Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 11, 2010

Still Ignoring the Obvious About Abbas

It’s got to be a tough job writing New York Times editorials about the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Because according to the party line at the Gray Lady, peace between Israel and the Palestinians is merely a matter of American pressure on the Jewish state to force it to make the concessions that will magically end the conflict, any discussion of Abbas’s intentions and actions is bound to undermine its thesis. But, undaunted by the challenge, the author of today’s editorial in the Times forges ahead, trying to ignore the obvious.

But the interesting thing about this latest Times peace-process encyclical is that even the geniuses there have noticed that it is no longer enough to merely blame everything on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom they nevertheless abuse by calling a “master manipulator.” So long as Abbas refuses to engage in direct peace negotiations with Israel, those who think the solution to everything that’s wrong with the Middle East is putting the screws to the Israelis find their arguments fatally undermined.

In response, the Times tries to cajole “President Abbas” (that this president’s term expired long ago without even a hint of another election, in which his extremist electorate might vote him out, goes unmentioned in the piece) into direct talks by showing how much they sympathize with his fears of being bested by the wily Netanyahu. The Times agrees that it is too bad that the Israelis won’t concede every point to be negotiated in advance of the talks and that the White House has come to understand that efforts to hammer Israel in the past year and a half have been both diplomatically unproductive and politically disastrous. But the editorial warns Abbas that no matter how justified his fears may be, he’s wrong if the thinks time is on his side. It points out that even a president as unfriendly to Israel and Netanyahu as Obama is “losing patience” with Abbas because he won’t negotiate.

But the obvious fact that the Times and much of the Obama administration still don’t seem willing to acknowledge is that it is not Netanyahu who would be “put to the test” in direct talks. As anyone who has paid any attention to the Palestinian leadership in the last decade knows, Abbas’s greatest fear is getting into real peace negotiations, on which there would be an actual chance of agreement. Because if that happens, he would be forced to do as Yasir Arafat did at Camp David in July 2000 and in Taba in January 2001: say no to peace. Abbas knows he can’t make peace with Israel, no matter what the terms of the agreement or where the final borders might be drawn. Ehud Olmert offered him an even sweeter deal in 2008 than the ones offered to Arafat, and he wouldn’t even talk about it.

The Times still thinks that Abbas can deliver a two-state solution while his Hamas rivals cannot. What the Times fails to understand is that it is precisely because of the power of Hamas and the weakness of Abbas, who passes for a moderate among Palestinians and rightly understands that the dynamics of Palestinian politics forbid any agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of Israel, there is no chance that the PA leader will ever accede to their wishes.

It’s got to be a tough job writing New York Times editorials about the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Because according to the party line at the Gray Lady, peace between Israel and the Palestinians is merely a matter of American pressure on the Jewish state to force it to make the concessions that will magically end the conflict, any discussion of Abbas’s intentions and actions is bound to undermine its thesis. But, undaunted by the challenge, the author of today’s editorial in the Times forges ahead, trying to ignore the obvious.

But the interesting thing about this latest Times peace-process encyclical is that even the geniuses there have noticed that it is no longer enough to merely blame everything on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom they nevertheless abuse by calling a “master manipulator.” So long as Abbas refuses to engage in direct peace negotiations with Israel, those who think the solution to everything that’s wrong with the Middle East is putting the screws to the Israelis find their arguments fatally undermined.

In response, the Times tries to cajole “President Abbas” (that this president’s term expired long ago without even a hint of another election, in which his extremist electorate might vote him out, goes unmentioned in the piece) into direct talks by showing how much they sympathize with his fears of being bested by the wily Netanyahu. The Times agrees that it is too bad that the Israelis won’t concede every point to be negotiated in advance of the talks and that the White House has come to understand that efforts to hammer Israel in the past year and a half have been both diplomatically unproductive and politically disastrous. But the editorial warns Abbas that no matter how justified his fears may be, he’s wrong if the thinks time is on his side. It points out that even a president as unfriendly to Israel and Netanyahu as Obama is “losing patience” with Abbas because he won’t negotiate.

