Across the Bay

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Another Threat by Assad?

Readers might remember how after Bashar Assad ordered the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, many a pundit (including a certain blogger who acts as the regime's propagandist in the US) sought to examine the context leading to the assassination, and concluded that one of the reasons for the assassination was that Hariri was really the man behind UNR 1559 (some called it "his baby"). The whole point was a post factum justification of the murder (as that certain blogger in fact ended up doing in one post, in a typically dishonest and indirect way). Of course, Assad's pitbulls had already done that in the run-up to the assassination, which was understood as message that Hariri was now a marked man, with the justification for his murder already established by Assad.

So now I come across this op-ed published in al-Hayat (May 25) and penned by (or at least carrying the byline of) the regime's most tortured and inadequate apologist, its inimitable ambassador in the US, Imad Mustapha.

The piece is an open attack on the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, whom the regime and its sycophants have been attacking relentlessly in the openly expressed desire to topple him and the Lebanese government (as well as the parliamentary majority):

Let us begin by saying frankly and unequivocally that we in Damascus believe that whoever goes to the United States to instigate against us from all its [US] forums and on every possible occasion is not someone who is keen to establish cordial and sound relations with Damascus.

Seniora, then, is "instigating a hostile foreign power against Syria." That was the justification for Hariri's murder, and, e.g., is the charge leveled against Kamal Labwani (which potentially carries the death sentence), and indeed against Walid Jumblat for remarks he made to the Washington Post that were seen by the regime as "instigating a hostile foreign power to attack Syria."

Mustapha continues, first with the typical propaganda (which could also be read regularly on a certain blog), and then with the attack against Seniora:

Whether the Arab reader agrees with the policies of Damascus or not, we expect him to at least be fair and show the minimum level of political awareness that allows him to realize that the relations between Damascus and Washington have reached the highest level of difficulty because of two basic matters, compared to which all other issues are insignificant: Syria's position toward both the Iraqi and Palestinian issues.

With our due respect to any Arab brother who might not accept our position toward these two issues; out of our understanding that some may not like Syria's options concerning these two issues; and out of our acceptance of their declared and undeclared criticism of us regarding these two issues, we believe that differences within the one Arab family are an acceptable reality, which can be handled. Conversely, we do not respect some of them trying to exploit the serious deterioration in the Syrian-US relations to attack Syria from US forums, thinking that the US politicians today like to hear this and that this may increase their political assets in Washington and win them the approval and favor of the great master.

I wish I could say that the oblique reference at the end to Bashar's "slave of a slave" slandering of Seniora was cute, but frankly there is nothing cute about any of these thugs and their mouth pieces.

After making a disingenuous ode to Michel Aoun, Mustapha continue with the attack only this time not just on Seniora, but the entire "March 14" coalition:

We have become fed up with the repeated statement by the symbols of the ruling majority in Lebanon that Lebanon cannot be ruled against Syria. They are saying this at the same time when they are skillfully leading a fierce and rabid campaign against Syria, its government, and president. This applies to all the symbols of this trend without exception. They have gone stages past the principles of political rivalry and even past what might be acceptable in the typical political wrangling among rivals.

Once again the same accusation is made. Ironically, the piece came out on exactly the same day as Speaker Nabih Berri, trying to play middleman, reiterated the line that was supposedly given to him by Assad that "Damascus' doors are open to any Lebanese politician, including Seniora, so there is no need to further tense up the air between the two countries." It was a slap in his face and it undermined his position.

Mustapha cannot resist taking a swipe at Walid Jumblat, who is being openly targeted by the regime, and it is common news that he is marked for assassination:

This includes, among other things, the fact that one of their key figures, who came to Washington several months ago and spoke at the Chaim Saban Center in Washington on 6 March 2006 -- one year after the complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon -- said: "I came to the United States to ask for its help against the Syrian dictatorship ... Can the US policy, in cooperation with the Arabs, change the behavior of the Syrian regime? The Syrians are smuggling terrorists and takfiris into Lebanon, just as they did in Iraq ... your policy in Iraq allowed the Syrians to play [games] in Iraq. I advise you to take advantage of the defection of Mr Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, for he might one day play an important role in the transitional stage in Syria ... that is why I say that I have no objection to the United States trying to do something to change the behavior of the Syrian regime."

