Gazi Kanaan killed himself in his Damascus office today. He was Minister of the Interior in Bashar Assad’s government there. In Syria, as in most countries, the Minister of the Interior is the Police Minister. He is not concerned with national parks.
This man was Syrian proconsul in Lebanon for a decade. He was effectively "governor" of an occupied and co-opted Lebanon which he ran through a combination of intimidation and "pay-offs." He was the ultimate authority there until he was "promoted" to the Interior Ministry in Damascus. When he was promoted in the Syrian police to "liwa’" (Major General) a few years ago the Lebanese nomenklatura (Muslim and Christian alike) lined up in their hundreds outside his office door to kow-tow and "gift" him with the odd Mercedes, jewelry, etc. His power was manifest throughout the land. On various occasions he would simply inform the Lebanese parliament of desired legislation, and they would pass it. Street demonstrations in Beirut were child’s play for him. He could arrange them for the next day in however many thousands were desired (complete with photograph laden placards).
Now he is gone and little lamented. Why is he gone? Smart money has always been wagered that Rafik Hariri’s assassination was the result of a cabal among Lebanese and Syrian security officials who feared Hariri’s return to power by election, this time as a "reform" candidate with the full backing of the Bush Administration and, of course, of Chirac’s France. In previous iterations of Hariri as PM, Rafik was not a "reform" figure. The circumstances in which downtown Beirut was re-built under Hariri’s supervision by the company "Solidere" would not bear close inspection. A lot of money was made by Rafik and his associates in this and other business enterprises.
Kanaan made a "farewell" call to a Lebanese Radio station before he died today. In that interview he said that if it was true that Rafik Hariri had been paying him off when both had ruled in Lebanon, then why would he have participated in killing him. This was inspired by the recent interview in which the UN investigator, Mehlis, had confronted him with documented evidence of the relationship. At the same time he said that he, Kanaan, had not been "responsible" for the bad things that had happened in Beirut over the years. I suppose that was a reference to the ultimate culpability of the late Hafez al-Assad. Was Kanaan’s death a case of "assisted suicide?" Who can tell? There is a tradition of "a little help from your friends" in Syria. What is the net result of this man’s death?
The White House has been pursuing "regime change on the cheap" in Syria for the last couple of years while at the same time Bashar Assad’s government has been pursuing the Bush Administration with the goal of some sort of accomodation. The Syrians have been begging for a deal for several years. They have pursued this goal through every channel they could find or invent. There has been "zero" receptivity to this effort. ZERO! Recently, the NSC has made a "data call" throughout the foreign policy parts of the US government to learn if anyone knows of more plausible candidates to be replacements for Bashar Assad than the ones they have looked at so far. Result? Unknown.
There has been a lot of talk in the US Government lately of the possibility of seeking a "Libyan" solution to the "problem" of Syria. By this it is meant that Assad’s submission to the imperatives of the "Greater Middle East Initiative" (GMEI) might be accepted (as was that of Qaddhafi) as a substitute for regime change. Well, this death presents the opportunity to find this solution.
Kanaan was a bad man. He was a prime suspect for having been inplicated in the Hariri killing "at the top." The United States does not need another direct involvement in another Arab country. Bashar Assad wants accomodation. There are no clear successor figures for Bashar Assad. The jihadi zealots wait in the wings.
What part of this is unclear?
In the CNN interview cited below Bashar doesn’t sound submissive enough. He will have to "do better."