Rolling Back Syria

The Syria verdict is out. In fact, it has been out for years, long before German investigator-judge Detlev Mehlis inundated us with the findings of his ground shaking report regarding who planned, funded and carried out the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri on February 14.

There is little that Syria can say or do to keep the hordes at bay, save offerings of stern political concessions, mainly to Israel and the United States, a response that somehow seems irreconcilable with the crisis at hand.

Attempts to reduce the dispute invited by the killing of Hariri to that of a foreign power’s resolve on vulgarly micromanaging the inner politics of its weaker neighbor to serve its own interests are unrelenting. Yet, few are willing or even interested in pondering the general atmosphere surrounding the political row invited by Hariri’s death.

Predictably, the particulars of Syrian-Lebanese relations are too complex to be rashly addressed with a few assertions. However, it is important to note that the intricacies of that relationship extend beyond recent events: being Hariri’s murder and its aftermath.

For decades, Lebanon has been the stage for a regional and international power play, in which various Arab countries, Israel and the US have been engrossed. These power brokers manipulated the countries’ political alliances, poured in money, supplied weapons, helped validate some players within the unfolding Lebanese drama, and marginalized others. While Syria had its own inventory of alliances, Israel had and still maintains some proxies, as well as Washington with its right wing Lebanese Christians, Iran its militias, and even Iraq, during the Baath party reign, had its share of meddling.

The PLO was also a significant power broker throughout the 1970’s, until the deadly Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which killed tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians. Since then, Palestinians have been confined to their refugee camps following the expulsion of PLO forces to various world-capitals.

Considering that nearly all of the competing forces on the Lebanon stage, whether internally or externally, maintain their interests in the country’s affairs, thus involvement, it’s unscrupulous, to say the least, to heap the criticism on Syria alone for Lebanon’s misfortunes, past and present, and to solely single out Damascus as the only likely suspect in Hariri’s murder. It’s ironic that those who have for long contributed to Lebanon’s demise are now the main players in leading the fault-finding chorus, demanding justice and the ‘truth’.

This should not in any way suggest that Syria’s record in Lebanon was a shining example of courtesy and decency. Syria’s thrust in Lebanon had little to do with alleviating the country’s woes. It certainly had more to do with sheltering and benefiting Syria itself, an objective that often lead to abuses of power, unwarranted interference in Lebanon’s political affairs and ultimately to near complete hegemony over the country’s sovereignty.

But to act as if the international uproar lead by the Bush Administration, more specifically the pro-Israeli elements within the administration, is a sincere endeavor to unmask the truth and bring Hariri’s murderers to justice is to succumb yet to another mockery as sizeable as that of Iraq’s alleged WMDs.

The Bush Administration, which began ‘rallying’ the international community to isolate, sanction and mull over military action ‘as a last resort’ against Syria, is itself a barefaced violator of human rights, a burden felt almost exclusively by Arab and Muslim nations. Coincidently, as American diplomats are now stampeding to bring ‘the perpetrators of Hariri’s killing to justice’ as phrased by the State Department – administration officials are pressuring Congressional lawmakers to exempt the CIA from a proposed ban on the “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone held by US authorities, mostly Arabs and Muslims.

It’s obvious to those familiar with US foreign policy in the Middle East that Bush’s sudden interest in ‘justice’ is spatially and temporally unique in the Lebanon scenario, with the purpose of molding Lebanon into another ‘friendly’ regime to join the many others circulating within the American sphere. The crowd that would likely be in charge of operating the Lebanon project are ironically, the same individuals that drafted and pushed for anti-Syria policies in Washington, most notably the so-called Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, which was cemented by American sanctions and a US-led international campaign to expel Syria out of Lebanon.

It was certainly no secret that the act was the joint efforts and handy work of right wing Christian Lebanese individuals, pro-Israeli key members of the Bush Administration and the Israeli lobby, whose keenness in ‘rolling back’ Syria is unrivalled.

It’s interesting, and even more disturbing how the US foreign policy approach to Syria has remained consistent with the infamous report prepared for the Israeli government in 1996, by the same individuals who successfully managed to manipulate US foreign policy to build a case for war on Iraq, namely Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, among others. “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” counseled that “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.”

The policy report recommended that Israel should establish “the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces.” The bloody hands behind Hariri’s murder are, so it seems, the least relevant detail, as far as Israel and the Bush Administration are concerned. The Hariri killing was more of an opportunity to further ‘contain’ and extract more concessions from Damascus, concessions that are likely to be generously offered, now that Syria is a lone ranger in the face of the Israeli and American storm.

Considering the non-existent Arab front in halting the encroaching anti-Syrian crusade and the reckless and self-destructive foreign policy practiced by the Bush Administration, Syria will most likely be forced to offer exhaustive concessions in order to be spared the same campaign that was unleashed on Iraq years before the 2003 invasion. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has given many signs that he will do all that it takes to spare his country the feared calamity.

Syria is expected to eliminate any influence it might still maintain over Lebanon, expel Palestinian factions that oppose the Israeli occupation and prepare to accept Israel’s own interpretation of a suitable resolution to the Occupied Golan Heights conflict.

Interestingly, these are all but American concerns. The US call on Damascus to fully cooperate in its war on terror has long been satisfied; the US contentment with Syria’s ongoing cooperation was registered in a State Department acknowledgement in April 2003 and later dates. Syria’s fallout is evidently with Israel, not the United States.

The German judge who is leading the international investigation into the assassination of Hariri might have indeed been accurate and honest in his assessment that led him to construe a Syrian role in the murder. But one should be wary of overstating the rapport between that alleged involvement and the campaign to pressure Syria on a vast range of issues, of which Hariri’s death is a minor detail, a pretext at best.

RAMZY BAROUD, veteran Arab American journalist, teaches mass communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. His forthcoming book, “Writings on the Second Palestinian Uprising” is being published by Pluto Press in London. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of PalestineChronicle.com



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Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

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