“Quadrangle of Evil”?

With Monday’s assassination of the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafik Al-Hariri, former Minister Basil Fleihan, and many others in a massive car-bombing in Beirut followed immediately and reflexively by Washington’s seizure of this event to increase the tension between Damascus and itself (“U.S. Recalls Its Envoy in Syria, Linking Nation to Beirut Blast,” New York Times, Feb. 16), might it not be prudent of us to consider what the Americans have in store for Lebanon and Syria, going forward?

As the American Secretary of State explained Tuesday (“Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit After Meeting,” Feb. 15):

[A]s Resolution 1549 notes, Syria is in interference in the affairs of Lebanon. There are Syrian forces in Lebanon. Syria operates out of Lebanon.
And so when something happens in Lebanon, Syria needs to help to find accountability for what has happened there.
There is a part of the destabilization that takes place when you have the kind of conditions that you do now in Lebanon thanks to Syrian interference.
So we are united with the rest of the world in wanting a full investigation into what happened here. But there is no doubt that the conditions created by Syria’s presence there have created a destabilized situation in Lebanon.

UN Security Council Res. 1559 is an artefact of America’s dominance in the world. Nothing more. Passed by the narrowest of margins possible last September 2, resolutions like 1559 are crafted with the intent of letting them sit on the shelf and gather dust indefinitely—or at least until an event such as the Hariri assassination occurs. Then, the Americans snatch them back down again, maneuvering from behind the curtain of the Security Council and its lawmaking powers on questions of war and peace and international security to make imperious demands upon targets of opportunity. Namely: Beirut, Damascus—and any other state or non-state agent they can get their filthy hands on. (See, e.g., UNSC 1559: The Resolution Out of Nowhere, ZNet Blogs, Sept. 5, 2004.)

Thus, also Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan explained at considerable length (“Press Briefing by Scott McClellan,” Feb. 15):

Q Have you received any information that directly links Syria to the attack?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I have no update on the investigation, itself, in terms of the terrorist attack that took place yesterday. I think I’ve made that clear.
Q Because on one hand, you’re making the link between these steps that you’re taking against Syria to the fact that the attack happened. But on the other hand, you’re not linking Syria to the attack. I mean, how do you mesh the two?
MR. McCLELLAN: This was a brutal terrorist attack that took place yesterday in Lebanon on someone who had long fought for Lebanon’s freedom and sovereignty and independence from outside influence and outside interference. And the Security Council resolution that was passed last September was very clear in terms of what the expectations are with regards to Lebanon. It stated very clearly that foreign troops need to be withdrawn from Lebanon. It stated very clearly that militias need to be disbanded and disarmed. And it stated very clearly that control over Lebanon ought to be by the government of Lebanon.
And as I stated again, Syria’s continued presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force in the region, and a destabilizing force in Lebanon. Syria’s continued support for terrorism is a problem. It’s a concern that we’ve expressed directly to the government of Syria. Syria needs to change its behavior and use its influence in a constructive way to do what it can to prevent attacks like this from happening in the first place.
Q Do you suspect that Syria is behind this attack?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I would express what I have already expressed, and that’s what I — that’s what I know at this point. In terms of who is behind this attack, that’s a matter that obviously is being investigated at this time. I think it’s still premature to know who was the one responsible for the attack, itself. But Syria’s military presence there is not playing a helpful role. It is playing a destabilizing role.
Q Scott, what kind of action does the President want to see out of the United Nations Security Council, if any?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said yesterday, that we would be consulting with members of the Security Council about these issues. Those discussions are going on now. I’m going to let those discussions take place. The French are very involved in that — we appreciate their efforts, we’ve been working very closely with the French. And let’s let those discussions take place.

Of course, no one has established an authoritative and credible link between the government in Damascus and the Hariri assassination. Therefore Washington’s withdrawal of its Ambassador to Damascus, Margaret Scobey, was entirely provocative and unnecessarily confrontational—and deliberately so. Just as every print, TV, and radio report suggesting such a link has been. For the editorial voice of the Washington Post to instruct the world today that “The despicable murder of Mr. Hariri benefits no one outside the rogue regime in Damascus—and the world should respond accordingly” (“Murder in Beirut“) is, if anything, bloodier and more threatening than the rhetoric dripping from the Bush regime’s mouths. (For a much larger sample, see below.)

An official statement issued by Security Council President Joel W. Adechi (Benin) reaffirmed (among other items) “its previous calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the Security Council for the full implementation of all relevant resolutions concerning the restoration of the territorial integrity, full sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon” (SC/8310, Feb. 15). But this was but a very mild reiteration of some of the paragraphs of Res. 1559. Nothing more. One or more investigations into the Hariri assassination will go forward. And what they will turn up—we haven’t a clue.

“Israel cannot be forgiven for the blood of Hariri,” the Damascus-based newspaper Tishrin editorialzed this morning, “nor for the blood of the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian people, because [the country that] commits murder in the streets of Damascus, Beirut, Tunis, Paris and Rome is fully capable, with the technological means it possesses, to commit the attack.”

