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Justice Versus Peace After A Middle East Murder

The White House just emailed a statement which begins:

Saturday marks the fourth anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. As we share our grief with the Lebanese people over the loss of Prime Minister Hariri, we also share our conviction that his sacrifice will not be in vain.  The United States fully supports the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose work will begin in a few weeks, to bring those responsible for this horrific crime and those that followed to justice.

Do we fully support it, though? Consider this synopsis of a great recent Atlantic piece on this topic:

The investigation into the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri is nearing its end—and a trial in international court looms. Insiders say the trail of evidence leads, ultimately, to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But having spent three years fearing for their lives, the investigators are now grappling with a different fear: that Western concerns about regional stability will prevent the naming of the biggest names.

In the piece Josh Hammer argues persuasively that geopolitics could trump true justice here. A main problem is that one favored approach to Middle East peace is negotiating a peace deal between Israel and Syria, which, the thinking goes, would isolate and weaken Iran. A Western-led criminal indictment of Assad wouldn't exactly make that process easier. The question is whether the US and other Western powers will let Assad off the hook, if they wind up with solid evidence against him, in the name of regional realpolitik.

Update: And now I see Ben Smith suggesting a possible link between today's Obama statement and criticism from the right about a recent relaxation of US sanctions.

--Michael Crowley