Friday, December 30, 2005

`Abdul-Halim Khaddam on Syrian Policy in Lebanon; and those who rule (and have ruled) Syria. And why Rustum Ghazalah may get a strong urge to hurt himself. Probably like most Syrians and Lebanese (and other Arabs), I was glued to the screen. I watched the marathon interview with `Abdul-Halim Khaddam on the Saudi Al-Arabiyya TV. First, the setting. The interview was most likely conducted in Khaddam's new mansion/palace on rue foch in the heart of Paris, France. That is the home that was reportedly purchased for him by Hariri Inc. The palace was previously owned by A. Onasis and was purchased for Khaddam by Hariri Inc for $40 million (not to be confused with the other home that Khaddam reportedly owns in Nice, France and which was purchased for $20 million). That must be nice; in the past, he used to stay in Rafiq Hariri's home in Paris, that is now occupied by his widow Nazik. In fact, Khaddam's wife also used to stay in Hariri's home, for weeks when she had to go with her family on shopping missions. Those were the days; there will be more days, rest assured. But Khaddam was most clumsy in allowing the interview in this most extravagant and ostentatious home; Khaddam was speaking about the poverty in Syria, and a bronze statue was just behind him (see above). The gigantic fireplace was within view of the camera when the interviewer was seen on camera. Some of the lies he told should become legendary. I mean, for Khaddam to speak about corruption or about the rude behavior of Rustum Ghazalah in dealing with Lebanese politicians, is like Bush speaking on the need for competence and qualifications in the presidency of the US. Khaddam, like Rustum Ghazalah, used to curse and threaten Lebanese politicians. Khaddam used to use obscenities in referring to Lebanese politicians too. George Hawi was a recipient, among others, of that behavior, as was Mufti Hasan Khalid who was killed only weeks after direct threats by none other than Khaddam. The Mufti's son, Sa`d Ad-Din, himself told that account in an interview with Ash-Shira` magazine. Khaddam posing as a peaceful man of integrity is, well, not different from Rif`at Al-Asad posing as a peaceful man of integrity. Khaddam has too long of a record to pose as a man of virtue. In fact, right after the interview, Al-Arabiyya interviewed a dissident in Syria and he had to remind Khaddam that the human rights situation was even worse under his tenure, during the times when he was very strong, and when Hafidh Al-Asad ruled. These were the days of the Hamah massacre, and of the times when beards and motorcycle riding were enough to get your arrested, tortured, and often killed in Syria. This is an era that Khaddam will try to convince the Syrian people was all pleasant and fine? This is true: the Syrian regime today wishes to blame all its problems in Syria and Lebanon on Khaddam, while Khaddam wants to blame all of Syria's problems in Lebanon (and in Syria) on Rustum Ghazalah and Faruq Ash-Shar` (whom he despises and this was clear when he would even mention him). Khaddam was part of the regime of Hafidh Al-Asad as soon as he took power (in fact, he also was part of the regime of Salah Jadid too belonging to Hafidh Al-Asad's faction, and holding a ministerial position). Khaddam can't with a shift in position, or with a sudden discovery of virtue erase his very long and very bloody record in Lebanon, or his very corrupt personality, or his very integral membership in a ruling elite of an oppressive government. Oppression did not start with Bashshar, and oppression was far worse before Bashshar. So if Bashshar is guilty (and he is), Khaddam is ten times more guilty--at least. The interviewer never once asked him about the enrichment of his family by Hariri Inc. Hariri bought the prime ministership of Lebanon (long before building a sectarian Sunni base in the country) by buying Khaddam, Hikmat Shihabi, Ghazi Kan`an, among other personalities of the Syrian regime. And Syria's opponents in Lebanon, especially Walid Jumblat, can't suddenly trace the problems of the Syrian regime to Bashshar's regime. The Hafidh Al-Asad's regime was the regime with the longest record of human rights violations; Bashshar has not even had a chance to emulate the path of his father, and would not succeed even if he tries. The international climate has changed; you have to be on the side of the US if you wish to conduct massacres in your country (as the Uzbek government has done, although Kofi Annan has not noticed because