But the obvious fact that the Times and much of the Obama administration still don’t seem willing to acknowledge is that it is not Netanyahu who would be “put to the test” in direct talks. As anyone who has paid any attention to the Palestinian leadership in the last decade knows, Abbas’s greatest fear is getting into real peace negotiations, on which there would be an actual chance of agreement. Because if that happens, he would be forced to do as Yasir Arafat did at Camp David in July 2000 and in Taba in January 2001: say no to peace. Abbas knows he can’t make peace with Israel, no matter what the terms of the agreement or where the final borders might be drawn. Ehud Olmert offered him an even sweeter deal in 2008 than the ones offered to Arafat, and he wouldn’t even talk about it.

The Times still thinks that Abbas can deliver a two-state solution while his Hamas rivals cannot. What the Times fails to understand is that it is precisely because of the power of Hamas and the weakness of Abbas, who passes for a moderate among Palestinians and rightly understands that the dynamics of Palestinian politics forbid any agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of Israel, there is no chance that the PA leader will ever accede to their wishes.

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What Would You Do About Iran?

What would you do about Iran if you were Netanyahu? That’s the question Jeffrey Goldberg asks Christopher Hitchens in one of a series of interesting videos posted at the Atlantic‘s website that accompanies Goldberg’s major piece on the question of the threat from Iran.

Hitchens’s reply was that a better question is what would he do if he were president of the United States, because “That’s where the question has to be asked.”

Though he is at pains to remind us that he is a severe critic of Israel and Zionism and thinks it “wouldn’t have been a bad thing if it [Israel] had never been started,” Hitchens says that if, as seems inevitable, Iran is prepared to weaponize, it will be Obama’s “obligation to take out” the Iranian regime and to do it before it acts on its nefarious intentions.

Hitchens’s rationale is that since Iran has many times sworn in writing and in international forums that it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, while also declaring its intent to destroy Israel, then the United States must act “if international law means anything.” He also points out that there is no comparison between Iran’s nuclear program and the one that already exists in Israel, because the latter is a “status quo power,” while the former is run by a “crowd of genocidal fanatical theocrats.” Indeed, Hitchens takes the anti-Semitism of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government seriously and rightly points out that civilization can’t stand by and watch the Jews being slaughtered again.

But listening to Hitchens one wonders whether anyone in the current administration takes seriously the notion that it is America’s obligation to hold Iran accountable. It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.

What would you do about Iran if you were Netanyahu? That’s the question Jeffrey Goldberg asks Christopher Hitchens in one of a series of interesting videos posted at the Atlantic‘s website that accompanies Goldberg’s major piece on the question of the threat from Iran.

Hitchens’s reply was that a better question is what would he do if he were president of the United States, because “That’s where the question has to be asked.”

Though he is at pains to remind us that he is a severe critic of Israel and Zionism and thinks it “wouldn’t have been a bad thing if it [Israel] had never been started,” Hitchens says that if, as seems inevitable, Iran is prepared to weaponize, it will be Obama’s “obligation to take out” the Iranian regime and to do it before it acts on its nefarious intentions.

Hitchens’s rationale is that since Iran has many times sworn in writing and in international forums that it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, while also declaring its intent to destroy Israel, then the United States must act “if international law means anything.” He also points out that there is no comparison between Iran’s nuclear program and the one that already exists in Israel, because the latter is a “status quo power,” while the former is run by a “crowd of genocidal fanatical theocrats.” Indeed, Hitchens takes the anti-Semitism of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government seriously and rightly points out that civilization can’t stand by and watch the Jews being slaughtered again.

But listening to Hitchens one wonders whether anyone in the current administration takes seriously the notion that it is America’s obligation to hold Iran accountable. It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.

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A Primary Victory Boosts…WHAT?

