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Free Ride Is Over
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Issues & Insights
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Free Ride Is Over
Middle East: Recent reports indicate that hard-liners in the White House have been considering taking out insurgent training camps in Syria. In the words of Neil Young: "Should have been done long ago."
How many lives — American and Iraqi — would have been saved if we'd been striking insurgents wherever we found them? How many Americans and Iraqis would still be alive if the Pentagon had sealed the Syria-Iraq border a year ago with a hail of fire so intense that it removed the incentive for anyone, save the suicidal, to cross it illegally?
A move against Syria would no doubt have given critics even more reason to make the Vietnam comparison: Syria would be to Iraq what Laos and Cambodia were to Vietnam.
But so what? Critics do little other than criticize. And in this case, they'd do nothing to make our troops safer in Iraq except bring them home, which would only make the world less safe for others.
Hard facts bring hard choices. The fact is, Syria is harboring terrorists who are training insurgents to kill innocents in a country where we are trying to set up a model democracy. It is also an entry and exit point for insurgents, terrorists, weapons and money into and out of Iraq — and beyond.
As a former senior U.S. intelligence official put it in a UPI report, "Syria is complicit in the insurgency up to its eyeballs."
The best that can be said for the Baathist regime in Damascus is it's doing nothing to stop the training and flow of insurgents. The worst that can be said is it's actively involved. Either way, the insurgency must be shut down, even if that means striking deep into Syria.
We're not itching for a war with that country. But neither have we forgotten President Bush's declaration in the dark days following 9-11: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
We also recall Secretary of State Colin Powell bluntly declaring that states harboring terrorists "cannot be given a free ride anymore."
Iran, with its deranged ayatollahs, nuclear weapons ambition and much-deserved position on the axis of evil, receives the most attention in the Middle East outside of Iraq.
But Syria has been a deadly occupying force in Lebanon for nearly three decades. It also has acted as a breeding ground for terrorists and, as an arms bazaar, attracts and welcomes the most undesirable of customers.
Syria might also be home to banned weapons shipped out of Iraq before the war against Saddam Hussein's regime began nearly two years ago.
Can it get worse? Maybe. This month, Syrian President Bashar Assad is scheduled to visit Russia. Among agenda items: the purchase of mobile SS-26 missiles — weapons of aggression, not defense — on which Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed off.
From what, or from whom, does Syria need to protect itself? Certainly not Israel, which lies within the range of the SS-26. Israel is content to leave Syria alone as long as Syria takes no aggression toward Israel or doesn't harbor those who do, such as Hezbollah.
Imagine the carnage, though, should one of those missiles fall into the hands of Syria-sponsored Hezbollah. Or if the clumsy Assad did something that confirmed just how witless he is.
It's the same with the U.S. We'd be happy to leave Syria to the Syrians. But Assad has made the country a target. It is an enemy of peace, a rogue nation, a patron of terrorists — all facts that, according to a UPI report, have shifted minds within a Bush administration that had been opposed to striking there.
Regime change in Syria should be the ultimate goal of the civilized world. But for now, liquidation of the insurgents will do.