Across the Bay

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

More Reactions and Analysis


      Res dura et regni novitas ...

      Virgil, The Aeneid

This is a simple, non-comprehensive round-up. I'll add more later. First, Josh Landis bravely commented on the assassination, pointing the finger in the right direction despite the fact that he's in the belly of the beast right now. (see also his first post here). I think the best line in there comes from Josh's exchange with his wife:

    [W]hy would [Bashar] do this? It is not like him. This is something that Saddam or Qadhafi would do, not Bashar. It will bring the whole world down on him. If the UN imposes sanctions, it will kill Syria and everything Bashar has been trying to achieve. He doesn’t need force to control Lebanon.

The Bashar-as-reformer myth is shattered. Like I said, nothing of this magnitude goes down without Bashar's knowledge and ok. He has his hands all over this one. It's a decision made at the very top. And at this stage, Bashar has only force to work with in Lebanon. That's precisely the point! I completely disagree with Josh's doubt that Bashar is not in control. Ever since I came back from my trip to Lebanon, and after talking to certain people there, I've long abandoned that theory. In fact, I've heard that some opposition figures are saying that the bomb was placed in the asphalt and wired, not radio triggered. Which would explain the crater, but also why they got through Hariri's electronic devices designed to prevent radio controlled bombs. This (Arabic) An-Nahar story also mentions the possibility of the bomb having been planted in an underground tunnel. And this decision was taken at the very top. But this is not yet confirmed. However, the sense is that Bashar is in complete control of the Lebanon dossier, especially at this level of action.

Josh then nails it on the head with regard to the choice of Hariri, which is something I discussed in the update to my last post (and my discussion of the elections and the make-up of the opposition):

    I suggested that perhaps no one sees Jumblat as a real threat. The Druze are only 5% of the registered voters in Lebanon. The Sunnis are roughly 23% of registered voters, and Hariri and his supporters were slated to win all of the Beirut seats in Parliament in the coming elections. They are the seats that count, and the Sunnis are the important swing factor in Lebanon. Hariri, for all intents and purposes, is the Lebanese opposition. Without him the Sunnis will be leaderless and fragmented just as they were during the Lebanese civil war.

That's certainly the point domestically. But there's also a much bigger challenge aimed at the US, as Lee has stressed. The same point was made by Larry Johnson at the counterterrorism blog:

    This car bombing was probably designed to send an unambiguous message to both Lebanese and the international community that Syria will not stand idly by and surrender to pressures from Washington, Paris, and the United Nations. Hariri, who had been staying on the sidelines in recent months as political parties in Lebanon jockeyed for position in upcoming parliamentary elections, was a convenient and potent symbol of a Lebanese power broker perceived as too close and too accommodating of Western desires. His killers are providing a simple message, Syria will not leave Lebanon without a fight and Damascus is willing to destroy Lebanon in order to save itself.
    ...
    Prior to today's bombing, some poltical analysts believed that the opposition groups were poised to secure sufficient seats in the Lebanese parliament that would effectively curtail Syria's monopoly over Lebanese politics. Now the calculus has changed. The Syrians have thrown down the guantlet and sent an unambiguous warning--oppose Syrias influence in Lebanon at your own risk.

Bingo.

Greg Djerejian hopes "that the young and relatively inexperienced Syrian President, Bashar Asad, would not have grotesquely miscalculated so as to allow his mukhabarat" to be behind Hariri's assassination. Again, Greg is taken by the enormity of the hit that he cannot bring himself to fully accept that it's Bashar. Maybe it's the intelligence services run wild. Like I said, no way. Even Josh has dismissed the idea, which crossed my mind, that this might be "the jokeying for power" in Syria -- what Greg called "the handiwork of other interests shrewdly attempting to create a crisis for Damascus" -- the equivalent of an indirect coup against Bashar. I don't think so, although the effect is political suicide. Only Bashar seems to see it differently, as Lee pointed out (see comments to my last post), this is in fact a calculated challenge that the Americans and the international community won't be able to do anything drastic. Put differently, if Bashar stays in power (buys time), that's all he's looking for. I just don't see how that can work out in the long term. Short term perhaps, but not long term. Besides, what's he going to do in the short term? He has burned all his bridges. As Joshua pointed out:

    The real question is whether the Europeans will begin a sanctions regime of their own. Much of Syrian trade and economic assistance are from Europe. It would be devastating for Syria to have it disrupted. So far there is no indication that Europe is willing to join the US in sanctions, but with France and Britain joining the US on its Lebanon policy, such a possibility is no longer unthinkable.

I think it will be more than just a matter of economic sanctions (perhaps sending UN or NATO troops to monitor the elections and the full withdrawal of the Syrian edifice?). But it all depends on the resolve and unity of the international community.

Greg also linked to this report by Roula Khalaf in the FT. It's a basic round-up, but it's solid in that it doesn't come up with insane theories, keeping the focus on the right issues.

Wretchard picks up a couple more stories, including the one by Juan Cole which should be dismissed by now, which is what Greg did. One of the pieces he links to is the following from the NYT (Josh pastes it in full on his blog):

    The Bush administration, condemning the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in Lebanon, suggested Monday that Syria was to blame and moved to get a new condemnation of Syria's domination of Lebanon at the United Nations Security Council.

