Summoning Syria

The U.S. State Department summoned Syria's top diplomat in Washington, Zouheir Jabbour, to rebuke his government for transferring arms to Hezbollah. This was apparently the fourth time in recent weeks that the United States had raised these concerns with the Syrians -- but one of the first times that it had been done publicly. The State Department statement "condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the SCUD, from Syria to Hezbollah."

A few quick points on this news. When this story broke last week, skeptics -- including the United States's erstwhile ally, the prime minister of Lebanon -- were quick to dismiss it as Israeli propaganda. The public criticism of a Syrian diplomat should put an end to the talk that this is solely an Israeli disinformation campaign. The U.S. intelligence community obviously believes there is something behind this story, though the details remain blurry. The question now is whether this transfer actually took place, whether Syria transferred parts of the SCUDs to Hezbollah, or whether they merely had the intention to transfer the weapons.

Secondly, when the State Department wanted to call a Syrian official to task, they had to settle for Zouheir Jabbour, the deputy chief of mission. Where is Syrian Ambassadar Imad Moustapha? On vacation, apparently -- where he has been since this crisis broke last week.  As we're in a particularly fraught point in the U.S-Syrian engagement process, this is a strange point for Syria's top envoy in Washington to be taking a breather.



What We're Reading

Preeti Aroon:  "The marathon run turns 2,500 in Greece, and Boston," by the Associated Press's Jimmy Golen. The Boston Marathon finished earlier today, and this year marks the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon that gave the 26.2-mile race its name. If the Athenians hadn't defeated the Persians, the Western world today might be speaking Farsi, suggests a classics professor in the article. The Greeks -- whose country is in economic shambles -- are celebrating the 2500th anniversary all year long, but the many runners who couldn't make it to Boston for the marathon due to the volcanic ash cloud, including elite Moroccan runner Abdellah Falil, have nothing to celebrate.

Elizabeth Dickinson: I am following the unexpected rise of Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogota, who has become an underdog second-place in Colombia’s upcoming presidential elections. The unconventional and downright eccentric academic revolutionized politics in the city he governed earlier this decade; rather than governing from above, he worked toward behavioral change – instructing drivers to honk less, for example, and encouraging citizens to pay their taxes voluntarily. His unorthodox methods worked, and now he might have the chance to take them national. I met him about four years ago when he gave a talk here in the United States and found him both impressive and wholly unpolitical – perhaps exactly what a country so long in conflict is yearning for. A Semana profile of his Green Party’s “green revolution” offers a good starters guide.

Joshua Keating: I absolutely loved Burkhard Bilger's long piece (full version in print magazine only) on tugboat captain Latham Smith in the New Yorker. The story of how Latham built his tugboat and traveled the world on it, raising the family and fighting off pirates in the process, is simultaneously a compelling family saga, counterculture postcard from the '70s, and portrait of an industry going through globalization. (The Keatings were once a tugboating family on the Hudson River, but reading this piece, I think I'm definitely better cut out for web editing.) As an online bonus, check out this Super 8 footage of Allen Ginsberg and his partner Peter Orlovsky on the maiden voyage of Latham's tug. 

Britt Peterson: I’ve been following the New York Times’ coverage of the Long Island hate crime case, which just ended with a guilty verdict -- second-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. It’s a bizarre instance of the way “manslaughter” can be applied: a hate crime committed by someone who talked about going “Mexican hopping” and who stabbed his victim twice in the chest, once to the hilt, but who, the jury decided, did not intend to actually kill him; the accused had recanted a confession, saying he was lying to protect a friend. 

Andrew Swift:  I’ve been reading Power and the Past: Collective Memory and International Relations, edited by Eric Langenbacher and Yossi Shain. The book presents case studies of how historical, tragic events impact key international conflicts. It’s a subject that I’ve long felt desperately needs more attention -- how can we understand the present without knowing what came before? -- and happily I can say that this book is a great part of this field.