Across the Bay

Monday, February 28, 2005

Young on American Democracy Promotion

I don't know why I didn't see this earlier, but it's a great piece by Michael Young dealing with how Bush's "simple, indeed simplistic, ideas can go a long way when expressing the frustration and anger of populations afflicted with tyrannies refusing to accord them even minimal respect."

Michael quotes president Bush's Brussels speech which noted: "The future of our nations, and the future of the Middle East, are linked—and our peace depends on their hope and development and freedom."

This rhetoric, which was dismissed by many, has found receptive ears in Lebanon. In fact, as Michael said: "It matters little where Syria's Lebanese foes stand in disputations over Bush's record, nor did voters in Iraq much care either; both populations took what was relevant to them, accepted Bush's broad sound bites of democratization, and carried the idea on from there according to their parochial interests."

This, until recently, was lost on many in the US. Michael had some words for them as well:

It is remarkable how Bush's critics, both from the political left and libertarian right, found themselves in a bind after the Iraqi election. Unlike Jumblatt, most scurried to a fallback position when their predictions of a fiasco proved wrong. A favored option was to warn that Washington had roused an Islamist monster. In that way the critics did a 180-degree turn: implying, initially, that the U.S. was avoiding democratic elections, then, when that proved wrong, that the elections would fail, and, when that again proved wrong, that elections should never have taken place because the victors were mullahs.

This magazine alone is proof that there is no consensus among American liberals (in the classical sense of the term) as to whether defense of liberty at home should somehow imply defending it abroad. As Christopher Hitchens bitingly observed in a 2001 Reason interview with Rhys Southan, when asked about why he was growing more sympathetic to the libertarian critique: "It's hard to assign a date. I threw in my lot with the left because on all manner of pressing topics—the Vietnam atrocity, nuclear weapons, racism, oligarchy—there didn't seem to be any distinctive libertarian view. I must say that this still seems to me to be the case, at least where issues of internationalism are concerned. What is the libertarian take, for example, on Bosnia or Palestine?"

Indeed, what is the libertarian take on Iraq or Lebanon? Or, for that matter, that of those leftist internationalists who cannot bring themselves, even temporarily, to walk in step with the Bush administration? Should the priority be freedom? Should it be to deny the president recognition for being true to his democratic word? Is American democracy an island, an isolated city on the hill that can be an inspiration but must not otherwise challenge the status quo buttressed by the prescriptions of national sovereignty?

"Who knows?" as Michael said. But one thing both he and I as well as "tens of thousands of marching Lebanese, and hundreds of thousands behind them" do know is that we're all "hoping the answer is more, not less, American interest in advancing [the Lebanese's] desired liberty, even as [the Lebanese] realize they are the ones who must take the lead."

And that they have done, and the whole world has seen it. Now don't abandon them.

Edelstein on Lebanon's System

I know I must be the last blogger to link this, but it's not because of any lack of interest! Jonathan Edelstein has put up a couple of informative posts on Lebanon's political system and its major players. They are part of a series on Lebanon that he's preparing. Make sure to read the comments section of both parts, especially part 2, where Jonathan has indulged me in a conversation on the Lebanese consociational system. His comments are very helpful and informative (for me at least!) and Jonathan, like me, is an optimist when it comes to the adaptability of the Lebanese consociational system.

You've heard me talk about consociationalism before (see this older post ) where I linked to a couple of essays (only one of them, Binningsbø's, is free) and mentioned the theory's main proponent, Arend Lijphart. Lijphart has had his share of critics most notably Lustick (who's no Neocon fan) and van Schendelen (for some subscribers to these critics' views, namely Lustick, see bloggers Stacey Yadav of Al-Hiwar and AbuAardvark) but also Donald Horowitz, whose 1985 Ethnic Groups in Conflict is a classic. See also the critique of Paul Brass in his 1991 Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison.

For an article that touches on consociationalism (in the context of democracy and ethnic conflict) in the Iraqi case, see this (PDF) very recent essay by Andreas Wimmer. Ian Lustick's 1979 classic "Stability in Deeply Divided Societies: Consociationalism versus Control" (World Politics 26 [April]) is a good place to start for criticism of Lijphart's theory. Lustick's 1997 “Lijphart, Lakatos, and Consociationalism” (World Politics 50 [October]) is a more recent one. This is not what I do for a living, so I'm not fully up to date on the material, but Rudy Andeweg's essay ("Consociational Democracy," Annual Review of Political Science vol. 3, 2000) is a good place to get the latest through the year 2000.

Anyway, if you're interested in this or if you're interested in some information on the Lebanese system, head to the Head Heeb's!

Addendum: I forgot to include this relevant recent piece by Hazem Saghieh on the Lebanese model.

