Today, the WaPo had an editorial filled with inaccuracies about Syria’s record and just oozing pure venom for the Syrian government.
The title is, “Don’t expect progress from talking to Syria.”
I’m still trying to figure out why editorial page editor Fred Hiatt feels obliged to publish such hate-filled, inaccurate, and incendiary garbage.
Here are just a few of the notable inaccuracies in this screed:
- “Having carried out a campaign of political murder in Lebanon, including the killing of a prime minister for which he has yet to be held accountable, Mr. Assad continues to insist on a veto over the Lebanese government… “
The truth here:
(1) No-one has yet been able to substantiate the many accusations that hostile forces have made against Pres. Bashar al-Asad regarding the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri. This, despite the involvement of scores of highly-paid international investigators in the commission that was jointly established by the UN and the Lebanese government to investigate the affair and the Hague-based Special tribunal that was the successor to the commission. Last April, in fact, the Hague tribunal ordered that four pro-Syrian figures who had been high-ranking officers in the Lebanese security forces pup until the assassination should be freed from jail, given the paucity of evidence against them.
(2) Meanwhile, in response to the demands that rose loudly in Lebanon after the Hariri killing that Syria should withdraw the security forces it had kept in Lebanon since 1976 (when they went in at the behest of Washington), Asad did indeed withdraw all Syria’s troops from Lebanon within the couple of months right after the killing. Then, in October 2008, Syria formally recognized Lebanon’s independence for the first time ever. (All previous Syrian governments, including the most pro-western of them, had always, ever since Syria was established as a separate country in the 1920s, claimed that Lebanon was a part of it.) After Syria’s recognition of Lebanon’s independence, the two countries exchanged ambassadors.
(3) Last December, Lebanese PM Saad al-Hariri made a state visit to Damascus, where he held talks with Asad. Hariri is a very pro-western politician, and the son of the slain former premier. Haaretz reported that Hariri told a press conference held in the Lebanese embassy in Damascus that,
- I saw all positive signals from President Assad in all issues and we agreed on opening a new phase in our relations… The talks were excellent and frank… It all depends on the future….We want to build a future that serves the interests of the two countries.
Ah, but Fred Hiatt claims he “knows better” about the state of Syrian-Lebanese relations than Hariri does??
… More Hiatt:
- “[Asad] continues to facilitate massive illegal shipments of Iranian arms to Hezbollah, dangerously setting the stage for another war with Israel, and to host the most hard-line elements of the Hamas leadership. He continues to harbor exiled leaders of Saddam Hussein’s regime and to allow suicide bombers to flow into Iraq for use by al-Qaeda… He has promised to check suicide bombers bound for Iraq but has never done so… “
Where to begin with all this nonsense?
(1) Lebanon is a sovereign country that has the right to defend itself against Israel’s daily continuing incursions and provocations in the way it judges best. Thus far, its government has decided to do so in conjunction with Hizbullah’s paramilitary capabilities. If someone wants to prevent another war between Israel and Lebanon, wouldn’t they be advised to call on Israel to stop its incessant violations of the border between the two countries? Ah, but not Hiatt…
(2) Hamas’s over-all leadership is indeed headquartered in Damascus. But all who study the organization carefully (though not Fred Hiatt) recognize that the Damascus-based leaders range from the middle to the more flexible end of the (anyway narrow) spectrum of opinion in the organization’s leading ranks. They are a moderating influence within Hamas– and very, very far from being “the most hard-line elements.”
(3) On the accusations about Damascus’s policies with respect to Iraq– where is the evidence for the claims Hiatt makes?? In the talks I had with officials in Damascus last year, it was clear that cooperation with Washington against the threat they judged that they both jointly faced from any renewed descent into chaos in Iraq was the single greatest motivator the Syrian government had for improving its relations with Washington. What evidence does Hiatt have that might outweigh the evidence I and numerous others have gathered on this question?
… So why do I even both spending time trying to correct the many gross inaccuracies included in this text? Because despite its many, many shortcomings, the WaPo is still a very influential newspaper in Washington DC, and in political circles throughout this country. Most people in the U.S. political elite don’t have the time to study carefully the actions and record of this or that foreign country… So they might well be inclined to “take the word” of a WaPo editorial regarding whether engagement with the current Syrian government is a worthwhile venture or not.
But why has the WaPo departed so hugely from the standards of accuracy and truth-telling that it once used to uphold?
That, I don’t feel qualified to answer. But the paper should certainly be held to account for these inaccuracies– and for the escalatory, war-mongering kind of atmosphere that they tend to feed.