Across the Bay

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Hama Rules

Tom Friedman seems to agree with Lee Smith's reading of the message behind Hariri's murder:

    Message from the Syrian regime to Washington, Paris and Lebanon's opposition: "You want to play here, you'd better be ready to play by Hama Rules - and Hama Rules are no rules at all. You want to squeeze us with Iraq on one side and the Lebanese opposition on the other, you'd better be able to put more than U.N. resolutions on the table. You'd better be ready to go all the way - because we will. But you Americans are exhausted by Iraq, and you Lebanese don't have the guts to stand up to us, and you French make a mean croissant but you've got no Hama Rules in your arsenal. So remember, we blow up prime ministers here. We shoot journalists. We fire on the Red Cross. We leveled one of our own cities. You want to play by Hama Rules, let's see what you've got. Otherwise, hasta la vista, baby."

Unfortunately, he never really clarifies what he means by "all the way." What should Washington do? He never says. He puts it all back on the willingness of the Lebanese people and its press to stand up to the Syrians and European complacency. Well, they've been doing that for a while. It's not good enough without outside help, just as in Iraq.

Besides that major weak point in Friedman's piece, he did remind his readers that Lebanon is the region's oldest democracy. This gets lost sometimes in the fervor of people like Rami Khouri's "Palestine first" impulse. Even the new Iraq will be essentially modeled after the Lebanese experience, and not vice versa. Although, the Lebanese model will gain more credence, and US backing (against the "stability" model), in light of the Iraqi experience. It's always good to keep that in mind. The US seems to have realized that Lebanon can be used as a good showcase of its democratization policy in the ME (oh yeah, Lebanon!). And like I said earlier, the old realist skepticism about the "stability" of the Lebanese democracy (due to its consociational nature) is no longer tenable as the US is already supporting such a model in Iraq, and that scene has a lot more internal violence than Lebanon! In fact, that's the type of democracy it should be supporting in the region in the case of plural societies, but also simply in terms of minority rights. It would signal yet another shift in the US thinking about the region and that consensual democracies in plural societies can indeed be or become stable democracies, as Lijphart has maintained. "Stability" must be allowed to come from that model, and not from repression either by a strongman, or the "guardianship" of a neighboring country. In fact, we've seen that in the cases of Iraq and Lebanon respectively, the other alternatives turned out to be sources of instability and violence. Both were detrimental to the socio-political health of the respective countries. I hope that has become clear in the case of the Syria and Lebanon!

If the US does indeed keep pushing on Lebanon, then I wouldn't care if Lebanon is recognized as the oldest (and still, really, the most successful) attempt at a liberal democracy in the ME! Just as long as they support it! It's in everyone's interest, even Syria's (though not its regime).