Next month, key Iraqi exiles will meet with oil executives at an English country retreat to discuss the future of Iraqi petroleum. The conference, sponsored by the Center for Global Energy Studies and chaired by Sheik Zaki Yamani, the former Saudi oil minister, will feature Maj. Gen. Wafiq Samarrai, the former head of Iraqi military intelligence, and former Iraqi Oil Minister Fadhil Chalabi, now executive director of the center.
Fadhil Chalabi estimates that total oil reserves in Iraq could exceed Saudi Arabia's and that daily production one day could reach 10 million barrels, making it the world's largest producer. Hence, on the center's conference agenda is a discussion of Iraq as a "second Saudi Arabia," and the prospect of a world without OPEC. Oil executives and analysts heading to the country retreat will also be able to purchase the center's 800-page analysis of the prospects for exploration in Iraq. The cost: $52,500.
But taking over Iraq and remaking the global oil market is not necessarily the endgame. The next steps, favored by hard-liners determined to elevate Israeli security above all other U.S. foreign policy goals, would be to destroy any remaining perceived threat to the Jewish state: namely, the regimes in Syria and Iran.
"The War Won't End in Baghdad," wrote the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen in the Wall Street Journal. In 1985, as a consultant to the National Security Council and Oliver North, Ledeen helped broker the illegal arms-for-hostages deal with Iran by setting up meetings between weapons dealers and Israel. In the current war, he argues, "we must also topple terror states in Tehran and Damascus."
In urging the expansion of the war on terror to Syria and Iran, Ledeen does not mention Israel. Yet Israel is a crucial strategic reason for the hard-line vision to "roll back" Syria and Iran -- and another reason why control of Iraq is seen as crucial. In 1998, Wurmser, now in the State Department, told the Jewish newspaper Forward that if Ahmad Chalabi were in power and extended a no-fly, no-drive zone in northern Iraq, it would provide the crucial piece for an anti-Syria, anti-Iran bloc. "It puts Scuds out of the range of Israel and provides the geographic beachhead between Turkey, Jordan and Israel," he said. "This should anchor the Middle East pro-Western coalition."
Perle, in the same 1998 article, told Forward that a coalition of pro-Israeli groups was "at the forefront with the legislation with regard to Iran. One can only speculate what it might accomplish if it decided to focus its attention on Saddam Hussein." And Perle, Wurmser and Feith (now in the Pentagon), in their 1996 Israeli think tank report to Netanyahu, argued for abandoning efforts for a comprehensive peace in favor of a policy of "rolling back" Syria to protect Israel's interests.
Now, however, Israel is given a lower profile by those who would argue for rollback. Rather, writes Ledeen, U.S. troops would be put at risk in order to "liberate all the peoples of the Middle East." And this, he argues, would be virtually pain-free: "If we come to Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran as liberators, we can expect overwhelming popular support."
Perle concurs on Iraq -- "The Arab World ... will consider honor and dignity has been restored" -- as well as Iran: "It is the beginning of the end for the Iranian regime."
Now, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has joined the call against Tehran, arguing in a November interview with the Times of London that the U.S. should shift its focus to Iran "the day after" the Iraq war ends.
The vast ambition of such changes to the Middle Eastern map would seem an inherent deterrent. But it is precisely this historical sweep, reminiscent of Sykes-Picot and the British arrival in Iraq in 1917, that many close to the administration seek. Publicly, Perle and Ledeen cling to the fantasy that American troops would be welcomed in Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus with garlands of flowers. Yet they are too smart to ignore the rage across the Arab and Muslim worlds that would surely erupt in the wake of war on multiple Middle Eastern fronts.
Indeed, the foreshadowing is already with us: in Bali, in Moscow, in Yemen and on the streets of Amman. It's clear that even in Jordan, a close ally of the U.S., the anger at a U.S. attack on Iraq could be hard to contain.
Indeed, the hard-liners in and around the administration seem to know in their hearts that the battle to carve up the Middle East would not be won without the blood of Americans and their allies. "One can only hope that we turn the region into a caldron, and faster, please," Ledeen preached to the choir at National Review Online last August. "That's our mission in the war against terror."