If Syria’s Bashar Assad was behind the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri of Lebanon, he is, in the edited version of Gen. Tommy Franks’ phrase, “the dumbest … man on the planet.”
The Beirut car-bombing that killed Hariri smashed Assad’s hope of any rapprochement with the United States, forced him into a collision with President Bush, united the Lebanese in rage at Damascus and their own pro-Syrian government, and coalesced world pressure on Assad to get his 15,000 troops out of Lebanon.
The blowback from this atrocity, fully predictable, is Syria’s isolation. Hence, it makes no sense for Bashar to have done it. Nor is this his style. Unlike his father, Bashar Assad has no history of ordering terror attacks.
Cui bono — Who benefits? — is a question that must ever be asked about Middle Eastern terror. Did those who planned and perpetrated this atrocity seek not only the elimination of the pro-Saudi and pro-American Hariri, but a U.S.-Syria confrontation that immediately followed?
If an independent investigation points to Syrian complicity, Assad must be held accountable. But President Bush would be wise to suspend judgment and take no rash action. For this atrocity has the look of a false-flag operation to goad a volatile president into an attack on Syria. And, indeed, the cries are coming from the predictable quarters for Bush to let the missiles fly.
Before following this counsel, President Bush should consult with his father about the greatest blunder of Reagan’s first term.
Following the assassination of Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel and dozens of others by a bomb planted on the roof of his Phalange Party headquarters, Reagan was persuaded to send in the Marines. A massive truck-bombing of their barracks followed, slaughtering 241. After U.S. air and naval strikes, America withdrew in humiliation. Today, the same voices that urged Reagan to go in — and condemn him still for pulling out — are whispering in Bush’s ear that war on Syria is the way to win the war on Iraq.
The Syrians, understandably fearful of a U.S. attack, have run to Tehran. This has further infuriated the War Party to urge Bush to attack both and settle our rogue-state problem once and for all. Before Bush walks up this primrose path a second time, he should remember what happened when he took a walk with them before.
If the testimony of CIA chief Porter Goss and the director of defense intelligence, Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, is accurate, we are less secure today than before we invaded Iraq. “Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists,” Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.
“These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism. … They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries.”
Jacoby echoed Goss: “Our policies in the Middle East fuel Islamic resentment. … Overwhelming majorities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia believe the U.S. has a negative policy toward the Arab world.”
Here, then, is the abbreviated balance sheet on Bush’s war.
On the profit side, Saddam is gone and we shall soon have a Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad with strong ties to Iran, which will invite us to go home. The future of Iraq is, at this point, unknowable.
But the losses are known. Two years after invading, we have 1,500 dead, 10,000 wounded, and no end in sight to the fighting and dying. We have killed scores of thousands of Iraqis, crippled our alliances and bred hatred of America across the Islamic world. We are $300 billion deeper in debt. And the War Party, which was 100 percent wrong about Iraq, is telling Bush the right thing to do is to attack Syria and Iran.
To double one’s energy when one has lost sight of his goal is a definition of fanaticism. For America’s good and his own legacy, President Bush must cease listening to those who have an agenda — ideological or otherwise — other than the national interests of the United States.
There is no vital U.S. interest in Lebanon. There is no vital U.S. interest in the Gulf other than oil, which the Arabs and Iran have to sell to us and wish to sell to us. No Arab nation has attacked the United States since the Barbary pirates, and none wants war with America. Only Osama, Sharon and the neoconservatives look longingly to a “World War IV” and a “clash of civilizations” between America and Islam.
If FDR can negotiate with Stalin and Nixon with Mao, and this White House can deal with Kadafi and Kim Jong Il, George Bush can talk with Assad of Syria and Khatami of Iran to prevent a wider war for which the costs in blood and treasure would be far higher and the benefits even less than from this misbegotten war in Iraq.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.