Tuesday saw another nail driven into the coffin of US President George W. Bush's vision of a free and democratic Middle East. The Syrians aren't even trying to hide their involvement in the assassination of Lebanon's Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.
Hours after Gemayel was murdered, his killers issued a communique calling themselves the "Fighters for the Unity and Liberty of Greater Syria." They said that they killed Gemayel because he was "one of those who unceasingly spouted their venom against Syria and against [Hizbullah], shamelessly and without any trepidation." Gemayel, they threatened, would be the first of many victims. As they put it, "Sooner or later we will pay the rest of the agents their due…"
The hit this week was not a bolt from the blue. For the past several weeks Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah and his bosses in Syria and Iran have made it brutally clear that they intend to bring down the anti-Syrian government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and replace it with a pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian coalition led by Hizbullah.
Although their intentions are clear, a casual observer of events could be forgiven for finding the timing of Gemayel's murder somewhat mystifying. After all, the UN Security Council is preparing the establishment of an international tribunal to try those responsible for the February 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Why would Syrian President Bashar Assad wish to make people mad at him now by killing yet another anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon?
What a casual observer misses is the simple fact that events in Lebanon do not stand on their own. Like Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon is a front in a regional war being waged against the US, Israel and their allies by Iran and Syria. Iraq is another front in this war and Gemayel's murder is intimately tied to developments in Iraq.
The Democratic Party's victory in the November 7 Congressional elections convinced Iran and Syria that they are on the verge of a great victory against the US in Iraq. Iranian and Syrian jubilation is well founded in light of the Democratic leadership's near unanimous calls for the US to withdraw its forces in Iraq; Bush's firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his appointment of his father's CIA director Robert Gates to replace him; and Bush's praise for the Congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group charged with revisiting US strategy in Iraq, which is being co-chaired by his father's secretary of state James Baker III.
Although his committee has yet to formally submit its recommendations, Baker made clear that he will recommend that the administration negotiate a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq with Iran and Syria. That is, he is putting together a strategy not for victory, but for defeat.
Baker fervently believes that US foreign policy should revolve around being bad to its friends and good to its enemies. Consequently he thinks that the US can avoid the humiliation of the defeat he proposes by buying off Syria and Iran, the forces behind most of the violence, instability, subversion and terror in Iraq. If the US accepts their conditions, they will temporarily cease their attacks to enable a US retreat that will look only mildly humiliating to the television viewers back home.
This week Bush said he has yet to decide how to move ahead in Iraq. But Baker is moving ahead without him. While Bush also said that he opposes negotiating with Iran and Syria, last Friday The New York Times reported that Baker and his group held talks recently with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. And, as truth would have it, for the past year or so, the US Ambassador to Baghdad Zalmay Khalizad has been conducting negotiations with the Iranians. Administration sources say that Bush is expected to make a decision on the course of operations in Iraq by mid-December.
But as far as Iran and Syria are concerned, the game has already been called. They are wasting no time collecting their winnings. As Gemayel was being murdered Tuesday in Lebanon, Muallem paid a visit to Baghdad. There he established full diplomatic relations between his country and Iraq. Monday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his intention to host a three-way summit with his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts. Responding to Ahmadinejad's invitation, Iraqi President Jalal Talibani is scheduled to visit Iran and Syria next week.
Just as Israelis and American Jews both bitterly recall Baker's acrimonious and degrading treatment during his tenure as secretary of state, so the Syrians and Iranians take comfort from his record. They remember Baker as the man who accepted the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the Syrian-sponsored Lebanese civil war by sacrificing Lebanese sovereignty to Assadian fascist occupation in the name of regional stability.
Then too, Baker is remembered as the man who abandoned Iraq's Shi'ites to their fate at the hands of Saddam after the US failed to assist them in their post-Gulf War rebellion which the US itself had encouraged. Finally, no doubt they noticed that Baker's law firm Baker-Botts is representing the Saudi government in the 9/11 victims' lawsuit against the kingdom.
BAKER'S CURRENT dealings with Iran and Syria parallel closely Israel's talks with the Palestinians in the lead-up to its withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria last year. As Baker does today, at the time Israel appealed to the Palestinians to restrain themselves temporarily to enable an orderly Israeli surrender of the territories.
Last year the Palestinians demanded that Israel hand over the international border between Gaza and the Sinai in exchange for their cooperation. By forcing the IDF to withdraw from the Philadelphi Corridor, the Palestinian Authority transformed a tactical and symbolic victory for jihad into a strategic victory for jihad. Without Israel controlling the border, Gaza was rapidly transformed into a major base for global terrorists.
