“Syria: Options and Implications for Lebanon and the Region,” by Emile El-Hokayem

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Near East held a hearing on Syria and Lebanon on November 8, 2007.

Assistant Secretary David Welch testified on behalf of the Administration.

Rob Malley of the ICG, David Lesch of Trinity University and Emile El-Hokayem served as witnesses.

All written statements are available at:

http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2007/hrg071108p.html

The full proceedings, including the lively Q&A session, are available here:

http://www.fednews.com/transcript.htm?id=20071108t3452

Written Testimony of Emile El-Hokayem
Research Fellow
The Henry L. Stimson Center

Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Near East and South Asia Subcommittee
November 8, 2007
Syria: Options and Implications for Lebanon and the Region

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

First, let me express my appreciation for the opportunity to testify today on the pressing matter of Syria.

1. Overview of the Syrian challenge

The challenge posed by Syria to regional stability in the Middle East is complex and multifaceted. Until a few years ago Syria was a partner of the United States in the search for peace. Now, thanks to its policy choices, alliances, geographic location and spoiler capacity, Syria is enmeshed in all the current and potential conflicts in the Middle East: Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Iraq and Iran. Syria is not the ultimate threat to either the region or US interests, nor does it pose the kind of ideological, strategic and political challenge that Iran does. But it has proven intransigent and belligerent on a number of issues of great importance to the international community.

Nowhere has Syrian influence been as visible and disruptive as in Lebanon. After occupying (and stabilizing) Lebanon for 15 years with an international cover, Syrian heavy-handedness and mismanagement of Lebanese politics has created deep resentment against Syria which cuts across sectarian lines. Lebanon’s transition from Syrian domination to full independence, sovereignty and stability has been strenuous for its society and politics. Since 2005, Lebanon has experienced political paralysis, economic regression, a devastating war with Israel, various grave security incidents, including a campaign of political assassination and intimidation and a 3.5 month-long mini-war against Sunni jihadists. Syria’s contribution to this instability is difficult to overstate, even if it is often murky.

The upcoming Lebanese presidential elections will be a momentous test for the future of Syrian-Lebanese relations. Depending on Syrian behavior (i.e. whether Syria will recognize a president acceptable to all Lebanese factions who also upholds Lebanon’s responsibilities toward the international community and protects its full sovereignty or even a president who enjoys the support of a majority of parliamentarians), these elections could open a new phase not only in bilateral relations between Syria and Lebanon but also between Syria and the rest of the world. But the prospects for such a positive outcome are dim, partly because of Syria, which perceives these elections as an opportunity to defeat its Lebanese and foreign opponents with the support of its Lebanese allies and which fears that a victory of its foes will further weaken its hand.

2. Assessing US policy toward Syria and Syria’s regional role

Critics of the current policy of isolation argue that it hasn’t worked, that US interests with regards to Syria go beyond Lebanon and that sidelining Syria invites more interference and destabilization on Syria’s part. The problems with this argument are manifold: high-level delegations from the US and Europe engaged Syria for many years, without reciprocation from Damascus on any of the issues raised; Syria was allowed to set Lebanon’s foreign and domestic policies for 15 years, ultimately overplaying its hand; Syria was given many opportunities to shape more favorable outcomes for itself, but, feeling besieged, chose instead to provoke an escalation in Lebanon that eventually backfired. It is not a lack of engagement but Syria’s maximalist and unresponsive posture that has precipitated the current crisis, driving the US administration and other countries to even consider, then wisely reject regime change as an option.

Critics must also acknowledge that US policy toward Syria is not unilateral or even controversial with America’s allies. It is a mainstream, multilateral policy endorsed by the European Union and key Arab states, and formalized through UN Security Council resolutions.

Critics, however, are right to stress that US interests regarding Syria are not limited to Lebanon. Iraq is the most prominent issue to come to mind. If the United States decides to stabilize Iraq through serious regional cooperation, it will need the help of all of Iraq’s neighbors, including Syria. But if one were to gather all of Iraq’s neighbors around a table, it would be Syria that would have the least to offer in terms of positive incentives. Indeed, Syria’s supposedly good relations with Iraqi factions don’t translate into constructive leverage. In terms of tribal, political or financial power, Syria is not part of the major league. Although it does not have the capacity to deliver what the US needs most in Iraq, it does and will maintain the capacity to derail any domestic or regional consensus it deems contrary to its interests. Syria’s hosting of 1.5 million Iraqi refugees must be commended and that burden acknowledged and shared, but Syria should not be allowed to leverage this crisis to promote more mischief in Iraq. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that Syria is attempting to organize proxies in Iraq, essentially former regime elements who found a base in Syria since 2003. The Iraqi government’s repeated pleas for the extradition of many of these figures have been rejected. But given the fragmented nature of the Iraqi insurgency and its autonomous political calculations, Syria has been less successful than it hoped in determining the political agenda of any of the Iraqi factions and will find it difficult to position itself as a key power broker.

