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From Baghdad to Damascus?
Le Monde
April 16, 2003

Is this a kind of aftermath-of-battle intoxication? The feeling that whatever can be imposed by force is permissible? The conviction that the fact of being struck by terrorism - on September 11, 2001 - authorizes America to dismantle a regime here, to rebuff another there, to threaten a third somewhere else? In short, does it act, as the last Iraqi city has fallen, to apply the Bush doctrine of preventive war to a nearby country, Syria? And to impose, at least in this region, this very Soviet conception of international relations: My security is insecurity for all others?

That is, in any case, the legitimate impression they could have in Damascus and elsewhere, Monday April 14, shortly after a barrage of American declarations against the Syrian regime.

In total, President George W Bush, passing through the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, formulated two accusations. Syria would be culpable, on the one hand, of having weapons of mass destruction (its own and perhaps also certain other Iraqi weapons which the US didn't find in Iraq because they had been moved across a safe place on the border); it [Syria] would be, in addition, culpable of taking into its territory certain Iraqi leaders. That begins to resemble to the "chief charges" assembled against Iraq before the launching of the war.

Syria does not have only a common border with Iraq. The two countries have a common political history. It was a Syrian, Christian, Michel Aflak, who, at the end of 1940s, founded the Baathism, a secular and socialist doctrine, which inspired the parties with the capacity in Damascus and, until recently, in Baghdad. Very quickly, the two parties were mixed together. But, taking into account these bonds, it would not only be not surprising, but logical that Iraqi Baathists took refuge in their neighbor of North[sic].

Having refused to sign anything, Syria - as opposed to Iraq, subject to sanctions - is free to develop weapons of mass destruction: it surely did it. Until recently, that did not disturb the United States. They [the US]were pleased with the co-operation of Damascus in the fight against Al-Qaida. Then why these threats?

The optimistic hypothesis, and the most probable, is that they are part of the plan that Washington announced by attacking Iraq. The fall of Baghdad is a signal addressed to all the countries in the region. It is an injunction not to deploy of weapons of mass destruction and not to support terrorist movements (Syria supports Hezbollah). It is the beginning of a political remodeling of the region which aims at intimidating and to destabilizing the regimes considered to be most radical.

The other hypothesis is that of a White House drunk with its military strength. Many Washington hawks would welcome battle in Damascus and Teheran - and [they] say it. Alas, prudence and recent history force us not to underestimate their influence.

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