Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Winds of change blow through Lebanon? 

An interesting perspective on the assassination of Lebanon's Rafik Hariri, courtesy of Lee Smith at "Slate":

"The place chosen for his death will remind everyone that the Syrians have a vicious sense of irony. His motorcade was immolated between the five-star Phoenecia Hotel and the as-yet-unfinished St. George Hotel and Yacht Club, which abuts the city's famous seaside corniche, where residential, retail, and hotel properties fetch hefty sums of money. In the wake of Lebanon's 15-year civil war, Hariri played a key role in developing this property, which, in turn, made him a billionaire, a major political force in Lebanon, and a regional player with important patrons in both Saudi Arabia and Europe. Apparently, the message behind the murder of this real-estate and media giant is that no one in Lebanon really has power, Syria only leases it out."
Read the whole thing; Lee, who just returned from Lebanon, writes that the country is another domino currently swaying in the wind created by the American furious entry into the region:

"The Lebanese opposition has materialized now largely in response to American and European pressure. It's an index of how bad Syria really is that President Bashar Assad's regime got the United States and France to agree on policy, as they did with 2004's U.N. Security Resolution 1559, demanding that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon immediately. And yet, arguably, what has most emboldened Lebanese opposition figures is the presence of U.S. forces on the Syrian border in Iraq."
I'm too young to remember when Lebanon was the most moderate and most successful Middle Eastern state (certainly the most successful multi-ethnic and multi-religious state) and Beirut was known as Paris of the Middle East (that was the time when comparing something to Paris was a compliment). I do remember how the country descended into chaos and violence between 1975 and 1990, although to call the conflict a civil war is to forget about the role that Syria, Israel, Iran (via Hizbollah) and the Palestinians have played in that decade and a half of mayhem. And I certainly remember how Syria made the final move to consolidate its control over Lebanon while Bush Sr looked away as the price of Syria's involvement in the anti-Iraqi coalition of the first Gulf war. Ever since, Lebanon has been a fiefdom of the Assads. Now, it seems, Bush's son is trying to undo some of the damage. Or he better, argues Smith:

"The White House has maintained that success in Iraq would have ripple effects throughout the region. As it turned out, this is true. The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq indicated that the United States meant business, a posture that encouraged the Lebanese opposition to challenge Syria. But the ripple effect also works the other way. If opposition figures are assassinated in Beirut, this is a message that, for all its power, the United States can't always be there to protect you. Even worse is that if the Bush administration does nothing about Hariri's murder, the message will be that Washington cannot and will not protect you at all. It will be very hard to get people in the region to work with the United States if everyone believes that there is no difference between sticking your neck out and handing an executioner his weapon. It will cost Washington prestige among its allies in Iraq and show convenient 'friends' like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that the White House is so vulnerable there is little price to be paid for ignoring it."
Which is why recalling the US ambassador in Damascus might only be the first step.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?