WASHINGTON – The heat generated by the speedy collapse of President Saddam Hussein's government is being felt not just by Syria, but also by Iraq's fellows in President Bush's "axis of evil," Iran and North Korea.
North Korea now says multilateral talks about its nuclear program — which the United States wants — are not necessarily a bad idea after all. Iran's former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, long allied with Islamic hard-liners against the "Great Satan" America, suggested over the weekend that Iran either hold a referendum or seek a decision from the Expediency Council advisory panel about restoring ties with the United States.
"Saddam's fall and the American military operation's great success has had a real sobering effect on the Middle East. It's a wake-up call," said Scott Lasensky, an expert on the region for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Specifically, Iran and Syria are watching to see if the overwhelming force used to implement Bush's pre-emptive strike doctrine brought down Saddam's government or if it buckled because it was weakened by domestic factors, Lasensky said.
Bush's doctrine holds that the United States has an inherent right to attack any state posing an active threat to U.S. security. If Saddam fell purely because of the doctrine, Lasensky said, "that's even more sobering for these regimes."
He advised the administration to talk up the ease with which the U.S. military staged such a massive show of strength. "Let the impression of Saddam's defeat sit with these leaders," Lasensky said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated Monday that the United States just may do that. Holding up Syria as an example, he called on all nations in the region to "review their past practices and behavior" in light of the change under way in Iraq.
Danielle Pletka, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said some leaders, such as Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are aware of the dynamics in the region.
"What we want people to do is to step back, take a deep breath and reassess the decisions that they have been making that not only threaten the United States and our allies in the Middle East, but do not serve in any way the vast mass of the people in the Middle East," she said. "Certainly, initial steps away from sponsorship of terrorism are a smart move."
According to South Korea's chief security adviser, the North Korean government realized that with Iraq neutralized, North Korean had no tactical advantage in continuing to resist global pressure for inspections of weapons facilities.
"This war on Iraq seems to have become a significant opportunity in deciding the landscape of international politics," said Ra Jong-il, the South Korean adviser.
In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon noted that the war in Iraq could lead to new opportunities for peace talks there. Sharon's national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy, said Monday in Washington that even though Arab leaders might react negatively if "a puppet regime" is installed in Baghdad, they also have shown greater willingness over the past year to pursue new paths to peace.
Still, Lasensky said, the Bush administration must not leave any of these nations with the impression they could be the next target of the United States.
"If the administration remains captive to their own doctrinal declarations, and they take America down a path of confrontation with other states that are not posing a clear and direct threat to the U.S., they may stumble," Lasensky said. "The right lessons are that sometimes, the U.S. has to act alone, but that should be the exception to the rule and not the norm."