Is George W. Bush a neoconservative? Has he, too, decided that we must, after taking down Saddam, destroy six or seven more Arab and Islamic regimes, “democratize” the Mideast, and impose a Pax Americana from Tripoli to Tora Bora?

Is Syria next on the U.S. “hit list” for “regime change”?

My sense: George W. is more his father’s son than a neocon. But we are going to find out soon. For not only have Richard Perle and ex-CIA-Director James Woolsey begun to breathe fire at Syria, so, too, have Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush himself.

What has Syria done? According to Paul Wolfowitz of Defense, “The Syrians have been shipping killers into Iraq to try and kill Americans. … We need to think about what our policy is towards a country that harbors terrorists or harbors war criminals.”

“There will have to be change in Syria,” says Wolfowitz.

Sources also report that the president, who has admonished Syria publicly, is now privately using barnyard language to describe what President Assad must be experiencing after seeing what we did in Iraq. If Bush has decided that regime change must also come to Damascus, the neoconservatives can fairly claim to have captured U.S. foreign policy whole and entire. For even under the Bush Doctrine, it is difficult to make a case that Syria should be the next target of a U.S. preemptive war.

Syria had no role in 9/11. Damascus co-operated with us in running down al-Qaeda. Nor has anyone credibly accused Syria of being behind the anthrax attacks or any recent terror attack on America. In 1990–91, Bashar Assad’s father sent 4,000 soldiers to Saudi Arabia to support General Schwartzkopf’s army.

Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to return to Syria 99 percent of the Golan Heights, down to the Sea of Galilee. Though the offer was rejected, that it was made suggests that even Israel does not fear Syria. Why then should the United States?

And what grounds do we have for attacking Syria? Syria has not attacked us. She is not under UN sanctions. Nor does President Bush have authority to go to war with Damascus. The congressional resolutions under which America invaded Afghanistan and Iraq were restricted to regimes that gave aid or sanctuary to 9/11 terrorists, or to Iraq alone. Syria is beyond the reach of both resolutions.

Nor would we have any international support for an attack on Syria. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has ruled out British support. The United Nations Security Council would oppose a war on Syria 14-1.

If America intends a war on Damascus, Bush will have to ask Congress to authorize that war, or act outside the Constitution. Not only the Arab and Islamic world but the entire world would condemn us. The isolation of the United States would be complete.

What are Syria’s crimes? According to Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Bush, Assad let Islamic warriors pass through Syria to fight in Iraq. He sent night-vision goggles to Iraq. He may be providing safe haven to escaped Saddamites inside Syria. He harbors terrorists, is building chemical weapons, and supports Hezbollah.
But if these are the casus belli for a war on Syria, we should attack Iran. Unlike Syria, Iran is believed to have been behind the terrorist attack on U.S. installations at Khobar Towers. Iran has ballistic missiles superior to Syria’s and a nuclear program more advanced than that of any non-nuclear state save North Korea. Iran is the principal supporter and supplier of Hezbollah. Iran also let Islamic warriors enter Iraq. And Iran is a charter member of the president’s “axis of evil.” Syria is not.

Why would Syria come before Iran on America’s hit list?

First, Syria, one-fourth as populous as Iran, is “doable,” as Paul Wolfowitz likes to put it. Iran, three times as large as Iraq, would require a longer, bloodier war and hundreds of thousands more U.S. troops to defeat and to occupy. Moreover, a U.S. invasion of Syria would put a U.S. military presence on the border of Israel and isolate Hezbollah in Lebanon, a dream of Sharon and the neoconservatives.

My sense? Bush has had enough of war for the present. While, in his view, the demands of the War on Terror and the imperialist agenda of the War Party may have overlapped in Iraq, Bush has not signed on to any “World War IV” or Pax Americana. But he and his War Cabinet are content to let the neocons bark at the Arab world, as only benefit can accrue to us if these nations feel intimidated.

Prediction: Unless President Assad insanely decides to aid an intifada in Iraq, U.S. Marines will halt at the Syrian border.