“Regional Players Bypass Washington In Brokering Deals,” by Jay Solomon

[Landis comment] Jay Solomon et. al,'s article (copied below) is excellent. My only nit to pick with it is the choice of ending with Walid Jumblatt's quote, "Where was America when Hezbollah took over in May?" The implication is that America should have done something. Solomon lets this criticism hang in the air – as if Jumblatt is correct and the US really should have sent troops to Lebanon to fight Hizbullah. I am sure Solomon does not believe that America's military footprint in the region is too small, but the WSJ is a conservative, Bush supporting newspaper. To criticize the Bush administration – even by pointing out that its ally, Jumblatt, was being completely unrealistic would be to ask too much.

The real criticism to be made of Washington is not that it has used too little military force or that it has drawn too few lines in the sand. On the contrary, Washington should never have led Jumblatt and Hariri down the garden path to believe that they could rely on US troops to defeat Hizbullah and Lebanon's other opposition parties.  The US should have let Hariri, Jumblatt, and Siniora know early on that it could not defeat Hizbullah or overturn the Syrian regime on their behalf. Pumping them up in the false belief that the US would ride in with the cavalry was irresponsible and stupid. The March 14th forces were going to have to compromise sooner or later. Washington should not have been so naive as to think that brow beating, chest thumping, and moralizing by President Bush would magically make the most powerful forces in Lebanon cower in fear and disarm – especially not a militia like Hizbullah, which drove Israel out of Lebanon after 20 years of sacrifice and struggle and which stood up to Israel's full power in 2006 for over a month.

If anything, Solomon should have praised Hizbullah for its patience and sober restraint – normally an Israeli characteristic – for waiting 16 long months before pulling the plug on the March 14 forces. Instead, Solomon writes that "for nearly 16 months, Mr. Siniora's supporters refused to cave into demands by Hezbollah." Such praise only shows how far Washington has strayed from realism. As Bashar al-Asad said after the Doha agreement was signed, "The March 14 coalition could have signed the same agreement a year ago" and well they could have, without loss of life or the terrible economic price of letting the economy stagnate for 12 extra months. Instead, Siniora, Hariri, Geagea, Jumblatt and their American backers clung to a losing hand and refused to recognize the reality that was so clear once Israel had failed in 2006 to put a real dent into Hizbullah's power and supremacy in Lebanon. Hariri kept on repeating that Hizbullah and Lebanon's Christians led by Aoun intended to carry out a coup, but of course they did not. Quite the opposite, they wanted a compromise.

The reason they were so patient with the obstinate March 14 movement and the US was precisely because they did not want a coup. They did not want to use force to assert themselves. That is why they waited on Hariri and allies for so long. They waited until the Lebanese public were so fed up with political paralysis that they welcomed Hizbullah's move and the Doha agreement. They waited until Jumblatt made his fateful mistake and convinced Siniora to move against Hizbullah's security network, then in less than 12 hours Hizbullah and the Lebanese opposition pulled the plug on the March 14th government. They did not "take power" or carry out a "coup;" instead, they allowed Siniora to form a new government, giving the opposition the blocking third that they had insisted on for the better part of a year.

I am surprised that hard bitten Wall Street types who usually praise politicians and businessmen for knowing when to compromise are now siding with Jeronimo, or in Lebanon's case, Jumblatt. Does anyone really think that the US should have sent troops to Lebanon to keep Jumblatt from having to compromise with Nasrallah and Aoun?

(by the way – if anyone wants to know which Syrians are in town to meet with the State department, they are Daoudi, the lead negotiator with the Israelis in Ankara, Samir Taqi, the head of Syria's leading think tank, and Sami Moubayed, who needs no introduction to SC readers.)

Here is the WSJ article:

Mideast's Balance of Power Shifts Away From U.S.: Regional Players Bypass Washington In Brokering Deals
Wall Street Journal

 

By JAY SOLOMON in Washington, CAM SIMPSON in Jerusalem and FARNAZ FASSIHI in Beirut
July 21, 2008; Page A6

A handful of Middle East nations and groups are pursuing talks that are dramatically shifting the region's balance of power in ways that could undercut U.S. interests.

