The news that the American government fabricated the story of Saddam Hussein’s capture that he wasn’t found hiding in a hole, that he did fight back, and that one Marine was killed during the encounter may or may not be true, but the former wouldn’t surprise me at all. Every time someone in this administration opens his or her mouth, a lie comes out, as if of its own accord these people couldn’t tell the truth if their lives depended on it. Unfortunately, our lives may well depend on it, as well as the lives of people all around the world and particularly in that troubled corner of the globe where U.S. policymakers have fixed their sights most recently: the Middle East, and, more specifically, Lebanon and Syria.
An article in the current Spectator captures the essence of the Lebanese events in the title of Mary Wakefield’s piece: “A revolution made for TV.” Ms. Wakefield, who “set off in search of the revolution,” found instead a few thousand teenagers:
“‘Out Syria! Out Syria! Out Syria!’ cried the crowd. ‘We’re revolutionaries!’ said my friend happily. But I felt a bit gypped. Everybody around me was young, good-looking, having fun, but that wasn’t really what I had had in mind. Only 1,000 or so people? I thought it was the whole of Beirut. Why was everybody under 30? Even in the middle of the crowd, right at the front, it felt less like a national protest than a pop concert. Bouncers in black bomber jackets wore laminated Independence ’05 cards round their necks, screens to the left and right of the platform reflected the crowd back at itself, and up against the Virgin Megastore wall were five plastic Portaloos. To the left of the main speaker, a man in a black flying suit with blond highlights, mirrored Oakley sunglasses, and an earpiece seemed to be conducting the crowd. Sometimes he’d wave his arms to increase the shouting, sometimes, with a gesture, he’d silence them. The upturned faces of the revolutionaries were bathed in white light from the TV arc lamps.
“Eventually I worked out what was bothering me. ‘This whole thing is for the cameras,’ I said to my friend. ‘It’s a television show.’ ‘Don’t be so cynical,’ she said. ‘It’s a celebration they brought down the government, remember.'”
Well, not quite: the government resigned, true enough, after the opposition mobilized perhaps as many as 25,000 people in what was touted in the West as an expression of the Lebanese popular will. But when half a million turned out the next week in answer, carrying Lebanese flags amid portraits of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad and demanding that the West stay out of their internal politics, the old government was back in the saddle.
Lebanon’s short-lived “Cedar Revolution” was like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her friends go before the Wizard. He appears as a giant head floating on a cloud of green fire, his voice booming out at them, commanding obeisance until Toto goes behind the curtain and discovers the wheezy old Wizard who is really just a carnival barker from Kansas working the controls of his illusion-producing contraption.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! I am Oz, the great and powerful!”
Like Dorothy, Ms. Wakefield is right to feel gypped:
“The truth is that the revolution is much smaller and more stage-managed in real life than it appears in photographs.”
But then Assad could’ve told her that. As he put it in a speech delivered a few days before the big “Syria Out” demo:
“Notice how TV cameras usually zoom in onto a small group of people, but if they zoom out you will discover there are not so many people supporting them.”
For whose benefit is this show being put on? Surely not the people in the Lebanese street, who know perfectly well what is the real balance of forces in the country: this song-and-dance is strictly for home consumption. We are all supposed to parrot, along with the editorial page of the New York Times and every two-bit pundit under the sun, the latest talking points put out by the White House and its neocon amen corner: that Bush was right, after all. The invasion of Iraq, we are told, has felled a whole string of “democratic dominoes,” including not only Lebanon but also Egypt (not likely), Saudi Arabia (a farce), and Palestine (an undeniable step forward made possible not by the Iraqi invasion but by the Intifada).
Those who raise objections to the meme-of-the-moment and question the bona fides of the latest color-coded “revolution” are derided as “apologists” for various unsavory characters, from Saddam to Bashar to the Ukrainian Yanukovich (and don’t forget Milosevic) we are “counterrevolutionaries,” in the neo-Soviet parlance of our neocon liberationists. Our penchant for asking too many inconvenient questions reveals our pathetically archaic insistence on belonging to “the reality-based community,” as one top White House advisor famously put it to reporter Ron Suskind:
“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality judiciously, as you will we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”
This is how it is possible for the White House to hail the rise of “democracy” in Lebanon just a day after the massive pro-Syria rally, and issue the following statement in response to the Syrian pledge to withdraw to the Bekaa valley near the border:
“This does not add up to Syria leaving Lebanon. We will continue to hold their feet to the fire, not accept half-measures, and call a spade a spade.”
