Think tanks wrap-up II

April 15, 2003 at 7:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the second of two wrap-ups for April 15.

The Brookings Institution

WASHINGTON -- Brookings Iraq Report: Syria hears the sound of rattling sabers

By Philip H. Gordon

With the combat phase of the Iraq war now just about over, the question on everybody's lips seems to be: "Who's next?"

The remaining members of the "Axis of Evil," Iran and North Korea, seem unlikely immediate targets, the former because hopes remain for positive change from within, and the latter because of those unfortunate nuclear weapons and tens of thousands of artillery tubes within range of Seoul.

Iraq's neighbor Syria, however, might be a more plausible candidate. We all saw what happened, after all, the last time a Baathist Arab regime was accused of developing weapons of mass destruction, harboring terrorists, and threatening its neighbors.

If the Bush administration was hoping to downplay fears that Iraq was just one battle in a longer war and that Syria was next on the list, it has not been doing a very good job of it. On the contrary, aside from the ritual reminders that every situation requires a different response, what has been most striking about the administration's comments about Syria has been its willingness to put Damascus on notice that its "bad behavior" will not be tolerated.

In recent days, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has accused Syria of sending "busloads" of mercenaries to fight in Iraq, possessing and having tested chemical weapons, providing refuge or safe passage to Iraqi war criminals, and supporting Hezbollah terrorists. In Senate testimony late last week, Rumsfeld's Deputy Paul Wolfowitz warned that Washington might "need to think about what our policy is with respect to a country that harbors terrorists or harbors war criminals, or was in recent times shipping things to Iraq." President Bush himself has repeated the assertion that Syria has chemical weapons and warned that Syria "needs to cooperate" with the coalition.

So is Syria next? It might be, but nervous war opponents and hawks ready for their next target should probably slow down and take a deep breath. The Pentagon's war plan did not include an order for the Marines to head directly west when they got done with Tikrit, and plenty of factors work against the idea of invading and occupying Syria.

One is that we've still got a substantial portion of our overstretched ground forces working on the uncertain project of bringing stability to 24 million Iraqis, and we've just spent some $70 billion on the invasion and its aftermath. Another is that without the 12 years of ignored U.N. Security Council resolutions backing the use of force, we'd probably have even fewer coalition partners for Syria than we just had for Iraq. This means even more international opposition, resentment of the United States, and unilateral American assumption of the costs of action.

Finally, dismantling the regime in Syria means undermining order in neighboring Lebanon (currently pacified by some 40,000 Syrian troops), and it is not clear that Americans want to repeat the experience of a Lebanese peacekeeping mission. It is not clear that Bush wants to do so either.

Instead, the administration's accusations and warnings against Syria are meant to reinforce part of an overall message that the invasion of Iraq was designed to demonstrate: that the United States now takes the issues of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism very seriously. If pushed too far, it is willing to pay a very high price to deal with them.

In the eyes of most war proponents, invading Iraq was necessary not just to deal with that specific threat but to have a dual "demonstration effect." On the positive side, the creation of a stable, prosperous democracy where human rights are respected would lead citizens throughout the region -- in Syria, for example -- to push for similar changes in their own countries. Whether that dynamic really takes place will depend on successful nation-building in Iraq, and will not be known for years.

The effects of the negative demonstration effect, however, were meant to be more immediate: If you pursue weapons of mass destruction and support terrorism like Saddam did, you will ultimately pay a very high price. The elimination of the Iraqi regime was thus meant to send a clear message to other hostile states in the region, and it is not surprising that the Bush team is seeking to capitalize on that message now, rather than backing away from it.

The logic is that you might not need to invade a country like Syria in order to persuade it to improve its behavior. In 1999, for example, after having demanded for years that Damascus stop harboring Kurdish terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan, Turkey massed troops on the Syrian border -- and Ocalan quickly found himself with a one-way ticket out of the country.

As Pentagon adviser Richard Perle recently asked: "Would you rather talk with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about terrorism before or after the liberation of Iraq?"

American tanks will probably not be rolling down the streets of Damascus anytime soon. And if the Syrian president takes American warnings to heart and keeps a lid on support for terrorism and his own weapons of mass destruction programs, they probably never will be. But by doing in Iraq what many (including perhaps Saddam Hussein) thought he would never dare do, Bush has at least sent a message to Syria and other states in the region that the threat of U.S. military power is not merely theoretical.

Whether Syria ever does become a target of that military power probably depends as much on the thinking in Damascus as it does on the thinking in Washington.

(Philip H. Gordon is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.)

The Reason Foundation

LOS ANGELES --Are they Syrious? Next stop: Damascus

By Brian Doherty

The rhetorical groundwork has been laid for step two in Operation Arab Freedom. President Bush, in his highly imitable style, began vaguely threatening Syria on Sunday.

"I think that we believe there are chemical weapons in Syria, for example," Bush told reporters. "And we will -- each situation will require a different response and, of course, we're -- first things first. We're here in Iraq now. And the second thing about Syria is that we expect cooperation. And I'm hopeful we'll receive cooperation."

Bush might have been sincerely hopeful that Saddam Hussein would voluntarily leave Iraq as well. But the threat is out there, and the Syrians might be wondering what it is they can do to stay the mighty and vengeful hand of its new neighbor, the U.S. military.

The Assad regime started with a somewhat poorly worded denial, given their audience: "We say to him (Bush) that Syria has no chemical weapons and that the only chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the region are in Israel, which is threatening its neighbors and occupying their land," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Buthaina Shaabam said to Reuters.