[mideast]

The various diplomatic efforts come as the Bush administration moderates its policy of isolating the governments of Iran, Syria and their regional allies. The State Department's point man on the Middle East is scheduled to meet this week with a delegation of Syrian academics and lawyers that includes the top legal adviser to the Syrian government team involved in indirect talks with Israel, according to Syrian officials.

And over the weekend, the State Department's third-ranking official met with European diplomats and Iranian officials as part of talks to restart negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program.

The weekend contact — the highest-level exchange between the two sides in years — ended inconclusively Saturday. Tehran refused to commit to halting its uranium-enrichment program in exchange for a set of economic incentives it was offered. European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said negotiators gave Tehran another two weeks to respond more concretely.

Still, the presence in Geneva of William Burns, the U.S. under-secretary of state for political affairs, marked a significant course change in Washington's dealings with Iran.

It comes as regional players — both friends and foes of Washington — begin to work together to solve their own problems and those of their neighbors. The talks have supplanted what was once a key role for Washington: regional power broker.

As President George W. Bush's term in office approaches its end, his administration's diplomatic heft has predictably diminished. Washington's missteps in Iraq and Afghanistan have also sapped the region's confidence in the administration's vision. "In many ways, the countries in the region are looking past the Bush administration and seeking their own answers to the region's problems" said Imad Moustapha, Damascus's ambassador to the U.S., in an interview.

A collection of peacemakers, some unlikely, has stepped into the breach. In May, Qatar successfully pushed a peace deal in Lebanon that saw Iranian-backed Hezbollah gain extensive new political powers at the expense of Beirut's Western-backed government. Last month, Egypt brokered a military truce between Israel and the Palestinian faction Hamas, an Iranian ally that last year violently overran the Gaza Strip.

Turkey is mediating indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria. Even impoverished Yemen is getting in on the act, pushing for reconciliation between Hamas and rival faction Fatah.

Through the negotiations, say diplomats and analysts, Israel and Arab governments are positioning themselves for a shift in American foreign policy, no matter who wins November elections.

Hammering that home, Sen. Barak Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, is touring the Middle East this week. He has advocated stepped-up engagement with Iran and Syria.

"The U.S. administration is a lame duck, and regional players are working to serve their own interests," says Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based political analyst.

The State Department has denied that U.S. influence in the region is waning and said it welcomes the region's recent diplomatic efforts.

Israel, in particular, has seized the initiative from Washington. In recent weeks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has moved to cut deals aimed at easing every national-security threat along Israel's borders, though Mr. Olmert may be too politically weak at home to see any of the deals through.

But his efforts come after Israel's once-unquestionable regional military superiority has been severely tested. In 2006, Hezbollah fighters bogged down a larger and more advanced Israeli army during a month-long battle in Lebanon. And Israeli military incursions into the Hamas-held Gaza Strip failed to dislodge rocket-firing militants.

In May, Israel said it was indirectly negotiating a peace deal with Syria, which, along with Iran, is a key supporter of both Hezbollah and Hamas. Last month, Israel agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas.

At the same time, Israel has sent much stronger signals than the U.S. about possible military intervention against Tehran. Last month, U.S. officials said Israel had conducted military exercises that appeared to be training for a possible attack against Iran.

U.S. officials are preparing a package of economic sanctions they hope they can push through the United Nations if Tehran fails to take up new talks on halting its nuclear program.

Perhaps no Middle East country has been the beneficiary of the region's diplomatic moves more than Syria. In March, U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt snubbed the country by refusing to send high-level representation to an Arab League summit in Damascus. The U.S. Treasury in February initiated a string of unilateral sanctions against some of Syrian President Bashar Assad's closest political and business allies. The U.S. and France, meanwhile, were closely working to limit Syria's political influence inside Lebanon.

Today, Syria has largely emerged from its diplomatic isolation. Mr. Assad was welcomed in Paris this month by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The two leaders talked about enhancing economic and strategic ties.

