It happens more often than
it should. A high caliber pundit self-tasked with critical Middle East analysis on a
major news program states opinion as fact. It happened on the second hour of the
nationally broadcast Diane Rhem show on December 1, 2006. Syndicated columnist Steve
Roberts stated that Syria was behind the November 22, 2006 assassination of Pierre
Gemayel, Lebanon's leader of the reactionary right-wing Kataeb (Phalange) party and
industry minister. While echoing a large number of other pundits blaming Syria over
cable and broadcast media, Roberts leveraged the assassination as a reason to disregard
any engagement from the forthcoming Baker-Hamilton commission on Iraq.
Steve Roberts, Syndicated Columnist: "The
big solution that is supposed to come out of the Baker-Hamilton commission is somehow
expanded Middle East discussions, bring in Iran, bring in Syria. He made the point
that Iran has been extremely recalcitrant on its nuclear program. Syria has been
equally recalcitrant if not more so. They helped assassinate a leading Christian,
the evidence is pretty clear, they helped assassinate a leading Christian politician just
Anonymous assassinations and violence in Lebanon and the rest
of the region are rarely as simple as pundits portray. A series of 1954 bombings
against British and American targets in Cairo first ascribed to the Moslem Brothers in
Egypt turned out to be a false flag operation authorized by Israeli defense minister Pinhas Lavon.
The Israeli objective was to use terrorist bombings to create an environment in
which the British would be tied down and unable to withdraw from Egypt. Few Americans have
ever heard of what became known as the 'Lavon affair'. No wonder. It has never
been the subject of a major film like the "Raid on Entebbe" or
"Munich". The history of false flag operations in the Middle East places a
special burden on US commentators not to jump to easy conclusions about any particular act
of assassination or terrorism. Leading Israeli and American commentators, however,
were quick to accuse, try and convict Syria of the Gemayel assassination in the court of
public opinion. My email to the Diane Rehm show provoked a full public display of
the lack of substance in the "get Syria" camp.
Diane Rehm, host: "And here's an
email from Grant (Smith, director of research at IRmep) who says "your guest stated
that Syria was involved in the assassination of a 'Christian Politician'. There
is no hard evidence of that. Is it the Israeli propaganda hour
Steve Roberts, Syndicated Columnist: "That's
a very unfair comment, the "Israeli propaganda hour." If anybody in this
government doubts, or any thinking person doubts that Syria was involved in the
assassination of Pierre Gemayel, I'd like to know that..."
Diane Rehm, host: "I wonder if we
do have any proof?"
Steve Roberts, Syndicated Columnist: "I
didn't say there was proof. But there is an international investigation going on
into the assassination of Rafic Hariri, and other politicians. Syria has done
everything to try to block that investigation. Every bit of evidence we have, in the
long history here, is of a violent intervention in Lebanon, and I don't know anybody who
knows anything about that region, who doubts that Syria is involved in that assassination.
It has nothing to do with Israeli propaganda." (Audio Clip MP3)
Steve Roberts appears regularly as a pundit on ABC Radio,
Washington Week in Review, CNN, Hardball with Chris Matthews and is a regular commentator
on NPR. As a "go along get along" analyst, Roberts rarely challenges
conventional wisdom or presents a unique viewpoint from any of his mainstream perches.
In general, he replicates many US commentators' "Israel good, Arabs bad"
policy preconceptions when discussing regional developments. Steve Robert's stew of
"common knowledge", logical fallacies, subtle threats and selective history to
defend his unfounded assertions about Syria are representative of many other pundits'
syndicated analysis of this latest tragedy in the Middle East.
Roberts asserts that the initial findings of another
assassination, that of Rafic Hariri in 2005, are somehow immediately applicable to
Gemayel. In terms of Lebanese and regional politics, Hariri's earth shattering
demise happened in an entirely separate geological age, under tectonic dynamics with few
overlapping edges. Any conclusions about the Gemayel assassination should be drawn
from a thorough, separate investigation. Syria's cooperation or non-cooperation in
the Hariri case has little bearing on the Gemayel assassination. Although Syria has
redoubled efforts to gain favor with the US and reestablish relations with Lebanon, Iraq
and even Israel, it may not be able to produce a Hariri assassin. Syria may be in
the exact quandary as Saddaam Hussein when he was unable to produce weapons of mass
destruction before the US invasion.
