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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2002 / 25 Tishrei, 5763

Michael Ledeen

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The real foe | The debate over the coming war is a classic case of focusing so narrowly on a single tree that the forest vanishes from view. Our leaders are so deeply engaged in the case against Saddam Hussein that they have lost sight of the broader terrorist threat. And this, in turn, threatens their strategy for the war itself.

The terror network - from al-Qaeda to Hizbollah, from Islamic Jihad to Hamas and various Palestinian Liberation Organisation groups - is as potent as it is because of the support given by four tyrannical regimes, which I term the "terror masters": Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Without the support of those regimes, the terrorists would be gravely weakened and would become easy prey.

The Middle East phase of the war against terrorism must focus on these regimes and, while each country requires a different strategy, our most lethal weapon will be the people who suffer under the four tyrants.

Ever since President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech, the terror masters have been organising a common front against the US and its allies. Wherever we strike first, we are almost certain to find all the others retaliating. It is dangerous to believe we shall have the luxury of dealing with them one by one; we shall find ourselves in a regional conflict as soon as we move.

Of the four terror states, the most important is Iran, which invented modern Islamic terrorism at the time of the Khomeini revolution of 1979. Iran created, trained, protected, funded and supported the world's most deadly terrorist group - Hizbollah - and has been a pillar of support for the others, including al-Qaeda. But terrorism is virtually the only success of the Islamic Republic; it has ruined the country and earned the hatred of the overwhelming majority of Iranians.

In what must be something of a record, even for a failed tyranny, the regime recently conducted a poll that showed 90 per cent of Iranians strongly critical of the regime. Hardly a week goes by without violent demonstrations in a big city, ironically driven by the disillusioned former supporters of the "reformist" President Mohammad Khatami, who has proved powerless. The regime, knowing it can no longer rely on its military and paramilitary forces to suppress the demonstrations, is constantly importing new thugs, restructuring the armed forces and shifting commanders from region to region.

Iran is in a similar condition to Yugoslavia in the last days of Slobodan Milosevic, Poland and Czechoslovakia in the last days of the Soviet empire, and the Philippines in the last days of Ferdinand Marcos. One does not need a military assault to bring down the regime; it should be sufficient to support the Iranian people themselves, who want to be free of the mullahcracy that has oppressed them. As in these other cases, the US could simply provide opposition groups with funding and technical support and encourage them through broadcasts.

It would be very difficult for the Syrians, Saudis and Iraqis to fight the Iranian people on behalf of a failed regime. By contrast, if we begin with a military attack on Iraq, it will be much easier for the terrorists and armed forces at the disposal of the Syrian, Saudi and Iranian regimes to find ways to kill US and British soldiers on Iraqi soil and elsewhere.

The fall of the radical Islamic Republic would eliminate the terrorists' greatest source of support and the subsequent joy of the Iranian people would cut the heart out of Islamic fundamentalism, demonstrating to an entire generation of Muslims that such regimes fail utterly, whether in their (Iranian) Shiite or (Afghan) Sunni versions. And the successful overthrow of the Tehran regime would inspire great public support for similar revolutions in Baghdad and Damascus, which is precisely what we want. We shall have far greater success if we arrive as credible liberators than if we come as invaders; and it would be well to show the Iraqis - who have twice been betrayed by feckless US presidents in the past decade - that this time we know what we are doing.

As for Saudi Arabia, while there are certainly pro-western members of the royal family, this fossilised remnant of an outmoded medieval culture must stop funding the global organisation of radical mosques and religious schools in which the next generation of terrorists is being brainwashed and recruited. And the royal family must cease to support terrorist activities against their nominal friends in the west. It will probably be easier to convince them of the colossal error of their ways once we have shown our power and determination elsewhere in the region; and indeed they already seem to understand that they need to co-operate to escape a certain doom.

It sounds an enormously ambitious mission; but there is no escape, for the terror masters are bound together in a common enterprise by their shared hatred of us. It is a mission altogether worthy of the world's lone superpower. As President Ronald Reagan once remarked, the US is too great a country to settle for small dreams.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, The War Against the Terror Masters. Comment by clicking here.


09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen