Sunday, December 21, 2008

Inconvenient Truths

As reported in a recent must-read by Joshua Hammer in the Atlantic, “the investigation into the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri is nearing its end--and a trial in international court looms. Insiders say the trail of evidence leads, ultimately, to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But having spent three years fearing for their lives, the investigators are now grappling with a different fear: that Western concerns about regional stability will prevent the naming of the biggest names.” On Slate, Christopher Hitchens offers his thoughts on the Hammer article and “the investigation that could blow up the Middle East.”

Here are the known facts: If you are a Lebanese politician or journalist or public figure, and you criticize the role played by the government of Syria in your country's internal affairs, your car will explode when you turn the ignition key, or you will be ambushed and shot or blown up by a bomb or land mine as you drive through the streets of Beirut or along the roads that lead to the mountains. The explosives and weapons used, and the skilled tactics employed, will often be reminiscent of the sort of resources available only to the secret police and army of a state machine. But I think in fairness I must stress that this is all that is known for sure. You criticize the Assad dictatorship, and either your vehicle detonates or your head is blown off. Over time, this has happened to a large and varied number of people, ranging from Sunni statesman Rafik Hariri to Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt to Communist spokesman George Hawi. One would not wish to be a "conspiracy theorist" and allege that there was any necessary connection between the criticisms in the first place and the deplorably terminal experiences in the second.

Hammer's article is good for a laugh in that it shows just how much trouble the international community will go to precisely in order not to implicate the Assad family in this string of unfortunate events. After all, does Damascus not hold the keys to peace in the region? Might not young Bashar Assad, who managed to become president after the peaceful death by natural causes of his father, become annoyed and petulant and even uncooperative if he were found to have been commissioning assassinations? Could the fabled "process" suffer if a finger of indictment were pointed at him? At the offices of the long-established and by now almost historic United Nations inquiry into the Hariri murder, feet are evidently being dragged because of considerations like these, and Hammer describes the resulting atmosphere very well.

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