I’ve just lifted this quote from an Agence France Presse wire service report—which at least had the decency to tell us that Tishrin is a “government daily newspaper,” and therefore ought to be understood as such. Compare the way the Americans refer to the Washington Post, even though it spent the rest of this morning’s editorial dumping on the government in Damascus while praising the one in Washington for responding “assertively to this act of terrorism” and urging it to “work with France to raise the pressure on Syria to comply with Resolution 1559.”—See how much these guys like to hide behind the curtain of the Security Council?

“Who profits?” AFP reports that the Tishrin editorial asked. According to the state-media nexus that backs the regime in Washington, it is the regime in Damascus that benefits. But according to Tishrin, “The losers are Lebanon, Syria and the Arab nation, while the big winner is Israel.” (“Syria under glare of suspicion as US takes action over Hariri killing,” Agence France Presse, Feb. 16.)

All other things being equal: Which answer to these questions sounds the more plausible to you?

More ominous still, as Scott McClellan’s news conference wound down Tuesday, he was asked:

Q The President has spoken repeatedly about an “axis of evil.” With Syria’s suspected increased involvement in terrorist activities, are we now looking at a “quadrangle of evil”?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you’re looking at exactly what I said yesterday and exactly what I said today. And I think that’s how you should look at it. I know there’s an interest in this room sometimes of trying to interpret things beyond what is said, but I would encourage you to look at exactly what was said and report what was said.

Well. I have yet to determine which rising star of American journalism cooked up that gem.

Qui bono, to repeat the question of the moment.

Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-175), December 12, 2003
Fact Sheet: Implementing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, White House Office of the Press Secretary, May 11, 2004

The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony,” Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, October, 2003

Resolution 1559 (2004) Adopted by Vote Of 9 in Favour, to None Against, with 6 Abstentions (SC/8181), UN Security Council, September 2, 2004

Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit After Meeting,” U.S. Department of State, February 15, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, February 15, 2005

Security Council Condemns Terrorist Bombing that Killed Former Lebanese Prime Minister (SC/8310), February 15, 2005
Annan hopes to see start of Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon by April,” UN News Center, February 15, 2005

Car bomb kills Lebanon’s former prime minister,” Azadeh Moaveni and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, February 14, 2005

Assassination in Beirut,” Dan Ephron, Boston Globe, February 15, 2005
Bomb strains Syria-Lebanon ties,” Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 2005
Syria accused of killing Lebanon’s ex-leader,” Ramsay Short and Anton La Guardia, Daily Telegraph, February 15, 2005
Battlefield in a larger conflict,” David Hirst, The Guardian, February 15, 2005
Beirut’s Fragile Peace Hit by Bomb Attack,” Carolynne Wheeler and Julian Borger, The Guardian, February 15, 2005
The Killing of Mr. Lebanon,” Robert Fisk, The Independent, February 15, 2005
Blast Stirs Dark Memories, Solidarity,” Rania Abouzeid, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2005
Car Bomb Kills Ex-Premier,” Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, February 15, 2005
U.S. Seems Sure of the Hand Of Syria, Hinting at Penalties,” Steven R. Weissman, New York Times, February 15, 2005
Former premier assassinated as the bombers return to Beirut,” Nicholas Blanford, The Times, February 15, 2005
Blast Kills Ex-Premier In Lebanon,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 15, 2005

“Syria under glare of suspicion as US takes action over Hariri killing,” Agence France Presse, February 16, 2005
Murder of PM turns the heat on Syria,” Roy Eccleston and Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian, February 16, 2005
US recalls envoy to Syria over Lebanon murder,” Anton La Guardia and Ramsay Short, Daily Telegraph, February 16, 2005
Hand of Damascus seen behind Hariri killing,” Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, February 16, 2005
US ratchets up the pressure on Syria,” Guy Dinmore and James Harding, Financial Times, February 16, 2005
US pulls envoy from Syria after Beirut bombing,” Carolynne Wheeler, The Guardian, February 16, 2005
“US recalls Damascus envoy as blame for Beirut assassination falls upon Syria,” Robert Fisk, The Independent, February 16, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
U.S. Recalls Ambassador to Syria as Suspicions Over Bombing Grow,” Megan K. Stack and Rania Abouzeid, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2005
The Devil We Know in Lebanon,” Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2005
U.S. Recalls Its Envoy in Syria, Linking Nation to Beirut Blast,” Steven R. Weisman and Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, February 16, 2005
Blood, Smoke and Tears in Beirut,” Andrew Exum, New York Times, February 16, 2005
A killing alters the landscape,” Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, February 16, 2005
Syrians feel heat from U.S.,” Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce, Newsday, February 16, 2005
Bush pulls envoy, challenges Syrian conduct,” Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 2005
Outraged Bush turns up heat on Damascus after bomb,” Roland Watson, The Times, February 16, 2005
U.S. pulls envoy from Syria,” Tim Harper, Toronto Star, February 16, 2005
Lebanese Warn Of Parallels to 1970s Volatility,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 16, 2005
U.S. and U.N. Step Up Pressure on Damascus,” Robin Wright, Washington Post, February 16, 2005
Murder in Beirut,” Editorial, Washington Post, February 16, 2005