The other set of interests pertains to the perennial Syrian support and hosting of rejectionist Palestinian factions. Little was obtained from Damascus at the height of the peace process in the 1990s, so it is difficult to imagine a dramatic reversal when Syria is under so much pressure. Palestinian politics and progress in the peace process will be the determining factors, not unlikely Syrian cooperation.

Finally, there is Iran, whose alliance with Syria (and Hezbollah) makes it a key player in Levantine politics. The declared hope of many, including Israeli officials, is to drive a wedge between the two countries by restarting the peace process. But the nature and strength of the Syrian-Iranian alliance prevent such a scenario from unfolding. In fact, Syria is not likely to give up an alliance that brings everyone to its doorstep.

In these circumstances, what to obtain from Syria in return for unconditional engagement is unclear. It will take a long and arduous process of dialogue to start seeing the benefits, if any, of such a strategy. A main concern is that all the progress made on the Lebanese front since 2005 could be reversed in the meantime. This will not happen unless a dual process of US engagement of Syria and of Israel-Syria peace talks becomes more important to Washington and Tel Aviv than to Damascus. Even modest Syrian cooperation on Iraq and Israel could then become reason enough not to challenge Syrian behavior in Lebanon.

3. Syrian calculations regarding Lebanon

Is Syria’s interest in Lebanon uniquely motivated by the desire to recover the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights? Or is there a more complex calculation driving Syria’s attempts to reassert its role in Lebanon? While there is no doubt that Syria is legitimately adamant in its desire to recover the Golan, it is my judgment that it also wants a dominant say in all matters Lebanese, which amounts to serious breaches to Lebanon’s sovereignty and a de facto veto right on Lebanese affairs. So long as Syria refuses to normalize relations with Lebanon by delineating the border, exchanging embassies and ending its interference in Lebanese affairs, it will be difficult to overcome Lebanese fears and suspicions over Syria’s real intentions and the substance of a bilateral US-Syrian dialogue. There is still a vivid memory in Lebanon of US acquiescence to Syrian rule that resulted from Syria’s support of the United States against Saddam Hussein in 1990.

The continued importance of Lebanon to Syria has many dimensions. Let’s be clear that much of the daily interaction between Syria and Lebanon is legitimate, the product of strong and old societal ties, and that both countries are bound to have privileged relations in the future. But Syria’s current approach to Lebanon is dictated by regime interests in Damascus rather than a healthy long-term vision of the relationship. Lebanon needs not be a threat to Syria’s stability, but this is Damascus’ call.

Syria sees Lebanon as a convenient battlefield for its conflict with a number of foes, including the United States, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Lebanon is also seen as a source of threat to Syria’s regime because it is no longer in Syria’s orbit, now has an autonomous foreign policy, is solidifying relations with Syria’s foes, allows the airing of anti-Syrian views, and has allowed the international community to pose, through the international tribunal looking into the Hariri assassination, a possibly existential threat to the regime. In Lebanon, Syria sees a lost source of economic benefits, critical strategic depth that needs to be regained and secured at all costs, and an important negotiating asset.

Bashar al-Assad repeats to his foreign visitors that Syria is not a charity—should Syria cooperate with the US, he expects full US engagement. But this route could lead to sacrificing a number of important processes: the international tribunal and the Hariri investigation could halt, UN resolution 1701 could be transformed into a conflict management mechanism in which Syria will have a major say, and the UN-led process to normalize relations between the two countries would likely fail, among other casualties of engagement.

In examining whether the US should engage Syria, the Senate should consider why Syria has failed to cooperate with every attempt to obtain Syrian cooperation on Lebanon—some of which have offered attractive incentives. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states offered Syria reintegration into the Arab fold and much-needed investments; France has promised “spectacular returns” in exchange for a hands-off approach to Lebanon; the European Union has offered economic assistance and cooperation; and countless European officials have promised to support re-launching the peace process with Israel. Damascus has rebuffed all offers because it is still hoping for a complete reversal of fortunes in Lebanon. One needs only to look at the delighted reaction of the Syrian leadership following the visits of American congressional delegations and European foreign ministers over the last year, or invitations to participate in Arab League meetings, and the utter lack of Syrian responsiveness afterwards.

Syria continues to await renewed international recognition of or at least acquiescence to its central role in Lebanese affairs. Syria calculates that in due time, international fatigue with the Lebanese crisis, new leaderships in the US and Europe, necessity over Iraq, the capacity of its allies to sustain pressure on the Lebanese government and sheer steadfastness will reward its obstinacy. In the short term, it means that a power vacuum and even instability in Lebanon are seen as more harmful to the governing coalition and its foreign allies than to Syria and its allies in Lebanon.

