“Bush Ideologues Reshape the World Over Breakfast”

So ran the front-page headline in the Financial Times. The story described a “victory celebration” at the American Enterprise Institute the morning the Marines rolled into Iraq.

The AEI panelist-celebrants were Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, Richard Perle of the Pentagon’s Defense Review Board and Michael Ledeen, author of “The Terror Masters.” Apparently, the boys were yukking it up over what we were going to do to the French, Germans, Iranians, Syrians and Untied Nations, after we polished off the Iraqis.

Kristol bewailed the failure of Bush’s father to take Baghdad. This resulted in a regrettable “lack of awe” among Arabs, said he. Perle joked that there were more anti-war demonstrators in San Francisco than Iraqis willing to fight for their country. Ledeen said France and Germany had reached “new lows of disgustingness” by “shoring up tyrannical regimes.” Then he went into his mantra about the need for “a longer war.”

Kristol urged that we split Germany off from France but noted that such “intelligent diplomacy may be too much to hope for from the State Department.” When Perle declared that “Americans are not vindictive,” Ledeen interrupted to say that, in the case of France, he certainly hoped we would be.

What was it Burke said? Great empires and small minds go ill together. But back of all this braggadocio, there are great questions here that President Bush will soon have to confront. Where do we go after Iraq? The logic of the Bush Doctrine – “We will not permit the world’s worst dictators to threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons” – points to a clash with Iran. Iran is also the preferred target of Ariel Sharon, who seems frustrated he has not been invited to do target acquisition for the U.S. Air Force.

Well, why not Iran? After all, once a U.S. proconsul is installed in Baghdad, Iran will be surrounded by U.S. military power in Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, the Arabian Sea, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Why not do Iran after Iraq?

The are problems, however, with this scenario. Iran is three times as large and populous as Iraq, and more Iranians will likely fight for Islam than Iraqis were willing to fight for Saddam. Who will be our allies in this war? Tony Blair, who just survived a near-death experience? On what authority would we confront Iran? Tehran has not defied 18 U.N. resolutions.

In short, if Bush is going to pursue the Kristol-Perle-Ledeen policy, he will have to go it alone – against Europe and the Islamic world, the U.N. and the “international community.” Is Bush up to it, when the war on Iraq – a country ruled by a tyrant out of central casting – ignited anti-American convulsions worldwide, including huge demonstrations in the United States?

A second candidate for pre-emptive war is North Korea. Compared to Pyongyang, Tehran is the Garden of Eden. And while Iran may be challenging the Bush Doctrine by building nuclear reactors and mining uranium, Kim Jong-Il has been spitting his defiance in our face. Thus far, we have been politely wiping it off.

The trouble with North Korea, though, is that this regime may not only have atomic weapons, it has hundreds of missiles that can rain death and destruction on South Korea and Japan, and 11,000 artillery pieces that can put scores of thousands of shells on U.S. troops, on the DMZ and in the suburbs of Seoul on day one of the war.

Nor is there any diplomatic support from China, Russia, Japan or South Korea for confrontation with the North.

What President Bush is faced with is one of those computer chess games, where defeating it in stage one and two is easy, but stages three, four and five become progressively more difficult. He took down the Taliban regime with almost no casualties. Taking down Saddam required a quarter of a million men. What will it take to take down Iran or North Korea, or both? Can Americans be persuaded that these regimes had something to do with 9-11 and must be smashed, else we are not safe?

Then there is the Bush pledge to Blair and the Arabs to bring Sharon around to signing on to the “road map” for peace. Can that commitment be honored if Sharon balks?

What do we do if the Turks decide their vital interest in not having an independent Kurdistan requires a permanent Turkish army presence in northern Iraq?

After Baghdad falls – and that battle is still ahead as of this writing – the big decisions come. Those toasts to America’s future wars at that AEI breakfast may have been premature.

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