    American and European officials also said the administration was studying the possibility of tougher sanctions on Syria, effectively tightening penalties imposed in May, when Washington said the Syrian government had failed to act against militant groups in Israel and against a supply line from Syria to the insurgents in Iraq.
    ...
    "We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for sure," said a senior State Department official. "It's been a pretty steady progression of pressure up to now, but I think it's going to spike in the wake of this event. Even though there's no evidence to link it to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilized." At the United Nations, the Security Council called for a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the bombing, but there was some doubt that the Council would vote to condemn Syria by name. In a resolution passed last year to condemn Syria's role in Lebanon, Syria's name was not mentioned; there was only a reference to foreign forces in Lebanon.

Yes, but last year is last year. We'll have to wait and see what turns up now.

On the issue of another civil war, which people like Cobban and el-Amrani have been propagating, I think Stacey Yadav of the al-Hiwar blog said it well in a comment to AbuAardvark's post:

    I agree that LBC's coverage has been the calmest and most rational thus far, and most of the satellite news programs (English and Arabic) are fanning this "civil disintegration" thing - I'm not convinced that this will lead to any kind of resumption of confessional fighting. Watching most of the "confessional" Lebanese stations last night, I saw pretty firm consensus that it was Syria (even an al-Manar pundit weighed in on that side). Alleged Saudi aspect aside, if people continue to believe that it was a Syrian plot (or, as Lebanese often say, "the invisible hand" - which can refer to Syria or Israel, depending on the speaker), it could galvanize the Opposition. Or intimidate its adherents.

Here's a slice of some of the popular reaction in Hariri's hometown of Sidon, as well as in Sunni-majority city of Tripoli, and the Druze-Maronite Chouf mountains. The angry Sidonians were "shouting slogans strongly denouncing several government officials, including President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Omar Karami, and Interior and Municipalities Minister Suleiman Franjieh, as well as the Syrian government." Once again, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out in the elections. The ultimate revenge would be for the Sunnis to follow the Druze example and mobilize in the opposition, causing Assad's move to backfire.

Such criticism is widespread andGhassan Tueni, in a passionate editorial harshly criticized the Syrian-installed puppet government, accusing it (and its Syrian backers) of the murder of Hariri and called for an international investigation. Tueni provocatively placed Hariri in a list of previous Syrian targets of assassination: Drue leader Kamal Jumblat (Walid's father), former president Rene Mouawwad, former president-elect Bashir Gemayel, Sunni Mufti Hasan Khaled. The inclusion of Bashir Gemayel in there is highly suggestive. Moreoever, the list is cross-sectarian, Druze, Maronite and Sunni. All are people who have criticized or opposed Syria.

The only people talking about the danger of civil war are Syria's cronies. That's rather predictable, as were the messages sent by the Syrians after the assassination (see the reference to SANA in my previous posts).

Finally, this analysis in the DS suggests that one of the possible motives (and/or consequences!) of the assassination is the postponing of the elections, or their cancellation. I think it's a bit more than that, but that might be used if the Sunnis or at least the Hariri bloc remains strong and allied with the opposition. That's why everyone from Tueni to France and the US are stressing that the elections should take place and under international scrutiny.

Oh, and just for laughs, el-Amrani has now moved from his "the Maronites might have done it" theory to "the Shiites might have done it!" Well, there are 16 sects left Issandr. Let the countdown begin. Even better are the comments by Josh Stacher:

    Just saw Scott McCellan’s press briefing.
    It seems that the White House is more interesting in repeating that Lebanon is under occupation than discussing its regret for Hariri’s assasination.
    The text is not up yet online.

    This administration is sick…..any excuse to hit the Syrians in the side.

Yeah, how terrible! This prompted Josh to write a post refuting the Syrian theory. Not only is it shallow, but he's simply incapable, for purely ideological reasons (see Leila Abu-Saba's key point about why she writes off accusations against Syria in the comments to my previous post) of making a logical and more complete argument. Take this section for instance:

    [T]here are rumors circulating already. There is something about Hariri potentially allying with Jomblat in the upcoming May elections. That may be all the motive the Western press needs. Naturally the Western media are going to argue this all happened under Syrian occupation (or the mukhaberat’s watch). So basically the Syrians did it or they knew about it or their presence created a climate that fosters such assassinations. Particularly the latter reflects the white house’s view (via the McCellan briefing) and is a logic leap. The Bush admin has gone to great lengths to argue that 9/11 was not their fault - its was Clinton’s - even though it happened on their watch. So that logic that it happened because of Syrian occupation is ideological and unrepresentative.

    Syria would have not conducted such a risky operation or tacitly let it happen in the hopes of showing that their Lebanese presence is still required. Syrian occupation of Lebanon is unlike the other two occupations in the region. It is more rooted in politics and economics and less on the military.

It's a conspiracy I tell you! Gotta love these guys! But like I said, this is strictly for laughs. I mean how can you take this nonsense seriously?

When I get more info, I'll put it up.