The logic of unconditional reengagement carries other risks and costs that its proponents dismiss too easily. US engagement without Syrian concessions on Lebanon will hurt further US credibility in the region, jeopardize multilateral processes, alienate Arab allies worried about Syria’s alignment with Iran, and comfort Syria’s image as a tough resister that can force the United States to come to terms on Syrian terms.

Unconditionally reengaging Syria is tantamount to subordinating the sovereignty and future of Lebanon to the fortunes of the peace process, Syria’s cooperation on Iraq, or the fluctuations in the Persian Gulf, and this is after more than a million people turned out in the center of Beirut on March 14, 2005 to peacefully demand and obtain the end of Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon.

4. A way forward

Keeping Syria in the cold is not a long-term solution to Lebanon’s or the region’s problems, nor is the threat of further coercion. If Syria still considers peace with Israel and normalization with the West strategic choices because of the tangible political and economic benefits that would then flow, then it could demonstrate its seriousness by putting an end to its disruptive role in Lebanon.

There is a path ahead that involves restarting the peace process between Syria and Israel, and it will require US diplomatic leadership after the Annapolis conference. Simultaneously with a US-Israeli initiative to restart peace negotiations with Israel, Syria should commit to the Quartet to demarcate its border with Lebanon, exchange embassies, and abide by UN resolutions 1559 and 1701. In exchange, the Quartet would endorse the resumption of peace talks, the United States would agree to suspend sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act and send back its ambassador to Damascus, and the European Union would commit to press ahead with economic and trade discussions. Syria's refusal to do so would only be construed as a desire to continue using Lebanon as a negotiating card with Israel, even as Syria today can no longer guarantee the disarmament of Hezbollah as it could in the 1990s. More worryingly, Syrian obstruction could simply reflect a continued desire for hegemony in Lebanon, validating the worst fears of a deeply insecure Lebanese population. This is why dissociating Syria's foreign affairs from its obligations towards Lebanon is a serious mistake. It is ironical but only fair for Lebanon to constrain Syria's policy options after Syria did so for so long.

Comments (26)


1. t_desco said:

Al-Hayat: Daniel Bellemare to replace Serge Brammertz?

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November 12th, 2007, 7:00 am

 

2. idaf said:

Strange.. JPost today had the following article posted on their website “US told Syria that Golan return will be on summit’s agenda” before it was mysteriously replaced with another article. Google News still has this snippet:

‘US told Syria that Golan return will be on summit’s agenda’
Jerusalem Post, Israel – 15 hours ago
Yadlin told the cabinet on Sunday that the move was part of a US effort to persuade Damascus to participate in the meeting. Briefing ministers on the …

I could not find it again on JPost’s website.. Is this a technical glitch? Was this scoop an embarrassing news for someone and the editor “got a phone call”? After the way the media dealt with the “strike on the box” in Syria, it is clear that media censorship is also rampant in Israel.

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November 12th, 2007, 10:18 am

 

3. Losing Hope Quickly said:

Interesting stuff – Obviously foreign policy for any country, especially in the Middle East is incredibly important, however I think Syria needs to concentrate at least as much on its domestic affairs as it does on foreign ones…people are consistently disappointed by the mismanagement of the national and local issues by the government. They are sick of hearing about how awful the West and Israel is, when they can see among other things, the rampant levels of corruption in and around most government organizations (this is not meant to imply that the West and Israel do not have their fair share of domestic problems including corruption).

A program of investment and reform of the health care system for example is desperately needed. People often have to sell their homes and/or businesses to generate some cash to go abroad to get treatment which is either unavailable in the country or because the majority of government-run hospitals are in such a bad state that to go into one for any treatment, is simply asking for medical complications or because Syrian private hospitals are merely businesses and in some cases charge as much as some of the best hospitals in the West (from experience).

Getting back to foreign affairs, I think Syria should normalize relations with Lebanon but the US has to engage with Syria – there’s probably not much hope of that with the current clown in the White House so we’ll have to wait and see whether the next one in there will be any better…

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November 12th, 2007, 12:07 pm

 
 

5. SimoHurtta said:

I could not find it again on JPost’s website.. Is this a technical glitch?

The page still exists.
Yadlin: US promised Syria that return of Golan will be on Annapolis agenda

Maybe the Dubai $35 billion air plane deal mostly with Europeans (despite the expensive €) has taught some reality of the new world order to Americans.

In YNET’s news Olmert said:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke Monday at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s meeting and said he hopes to see Syrian delegated at the Annapolis peace conference.

“I hope Syria sends delegated to Annapolis even if the only matter discussed would be the Palestinians,” said Olmert.

