The Missed opportunity in Lebanon

The following interview with Paul Salem, (copied below), will bring tears to your eyes. Whether the tears are from laughter or despair will depend on where you stand, but for most readers of SC, it will likely produce a combination of both. (Thanks Q.N.)

The likelihood that George W. Bush's freedom agenda would actually bear fruit in the Middle East was practically zero from the beginning. Not only were its neocon architects largely ignorant of Middle East realities, but the hypocrisy and brutal cynicism with which they pursued it doomed it from the beginning. Freedom became a thinly veiled word for imposing US interests on the region. Democracy was used as a weapon to punish enemies and reward friends of Washington.

The notion that Lebanon could be pried away from Syria without offering Damascus either security or the return of the Golan was a mirage. Some allowed themselves to dream that regime-change in Syria would bring Lebanon's release and rebirth, but the error of this speculation was revealed as soon as things began to go wrong in Iraq, which was almost immediately. Regime change turned out to be the wrong way to bring progress to the region. No one was going to risk it again in Syria.

It is clear that the Levant's future hinges on establishing a spirit of compromise. This is the lesson of the failure of force in Iraq. Compromise means satisfying the minimal terms demanded by Syria and the Lebanese opposition. Refusing to do so will have grave consequences for Lebanon, its neighbors and the United States. Some Lebanese seem to believe that if Syria fails they will be okay, but this was nonsense to begin with. Several prominent Americans gave occasional endorsement to this dream, further convincing Lebanese that it could become reality. But the neocon project was ill conceived. The Syrian regime turned out to have a better grasp of the "new Middle Eastern realities" than most in Washington.

Washington is still ignoring the lessons of Iraq. It believes that Syria will give up control of Lebanon and its alliance with Hizbullah in order to get back to ground zero or where it was in 2003 before Washington invaded Iraq. In other words, Damascus will accept France's and Washington's dictates in order to have the Hariri investigation halted, have economic sanctions lifted, and have the West welcome it back into its warm embrace, as was done to Libya.

This is silly. It makes no sense for Syria to accept this bargain now. Diplomatic isolation has failed. Economic sanctions have failed. The Hariri investigation has failed. Yes, both France and the US are pretending that they can reheat it, but only a few wishful thinking Lebanese seem to believe this. The investigation could provide no proof of Syrian involvement when it was led by an investigator who was salavating to nail Syria. We are now well into the tenure of our third investigator and we have heard not a peep from him. Did Syria dodge a bullet? Was there no bullet to dodge? We are likely not to know.

At any rate, the wishful thinking in Lebanon persists. Hizbullah is not going away. It endures for a reason. The reasons for Syria's enmity toward Israel and willingness to invest in organizations that harm it still exist. The reason why Syria will not abandon control over Lebanon's destiny many and compelling.

Saudi Arabia is dumping another billion dollars into Lebanon's central bank. Moody's has downgraded Lebanese debt and Lebanese banks follow state into sinkhole of lower credit rating. Michael Young explains why he is peeved with French dimplomacy that failed to liberate his country. Randa Takieddine gives her take on why French diplomacy failed.  

Worthwhile interview with Paul Salem:

NOW Lebanon: How do Sunday’s events change the political situation?

Paul Salem: Well, I think it didn’t come alone. In the last two weeks, there’s been a bombing of an embassy car, the assassination on Friday [of ISF Officer Wissam Eid] and then the events on Sunday. Previously, François al-Hajj. One pattern that seems to be emerging is that since Michel Sleiman became a serious candidate for the presidency, somebody’s been out to get the army and security forces. One aspect of what happened Sunday was making strong statements against the army, which also seemed a bit surprising to me, and seemed to indicate a kind of agenda.

NOW: What changed about Sleiman that made the two sides change their minds about him?

Salem: I’ve been trying to figure it out. Part of the analysis might be that after Nahr al-Bared, he started taking himself more seriously, him and his team. It was the first sustained, long battle the Lebanese army has fought, really. [It received] total support in Lebanon, total support in the Arab world, total support in every single capital around the world. The army hung together, fought well, without much equipment, technology or training, but they hung together; good esprit de corps and good leadership is the most important thing. Beirut airport, receiving US military planes? Under Syria’s watch? This is big stuff. And then for the Pentagon to say, basically, “We’re okay with this guy,” and for the Russian’s to say, “We’re okay with this guy,” he began to feel he is quite a guy…

This is not the first time. The killing of Hajj was partly to say, “Even if you become president, don’t think you’re going to do anything,” to make it clear that Emile Lahoud is the model, not Napoleon.

NOW: Is Sleiman still a viable consensus candidate?

Salem: I think he is. In terms of public discourse, he is the candidate. I don’t think anybody will come out soon and say he’s not. On the other hand, it’s quite obvious that he’s not really the candidate that March 8 wants. But I think he will remain the name in the game, because part of the game is postponing. …

NOW: Do you think the crisis will last that long?

