Posted by Joshua on Monday, March 12th, 2007
I have received many responses to my last post. Many are in the comment section of the post itself. Others, were send to me by email, and I have selected a cross section here. Michael Young responded. I will not respond to it now, believing it wiser to let passions cool. Many of the issues he raises are also raised by other readers:
A Syrian Alawite woman writing from Damascus:
Thank you Josh. I believe, we have learnt to live as much solid as we can. It is our fate to live and fight, but in most cases we get nothing! Let (them [the Lebanese]) get what they want. We are the real slaves.
The line of argumentation you offer is quite dangerous (and slippery). It is an argument often used by the Maronite church (most notably in Patriarch Sfeir’s complaint that Christian MPs are being elected by non-Christians)… The solution to Lebanon’s problems is not in making the system even more confessional (by making members of a religious community) chose only MPs from their religion – but rather in a slow and steady deconstruction of the system.
Martin Kramer, the Wexler-Fromer fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, whose most recent article I referred to:
My article is not about a "Shiite Crescent," and I don't use the term. It is about the "Islamist Axis" (that even appears in the title), and throughout the piece, the argument is that it includes both Shiites and Sunnis. Also, you give as title of the article the title of the conference panel I shared with Dr. Paz. The title of my own article is "Israel vs. the New Islamist Axis."
Landis Replies: Thanks for the correction Martin. Perhaps there are too many axis to grind? In arguing "that the reversal of the tide driven by the Iranian Revolution is the only way for a new Middle East to come about," you refer only to an "Islamic" Axis. It is George Bush who refers to the Evil Axis, and the two Abdullahs who worry about the Shiite Axis.
Philip Weiss, a Journalist and blogger in New York:
The article is great, and underlines your other point, all these polities, including Israel, are struggling with related issues, of minority rights.
Marlin Dick, former Editor in Chief of the Beirut Daily Star, writes:
Did you ever see this? http://www.voltairenet.org/article144997.html
Is there proof in these articles that great minds think similarly? Lebanon is truly crappy these days… and one of the crappiest things about Iraq has to be the – who in the hell exactly was it? LBC/al-Hurra staff-types… or whoever, who thought that if Maronite-Shiite-Sunni has worked so well in Lebanon, Kurd-Shiite-Sunni would be perfect for Iraq?
Landis replies: Marlin Dick's article, originally written for the Fresno Bee, is a must read. He said all the things I did, only less confrontationally and with considerable depth. Here are the first lines:
The United States is wrong to envisage its Lebanese policy as an opposition between pro and anti-Syrian groups. The fundamental problem is of a socio-political nature: No solution can be found as long as the Shiite majority will not be properly represented by the institutions…
Ehsani2, a Syrian born American:
As you know, I have long maintained that Bashar made the strategic mistake of not working with America from day one of the invasion of Iraq. Were he to have helped in Iraq from day 1, he would have gotten a free pass in lebanon de facto. If it were me, by late 2002 and after the events of Sept. 11th, I would have guessed that America changed forever after that event. By early 2003, I would have expected the Americans to be in Iraq soon. I would have worked to be their man in the region. Going against them was not smart long term strategy. Yes, he was right that the invasion was not going to go smoothly but so what? What has it changed from a strategic perspective?
Even if the US said they don't need my help, I would have done everything in my power to make my shift then. I would have hinted about a deal with Israel. I would have handed Saddam loyalists. I would have stopped the Sunni insurgency. UN resolution 1559 of late 2004 would not have taken place. The 2005 killing of Hariri would not have been necessary. The subsequent weak position of the country was not the ideal time to ask for an Israel deal. I know that I am in a minority here.
Landis response to Ehsani2:
I believe the US should have made a deal with Syria, much as Baker made a deal with Hafiz in 1990. Bush didn't understand the Middle East and set his sights irresponsibly high. He wanted to change the Iraqi regime and create democracy there; he wanted to take Lebanon away from Syria and isolate Syria in the hope of later changing the regime, not to mention reform of the Greater Middle East. By shooting too high, the US sacrificed whatever chances it had of avoiding civil war in Iraq. He should have concentrated on Iraq – even at the price of placating Syria, a regime the administration detests, in order to increase the chances of a favorable outcome in Iraq. Who knows whether it would have worked, but once the US decided on invasion, it was incumbent on it to to do everything to make its gamble succeed, for the sake of Iraqis and for the sake of the American soldiers that are giving their lives in Iraq.