Damascus and Jerusalem are set to enter a second-round of Turkey-brokered talks to resolve their dispute over the Golan Heights this month. And many world leaders praised Syria's role in promoting a political pact for Lebanon in May.

Amid that backdrop, the State Department's point man on the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, is set to meet top Syrian academics and attorneys this week, according to Syrian officials. Mr. Welch's planned session is raising hopes Washington may more aggressively support the Damascus-Jerusalem peace track. The State Department didn't comment on the meetings.

Mr. Moustapha, Syria's ambassador, said the Bush administration's willingness to meet the Syrian delegation is a step in the right direction.

If Syria has gained the most from Washington's diplomatic absence, the West-backed government of Lebanese President Fuad Siniora appears to have lost out more than others.

In 2006, Israel launched a war in Lebanon, largely in response to the capture by Hezbollah of two Israeli army reservists in a cross-border raid.

The fighting ended inconclusively after 34 days, but Hezbollah's reputation for resistance against Israel soared. The Shiite political group — designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. — led a boycott of Mr. Siniora's coalition government.

For nearly 16 months, Mr. Siniora's supporters refused to cave into demands by Hezbollah for major concessions in a new government. When Mr. Siniora tried to crack down on the group in May the group took to the streets.

Qatar's emir stepped in. He pushed both sides to accept a deal that reinstalled Mr. Siniora as prime minister but also gave the Hezbollah-led opposition veto power.

"Where was America when Hezbollah took over in May?" complained Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese Druze sect and an ally of the U.S.

–Mariam Fam in San'a, Yemen, and Margaret Coker in Abu Dhabi contributed to this article.

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com,

Comments (77)


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51. MNA said:

The truth is that Mar14ers were pushed to believe that certain neighboring country was behind the assinations, and not necessarly truly believed. If anyone has any slim evidence implacating Syria, European leaders would not be making rapprochment with Syria, or better yet, George Bush would have definitly used it against Syria before he leaves office soon, as simple as that.

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July 22nd, 2008, 6:38 pm

 

52. Alex said:

Key Syria Official Cancels Trip To US

WASHINGTON (AFP)–A key official in a Syrian delegation scheduled to attend a private forum and possibly meet with U.S. officials in rare talks this week has canceled his trip, officials said Tuesday.

Riad Daoudi, Syrian lead negotiator with Israeli officials in Turkey and legal adviser to the Syrian foreign ministry, had been asked at the last minute to remain in Damascus for talks with a visiting Turkish delegation, sources said.

“Based on our information, Mr. Daoudi did not make the trip to Washington,” Syrian embassy spokesman Ahmed Salkini told AFP. He didn’t provide details.

But Ahmad Samir al-Taki, a consultant to the Syrian prime minister and director of the Orient Center for International Studies in Damascus, together with two others will attend the forum “Engaging Syria: new negotiations, old challenges” at Washington-based Brookings Institution on Wednesday.

Their visit is sponsored by Search for Common Ground, an international non- governmental organization, headquartered in Washington and Brussels, which had sought a meeting for them with the State Department.

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July 22nd, 2008, 8:11 pm

 

53. ausamaa said:

How nice!!! None of the “experts” and “analysits” above had come forward to say: “OK, I was wrong”. Now that they were proven wronger than wrong, they take it in their usual stride and move on to argue and raise new explanations and expectations, but not a word of regret or an addmission of …..anything!

Keep pouring on your “expert” opinions expert guys! Let us see where that will get us….

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July 22nd, 2008, 8:37 pm

 

54. Alex said:

More from an exclusive preview of Katie Couric’s interview with Barack Obama:

Couric: If they reject negotiating– if they reject negotiations, how likely do you think a preemptive military strike by Israel against Iran may be?

Obama: I– I will not hypothesize on that. I think– Israel has a right to defend itself. But I will not speculate on– the– the difficult judgment that they would have to make– in a whole host of possible scenarios.

Couric: This is not a speculative question then. Was it appropriate, in your view, for Israel to take out that suspected Syrian nuclear site last year?

