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.
If you cook dinner for a large crowd and manage to flub the execution, mangle the presentation, and poison your guests, you find another hobby, right?
If you so much as considered answering “yes” to that question, congratulations: you’re not a neoconservative. Hash, you see, springs eternal from the neocon breast, so no amount of injury to others or humiliation to oneself – indeed, not even removal from the kitchen – can silence them for long, if at all.
Examples unfortunately abound, but today’s shaman of shamelessness is Walid Phares, whose latest drivel in the Wall Street Journal (“Prosecute Hezbollah”, November 9) would make history’s top propagandists proud. Phares, who not only admits but actually boasts that he is part of the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, simply cannot be taken seriously as a voice for anything but Israel and its apologists, but it’s the opinion pages of the Journal, so there you have it. As the sub-headline — “There is no hope for Lebanon unless the UN and the West will enforce the tribunal’s findings on the Hariri assassination” — would have us believe, the article itself purports to explain the need for assertiveness in defense of justice.
Down through the ages, propagandists of all bents have viewed their craft as a forgiving one because even when they’re wrong, they can still be right – so long as a sufficient proportion of the audience remains unaware of (or unconcerned by) their errors/lies. Here Phares is at his very best, or worst depending on one’s perspective, mixing fact and fiction with glorious abandon. A partial dissection follows.
The headline of the piece gives away its author’s intention to stir the pot, flouting as it does the very assurance of Hezbollah’s domestic rivals in Lebanon that even if some of its members are indicted in the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and almost two dozen others, the party itself will not be on trial. The subhead, of course, is just there to create a subliminal impression that a court (which has yet to issue an indictment despite five years of investigation) already has arrived at “findings” linking Hezbollah to an assassination.
The opening sentence gets right to the point that whoever is indicted will ipso factobe the guilty party, perhaps dispensing with all the time and money that would have to be wasted on a trial. The next one treats as a given the by-now familiar misidentification of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) as an “international” court, even though it single-largest contingent of jurists is Lebanese, and asserts – on the basis of absolutely no public evidence whatsoever from anyone, anywhere – that “Hezbollah features prominently” in the assassination.
The first course is a bowl of traditional guilt-by-association tying Hezbollah to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accompanied by an artful insinuation that Tehran has tried to intimidate the court, and garnished with a dollop of old-fashioned bitters, belittling Hezbollah and its members as “minions” of a foreign power. Next to be dished out are complaints that Hezbollah and its most important backers, Iran and Syria (“Axis of Evil” is taken; how about “Triumvirate of Trouble”?) have “threatened” the Lebanese government – of which Hezbollah is a part – by indicating, naturally enough, that they will resist any attempt by the STL to serve as a stalking horse for Israel by unsaddling the only contestant who has ever got the better of the Israeli military.
This is followed by a generous but unsophisticated helping of sleight-of-hand, as Hezbollah is credited with fulfilling its threats. How do we know? Because a number of “anti-Hezbollah lawmakers and journalists” were attacked and “several anti-Syrian neighborhoods” were bombed “[b]etween July and December 2005”. Multiple misfortunes befall this dish: Hezbollah didn’t threaten those people or those neighborhoods; the attacks began in late 2004, not mid-2005; and several of the victims – not to mention countless residents of the neighborhoods – were anything but “anti-Hezbollah”.
The next plate features Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, skewered as a liar who in 2006 “claimed he was negotiating with Lebanon’s leaders to surrender his weapons, only to trigger a devastating war with Israel”. History records that Nasrallah’s party did, in fact, discuss what was to be done with its arsenal – retained after the 1975-1990 civil war because its mission was to deter and/or resist Israeli adventurism rather than to battle other sectarian militias – with its counterparts. It also makes plain that while Hezbollah did carry out a cross-border ambush of an Israeli patrol, in keeping with a long-stated policy of obtaining bargaining chips to gain the release of hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian detainees, it had no reason to even suspect, based on previous experience, that the response would be an all-out war, with emphasis on women and children. The sauce on all this is a thin presumption that, following the war, Hezbollah proceeded to kill several more Lebanese politicians, including at least two whose deaths are widely presumed to have been ordered by rivals within their own pro-Western camp.
The main course consists of an assertion that conviction in the Hariri case would cripple Hezbollah and ruin “the image it cultivates as a legitimate resistance movement”. Given Phares’s own record of having opposed Hezbollah even in the 1990s, when Israeli occupation forces were recruiting reluctant collaborators by kidnapping and raping their sisters, he is hardly qualified to predict such a verdict, let alone to render one. In any event, the STL could convict Hezbollah and its entire leadership of every crime conceivable, and it wouldn’t amount to a hiccup because the group’s supporters are convinced – not without reason – that the court is stacked against them.
There is more before dessert, but none of it merits mention except to note that the truth is generally on the side and often left altogether off the table.
The sweet stuff at the end, however, is one to remember. Here Phares closes with a flourish by declaring: “When the Special Tribunal issues its final verdict, let’s hope for Lebanon and the region’s sake that the UN and the West [i.e. the Security Council and the United States] will have the courage to enforce the prosecutors’ findings”. Having been prepared in a latrine rather than a kitchen, it is no surprise that this one fails the smell test with gusto.
In various permutations, “the UN and the West” have made a meal of Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East for generations. More importantly, the whole concept of a trial is intended to thoroughly test the prosecutors’ claims (not their “findings” – that’s for the judges) in order to avoid even the appearance of a rush to judgment or any other miscarriage of justice. Which proposition is more disturbing – that Dr. Phares really has no idea how criminal trial procedures work, or that he will be fully sated if this case is already cooked?
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.