“Shaping Lebanon’s Future,” by Bilal Saab

Syria needs to make a clear statement about its Lebanon policy, explaining on what terms it will normalize relations. Bilal Saab is a balanced analyst, but in this short essay, he expresses the anxiety shared by many Middle Easterners that Syria is not prepared to recognize Lebanese independence. He advocates a strong but reformed US role in Lebanon, in large part to ward off Syrian influence.

Shaping Lebanon’s Future 
Bilal Y. Saab, Senior Research Assistant, Saban Center
Executive Summary 

Lebanon is mired in a long running and seemingly intractable political crisis. The country has been without a president since November 2007, a reflection of deep-rooted problems in Lebanese politics. Three years after the withdrawal of Syrian troops, Lebanon has become less, not more stable. The United States therefore needs to craft a Lebanon policy that can help ease the country out of its constitutional gridlock. Such a policy would seek to rebuild state capacity and shield Lebanon from negative foreign interventions, respect its internal balance of power, push for the convening of the international tribunal on the murder of Rafiq Hariri and other Lebanese politicians, and continue sponsoring moves towards Israeli-Palestinian peace. (read – Shaping Lebanon’s Future)

Comments (69)

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51. TheOtherPointOfVieW said:

Wizart, sorry for the latin:
“primum vivere, deinde philosopari” = first one must live, then one may philosophize
Not sure what I meant by it, just part of my occasional philosophical ramblings to snap myself back to reality. Blame it on age.
Now your “Ni Ha Ma?” and “Ni ha (good)” leave me with an open mouth of complete ignorance: is that Chinese?

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March 21st, 2008, 12:17 pm


52. Georges said:

Jumping in quickly….

WIZART, economic and even political integration, however shape it takes, becomes possible when two countries BOTH see VALUE in it. People have to be invested in such a deal, and that happens as a result of what I’ve been outlining before. EVEN IF, the Lebanese collectively decide they want an integration or union with Syria, is this the right thing to do for Syria? The answer in my mind is a resounding NO.

Frankly, before we think, or propose, a ‘merger’ (as it were), we need to figure out a better way to keep some of our own people happy with the deal they have (i.e. Kurds in the North East). We also have a TON of other things to do from improve education, social services, infrastructure, reduce birth rates, implement reforms (political and economic) and as a result raise the quality of life for Syrians. THIS could make Syria a more attractive country to be integrated with in the future.

The Lebanese would have to spend some generations doing the same internally. As real links (beyond our favorite family ties) are created – especially economically – then there would be a natural evolution toward the goal you expressed. And, then, it wouldn’t matter to most people what shape that takes.

France and Germany would be a small example: they are traditional and historic enemies. Since 1956, they’ve developed their respective countries to the point where their people saw value in a union of sort, and today, the two together represent the political dynamo of the EU.

Today, even if it were possible, quite candidly, I MIND integrating Lebanon with all of its problems and baggage within Syria. That’s a recipe for even more problems for us. I am neither emotionally or materially ready for sharing a country with the Lebanese.

So, I wish some (some Syrians and fewer Lebanese) would stop floating that proposal.

Yalla khaterkon.

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March 21st, 2008, 1:14 pm


53. Enlightened said:

Shaping Lebanon’s Future:

This post has aroused some passions. Cynicism aside, there have been some good comments, some predictable, and some egotistical ones, and some silly ones.

Let me tell you something that some of you might have forgotten, this whole episode reminds me of the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys: Here is the link, have a laugh


QN I could swear that you are in one of those photos and Georges is as well.

I am a rationalist I always thought that Syria’s policy towards Lebanon was fairly well articulated, not in a policy paper sense , but reading between the Lines it went like this:

“We are in control and make the decisions, you Lebanese follow them”
now this policy was used with finesse sometimes, a carrot and stick approach sometimes, and at its worse through direct intimidation, coercion,terror and assasination. Now before many of you start jumping at me, these facts are well known, whether these issues were for the “times” or a means to a end, these facts cannot be disputed.

When the average citizens lives are affected, through the soft projection of power or through visible means (the syrian army checkpoints as an example), the cumulative effect of this over many years, has a very severe impact on those deemed occupiers or occupied. It is then no coincidence that the favourite slogan shouted at many demonstrations was ” Ah yalla Suriya tlahi Baroh”.

Syria does not have to state its position towards Lebanon, it is plain to see.

1. A Pro Syrian President
2. A Pro Syrian Government
3. A Blocking third for the opposition
4. No Tribunal
5. NO disarmament for Its Proxy Hezb

Its policy will not change, therefor no articulation is needed. We are being delusional to think that it will change.

Apart from the disruption to the its institutions, and government these two years have helped Lebanon. A big plus has been despite violence and assasinations and minor disputes NO CIVIL WAR has broken out. Despite the bluff,political and childish rhetoric we sometimes witness from time to time, this has helped the political development and maturity process, this has been a good thing. Two sides opposed and some semblence of semi democratic debate is taking place with mediation.

