WASHINGTON - Emboldened by the U.S. military's
apparent quick rout of Iraqi forces, conservative hawks in America are setting their sights on regime change in Iran and Syria.
"It's time to bring down the other terror
masters," Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute wrote on Monday -- two days before U.S. troops swept into the
heart of Baghdad -- in a piece entitled "Syria and Iran Must Get Their Turn."
"Iran, at least, offers Americans the possibility
of a memorable victory, because the Iranian people openly loath the regime, and will enthusiastically combat it, if only the
United States supports them in their just struggle," he added. "Syria cannot stand alone against a successful democratic revolution
that topples tyrannical regimes in Kabul, Tehran and Iraq."
No one is explicitly advocating force against
Syria or Iran but conservatives inside and out of the U.S. government hope the Iraq war will signal to Damascus and Tehran
that seeking weapons of mass destruction may be hazardous to their health.
"I hope we could change the regimes without
military force and I would not contemplate using military force in those places," said Kenneth Adelman, a former Pentagon
aide and early advocate of toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by force.
"The combination of totalitarianism and weapons
of mass destruction is a deadly combination for the world," he added.
While some conservatives believe the example
of Iraq could serve to undermine the governments of some of its non-democratic neighbors, others simply hope it will dissuade
them from seeking biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
GETTING THE MESSAGE
John Bolton, under secretary of state for
arms control and international security, told reporters in Rome he hoped Iran, Syria and North Korea -- which the United States
believes is pursuing a nuclear weapons program -- will get the message.
"We are hopeful that a number of regimes
will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest,"
he said, citing the three when asked what the post-war period may hold.
A U.S. official played down the idea that
the United States was contemplating using force against Iran or Syria, suggesting the hawks were simply reflecting the "strategic
ambiguity" that the U.S. has long practiced with potential adversaries.
"When talking about threats from countries
that have really bad track records and don't wish you well, U.S. policy has been to never rule anything out," he said. "That
doesn't mean you're actively contemplating an invasion or the use of force."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who on
March 28 warned Syria and Iran not to meddle in the Iraq war, said on Wednesday the United States had evidence Damascus might
be helping Saddam's relatives and supporters flee the country.
While he did not cite Syria or Iran by name,
Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech to newspaper editors that the United States must "do whatever it takes" to defeat
terrorism and must confront nations that sponsor it.
The United States regards Iran and Syria
as state sponsors of terrorism. U.S. officials believe both are pursuing weapons of mass destruction, accusing Iran of seeking
nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program aims to produce electricity.
"In removing the terror regime from Iraq,
we send a very clear message to all groups that operate by means of terror and violence against the innocent," Cheney said.
"The United States and our coalition partners are showing ... we have the capacity and the will to wage war on terror and
to win decisively."
"We have a further responsibility to help
keep the peace of the world and to prevent the terrorists and their sponsors from plunging the world into horrific violence,"
Frank Gaffney, a senior Pentagon official
under former President Ronald Reagan, said he believed that regime change should be the U.S. policy toward Iran and Syria
and said the United States could not rule out the use of force.
"If the threat metastasizes in such a way
that we consider it to leave us no choice but to use military force then that would have to be an option," he said.
Gaffney, head of the Center for Security
Policy think tank, said many Iranians would like to see their government change and the United States should help them through
information flows, economic assistance and possibly covert activity.
"The use of military force is probably genuinely
the last resort here, but I certainly think it's like that we're going to see efforts made to bring about change in Iran as
well as Syria ... and perhaps elsewhere in the region as a matter of the natural progression of this war on terror," he added.