A.M. Rosenthal's Bill of Particulars against "Fascist" Syria Fits Israel

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Syria's unconditional acceptance of the US invitation to a peace conference has accelerated efforts by apologists for Israel to equate the Syrian regime with that of Iraq. One of the early efforts was that of indefatigable Arab-bashing New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal. In a March 12 column he elaborated a notion of "Arab fascism" to deal with three unpleasant realities facing Likudist Israel in the aftermath of the US military victory against Iraq.

First, despite the best efforts of columnists like Rosenthal, President George Bush had not ordered a march to Baghdad to destroy entirely the Iraqi regime. Second, Syria, Israel's most formidable remaining Arab enemy, had won a few diplomatic points by siding with the US and the rest of the world coalition against Iraq. Third, and most serious, of course, was the danger that, in the aftermath of Desert Storm, there just might be -- for the first time since 1979 -- a serious US effort to find a fair settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, putting at risk the century-long Zionist expansionist/annex-ationist project.

Rosenthal's inventive attempt to slay all three dragons at the same time was contained in a column entitled "How to Lose the Peace" and describing the characteristics of "Arab Fascism."

He began by parodying the administration's exercise of restraint in not marching on to Baghdad, and deploring "the nonsense that Iraq's internal affairs are not our business." Rosenthal complained that the United States now was "showing how swiftly it might lose a peace in the Middle East."

There were, however, a few elementary realities that would not fit Rosenthal's slay-the-dragon scenario: neither the United Nations nor the American people would support a policy of interventionism in Iraq. An American military conquest of Baghdad would have involved hundreds or thousands of American casualties, not to mention the killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. It also would have produced precisely what the administration had skillfully managed to avoid: a war perceived by the world as solely between the United States and Iraq.

Instead the administration had skillfully used the threat of military force to pursue some decidedly limited, but attainable, objectives. It had deterred Iraq from using chemical weapons against internal insurgents, but had avoided taking on the impossible task of attempting to occupy and then directly govern Iraq as a defeated enemy.

Rosenthal then went on to an even grosser misinterpretation of contemporary Middle Eastern history by attempting to equate President Hafez Al-Assad of Syria to President Saddam Hussain of Iraq. Rosenthal offered a litany of evil deeds of which, he wrote, both Syria and Iraq were equally culpable. He challenged his readers to "try" to "find the difference." Well, here's this reader's try:

1. Rosenthal Syria-is-just-like-Iraq particular: "Aggression against smaller neighbors"

The truth: Rosenthal doesn't understand -- or doesn't care to represent accurately -- contemporary history. Modern Syria has not engaged in aggression against its smaller neighbors. Syria entered Lebanon in 1975-76 at the behest of the government of Lebanon, with the encouragement of the US, and with the acquiescence of Israel -- up to a then-famous "red line" in the south of Lebanon, well clear of the Israeli "security zone," which the Syrians ever since have respected religiously. Presently, peace is being restored to Lebanon on the basis of a newfound national consensus, which is supported by the Arab world, particularly Syria.

2. Rosenthal Syria-is-just-like-Iraq particular: "Stockpiling of chemical and bacteriological weapons"

The truth: there is no crime in stockpiling chemical and bacteriological weapons. The United States does it. Israel does it. The crime is in using them for purposes other than legitimate national defense, which Syria -- like the US and Israel -- has not done.

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