Merchant of Death
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The Danger of Dealing With Terrorist States
The assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a vocal opponent of Syrian involvement in the country and a leader of the country's Maronite Christian minority, shows the dangers of engaging terrorist states in dialogue as if they were not rational actors, as James Baker and other proponents of the "realist" world view seem to believe.

It seems fairly certain that Syria and its allies in Hezbollah, smarting at the loss of influence in Lebanon and wanting to halt the investigation into the Hariri by whatever means necessary, had a hand in what was correctly labeled a terrorist attack. Hezbollah and its allies in Amal are actively working to destabilize the current government in hopes of extracting more power. Syria and Iran are among the most powerful forces moving the Lebanese drama.

The timing of the attack on Gemayel is interesting. With the Baker Commisson clearly leaning toward recommending a U.S. dialogue with Iran and Syria on Iraq, the two terrorist sponsors are now the new power players in the region. The Bush administration will need them to implement the recommended changes on its Iraq policy, and, since the mid-term elections, is already operating from a position of weakness.

But the price of seriously engaging Syria and Iran will be enormously high. It may be viewed as necessary, but ultimately it will be extremely high.

Hezbollah, according to recent intelligence estimates, receives some $200 million a year in combined revenue from Iran, Syria, and _diasporas_ in West Africa and Latin America, particularly the Tri-Border Area. That is a significant amount of money that enables it to be a political force far beyond its natural constituency. It has shown its willingness to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and against other countries at the behest of Iran (the Buenos Aires bombing in the mid 1990s).

Giving Iran and Syria-and their allies in Lebanon-a favored seat at the negotiating table, and before negotiations have even begun, to give them the upper hand, is a dangerous proposition.

I cannot say it more clearly than Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, who wrote this in the Wall Street Journa today _before_ Gamayel was killed:

"It is not clear to many in Washington that asking Syria and Iran for help in Iraq, if that's what the Iraq Study Group advises, will drastically limit the administration's ability to deny both countries' gains in Lebanon. For Syria and Iran, Lebanon is vital in their broader quest for power in the Middle East. They will collect there on whatever is offered to the Americans in Iraq, and the retreating administration already has far fewer means to prevent this.

"Mr. Baker and his fellow realists, custodians of stalemate in their own way, want the U.S. to return to its previous approach to the region, where interests defined behavior more than values -- particularly democracy. But if engagement with Syria, or even Iran, is on the cards, then the U.S. might have to surrender the one genuine triumph it can point to after Mr. Bush formulated a democratic project for the Middle East: the peaceful, popular overthrow by the Lebanese of Syria's debilitating domination. The U.S. might also find itself having to relinquish that all-too-rare happening in the region: a vigorous international legal process that promises to punish a state-sponsored crime. Yielding on Lebanon will not advance American interests; it will only damage them more, turning the severe setbacks in Iraq into a full-scale regional rout."
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