Obama: Yes. I think that there was sufficient evidence that they were developing– a site using a nuclear– or using a– a blueprint that was similar to the North Korean model. There was some concern as to what the rationale for that site would be. And, again, ultimately, I think these are decisions that the Israelis have to make. But– you know, the Israelis live in a very tough neighborhood where– a lot of folks– publicly– proclaim Israel as an enemy and then act on those proclamations. And– I think that– you know, it– it’s important for– for me not to– you know, engage in speculation on what steps they need to take. What I can do is to provide leadership– so that the United States government hopefully doesn’t get us into a position where– those decisions are so difficult. That’s why applying tough diplomacy, direct diplomacy, and tough sanctions– where necessary is so important.

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July 22nd, 2008, 9:59 pm

 

55. JustOneAmerican said:

QN, et al,

It seems to me M14 had a “bunker” mentality and felt themselves under threat because of the assassinations. In such circumstances people are generally less willing to make compromises because to do so would be seen as weakness and cowardice, especially for politicians who have constituents to appease.

Consider the reverse case and suppose leaders of HA and it’s allies were getting killed. Would that threat induce HA to compromise? Doubtful in my view.

With regard to US support to M14, there was absolutely no way the US would have intervened militarily to back M14 up. If M14 really believed that the US would intervene militarily, then they are dumber than even their harshest critics claim. My sense is that M14 and the western powers simply didn’t consider the possibility that HA would take a limited military action. They probably believed that HA only had two choices – a full-on coup or no action. So rather than convoluted theories, it seems to me the most likely is simple miscalculation.

Lastly, I’m surprised this conspiracy theory I thought of has not come up here. I don’t believe it, but it’s interesting regardless: Suppose the US was goading M14 into a confrontation hoping that HA would react – or overreact. Perhaps the US, knowing how weak M14 was militarily, was counting on a “hard” coup by HA, not the limited operation HA actually conducted. Perhaps the US wanted blood in the streets to prove that HA is a heartless terrorist group under the control of Iran.

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July 23rd, 2008, 1:58 am

 

56. Nidal said:

JOA,

That’s an interesting conspiracy theory… but I prefer to rely on comprehensive analysis and constructive arguments. Over time, if a conspiracy theory is indeed true, it will be leaked out some way or another… especially in the US where no secret lasts very long (as Chomsky always says).

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July 23rd, 2008, 2:16 am

 

57. Qifa Nabki said:

JustOneAmerican

I agree with your reading. Not with the conspiracy theory, the other bits.

Nidal,

Just curious: what is your opinion on the various hot-button issues these days in Lebanon? (Hizbullah and “national defense strategy”, electoral law reform, Lebanon-Israel peace, relations with Syria, etc.)

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July 23rd, 2008, 2:18 am

 

58. JustOneAmerican said:

As I said, I don’t believe the conspiracy theory either, but I just thought I’d throw it out there regardless.

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July 23rd, 2008, 2:24 am

 

59. Nidal said:

QN,

I am going to talk for myself only about some of these hot-button issues.

1) Reforming Hezbollah, is it possible?
I do not support religious affiliations/associations in the public arena. Essentially, I am a staunch supporter of the seperation of church (or mosque) and state (secularism). Although other religious groupings merit attention, I’ll focus on HA since it is a regular topic on every media and in every household. My ideas on HA are very close to those written by Augustus Norton in “Hezbollah: A Short History”. Without going into HA’s history and its work on the social/economical/political level in Shia communities, I believe that HA is reformable. It was created as a resistance entity. It is not tomorrow that it will transform itself. And that should not be done by threatening them, nor by accusing of all sorts of negative elements. Only a policy based on a constructive framework can reform HA (and all other sectors of Lebanese society, as a matter of fact). I truly believe that it is possible, yet only if the consociational peace is respected. I truly believe that it is HA’s long-term goal, yet only when the Shia of Lebanon are no more the down-trodden classes of Lebanese society and have their stakes in power sharing in Lebanon. (I am not a Shia, and not a supporter of HA 😉 )

2) HA and “national defense strategy”
Disarming HA would be a huge mistake. Its military/intelligence/training capabilities are much more advanced than that of the Army. Therefore, I believe Lebanon should learn and build upon HA’s experience in military warfare (and in discipline, organization and efficiency). Integrating HA’s weapons into a national defense strategy would be ideal. Whether this means HA fighters being a distinct special forces within the Army, or the Army and HA sharing and fusing their ranks, I don’t know nor mind. Disarming HA would be a huge loss for Lebanon in terms of military defense warfare.

