Knock It Off!

Yesterday, an assassin widely presumed to be a Syrian agent murdered yet another high-profile anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon. George Hawi’s killing follows the murders former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and prominent journalist Samir Kassir, both important anti-Syrian voices in a Lebanon that is trying to find its political footing.

Just so we are all clear about what’s happened here: the political will of a long-troubled country is being subverted by assassination. Real lives are being extinguished in cold-blooded murder.

Secretary of State Condoleza Rice gave Syria a piece of her government’s mind: “They need to knock it off.”

Knock it off!?!

Let’s assume that someone in Syria (or Lebanon, or anywhere else in the world where folks might be interested in the U.S. reaction) can find a phrasebook of American idiom to even make sense of the expression; if the spirit of the phrase is accurately rendered, folks will be left wondering whether Ms. Rice actually understands what’s occurring in Lebanon.

Syrian intelligence agents are not children playing too loudly in the next room. Political assassination is not child’s play. A specific, serious-toned, strongly-worded condemnation was in order.

What’s going on here? It’s not as though the Bush administration has the slightest love for Syria. Had they not fucked up the Iraqi escapade so horrifically, there is no doubt that they would already have brought their unique (and ironically anti-democratic) brand of regime change to Damascus. If Ms. Rice had her wits about her, she would have not have let slip such a gilded opportunity to blast the Syrians.

Was Ms. Rice’s bizarre statement just another entry on the ever-lengthening list of foreign policy screw-ups of this administration (and, admittedly, not one that even makes the top 100)? Yes and no. To use such mildly chiding language when life is taken and democracy is violently subverted not only misrepresents U.S. policy, it is also grossly offensive. It shows how inured our government officials are to the very events to which we hire them to be sensitive. Wouldn’t we be better served by a government comprised of people who, in spite of the daily dose of tragedy that crosses their desk (or perhaps precisely because of it), have retained a degree of compassion, empathy, and basic humanity?

Ho hum, another day of real politik!

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