Posted by Joshua on Saturday, February 9th, 2008
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]