3) Electoral law reform
I wish we could have Lebanon as a secular state with a secular electoral law. But that’s a long-term goal. Before doing that, we should stabilize our fragile state of consociational democracy. I admire Ziad Baroud’s work on that aspect, and, to some extent, that of the Fouad Boutros commission. It’s too bad it was dissolved before any results could be agreed upon. I also tend to agree with George Corm’s ideas on that aspect: http://www.aloufok.net/article.php3?id_article=2647 (scroll down to section II; I hope you read french; if not, let me know and I’ll make you a brief summary)

4) Relations with Syria
It makes no sense to me to have tensed relations with Syria, mainly because most of our exports (and imports) depend on it. I believe that, since the full withdrawal of Syrian troops, we can solve all the remaining litigious dossiers by diplomatic means. The first step would be to exchange embassies, then to open up the various dossiers. Maybe by signing some economical partnership treaty would help accelerate these dossiers (similar to US-Canada relations, French-German, Argentine-Brazilian, …), but I am not the expert on that. With regards to people saying that Syria still has influence in Lebanon because its intelligence apparatus is still entrenched, one may say the same thing about Israeli, American, Saudi, Jordanian, French, Egyptian or other intelligence infiltration (such is the case in every country). I don’t believe that meddling into Syria’s internal politics, nor confronting Syria, is favourable option for Lebanon’s development.

5) Lebanon-Israel peace
Without going into details, I will simply state what Edward Said always tried to remind us, mainly that peace in the Middle East (not the kind of superficial Egyptian and Jordanian peace) will only come when the Palestinian issue is resolved. However, Lebanon can be an actor in solving the Israel-Palestine issue. Although I am not a supporter of the FPM, I think that Lebanon should build upon the Memorandum of Understanding between the FPM and HA, especially with regards to article 10. Liberating the Shebaa farms, freeing all Lebanese from Israeli jails (that’s done), and creating a national defense strategy will certainly position Lebanon as a catalyst to a global and comprehensive peace.

6) Palestinian refugees of Lebanon
This is one of the biggest tragedies of Lebanon. Successive governments have utterly failed to address the issue of the palestinian refugees in Lebanon. That is one of the reasons for the proliferation of extremist entities like Fatah al Islam, Takfir wal hijra, Jund al Sham, … Although I believe that palestinians must keep their Right of Return, they should also be given IDs and work permits, as well as rights to buy lands (or at least to rent anywhere in Lebanon), and to participate in the social/healthcare system. This is clearly feasible and realistic. Yet, the only thing I would not agree with is to give them the right to vote in Lebanon, because that would strip them of their Right of Return.

Did I miss any hot-button issue? I’d like to say that Gary Gambill’s articles on mideastmonitor.org and Bassel Salloukh’s occasional articles (he’s the son of For.Aff. minister Fawzi Salloukh, an LAU professor, and a very close friend of mine), as well as George Corm’s various analyses and recently Joshua Landis’s comments, are very representative of my thoughts. Did I forget Uri Avnery’s weekly sunday articles, and Karim & Saree Makdisi’s too?

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July 23rd, 2008, 3:38 am

 

60. idaf said:

Nidal you said:
“With regards to people saying that Syria still has influence in Lebanon because its intelligence apparatus is still entrenched, one may say the same thing about Israeli, American, Saudi, Jordanian, French, Egyptian or other intelligence infiltration”

I would add to your quote the following observation that is based on the history of Syrian influence in Lebanon since the latter country was established:
Regardless of the shape or form of the regime in Damascus, Syria will ALWAYS strive to have a level of influence in Lebanon equal to or greater than the political influence of any other regional or external country. In other words, Syria’s influence in Lebanon will match or exceed the influence exercised either by Israel, Saudi, US, France, Iran, etc.

