After 9/11, Administration neo-cons offered a “noble lie” to sell the public on the need to invade and occupy Iraq (The Iraqis will shower our troops with flowers and kisses). The same group has invented a new “virtuous prevarication” to build support for an attack on Syria. Ignoring recent testimony by CIA Director Porter J. Goss that “Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists” (Washington Post, February 17, 2005), this group of high US officials in Defense, State and the Vice President’s office have organized a “get Syria” movement.
Without evidence, US officials accused Damascus of responsibility for the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, and of sponsoring terrorism in Iraq as well.
Anti-Syria rhetoric followed from the Iraq precedent. Following the 9/11 attacks, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and then-Defense Policy Board Chair Richard Perle found they could convince President Bush to switch from traditionalist (do little) policy to aggressively asserting naked military power.
Altering Teddy Roosevelt’s policy advice by speaking loudly and also carrying a big stick, these neo-cons replaced truth with “myth-making.” The neo-cons shared a common guru, former University of Chicago political philosopher Leo Strauss. Under Strauss’ neo-platonic model, a governing elite wields power and utilizes the “noble lie” to guide imperial ideology. Beyond sharing a common understanding of the Straussian fundamentals of political rule, the neo-cons also share enthusiasm for aggressive Israeli policies.
In the early 1990s, they sold Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfled on this strategy. After 9/11, Cheney and Rumsfeld used their positions as Vice President and Defense Secretary to sell Bush on the new approach. From that time on, official statements utilized the neo-con “noble lie”: Saddam Hussein backed the 9/11 terrorists and possessed WMDs and planned to share them with terrorists; thus, the US had to stop him. Repeat it and report it in the press and the public will believe it. Pro-Israel media acolytes like the NY Times’ Judith Miller obliged the neo-cons in manufacturing “evidence” of an “enemy” that the public could effortlessly hate.
By late 2004, the White House admitted that Saddam had neither WMDs nor links to the 9/11 fiends. Logically, Bush should have fired this gang for involving the country in the Iraqi morass. Instead, their disastrous Iraqi performance brought the neo-cons even more clout in the second Bush Administration. Using their spin-mastery to inflame opinion, the neo-cons invented new “black hats” Iran and Syria.
The neo-cons also stage-managed facts in the aftermath of the February 14 assassination of Hariri, who had demanded that Syrian troops leave Lebanon, so as to point the accusatory finger at the Bashar al-Assad government. Even after Assad condemned the murder as a “horrible crime,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled the US Ambassador to Syria for “consultations,” while threats of possible US military action emanated from neo-con offices in Washington.
Spun properly, Hariri’s murder transcended the commonplace assassinations in the Middle East and became an international cause célèbre. The neo-cons correctly counted on the media to maintain “temporal atrophy.” The press neither commented on how assassinating one’s “enemies” impacted the rule of law, nor on how routine extra-judicial assassinations by Israel and the United States had become.
Bush revealed in his 2003 State of the Union address that “more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way– they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.” What a lesson to teach!
Had the media reported Hariri’s assassination as just another probable state-sponsored execution, it would have stripped both shock value and the veneer of moral indignation from Bush’s reaction.
But it didn’t. So, the anti-Syria theme escalated. Bush had already used his February 2005 State of the Union address to confront “regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region.”
The next day, Wolfowitz told Senate Armed Services Committee members that Syria should stop “destabilize[ing] Iraq” as if Syria, not the United States, invaded Iraq in March 2003 without UN Security Council authorization.
The Senate panel’s curiosity did not extend to asking Wolfowitz about Israeli destabilization of Lebanon during the 1980s or how Israeli-backed Phalangist militias massacred thousands of Palestinian refugees in 1982 at Sabra and Shatila.
Indeed, historical amnesia after Hariri’s murder permitted Bush officials to sanctimoniously demand that Congress warn Syria to end her “occupation” of Lebanon and support Lebanese “sovereignty.” Even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who commanded Israeli military operations in Lebanon in 1982, made such a demand.
