Across the Bay

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bashar al-Assad's Lebanon Gamble

Make sure to read William Harris' latest article on Syria and Lebanon. It's excellent, and required reading. His final paragraph fits well with my frustrated plea in my previous post right below:

On the one hand, given the political wasteland created in Syria since the 1960s, regime decomposition may be disorderly. On the other hand, the costs of perpetuating Syrian interference in Lebanon will be enormous for both countries. Syrian interference undercuts the Lebanese economy and, as the assassination of Hariri demonstrated, also its political stability. Simultaneously, the Syrian adventure in Lebanon has increasingly isolated Syria internationally and in the Arab world while at the same time catalyzing corruption among the ruling elite. With the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1595, international credibility is on the line.

N.B.: Reader Firas left a comment to my previous post right below about Saad and Jumblat, saying that Rafik Hariri would've silenced Jumblat and engaged in dialogue with the rest of the political forces. I responded with the following from Harris' article:

Rafik al-Hariri was the architect of the opposition campaign. His bid for a personal alignment with the two major Maronite Christian personalities, Sfeir and Aoun,[68] the latter until recently living in exile in Paris, had the potential to bind Sunni Muslims and Maronites, each with close to 25 percent of Lebanon's population, as nothing else could.

Without Hariri the risk has grown of a less coordinated opposition, all the more so since Aoun's May 7 return from exile. Hezbollah has been able to reach out to Christian and Druze politicians to try to erode their united front. Aoun has appeared tempted by the idea of a Maronite-Shi‘ite connection. While such reconciliation might appear beneficial to Lebanon, it could undercut the Christian-Sunni-Druze convergence.

In a tight Maronite-Sunni alliance, Jumblat's a junior partner, although, and this should be said, both the Sunnis and the Christians annointed him a national leader, and acknowledged his leadership. But that's his complex, like his father, as Michael Young wrote almost exactly one month ago in the Daily Star. Now he's the center of attention. But he won't be for long. Jumblat is trying to bump off Aoun and Sfeir and replace them with Berri and Nasrallah. But, if indeed the Shiites play with Aoun, then Jumblat would really have eaten it big time. The coronation of a diastrous set of moves. I have a feeling the Shiites will stick it to him. The Sunnis and the Shiites are anyway not on good terms. But all this stupidity by Jumblat, for what? At what price?

Addendum: Also, Harris made an excellent and accurate remark about the electoral weight of the Sunni-Christian-Druze alliance, that it "could draw between 60 and 70 percent of voters in free and fair elections, regardless of election system.[54]" This is very important especially in light of all the hysterical numbers thrown around by Hizbullah groupies (the "at least 55%" or the "just under 50%") etc.

Addendum 2: Harris points us to this article by Gary Gambill from Feb-March 2004. The title: "The Myth of Syria's Old Guard." These quotes from Harris' piece fit perfectly with what I've been writing here:

While sometimes viewed by Western analysts as a potential reformer, Bashar showed himself to be the patron behind Lahoud's crackdown. Old guard Syrian personalities such as Vice-President ‘Abd al-Halim Khaddam had little to do with Lahoud. Khaddam was principally associated with Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who knew nothing about the security move.[14] These circumstances lend credence to Middle East Intelligence Bulletin editor Gary Gambill's interpretation that Bashar, rather than any Syrian old guard, was the terminator of the 2000-01 relaxations in Beirut and Damascus.[15]
In Damascus, Bashar al-Assad is reportedly contemplating damage control by reinventing himself as a political reformer, unloading responsibility for his disaster in Beirut on corrupt associates and relatives.[65]

Addendum 3: This quote from Harris was also interesting, in relation to Jumblat: "Lahoud's downfall would impel Hezbollah into a Lebanese compromise over its arms and political role."

Hizbullah has come out against the removal of Lahoud. So, perhaps there's another indication of the silliness of Jumblat's moves (leaving aside the electoral consideration that their votes made sure that Aoun didn't break Jumblat's list in Aley-Baabda).