Healthy Skepticism

Rich is holding his breath, as are all of us, expecting some sort of Syrian or loyalist backlash for the setback handed to them today. There may already be something going on:

[T]here are reports of violence in Tripoli (Karami's primary base of support) and some other areas in northern Lebanon - the strong points of Syrian support. Many people in Tripoli are very upset that their man was forced to resign - they are walking around in hordes, burning tires, burning cars, and the footage on television (LBC right now) shows quite a chaotic scene. With all the pressure that has been on Syria in the past two weeks, it would make perfect sense that the Syrians may want to create a diversion, and it seems that they may have done just that. What has happened here in just two hours was (1) A second news story has been created, demanding local news time, thereby taking some of the cameras off the protests in the downtown area; and (2) Counterdemonstrations - the thing that the opposition feared most.

This report from Lebanon Wire confirms the story and adds another sad element:

A supporter of outgoing Prime Minister Omar Karameh died of a gunshot wound late Monday in the Syrian-backed premier's hometown of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, medics and witnesses told AFP.

Fadi al-Ahmad, 22, was pronounced dead in a nearby hospital, medics there said. He was fired on inside the compound of Karameh's family home from a nearby rooftop, a statement from the outgoing premier's office said. Police said they had no immediate word on the shooting.

The announcement in parliament earlier Monday of Karameh's resignation in the face of mass demonstrations set off protests by some 2,000 of his supporters who fired into the air and set ablaze tyres to block off roads.

They also tore down banners strung up by the opposition and broke the windows of two cars parked outside an opposition MP's home.

This other report describes the mood among Karameh's supporters in his hometown of Tripoli:

[I]n stark contrast to the scenes of joy in the capital and other cities, the mood was one of anger in Karameh's home town of Tripoli. His supporters launched volleys of machine-gun fire into the air, blocked traffic with burning tyres and tore down opposition banners.

"With our blood, with our soul, we will defend you o Karameh," they shouted, along with slogans insulting leading opposition figure, the Druze MP Walid Jumblatt and voicing their backing for Syria.

This may be a distraction and may develop some more, but one must remember that this is his base, and that's somewhat expected. The majority of the Sunni community however has been on the side of the opposition, even in Tripoli. Also, the Islamist Jamaa Islamiyya, which has quit the loyalist camp (but didn't join the opposition yet), is also based in the north. This is just to keep things in perspective. I will keep watching this, as it's likely that the Syrians and the loyalists will attempt to exploit it. But it's not really unexpected.

Meanwhile, the Syrians have promised to provide a timetable for the troop withdrawal within the Taef framework. This may be another of those attempts at an agreement under the "Arab umbrella." So far there's been a few of those, with nothing doing on the ground.

N.B. I am waiting for a friend's piece to go up this week before I post my Hizbullah post, so I ask for your patience. Besides, I'm in the middle of grading my students' mid-term papers! However, it will be interesting to see if the resignation provokes any movement at all on the part of Hizbullah. I doubt it, but they were given a break today, by not having to cast a vote of confidence on Karami's government. So they can continue to claim that they're on the fence dialoguing with everyone, even when they've been effectively in the Syrian camp. More to come shortly.

People Power

PM Karami's cabinet has resigned. The popular pressure has managed to topple a cabinet without a single act of violence or bloodshed. It's a proud moment for the Lebanese people.

Apparently, it was a sudden decision, as it seems that Speaker Berri wasn't told in advance. Naharnet says that the Syrians have dropped Karami "like a hot potato." Well, who wants to hang on to a sinking ship?

Walid Jumblat hailed the resignation and is now looking forward to the next step: "The people have been victorious but we should now form an impartial government to supervise the elections."

No matter how you look at it, it's a significant victory for the people and the opposition, as everyone -- including Berri apparently -- was expecting the cabinet to stay on. Just goes to show you how limited the wiggling room is becoming day by day in Lebanon.

The people relished in the victory, as this story quoted by Publius Pundit illustrates:

The announcement of the government’s resignation came after a day of protests in Martyr’s Square, a few blocks from parliament. The protesters danced to patriotic songs, waved hundreds of Lebanese flags, and handed out red roses to the hundreds of soldiers and police around them.

Led by banking and business associations, much of Lebanon also observed a one-day strike in memory of Hariri on Monday, allowing lawyers in black robes and doctors in white gowns to join the demonstration.

Protesters also prayed in front of candles at the flower-covered grave of Hariri, which lies at the edge of the square.

“You can tell from the looks in the soldiers’ eyes, and from their smiles, their true stand,” said Hamadeh, who was in the square before going to parliament. Hamadeh himself was the target of a bomb attack in October that killed his driver.

This is the same army that former PM Karami threatened would splinter should Syria pull out.