Israelis seem to be in real panic with Annapolis. Some headlines:
Annapolis is dangerous, Netanyahu tells Rabbi Yosef
Annapolis Roadblocked? PA delegation detained at Israeli checkpoint
12:45 PM: Negotiations will have to start with recognition of Israel as Jewish state (Haaretz)
12:11 Chief PA negotiator: We won`t accept Israel as a Jewish state (Israel Radio)

Especially blocking the Palestinians team to negotiate with Livni by the IDF is interesting. Whose orders are the soldiers following?

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November 12th, 2007, 12:56 pm

 

6. ausamaa said:

I have to admit that I did not yet read the full “Written Testimony of Emile El-Hokayem” to whoever yet, but any Tistemony or Article or Speach that starts with the tone of: “The challenge posed by Syria to regional stability in the Middle East is complex and multifaceted.” does not promise to carry much “sensible” and “objective” content. This Syria is a Challenge to the whole world, isnt it. What a nasty nation.

But I shall read it anyway when and if time permits.

LOL

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November 12th, 2007, 1:03 pm

 

7. EHSANI2 said:

Losing Hope Quickly,

You cite how a program of investment and reform of the health care system is desperately needed.

What you did not discuss is where the money to fix the problem will come from.

The Government coffers are so stretched that such “investments” never find the day of light, and they will not.

When 19% of your gross domestic product are spent on subsidizing fuel oil, bread, sugar and electricity, you run out of tax revenues very quickly.

Fuel oil is sold in Syria for SYP 7 per liter.
The price in Turkey is SYP 75 per liter.

The smuggling is of course rampant. The money that that could have gone to reforming the broken health care system ends up instead in the smugglers pockets. This is just one example of mismanagement and missallocation of resources.

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November 12th, 2007, 1:23 pm

 

8. Losing Hope Quickly said:

Ehsani2,

You asked and answered your own question about where the money for reform and investment could be sourced. If more serious efforts are made by central government to quell the “mismanagement and missallocation of resources” (in addition to some much needed transparency about the ways in which many Syrian members of parliament and regional and local government representatives have become multi-millionaires virtually overnight) we would be on our way. Since however, most of the big guns are themselves corrupt, I doubt this will ever happen properly, hence the rapid loss of hope.

Attitudes have to change – people still openly ask for bribes in many government organisations for example when renewing passports, getting a new ID card, getting a telephone line, applying for planning permission, passing a module at uni or even to get a degree… the list is endless – I’ve heard people say that those who ask for and accept bribes are ‘shater’ clever people trying to make the best life possible for themselves, many of those I’ve spoken to about this issue figure that if they don’t ask for that bribe, someone else will and it’s therefore better if they ask and they get the money…therefore a re-education program is needed to end this ridiculous notion that it is somehow clever if you are a corrupt thief.

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November 12th, 2007, 1:55 pm

 

9. EHSANI2 said:

Losing Hope quickly (love the name),

It is not education that is needed. It is a decent salary. When I lived in the Gulf many years ago, I came across many Syrians who work in the local police offices. When I asked one of them about bribery, he laughed. His salary was $1500 a month. His housing was paid for. Were you to be stopped, what would you pay him for a bribe? $10? $50? $100?

Let us contrast that with a Syrian policeman. If he does not accept bribes, his family will simply starve. On a salary of $150 a month and at least four kids in the household, he is not a “chater” for accepting bribes. He is a “survivor”. It is not chatara. It is the system.

“We know that your salary is not enough. Hence, “Dabber Rasak”.

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November 12th, 2007, 2:08 pm

 

10. Observer said:

Interesting view point below

Lebanon’s Presidency and the New World Order

By: Elias Aoun

There are many dark predictions, but they can all be transcended by taking a different path, making wiser decisions, so that the dark plots do not have to unfold. Achieving a constructive outcome requires awareness of what is possible (both positive and negative), good intentions, and an enhanced decision-making process by widening the source of information upon which those decisions are made.

It has been said that politicians need to analyze the impact of their decisions on at least seven generations before making any decision. Probably what is mostly needed today is a value standard: do we care about future generations so that our actions aim to better rather than worsen their lives? What is more important: political power or respectful co-existence? What is more enduring: bigotry, hatred, and endless quarrels or playing a collective, constructive role in where we are going? While everyone’s eye-sight is on the issues being debated, should not we instead be far-sighted and consider the outcome planned not for the issues but as a consequence to the confrontation on the issues?

For Washington, Paris, the Vatican, and other regional and international power-brokers, what is at stake in today’s Lebanon is certainly more than the presidency of a small country. For the Lebanese, what should be at stake is their existence as a sovereign nation.

If we look back at the past two years, whether it is diplomatic gridlock, war, or assassinations, the beneficiary has always been more UN resolutions, more UN troops, and more international involvement.

