Day By Day

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Lebanon Update -- The Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The Lebanese situation seems finally to be heading toward a peaceful and positive conclusion. Syrian forces have completed their pullout from Lebanese soil and a new government has been formally established, thus clearing the way for elections on May 29th. What is more, the new Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, has pledged to hold the elections on time. [For daily reports on the latest in Lebanon check out Ya Libnan here.] This pledge is important because there was some concern that the new regime would bow to Hizbullah demands for changes in the election procedures that would entail significant delays in the whole process [see Publius Pundit here].

There are still some potential problems looming.

1) Hizbullah, as always, remains a wild card, capable of thowing a wrench into the whole process; it still refuses to disarm, citing a fear of Israeli aggression. Hizbullah is usually portrayed as a pro-Syrian bloc within Lebanon, and so it is, but it also has strong ties to the Iranian leadership and there are fears that Iran's mullahs might decide to interfere in Lebanon through Hizbullah. That apparently was the reason for opposition leader Walid Jumblatt's surprise visit to Tehran last weekend [see here]. The results of that visit were unsatisfactory as Iran issued an ominous statement to the effect that the situation in Lebanon could easily deteriorate into civil war [a clear warning not to interfere with Hizbullah, which has been under pressure to disarm].

2) And there is this discouraging news. Robin Wright reports in the WaPo that,

Syria has not withdrawn a significant part of its intelligence presence in Lebanon, undermining its claim yesterday to have ended its 29-year intervention in its western neighbor, U.S., European and U.N. officials said.

The international community yesterday welcomed the pullout of the last of 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon. But the continuing presence of covert Syrian intelligence operatives would violate the promise President Bashar Assad made to the United Nations last month to withdraw all Syrian personnel. It would also contradict a letter the Syrian government wrote to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday saying that the withdrawal was complete.

Read the whole thing here.

This deception and deceit at a crucial stage in the independence process is, to say the least, ominous, especially since Kofi Annan seems to be obstructing attempts by France and the US to put pressure on Syria to complete the withdrawal.

Despite these potential problems many in the American media are celebrating the situation as a fait accompli and, especially among the more reactionary elements of the press, as a refutation of the Bush policy in the region. One of the most obnoxious of these reactionaries is David Ignatius who couldn't resist taking a dig at the President. He wrote:

The final withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon yesterday marks a victory for what is known as "soft power." The Syrians were driven from Lebanon not by force of arms but by a nonviolent Lebanese independence movement, a United Nations diplomatic effort and a broad coalition of allies organized by the United States and . . . yes, France.

The amazing denouement in Lebanon suggests that the Bush administration may have learned some lessons from the turmoil of postwar Iraq, however loath the president might be to admit it....

Read it here.

This amazingly obtuse statement ignores the fact that the US played a major role in promoting earlier peaceful regime changes in Georgia and Ukraine, both of which were a major inspiration to the Lebanese democracy protesters, and that the presence of a big honkin' American army next door in Iraq effectively immobilized the Syrian military and severely limited Assad's choices. What is more, US pressure, which was given weight by its military presence in the region, had a great deal to do with the Arab League's refusal to support Assad. What I am saying is 1) the Bush administration has shown in a number of instances that it is quite capable of sophisticated deployment of "soft power" and has done so to great effect; and 2) that the American military presence was a necessary precondition to a successful opposition to Syrian control of Lebanon.


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