Seeing a major opportunity to regain influence
lost as a result of setbacks in Iraq, prominent neoconservatives are calling
for unconditional U.S. support for Israel's military offensives in Gaza and
Lebanon and "regime change" in Syria and Iran, as well as possible
U.S. attacks on Tehran's nuclear facilities in retaliation for its support of
In a Weekly Standard column entitled "It's
Our War," editor William Kristol Sunday called Iran "the prime
mover behind the terrorist groups who have started this war," which, he
argued, should be considered part of "the global struggle against radical
He complained that Washington recently has done a "poor job of standing
up and weakening Syria and Iran" and called on President George W. Bush
himself to fly directly from the "silly [Group of Eight] summit in St.
to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation that stands with us,
and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies."
"This is our war, too," according to Kristol, who is also a founder
and co-chairman of the recently lapsed Project for the New American Century
"All of us in the free world owe Israel an enormous thank-you for defending
freedom, democracy, and security against the Iranian cat's-paw wholly-owned
terrorist subsidiaries Hezbollah and Hamas," echoed
Larry Kudlow, a neoconservative commentator, at the Standard's right-wing
competitor, National Review.
"They are defending their own homeland and very existence, but they are
also defending America's homeland as our front-line democratic ally in the Middle
East," according to Kudlow who, like Kristol and other like-minded polemicists,
also named Syria, "which is also directed by Iran," as a promising
target as the conflict expands.
The two columns are just the latest examples of a slew of commentaries that
have appeared in U.S. print and broadcast media since Israel began bombing targets
in Lebanon in retaliation for Hezbollah's fatal cross-border attack last Wednesday.
They appear to be part of a deliberate campaign by neoconservatives and some
of their right-wing supporters to depict the current conflict as part of global
struggle pitting Israel, as the forward base of Western civilization, against
Islamist extremism organized and directed by Iran and its junior partner, Syria.
This view was perhaps most dramatically expressed by former Republican Speaker
of the House, Newt Gingrich, in an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press
Sunday when he described the conflict as "the early stages of
Third World War."
The effort to frame the current round of violence as part of a much larger
struggle and Israel's role as Washington's most loyal front-line ally
recalls the neoconservatives early reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Just nine days after 9/11, Kristol and PNAC whose charter members included
Vice President Dick Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and half a dozen
other senior Bush administration officials released an open letter to
Bush that called for the U.S. to retaliate not only against al-Qaeda and Afghanistan,
but also against Israel's main regional foes, beginning with Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat.
In addition, the letter advised, "any war against terrorism must target
Hezbollah. We believe that the administration should demand that Iran and Syria
immediately cease all military, financial, and political support for Hezbollah
and its operations. Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the administration
should consider appropriate measures of retaliation against these state sponsors
"Israel has been and remains America's staunchest ally against international
terrorism, especially in the Middle East," the letter asserted. "The
United States should fully support our fellow democracy in its fight against
While the Iraqi and Palestinian components of PNAC's agenda were soon adopted
as policy and essentially achieved, neoconservative hopes that Bush would move
on Hezbollah as well as Syria and Iran eventually stalled as U.S.
military forces became bogged down in an increasingly bloody and costly counter-insurgency
war in Iraq.
As the situation in Iraq worsened, neoconservative influence in and on the
administration also declined to the benefit of "realists" based primarily
in the State Department who favored a less aggressive policy designed to secure
Damascus' and Tehran's cooperation in stabilizing Iraq and strengthen the elected
Lebanese government of which Hezbollah was made a part.
In that context, the current conflict represents a golden opportunity for the
neoconservatives to reassert their influence and reactivate their Israel-centered
agenda against Hezbollah and its two state sponsors.
"Iran's Proxy War" blazed the cover of this week's Standard,
which also featured no less than three other articles, besides Kristol's editorial,
underlining Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas and the necessity of the
U.S. standing with Israel, if not taking independent action against Tehran and/or
Damascus as recommended by Kristol himself.
A major theme of the new campaign is that the more-conciliatory "realist"
policies toward Syria and Iran pursued by the State Department have actually
backfired by making Washington look weak.
"They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible
a few years ago," wrote Kristol. "Weakness is provocative. We have
been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak," he
went on, adding that, "[T]he right response is renewed strength,"
notably "in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran [and] consider[ing]
countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian
The notion that U.S. policy in the region has become far too flaccid and accommodating
is echoed by a number of other neoconservatives, particularly Michael Rubin,
a prolific analyst at the hard-line American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and
protégé of Cheney confidante and former Defense Policy Board chairman
In a companion Standard article, Rubin qualified recent State Department
policy as "All
Talk and No Strategy" that had emboldened enemies, especially Iran,
to challenge Washington and its allies.
In another article for National Review Monday, bluntly titled "Eradication
First," he elaborated on that theme, arguing diplomacy in the current
crisis will only be successful "if it commences both after the eradication
of Hezbollah and Hamas, and after their paymasters pay a terrible cost for their
peace is the aim, it is imperative to punish the Syrian and
Iranian leadership," he wrote.
Above all, according to the neoconservatives, the U.S. position in the region
is now inextricably tied to the success or failure of Israel's military campaign.
In yet another Standard article, titled "The
Rogues Strike Back: Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah vs. Israel,"
Robert Satloff, executive director of the hawkish, pro-Israel Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, argued that "defeat for Israel either on the
battlefield or via coerced compromises to achieve flawed cease-fires
is a defeat for U.S. interests; it will inspire radicals of every stripe, release
Iran and Syria to spread more mayhem inside Iraq, and make more likely our own
eventual confrontation with this emboldened alliance of extremists."
(Inter Press Service)