No less an authority than the Council on Foreign Relations has, on its "Terrorism: Questions and Answers" Web site, laid out the bill of particulars that makes another round of war in the Middle East seem both inevitable and justified, at least by the standards that made the Iraq war the feel-good hit of the season.

"Syria, a secular dictatorship with one of the world's worst human rights records, has been on the State Department list of countries sponsoring terrorism since the list's inception in 1979," the CFR tells us. So, a nation of oppressed people yearning for liberation, check. And with links to evil beyond its borders, check.

So, now how much would you pay to invade Syria? Another $80 billion? But that's not all!

"Syria has an active chemical weapons program, including significant reserves of the deadly nerve agent sarin," according to the CFR Web site. "Its research programs are trying to develop even more toxic nerve agents. It also has a biological weapons program, but experts say Syria is incapable of producing and 'weaponizing' large quantities of dangerous germs without substantial foreign help."

No nukes, alas, but what the hell -- those uranium processing tubes were fake and that didn't make conquering Iraq any less of a screaming success.

Thus, every reason why the invasion of Iraq was considered a good idea applies equally well to Syria. They have a dictator and they have weapons. So, why not invade? I expect the Bush administration itself won't be able to come up with a good answer. Here are some suggestions.

Sure, a crowd of people will dance in the streets once Assad is on the run. But that is simply not a good enough reason for the United States to wage war. Pro-war arguments sometimes seem to assume that any "good result" from a war somehow makes the costs -- in life and wealth and for America's future -- worth it.

But that isn't necessarily so. The American government is not a Spider-Man manqué, whose "great power comes with great responsibility" to sock it to supervillains around the globe. It is costly and dangerous to be an empire, and to be the citizen of an empire. We are mighty and wealthy enough to protect our nation and our people without projecting that might and wealth willy-nilly.

While this ongoing mission to invade and occupy is somehow sold as an anti-terror measure, there is scarcely a terrorist group in existence whose grievances are not at their root about some extra-national power lording it over what is seen as an occupied or subject people. It seems unlikely, then, that spreading American protectorate states throughout the Middle East could possibly help make Americans more secure from terrorism.

America has slowly (since at least the Spanish-American War) been killing that which was most lovely, unique, and irreplaceable about itself: a limited, representative government dedicated to protecting its citizens' life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness. It was meant to be a nation where the government's mission was tightly prescribed and the people's liberty and property were theirs, a nation that could successfully live in peace -- a coiled snake, yes, as per the Gadsden flag, but one that struck only when stepped on.

To some, this is less glorious or lovely than a nation waging perpetual war until evil is wiped from the earth. Some careful conservatives used to call that fool's mission "immanentizing the eschaton," and were aware that it was an evil temptation. Now, almost all who wrap themselves in the conservative mantle embrace America's seemingly never-ending mission to destroy all evil.

War is not safe, alas, for republics or other living things. Keep your eyes on Damascus.

(Brian Doherty is an associate editor of Reason magazine.)

The Hoover Institution

LOS ANGELES -- The supply side of choice: a role for interfaith coalitions

By Paul T. Hill

If and when families get the freedom to choose schools, there is no guarantee they will have anything from which to choose. Charter schools are few in number and most have waiting lists. Parochial schools also fill up quickly.

Government programs such as the new federal No Child Left Behind Act give families the right to move children out of failing schools, but for many the school they now attend is the only one available. School districts are willing to create new schools to serve a growing population but not to create options for current students.

In most big cities neither the government nor the private sector is prepared to create new schools. Edison Schools, a private-sector organization aimed at creating innovative public schools, is in trouble because it is the only group capable of creating large numbers of new schools: ideological opponents reason that if they cripple Edison by revoking the corporation's contracts they can hurt the entire choice movement.

The choice movement might be winning the policy battle, but an inadequate supply of alternative schools might cause it to lose the war. If choice becomes legally possible but good choices do not emerge, middle-of-the-road Americans will conclude that the school district monopoly was the only feasible way to provide schools after all.

Nonprofits that have already started to run schools and training organizations have stayed on the sidelines because, until recently, anyone ready to develop large numbers of new public schools would have been all dressed up with no place to go. Where can large numbers of new schools come from? The key is to get experienced private organizations into the business of operating publicly funded schools.

One possible supply-side solution is interfaith coalitions of churches that have experience running their own schools. The Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Jews all know how to run private schools. Hundreds of thousands of people either teach or administer in such schools or have done so in the past. These people know how to make such schools work and could start new ones. As Catholic archdioceses implode financially as a result of their recent struggles, the number of experienced people available to work in new schools will grow.

Interfaith coalitions have other advantages in that they include organizations with financial and managerial competence, established nonprofit status, and access to funds. They can easily pass constitutional scrutiny by offering value-based education that does not proselytize. Such coalitions have effectively provided low-income housing and social services. Now is the time for them to turn to education.

Interfaith coalitions already exist in most cities. All that is required is a little leadership to move them into providing schools. A single leader -- a rabbi, priest, county executive, or layperson -- could assemble a group to develop charter schools or create new schools to make it possible for children to leave failed public schools. Interested national foundations could offer start-up funds to interfaith coalitions willing to create new schools.

Good new schools don't just happen; groups morally committed to children's welfare must take the initiative.

(Paul T. Hill is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of Hoover's Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, and a research professor in the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.)

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