By refusing to deal with Syria, the US guaranteed that Asad would not police mujaheddin going in and out of the country and would work to undermine the US in Iraq.
Now Iraq is a mess. Bashar is still there and still refusing to do all he can to help the US in Iraq. The US will eventually have to deal with him if they want to make progress in the region. He has his finger in too many pies. In the mean time, what have we gained by refusing to work with Syria? Very little, I would say. On the contrary, we have lost a lot. Both Lebanon and Iraq are a mess and radicalism has flourished throughout the Middle East and our relations with most countries of the region are in shambles.
The US has won nothing from its anger and resentment. Neither has Syria – on that you are right. Certainly Syria has made its share of mistakes, but that is no excuse for the US doing the same. Secretary of State Powell has dismissed those who claim that Syria refused to deal. He recently said that Syria "offered a lot." Most likely he was referring to his and Armitage's trips to Syria in late 2003 and early 2004, when I believe Asad was trying to make a deal. Of course Asad wanted to trade Syria's help in Iraq for America's acceptance of the status quo in Lebanon, which Bush refused to countenance. Many Lebanese, and particularly Lebanese Americans, did not want such a deal to be struck. In the interest getting it right in Iraq, Powell should have been allowed to explore a deal with Syria. If he had, we might not be in the situation we are today, in which both Lebanon and Iraq are a mess.
Ehsani2's response to Landis:
Powerful nations can make mistakes and get away with it. For Poorer nations, it is harder. It is like playing NASDAQ and the stock market with very little savings. One bad bet and your savings are gone.
First, ME leaders rarely follow the demands of their people. Second, the people want to eat, live and prosper. They are not interested in standing up to America and suffering for years after that.
Bashar knows that by 2010, he will have no oil to export. The economic challenges on his country's finances will be enormous. This was his chance. The American invasion of his number one competitor was a Godsend. Lebanon was getting restless. He was new to the office. His people were already expecting a softer and more western approach. Instead, he took the exact opposite road. In my opinion, the best achievement he can claim for his strategy is that he is still in power. If that is indeed the standard, then fine. But, is this really the standard that he should be judged by? Vision and bold leadership is what it takes. Would his father have done this? Would he have gone so far against the Americans? Would he have misunderstood the way America changed after Sept. 11th? Hafez did not have to prove his manhood. Bashar did. Regrettably, at a huge cost to his country.
Ex Secretary of State Baker today: from Associated Press
"Once-pragmatic U.S. relations with Syria have gone downhill in recent years," said Baker, who is in Dubai to oversee the expansion of the Baker Botts LLP law offices. Baker is a senior partner at the Houston, Texas-based law firm.
But he said the outlines of a peace deal between Israel and Syria were clear and encouraged both sides to seize the opportunity. "There's the deal. It's all spelled out, Baker said. This is all by way of saying we need to engage Syria."
Israel and Syria are officially at war, though there have been no open hostilities between them for decades. Syria has demanded the return of the Golan, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed, as the price for any peace deal.
Israel says it will not discuss a formal treaty with its northern neighbor as long as Damascus continues to back Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.
Washington brands both groups as terrorists, and several of Hamas' top leaders live in exile in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has the power to force Hamas to recognize Israel if Assad believed it was in Syria's interest, Baker said. "Hamas' officers are in Damascus. They can do this, he said."
Hamas' recognition of Israel would leave the Jewish state in a stronger position to make peace with the Palestinians, said Baker, who made similar recommendations as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel that recommended changes in Bush's Iraq strategy, including
direct talks with Syria and Iran.
