This is a guest post from Beirut by Marc J. Sirois, a writer and the former managing editor of the Daily Star newspaper in the Lebanese capital.
The run-up to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Lebanon called forth a barrage of comment from neoconservative circles. Unlike the savvy campaign for war in Iraq, however, they now tend to make straightforward claims that are self-evidently at odds with reality.
In other words, they’re not even telling very good lies any more.
A case in point was Iraq War propagandist Judith Miller’s Fox News article, whose central complaint seems to be that Ahmadinejad’s trip came at the behest of a single party, the Shia party/militia Hezbollah, rather than in response to an official invitation from the Lebanese government; “Who Invited You?” her headline indignantly blared.
Two problems undermined this approach. The first was that then-Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh quite publicly relayed just such an invitation to Ahmadinejad from his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Sleiman, in July 2008. The other was that Sleiman travelled to the Islamic Republic in November of that same year, making a reciprocal visit by Ahmadinejad what should have been a foregone conclusion.
That likelihood was placed in considerable doubt by the U.S. government’s having presumed the right to draw up Lebanon’s diplomatic schedule. While Miller rightly reported that Washington viewed the visit as “provocative,” she neglected to mention that heavy American pressure was applied on Beirut to cancel the visit. The U.S. demand was made in the name of Lebanese sovereignty (yes, really), which is rather ironic coming from a country that has supplied the tools for Israel’s occupation and violation of Lebanese territory, airspace and maritime boundaries for decades.
Undaunted by the untruths at the core of her position, Miller proceeds to expand on it. She asserts that other than the Iran’s close allies, Hezbollah, “Lebanon’s other political leaders … undoubtedly don’t share the love” for Ahmadinejad. Another falsehood: by any genuinely democratic standard, Lebanon’s most important political leaders do share that love. The parties that represent Lebanon’s largest sectarian community — its Shia population — are Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah and Speaker Nabih Berri’s AMAL, both of which enthusiastically welcomed Ahmadinejad. In addition, the Christian politician with the strongest bloc in Parliament, former Army Commander Michel Aoun, also supported the visit. Together, these parties and their allies received well over 50 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections.
Next we are treated to a brazen description of Ahmadinejad as “the man whose country is indirectly responsible for having killed [current Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s] father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.” Until the recent thaw between the top suspect — Syria — and the Hariri family’s benefactors in the Saudi royal family, no serious analyst even mentioned Hezbollah as a possible participant in the 2005 assassination. Now, in the absence of charges or hard public evidence, we are to presume Hezbollah’s guilt – and, by association, Iran’s – as established fact.
We are then told that the Hariri killing “sparked massive protests throughout Lebanon. This so-called ‘Cedar Revolution’ succeeded in forcing Syria, Iran’s neighbor and main Sunni Muslim ally, to withdraw the 14,000 ‘peace-keeping’ forces it had been keeping in Lebanon since the end of that country’s bloody civil war in 1990.” A few more problems. There were huge demonstrations (both for and against Syria), but all of the protests of any notable size took place in Beirut. Also, the term “Cedar Revolution” was coined by someone at the U.S. State Department. Would someone please tell American journalists to stop using it? In addition, unless someone has radically altered the map of the region (again), Syria and Iran do not share a border — they are neighbors in the same way that Iran and Lebanon are. And one more thing: Syria sent about 25,000 troops into Lebanon in 1976 — not 1990 — at the request of the latter’s president and with an Arab League mandate to foster stability amid the raging civil war.
Next, Hariri the younger is dismissed as “turning out to be anything but his father’s son.” In support, Miller trots out an Israeli journalist, Smadar Perry, to belittle Saad for having met with “Nasrallah (his father’s executioner)” and the “mastermind,” Syrian President Bashar Assad. Neither the American nor the Israeli, apparently, knows anything about the late Rafik Hariri, who made a career out of seeking and reaching accommodations with and among all the powerbrokers – both foreign and domestic, including, for years, the Syrians – in Lebanon’s cramped and chaotic political arena.
At this point we are apprised of the role of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is supposed to look into the assassination. It is described, however, as a “UN panel,” which it is not: instead, the STL is a hybrid court whose judges will include Lebanese jurists and whose legality under the UN Charter is highly debatable owing to several factors — not least its having been created without the acquiescence of Lebanon’s Parliament.
Then another unabashedly pro-Israeli source — a report from the AIPAC-formed Washington Institute for Near East Policy — is put forth to assert that Ahmadinejad’s trip is intended to apply pressure on Saad Hariri “and his Lebanese and Western allies” to cancel Lebanon’s support for the court, “which Lebanon has been financing.” Actually, Lebanon is responsible for just 49% of the bill – and not a few Lebanese question the value of the investment because the court is widely viewed as a political tool of the pro-Western camp.
Next we are treated to a quote attributed to Nasrallah by yet another rabidly pro-Israeli actor, MEMRI, which tries to smear the cleric by tying him to a favorite American bogeyman, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Not very artful, and even less relevant given that the date of its alleged provenance was more than two decades ago.
Then Miller hauls out a fellow neoconservative journalist, Lee Smith, who is used to a) make the point that Hezbollah’s real targets are Israeli and Arab public opinion; b) dredge up the familiar lie that Ahmadinejad has threatened to ‘wipe Israel off the map’; and c) reduce Nasrallah (leader of Hezbollah since 1992) to a “creation” of Ahmadinejad.
Finally, near the end of this avalanche of error, another point from Lee Smith is then applied which almost (however inadvertently) recovers the whole article: “By continuing to fight to liberate Jerusalem,” he is quoted as telling us, Tehran has “picked up the banner of Arab nationalism [sic] that the Sunni Arab regimes had tossed by the wayside. Here was another reason for the Arab masses to despise their cruel and now obviously cowardly rulers – and admire a Shia and Persian power they might otherwise fear and detest.” Some of those Arab regimes never took up the banner of Arab nationalism in the first place, and Iran’s emphasis is on Islamic solidarity, but the point is the same – by all but the most warped definitions of international law, at least half of Jerusalem is an occupied city, a fact which plenty of Arabs and other Muslims regard as unacceptable.
Here, then, is the real reason why America and Israel fret over the likes of Ahmadinejad: their policy has always been to divide and control (Arab vs. Persian, Sunni vs. Shia, oil producer vs. consumer, monarchist vs. republican, etc.) and anyone who even speaks about uniting these elements – regardless of how unsuccessful he is likely to be – threatens to expose the glaring weakness at the heart of their position.
Marc J. Sirois is an independent analyst based in Beirut, where he was managing editor of The Daily Star newspaper from 2000-2003 and 2006-2009.