For Syria, regardless of who is in control in Damascus, it is not about Lebanon, it’s a matter of Syrian national security. The External powers will always strive to increase their influence in Lebanon not just for increasing control in this country, but geopolitically, it has been always a matter of exploiting Lebanon to undermine Syria as well.

For Lebanon to reduce Syria’s influence, it has to get rid of (or try to minimize) all others. With the current political structure in Lebanon that invites external influence by design from multiple players, this is a very tough objective to achieve. Lebanon’s best bet to reduce Syria’s influence is to establish a strong secular state that is perceived as representative by the overwhelming majority of Lebanese AND one that is perceived by Syria as a friendly one. This could reduce the influence of all external powers in Lebanon, including the Syrian one. As long as the rulers of Damascus see the influence of another county grow in Lebanon they will be forced to increase their own. It is both a matter of regime survival for non-democratic regimes in Syria as well as a Syrian national security imperative for any democratic or non-democratic Syrian governments alike.

I’m sure that Alex can draw us a chart about these dynamics of the Syrian influence in Lebanon vis a vis other powers 🙂

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July 23rd, 2008, 10:24 am

 

61. idaf said:

Nidal you said:

“With regards to people saying that Syria still has influence in Lebanon because its intelligence apparatus is still entrenched, one may say the same thing about Israeli, American, Saudi, Jordanian, French, Egyptian or other intelligence infiltration”

I would add to your quote the following observation that is based on the history of Syrian influence in Lebanon since the latter country was established:
Regardless of the shape or form of the regime in Damascus, Syria will ALWAYS strive to have a level of influence in Lebanon equal to or greater than the political influence of any other regional or external country. In other words, Syria’s influence in Lebanon will match or exceed the influence exercised either by Israel, Saudi, US, France, Iran, etc.

For Syria, regardless of who is in control in Damascus, it is not about Lebanon, it’s a matter of Syrian national security. The External powers will always strive to increase their influence in Lebanon not just for increasing control in this country, but geopolitically, it has been always a matter of exploiting Lebanon to undermine Syria as well.

For Lebanon to reduce Syria’s influence, it has to get rid of (or try to minimize) all others. With the current political structure in Lebanon that invites external influence by design from multiple players, this is a very tough objective to achieve. Lebanon’s best bet to reduce Syria’s influence is to establish a strong secular state that is perceived as representative by the overwhelming majority of Lebanese AND one that is perceived by Syria as a friendly one. This could reduce the influence of all external powers in Lebanon, including the Syrian one. As long as the rulers of Damascus see the influence of another county grow in Lebanon they will be forced to increase their own. It is both a matter of regime survival for non-democratic regimes in Syria as well as a Syrian national security imperative for any democratic or non-democratic Syrian governments alike.

I’m sure that Alex can draw us a chart about these dynamics of the Syrian influence in Lebanon vis a vis other powers 🙂

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July 23rd, 2008, 10:27 am

 

62. Qifa Nabki said:

Nidal

Excellent comment! I am personally in agreement with 90% of what you said.

The final hot-button issue which you avoided, however, is which bakery in Lebanon makes the best mana2eesh. I understand, it’s very controversial, so you can skirt it if you prefer.

I too am a big fan of Gary Gamill, although I haven’t read Bassel Salloukh; I’ll have to look him up. I also very much like Georges Corm, Uri Avnery, and Karim Makdisi, whom I met recently… very smart and nice fellow.

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July 23rd, 2008, 1:42 pm

 

63. Nidal said:

QN,

Thanks for your comments. I’d be very interested if you could share the 10% with which you disagree.

The best bakery in Lebanon would be my grandma’s home kitchen ;-). But I definitely enjoy the Zaatar w Zeit places. One of my favourite bakeries is located on the highway driving north from Jounieh to Tripoli. It is right after the army checkpoint in Batroun. Do you recognize it? I think it’s called BreadHouse if my memory is right.

