After we take Baghdad, how about Syria?

Watching the war.
April 3 2003 5:00 PM

Road to Damascus

2 p.m: After Baghdad, what next? Here's an idea: Invade Syria.

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Lebanese newspaper editor Talal Salman brought up the idea in an interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad, published on March 27. "It has been said that war plans against Iraq were hatched before 9/11," Salman asserted. "The list of countries included Afghanistan, then Iraq, Syria, and Iran. In the new plan of aggression, Syria is on one of the lists." Rather than demand evidence, Assad replied, "Even if they had not included Syria in this plan, the probability was always there. That means that we are not going to wait until they include Syria in the plan and declare that or not. … Some Arab capitals will stand beside Baghdad. When I talk about some Arab capitals, it does not make sense to exclude Syria."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Was Assad pledging to fight the United States? On March 28, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned him, "We have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles. These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments." When asked whether he was "threatening military action against Syria," Rumsfeld refused to answer.

Last Sunday, Rumsfeld predicted that after his warning to the Syrians, "My guess is that they'll be more careful." But on Thursday, when asked whether he had seen any signs of change, he replied, "Syria is continuing to conduct itself the way it was prior to the time I said what I said."

Last year, I noted that Syria met seven of the eight criteria cited by then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as reasons to invade Iraq. DeLay's speech, reportedly vetted by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, essentially summarized President Bush's arguments for war. According to reports by the CIA, State Department, and other agencies, Syria supported terrorism, possessed weapons of mass destruction, violated human rights, thwarted democracy, had invaded its neighbors, and had violated a biological weapons treaty.

On Monday, the State Department issued a new report reaffirming Syria's status as an abuser of human rights. Syrian security forces operate "outside the legal system" and commit "serious human rights abuses," said the report. "Continuing serious abuses included the use of torture in detention; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; [and] prolonged detention without trial."

I'm not advocating an invasion of Syria. I'd distinguish it from Iraq on three grounds: 1) Its worst offenses took place under the father of its current dictator; 2) it hasn't used its WMD in battle; and 3) it has evaded international WMD agreements far less extensively, flagrantly, and persistently than has Iraq. But I'd like to know whether Bush would draw the same distinctions—or, if not, how he would justify invading one country but not the other.

In his State of the Union message two months ago, Bush said of Saddam Hussein's torture methods, "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning." That's a good way to put the Syrian question to Bush. If your doctrine of changing evil regimes doesn't apply to Syria, Mr. President, what meaning does your doctrine have?

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

8:30 a.m.: Jessica, Jessica, Jessica. In case you've been without electricity or human contact for the past 24 hours, I'm referring to Jessica Lynch, the U.S. Army POW who was rescued yesterday from Iraq. Last night on television, it was wall-to-wall Jessica. Today in the newspapers, it's yards of column inches on Jessica. U.S. Central Command trumpeted her rescue last night and played video of it at a briefing this morning.