A Death in Lebanon

The murder of Pierre Gemayel is a very serious threat, carrying the risk of bringing down the Lebanese government, with the prospect either of civil war or the seizure of power by Hezbollah, the agents sponsored to regain control of Lebanon on behalf of Syria.  A member of one of the most influential Christian families, Gemayel was firmly anti-Syrian, and the Syrians have previously murdered several relations, including his uncle Bashir, the president of Lebanon in an earlier crisis. This latest murder in the series comes right from the top of the Syrian regime and its ruling Baathist party. The timing is most exactly calculated. What everyone is able to deduce from the departure of Donald Rumsfeld and leaks of the Baker-Hamilton commission is that the whole American position in the Middle East is unravelling fast, and now is therefore the moment to strike. In a real sense, Gemayel is a prime victim of a perceived change of direction arising from the American midterm elections. Damascus of course denies culpability, which is brazen effrontery, and wholly unbelievable. That is how they do things there.
At the same time, in London some unidentified murderer used the sophisticated tool of radiated thallium to try to kill Alexander Litvinenko, and he may well have succeeded – Litvinenko is at death’s door in a London hospital, speechless and poisoned. A former colonel in today’s KGB, he was in exile, and moved in the circle of other Russian exiles, notably some oligarchs fleeing for their lives from the ever more tyrannical regime of Vladimir Putin. As a freelance with good neo-KGB contacts, Litvinenko was investigating the murder of Anna Politovskaya, the courageous journalist who exposed Putin’s brutal policy towards the Chechens. He also published fierce anti-Putin articles in the Chechen press. One friend of Litvinenko’s is Oleg Gordievsky, himself a senior KGB officer before he defected to London in Soviet days. Gordievsky thinks that the KGB once attempted to kill Anna Politovskaya by poisoning and most probably shot her in the end.  Of this latest outrage he says, “Of course it is state-sponsored. He was such an obvious enemy. Only the KGB is able to do this.”  Moscow is silent so far, which is its form of effrontery. That is how they do things there. 
These two disgusting acts of violence are not in the least coincidental, but parallel events that tell us all we need to know about absolute regimes. Killing people is the preferred means to their simple end of acquiring and holding power.  The repetition is as horrible as the deeds themselves. The Soviets used thallium to poison its victims abroad, and so did Saddam Hussein, and all such regimes are only gunmen in uniform or in disguise. The moral is very clear: the United States must concede nothing to Russia and especially not to Syria. Talks, negotiation, compromise, the kind of overtures the Baker-Hamilton crowd are seemingly working on, will really condemn the American position everywhere to unravel.  To go along in any degree with the way Russians and Syrians do things disastrously combines moral disgrace with political suicide.

David Pryce-Jones — David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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