First Published: 2003-04-10

Syria, Saudi Arabia could be next

US strategists argue fall of Iraqi regime could be just first domino towards greater democracy in Mideast.


Middle East Online

By Christophe de Roquefeuil - WASHINGTON

Wolfowitz clearly stated US ambitions do not end in Baghdad

The United States wants the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq to be a catalyst for change in the Middle East, an objective which could spark problems with other countries.

For US strategists, regime change in Baghdad opens the door to a new Middle East with greater democracy, social modernization, an end to terrorism, the expansion of US interests and the security of Israel.

The "Democratic Domino" theory favored by conservatives close to the White House suggests that democratic change in Baghdad would serve as an engine for change in nearby countries such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

If not, there are those within the administration who are not shy about making veiled threats of change by force.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security - two proponents of the "democratic domino" - have clearly stated that Washington's ambitions do not end in Baghdad. Though no-one has suggested the use of force.

"I think a lot of countries, including Syria, will eventually get the message from this Iraq war that it is much better to come to terms peacefully with the international community, to not acquire these weapons of mass destruction, to not use terrorism as an incentive of national policy," Wolfowitz said.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell however told the Arab daily Al Hayat that "nobody in the American administration talks of invading Iran or Syria," but Washington does wish those countries would change their policies.

Saudi Arabia, a traditional ally of the United States, is now in a difficult position with the United States.

Many Washington commentators close to the administration have pointed out that most of those responsible for the September 11 terror attacks on the United States in 2001 were Saudis, and that the Saudi government did not give the expected support for the US-led campaign in Iraq.

Some analysts fear however that the administration's approach to reforming the Middle East could backfire.

"The more the Bush administration talks about bold ambitions to transform the political status quo in the Middle east, the more the Bush administration implicitly or sometimes explicitly threatens Iraq's neighbors," said Jon Alterman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The more we talk about how this will lead to regime change in other countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia the more I think we give these countries an incentive to try to keep Iraqi politics unsettled."

On a more positive note, the United States also has been more visible in welcoming democratic progress in other countries in the region, such as after elections in Morocco and Bahrain.

Powell also announced last year that 25 million dollars would be spent in a campaign to promote social and political change in the Middle East.

And Washington has promised renewed efforts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as soon as a Palestinian prime minister is in place as a counterweight to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The administration hopes the fall of Saddam will create a more favorable backdrop for the peaceful emergence of a Palestinian state.


Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

Pro-Turkish forces loot Afrin

Iraqis flock to flea market for relics of bygone era

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Natural gas in eastern Mediterranean fuels increasing tensions

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting

36 jihadists killed in Egypt’s Sinai

Israel arrests French consulate worker for gun smuggling

Israel prepares to demolish Jerusalem attacker's home

Saudi crown prince says his country to seek nuclear bomb if Iran does

Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Tunisia’s Central Bank targets inflation but may hurt growth prospects

Libya’s health system reflects a larger humanitarian crisis

Israel blasts Gaza underground tunnel

Abu Dhabi awards France's Total stakes in oil concessions

Erdogan says Afrin city centre under ‘total’ control

Egypt tries to contain Sudan but challenges, suspicions remain

US defence secretary presses Oman on Iran weapons smuggling

Syrian regime retakes two towns from Ghouta rebels

Hamas shutters mobile firm after Gaza attack on PM

Israel punishes family members of West Bank attacker

Syria opposition says UN 'failed to prevent' Assad 'crimes'

UK tries to soothe Egyptian anger over mob attack death

Hundreds of thousands flee in dual Syria assaults

Turkish Cypriots vow to stand firm in gas dispute

Intensifying assaults in Syria spark dual evacuations

Tearful reunions, uncertain fates for Syrians fleeing Ghouta