WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The man who has held three key appointments in past administrations -- secretary of state, White House chief of staff, and NATO supreme commander - said Monday Syria, not Iraq, should be the next target in the war against terrorism.
In an exclusive interview with United Press International, Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Jr., said Syria's "footprints" are much clearer than Iraq's.
"This doesn't mean that Iraq isn't a more venal threat ... There's a great deal of culpability in Iraq for the past 10 years, but not necessarily as a branch of Global Terror, Inc.," he said.
"Syria," Haig made clear, "is a terrorist state by any definition and is so classified by the State Department. I happen to think Iran is, too."
The defeat of Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terror network in Afghanistan "did not neutralize the venality of other (terrorist) tentacles, such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah," he explained, organizations that would not hesitate to provide "aid and succor" to al Qaida fighters. Syria and Iran are the sponsors of these terrorist groups, not Iraq.
For the United States to take on Iraq, Haig said, would require about 100,000 combat troops.
"We have to recognize that we had far more people over there the first time than we ever needed," he continued. "The Gulf War itself was fought essentially by two units."
Haig said, "Saddam is not part of a transnational terrorist network. Which is not to say he is not a threat to the entire Gulf region with his growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Because he is.
"First and foremost we must go after hydra-headed al Qaida's global tentacles. These Islamist terrorists look upon their defeat in Afghanistan as the loss of a piece of real estate on the larger canvas of Islamist fundamentalist extremism that has developed roots in some 40 Muslim countries and which has cells all over the Western world, including the United States, " the retired general said.
But, he went on, "Iraq doesn't belong on this canvas. International terrorism continues to be the mission. So Iraq is not an immediate priority. There are several factors that will determine future targets. First of all, our capability to deal with them effectively and efficiently. Also evidence of their culpability, conflicting priorities with other objectives, and how much time we have before the venality of these regimes becomes a bigger threat than the evidence we have."
Asked whether culpability had been proved in Iraq in the context of international terrorism, Haig replied that there has been "a great deal of culpability in Iraq for the past 10 years, but not necessarily as a branch of Global Terror, Inc. Iraq is a substantial target, but not an insurmountable one. We've proven that. And it won't be as tough a nut next time as Iraq is now a much-weakened state. But we still have to assess the situation against our worldwide commitments, our current forces levels and capabilities, our priorities for dealing with transnational terrorism, and our intelligence with respect to the nature of the targets we develop."
Haig also hinted that the United States does not have sufficient troops on the ground in Afghanistan "given the magnitude of the problems we now face (there). A major U.S. force on the ground would convince the world we were in for the long haul recovery of a country devastated by 21 years of warfare," he said. "We lost interest in Afghanistan and left it in the lurch after the Soviets pulled out in 1989 -- and paid a terrible price for our shortsightedness, witness the emergence of Taliban and al Qaida. If we are to thwart another round of warlordism and tribal warfare, such as what followed the Soviet withdrawal, and encourage the Afghans to get on with rebuilding their own nation, U.S. assistance, diplomacy and a muscular military presence will be required."
"In Desert Storm," in 1991, Haig said, "we had too many troops; in Afghanistan probably not enough for the major commitment we have made." He blamed the inadequacy of current force levels on the Clinton administration. With all the commitments made by Clinton "and a continued reduction in our manpower base in all the services, we should be asking ourselves whether or not we have sufficient forces to cope with a global war against terrorism that involves several nation states. Sooner or later something had to give. But President Bush, faced with the unprecedented affront of 9-11, could not wait to take action. So he had to do what we were capable of doing and he did it brilliantly ... he achieved maximum success despite a number of formidable restraints."
Other key points made by Haig:
* China -- "We could begin by refraining from gratuitous insults. Our interventionism in China's internal affairs is something we committed not to do in the Shanghai and subsequent communiqués. And yet we've proceeded to do just that with increased intensity, especially during Clinton's eight years. ... How can we expect China to live up to its commitments when we don't live up to ours? ... The fact is that interventionism usually aggravates the improvement in human rights and sets things back ... The best way to promote our values, whether its human rights or a market economy...[is] by example and by success ...The conditions for what we are today do not exist in large parts of the world. So we ought to be more patient. Most of our posturing is done by politicians for domestic political gain, not to achieve results around the world."
*Taiwan - "Of course, we should defend Taiwan in case of attack."
* Europe -- The United States continues to maintain 70,000 U.S. troops in Germany because: "This presence is the basis of our influence in the European region and for the cooperation of allied nations whose security it enhances. A lot of people forget it is also the bona fide of our economic success ... it keeps European markets open to us. If those troops weren't there, those markets would probably be more difficult to access."
* Russia -- President Bush has moved toward a new global security system "when he said Russia is no longer our enemy, that NATO wants to cooperate with them, and he didn't discount future NATO membership for Russia...[but] if you make the case for Russia in NATO, then there would be no reason for NATO. You would have to rechristen it and change its overall objective."