It is realistic not to ignore the fact that this prominent national Lebanese leader has differences with Syria and that his political calculations allow him, according to his logic, to exploit the current political situation between Damascus and Washington to score points, which he believe would enhance his political and electoral position in Lebanon. We leave it to the intelligent reader to evaluate his repeated accusations regarding the Syrian role in Iraq, which most US officials themselves stopped repeating and which he makes to curry favor [with the United States] and win the approval of the experts at the Chaim Saban Center in Washington.

In case you didn't know, the repetition of the name "Chaim Saban" (as opposed to, say, "Brookings") and the point about "winning the approval of the experts at the Chaim Saban Center" is a crude anti-Semitic remark about how Jumblat is seeking to please and instigate Jews against Syria. I.e., Jumblat is an agent of the Jews. (I'm just disappointed that Mustapha lumped Flynt Leverett in there, considering how he's been one of the loudest of the Bashar cheerleaders. But then again, Martin Indyk blasted Bashar recently, so Brookings got its comeuppance!)

This charge (which for the Baathist thugs is the highest charge of treason, thus warranting death) has been levelled at Jumblat before, both at Hezbollah rallies and also in those "spontaneous" pro-regime rallies in Damascus, where caricatures of Jumblat, Minsiter Marwan Hamade, and the late MP Gebran Tueini, all depicted as consipring evil Jewish rabbis, were paraded. Hamade has been targeted by Assad before the murder of Hariri. Hamade miraculously escaped death. Gebran Tueni wasn't so lucky, and he was killed the day after Detlev Mehlis submitted his second report to the UNSC. It was a message that is being repeated here, as I will explain.

I won't stop at the Iraq refrain, as that certain blogger has done nothing else but repeat the official line on this issue (of course, after speaking from every possible side of his mouth). Instead, I'll stop at the redirection of the attack at Seniora.

After lambasting Jumblat, Mustapha actually reserves his venom for Seniora:

We come now to the high-ranking Lebanese official, who at first glance looks more intelligent and cunning than his previously mentioned colleague. But the intelligence he is trying to show in his continuing flowery talk about his belief in the need to improve the Syrian-Lebanese relations no longer deceives anyone, neither in Syria, nor anywhere else in the world. All the US politicians I know and who followed his statements and interviews in the US media were unanimous that he did more damage to Syria's reputation in the United States than did his previously mentioned colleague, whom they described as an untrustworthy loudmouth.

So Seniora is even "more cunning" than the treacherous puppet of the Jews, Jumblat. Not only that, Mustapha asserts that Seniora has done "more damage" than the "loudmouth" Jumblat. After going through choice quotes from Seniora's public appearances on talk shows and in interviews, Mustapha insinuates that what he told US officials must then be infinitely more vicious:

Those were a select host of statements which the high-ranking Lebanese officials made publicly in Washington. We leave it to the reader to imagine what happened between him and the senior US Administration officials and politicians behind closed doors; a letter can be understood from its title. We can say that the direct US escalation against Syria, which came immediately after his visit to Washington, was an outcome that is in harmony with his good efforts and his unwavering belief in the need to improve the Syrian-Lebanese relations. The jewel of the crown, however, is the Security Council resolution issued recently after his historic visit.

This is interesting, considering that Seniora had a watchman over his shoulder throughout his trip in the person of Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, who was chosen by Hezbollah to do just that! Nevertheless, the charge is repeated again, and Seniora is billed as the man who is doing the most "damage" to Syria. More than Jumblat, who is already marked for death.

And the "jewel of the crown" is the UNSCR 1680, passed recently, which is now being billed as Seniora's doing (just like 1559 was billed as Hariri's).

It's worth noting here that the recent brutal crackdown against dissidents in Syria came after they signed a joint declaration with Lebanese intellectuals calling on Syria to essentially implement the demands of the then-draft resolution, that was eventually passed as UNSCR 1680. Those demands were also the demands of the Lebanese government. The declaration was billed by the regime rags (what passes for newspapers in Baathist Syria) as the "March 14 declaration." We just witnessed what Mr. Mustapha thinks of the March 14 coalition.

