Last week another nail was driven into the coffin of President 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 communiqué calling themselves the “Fighters for the Unity and Liberty of Greater Syria.” They said 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 last 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 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 U.S., 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 U.S. in Iraq. Iranian and Syrian jubilation is well founded in light of the Democratic leadership’s near unanimous calls for the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. forces from Iraq with Iran and Syria. That is, he is putting together a strategy not for victory, but for defeat.
Baker fervently believes U.S. foreign policy should revolve around being bad to its friends and good to its enemies. Consequently he thinks the U.S. 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 U.S. accepts their conditions, they will temporarily cease their attacks to enable a U.S. 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 U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad has been conducting negotiations with the Iranians. Administration sources say 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. On Monday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had 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.