he is busy following the security situation in Lebanon). The ruling Hariri coalition in Lebanon can't on the one hand bases its position on claims of human rights advocacy while still expressing deep nostalgia for the regime of Hafidh Al-Asad and the "big ones" as Jumblat refers to his mentors Hikmat Ash-Shihabi, who was reportedly successfully purchased by the Hariri Inc, and who was responsible as chief-of-staff of the Syrian army for all the imaginary victories of the Syrian army under his command. Despite my deep political disagreements with him, Samir Qasir was the only one who was honest and consistent. He opposed the Syrian regime in principle, and did not draw dubious distinctions that favored Hafidh Al-Asad in comparison to Bashshar. Khaddam is now a new "star" witness of Mehlis; but he said things that could not help Mehlis. He spoke about the politeness of the Syrian president (although he later contradicted himself by saying that this "polite" and "refined" person threatened Hariri. Which is which?), and he also said that the Lebanese enemies of Hariri were more anti-Hariri than the Syrian critics of Hariri. He spoke about Rustum Ghazalah's corruption. Bashshar, he said, knew of this corruption. I know that he knew. And Bashshar, he said, told him about the palace that Ghazalah built for himself in his village (and a suq he also built). But Bashshar could not tell him what he told others who complained to him about Ghazalah's corruption. He would tell them that "the civilians"--in reference Khaddam--were no better than Ghazalah. "Look at Khaddam" he would say. The true nature of Khaddam's training at the feet of Hafidh Al-Asad showed when he told viewers that he advised Bashshar after the assassination of Hariri about Lebanon. That he told him to summon Ghazalah and "cut his neck." He spoke about Ghazi Kan`an with fondness; (he said that Bashshar would always remind him that Kan`an was the one who recommended Ghazalah). Kan`an was part of the faction in the Syrian regime that worked for Hariri, almost literally. He said that Kan`an was polite. Polite? Was he polite when people would disappear under his command? When Palestinians and Lebanese would be subjected to the famous methods of torture that have made the Syrian mukhabarat world-renowned? Polite? About Kan`an? The man who ruled over Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, when all sort of human rights violations occurred at his direction and under his supervision? And Khaddam slipped when he indirectly mentioned how he had ruled Lebanon. He mentioned how he summoned `Umar Karami to Damascus to ask to become Lebanon's prime minister in 1991. Just like that. Khaddam would appoint prime ministers and dismiss ministers, just like that. Sometimes on whim. For example, one of the reasons that the Lebanese Communist Party was excluded from Lebanese political life in the post-Ta'if period is because Khaddam hated George Hawi. Even the interviewer had to ask him about years of "mistakes" in Syrian foreign policy long before Bashshar took over, when Khaddam was in charge. And let us face it: when Hafidh Al-Asad got ill in 1984, Khaddam ran Lebanon. Hafidh only kept tight control over the general Middle East and international policy of Syria and of Arab-Israeli issues. So all the "mistakes"--we are talking here about murder, extortion, rape, bombardment, war of the camps, political marginalization of Christians--all that should be blamed on Khaddam. And before the rise of Hariri, Khaddam was in charge of the policy that deprived the Sunnis of Lebanon of all their leaders--they were either exiled (Sa'ib Salam, Ibrahim Qulaylat, Kamal Shatila), or killed or marginalized. Salim Al-Huss was never favored by the Syrian junta. He was not corrupt, and did not have millions to give away like Hariri. And when he spoke about Rustum Ghazalah cursing Jumblat, Hariri, and Birri. I could only think of how far people go to keep their powers (and riches). Why else would they accept such humiliating behavior from Rustum Ghazalah. Of course, what he said of Ghazalah was true, and I am sure that Ghazalah is worse. But so is Khaddam himself. His appearance was not accidental; it must have been well-choreographed and in coordination with Hariri Inc. I read or heard that he has been meeting with Marwan Hamadi, Walid Jumblat, and Sa`d Hariri in France, and possibly coordinating with Rif`at Al-Asad, and both now answer to King `Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. And Al-Arabiyya TV would