What Chutzpah! Sharon demands Syrian withdrawal while Israel continues its 38-year occupation of Palestinian territories, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Indeed, Israel still occupies Syria’s Golan Heights in violation of UN Security Council resolution 497.
Another part of the “noble lie” relates to the threat Syria’s 14,000 troops poses to Lebanese “sovereignty.” In fact, the bilateral agreement between Lebanon and Syria to station troops resulted directly from the prior destabilization of Lebanon by Israel, the United States, France and to a lesser extent Syria whose interests are directly affected by Lebanese instability.
But who benefits? Without a context, official US language makes it seem as if Lebanon and the United States would gain from hostility toward evil Syria. On February 8, Secretary of State Rice called Syria “unhelpful in a number ways.” Did she mean to include Syria’s post 9/11 assistance in providing US intelligence with information that saved American lives by preventing an Al Qaeda attack on the US Fleet in Bahrain?
Did she refer to Syria’s help in arresting Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German citizen accused of recruiting some 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg? Indeed, did Rice also suffer terminal forgetfulness?
The State Department affirmed on April 30, 2003: “The Government of Syria has cooperated significantly with the United States and other foreign governments against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations and individuals.” More recently, Damascus cooperated by closing holes in the porous Iraqi-Syrian border.
Syria learned: no good deed goes unpunished. Syria still remains on the State Department’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism. In November 2003, Congress passed without debate the Syria Accountability Act. No Member publicly referred to Syria’s anti-terrorist efforts. Yet, the bill charged Syria without citing evidence — with “harboring terrorists,” “developing weapons of mass destruction” and “occupying Lebanon.” On May 12, 2004, Bush banned US exports to Syria and Syrian aircraft from US territory.
Following Hariri’s murder, anti-Syria rhetoric escalated. Senator George Allen (R-VA) and Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) called for sending “a message” by imposing “tough” new measures banning US business in Syria — on Damascus.
The verbal attacks coincided with demands to install “democracy.” Indeed, “democracy” had already served to cover previous US aggression. A month after the 9/11 events, Bush bombed Afghanistan “they hate us because we’re free”–despite the fact that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from oily Saudi Arabia, the US ally. Similarly, Bush “liberated Iraq” by making war the most profound violation of human rights — against the human rights abusing Hussein.
The democracy beat continues because the major media doesn’t question it. David Frum and Richard Perle (January 7, 2004 Wall St. Journal) contended in reference to Syria that, “When the door [to democracy] is locked shut by a totalitarian deadbolt, American power may be the only way to open it up.” In their 2003 book An End to Evil, Frum and Perle advocated regime change in Syria, Cuba, North Korea and Iran. In 1996, Perle and fellow neo-con Douglas Feith had projected a policy to facilitate Israel’s shaping of “its strategic environment…by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria.” In their report, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” Perle and Feith argued for the removal of “Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, an important Israeli strategic objective as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”
If rogue elements in Syrian did the Beirut murder, it was what Israeli journalist Uri Avnery’s called “an act of supreme folly, since it was obvious that it would help the Americans build up the Lebanese opposition and arouse a storm of anti-Syrian sentiment.”
Regardless of who assassinated Hariri, the deed focused world attention on a problematic Lebanese-Syrian relationship. Hariri’s death may indeed serve to catalyze a new round of US and even some European intervention in Arab affairs. The very threat of such a move has pushed Syria to talk of withdrawing its forces from Lebanon.
But as Bush descended upon Europe last week to forgive France and Germany for being right about Iraq, Europeans indicated they would proceed “cautiously in blood,” as Edmund Burke once advised.
The neo-cons awaited Bush’s return to Washington so as to proceed with their foreign policy script, oozing with “sound and fury” (Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”), which calls for burying judicious voices and replacing them with “noble lies.”
Farrah Hassen recently spent 2 months working for the United Nations Development Programme in Syria. She can be reached at: FHuisClos1944@aol.com
Saul Landau directs Digital Media at Cal Poly Pomona University. He and Farrah Hassen made the 2004 film: SYRIA: BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE.