Assassinations and the Beneficiaries
by: Dark WraithThe death in less than two months of the second of two prominent, Russian critics of the regime in Moscow has produced not the slightest hint of audible outcry from the West. Former Russian Federal Security Service agent Alexander Litvinenko died yesterday from being poisoned, most likely while eating at a sushi restaurant. The Washington Post now reports that what had been the mystery poison that slowly, inexorably killed Litvinenko was, in fact, polonium 210, one of the rarest of radioactive substances. It might have been part of an assassination cocktail, or it might have been used on its own; but regardless of how exactly the man's murderers did their dirty work, Litvinenko is finally dead after a valiant fight to stay alive as his immune system collapsed, his hair fell out, and his internal organs finally succumbed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming support from 'British medical records' in the matter, sniffed that "...there is no ground for speculations" that Litvinenko's death was the "result of violence." Mr. Litvinenko felt otherwise and dictated a statement to the effect before slipping into the coma from which he would not return. His final statement was a broadside condemnation of Vladimir Putin as a leader and as the ultimate authority in his killing.
Mr. Litvinenko is preceded in death by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, described in an October 7, 2006, press release by the U.S. Department of State as "[p]ersonally courageous and committed to seeking justice even in the face of previous death threats." That press release notes that, in the past six years, twelve journalists have been murdered, including the Russian editor of Forbes, American Paul Klebnikov. Ms. Politkovskaya was preparing the publication of a scathing article about the war being waged by Russia against neighboring Chechnya. She was found in the elevator of her apartment building, her head and body having taken four rounds from a Makarov pistol fired at close range.
While an on-going investigation of the death of a prominent figure in another country might be cause for diplomatic caution in prematurely assigning blame, the Bush Administration has had little problem in broadly hinting at just that in the case of the assassination of Right-wing politician Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon. Gemayel, the son of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, was the Minister of Industry and a rising star in the Christian Phalangist political party, the rival of Syrian-backed Hezb'allah, led by its Secretary-General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, a man that even some Israelis grudgingly admire for having survived the August bombing and land invasion of Lebanon by Israeli Defense Forces intent on killing him and neutralizing his party.
United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton went right to the brink of an outright accusation of Syrian involvement in Gemayel's assassination. Conflating the on-going UN investigation of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Haririan investigation, objectively or otherwise, that has implicated SyriansBolton intoned ominously, "I think people can draw their own conclusions [about Syrian involvement in Gemayel's assassination]."
The hypocrisy of the double-standard being applied by the Bush Administration and others is palpable. On the one hand, those who stand to gain the most in the deaths of ex-spies and journalists in Russia are being treated with kid gloves; yet, at the same time, those who certainly do not stand to gain much of anything by a string of assassinations in Lebanon are immediately subject to barely-veiled implication.
The judgment Victor Litvinenko expressed on his deathbed about Vladimir Putin is widely shared by those who have suffered under the Russian president's rule. In Mr. Litvinenko's own words:
"You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women...Yet no one in the Bush Administrationcertainly not soon-to-be-has-been Ambassador Boltonis taking the lead in rallying world condemnation of Putin's iron-fisted, corrupt regime.
"You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world, Mr. Putin, will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done."
But in Lebanon, where the Syrians were literally forced to end their long-standing military presence in the wake of outrage over Prime Minister Hariri's slaying, the presumption is that Damascus is at it again, ticking off what would be the regime of Bashar al-Assad's fifth assassination in the past two years. But as weak and irresolute as Bashar al-Assad might be, especially in comparison to his father, the late Hafez al-Assad, only the dullard would assume that the Syrians would not have calculated the extraordinary outpouring of grief and anti-Syrian hatred that has occasioned the murder of the popular, youthful Pierre Gemayel.
It is no overreach to predict that Syria has now lost all hope of being a significant force, political or otherwise, in Lebanon, as has its Lebanese hand-maiden, Nasrallah's Hezb'allah; and it is furthermore not beyond consideration that the assassination of Gemayel will ultimately become the pretext for Western punitive measures to be taken against Damascus, such measures including economic sanctions, international tribunals, and even possibly military actions, covert or otherwise.
Syria stood to gain nothing from involvement in the assassination of Pierre Gemayel; and unless the regime is Damascus is riddled with profoundly stupid decision-makers, al-Assad and his henchmen would have known this. So, too (although perhaps not as certainly) would Hezb'allah chief Nasrallah.
This all leads, of course, to the big question in the current round of Lebanese intrigue: Who, then, would stand to gain the most from the death of Pierre Gemayel? That question might best be framed in terms of whoor more accurately, what country or countrieswould stand to gain the most from a world intent upon blaming, and then punishing, the suspect favored for punishment by the United States and certain interests of the Middle East?
That which binds the assassinations of prominent Russian dissidents and prominent Lebanese politicians is the suspiciously inconsistent manner in which either blame is assigned or judgment reserved by other countries, particularly by those with a recent history of selective use of military force in prosecuting their parochial interests. For Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs in Russia, a quiet Western front is all for the best for everyone concerned.
For the Bush Administration, righteous indignation and nearly open finger-pointing at Syria serves an equally beneficial purpose, at least as far as the United States and its dearest ally in the Middle East are concerned.