The Zombie Tribunal for Lebanon

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is reportedly set to soon indict several top Hezbollah leaders for the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri. The expected indictments have brought Lebanon to the brink of crisis, while the Obama administration has rushed to express its support for the STL and to deliver an additional $10 million to its investigation. Most of the commentary thus far has focused on the potential impact of its anticipated anti-Hezbollah ruling, whether it might lead to war or how it might affect Hezbollah's participation in the government. But lost in that admittedly quite important shuffle is a more basic question: Does the STL have any credibility at this point? If not, how does that lack of credibility shape the likely political fallout of its indictment? And should the Obama administration really be hitching its wagon to a Bush-era zombie which might drag Lebanon into an unnecessary crisis?

Unlike the remarkable number of journalists who seem to know everything about the Tribunal's innermost workings, I don't claim any special knowledge of the Tribunal's investigations. But anyone who has followed the investigation of Hariri's murder over the last five years will remember being flooded with leaks, analysis and evidence which supposedly established the culpability of the Syrian regime with absolute certainty. We all read books, articles, op-eds, blog posts and official reports placing Syria's responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt. And then suddenly "new information" -- which most people in the region understood to be conveniently discovered in a new political climate -- led the STL to stop pursuing the Syrians and shift to Hezbollah. The Arab media has not failed to notice.

What are we to make of its really quite shocking reversal? Why should we consider the evidence now pointing to Hezbollah credible given the seeming collapse of the supposedly iron-clad case against Syria? Most discussion of this fairly obvious point that I've seen in the Western media has been framed around Hezbollah's "efforts to discredit the STL." But the STL's credibility problems seem a bit more real than that. If Hezbollah were really responsible than a strong case could be made for pursuing justice regardless of the consequences. But from the outside, it really does look an awful lot like the STL is being used as a political weapon against Hezbollah at a time of mounting fears of its power and of allegedly rising Iranian influence in Lebanon.

These credibility problems should not take anyone by surprise as the crisis unfolds. If Hezbollah really is guilty, then a case can be made for the pursuit of justice regardless of the cost. But I don't think many people in the region are going to see it that way. I would expect the release of the STL's expected indictments to be received as a political gambit rather than a legal investigation, and to change few minds regardless of the evidence presented. Does it make sense to throw the Obama administration's support and prestige behind what looks like a zombie from a bygone era? Because like any good zombie, it may be only more dangerous as it relentlessly searches for new brains to devour.

(And by the way, I absolutely, 100 percent, certainly did not choose this metaphor just because of the alleged but unconfirmed Drezner-era editorial edict that all FP writers must include at least one zombie reference a week.)

AFP/Getty images

Marc Lynch

The Stealth Muslim Victory

The last few months of U.S. political life have been defaced by rampaging anti-Muslim rhetoric, from the manufactured controversy over the Park51 mosque in New York to the Florida Quran-burning threats to hysterical warnings about 'creeping sharia' and stealth jihad in the halls of Congress. The victory of the truly absurd ban on applying sharia in Oklahoma may be only the first of the legislative fruits of this ugly trend. The volume and aggressiveness of this anti-Islamic trend has had some real costs both at home and abroad, most likely drowning out the earnest efforts of the Obama administration to rebuild relations with the Muslims of the world. Hopefully that noise will fade now that Election Day has come and gone. 

But in the meantime, there's some quiet good news. The "Ground Zero Mosque" didn't get Carl Paladino anywhere near the New York Governor's Mansion. As political junkies will recall, the leader of a major Tea Party group explicitly called for Keith Ellison (D-MN) to be defeated because he "is the only Muslim member of congress. He supports the Counsel for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped congress send millions of tax dollars to terrorists in Gaza [insert 'sic' as you like]." All the better then to realize that both Muslim members of Congress -- Ellison and Andre Carson (D-IN) -- cruised to re-election yesterday and that nobody seems to have even much noticed. 

The very fact that their wins have thus far been a non-issue is one of the more encouraging things I've come across today. I can only hope that Muslims around the world notice their victories, and place more weight on their effective participation in U.S. democracy than they do on the Oklahoma referendum or on the loud, angry voices of the anti-Islamic fringe. The administration's public diplomacy team might want to get on that.