I’ve read some cracked political analysis in my time, but a story on the New York Times website this afternoon called “A Primary Victory Boosts White House, for Now”

may be the San Andreas Fault of cracked political analyses. It seems, according to the reporter Jeff Zeleny, that the White House is rejoicing today in the primary victory of Colorado Senate candidate (and sitting Senator by appointment) Michael Bennet over an insurgent Democrat named Andrew Romanoff:

President Obama and his White House on Wednesday were savoring one of their sweetest victories of the midterm election season, as Senator Michael Bennet’s triumph in the Colorado Democratic primary on Tuesday interrupted the political storyline that all incumbents are doomed by voter discontent.

The story goes on to say that Obama had invested his political capital in Bennet, that if Bennet had gone down it would have demonstrated his weakness, and so on.

I don’t know if the fault is the White House’s or Zeleny’s, but this is, quite simply, insane. The race in question was in a Democratic primary. The results tell us very little about the mood of the overall electorate in November, especially the mood among independent voters. And what little information there is to be gleaned from the results should actually be very worrying to Democrats, because in this contested primary, far fewer votes were cast for the two Democrats than for the two Republicans who went at it yesterday.

So what exactly is this story about? It’s about a liberal fantasy. The liberal fantasy is that the insurgent mood abroad in the land is generic. It’s “anti-incumbent.” It’s not anti-Obama, or anti-Democrat, or anti-liberal. It’s a “throw the bums out” thing, and does not represent a rejection of the policies of the past two years but a frustration with the continuing lethargy of the economy.

It’s understandable why people who generally support the actions over the past two years would wish to believe this — and why they would think that a challenge from Obama’s Left (which is effectively what his rival’s candidacy was) stems from the same root as the challenges from the anti-Democrat right. It’s just about dissatisfaction if that’s all true, and dissatisfaction can be replaced by satisfaction if the right things happen and the right words are used.

If, however, what is happening is a rejection of the ideas Obama has championed and the policies that emerged from those ideas, then there’s really nothing he can do other than repudiate them or make a sharp turn away from them. This is something the people who populate the White House — and the New York Times — are unwilling to contemplate. And so they are left taking comfort in phantom victories — phantom victories that presage catastrophic losses.

I’ve read some cracked political analysis in my time, but a story on the New York Times website this afternoon called “A Primary Victory Boosts White House, for Now”

may be the San Andreas Fault of cracked political analyses. It seems, according to the reporter Jeff Zeleny, that the White House is rejoicing today in the primary victory of Colorado Senate candidate (and sitting Senator by appointment) Michael Bennet over an insurgent Democrat named Andrew Romanoff:

President Obama and his White House on Wednesday were savoring one of their sweetest victories of the midterm election season, as Senator Michael Bennet’s triumph in the Colorado Democratic primary on Tuesday interrupted the political storyline that all incumbents are doomed by voter discontent.

The story goes on to say that Obama had invested his political capital in Bennet, that if Bennet had gone down it would have demonstrated his weakness, and so on.

I don’t know if the fault is the White House’s or Zeleny’s, but this is, quite simply, insane. The race in question was in a Democratic primary. The results tell us very little about the mood of the overall electorate in November, especially the mood among independent voters. And what little information there is to be gleaned from the results should actually be very worrying to Democrats, because in this contested primary, far fewer votes were cast for the two Democrats than for the two Republicans who went at it yesterday.

So what exactly is this story about? It’s about a liberal fantasy. The liberal fantasy is that the insurgent mood abroad in the land is generic. It’s “anti-incumbent.” It’s not anti-Obama, or anti-Democrat, or anti-liberal. It’s a “throw the bums out” thing, and does not represent a rejection of the policies of the past two years but a frustration with the continuing lethargy of the economy.

It’s understandable why people who generally support the actions over the past two years would wish to believe this — and why they would think that a challenge from Obama’s Left (which is effectively what his rival’s candidacy was) stems from the same root as the challenges from the anti-Democrat right. It’s just about dissatisfaction if that’s all true, and dissatisfaction can be replaced by satisfaction if the right things happen and the right words are used.

If, however, what is happening is a rejection of the ideas Obama has championed and the policies that emerged from those ideas, then there’s really nothing he can do other than repudiate them or make a sharp turn away from them. This is something the people who populate the White House — and the New York Times — are unwilling to contemplate. And so they are left taking comfort in phantom victories — phantom victories that presage catastrophic losses.

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No Quick Fix for War Woes

Here’s a New York Times headline double-whammy for the anti-war crowd: On Afghanistan, “U.S. Military to Press for Slower Afghan Drawdown,” and on Iraq, “U.S. and Iraqi Interests May Work Against Pullout.”

It turns out there is more to ending wars than railing against George W. Bush and making speeches about international norms. Barack Obama has taken to citing U.S. accomplishments in Iraq only as justification for a withdrawal of troops. (Notice how things have inverted. The anti-war Democrat now claims mission accomplished, while the pro-Iraq War conservatives describe the job as unfinished.) Yet the president notes the challenges in Afghanistan also as justification for a fixed withdrawal date. For this commander in chief, both achievement and deficiency are grounds for laying down weapons. If the global order’s chief protector—which looks credibly weaker today than it has at any point in the past thirty years—decides that military victory is an inconvenient burden, the consequences will prove catastrophic in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Here’s a New York Times headline double-whammy for the anti-war crowd: On Afghanistan, “U.S. Military to Press for Slower Afghan Drawdown,” and on Iraq, “U.S. and Iraqi Interests May Work Against Pullout.”

It turns out there is more to ending wars than railing against George W. Bush and making speeches about international norms. Barack Obama has taken to citing U.S. accomplishments in Iraq only as justification for a withdrawal of troops. (Notice how things have inverted. The anti-war Democrat now claims mission accomplished, while the pro-Iraq War conservatives describe the job as unfinished.) Yet the president notes the challenges in Afghanistan also as justification for a fixed withdrawal date. For this commander in chief, both achievement and deficiency are grounds for laying down weapons. If the global order’s chief protector—which looks credibly weaker today than it has at any point in the past thirty years—decides that military victory is an inconvenient burden, the consequences will prove catastrophic in ways we can’t yet imagine.

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The Broken Promises of an ‘Untested Redeemer’

Fouad Ajami, a brilliant Middle East scholar, has penned a masterpiece on Barack Obama for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a portion of what Ajami writes:

It is in the nature of charisma that it rises out of thin air, out of need and distress, and then dissipates when the magic fails. The country has had its fill with a scapegoating that knows no end from a president who had vowed to break with recriminations and partisanship. The magic of 2008 can’t be recreated, and good riddance to it. Slowly, the nation has recovered its poise. There is a widespread sense of unstated embarrassment that a political majority, if only for a moment, fell for the promise of an untested redeemer—a belief alien to the temperament of this so practical and sober a nation.

You must read the whole thing.

Fouad Ajami, a brilliant Middle East scholar, has penned a masterpiece on Barack Obama for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a portion of what Ajami writes:

It is in the nature of charisma that it rises out of thin air, out of need and distress, and then dissipates when the magic fails. The country has had its fill with a scapegoating that knows no end from a president who had vowed to break with recriminations and partisanship. The magic of 2008 can’t be recreated, and good riddance to it. Slowly, the nation has recovered its poise. There is a widespread sense of unstated embarrassment that a political majority, if only for a moment, fell for the promise of an untested redeemer—a belief alien to the temperament of this so practical and sober a nation.

You must read the whole thing.

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A Rauchian Take

I don’t always agree with Jonathan Rauch, but I always respect the quality and rigor of his arguments. His op-ed in the New York Daily News, on the topic of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, is no exception.

I find Rauch to be the most formidable and persuasive voice for same-sex marriage. But he makes a persuasive Madisonian and Burkean case against the decision. In Jon’s word:

Now, I agree with Walker that gay marriage is unlikely to cause any significant social harm and will do much good. But the judge insists that the testimony of a handful of expert witnesses in his courtroom rules out the possibility of harm so definitively as to make any attempt at caution or gradualism irrational. The evidence, he holds, is “beyond debate.” In an unpredictable world, that kind of sweeping certainty would leave any Burkean gulping.