Baker noted with some satisfaction that U.S. officials were in talks in Iraq over the weekend with both Iran and Syria. He said he hoped those early contacts could be expanded. The Bush administration had long been reluctant to talk to Syria, citing its support for groups like Hamas.
Baker said a good opportunity to forge an Israeli-Palestinian settlement was lost after the 1993 Oslo accords. He said he was dismayed to see those accords, opposed by right-wing Israelis and hard-liners in the current Bush administration, fall to the wayside. Since then, the Mideast has descended deeper into chaos.
"Am I sorry to see Oslo hasn't ripened into a greater peace? Of course I am, Baker said. It's disappointing to me to see the degree to which the Middle East today is unstable, in a number of arenas. There was a great hope back in the early 1990s. Now, we have a lot of other sources
of instability that need to be addressed."
The oil-rich Arab countries of the Persian Gulf were some of America's closest allies under former President George H.W. Bush, when Baker was secretary of state. Baker and the elder Bush brought Arab leaders together in a coalition that drove Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait in 1991.
But Gulf Arab relations with the United States have become strained since September 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Baker, who turns 77 next month, said he was still hopeful for Israeli-Arab settlement in his lifetime.
Asked whether he backed the presence of two U.S. Navy aircraft carrier battle groups in the Mideast – for the first time since the 2003 Iraq invasion – Baker said he supported the Bush administration's stance on Iran. That includes being prepared to launch a military attack on
Iran's disputed nuclear facilities, he said.
"It's too bad we can't pursue the foreign policy ideals of Mother Theresa, but we just can't," Baker said. "It's a tough world out there."
According to a recent study by Al-Jazeera (a well known Pro-Syrian/Pro-Hezbollah news network), these are the statistics: Voters according to sectarian affiliation (drawn from recent polling government records):
Sunnis 795233 %26.44
Shia 783903 %26.06
Druze 169293 %5.63
Maronite 667556 %22.19
Orthodox 236406 %7.86
Catholic 156521 %5.2
Armenians (Orthodox) 90675 %3.01
Armenians (Catholics) 20217 %0.67
Evangelical 17409 %0.58
Minorities 47018 %1.56
Alawites 23696 %0.79
Now the Shia have 27 members of parliament – equal in number to the number of MPs accorded to the Sunnis that outnumber the Shia. The Shia also have the position of the speaker of parliament which is the second highest authority in the country. With all this power Joshua still has the guts to call the Shia Lebanese Slaves.
Landis replies: Tuttle and Gibran are right in pointing out that voter registration records give the same numbers of Sunnis as Shiites. But do they offer an accurate reflection of population statistics? We don't know, but it is likely that Shiites, as the poorest Lebanese and the most frequently displaced over the last 20 years, register to vote in smaller numbers than other groups. In the past, Lebanese had to register and vote in their natal village. I am not sure if this requirement exists today, but it used to be a large disincentive from voting for Lebanese who had moved and were poor.
Estimates of Lebanon's population are all over the place. The CIA throughout much of the 1990s claimed that Muslims accounted for 70% of Lebanon's population. In 2004, it lowered the statistic on its webpage to 59.7%, where it remains today. I inquired about the reasons for this change from members of the Lebanon and Syria desk at the agency in 2004. None could give me an answer. Such estimates have great political significance and are contested. All the more reason for Lebanon to carry out a new census and end the guessing game. It would clear up this most vital issue that weighs so heavily on power-sharing issues and is the source of conflict.
Alex composed these tables based on a recent opinion poll conducted by the Beirut Center for Research & Information between the 24th and 28th of February 2007. They show that the Lebanese public is in favor of a political deal between the sects. The vast majority of Lebanese believe a deal is within reach. 51% of Lebanese believe the US is hindering a deal; whereas, 17% believe Syria is.
Most Shiites and Sunnis want each other as allies. Saad Hariri, the Sunni leader is the most popular Lebanese politician followed by Nasrallah, the Shiite leader. Few Lebanese appreciate the extremism of Junblatt or Geagea. This shows that in obstructing a political deal between the factions, the US is working against Lebanese public wishes. (Thank you Alex.)