Wednesday, February 16, 2005

US Ambassador to Syria Recalled

Something about this isn't adding up:

The body of Rafik Hariri, the assassinated former prime minister of Lebanon, is being taken on a two-mile journey for burial in a mosque he built in the heart of the capital, Beirut.


The funeral comes as U.S. pressure mounts on Syria in the wake of the deadly blast in Lebanon that killed Hariri, with Washington recalling its ambassador to Syria.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday Syria was "unfortunately on a path right now where relations are not improving, but are worsening."

Rice did not blame Syria for Monday's bomb attack that, but she did challenge Syria's longstanding claim that its troops were needed in Lebanon to provide security.

"There is no doubt that the conditions created by Syria's presence there have created a destabilized situation in Lebanon," she said.


Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington has "made it clear" it wants Syria, which maintains some 16,000 troops in Lebanon, to use its influence to prevent attacks such as Monday's massive bombing.

"I have been very careful to say we really don't know who committed this murder at this point, but we do know what effect the Syrian presence in Lebanon has," Boucher said.

"And we do know that it doesn't bring security for Lebanese."
Little Green Footballs links to this Ha'Aretz version of the same story:
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said it was still unclear who was responsible for the attack but the United States was consulting with other members of the UN Security Council about how to pressure Syria to leave Lebanon.

"Syria's presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force," McClellan said. "The terrorist attack further underscores the importance of letting the Lebanese people control their future."

The assassination of Hariri, 60, in a car bomb blast on Monday has spotlighted Lebanon's troubled ties with its powerful neighbor and revived memories of the 1975-90 civil war.

Boucher refused to blame Syria outright for the bombing in Beirut Monday. He would say only that it illustrates that Syria's strong military and political presence in Lebanon is a problem and has not provided security in the neighboring country.

"It reminds us even more starkly that the Syrian presence in Lebanon is not good," Boucher said. "It has not brought anything to the Lebanese people."
I am just not getting this. Syria has occupied Lebanon for nearly 30 years (since April, 1976). It has recently begun withdrawing its troops to the borders. So, if we are not ready to blame Syria for the assassination, in exactly what way is it evidence that Syria is a destabilizing influence? Mixed up in all of this is the fact that Hariri resigned in October over conflicts with Syrian-backed president Emile Lahoud, but I do not see how that fits in either until we know more about who is responsible for Hariri's assassination.

I agree with the general points that the Bush administration is making: Syria is a terrorist-sponsoring nation that has occupied Lebanon for far too long. But I see a lot of non-sequiturs in the official statements that I find troubling. If the situation involves information that is too sensitive to be released publicly, I am OK with that. But if you can't say something intelligible, it would probably be better to say nothing.

UPDATE: An hour after I posted this, Wretchard at Belmont Club had a related post. His analysis points in the direction of looking for a casus belli against Syria in the War on Terror:
If as the New Sisyphus argues, Assad has been "gambling for months that he can bleed the U.S. in Iraq at little cost" and that it has been waging "war more-or-less openly on the U.S. in Iraq", the question is what has changed? It is hard to imagine how the assasination of a Lebanese politician could provoke a more drastic response than months of Syrian-supported attacks on US troops in Iraq and harder still to imagine how Washington could have taken the ultimate diplomatic step without implicitly being prepared to go further. Yet it has. Unless Washington is playing a hollow hand, where the conclusion has changed the premises must be re-examined -- the principal one being that America was too hamstrung by Iraq to take anything else on -- not Syria, Iran or North Korea.

The aggressive posture taken by America against North Korea, Iran and now Syria suggests the bonds that held it down in Iraq, if ever they did, may be loosening.
As I suggested above, I am OK with this, but it still doesn't make our diplomatic posture any more coherent. Sending a message to Syria to get out of Lebanon and to clean up the Bekka valley are both laudable goals. But connecting this with the murder of Hariri does not seem to advance that agenda if we are not claiming that Syria was involved. Any stick will do to beat a dog of course, but I would prefer something sturdier bigger than "Syria is a destabilizing influence." That stick is likely to break in our hand.

No comments: