After 9/11, Administration neo-cons offered a "noble lie" to
sell the public on the need to invade and occupy Iraq (The
Iraqis will shower our troops with flowers and kisses). The
same group has invented a new "virtuous prevarication" to
build support for an attack on Syria. Ignoring recent
testimony by CIA Director Porter J. Goss that "Islamic
extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new
anti-U.S. jihadists" (Washington Post, February 17, 2005),
this group of high US officials in Defense, State and the
Vice President's office have organized a "get Syria"
Without evidence, US officials accused Damascus of
responsibility for the February 14 assassination of former
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, and of
sponsoring terrorism in Iraq as well.
Anti-Syria rhetoric followed from the Iraq precedent.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz and then-Defense Policy Board Chair Richard Perle
found they could convince President Bush to switch from
traditionalist (do little) policy to aggressively asserting
naked military power.
Altering Teddy Roosevelt's policy advice by speaking loudly
and also carrying a big stick, these neo-cons replaced truth
with "myth-making." The neo-cons shared a common guru,
former University of Chicago political philosopher Leo
Strauss. Under Strauss' neo-platonic model, a governing
elite wields power and utilizes the "noble lie" to guide
imperial ideology. Beyond sharing a common understanding of
the Straussian fundamentals of political rule, the neo-cons
also share enthusiasm for aggressive Israeli policies.
In the early 1990s, they sold Dick Cheney and Donald
Rumsfled on this strategy. After 9/11, Cheney and Rumsfeld
used their positions as Vice President and Defense Secretary
to sell Bush on the new approach. From that time on,
official statements utilized the neo-con "noble lie": Saddam
Hussein backed the 9/11 terrorists and possessed WMDs and
planned to share them with terrorists; thus, the US had to
stop him. Repeat it and report it in the press and the
public will believe it. Pro-Israel media acolytes like the
NY Times' Judith Miller obliged the neo-cons in
manufacturing "evidence" of an "enemy" that the public could
By late 2004, the White House admitted that Saddam had
neither WMDs nor links to the 9/11 fiends. Logically, Bush
should have fired this gang for involving the country in the
Iraqi morass. Instead, their disastrous Iraqi performance
brought the neo-cons even more clout in the second Bush
Administration. Using their spin-mastery to inflame opinion,
the neo-cons invented new "black hats" Iran and Syria.
The neo-cons also stage-managed facts in the aftermath of
the February 14 assassination of Hariri, who had demanded
that Syrian troops leave Lebanon, so as to point the
accusatory finger at the Bashar al-Assad government. Even
after Assad condemned the murder as a "horrible crime,"
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled the US
Ambassador to Syria for "consultations," while threats of
possible US military action emanated from neo-con offices in
Spun properly, Hariri's murder transcended the commonplace
assassinations in the Middle East and became an
international cause célèbre. The neo-cons correctly counted
on the media to maintain "temporal atrophy." The press
neither commented on how assassinating one's "enemies"
impacted the rule of law, nor on how routine extra-judicial
assassinations by Israel and the United States had become.
Bush revealed in his 2003 State of the Union address
that "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been
arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different
fate. Let's put it this way-- they are no longer a problem
to the United States and our friends and allies." What a
lesson to teach!
Had the media reported Hariri's assassination as just
another probable state-sponsored execution, it would have
stripped both shock value and the veneer of moral
indignation from Bush's reaction.
But it didn't. So, the anti-Syria theme escalated. Bush had
already used his February 2005 State of the Union address to
confront "regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and
pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its
territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists
who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region."
The next day, Wolfowitz told Senate Armed Services Committee
members that Syria should stop "destabilize[ing] Iraq" as if
Syria, not the United States, invaded Iraq in March 2003
without UN Security Council authorization.
The Senate panel's curiosity did not extend to asking
Wolfowitz about Israeli destabilization of Lebanon during
the 1980s or how Israeli-backed Phalangist militias
massacred thousands of Palestinian refugees in 1982 at Sabra
Indeed, historical amnesia after Hariri's murder permitted
Bush officials to sanctimoniously demand that Congress warn
Syria to end her "occupation" of Lebanon and support
Lebanese "sovereignty." Even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, who commanded Israeli military operations in Lebanon
in 1982, made such a demand.
What Chutzpah! Sharon demands Syrian withdrawal while Israel
continues its 38-year occupation of Palestinian territories,
in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
Indeed, Israel still occupies Syria's Golan Heights in
violation of UN Security Council resolution 497.
Another part of the "noble lie" relates to the threat
Syria's 14,000 troops poses to Lebanese "sovereignty." In
fact, the bilateral agreement between Lebanon and Syria to
station troops resulted directly from the prior
destabilization of Lebanon by Israel, the United States,
France and to a lesser extent Syria whose interests are
directly affected by Lebanese instability.
But who benefits? Without a context, official US language
makes it seem as if Lebanon and the United States would gain
from hostility toward evil Syria. On February 8, Secretary
of State Rice called Syria "unhelpful in a number ways." Did
she mean to include Syria's post 9/11 assistance in
providing US intelligence with information that saved
American lives by preventing an Al Qaeda attack on the US
Fleet in Bahrain?
Did she refer to Syria's help in arresting Mohammed Haydar
Zammar, a Syrian-born German citizen accused of recruiting
some 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg? Indeed, did Rice also suffer
The State Department affirmed on April 30, 2003: "The
Government of Syria has cooperated significantly with the
United States and other foreign governments against al-
Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations and
individuals." More recently, Damascus cooperated by closing
holes in the porous Iraqi-Syrian border.
Syria learned: no good deed goes unpunished. Syria still
remains on the State Department's list of countries
sponsoring terrorism. In November 2003, Congress passed
without debate the Syria Accountability Act. No Member
publicly referred to Syria's anti-terrorist efforts. Yet,
the bill charged Syria without citing evidence --
with "harboring terrorists," "developing weapons of mass
destruction" and "occupying Lebanon." On May 12, 2004, Bush
banned US exports to Syria and Syrian aircraft from US
Following Hariri's murder, anti-Syria rhetoric escalated.
Senator George Allen (R-VA) and Representative Eliot Engel
(D-NY) called for sending "a message" by imposing "tough"
new measures banning US business in Syria -- on Damascus.
The verbal attacks coincided with demands to
install "democracy." Indeed, "democracy" had already served
to cover previous US aggression. A month after the 9/11
events, Bush bombed Afghanistan "they hate us because we're
free"--despite the fact that most of the 9/11 hijackers came
from oily Saudi Arabia, the US ally. Similarly,
Bush "liberated Iraq" by making war the most profound
violation of human rights -- against the human rights
The democracy beat continues because the major media doesn't
question it. David Frum and Richard Perle (January 7, 2004
Wall St. Journal) contended in reference to Syria
that, "When the door [to democracy] is locked shut by a
totalitarian deadbolt, American power may be the only way to
open it up." In their 2003 book An End to Evil, Frum and
Perle advocated regime change in Syria, Cuba, North Korea
and Iran. In 1996, Perle and fellow neo-con Douglas Feith
had projected a policy to facilitate Israel's shaping
of "its strategic environment...by weakening, containing,
and even rolling back Syria." In their report, "A Clean
Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," Perle and
Feith argued for the removal of "Saddam Hussein from power
in Iraq, an important Israeli strategic objective as a means
of foiling Syria's regional ambitions."
If rogue elements in Syrian did the Beirut murder, it was
what Israeli journalist Uri Avnery's called "an act of
supreme folly, since it was obvious that it would help the
Americans build up the Lebanese opposition and arouse a
storm of anti-Syrian sentiment."
Regardless of who assassinated Hariri, the deed focused
world attention on a problematic Lebanese-Syrian
relationship. Hariri's death may indeed serve to catalyze a
new round of US and even some European intervention in Arab
affairs. The very threat of such a move has pushed Syria to
talk of withdrawing its forces from Lebanon.
But as Bush descended upon Europe last week to forgive
France and Germany for being right about Iraq, Europeans
indicated they would proceed "cautiously in blood," as
Edmund Burke once advised.
The neo-cons awaited Bush's return to Washington so as to
proceed with their foreign policy script, oozing with "sound
and fury" (Shakespeare's "Macbeth"), which calls for burying
judicious voices and replacing them with "noble lies."
Farrah Hassen recently spent 2 months working for the United
Nations Development Programme in Syria. She can be reached
at: FHuisClos1944@aol.com. Saul Landau directs Digital Media at Cal Poly Pomona
University. He and Farrah Hassen made the 2004 film: Syria: Between Iraq and a Hard Place.