after forcing him out of Kuwait.

“As for the Clinton administration, just think of the list,” he added, citing the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the 1995 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and the 2000 suicide-boat attack on the USS Cole off Yemen.

“We just didn’t face up to the task. Instead, we retreated into passive half-measures that relied on the civil court system and an occasional cruise missile attack to put off the day of reckoning,” he said.

“That day arrived on September 11, 2001. President Bush found himself face to face not only with the disaster but as heir to 30 years of lost American credibility. That left no alternative but to make war on terrorists, including Saddam Hussein, the beneficiary of earlier failures.”

Mr. Haig, a retired Army general and former commander of NATO, said the continued battle against terrorism is one reason why the Western military alliance remains crucial for world peace. Another reason is Russia.

“Russia’s direction remains uncertain and current signs are not so promising,” he said. “President Putin is an authoritarian, not a democrat. He wants a strong state more than he wants a free one.”

Mr. Haig criticized Russian foreign policy toward the former Soviet republics. He said Russia is trying to dominate the countries it calls the “near abroad.”

NATO is planning to expand its membership by seven new nations, some of which border Russia.

“Many of those nations, formerly under Soviet domination, have been anxious to join the alliance because, in their view, NATO is the only organization that will protect them against a recurrence of Moscow’s ambitions. Others would argue that this is a profoundly backward attitude. After all, the Soviet Union is no more, its fire extinguished,” Mr. Haig said.

“I would put it differently. The flames may be out, but the embers are still smoldering. … Let the fire department remain on standby alert.”

Syria’s new envoy

Syria yesterday swore in Imad Moustapha as its new ambassador to the United States, which is considering sanctions against Damascus over its support of groups on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

Mr. Moustapha, the former deputy chief of mission at the Syrian Embassy in Washington, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad for a briefing on his responsibilities.

President Bush signed a law in December that authorizes him to impose economic and political sanctions against Syria, if it continues to support Palestinian and Lebanese groups identified as terrorists.

The new U.S. ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey, practiced some cultural diplomacy yesterday by presenting the Syrian Department of Archeology and Museums with 15 digital cameras for photographing archeological digs.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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