For example, why did Syria insist on extending Lahoud’s term for three years – giving a pretext to issuance of UN Resolution 1559 calling for “free and fair” election – when Syria could have easily chosen another “friendly” president for a full term and avoid the international tension on both Beirut and Damascus? Why all peaceful solutions to the Hezbollah weapons issue (whether it is the “Border Guards” proposal or the FPM-Hezbollah Understanding) have been rejected and then use the Israeli military option to then justify more UN troops on Lebanese soil? How many Lebanese patriots were assassinated to facilitate adopting the International Tribunal, and how many assassinations were “added” to an international investigation that has yet to offer “the truth”?

The outcome of all major incidences has always been more internationalization. While many Lebanese, including myself, thought at some point that international involvement is beneficial to resolve seemingly never ending conflicts around the world, it is now evident that the “internationalists” of all sides (American, Israeli, Lebanese, Syrian, etc.) are preventing “nationalist solutions” to justify further international involvement. The question then becomes, to what end?

In seeking to unmask certain agendas, one option is to review past official statements and analyze their potential applicability to the current situation.

In a speech at the Middle East Peace Talks in Madrid (1991), Soviet President Gorbachev stated: “We are beginning to see practical support. And this is a very significant sign of the movement towards a new era, a new age…. We see both in our country and elsewhere… ghosts of the old thinking…. When we rid ourselves of their presence, we will be better able to move toward a new world order…relying on the relevant mechanisms of the United Nations.”

In a 1991 State of the Union address, President George H.W. Bush said: “What is at stake is more than one small country [referring to Iraq]; it is a big idea – a new world order.” In a speech before the Economic Club of New York, he stated: “My vision of a new world order foresees a United Nations with a revitalized peacekeeping function.”

In his 2004 New Year speech, Pope John Paul II called for “the creation of a new world order.” (Associated Press, Thursday, January 1, 2004, report posted at 14:21 GMT)

Just recently, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated: “A new world is emerging. It is a new world order with significantly different and radically new challenges for the future.”

Certainly, we are told that such a “new world order” is aimed to further the cause of peace and “to save the earth”; that it will be based on “the rule of law”, the “dignity of man and equality among nations.” What we are not told are the scary details. No high ranking official is going to stand before a public audience and declare: “We want to take away your sovereignty and constitutional rights” – although that is their intent. The proof is evident from their actions as seen by the events of the last two years in Lebanon: more United Nations, less Lebanese nation.

Former CIA director / CFR Stansfield Turner said on a CNN program (late July 1991) that where the United Nations “is deliberately intruding into the sovereignty of a sovereign nation…. is a marvelous precedent (to be used in) all countries of the world…”

On May 21, 1992, during a Bilderberg meeting in Evian, France, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declares: “Today Americans would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order; tomorrow they will be grateful! This is especially true if they were told there was an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead with world leaders to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well being granted to them by their world government.”

Obviously, there are many quotes that could be listed. The point is: the core of the New World Order is to abolish nationhood, national sovereignty, and submit all citizens and states to a single global authority – with the United Nations being its police force. In the current era of globalization and economic integration, sovereignties and borders are perceived by the “internationalists” as obstacles.

Most people view the political impasse as between Opposition and Loyalists, Syrians and Lebanese, Lebanese and Israelis, etc. However, the true confrontation should be viewed between the “internationalists” (from all sides – who want this global government and create the environment that justify more international involvement) and the “nationalists” (from all sides as well – who need to better reach out for one another, become more vocal, and save their country’s sovereignty and constitutional rights).

Currently, with regard to Lebanon’s presidency, there are certain scenarios that, if they materialize, would justify more international involvement and less Lebanese sovereignty. On the other hand, the “nationalists” from all sides must, of course, prevent these scenarios from developing and take measures that would sustain constitutional standards and unified governmental institutions.

While diplomatic initiatives and “presidential consultations” seem to be plentiful, one simple element which would justly resolve the impasse seems to go unnoticed – that is, restoring to everyone what rightfully belongs to them. Reinstate the Constitutional Council to adjudicate on the eleven contested parliamentary seats, and then the rightful parliamentarians would vote for president.

What will save Lebanon at this juncture is to do what is right. If we continuously think in terms of what will benefit this individual, this political party, or this foreign country, then we may never reach solutions because what benefits one will be perceived as a “victory” over another. However, if we all think in terms of what is the right thing to do in this situation, what rights belong to what individuals, then the solution would become evident and a unifier.

The “presidential solution” must be based on restoring violated rights and constitutional norms. Relying on Bkerke to offer a “presidential list” or name a president has no constitutional foundation. Doing so, would render the Lebanese Parliament and constitution meaningless; it would constitute not just a continuous attempt to “erase” the political leadership of the Christian community, but another step toward erasing the political leadership of other communities as well.