Roberts cites a "violent intervention in Lebanon"
by Syria which is a historically highly selective snapshot. Syria originally entered
Lebanon at the invitation of the Lebanese government during its civil war. When
Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon in 1982, an action that ultimately cost 17,825 Arab
lives, Syria was a major force in helping Lebanon ultimately expel the uninvited occupiers
in 1985. And of course the most violent recent intervention in Lebanon was not by
Syria, but rather Israel's campaign of collective punishment earlier this year.
Roberts questions the intelligence of any regional analyst
who doesn't immediately agree that Syria was Gemayel's assassin. This has been a
popular neoconservative and Israeli Likud "appeal to authority" argument making
its way through the mainstream media over the past few weeks. It often, as in the
case of Roberts, comes with a veiled threat. "If anybody in this government
doubts, or any thinking person doubts that Syria was involved in the assassination of
Pierre Gemayel, I'd like to know that," squeaked Roberts, prompting one to
wonder. If an independent analysis by a senator or congressperson, or administration
official points to another country, would Roberts put them on some kind of list?
Would AIPAC or other tentacles of the Israel lobby then engage in force? Why is
being "on message" about Syria's culpability more important than hard data?
One reason. Because a rational assessment of the motives for assassination
reveals that the primary beneficiary is Israel, not Syria.
The very day Gemayel was assassinated, Syria had achieved a
major diplomatic goal, the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Iraq.
Neoconservative and Likudnik Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu have long schemed
to isolate Syria from Iraq through military intervention, while "weaning"
Lebanon from Syria and Iran (see the 1996 neoconservative "Clean
Break" plan). However, a new threat challenging neoconservative and
Likudnik isolation doctrine has recently emerged. The Iraq Study Group led by James
Baker is known to be advocating greater diplomatic engagement, with both Syria and Iran,
as a way to avert broader civil war in Iraq and lay the ground for significant US troop
withdrawals. Syria has dedicated years of efforts toward engaging with Washington
after being declared a hub of the "Axis of Evil" and object of a congressionally
mandated "Accountability Act"
restricting trade and diplomatic relations. Why would Syria scuttle these lifeblood,
survival level diplomatic relations in the name of knocking off a bothersome politician in
Lebanon while still under suspicion for the Hariri killing? The answer is that it
There is only one clear regional beneficiary if Gemayel's
assassination preemptively discredits the Iraq Study Group engagement plan. There is
only one clear beneficiary to keeping Syria isolated and back on the list of US diplomatic
"untouchables". There is only one country in the region interested in
thwarting any American rapprochement with Iran in favor of US aerial bombing. There
is only one country interested in prolonging the ill-conceived US occupation of Iraq. This
country also has the only regional intelligence and covert operations service with the
motto "By way of deception, thou shalt do war." Until hard
evidence emerges, motives point to Israel as a more likely assassin than Syria. However,
non-politicized efforts must be made to unearth and expose the true culprit, whoever that
Fortunately, the American people are now insisting on facts
and are no longer accepting commentary from intellectual lightweights and neoconservative
pundits as a sound basis for US regional policy. After the Iraq fiasco, they do not
automatically assume Middle East punditry is truthful or necessarily in the American
interest. The Bush administration, which must have its own internal doubts about the
perpetrator of the Gemayel assassination should review unbiased assessments from the CIA.
In the past the CIA has warned about Israel's capabilities and willingness to
unleash false flag operations to secure its perceived interests. Clearly, the CIA's
motto of and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" is
a proper model for non-politicized intelligence and investigations that would truly serve
the American people at this critical juncture. In the mean time, responsible pundits
would do well to expand the list of suspects until hard data comes in.