not air the interview without permission from the highest echelons of the Saudi government, or royal family, and from the king himself, I think. It is amazing that the Syrian regime has not held one person dealing with Lebanon responsible. But that is not surprising. Corrupt and oppressive governments can't reform themselves. This is why I don't believe that Arab governments can reform themselves. When the US speaks about "reform" of governments in the Middle East, they merely mean pushing them in a more pro-US/Israel direction, and opening up their markets for US corporations. Khaddam is writing his memoirs, he said. I can't wait. He knows a lot, and has been around for a long time, and has been smuggling documents, minutes, and papers out of Syria since the 1980s as one source just informed me. But he will write his story from a perspective that will only serve his personal agenda. So we will not know about the meeting in Damascus in which he and others ordered the murder of Kamal Jumblat, among many others who were murdered by the regime that Khaddam served so faithfully and loyally. One thing we learned from the interview: that Bashshar Al-Asad is stronger inside the regime than has been previously assumed. That Bashshar can, and does, make decisions on his own. Even the Damascus correspondent of the anti-Syrian, pro-US/Saudi/Israel site, elaph, had to admit that Khaddam does not have much credibility with the Syrian public given his corruption, and the corruption of his two sons who now are employed by Hariri Inc. One of his sons was involved in the scandal where nuclear waste was buried in Tadmur in Syria. The first response to Khaddam came from Ad-Diyar, the Lebanese newspaper that has become a semi-official propaganda mouthpiece of the Syrian regime. Charles Ayyub (editor of Ad-Diyar), whose bank account secrecy was lifted by the Mehlis team, has nothing to lose. He reminded readers of the corruption of Khaddam; that Hariri had built a private port for him in Banyas where he keeps two yachts (Maya 1 and Maya 2). An-Nahar reported that Ghazalah called Al-Arabiyya asking to response, but then changed his mind. Will Ghazalah now get a strong urge to shoot himself, 20 times, in the back? Stay tuned. And Khaddam said more things in the 2nd part of the interview too. He now calls for a policy of dialogue with the US and not of "confrontation". He is now "an international man of peace" you have to understand. If only Bashshar had listened to him, he now says, Syria would be a superpower. It was amusing to hear him talk about Bashshar listening to the advise of Martin Indyk and Darrel Issa. He mocked the notion held by Bashshar to the effect that the US only cares about Iraq, and not about Lebanon. But it is still true: the US does not care about Lebanon. Notice that when Syria started cooperating with the Americans in Iraq in recent months, American attention to Lebanon has declined, and US public pressures on Syria have decreased.

PS I just watched Syrian TV. They had a person-on-the-street segment. They were all interviewed about Khaddam's interview. There are signs of political insecurity on the part of the Syrian regime; the propaganda is more crude and more vulgar than ever. The evening newscast ended with this line: "hopefully the new year will take away those traiters..." or words to that effect. All people who were interviewed sounded alike. But they all also referred to the corruption of Khaddam and his two sons. I have been told that Khaddam is now related to Hariri: that Jamal Khaddam's son or daughter married a Hariri. (I am now told that Khaddam's granddauther married Fahd Al-Hariri). Does anybody know about that? And now the members of the Syrian "parliament" are calling for the trial of Khaddam for "high treason." Why did they not discover his treason earlier? Why only now have they discovered officially his corruption? Similarly, why has Khaddam not discovered his love for democracy before? What a bunch. Khaddam mentioned something important in passing. I have been told that the Syrian regime weeks before the extension of the term of Lahhud, was not going to favor such extension. Syria was favoring the selection of Jan `Ubayd as president, before reports of Syrian mukhabarat accused him of various things. Khaddam mentioned the report about `Ubayd, and that Bashshar was not going to renew Lahhud's term. In fact, I was told that Lahhd was told that Syria would not be calling for an extension of his term, before the `Ubayd report that is.