The belated recognition that Hezbollah, Lebanon’s largest political party, will play a role in the future of the country is, for this administration, a very reluctant concession to the “reality-based community” but in the volatile run-up to the Lebanese elections, scheduled for May, anything can happen. Just as the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the popular businessman-cum-politician, was the catalyst for an international campaign against Damascus, so the prospect of renewed conflict among the Lebanese factions could easily trigger U.S. military intervention.
In that event, the American people will be asked to buy into a prefabricated narrative, one with a story line made familiar by the Western media’s interpretation of events during Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution“, Georgia’s “Rose Revolution,” and Iraq’s ink-stained poll that colored its revolution purple. Those evil “repressive” Syrians, who were invited into Lebanon with U.S. consent, are standing in the way of “the future” and despoiling the golden calf of capital-“D” Democracy: we have an obligation to save the Cedar Revolution, which will doubtless be compared to the 1956 Hungarian uprising, or perhaps Poland’s Solidarity movement. Or so the narrative goes
At this point, the masks will come off and we’ll see “the man behind the curtain.” Standing behind this rainbow coalition of “democratic” revolutionaries is the United States government, and the threat of military force: if the smartly-dressed glamour-pusses who turn out for these CIA-sponsored rock concerts are somehow foiled from carrying out a coup, then that will be the signal to call in the Marines.
Possessed by the fever of a dangerous ideology, the president and his neocon advisors really believe they’re “on the right side of history“: they are men of destiny, legends in their own minds. This is a symptom of their ideological sickness, which is akin to the old Marxist hallucination that Communism was inevitable because the Revolution was predestined. Communist hubris brought the Red Empire down, and the Empire of the Neocons will meet a similar fate and for the same reasons.
The great lesson we learned at the end of the 20th century was that dictatorship, too, requires the consent of the governed and cannot be indefinitely imposed at gunpoint. The first lesson of the 21st century may be a rude reminder that this rule applies to democratic liberalism as well. We can invade Iraq, pour in billions of our hard-earned tax dollars, and still come up with a theocracy, albeit a “democratic” one. In the unlikely event of direct elections in Lebanon bereft of the “consociational” accouterments traditionally associated with the Lebanese political process the pro-Syrian parties, including Hezbollah, would see their control of parliament considerably strengthened. This can hardly be in the administration’s game plan, as they consider how to neutralize Hezbollah and secure Israeli cooperation (and the survival of Ariel Sharon’s government) while the always faltering “peace process” threatens to break down altogether.
Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” turned out to be just as hollow as I said it was, but don’t write off those geniuses in Washington, who really do believe in their own god-like power to mold reality to their liking because, after all, military power is what really counts. We must invade Iraq, argued Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, simply because it is “doable.” Might makes right. That is what they believe, just as the Soviets did, and just as every deluded ideologue down through the ages has insisted while pointing a gun at the heads of his “liberated” subjects.
The premature triumphalism of those who crowed that “Bush was right” may not be quite through backfiring on them, however. As the details of the investigation into the Hariri assassination are thrown into the Lebanese mix, the effect could be similar to throwing a lighted match on an oil slick. And there are going to be other unintended consequences of the administration’s campaign to get Syria out by May, not the least of which is the sheer logic of their argument: if an occupation by foreign troops delegitimizes an election, then what does this tell us about the Iraqi elections, held in the shadow of U.S. tanks? If I were the Bushies, I wouldn’t make too much of the Syrians as foreign “invaders.” Perhaps, instead, they could take lessons from Damascus in how to generate similarly massive displays of support for their own occupation.
Getting back to Oz: as the liberals of Lebanon approach the U.S. for aid and assistance in getting “on the right side of history,” the price they may be asked to pay could be similar to that demanded by the Wizard when petitioned by Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin-Man, and the Cowardly Lion:
Bashar Assad isn’t known to travel by broomstick, but it wouldn’t take much to get the American people to believe it. That regime change in Syria is the real objective of this administration’s intervention in Lebanon seems beyond doubt. The mild-mannered ophthalmologist is about to undergo a startling transformation into a dictator on a par with Hitler. Deep in the air-conditioned bowels of the Pentagon, they’re probably already making plans to fake the circumstances of his capture.