Syria’s government cannot lose this battle, this semi democratic little neighbour with all its faults next door cannot be used to unseat the Baathist government. BS aside if this succeeds, or the M14 group succeeds to break free, count down the days. You might have the average Syrian demonstrating yelling “Ah yalla, beit Assad tlaho Barah”


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March 21st, 2008, 1:36 pm


54. wizart said:


Thanks for the Latin, nice idea. I appreciate your philosophy.

You’re correct that was Chinese which is pretty much the future!

They say last century was the American century. This one is Chinese.

Georges 🙂

Thanks for dropping by. I appreciate the European experiments especially in the 18th century during the age of enlightenment although I think Portugal progressed much faster as they integrated with the rest of the EU more recently. Anyway, I think the Chinese/Hong Kong model is more applicable to Syria/Lebanon.

Anyway, blogging is a fun way to brainstorm and toy around with ideas.

Who knows perhaps Seniora and Bashar are speaking w/ Bush here 🙂

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March 21st, 2008, 1:41 pm


55. Georges said:

With all due respect, this was a pretty simple and naive analysis….not very “Enlightened” 🙂

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March 21st, 2008, 2:04 pm


56. wizart said:

Happy Good Friday!

What do Christians Celebrate on Good Friday (today)?

Good Friday is observed on the Friday before Easter Sunday. On this day Christians commemorate the passion, or suffering, and death on the cross of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Many Christians spend this day in fasting, prayer, repentance, and meditation on the agony and suffering of Christ on the cross.


With all due respect, the first rule of brainstorming is to withhold judgment. What makes a model work is great execution.

What makes you think it’s naive or oversimplified? What makes a good model for success? Does the model have to be complicated? Do you have to have a president in Lebanon?

Why is your analysis better? We can’t argue with success and both the Chinese and HK economies have prospered while we keep “analyzing!”

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March 21st, 2008, 2:16 pm


57. TheOtherPointOfVieW said:

Ya Georges shoo hayda, I just finished praising you and wishing you were president of Syria and you go and diminish the light of Enlightened? Many of us not only agree with him but see his statements as much truth as the sun illuminating the earth.

Of course we might be wrong. We’d LOVE to be wrong. But for now, we are sincere and believe we have clarity of vision far beyond any needed “proof.”

Wassalmoo 3alaykum wa – one day in advance – Christossanessi / Alisthonanessi

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March 21st, 2008, 2:17 pm


58. Enlightened said:

Georges: (LOL)

Many know me here not to support the Syrian government, and I have no ill feeling towards the Syrian population and have Syrian relos’ thru marriage.

The truth hurts very much, it is only when we can accept it, can we move on and articulate the bigger picture. Live in Denial that is ok, that is not my problem. I say it how I see it.

Tell me that the Lebanese are equally to blame for this situation, I will acknowledge that, but tell me condescendingly that my take on the situation was naive ,then you have no grasp of the real issues. Quite simply you dont deserve to be president of Syria, but Iran Instead.

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March 21st, 2008, 2:30 pm


59. TheOtherPointOfVieW said:

Ya 3ammeh what’s wrong with you ya Wizart ?

1) Georges was addressing Enlightened, not you, in his “simple and naive” qualification fo the analysis
2) There’s no such thing as “Happy Good Friday” – Sheesh – You copied the definition yourself as being a day of “repentance, meditation, and agony” and then you wish Christians a “Happy” one? Wait for Easter buddy.

In the meantime, in case it applies to you, Happy Mawlid An Nabi, and while I’m at it, here again are the wishes of one LingoChecker who popped up here recently:


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March 21st, 2008, 2:39 pm


60. Enlightened said:


Its always good to bait those Syrian Nationalists, their response is always laughable as it it is predictable.

Now How can we bait those M14’s , lets wait till they come back!

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March 21st, 2008, 2:53 pm


61. Georges said:

Bel-nessbe la Enlgihtened, ma t2akhezna. I meant the analysis is too simplistic, mou Enlightened. Subtle difference.

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March 21st, 2008, 3:16 pm


62. wizart said:


Thanks for the clarifications and I “repent” my earlier remarks!

I didn’t feel like saying have a sad Friday although that might work if that’s what some people are trying to do. Now I understand.

Whatever floats your boat. I appreciate your happy Mawled Nabawi wishes although I observe it in my own way through online Jihad 🙂

Happy Easter! (If that’s what you celebrate.)

Bon appetite w/ lots of colored eggs on the side.

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March 21st, 2008, 3:32 pm


63. Enlightened said:

Walow ya Georges! Allah Y Khalik w owik!

Yes maybe we had to tell you simply, that most Lebanese are getting pissed at the whole situation! Perhaps you were over analyzing the situation. I think the real problem is that we dont like you Syrians, Our Dabke is better than yours, and we make better Humous,Falafel and Kibbe Naye.

Further more our politicians are better looking ( Jumblatt beats Bashar hands down), more suave (Geagega over Muallem) and infiniately more charismatic (Fatfat over anybody that you care to name)


I have been drinking for the last five hours and its 230 in the morning and I am taking the mickey out of you! and with my earlier post.

And thats not too subtle!

