Bullying the West

Many Lebanese were hopping mad when they turned out for the funeral of outspoken editor Gibran Tueni.

tueni 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
tueni 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were hopping mad on Wednesday when they turned out for the funeral of outspoken newspaper editor and Syria critic Gibran Tueni, whose murder they blame on Syria. "We want your head, Bashar," the crowds chanted in reference to Syrian President Bashar Assad. At least someone is talking tough to the Damascus leader. Even after Tueni's car was blown up on Monday - it was the third political assassination of a prominent Lebanese critic of Syria since the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February - the United Nations has so far only shaken its finger at Syria, opening an investigation of the Hariri murder but not yet considering imposing any sanctions. Tueni's murder does not appear to have inspired any great urgency in the UN, either. On Tuesday, Detlev Mehlis, the UN's lead investigator in the Hariri probe, told the Security Council that it could take another year or two to complete his work. One might think this is a bit slow, given the pace of events. After all, Mehlis's preliminary report implicates senior members of Assad's government in the Hariri murder, Syria has been uncooperative in the probe and in the meantime, anti-Syria politicians and celebrities in Lebanon keep getting killed. The United States is practically alone in urging punishment for Syria, however; much of the international diplomatic community is resisting US efforts to do so. "We are looking for ways to make sure that the international pressure on Syria is unrelenting," said John Bolton, America's ambassador to the UN. Not far from Damascus, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also taunted the international community on Wednesday, branding the Holocaust a myth and calling on Europe and the US to resettle Israeli Jews in their own territory. The Iranian president's comments followed his recent rallying cry that Israel "should be wiped off the map," and could not be separated from his insistence on developing a uranium enrichment program that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. The combination of virulent anti-Semitic rhetoric and provocative weaponization makes Ahmadinejad's Iran the most chilling parallel yet to Nazi Germany. "The combination of extremist ideology, a warped understanding of reality and nuclear weapons is a combination that no one in the international community can accept," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. Aside from widespread condemnations, the international community is accepting such behavior from the Iranians, just as they are accepting it from the Syrians. International ire has seemed only to spur the rogue states to raise the ante in a dangerous poker game with players who - with the exception of the Americans, and sometimes the British - are unwilling to enforce the world's rules. So far, the gamble is working. The Syria situation, though not as potentially catastrophic as the Iranian nuclear threat, is just as crucial a test for the UN. For years, Israel's military presence in southern Lebanon served as Syria's excuse for brutalizing its neighbor. But when the IDF withdrew from Lebanon, it removed that excuse and exposed the Assad regime as just an opportunistic bully of the Lebanese people. Teheran and Damascus are, indeed, displaying all the hallmarks of the classic bully. As our columnist Mark Steyn writes, these regimes are "like the punk who swears and sprawls over half the seats in the subway car while the other riders try not to catch his eye. The political thugs certainly understand the power of psychological intimidation." Bullies depend on such intimidation to prevent the world around them from even attempting to stand up to them. This is the only explanation for regimes that, when condemned, respond by acting even crazier. The bullying cycle of condemnation and escalation only ends when the bully's normally peaceable victims tire of living in fear and collectively stand up to their tormentors. Sometimes this can be put off, but not indefinitely. Bullies do not just go away, they try to amass more power with which to intimidate. To that end, the people of Lebanon showed more courage and conviction in Beirut on Wednesday than the leaders of the free world have shown. "We are here to say, no matter how many of us they kill, there will always be others to speak out," a 23-year-old a Muslim university student told The Associated Press. "We are not afraid." That's more than the international community can say for itself.