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.


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