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March 21st, 2008, 3:32 pm


64. wizart said:


I hear you and feel perhaps Lebanon should move closer to Cypress or if you can pull it all the way to the South Pacific you might be able to stop compulsively blaming our food or communication skills for everything although you might find excessive drinking to be a bigger problem! 🙂

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March 21st, 2008, 4:04 pm


65. Enlightened said:


There is 500,000 Lebanese in Sydney, that is 499,999 too many.

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March 21st, 2008, 10:04 pm


66. Qifa Nabki said:


Here’s a response to your post from yesterday.

1. I don’t have an innate contempt or any kind superiority or inferiority complex toward Lebanon or the Lebanese… So, in principle, we have the raw ingredients to have an exceptionally close relationship, if we can neutralize the political issue…


2. … In other words, let us each take responsibility and admit culpability for our own problems. To get ahead, let’s each clean house (and we both have much to clean) and come to the other with a clear and objective understanding of our issues and our baggage.

Again, agreed. Georges, I am actually much more interested in finding faults within Lebanon than in Syria, the reason being that I personally (as a Lebanese citizen) have a much better chance of having an effect on my own government than Syria’s government. However, while I recognize your frustration with knee-jerk anti-Syrianism (and I have criticized this behavior on the part of M14 leaders), I reserve the right to be extremely vigilant with respect to Damascus’s game plan for Lebanon… more on this below.

4. Though I refuse to continue to plead my innocence and repeatedly prove that I’m not interested in annexing Lebanon or otherwise destabilizing it, I will offer that I don’t believe in the annexation, occupation, or subjugation of any territory or people.

Ok, but you are also not the President of Syria, Georges. You may be against subjugation, but what makes you confident that the regime isn’t either?

It is telling, in my opinion, that you used the words “my innocence” and “I’m not interested in annexing Lebanon.” Unfortunately, Georges, it’s not up to you. I wish it were. A few weeks ago I wrote a commentary for SC that argued for giving the Lebanese opposition a veto in the cabinet in order to solve the short-term crisis in the interests of long-term political reconciliation … But did the majority take my advice? No. Why? Because it’s not up to me. Similarly, your analysis — though well-meaning and intelligent — has little to do with reality. Why? Because unlike you, Syria’s rulers are … Baathists and dictators. That’s reality.

To my mind, the crisis in Lebanon today is very serious for Syria, and it will refuse to lose. Losing in Lebanon is simply not an option for Syria. As Ausamaa said, quite rightly: Lebanese independence ends where Syrian national security begins. This is exactly right. Syria cannot afford to take any chances, and it will do anything necessary to ensure that Lebanon will not be a threat. From reading your own commentary, I think that you would agree with this point.

Where we fundamentally disagree, it appears, is on the question of what constitutes a Lebanese “threat”. To my mind, anything less than the pre-2005 levels of Syrian influence in Lebanon would constitute an intolerable threat to Syrian national security and its regional interests. And so, entertaining the prospect of an independent Lebanon — given the regional dynamics at the present time — is simply out of the question for Syria, even if there were some way to prevent the influence of other foreign powers in Beirut.

Without the Lebanese card, Syria’s bargaining position at the negotiation table with Israel is extremely weak indeed. And quite apart from the Israeli issue, an independent Lebanon next door, with strong and stable institutions of governance, a fair electoral law, independent judiciary, bicameral legislature, strong internal security forces, electoral commission with campaign oversight on finance and media practices, (in short, a real democracy!) is as intolerable to Syria at this stage as a popularly elected Hamas government is to America. Under such a system, the Lebanese might wake up and realize that they have far more in common with each other than their divisive feudal leaders once told them, and that they have common interests as well. Unfortunately, those common interests may not mesh with those of Syria’s regime.

That’s the problem with democracy… it’s like a box of chocolates.

Anyway, that’s my qirshayn.

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March 22nd, 2008, 2:22 am


67. TheOtherPointOfVieW said:

Walak ya QN, I was so badly mistaken, it’s not Siniora who’s the former diamond in the rough now shining, it’s WizKid (or so they claim) Qifa Nabki. What the heck are you doing wasting your talent away in talking to us little people? How is it that no one has yet discovered you and given you the roles to have you become active and grow in political leadership?
Ya Qifa, I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night. I’ve hired a lot of people in my life and I like to pride myself that if I have but one quality and strength it is an eye for talent. And talent I see. And, unless you are already somewhere active in an effective way and just using this blog as an amusement (which I highly doubt) you need to come out like a Lebanese Obama and spring into the active world. Yalla ya zalameh shoo natir. I don’t have forever to live and I want to see something good happen under some inspired leadership.

You see, the truth is that I want you to come out so I can beat the heck out of you for having so cleverly outed me. I was having so much fun. Ma3lesh, stay in hiding. I’m too old to beat you anyway.
Is the bipolar angle obvious yet? No, wait. I was going for the multiple personality thing. Never mind.

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March 22nd, 2008, 3:39 am


68. Qifa Nabki said:

HP, I mean TOPOV

As I told you, I’m too young to run for president, as I’m still in high school. But thanks for your vote.


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March 22nd, 2008, 3:43 am


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