Salem: Yes. The crisis really started in 2006, the paralysis. The presidential vacuum was just one element of a general vacuum. It just completed the picture. If you look at the basic facts, the strategic political situation, since November of 2006, has been no go, no deal; “You either give us what we want or we’ll wait until 2009.” And that’s actually what Nasrallah said in 2006. He said, “We’ll wait.” That’s what Aoun has said many times, because in 2009, the term of parliament will be over, so there’s no longer the majority. Because there’s no parliament, and Bush would no longer be around, they would hope that whoever is in the White House would not care that much about Lebanon, and they could just go about and do what they want.

NOW: Syria was originally on board with the Arab initiative, at least on paper. What happened?

Salem: This is an old game. Syria has been the black sheep of the family and has played that role at least since the late 1970s [when it was] allied with Iran against Iraq, and the whole world supported Iraq. The Saudis got pissed off at the Syrians and Egypt got pissed off at the Syrians. That’s the way it’s been, but as long as Syria has Lebanon, is allied with Iran and has influence with the Palestinians, that’s fine. It keeps Egypt and Saudi Arabia at bay.

Nor is it bad for Iran, because Iran is very worried that Syria will make friends with Egypt and Saudi Arabia one day, join the Arab fold, make peace with Israel and be the darling of the United States like Sadat did, like King Hussein did, like all the Arabs do. He’s the last guy they have. Well, now they have Iraq.

They don’t want them to be too happy with the Arabs, either. So they say, “Forget the Arabs, we’ll help you out. If you get too close to the Arabs, we’ll be pretty pissed off.”

NOW: Then why would the Arab leaders go through the motions if Syria was going to back out anyway?

Salem: Well, look what happened before. The plan was for March 14 to use the half-plus-one to elect a March 14 guy. That was the plan, and they backed down from that. Then they backed down from all of their own candidates, then they started discussing other candidates, which was already a big climb down for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the US, Jordan, etc. Then they finally said, “What the hell, we’ll take your candidate. That’s got to work,” because they all want to coax Syria away from Iran. “So we’ll take your candidate, but help us out and well be friends.”

And then the Syrians said, “No, you’re being so compromising and nice that the threat must be over. If you’re offering us this much now, then you’ll offer us much more six months from now, or a year from now.” This has been their bargaining style for decades, this is how they operate. It’s like bargaining in a bazaar… And they know that the Americans are going to come back to them and that the Saudis are going to come back to them, because there’s nowhere else to go. They hold enough of the cards to be indispensible. So the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Americans will walk away from the store, but they’re coming back. So we’ve ended the confrontation, and we’ve now begun bargaining.

The US approach to bargaining is, “Hi, I’m Bob. Let’s shake on it and make a deal, and we’re done.” That’s not the Syrian or Iranian style. You want to make a deal, okay, we’ll start bargaining; we’ll have coffee and talk. We’ll go and come back for a long time. And Bush and Sarkozy get all upset, but this is normal. They’re bargaining. They’re just not getting what they want, so they’ll wait.

[Read the rest]

Comments (160)


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151. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

T,
Like most Israelis I was in the IDF but I am not know.

The campaign (an over statement for a couple of days of fighting) in the Golan in 67 was well studied. Without air support the Syrian ground forces mostly fled.

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February 12th, 2008, 11:19 pm

 

152. Alex said:

QN,

You are too generous with your 50% + estimates of probabilities!

You know .. there is a particular Saudi Prince who hates the Syrian regime (ask Seymour Hersh)… there are Fatah people for hire in Damascus (some worked t=for the Israelis according to a WSJ article) … there are many who hate the Iranians in the Middle East and Syria allows all Arabs to enter Syria without a visa …

Having said that, I think I disagree with Ehsani .. Jumblatt has nothing to lose anymore … he could be involved in this kind of activity.

Here is what he said. Shmuel is the only one who reported it by the way . The other journalists knew that it was a terrible thing to say, so they covered for Jumblatt … instead of covering Jumblatt.

Jumblatt to Bush: Send car bombs to Damascus

Did he go too far? If he did, it didn’t seem to bother him.

In fact, Walid Jumblatt, the outgoing Lebanese leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, seemed quite amused by the reaction to his blatant suggestion for the Bush administration. He proposed the US “send car bombs” to Damascus as a way to prevent further Syrian interference with Lebanese politics.

It happened at the opening plenary of the conference. The video provided by the Institute does not capture this mini-drama, as it only includes the written, prepared, remarks he was making. But these are also harsh enough in nature.

The car bomb comment, maybe humorously, maybe not, came when he was asked to specify how America can contribute to the struggle of the Lebanese people against Syrian intervention and terror. “I was just joking,” he later said. But he probably knows better than anyone that counting on Bashar Assad’s sense of humor is not a safe policy.

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February 12th, 2008, 11:25 pm

 

153. T said:

AIG,

But you said you were a general. So what should Syria have done if they had had their military act together? Or if you dont want to discuss this- please recommend a good book on it?