UNSC 1559: The Resolution Out of Nowhere, ZNet Blogs, September 5, 2004
This Masquerade, ZNet Blogs, October 22, 2004
Governments of Confrontation, ZNet Blogs, October 26, 2004

FYA (“For your archives”): A copy of Robert Fisk’s report from today. The damned London Independent won’t provide a link to it without money being involved. So I can’t share a link to Fisk’s report with you here. You’ll have to settle for the text itself.

The Independent (London)
February 16, 2005, Wednesday
SECTION: First Edition; FOREIGN NEWS; Pg. 23
HIGHLIGHT: A Beirut resident grieves as Lebanese soldiers guard the site where Rafik Hariri was killed Andan Hajj Ali

THEY WILL bury Rafik Hariri today beside the city he rebuilt and next to the ruins of the Roman columns that made ancient Beirut famous. But his violent death on Monday has repercussions that go far further east than Lebanon or the Roman empire; for his killing is intimately linked to the insurgency in Iraq – and President Bush’s belief that Syria is encouraging the guerrilla war against US troops in the country.

American pressure on Syria to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon – a cause that Mr Hariri, for quite different reasons, supported – is part of Washington’s attempt to smother Syria’s supposed sympathy for the bloody and increasingly efficient insurgency in Iraq.

Last night, Washington announced the withdrawal of its ambassador to Damascus. It was the clearest sign so far that the US is going to accuse Syria of Mr Hariri’s murder.

Israel, predictably, chose the same moment to add new pre-conditions for any peace talks with Syria: expulsions of “terrorist headquarters” from Damascus, “allow the Lebanese Army to deploy its forces along the border with Israel”, and “end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon”.

Israel, which occupied part of Lebanon for 24 years, then demanded the “expulsion” of Iranian Revolutionary Guards – who in reality left Lebanon more than 15 years ago. In harness with the Americans, the Israeli threat – especially the specious references to Iranians no longer in Lebanon – represents a grave deepening of the crisis.

Hariri’s burnt body – he died with six of his bodyguards, a paramedic who always accompanied him and at least seven civilians in a car bomb on Monday – will be laid to rest beside the monster – some say monstrous – Sunni Muslim mosque that he built in central Beirut, a building which dwarfs the surrounding Crusader churches and restored French mandate buildings.

The tomb will be concreted into place within direct sight of the post- civil war Garden of Forgiveness and the restored but still bullet-riddled monument to the Lebanese martyrs of 1915 and 1916 who were hanged by the Ottoman Turks for demanding Lebanese independence.

The Arab Muslim hero Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders, was buried in the Omayad mosque in Damascus. The billionaire tycoon Rafik Hariri will lie just outside the almost equally large – if much less beautiful – Mohamed Amin Mosque in Beirut.

He who defeated the Middle Ages European empire in the Middle East gave inspiration to the family of the Arab whose business empire swamped Lebanon. But it is the American empire in the region which provided the setting for his death.

Iyad Allawi, the former CIA and MI5 agent, appointed interim Prime Minister of Iraq by the United States, is himself half Lebanese, his mother coming from the esteemed Shia Muslim Osseiran family; Hariri knew him well.

The former Lebanese prime minister also privately acknowledged the United States was threatening sanctions against Syria – and attacking its military presence in Lebanon – because of its contention that Syria was helping the Iraqi insurgents. As usual, Lebanon had become a battlefield for other people’s wars.

And Hariri was a giant on that battlefield. He had many good friends in Syria but enemies too. And he understood all too well that the Bush administration wanted – in more than one country – to combine its “war on terror” with its campaign for “democracy” in the Middle East. If Iraq could be invaded for democracy while forming a front line in the “war on terror” – however delusionary this was – then Syria’s presence in Lebanon seemed to mirror the same set of circumstances. Syria supported “terrorism”, or at least, sponsored militants that were opposed to Israel, while occupying a neighbouring country, Lebanon, against international law.

Once George Bush and President Jacques Chirac – Hariri’s close personal friend – pushed through UN Security Council resolution 1559, calling for Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon, Damascus found itself facing a miniature version of Saddam Hussein’s predicament in 2003: submit to UN resolutions or else.

Lebanon’s forthcoming elections, in which anti-Syrian candidates fear the pro-Syrian Lebanese government will gerrymander electoral boundaries to deprive them of parliamentary seats, dovetailed neatly with the US neoconservative demand for so-called democracy in the Arab world.

That this also served Israel’s interests – a substantially demilitarised Lebanon, the disarmament of the Hizbollah guerrilla movement and the humiliation of Syria – was never allowed to become part of the narrative.

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