Saturday night's TV audience for the weekly foreign affairs show "Ro'im Olam" on Channel One saw Prince Hassan, King Abdullah's uncle, starring at a London assembly of the Iraqi opposition in exile. Ever since the Bush administration ordered the CIA to nurture the exiled Iraqis, nothing happens to them by accident. Prince Hassan didn't just happen to drop in because he was in town. The Hashemite dynasty has never given up its dream to revive the Iraqi throne. It could be a great job for Hassan, whose older brother denied him the Jordanian kingdom at the last minute.
It's true that restoring a monarchy in Iraq does not exactly fit the Bush administration's vision of a democratic Middle East. But there are signs that it fits some old dreams of a few of the key strategists around the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triangle running America's Iraq policy. A few weeks ago, Richard Perle invited the Pentagon chiefs to a meeting with researchers from a Washington think tank with particularly close relations with the Defense Department.
According to information that reached a former top official in the Israeli security services, the researchers showed two slides to the Pentagon officials. The first was a depiction of the three goals in the war on terror and the democratization of the Middle East: Iraq - a tactical goal, Saudi Arabia - a strategic goal, and Egypt - the great prize.
The triangle in the next slide was no less interesting: Palestine is Israel, Jordan is Palestine, and Iraq is the Hashemite Kingdom.
The former Israeli security official met two weeks ago with a very well-connected Republican member of one of Perle's Policy Board. The Israeli asked if the Bush administration intended to pick up where the Carter administration left off, "when it swapped the Shah's democracy for Khomeini's." The Israeli warned the American about an all-out war with the entire Arab world, and added that the Perle plan would create "an impossible strategic environment" for Israel. He mentioned Algeria as an example of democratization in the wrong place. The Republican promised he'd pass it on to the White House.
In 1996, Richard Perle and Doug Feith joined a small group of researchers who were asked to help Benjamin Netanyahu in his first steps as prime minister. They could not have known that four years later that the working paper they prepared, including plans for Israel to help restore the Hashemite throne in Iraq, would shed light on the current policies of the only superpower in the world. The document, prepared by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, with offices in Washington and Jerusalem, appears at the institute's Web site, http://www.israeleconomy.org/strat1.htm, and has been mentioned in the American press.
The current Israeli and Iraqi connection, and the key role Feith and Perle play in the Bush administration, make the document a treasure trove. Perle heads the Defense Department's Policy Board and is considered one of the most important strategic thinkers in the American establishment. Feith is the deputy defense minister - No. 3 in the Pentagon's hierarchy. The document presents an ambitious plan for a "U.S.-Israeli partnership based on self-reliance, maturity and mutuality - not one focused narrowly on territorial disputes."
The new partnership drawn up by Perle, Feith and five other researchers, has interests in all sorts of directions in the region.
"Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq," the group writes. "Since Iraq's future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly, it would be understandable that Israel has an interest in supporting the Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq, including such measures as: visiting Jordan as the first official state visit, even before a visit to the United States, of the new Netanyahu government; supporting King Hussein by providing him with some tangible security measures to protect his regime against Syrian subversion; encouraging - through influence in the U.S. business community - investment in Jordan to shift structurally Jordan's economy away from dependence on Iraq; and diverting Syria's attention by using Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize Syrian control of Lebanon."
The experts advised Netanyahu to pull Turkey into the brew, with diplomatic, military, and operational support for Turkish actions against Syria. They say that "Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq - an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right - as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions." One way to do it: "... Securing tribal alliances with Arab tribes that cross into Syrian territory and are hostile to the Syrian ruling elite."
Since Syria prefers "a weak, but barely surviving Saddam," if only to foil Jordanian efforts to topple him, Perle, Feith and company are recommending diverting Syria attention from the Hashemitization of Iraq. How? "By using Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize Syrian control of Lebanon."
Quote Peace Unquote
At this point the two Jewish experts, eventually to become key Pentagon players, are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments (including the Reagan administration, in which Perle played a key role) and Israeli interests. They say, "Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan 'comprehensive peace' and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program, and rejecting 'land for peace' deals on the Golan Heights."
Perle and Feith were among the leaders of the campaign to push Congress not to support the idea of sending American peacekeeping troops to the Golan, which came up as an idea in the U.S.-mediated negotiations Yitzhak Rabin conducted with the Syrians. The group decides that "Israel's new strategy - based on a shared philosophy of peace through strength - reflects continuity with Western values by stressing that Israel is self-reliant, does not need U.S. troops in any capacity to defend it, including on the Golan Heights, and can manage its own affairs.
"To remove a significant lever of pressure used against it in the past," Perle and Feith recommend the new prime minister declare on his first visit to Washington that Israel "is now mature enough to cut itself free immediately from U.S. economic aid and loan guarantees at least, which prevent economic reform." Indeed, Netanyahu did use the occasion of his first visit to Washington as prime minister to announce a gradual reduction of civilian aid and turning some of it into defense aid. The experts believe that way Israel will improve its cooperation with the U.S. against genuine threats to the region and Western security.
The position paper, which includes sections marked like crib sheets with "TEXT" for Netanyahu to use in his speeches, proposes some tactical methods the Israeli prime minister can use to foresee U.S. reactions and how to manage them. They give Netanyahu tips on how to maneuver congressmen, for example. They say Netanyahu should phrase his policies and emphasize those issues important to him in a language familiar to Americans and to use terms that occupied the attention of the American administrations during the Cold War and are relevant to Israel. They even recommend the timing for "winning American support" - before the November 1996 elections.
The document's writers propose Netanyahu press for cooperation on anti-ballistic missile defense, because "it would broaden Israel's base of support among many in the United States Congress who may know little about Israel, but care very much about missile defense."
Such broad support could be helpful in the effort to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a subject that interests many in Congress, "including those who know very little about Israel."
And how does all this fit into the concept of the peace process, which was then facing one of its darker periods? The term 'peace process' appears in quotes in the document. So does the phrase 'new Middle East,' which, said Perle, Feith, et al "undermines the legitimacy of the nation and leads Israel into strategic paralysis."