Those who declared their candidacy to the presidency have individually the right to do so. Neither Bkerke nor anyone else is justified to unilaterally “erase” any candidate’s name and “make a list” of selected few that the Parliament should only consider. Such a measure is disgraceful and humiliating. Based on what authority is Bkerke making political decisions (without having received a single vote to represent anyone) instead of the politicians voted into parliament?

In the Church’s version of a “New World Order,” and according to Jesuit beliefs, “there is but one supreme authority in the world, and that is the Pope.” All governments are “illegal” without the Pope’s “sacred confirmation.” By delegating to Cardinal Sfeir the authority to choose the president, or make a list of who can or should be president, then that constitutes a public and official acquiescence by certain politicians to Vatican rule over Lebanon – therefore, acquiescence to no sovereignty.

For the past two years, many “made in Lebanon” solutions were rejected, while international “solutions” were readily accepted. This scenario inevitably led to more UN control and internationalization. On the presidential issue, many who refuse to abide by constitutional standards seem willing to accept Bkerke’s choice. Why?

In the words of the Superior of the Jesuit Order when giving the oath to a novice: “You have been taught to insidiously plant the seeds of jealousy and hatred between communities, provinces and states that were at peace, and incite them to deeds of blood, involving them in war with each other, and to create revolutions and civil wars in countries that were independent and prosperous …. [so] that THE CHURCH MIGHT BE THE GAINER IN THE END…”

After months of “insidiously plant[ed] seeds of jealousy and hatred between [Lebanon’s] communities”, the Church is perfectly the gainer in the situation. Many look to Bkerke for a “solution” instead of the rightful representatives of the people. Here again, the objective is the same: less constitutional government, more internationalization, more Vatican control.

Whenever there is any form of confrontation, do not only ask about the issues causing the confrontation; rather ask what outcome is intended from that confrontation. Those who accuse the United States, Syria, or Israel in undermining Lebanon need to read the words of Archbishop James Quigley (1903): “When the United States rule the world, the Catholic Church will rule the world” (VaticanAssassins.org). Does having three U.S. presidents (Bush I, Bush II, and Clinton) on their knees before the corpse of John Paul II during his funeral say anything about who is in charge?

For Lebanese leaders, what is happening may not be 100% their fault. However, a mark of leadership is to assume a 100% responsibility to resolve the problems regardless of whose fault it is. To all Lebanese, especially the Parliamentarians, the future is ours to make. On that basis, what future do we want: a new world order and servitude, or a constitutional republic and freedom?

Sometimes a crisis is an opportunity to reinvent who we are. Lebanon reached its current position by either making the wrong decisions or allowing others to decide on our behalf. The best way to move forward and ensure that we continue as a nation is to assume responsibility for our own fate, cultivate respect for everyone’s existence, and preserve constitutional rights. By choosing love over fear, connection to one another over materialism, service to one another over control, then we become a better people and a better country.

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November 12th, 2007, 3:13 pm

 

11. Alex said:

Aussama,

I read the whole thing.

It is reasonable… especially when you compare it to what others in Washington say about Syria’s role.

But there are misconceptions about Syria’s role and Syria’s demands:

1) A threat to stability:

Only if the others insist on passing their own plans for Syria and its neighborhood without taking into account the reasonable side of Syria’s objections.

Syria can, and did in the past, make Lebanon stable … but to expect Syria to help you make Lebanon stable in the place and shape that fits perfectly within Neocon and Saudi plans for the Middle East is not logical … no matter how long it will take, Syria will prove to them that it is useless for them to expect her to act “weak”.

2) Maximalist posture:

Today, Syria has two basic demands: the return of the Golan Heights (UN resolution 242) and stopping American and Saudi hegemony on Lebanon. Saad Hariri who picks Lebanon’s prime minister and has the ultimate call on government decisions is an imported Saudi man. The American ambassador to Lebanon meets with, and provides his generous “suggestions” to every minister, businessman, and ex-politician…

If they really want solutions they have to stop believing their own rhetoric.

Either the Saudis allow Syria to manage Kuwait and the UAE and Yemen (Saudi neighborhood), or they leave Lebanon alone… no Syrian control and no Saudi/American control.

Is this “maximalist”?

Syria will accept such an arrangement. Next year’s elections will bring Syria’s many Lebanese allies to power … democratically. No need to interfere.

But that’s what they are worried about in Washington… another set of Syrian allies winning democratic elections.

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November 12th, 2007, 4:25 pm

 

12. why-discuss said:

Internal pressures

Most average syrians seem to accept the hardship of their present life even more now that they have seen the bloody ‘democratisation’ of Iraq. I don’t think that there would be internal social pressures strong enough to change Syria’s foreign policy.