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February 13th, 2008, 1:18 am

 

154. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

T,
Where did I say I was a general?
The definitive book on the six day war is Oren’s:
http://www.amazon.com/Six-Days-War-Making-Modern/dp/0345461924

You will be quite dissapointed to learn that the reason Israel won was because it was a democracy. This translated to better preparation, better technology and more motivated soldiers before the war and to better decision making during the war.

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February 13th, 2008, 1:57 am

 

155. norman said:

Observor,

I agree with your plans of districts with representatives depending on the number of people while each district as you said has two senators ,I advocated that previously , this plan will make people vote for people they know and trust not for a religious affiliation or ethnic background , I agree that an independent senses needs to be done , two more rules are needed to be enforced ,1- anti discrimination laws in housing and 2_ anti discrimination laws in employment ,

Lebanon should cancel any mention of religion on their ID cards .this plan can work in other Arab states .

Decentralization is essential for unity in the Arab nation.

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February 13th, 2008, 2:10 am

 

156. Alex said:

T,

I highly recommend this DVD series from PBS

http://www.amazon.com/50-Years-War-Israel-Arabs/dp/B00004TX2W

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February 13th, 2008, 2:18 am

 

157. Alex said:

Again .. The arrogant editor of Asharq Alawsat comes up with more threats to Syria … like he has been doing for two years now.

Lebanon: The Only Option Left is War
Tariq Alhomayed

The drums of war can be heard beating in Lebanon and all that remains is the actual war – it is clear that all indicators point towards an impending war. Since the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the string of assassinations that followed, the country has been heading towards a state of suffocation in a surprisingly fast manner.

Hezbollah’s political dominance and the persistence of its adherents in accusing others of being informers, and the suspicion campaigns that are launched in the media at the expense of many Lebanese, in addition Hezbollah’s domination of the city’s public squares in Beirut – are all indicators that foreshadow war. The disruption of the state’s economy, forcing it to submit to foreign control also signals an inevitable war that even the election of Lebanese Army Chief General Michel Suleiman cannot prevent.

Walid Jumblatt’s statements about war and Hassan Nasrallah are not new, however his tone was different; it was the tone of someone who seeks to send a message across to the opposition saying: Stop playing with fire. Lebanon’s opposition has taken it too far and are rigid and difficult; the parliament has been suspended for too long and there is increased provocation against the majority of the Lebanese people, especially since it was this majority that was elected – not the missiles and the Syrian-Iranian support.

Another issue that supports the theory of the looming war in Lebanon is the international tribunal, which must be concluded – and that is the main point. Whoever wants Lebanon’s best interest and seeks its stability must publicly call for holding accountable those who are responsible for wreaking havoc on its stability, and that they pay a high price for that. This is an Arab effort that must not be delayed.

May God forgive what has passed, Arabism and nationalism does not mean spilling blood and the division of Arab states into smaller states and that the power hungry are left to play with our fate and future. Therefore, if Iran is not contained within its geographical borders and if Syria does not come back to its senses, then Lebanon’s security – and that of the whole Arab world – will not be restored.

It is not permissible for everyone to be held in suspicion, which can only drag Lebanon further down the war spiral, while the Arab Syrian front has not fired a single shot in the occupied Golan Heights at a time when Beirut is destroyed every 10 years. Likewise, it is unacceptable for Lebanon to be abducted by the brokers of wars and crises under weak pretenses that transform it into a card in the Iranian-Western negotiations, or an entry pass for Mr. Walid al Muallem to access Western state institutions.

In the past, a number of Arab states were enslaved by their own slogans, but today states are enslaved by the slogans of others. Lebanon is the perfect example of this Arab tampering and manipulation.

The state of escalation that foreshadows war, the marked decline in the political discourse and the long list of assassinations compels anyone who wants to save Lebanon to ensure that there will be a price to be paid by those who are manipulating the state and dragging it into a cycle of perpetual destruction, whether it is other states or individuals, or even groups. Mr. Amr Mousa’s visit and the statements he makes today, we all know, including Mousa himself, are to no avail. Resolving the Lebanese issue does not start in Lebanon – it starts elsewhere.

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February 13th, 2008, 2:29 am

 

158. ausamaa said:

Junblat sending car bombs to Damascus???

Come on guys!!

And the bombed car in the garage was 5 Kilometers away from an Iranian school not near the Iranian school according to al-Akhbar newspaper. That is how many city blocks??

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February 13th, 2008, 4:03 am

 

159. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

T,
The PBS series Alex recommends is indeed very good though I suspect you will say it sides with Israel.

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February 13th, 2008, 5:45 am

 

160. SyriaComment - Syrian politics, history, and religion » Archives » Explosion Kills 1 in Syria’s Capital said:

[…] According to the independent Syria-news website, a silver Mitsubishi Pajero car exploded in the neighborhood of an Iranian school in Kafer Suseh and damaged five nearby cars and surrounding building. An Iranian diplomat here confirmed to Xinhua the explosion near the Iranian school which teaches religion to Iranian students. […]

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February 13th, 2008, 5:59 am

 

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