Let’s look at two recent instances of political violence directed against a popular figure who has come to symbolize the democratic hopes of his people: the similarities between the death of Rafik Hariri and the attempted assassination and disfigurement of Viktor Yushchenko are remarkable. In both cases, we have a plethora of non-evidence pointing to the preferred culprits: in the first case, the Syrian government (and its Lebanese allies), and in the second, Russia (and its Ukrainian allies).
In the case of the Yushchenko poisoning which allegedly was a plot by the KGB to disfigure the Great Democratic Hope of Ukraine and somehow turn the election into a beauty contest there never was a single bit of solid evidence tying Viktor Yanukovich and his fellow kleptocrats to the deed. But that didn’t stop the international media from parroting the Washington line, and it even had Anne Applebaum and her fellow neocons braying about the "New Cold War." They wish.
A similar paucity of facts bedevils the case for pinning Hariri’s murder on the Syrians, in spite of Reason magazine’s mighty efforts and also Debka‘s. Initial reports indicated a suicide bombing hardly the preferred method of Syrian intelligence but the Reason/Debka crowd soon constructed an entire alternate reality based on nonexistent underground tunnels beneath the road where Hariri was killed. The conspiracy theorists were off and running.
Of course, it is just a coincidence that both Russia and Syria are in the sights of the Bush administration: the former for being insufficiently "democratic," the latter for the same and also for occupying Lebanon (at the invitation of the Lebanese government, and with U.S. approval at the time). It’s also pure coincidence that Russia is selling missile technology to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran, while Bashar Assad, Syria’s strongman, has recently announced a defense pact with Tehran.
It really is amusing if you like your humor dark to witness the peregrinations of these twin narratives of conspiracy to commit murder. In Ukraine, the government "investigation" has taken on all the hallmarks of a farce: while the prosecutor avers that he knows who carried the poison into the country, but refuses to say, the story has taken another turn, as the Dallas Morning News reports:
"Prosecutors are following a new lead that might shed more light on the dioxin poisoning of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, an official said Wednesday. Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun has acquired audiotapes of what appeared to be a conversation between Russian secret service officials discussing the role of Moscow political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky in Mr. Yushchenko’s poisoning, said Mr. Piskun’s spokesman, Vyacheslav Astapov. ‘The prosecutor said he knows whose voice is on the tapes,’ Mr. Astapov said. The tapes were first aired last year on Kiev’s pro-Yushchenko TV5 but were widely dismissed as a hoax. In the recordings, people described as Russian agents appeared to be discussing Mr. Pavlovsky’s role in a plot aimed at damaging Mr. Yushchenko’s ratings by ruining his good looks with toxic chemicals."
In Texas, they only get the Party Line, but the BBC includes Pavlovsky’s denial:
"’For what reason anyone would do this is hard to imagine,’ he told Newsnight. ‘And how I could have come up with the idea it’s absurd, and absurd that in Kiev it’s being discussed seriously.’ When the tape of an apparently tapped telephone conversation mentioning Pavlovsky was first aired on Kiev’s Channel 5 television, it was widely dismissed as a falsification. The prosecution’s decision to use it as evidence in their inquiry has surprised everyone including Pavlovsky.
“‘When the tapes appeared on Channel Five, I took it as a joke,’ he told Newsnight. ‘A bit vulgar for my taste in the style of Orson Welles. But when I heard the prosecutor-general had taken them, that turns a TV joke into a lie.’"
This nonsensical fiction, which sounds like some third-rate hack’s rejected screenplay, is more than just a bit vulgar but in the Age of Bush, no lie is too brazen. The more vulgar, the better: it’s the only way to capture the attention of a people who require the crudest and strongest possible stimulus. That’s what it means to be decadent. A short attention span is also part and parcel of this parlous condition: the "orange revolution" is yesterday’s news-drama, and Americans mostly don’t know or care about the aftermath, remembering only that the "good guy" was poisoned and wound up winning the election, anyway.
Yushchenko was widely hailed as the slayer of oligarchs, and, upon election, appointed one of them Yulia Timoshenko, known as the "gas princess" as his prime minister. Timoshenko then announced that the government would be reexamining 3,000 privatizations carried out by the former regime. The markets panicked: would the entire economic status quo be overturned, and former state assets redistributed this time, to Timoshenko’s friends?
When Putin did the same thing in Russia with a single corporate entity Yukos Oil, and the empire of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky the West went ballistic, attacking the Russian president as a second Stalin and abhorring the return of Soviet-style "centralization." It didn’t matter that the Yukos oil empire was created out of state assets by former Commies who looted the Evil Empire before they surrendered to the West. According to the U.S. government and its amen corner in the media, by challenging the circumstances under which this single company had acquired vast assets, Putin was ushering in a new era of authoritarian repression. But when the "orange revolutionaries" of Ukraine do the same in the wake of their election coup, they are patted on the back and showered with praise and U.S. "foreign aid."
Turning to the Middle East, the same story line prevails: a fallen leader, a media campaign based on conspiracy theories wild enough to qualify for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and the U.S. issuing open threats against an "undemocratic" foreign power that has the temerity to question our right to intervene anywhere and everywhere in the name of "freedom."
What a load of malarkey. We are being treated to a rerun of the same tactics used to gin up a war with Iraq: Saddam’s alleged "links" to al-Qaeda and the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks evaporated with the first dawning of our Pyrrhic "victory" in Iraq, along with any sign of the much-vaunted "weapons of mass destruction."
The only confession I want to hear is from the "special ops" smartass who thought up this cock-and-bull story and broadcast it at taxpayers’ expense.
