Posted by Joshua on Saturday, March 10th, 2007
The isolation of Syria appears to be breaking as Damascus seeks deals with the Saudis and the Lebanese, writes Nicholas Blanford. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will travel to Syria soon, marking a resumption of high-level contacts between Damascus and the Europeans. The prospect of a thaw with Syria has caused howls of protest from Lebanon's obstructionists who continue to believe that America's plan for changing the Middle East is working. They call on the US to ratchet up military and economic pressure on Iran and Syria in the benighted belief that reform of the Greater Middle East is on the horizon. Michael Young insists in the Daily Star that Syria is on the verge of breaking. He believes Syria will change its policies and fall in line with the US. This is the identical line that Junblatt and Raghida Dergham have been trumpeting.
The biggest assets of the obstructionists is US Ambassador Feltman, who has been working assiduously to keep a deal from being struck in Lebanon. He refuses to allow the Syrians satisfaction on their demand that the establishment of the International tribunal be delayed until after a Lebanon deal is clinched. His fear is that if the Lebanese opposition gets a 19+11 cabinet sharing formula before the Lebanese government signs over permission for an international tribunal, it will never get established. To avoid such a prospect, the US is willing to sacrifice Lebanon's future and any prospects of economic growth for the country. Stagnation and paralysis will continue to be the order of the day in Lebanon. With a deal, all the participants gain. Feltman has a most unusual arrangement with Secretary Rice; he has a weekly video conference with the Secretary – access of the like only the Ambassador to Iraq can boast. Colonel Pat Lang writes:
Everyone was happy, even giddy about the prospect of a typically muddled but non-violent solution to the impasse in Lebanon. Today the leaders say "not so fast." What happened overnight? Was it Feltman that happened? Was it Rice? Was it our unending malicious meddling in other people's business?
Michael Young is particularly outraged because his good friend David Ignatius recommended negotiating with Syria and Iran. Ignatius writes that a senior Bush administration official explained: "We think our Iraq strategy is consistent with Baker-Hamilton. We want to get to the same place, but not on the same time-line." Ignatius proposes that Baker be appointed to begin negotiations with Syria and Israel because the administration's hard line tactics have failed. Ignatius does not believe that Iran and Syria are about to crack.
Martin Kramer supports Michael Young in his belief that the Shiite Crescent is the true enemy of the West and liberty in the region, but his animus is directed at the Iranian end of the crescent, which most directly threatens Israel, and not the Syrian end. In a MERIA article, A New Middle East: Islamism and Terrorism, he argues that only by destroying Iran's nuclear ambitions and arrogant attempts to exploit the Palestinian and Lebanese problems can the West bring peace to the region.
The only problem with this analysis is that it is has led to a long list of failures and the needless death of thousands of Iraqis and Americans. Michael Young recommended the invasion of Iraq in 2003, claiming that the "consociational" Lebanese model of government that has served his country so well would bring peace and happiness to Iraq and quickly be replicated throughout the Middle East. It has taken the West four long years of watching Iraq descend into ferocious civil war to come to grips with the short comings of this analysis. In 2006, Young advocated keeping the incompetent Lahoud as president of Lebanon rather than giving Michel Aoun a chance at elections. (Aoun was the most popular candidate in Lebanon at the time.) This obstructionism led directly to the summer war between Lebanon and Israel. With no prospects of a non-violent adjustment to Lebanon's lopsided power-sharing formula, Hizbullah and its opposition allies fell back on the old formula of "resistance" and demonstrations. When war broke out, Young began excitedly prognosticating that Israel could break Hizbullah and international forces disarm it. He insisted the Shiite party did not represent authentic Lebanese demands, being merely a creature of Iran and Syria. Again, Young's dreams didn't materialize. Instead, the inconclusive war led to paralysis in Lebanon as Hizbullah and the Siniora government stand face to face, each unwilling to bow to the demands of the other. Rather that admit that he has misjudged the opposition or the ability of American and Israeli power to reshape the hearts and minds of Middle Easterners, Young continues to insist that Syria and Hizbullah will buckle if only the US will inflict a bit more pain on them.
Rather than come to grips with the real flaws of Lebanon's democracy, Michael Young, like many other Lebanese, believes that the use of force by foreign powers can preserve the skewed status quo in Lebanon. He wants international forces to disarm the Shiites in the South, and the US to inflict more pain on Syria. The Lebanese obstructionist solution is to import violence into Lebanon and the region. They refuse to allow a "typically muddled but non-violent solution to the impasse." Importing foreign armies to keep the Shiites in their place will only lead to further war and extremism on both sides.
What is wrong with the "consociational" system that is held up as the epitome of Lebanese democracy and power-sharing? Quite simply, it treats Shiites like slaves. In pre-civil war America, black slaves were counted as half a white person. In Lebanon they are accorded the same political weight. Although Shiites are estimated to make up some 40% of the population, the Taif Accords, Lebanon's constitutional arrangement, permit the Shiites only 22% of the seats in parliament.
The defenders of Taif will scoff at this analogy between Lebanese Shiites and American slaves. They will say, "But we don't treat Shiites as slaves. They can vote and they are allocated the third most powerful political office in the land: the President of the Parliament. All true, I admit, but this doesn't obscure the simple fact that Shiites are accorded only half the political worth of other human beings in Lebanon.
Hizbollah and its opposition allies have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of challenging the Taif Accords. Instead they ask for a greater number of cabinet posts. They make these diminutive demands in order not to appear as revolutionaries. They do not want to threaten the Sunnis, who have most to lose from a more equitable power-sharing formula. What the obstructionists fear, however, is that if the governing coalition makes one concession, it will lead to others. It is a slippery slop. If they concede more cabinet positions to the Shiites today, the sons of Hussein will call for a proper census and a reconsideration of Taif tomorrow.
In a recent PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer during which I debated opposite the al-Arabiya reporter Hisham Milhem, I was left speechless when he insisted that the "Shiites wanted to turn Beirut into a Tehran on the Mediterranean." I was not prepared for such super-heated rhetoric. The only way to counter such fear mongering, however, is to shoot back that Beirut today is Mecca on the Mediterranean. Yes, Club Mec. Or, perhaps a cross between the Vatican and Mecca on the Med. Sunnis and Christians enjoy the lion's share of power. The mellifluous and jolly sounding term "consociationalism" cannot hide the ugly fact that Lebanon is a religious state, in which Sunnis and Christians are privileged, politically and economically.
Undoing the mutual fear and resentment which divide the opposition from the governing coalition will not be easy, but obstructing the kind of deal that the Saudis and Egyptians are trying to broker is not the answer. It will invite further violence. Young rightly fears for Lebanon's sovereignty, but only concord among Lebanese can act as proof against foreign influence. Young is one of the smartest hawks in the Lebanese firmament and he has written thoughtfully on the need for a more equitable power-sharing in Lebanon. Now is the time to do it.
At the same time, Michael Young once said to me that if Taif were rewritten and Christians were allocated less than their present 50% share of Parliamentary seats, he might be forced to leave Lebanon. That is a sad comment on the state of Lebanon's consociational system and the prospects for a political deal in the immediate future.
If the United States is sincere about promoting democracy in the most democratic state in the Arab East, burnishing its reputation for justice, and promoting freedom, it cannot stand on the side of counting Shiites as slaves. If any nation in the Middle East has a chance to point the way toward a more tolerant and democratic future, it is Lebanon.