Indeed, the dissidents were punished, and are now being held in jail facing trumped up charges, and even looking at life imprisonment. As one anonymous Syrian official put it, "when the regime is under outside pressure, our internal patience runs out." Therefore, as Burhan Ghalyoun recently put it, the regime, anxiously awaiting Serge Brammertz's report in two weeks, has decided to "create a kind of absolute silence" on the domestic scene. Commenting on the crackdown, Mustapha made one of the most hilarious statements by a diplomat. A classic really: "Yes, there has been a crackdown on opposition leaders in Syria," Imad Moustapha, Syrian Ambassador to the United States, told United Press International in a Wednesday interview. "But," he added, "it is not the long-term policy of Syria." No wonder his schedule is so booked these days in Washington! It reminded me of probably one of the funniest golden nuggets by Fayez Sayegh, a spokesman from the Syrian Ministry of Information, who, commenting on Bashar's "reformist policies," was quoted as saying: "It's an example of the enlightened policy of openness. From time to time people will be released."

So if this was the fate of the domestic dissidents, then one wonders about the "engineer" of UNR 1680, keeping in mind not just Hariri and 1559, but also the message sent via Gebran Tueni after Mehlis' second report. After all, as Mustapha put it, "we are here talking exclusively about the incitement undertaken by some Lebanese Government leaders against Syria in the United States and at the Security Council."

And in case you stil haven't caught his drift, Mustapha asks the following question:

We pose the following question to this high-ranking Lebanese Government official: "If your statements, incitement, and the amazing accomplishments you made in your latest visit to Washington were not the best example of how Lebanon can be ruled against Syria, then give us one different example and enlighten us so we may get the benefit and learn?

In other words, the case against Seniora is locked as far as Assad is concerned (we sort of knew that anyway, you know, when Syria's sycophants took to the streets and called for the toppling of the Seniora government).

In case you had any doubts, the anti-Semitic slur against Jumblat was then thrown at Seniora through a reference to John Bolton, who in Mustapha's and Hezbollah's vocabulary is synonymous with "the Jews" (he is a "neocon" after all!).

And if you still don't get the message, Mustapha writes this, discussing the issue of diplomatic representation: "The only US interest in the exchange of diplomatic relations between countries has until recently been confined to Israel and to whoever exchanges or does not exchange diplomatic relations with it." (hint, hint!)

If that's not enough, then this should bring everything together:

The efforts of that official, which prompted the United States and France to issue a strange, historically unprecedented resolution encouraging Syria to establish relations with Lebanon, reveal what he exactly wants. He wants to create all the possible obstacles to the development of these relations and the opening of embassies. The political climate that this resolution created is exactly the same climate that does not encourage any two governments in the world to begin an exchange of diplomatic relations.

Seniora is therefore not just the godfather of UNR 1680, he is also the obstacle to the "development of relations" between Lebanon and Syria. Mustapha then dishes out that typical regime venom and sarcastically wishes Seniora "more victorious conquests." (I.e., Seniora is leading a war against Syria.)

I don't know about you, but much of this sounds like a thinly veiled threat. Seniora gets the treatment of the Israelis by Mustapha (or whoever wrote that piece and published it under his name). He's Public Enemy #1.

If that threat wasn't enough, the message was repeated by Hezbollah's Hasan Nasrallah. He in effect "decoded" it: "[stop] resorting to the Security Council and the Great Powers to solve the problems between Syria and Lebanon, because this complicates matters," adding, "if we want war with Syria, then let's continue resorting to the Security Council and Ms. Condoleezza Rice, but if we want normal and special relations between Lebanon and Syria, then these relations are achieved through the will and acceptance of both sides, and cannot be imposed." (Emphasis added. Actually, for the "declaration of war" reference, that certain blogger made that message clear even before Nasrallah in one of his posts using an almost identical line for the title.) Abu Kais recently wrote about one manifestation of this war.

In other words, if Mustapha's (or whoever it was) screed was too complicated for you, Nasrallah just made it much easier: if you keep going to the UN (hence Seniora is the godfather of UNSCR 1680), then this means a declaration of war as far as Assad is concerned. Put differently, keep doing this and Assad will unnleash his war. I.e., a word to the wise: You, Mr. Seniora, are worse than Jumblat. You are the most "cunning" instigator against Syria. Look at what happened to Hariri and then Tueni. As for the rest of the Lebanese, Bashar will not relent until a coup is enacted in Lebanon that restablishes his dominance and brings to power those of whom he approves. Which makes rather amusing, and quite frankly utterly sinister despite its seeming stupidity, the genius thesis that the propagandist blogger floated around the US, that "Bashar gave up Lebanon to win Damascus." Sure he did.

So as we've been saying all along (contra the propagandist blogger and his "50% justice" theory), Bashar is playing a zero-sum game. It's quite obvious to any honest observer with half a brain. He should be dealt with according to the same logic.