So I think the decision is a radical one, but not, ironically, as it pertains to homosexuality or to marriage. No, Walker’s radicalism lies elsewhere: In his use of the Constitution to batter the principles of its two greatest exponents – Madison and Abraham Lincoln, a Burkean who was steadfast in his belief that ideals must be leavened with pragmatism.

History will, I believe, vindicate Walker’s view of marriage. Whether it will see him as having done gay rights a favor is less clear. For all its morally admirable qualities, his decision sets the cause of marriage equality crosswise with moderation, gradualism and popular sovereignty. Which, in America, is a dangerous place to be.

These are impressive arguments by an impressive, intellectually honest mind. It’s safe to say as well that our political discourse would be much better if it were more Rauchian.

I don’t always agree with Jonathan Rauch, but I always respect the quality and rigor of his arguments. His op-ed in the New York Daily News, on the topic of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, is no exception.

I find Rauch to be the most formidable and persuasive voice for same-sex marriage. But he makes a persuasive Madisonian and Burkean case against the decision. In Jon’s word:

Now, I agree with Walker that gay marriage is unlikely to cause any significant social harm and will do much good. But the judge insists that the testimony of a handful of expert witnesses in his courtroom rules out the possibility of harm so definitively as to make any attempt at caution or gradualism irrational. The evidence, he holds, is “beyond debate.” In an unpredictable world, that kind of sweeping certainty would leave any Burkean gulping.

So I think the decision is a radical one, but not, ironically, as it pertains to homosexuality or to marriage. No, Walker’s radicalism lies elsewhere: In his use of the Constitution to batter the principles of its two greatest exponents – Madison and Abraham Lincoln, a Burkean who was steadfast in his belief that ideals must be leavened with pragmatism.

History will, I believe, vindicate Walker’s view of marriage. Whether it will see him as having done gay rights a favor is less clear. For all its morally admirable qualities, his decision sets the cause of marriage equality crosswise with moderation, gradualism and popular sovereignty. Which, in America, is a dangerous place to be.

These are impressive arguments by an impressive, intellectually honest mind. It’s safe to say as well that our political discourse would be much better if it were more Rauchian.

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More on the Intensity Factor

According to the most recent Pew Survey:

It is clear that Republicans and Republican leaning groups are far more energized at this point in the campaign than are Democrats and Democratic groups. … Among voters who identify as Republicans, 50% fall into to this high engagement category. Perhaps equally important, 57% of independents who say they lean to the GOP are rated as highly engaged. By comparison, Democrats are significantly less engaged. Just 33% of Democrats and 23% of Democratic-leaning independents fall into the high engagement category. Similarly, relatively few among two key demographic groups that supported Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008, African Americans and young people, rate high on campaign engagement (24% for African Americans, 23% for voters ages 18 to 29).

Those results are fascinating – and, for the Democrats, quite alarming. The “highly-engaged” gap between Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning independents is 34 points, which is almost unbelievable.

Almost.

According to the most recent Pew Survey:

It is clear that Republicans and Republican leaning groups are far more energized at this point in the campaign than are Democrats and Democratic groups. … Among voters who identify as Republicans, 50% fall into to this high engagement category. Perhaps equally important, 57% of independents who say they lean to the GOP are rated as highly engaged. By comparison, Democrats are significantly less engaged. Just 33% of Democrats and 23% of Democratic-leaning independents fall into the high engagement category. Similarly, relatively few among two key demographic groups that supported Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008, African Americans and young people, rate high on campaign engagement (24% for African Americans, 23% for voters ages 18 to 29).

Those results are fascinating – and, for the Democrats, quite alarming. The “highly-engaged” gap between Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning independents is 34 points, which is almost unbelievable.

Almost.

