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Haig: Target Syria Next, Not Iraq

Monday, 07 January 2002 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. said Monday that Syria, not Iraq, should be the next target in the war against international terrorism.

His comments came in an exclusive interview with United Press International's editor at large, Arnaud de Borchgrave.

Here is the transcript of the interview:

Q (de Borchgrave): What did the United States do right in Afghanistan and what did it do wrong? And what lessons have we learned for the future?

A (Haig): We didn't do anything wrong, but among the lessons learned, given the magnitude of the problems we now face in Afghanistan, 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.

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 its alliance with al-Qaeda. 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, we had too many troops; in Afghanistan probably not enough for the major commitment we have made. President Bush and his team did a superb job winning the war, and we need to remember how he achieved maximum success despite a number of formidable restraints. The United States first had to negotiate with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for basing rights to bridge enormous distances to a land-locked Afghanistan.

Q: Is a lack of an institutional memory and a sense of history to blame for the crises that seem to hit us with tedious regularity in that part of the world?

A: You have to look at the history of the Middle East in particular. It has been one of failure and frustration, of feudalism and tribalism, of Pan Arabism under Egypt's [Gamal Abdel] Nasser and its flirtation with the Soviet Union, then a flirtation with the Western world which led to more frustration when our great victory over the Iraqi aggressor left Saddam Hussein in power who then became a hero to the Arab masses because of Clinton's woefully inadequate and weak Iraqi policy.

Then you look at Iran, which became the crucible of fundamentalism coupled with terrorism, a situation we totally misread. Prior to his takeover of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini was camping near Paris, giving daily news conferences to a fawning international press corps without a murmur of complaint to France from the United States about the disaster it was coddling in the incredibly naïve liberal belief that this extremist cleric would be an improvement over the Shah.

For years we leaned on the Shah for land reform, which led to the expropriation of the massive land holdings of the clergy, which, in turn, triggered the clergy's revolution against the monarchy. And when the Shah found himself in trouble, we quite literally stabbed him in the back.

It didn't take long for the world to realize that the Shah was an enlightened liberal next to the bloody reactionary regime that followed, and which executed more people in three months than the Shah had done in 30 years.

Then came the hostage crisis during which Carter did nothing to rattle the ayatollahs who hung tough until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, when they suddenly backed down. After that we saw the killing of 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. But the two culprits – Syria and Iran – got away scot-free.

Q: You mean the United States and its allies never understood that terrorism was a transnational terrorism?

A: Exactly right. We contributed to its attractiveness among people who were frustrated and disenfranchised.

Fundamentalism was the first of two perversions. Nation states converted guerrilla warfare into terrorism to conduct asymmetrical warfare against the world's only superpower.

Sun Tzu said 2,500 years ago that successful guerrillas float on the sea of people. The Bush administration understood early on that the particular perversion we saw with Taliban and al-Qaeda required coalitions to defeat it, but not coalitions for the sake of coalitions.

And as Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld has stated with great clarity, the mission decides the coalition and not the coalition deciding the mission, which is what happened in Iraq.

Q: So this should not deter the United States if Iraq is the next target?

A: Or Syria.

Q: So you think Syria's a possibility?

A:- Syria is a terrorist state by any definition and is so classified by the State Department. I happen to think Iran is too. Iraq, Iran, Syria, they're all involved.

If al-Qaeda terrorists need a favor, such as safe houses, you can bet your bottom dollar that Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not hesitate to accommodate them. And all these groups are protected by these states which makes them sponsors of state terrorism and therefore potential targets in President Bush's global war against terrorism, when the footprints, that is, are clearly established.

Q: Where are the footprints clearer – Iraq or Syria?

A: It's clearer in Syria than in Iraq. This doesn't mean that Iraq isn't a more venal threat. If it's proven that Iraq has provided aid and succor to international terrorist groups – and we're not just talking al-Qaeda, which is just another tentacle that has enjoyed the most success and was leading the attack against the United States, but its defeat in Afghanistan didn't neutralize the venality of other tentacles, such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Q: And what is the second perversion you mentioned earlier?

A: The first one is guerrilla warfare transformed into terrorism that singles out non-combatants, innocent civilians, including women and children. The objective is to spread fear to break the morale of the target country.

The second perversion is what has been done to Islam, a pacific religion that believes in the rule of law and peaceful change.

Q: But radical Islam is at war with the United States. So how does one separate fundamentalism from anti-U.S. and anti-Israel radicalism?

A: That's where the perversion comes in. If they analyze the situation as thoroughly as they should, Muslims will realize they are the first targets. What are the fundamentalists really after? Simply taking over Islam and then turning its back on modernity.

The House of Saud would be the first to go, so the Saudi royal family's policy of exporting Wahhabi fundamentalism to buy peace at home is shortsighted in the extreme and has now been proved to be tantamount to funding terrorist-prone organizations from Indonesia to North Africa.

Q: So what is the Bush administration attempting to do about this kind of extremism?

A: It's an enlightened approach that keeps trying to separate classic Islam from radical Islam. What the fundamentalists are doing is a total negation of their own faith – encouraging and lionizing suicide bombers and killing women and children, hardly in keeping with the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.

Q: To what degree has the U.S. campaign against transnational terrorism been hurt by the fact that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar have eluded U.S. forces so far?

A: Anyone who believes that doesn't understand the nature of this war. We went in there and in 60 days with unprecedented use of precision weapons we wiped out both Taliban and al-Qaeda's extensive infrastructure in that country. To rebuild that in another country will be impossible as the most likely candidates are under a U.S. magnifying glass.

Unlike Kosovo or Bosnia, we had precise targeting with an on the ground presence of Special Forces and anti-Taliban militia, equipped with sat phones and GPS to laser paint targets. It was not accompanied by a large ground presence.

Q: Which you think was a mistake?

A: I didn't say that. We did what we were able to do.

Q: In other words, we didn't have the wherewithal for a large ground presence?

A: With all the commitments that were made by the previous [Clinton] administration, 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.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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WASHINGTON - Former Secretary of State Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. said Monday that Syria, not Iraq, should be the next target in the war against international terrorism. His comments came in an exclusive interview with United Press International's editor at large,...
Monday, 07 January 2002 12:00 AM
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