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World: Will U.S. Victory In Iraq Persuade 'Rogue Regimes' To Change Their Behavior?

  • Jeffrey Donovan

U.S. President George W. Bush recently declared victory in Iraq. Will America's overwhelming display of military might and resolve in Iraq now pressure other "rogue regimes" to change their ways in order not to be Washington's next target?

Washington, 5 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Before the Iraq war, U.S. officials said the looming conflict would send a signal to "rogue regimes" around the globe and help sow the seeds of democratic change.

On 1 May, aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of California, U.S. President George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq and celebrated what is clear to the whole world: America's overwhelming military power. Bush said the war in Iraq was a show of force that should instill fear in rogue leaders everywhere.

The question is: what impact is the message of the Iraq war actually having on regimes on Washington's blacklist, such as Syria, North Korea and Iran? Is it persuading them to change -- or driving them to desperate means, such as nuclear arms, to deter American power?

University of Michigan Professor Raymond Tanter is an expert on "outlaw states." Author of a book called "Rogue Regimes," Tanter says Saddam Hussein's fall could kick off a domino-like collapse of similar states across the region.

"Rogue regime change begins in Baghdad," Tanter said. "The road to Damascus goes through Baghdad. The road to Tehran goes through Baghdad. You change the regime in Baghdad, you send shivers down the spines of the other rogue leaders. And you don't have to invade them."

The Bush administration, which has been applying heavy pressure on Syria in the wake of the Iraq war, clearly hopes that's the case.

Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking last week, said Bush made it absolutely clear that Washington will not tolerate what it now considers its main security threat: the link between terrorism and rogue regimes bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

In a speech to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, Cheney underscored the psychological impact that the U.S. believes the Iraq war has had on countries it considers outlaw states: "Today, Saddam Hussein's regime is history. And there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the president of the United States keeps his word."

Syria, which U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited on 2 May, has borne the brunt of American postwar pressure. During the war, Washington accused Syria of harboring elements of Hussein's regime and pursuing chemical weapons.

Powell commented in Beirut at the weekend on Syria and what he called the "new strategic situation" in the Middle East in the wake of Hussein's defeat: "There is a new strategic situation here [in the Middle East]. We want to cooperate with Syria in adapting to that new strategic situation and we will be watching very carefully and anxious to engage with Syria on various performance measures as we [move] forward."

Analysts say the primary U.S. goal in Damascus is to get it to stop supporting Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which have key offices in Syria.

Without that Syrian support, analysts say new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas could more effectively crack down on militants and thereby hasten progress on peace with Israel.

After weeks of pressure, Washington said recently that Syria is improving its behavior and sent Powell to Damascus for talks.

Analyst Tanter says that as a result of U.S. pressure, he expects Syria to start making some concessions on its support to militants. Moreover, as a result of the new American pressure, he expects change in most rogue states:

"They will change their behavior or they will fall. Syria will change, Libya will change, Tehran will fall, North Korea will fall. North Korea will implode and Iran will fall as a result of internal changes. I don't think the mullahs will change their policies, but the people will eventually begin to push the regime out."

Not everyone sees it so clearly, however.

Maureen Steinbruner is director of the Center for National Policy, a Washington think tank formerly headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Steinbruner tells RFE/RL that while American pressure may elicit some reaction from these countries, Washington will not get everything it is looking for:

"What we're going to see here is a pretty complex back and forth with countries like Iran and Syria and other countries in the region, trying to reposition themselves so as not to look like they are completely intransigent on the one hand, but also not to just cave in."

Moreover, Steinbruner believes the American display of power in Iraq is, in fact, driving some governments to embrace nuclear weapons as the only means to defend their regimes from the U.S. threat.

She cites North Korea and Iran as likely nuclear powers of the future: "Any country that's technologically sophisticated and already on the road to nuclear weapons development, I would be surprised to learn after the fact that they hadn't tried to push on out there and get what they would consider an insurance policy."

As for North Korea, Steinbruner says the Iraq war may have led it to contradictory conclusions. On one hand, she says Pyongyang believes the war justifies its pursuit of nuclear arms. On the other, she says the war may have persuaded North Korea that it needs to more actively seek a deal with Washington.

Officials from both countries met in Beijing last month for talks, the first in the months-long standoff. The talks proved inconclusive, though North Korean officials reportedly told their U.S. counterparts that Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons.