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WHAT WE THINK
Bush pressures Syria while tightening his grip on Iraq
Hypocrisy on the march

March 11, 2005 | Page 3

"THE TREND is clear," George W. Bush declared in his weekly radio address March 7. "In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march."

Well, except for Iraqis--who live under a U.S. occupation. And Palestinians--who suffer under the rule of Washington's staunch ally Israel.

In his speech, Bush claimed that he was "standing with the Lebanese people" against Syria's occupation of Lebanon--when, a few hundred miles to the east, U.S. troops are the real power in occupied Iraq. He celebrated planned elections in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, claiming they were inspired by the "historic" vote in Iraq in January--as if his administration, like the others before it, haven't valued the right-wing authoritarian rulers of these countries as crucial allies.

No one should be fooled by Washington's talk about spreading democracy in the Middle East. The rhetoric about "standing with" Lebanese demonstrators is a fraud. The U.S. government's concern is with anything that tightens its grip in a crucial, oil-rich region.

As usual, though, the U.S. media eagerly echoed the White House message. "We are at the dawn of a glorious, delicate, revolutionary moment in the Middle East," wrote right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. "It was triggered by the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and televised images of 8 million Iraqis voting in a free election."

The liberal New York Times chimed in with an editorial calling for "Lebanon for the Lebanese." The newspaper ignored the obvious question: If you support "Lebanon for the Lebanese," then why not "Iraq for the Iraqis"?

The Bush administration took advantage of the media's rosy view to step up the pressure on Syria. Even before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced to the country's parliament that he would order a gradual pullback of troops from Lebanon to the border, the Bush administration had already raised the stakes.

"Anything less--phased withdrawal, partial withdrawal, leaving the intelligence agents in place--is a violation of the resolution," a senior Bush aide said in a briefing days before Assad's announcement, referring to the United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution passed last year calling for Syria's withdrawal. "How fair an election can Lebanon hold if the troops are there to intimidate voters, people running for election, or people now in office?"

Good question. Maybe the Bush administration should ask itself if Iraq was able to conduct a "free and democratic" election just a little over a month ago--with 10 times as many U.S. troops deployed there than Syria has in Lebanon.

The Bush administration set the stage for its threats on Syria last September when it pushed through UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls on Lebanon to be free of "foreign interference or influence" before its elections in May. Since then, Washington has used the resolution to put sanctions in place against Syria.

But Washington isn't threatening the country in the Middle East with a much longer record of flouting UN resolutions--Israel. In fact, the UN has even passed resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon--but the U.S. never lifted a finger when Israel didn't comply.

The truth is that the Bush administration is using its faked concern for "democracy" in Lebanon to go for regime change in Syria. And it's using the claim that democracy is "on the march" in the Middle East to prop up its continuing occupation in Iraq.

This is just the latest in a series of lies that the U.S. has told to justify its conquest of Iraq. First, there was Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction"; then came liberating the Iraqi people; now, it's spreading democracy throughout the region.

Among the political establishment in the U.S., no one will call Bush on this latest lie. In Congress, Democrats like liberal House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed the sanctions against Syria--and try to out-do the Republicans in showing support for Israel. Only eight members of Congress voted against the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in October 2003, which charged Syria--without providing actual evidence--of "harboring terrorists" and "developing weapons of mass destruction." And during the election, John Kerry attacked accused Bush of losing the "war on terror" because he was too soft on Syria.

What the U.S. is spreading in the Middle East isn't democracy. It's the ironfisted grip of U.S. imperialism.

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