Hariri Killing Sure to Bolster US Hawks
or not Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind Monday's assassination
of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the car bombing
is sure to strengthen forces inside the administration of U.S. President
George W. Bush who have long argued for "regime change"
the bombing that killed Hariri, half a dozen of his bodyguards and
at least five bystanders, the balance of power between anti-Assad
hardliners and more flexible forces within the administration was
this month, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who is considered
a hawk on Damascus, even insisted to a Congressional panel that
"it is not our policy to destabilize Syria."
as suggested by Washington's abrupt withdrawal of its ambassador
in Damascus Tuesday morning, that position may well be in the process
of changing, if it hasn't changed already.
regime changers will be strengthened by this," predicted Michael
Hudson, who teaches at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He said Washington's
precipitous recalling of its ambassador signals a "decision
to really put the screws to the Syrians."
they did it, this was very stupid," said Augustus Richard Norton,
a specialist on Lebanon at Boston University, who agreed that the
balance of power within the administration will definitely shift
in favor of the hardliners.
a businessman who made a fortune in Saudi Arabia and then ruled
Lebanon for 10 of the last 15 years, enjoyed close personal ties
with French President Jacques Chirac and cultivated friendly relations
with Washington, where he owned one large house and was in the process
of building a colossal mansion.
Syrian influence in Lebanon in the form of anywhere from
12,000 to 30,000 troops and an active intelligence service in Lebanon
for most of the past 30 years Hariri also cultivated close
relations with Damascus, including business ties with influential
he broke with Syria last summer when he resigned as prime minister
after Damascus insisted on suspending the constitutional limit on
presidential terms so that Emile Lahoud could continue in office.
Hariri did not actively oppose the move, he reportedly encouraged
the U.S. and France to push through a remarkably tough UN Security
Council resolution that demanded that Syria withdraw its troops
subsequent passage of UNSCR 1559 was not only a major blow to Damascus,
but also served to unify and embolden the Lebanese opposition, which
has been mobilizing for parliamentary elections scheduled for May
on a common anti-Syrian platform.
Hariri had not publicly embraced the opposition position, hardliners
in Damascus, who some analysts believe exert more control over Lebanon
than Assad, saw Hariri's role as a betrayal.
though it may be for Syria in international opinion, in certain
quarters of Syria the stakes in Lebanon are existential, and existential
challenges may be deemed to justify existential solutions,"
said Norton, who believes that Syria, or at least some elements
within the Syrian government, were behind the assassination.
the same time that Syria was defending itself against Res. 1559,
hawks and realists within the Bush administration were fighting
over how far Washington should push Damascus to cooperate. Their
main concerns were preventing the infiltration of "foreign
fighters" across the border from Syria into Iraq and in arresting
Iraqis living in Syria who were suspected by Washington to be financing
and helping to organize a rapidly expanding insurgency, or at least
freezing their bank accounts.
hawks, centered primarily in the Pentagon's civilian leadership
and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, have long favored a "regime
change" policy for Damascus anyway.
of Cheney's top Middle East advisors, David Wurmser, and Undersecretary
of Defense Douglas Feith both with strong ties to Israel's
settler movement contributed to papers in the 1990s that
urged Israel and the United States to arm and finance groups in
both Lebanon and Syria to force Damascus' withdrawal from Lebanon
and destabilize the Ba'athist regime.
Washington's invasion of Iraq in March 2003, they have argued Damascus'
alleged failure to fully cooperate with the occupation justified
a more aggressive policy, including military strikes. More pragmatic
factions, centered in the State Department, the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), and among military commanders on the ground, countered
that Assad had in fact steadily increased his cooperation and that
U.S. measures to actively destabilize his regime could backfire.
December, the hawks launched a more public campaign with a series
of opinion pieces in their favored press organs, the Washington
Times, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal,
accusing Damascus of active support for the insurgency and calling
for a major escalation.
could bomb Syrian military facilities," wrote William Kristol,
the Standard's neoconservative editor. "We could go across
the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town
of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which
seems to be the planning and organizing center for Syrian activities;
we could covertly help or overtly support the Syrian opposition...."
campaign coincided, according to a Journal account, with the presentation
to Bush of a list of options that included imposing tougher economic
sanctions, downgrading diplomatic relations, more active U.S. support
for anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon, and possible military strikes
against alleged terrorist training camps in Syria.
of these was approved at the time, however, although all of them
and now possibly more, in the wake of Hariri's assassination
remain on the table.
many Middle East specialists here appear to believe that the Syrian
regime, or possibly a rogue element within it, was responsible for
the blast, that view is by no means universal, particularly given
the likelihood that Washington would blame Damascus in any event.
one "senior State Department official" told the New
York Times: "Even though there's no evidence to link [the
assassination] to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed
Lebanon to become destabilized."
that Hariri had not identified himself completely with the opposition
to Syria's presence in Lebanon, Hudson told IPS that he considered
that Islamist extremists trying to harm the Saudi royal family,
which has been Hariri's strongest supporter, was "a more plausible
scenario." Al-Qaeda has said it was not responsible.
have suggested that Israel or their erstwhile allies in Lebanon,
the Phalangist militia, may have been responsible, given the certainty
that Syria would be blamed for the killing.
is certainly possible that the Syrian military leadership was sufficiently
stupid and arrogant to decide to assassinate Hariri," according
to C.S. Smith, a regional specialist at the University of Arizona.
"But many others stood to benefit from such an act, including
right-wing Phalangist Christian elements closely tied to neocons
in the Bush administration."
Walid Phares, a right-wing Lebanese-born Christian and fellow of
the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD),
issued a statement immediately after the killing that appeared designed
to cast suspicion on Syria and one of its allies in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
hardline neoconservative, former Bush speechwriter David Frum, writing
Tuesday in the far-right National Review Online, fingered Assad
as the party that "had the greatest motive" for the killing,
even if he admitted that it may "seem incredible that young
would choose the path of confrontation with
the United States."
he was indeed responsible, noted Frum, "he has taken another
huge step toward open war on the United States and its interests
in the region."
would be very shocked if Syria has a hand in it because it's not
in the position to rock the boat at this point," said Bassam
Haddad, a Levant expert at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia,
who said he would not hazard an opinion until more evidence was
is obvious that any kind of rocking the boat is going to empower
the opposition that will call for an immediate ouster of Syria from
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service