Syrious Threat

This can still go bad.

During the long months between the destruction of the Taliban’s nightmare state in Afghanistan and the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, you had only to carefully read the newspapers to see what was coming, because the Middle East was suddenly full of “impossible” activities. My favorite example is the numerous airplanes flying back and forth between Baghdad and Tehran.

For many years, the Baghdad-Tehran route had been reserved for warplanes planning to drop bombs. Following the liberation of Afghanistan, when the terror masters of Iran and Syria “knew” that we would henceforth focus our wrath on Saddam Hussein, the planes carried intelligence officers and military leaders. They were planning the terror war in Iraq that now goes under the label “the insurgency.”

As I wrote at the time, the Iraqis, Syrians, and Iranians (with considerable support from the Saudis) had a precise model for the post-Saddam terror war. Indeed, it had already been successfully tested: the murderous assault against us (and the French) in Lebanon in the mid-1980s. That terror campaign was led by Hezbollah, a recent Iranian creation, under the guidance of its operational chieftain, Imad Mughniyah, then and now the most fearsome terrorist operative.

While Hezbollah was based in Lebanon, and thus subject to Syrian territorial control, it owed obedience to Iran, and no major undertaking could be launched without Iranian approval. As we learned during the dealings for the release of American hostages, whenever the Iranian government decided that one should be released, Hezbollah leaders traveled to Tehran, and the release took place upon their return.

The close Iranian/Syrian/Iraqi cooperation in 20002 and 2003 was abundantly documented in the newspapers, and in convincingly authoritative form. Bashar Assad laid it out in a published interview, and the Iranians said as much — although, having honed their deceptive skills over many millennia, they were not so foolish as to say it explicitly. It has duly come to pass. The deus ex machina of the “insurgency,” Zarqawi, operated from Iran, recruited in Europe, and organized the training of terrorists in Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians have worked like Siamese twins in a desperate effort to drive us out of Iraq, and the terror war will continue until somebody wins, and somebody loses. Either we defeat them, and drive them from power, or they will defeat us, and drive us out of Iraq, with all the terrible global consequences that would follow.

We are still apparently unwilling to face this unpleasant reality, for we are still not actively waging this war against the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran. Calling for withdrawal from Lebanon, and for freedom throughout the region, is a good start, but it is not good enough. With very rare exceptions, democratic revolutions — including our own — needed external support in order to win. Solidarity in Poland, Socialists in Portugal, followers of Corazon Aquino in the Philippines and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, the Orange revolutionaries in Ukraine, and others around the world, got real help from us, from communications gear, money, and informative broadcasting to tactical advice. So far as I know, we have not yet given anything like that to the Iranians and Syrians who suffer under the dark towers of the Islamic republic and the Baathist state.

In part this is due to the amazing performance of the Iraqi people, who have demonstrated patience, courage, and tenacity far beyond any reasonable expectation. We have also been able to avoid making the necessary commitment to regime change in Damascus and Tehran because of the extraordinary performance of our armed forces in Iraq, despite the near-disastrous decision by Viceroy Jerry Bremer that the Marines lift the siege of Fallujah nearly a year ago, thereby breathing new life into a jihad that was on the verge of an historic defeat. When the jihadis were finally destroyed in November, they scattered all over Iraq and into Syria, thereby laying the groundwork for the historic elections the following month.

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— *Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of *The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

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