The Hariri murder mystery is taking a similarly bizarre turn, as the Beirut Daily Star reports:
"A furious row has erupted between the Saint George Yacht Club and Hotel and a Dignity Block MP over whether a tunnel exists near the hotel that could have housed the bomb that killed Rafik Hariri and 17 others. The Saint George owners have said no such tunnel exists, but Beirut MP Mohammed Qabbani insists the tunnel is real and has called for the police to investigate whether it was used during former Premier Rafik Hariri’s murder."
Those who have a political interest in blaming Syria for the assassination are wedded to the idea that the bomb was planted under the road: on the other hand, suicide bombers are associated with terrorist groups rather than state intelligence agencies. The Lebanese government is so far sticking to the second scenario, but the War Party, which has Syria in its sights, is pushing the "under the road" theory for all it’s worth. At a news conference, Qabbani insisted that the tunnel exists, averring that it measures "6 meters wide by 3-and-a-half meters high." He wielded what he described as "true maps" of the bomb site, showing a tunnel "running from the Saint George Hotel under the street where the explosion took place, to the other side."
Baloney, says the management of the Saint George: the whole story is made up from beginning to end. Those "maps" Qabbani is flashing around are evidence, not of a tunnel, but of the bureaucratic obstructionism of the local authorities, who refused to grant them permission to dig. Back in 1996, when they applied to build a tunnel, they had to provide the Beirut municipality with diagrams. "However," said the Saint George in a statement, "the project remained a stain of ink on papers as we were never granted the license."
Qabbani is insistent, however, that the tunnel is there:
“My sources and the information I have assure me that there is a tunnel under the street between the hotel and an opposite building.”
One might think that this could be quickly cleared up by a simple examination of the Saint George and surrounding premises, but that fails to take into account the infinite inventiveness of this crowd: Qabbani and his Western counterparts would merely consult their "sources" and come up with new, even more complex explanations for why it had to be a bomb planted under the road.
What gets me about this "blame Syria" campaign is that it is premised on an absurdity: the conspiracy theorists reason that, since Syria is in complete control of everything that goes on in Lebanon, such an event as the Hariri assassination could not have occurred without the active assistance of the Syrian secret police. This is demonstrably false, however, given that Syria has only 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and especially since these same supposedly super-efficient secret police failed to prevent a mysterious terrorist attack in Syria last year where their control is even more pervasive. Did the Syrians, then, bomb themselves?
The same argument could be made in the case of, say, 9/11: since the U.S. government is in control of New York City, and the territory surrounding the various airports where Mohammed Atta and his gang hijacked their planes and made for their targets, then the U.S. authorities must have allowed it to happen! Right? Well, at least one of the loudest of those accusing the Syrians of killing Hariri believes just that: Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt, cited by Reason magazine’s Michael Young and Charles Paul Freund as a good reason for taking the "Syria did it" line, "is also known for espousing conspiracy theories against America" (as reported by the New York Sun, via National Review):
"On April 28, 2004, he gave an interview to Al Arabiyya TV, in which he detailed how America was really behind September 11: ‘Who invented Osama bin Laden?! The Americans, the CIA invented him so they could fight the Soviets in Afghanistan together with some of the Arab regimes. Osama bin Laden is like a ghost, popping up when needed. This is my opinion.'”
“Mr. Jumblatt was asked ‘Even 9/11?’ and answered: ‘Even 9/11…Why didn’t the sirens go off when the four hijacked planes took off?'”
While Jumblatt and his American promoters push one loony story so obviously a transparent lie the Ukrainian prosecutors push another fantastic tale of phony tape recordings and Byzantine plots, based on equally tenuous-to-nonexistent "evidence." Throw in the Chalabi-esque "intelligence" passed to the U.S. about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons facilities, and we have a three-ring circus with the U.S. playing the role of ringmaster.
While the Western media interrogates the Russian leader as to his "democratic" bona fides, and falls for every propaganda ruse ever conjured in the White House basement, the real story of how Yushchenko was propelled into power by American tax dollars and dirty tricks goes unreported, and the disgraceful tactics of the Yushchenko regime in power are likewise ignored. The American media’s key role in perpetuating the mythology marketed by the War Party is well-known, but unacknowledged by the culprits, who continue covering up their own gullibility (or complicity) by simply dropping any line of inquiry that becomes too inconvenient.
I once wrote a column in which I expounded on the thesis that "We are living in the Age of Malarkey, an era where no tale is considered too tall but that the authorities won’t try it out on the American people" and recent events seem to have confirmed this in spades. If enough lies are told in quick succession, and discarded as fast as they’re disproved, then this is one way to create a general impression that is contrary to the known facts. A veritable blizzard of lies is enough to blind anyone to the truth. As we go chasing after secret tunnels and KGB poisoners, the real story of who killed Hariri and what happened to Yushchenko remains a mystery.
In both cases, we have only to ask the key question of who benefits to cast suspicion on the official story. Surely no one but Yushchenko or, rather, the forces behind him stood to gain politically from his horrible disfigurement. Certainly not the Ukrainians who supported the candidacy of Yanukovich and, standing behind them, the Russians. As for the assassination of Hariri, Syria was the big loser, as any half-ass analyst could have predicted. Don’t tell me the Syrians deliberately provoked an international outcry against Damascus and hoped for renewed focus on their occupation of Lebanon.
Instead of hectoring the Russian president and acting as an uncritical conduit for American war propaganda, the English-speaking media would do well to go back and check on their hero, Yushchenko and maybe even pay a visit to the Saint George Yacht Club and Hotel for a good look at those "secret" tunnels. And how about some skepticism in the face of an administration that is addicted to lying? Is that really so much to ask?