Today, the Iranian and Syrian price tags for cooperation are similarly high. The Iranians demand international acceptance of their nuclear weapons program replete with European abandonment of Israel. Their demands have apparently been met.
There is no end in sight for the UN Security Council deliberations over the relatively insignificant European sanctions proposal. And between British Prime Minister Tony Blair's speeches calling for Israeli capitulation on all fronts; French threats to shoot down IAF jets in Lebanon; the Spanish-French-Italian "peace plan;" and France's Arab League-like treatment of Israel in the UN, it is self-evident that the Europeans have abandoned Israel to Ahmadinejad's tender mercies.
Syria set its price for cooperating with the US in Iraq when it murdered Gemayel. That is, in addition to pressuring Israel to give up the Golan Heights, the US will be expected to accept the reassertion of Syrian/Iranian control over all of Lebanon through a new government controlled by Hizbullah and its allies which will replace the Saniora government. The fall of the Saniora government will also spell the demise of the Hariri murder tribunal. Iran and Syria also demand that the US abandon its policy of regime change in both countries.
Another similarity between Israel's retreat from Gaza and northern Samaria last year, its withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, and the proposed US retreat from Iraq today are the obvious consequences of such a retreat for the US, the region and the world. Far from bringing peace and stability, as the champions of the withdrawal policy mindlessly claim, a retreat will cause more war, more instability and more suffering in Iraq, in the region and throughout the world.
In the wake of a US (and Coalition) withdrawal from Iraq, the country would become an Iranian-Syrian-controlled
base for global jihad. Battle-tested, heavily armed terrorists, cocky after their victory over the Great Satan, would use Iraq as a stepping-off point for attacks throughout the region and world. Israel and Jordan, as allies of the defeated great power, would be first on the list of targets.
Moreover, as was the case with soldiers and officers of the South Lebanon Army after the Israeli withdrawal, and with Palestinians who assisted Israel in counter-terror operations in Judea, Samaria and Gaza before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Iraqis who worked with Coalition forces will likely be killed, arrested and tortured by their new mafia-like terror masters.
Israel will find itself beset by an emboldened, nuclear weapons building Iran, an exhilarated Assad and by Iranian proxies from Gaza to Ramallah to Beirut.
BOTH ISRAEL'S decision to vacate Gaza, northern Samaria and south Lebanon and the current push in the US to leave Iraq are informed by the same strategic confusion. In choosing the strategy of retreat, Israel and the US have ignored the regional and indeed global nature of the war being waged against them. In such a war, it is impossible to view conflicts as discrete campaigns. Everything is related.
Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 inspired the Palestinian jihad. Its withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria caused the two-front war this summer with Iran and Syria in Gaza and Lebanon. That war in turn inspired the current chaos on Lebanon, the Iranian-Syrian brinkmanship in Iraq, and Iran's emboldened sprint to the nuclear finish-line.
The fact that both Israel and the US continue to ignore the nature of the war was made clear this summer when they accepted UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which while setting the terms for a cease-fire in Lebanon made no mention of Syria and Iran – the main parties to the war. Then too, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's stated interest in giving Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians, and the US hope to retreat from Iraq, show that both countries continue to deny reality.
The most pressing question today then is whether Bush will give in to Baker and the Democrats and agree to capitulate to Iran and Syria in Iraq, Lebanon and indeed throughout the world. Unfortunately, things look bleak given that Bush relies most heavily on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice has been blocking US action against Syria and Iran for the past two years. She was the primary architect of UN Resolution 1701 this summer, has been pushing for dangerous Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and is known for her good relations with Baker.
Although a great blow to Bush's vision of democracy in the Middle East, Gemayel's murder can still serve as an opportunity for the reinvigoration of that vision. If Bush sees this murder as the warning sign it is of what awaits Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and indeed the entire world if the US removes its forces from Iraq or is perceived as moving in that direction; if he finally recognizes that Iraq is not a separate war, but a great battle in a larger struggle, then Bush will be able to formulate a new strategy for victory.
Such a strategy, founded on an understanding of the regional and global nature of the war, will change the emphasis of US operations in Iraq in a manner than weakens, rather than strengthens Iran and Syria.
Such a strategy is the only way to ensure the continued functioning of the Saniora government and indeed the survival of Lebanon as an independent nation.
Most importantly, such a strategy will be the only way to ensure that a policy will be formed and adopted by the US and Israel that will prevent Israel's annihilation at the hands of an Iranian nuclear bomb.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.