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July 23rd, 2008, 2:06 pm

 

64. EHSANI2 said:

NIDAL,

Very smart and balanced comment. It is great to have you contribute and share your thoughts here.

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July 23rd, 2008, 2:11 pm

 

65. Nidal said:

Ehsani,

Thanks for your comments.

QN (and all those interested too),

If you can get a copy of Salloukh’s excellent 2005 article on MERIP about “Syria & Lebanon: A Brotherhood Transformed”, I’d highly recommend it. It is truly excellent. Here’s the link to the table of contents: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer236/mer236.html

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July 23rd, 2008, 2:28 pm

 

66. norman said:

Nidal,

I like your plan ,

QN ,

Now you just have to adapt my plan for districts and election to two houses.

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July 23rd, 2008, 2:28 pm

 

67. Alex said:

IDAF,

No need for a chart.

I think you explained it quite well. Except I would add that Syria will not be comfortable with “equal” status to Israel or Saudi Arabia or the United States …

Syria, , will expect that Lebanon will be considerably closer to Syria than it is to any other country. If Lebanon, for any reason, is equally close to Saudi Arabia or Iran … the Syrians will feel that something is not right.

The same way Canada is considerably closer to the United States and not equally close to Russia or to China.

And I think Syria learned lessons from the excessive “friendship” with Lebanon in the 90’s that this time there will be no offensive posters of Syrian Presidents in Beirut Airport, no Syrian army or moukhabarat presence, no Syrian extensions to Lahhoud … mostly natural and healthy economic, cultural and family ties.

And the Lebanese will feel more comfortable when they realize that Syria is seeking similar ties with Turkey (the much larger neighbor to the north) … seeking close ties with Lebanon will therefore not be seen as a reflection of Syria’s attempt to dominate its smaller neighbor.

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July 23rd, 2008, 4:13 pm

 

68. Qifa Nabki said:

Nidal

I know the bakery; actually I think they have another location in Achrafieh.

My vote is along similar lines: not my grandmother’s kitchen, but my grandmother’s zaatar, which she takes to her local village wood-fired oven and spreads on the dough that the make there. Can’t beat the taste.

Ammo Norman,

Hopefully our new Interior Minister has ambitious plans. He is a young guy who has yet to be corrupted by the fat cats. I am optimistic.

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July 23rd, 2008, 4:52 pm

 

69. Nidal said:

IDAF,

I agree with your analysis. Good comments.

Alex,

Good additions to the argument. Lebanon-Syria ties should be somehow similar to those of US-Canada in terms of economic and cultural relations. This should strengthen the confidence between both nations, and consequently that would facilitate some sort of Truth and Reconciliation initiative (similar in some ways to the South African example) to heal the wounds of the past. This initiative is a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy, not only in Lebanon, but especially in Syria.

What do you think?

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July 23rd, 2008, 5:18 pm

 

70. Alex said:

NIDAL,

I believe that any reduction in regional tensions and hostilities will have a positive effect on the speed with which the different countries in the Middle East will be able to implement political reforms. This includes, Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

As for the advanced stage of this reform process, a place which is somewhat close to the ideal “democracy” … by then (10 years from now?) there is a good chance (50/50) that the people in Syria and Lebanon might decide to unite .. to some degree.

Again, could be similar to the Canadian system … a federal government with two provincial governments for example.

I understand that today the mere thought of “unity” between Syria and Lebanon is not politically correct. But in 10 years I am expecting (and hoping) a very different perception of this potential unity.

The good thing about it is that it makes it easier for everyone to not fear the results of one-man one-vote elections.

If you followed the different discussion we had on this blog over tha past few years you would have realized that there are two fears

1) In Syria, the 25% Alawites, Christians, Druze and Ismaelis fear a narrow victory by the Muslim Brotherhood which will likely (in their opinion) lead to a serious change in Syria’s mostly secular character.

