Fact and fantasy

The US claims that Syria had the most to gain from the death of Rafik Hariri. But Walid Akawi argues that it is the US itself that has benefited most.

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By  Walid Akawi Published  March 21, 2005

|~||~||~|IN TIMES OF war, the first casualty is usually the truth. But in the past month in Lebanon, we have seen that even in times of peace, truth is the victim. Since the death of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, common sense has been replaced by conspiracies, and facts overtaken by fantasy. Almost every day, US president George W. Bush is on television making another speech, proclaiming that democracy is sweeping the Arab world. We are told it is all a ripple effect from the democracy he imposed in Iraq. Let’s give Bush some credit: the elections in Iraq were a huge success. It was not just 8.9 million Iraqis who voted inside Iraq, but also nearly another million outside the country. Strangely, these same rules didn’t apply during the Palestinian elections. The Palestinians in Jerusalem had no say in who should lead them, nor did the many millions of displaced Palestinians elsewhere in the world. In fact, the Bush style of democracy has a habit of changing depending on where in the world he wants to impose it. Now president Bush wants Syria to comply fully with UN Resolution 1559, calling for a complete withdrawal from Lebanon. Nothing less will do when it comes to complying with the UN. The only exceptions to the rule are UN Resolutions 242, 338 and 184, calling for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. The West may have brought down the Berlin Wall, but it has no desire to bring down the wall across the West Bank. Of course, the US media would have us believe that Syria is a special case following the death of Hariri. This, the US claims, was the work of the Syrians. After all, the Syrians want to stay in Lebanon, Hariri wanted them out: they must, therefore, be the prime and only suspects in the investigation into his murder. This widely held view has some basic flaws: how exactly has Syria benefited from the death of Hariri? Each day 200,000 Lebanese are on the streets of Beirut calling for the Syrians to go home. The country's president, Bashar Assad, has become an international outcast, with the guns of America and Israel firmly pointing in his direction. I doubt he would see much “benefit” from the death of Hariri. Right now, Syria is in a weak position, and getting weaker by the minute. As a result, so is the position of Hezbollah. It is becoming increasingly isolated, and like Syria, prone to American attack. Indeed, if Hezbollah were to be taken out of the equation and Syria made ineffective, the door would be wide open for the US to deal with Iran without fear of reprisals. Israeli fears of an attack from the well-organised Hezbollah would also evaporate. Like it or not, Hezbollah is a highly trained military outfit that strikes fear into the hearts of both Israel and the US. In other words, if the current chain of events continues, the one and only beneficiary from the death of Hariri is the US itself. Nobody has and will gain more than president Bush. None of this is likely to be mentioned by Bush in his next “freedom speech”. I have no doubt he will refer to the 200,000 Lebanese on the streets on Beirut calling for Syria to leave as a sign of people power, as a vindication of democracy. There will be no mention, I expect, of the 500,000 Lebanese who were on the very same streets last week calling for Syria to stay in Lebanon. Nobody in their right mind believes Syria should permanently occupy Lebanon. But the withdrawal that will one day be complete must be done to a timetable that suits the Arab world, the Arab agenda, and not the Bush propaganda machine. Walid Akawi is Managing Director of ITP Business||**||

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