External pressures

There is the ‘carrot’ of the return of the Golan.
I don’t see its return as an enough reward to justify a 360 degree shift.
As for Lebanon as a ‘reward’, I think Syria is well aware than at most they could have a limited influence on lebanese politics as they are competing now with the whole world on this.

Allies and ennemies

Therefore is there any real good reason for the Syrian goverment to beg and compromise for the Western countries friendship and support? Syria is benefitting now from the support of powerful and rich countries (Iran and all the US-opposed countries Venezuela , etc..) While these regimes could be critized for their internal policies , they could be trusted much more than western countries who have a dark history of colonialism and deceipt towards Syria, in addition to full support to Israel aggressions.

Lebanon is key

As for the immediate future, realistic, firm and non antagonist lebanese president and prime minister could change the relations with Syria to the advantage of both countries as they could be complementary in many areas. This may bring Syria back into the arab and international’s fold, dispel present tensions and encourage the prospects of peace with Israel.
But if Hariri jr and a government whose open obsession is to change Syria’s regime, takes control of the country, then we are in for a few years of more violence in the region.
The Lebanese election is the key for the future of the region and this is probably why it is carrying internationnaly so much weight.

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November 12th, 2007, 5:25 pm

 

13. Losing Hope Quickly said:

Ehsani2,

You’re right about the salaries – of course they need to be increased to a more realistic level to ensure a reasonable standard of living. However, with such an over-sized bureaucracy (in which I have witnessed time and time again ‘bureaucrats’ sitting in offices without desks, therefore it is no wonder that productivity is so shockingly low across these organizations and companies) we’re back to the same question: where would the government find the money for such a pay increase without laying off half the workers and hiking the price of petrol and gas to the going rate?

When so many things are wrong with the system, it’s often hard to see where the right place is to begin reform programs but I have no doubt that IF major reform was to begin now my great, great, great, great grandchildren might have a shot at living in Syria (to be ruled of course, by Hafez al-Assad the third or forth) rather than having to leave the country to make a decent living or ‘survive’.

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November 12th, 2007, 5:43 pm

 

14. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Why does Syria have any right to demand stopping “American and Saudi hegemony on Lebanon” whatever that is? The Syrians have no rights whatsoever to Syria. They should accept a concrete border between the two countries and exchange ambassadors. Then the Syrian ambassador can talk to all the people Feltman talks to and try influencing them.

And yes, Hariri has a dual nationality just like you. Does this make him take care of Saudi interests over Lebanese interests? No way. Yes, he and Joumblatt hate the Asads because they murdered their fathers. But that is only natural and the Asads have only themselves to blame for that.

The days of Syria in Lebanon are over. The days of Syria using Lebanon as a means to fight Israel are over. Next time Hizballah moves a finger against Israel, Syria will pay a huge price. The mistakes of July 2006 will not be repeated. If there is a civil war in Lebanon, Syria will pay a huge price. The line has been drawn in the sand. Let’s see Asad cross it now that he knows that his air defenses are useless. March 14 know that they have the full backing of the US and Israel and that now is the time to stand up and confront the Asad regime and its minions in Lebanon.

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November 12th, 2007, 5:44 pm

 

15. Bashmann said:

Alex,

You really crack me up. 🙂

I nominate you to be the next ambassedor to Mr. Assad in Washington.

Syria wants one thing only to stop the Hariri investigation in its track. The only misconception I see in your comment is your own.

Cheers.

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November 12th, 2007, 6:34 pm

 

16. ausamaa said:

Alex

Emile El-Hokayem’s opening sentence which “established the given” that Syria is “threat to instability” is what triggered my remark.

Now that I have read it, I find that I was not worng in knowing what was coming later as the reader was “informed” that:

“Even modest Syrian cooperation on Iraq and Israel could then become reason enough not to challenge Syrian behavior in Lebanon.”

“The logic of unconditional reengagement carries other risks and costs that its proponents dismiss too easily.

“Unconditionally reengaging Syria is tantamount to subordinating the sovereignty and future of Lebanon to the fortunes of the peace process”

Then the real Message of the testimony becomes more clear and it can summed up in a couple of words: Have Syria demonstrate its “goodwill” before you engage “ineffective Syria”, but, please, please, be carefull; do it in a way that would not have serious reprecutions on lovely Lebanon!

But I certainly agree with you: “It is reasonable… especially when you compare it to what others in Washington say about Syria’s role.”
That is if you compare his words to “serious” neo-cons such as Douglas Faith, Wolfwitz, and Elliot Abrams.

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November 12th, 2007, 7:41 pm

 

17. Youssef Hanna said:

Observer,

Putting aside the pope related paranoid delirium, Elias Aoun’s reading is sound of the lebanese conflict as one other struggle between globalization, in economics and culture, supported by internationalization, on the one hand, and local culture supported by nationalism on the other.

In depth indeed, Hassan Nasrallah, José Bové, même combat.