2) In Lebanon, many worry that if a one-man-one-vote type of elections were held, with no guaranteed shares for Christians, sunnis, Armenians …etc, then Hizbollah and the Shia will be the most powerful winner and that they will make a coalition with a smaller party (and sect) that allows them to lead Lebanon and, again, change its current balanced structure.

If you have federal election in a united Syria and Lebanon … Hizbollah will not be a threat to the Lebanese Sunnis or Christians, and the Muslim Brotherhood will be much less likely to win a majority in Syrian elections.

In that sense, the best boost to the chances of democracy in both countries will be uniting them.. when people on both sides are ready a decade from now : )

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July 23rd, 2008, 5:59 pm

 

71. Nidal said:

Alex,

Interesting thought you have there. Although I respectfully have a different opinion. The current world order is not to unite people/nations into one political state. The trend is to intensify economic and cultural relations between several states, such as Canada-US, North & South Korea, China & Taiwan, EU, … (one might argue that, in the case of the EU, it is building a common political ground, but I don’t see the chances of this surviving in the next few decades).

Furthermore, I do not think that the majority of Lebanese (and I am one of them) are even dreaming of a unified Syria and Lebanon in the political sense. That was an old shattered vision of the SSNP in Lebanon, and is still one for many Syrians today. In my opinion, assuming that full secular democracy comes to both countries in the next few decades, I still do not believe that this will happen, nor do I see the benefits of such vision (again, on the political basis only). If you see those benefits (again, assuming that full secular and free democracy is in both Syria and Lebanon), please do share them.

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July 23rd, 2008, 6:20 pm

 

72. Alex said:

Nidal,

I had this same discussion with Qifa Nabki few months ago : )

I realize that I sound like I am an SSNP member.

I am not a fan of borders and states in general. I want the Levant to be as open as possible … I want to see people from turkey and Israel to be able to trade and travel anywhere in the area.

During his visit to Lebanon Noam Chomsky said that there are “natural pairs” that he expects to start this process (“unity”) … Syria and Lebanon are the most obvious natural pair (in addition to Egypt and Sudan).

I am sure you also can see a few obvious benefits from such vision.

I have quite a few Lebanese friends. Most do not want to unite with Syria.

But ten years is a long time … just imagine how much the Middle East changed since 1998, and keep in mind the rate of change for the next ten years is likely to be much higher than the rate of change for the past ten years.

Of course I might be wrong. I am quite willing to change my mind over the next few years, depending on what I see in Syria and Lebanon,a nd the Middle East in general.

But I am as strongly pro open borders as I am pro protecting the environment. I think both are naturally and obviously good.

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July 23rd, 2008, 8:11 pm

 

73. Qifa Nabki said:

Nidal,

Alex is right that we had this conversation a few months ago, but what he didn’t say is that I completely dismantled all of his arguments and left him dumbfounded, unable to say anything but: “I can’t believe I was so wrong. Qifa, what can I do to repay you for showing me the way?”

😉

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July 23rd, 2008, 8:17 pm

 

74. Alex said:

Qifa,

We also reached an exact assessment of your valuable help, didn’t we?

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July 23rd, 2008, 8:26 pm

 

75. Nidal said:

Alex,

Your thoughts are interesting. I will keep them in mind every time I come across articles and events on Lebanon-Syria relations, and I will keep asking myself the same questions to assess if that vision is possible. I must say that it is idealistic, but probably not impossible, yet only under very ideal conditions (free, secular, open democracy). Not that I agree to it, but simply I am acknowledging the possibility of such a union. Interesting argument, there.

QN,

Could you point me to past exchanges which you’ve mentioned with Alex on this topic? I am interested in reading your strategy by which you have dismantled Alex’s arguments ;-).

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July 23rd, 2008, 8:36 pm

 

76. Qifa Nabki said:

Nidal

I think the exchange Alex is referring to was over email.

So, unfortunately, there are no witnesses to the drubbing that he received. 🙂

Alex, you got it wrong…

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July 23rd, 2008, 8:44 pm

 

77. Alex said:

OK Mr. Qifa. You are right.

I guess I owe you one of these.

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July 23rd, 2008, 8:48 pm

 

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