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The Appeal of Obama

According to the Associated Press:

Victorious Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado says he appreciates Barack Obama‘s help in his primary fight, but isn’t sure how big a part the president will play in his fall campaign. Asked what role he could envision for Obama, Bennet tells ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he has to think about it.

Ouch. But the truth is, who can blame Bennet? After all, he wants to win an election — and President Obama has become politically radioactive in many places, including, apparently, Colorado.

Is this what “hope and change” was supposed to look like for the Democrats?

According to the Associated Press:

Victorious Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado says he appreciates Barack Obama‘s help in his primary fight, but isn’t sure how big a part the president will play in his fall campaign. Asked what role he could envision for Obama, Bennet tells ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he has to think about it.

Ouch. But the truth is, who can blame Bennet? After all, he wants to win an election — and President Obama has become politically radioactive in many places, including, apparently, Colorado.

Is this what “hope and change” was supposed to look like for the Democrats?

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Hezbollah Can’t Pin Hariri Murder on Israel

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is now officially blaming Israel for assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005. I doubt he will convince many people.

I’ve been working in Lebanon on and off for years, and I’ve never once met a single person who thought Israel murdered Hariri. Not even the Hezbollah officials I spoke to before they blacklisted me thought so. Once in a while I met a Hezbollah supporter who said he didn’t know who killed Hariri and silently left open the possibility that Israel might have done it, but that’s the furthest even any of them were willing to go.

Hariri was one of the least anti-Israel Arab leaders on earth. His vision for Lebanon was one of peace and prosperity, not terrorism and war. Jerusalem had no reason at all to want him out of the picture. The Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc, on the other hand, needed him out of the way, dead, or at least suppressed.

Almost everyone in Lebanon assumed from the very beginning that the Assad regime in Damascus ordered the hit, which is why Syria’s military occupation was terminated almost at once by a tremendous wave of multi-sectarian wrath. Most people, including me, didn’t entertain the idea for long that Hezbollah might be responsible, not because Hezbollah wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it, but because Syria had the greater of motives.

Speculation is now mounting, however, that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is about to name Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior Hezbollah commander, as the chief suspect. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually true, but it will be explosive news if it is. It could easily start another round of sectarian bloodletting, and at the least it will bring Lebanon closer to the boiling point than it already is.

Nasrallah desperately needs to minimize the potential damage as much as he can in advance. Blaming the Jews often works in this part of the world, but this time it might not. His timing could not be worse. It wouldn’t have worked had he tried it five years ago, and that he’s trying it now only makes him look guilty.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is now officially blaming Israel for assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005. I doubt he will convince many people.

I’ve been working in Lebanon on and off for years, and I’ve never once met a single person who thought Israel murdered Hariri. Not even the Hezbollah officials I spoke to before they blacklisted me thought so. Once in a while I met a Hezbollah supporter who said he didn’t know who killed Hariri and silently left open the possibility that Israel might have done it, but that’s the furthest even any of them were willing to go.

Hariri was one of the least anti-Israel Arab leaders on earth. His vision for Lebanon was one of peace and prosperity, not terrorism and war. Jerusalem had no reason at all to want him out of the picture. The Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc, on the other hand, needed him out of the way, dead, or at least suppressed.

Almost everyone in Lebanon assumed from the very beginning that the Assad regime in Damascus ordered the hit, which is why Syria’s military occupation was terminated almost at once by a tremendous wave of multi-sectarian wrath. Most people, including me, didn’t entertain the idea for long that Hezbollah might be responsible, not because Hezbollah wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it, but because Syria had the greater of motives.

Speculation is now mounting, however, that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is about to name Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior Hezbollah commander, as the chief suspect. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually true, but it will be explosive news if it is. It could easily start another round of sectarian bloodletting, and at the least it will bring Lebanon closer to the boiling point than it already is.

Nasrallah desperately needs to minimize the potential damage as much as he can in advance. Blaming the Jews often works in this part of the world, but this time it might not. His timing could not be worse. It wouldn’t have worked had he tried it five years ago, and that he’s trying it now only makes him look guilty.

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