While arak consumption (and saké in Japan) are receding in favor of wine and whisky, local tv serials r ceding way to americans’.

How to remain anchored to my ancestral maronite mountain and be at the same time a citizen of the world? there is no way for me to dump the sympathetic bearded overweight kebbé eater Hassan Nasrallah; there is no way i can follow him in his fight against Western values of personal and economic freedom, either.

So sit at the crossroads, and think…

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November 12th, 2007, 8:25 pm

 

18. Alex said:

AIG,

(AKA MR. defending democracy and human rights)

Don’t worry … I’m at work today, i won’t bother starting a long discussion with you. But I will save your super-scary and super-confident threats above on the side and remind you in the future (if you are still interested to show up here) of what you predicted and threatened.

You see .. we have a nice collection of threats form Lebanese and Israeli neocons like you that we have been reading here since 2005 … others like you said the same thing before your stupid show of force in 2006 in Lebanon. And then there are the M14 supporters who disappeared now after realizing that the Hariri investigation did not find the smoking gun that was about to put Bashar in Jail like they were dreaming for a whole year or two. And then we also had many “Syrian opposition” supporters (the stupid opposition, not the good ones) who kept threatening us (“regime supporters”) that the regime’s days are numbered.

We actually miss their wild threats … happy to see you taking charge here on behalf of the scary enemies of the Assads.

Bashamann,

I love it when Syrian opposition always have those great conclusions like the one you just mentioned above … “the regime only wants to stop the Hariri investigation”

Oooh … the Assads are selfish … the Assads are bad .. they are selling the cause .. they only care abut stoping the Hariri investigation .. they only want to make money …

I guess you know things that all the visiting diplomats do not know.

Ausamaa

Anyway .. it is too late … didn’t you read what AIG said above? … it is over for Syria … finished … all is lost.

Damn … We should have listened to the real experts.

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November 12th, 2007, 10:53 pm

 

19. majedkhaldoun said:

where do we get the money?
the money is there, it has been taken by the family of the boss, and his supporters, to outside Syria, somewhere between 20-30-billion dollar,the interest on it is more than a billion dollar a year.
yes the salaries has to be increased, but if you create a system where people are not afraid about their money, cancel nationalization, cancel agrarian reform,stop corruption, strengthen justice,and truely keep it independent,gradually move to free economy,I feel there will be money to increase salaries, reduce subsidies.
Freedom,competition,liability in court,transparency,what we need.

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November 12th, 2007, 11:57 pm

 

20. Jad said:

“no Syrian control and no Saudi/American control.”

Amin

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November 13th, 2007, 12:25 am

 

21. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
I will be here don’t worry. And if I’m wrong I will be the first to admit it.

Your attitude though amazes me. You seem to think Syria has some right to interfere in Lebanon because it is on its border. You think the Asads are smart to destabilize their neigbors. You are happy when they escape justice.

But we will soon see what will happen in Lebanon. And if there is a war, only the Asads are to blame.

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November 13th, 2007, 12:37 am

 

22. Bashmann said:

Alex,

I’m not the one claiming the others to have “misconceptions” about “Syria’s role and Syria’s demand” but from what I see and hear things are not looking good for your boy in Damascus.:-)

Hopefully we will all be here when the tribunal reaches its conclusion and we will surely know then. ‘Till then keep your confidence in check as you might be surprised like the rest of us.

Cheers

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November 13th, 2007, 1:09 am

 

23. why-discuss said:

AIG

“Your attitude though amazes me. You seem to think Syria has some right to interfere in Lebanon because it is on its border.”

You are even more amazing! The US has even less rights to interfere in Lebanon, but they are doing it forcefully, openly and shamelessly by supported a political party against the other. Everybody seems to have the rights to interfere in Lebanon (another ‘friendly’ neighbor, Israel is doing it with sky violation on a daily basis and threats), so why do you think Syria should just watch?

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November 13th, 2007, 1:35 am

 

24. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Why-Discuss,
Yes, Syria should just watch because it is the source of the problems in Lebanon now. Most Lebanese wanted it out in 2005 and without the US help it would not have happened. Without US help now Syria will return to oppressing Lebanon.

This time there is going to be a showdown but since Syria is afraid of a regional war, it will back down. Everybody is ready for the next war. Let’s hope the Syrians don’t ignite it. If Hizballah starts a civil war in Lebanon, it will be the beginning of the end of the Asad regime. The first to get hurt though of course will be the close to 1 million Syrian workers in Lebanon.

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November 13th, 2007, 1:50 am

 

25. majedkhaldoun said:

HA will not start civil war.

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November 13th, 2007, 2:15 am

 

26. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Well then, March 14 has won. Hizballah has no other card to play.

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November 13th, 2007, 3:05 am

 

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