Ed Morrissey, Sissy Willis, and Jim Geraghty (all via Instapundit) have more. This is from Ed Morrissey's post:

In other words, if Assad thought that Karami's departure would satisfy the Lebanese, he has made another mistake. Assad or his intelligence services have provided a spark with the Hariri assassination that has turned into a firestorm of Lebanese nationalism, one that has united all of the factions in demanding a complete and immediate Syrian withdrawal. Momentum has turned into an avalanche, one that threatens to bury Assad and his Ba'athists in Damascus.

This is Assad's worst nightmare come true. With the Syrians, especially the Kurds in the northeast, watching the Iraqis vote in the first free multi-party elections ever on their east and the Lebanese on their west showing how fragile the Syrian grip on power truly is, the Assad government may wind up facing similar demonstrations in the streets of Damascus, demanding free multi-party elections -- which would end Assad's grip on power, unless he got in front of the effort immediately.

Will Assad get ahead of history and lead Syria out of Lebanon and into a freely-elected, multiparty democracy? Or will he dither and stand pat and attempt to survive the avalanche headed his way? These are the choices that the Anglo-American strategy of democratization have left with Assad. His father would choose the latter; Bashar might just be smart enough, like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, to opt for the former. Either way, he only has weeks, possibly even days, to make his choices before the choices are made for him.

This has been the dream of the Syrian optimists and activists, like Ammar Abdulhamid, that Bashar would realize that this is his only real option and jump on the bandwagon. But considering his dismal track record, I wouldn't count on it. He's still trying to negotiate a deal by making "gestures" on Iraq (that have backfired), letting Islamic Jihad plan and execute operations in Israel and claiming responsibility from his turf, and discussing redeployment to the Bekaa, while assuring the world that the US will come knocking at his door once they realize how much of a key player he is!

But let's see if the Syrians take to the streets. The Egyptians did it, the Iraqis did it, and the Lebanese did it, and the Syrians saw all of them do it. As Walid Jumblat put it (via LBC): "Democracy has swept the world, and it is now coming to our region. It has already arrived, and there is no turning back."

In that light, Stephen Green's advice is rather apt: "Don't worry about Washington, Baby Assad. Worry about Beirut -- and maybe Damascus."

Blogging the Spectacle!

Rich in Beirut is blogging the huge demonstrations downtown. He updates that the crowd has swelled past the 200,000 mark, in spite of the measures taken to prohibit the protesters from reaching the site.

Keep an eye on Robert Mayer over at Publius Pundit who is also closely following the Lebanese protests. Mayer also links to pictures of Lebanese protesters around the globe.

A Mouthful

The Karami government got a mouthful in the parliamentary session from opposition MPs while thousands of demonstrators sat-in near parliament watching the stormy session on TV screens.

Opposition MPs said that regardless of whether the government gets the vote needed to survive, it is "already a decomposing corpse." Opposition legistlator Fares Boueiz added: "The presidency is gone, the prime ministry is gone, we don't want parliament to go, too."

Naharnet had some more:

Legislator Marwan Hamadeh stole the limelight when he openly accused Karami’s government of acting only when it receives orders from Syria’s military intelligence chief in Lebanon Brig. Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh. “I don’t see a prime minister or cabinet minister on the government benches today. They simply don’t exist,” he said demanding that commanders of the Surete Generale, the military intelligence bureau and the state security apparatus be fired at once and brought to trial for complicity in the assassination of Rafik Hariri. He also demanded the removal of President Lahoud’s regime. Hamadeh told cabinet ministers specially Justice Minister Adnan Addoum that the day will come “when we shall drag you to stand trial like Slobodan Milosevic."
Bahia Hariri won a standing ovation in parliament Monday as she held Karami’s government largely responsible for her brother’s assassination and demanded the immediate ouster of the government. As most of parliament members applauded, tens of thousands of opposition activists maintaining a vigil at Hariri’s nearby grave burst in thunderous applaud as they watched through a giant screen at Martyrs Square Bahia Hariri’s moving speech inside parliament.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese FM was playing semantics with David Satterfield, in a hilarious show of political bankruptcy. In response to a crystal clear message from Satterfield about "the strong interest of the US in seing the full application of the UN Security Council Resolution 1559, including the complete withdrawal of Syrian forces including military intelligence from Lebanon," Minister Mahmoud Hammoud pulled his own "it depends what the meaning of 'is' is" with this classic statement, sure to go down in the annals of Lebanese history:

There is only a semantic difference between redeployment and a withdrawal, because a pullback, if it goes in the direction of Syria, will be a withdrawal

So the next redeployment towards the Bekaa, in Hammoud's mind, equals full withdrawal, including the intelligence services, in accordance to 1559! Where do the Syrians find these people?

Of significance is Satterfield's statement about 1559 agreeing in letter and spirit with the Taef accord. That will be used to close the door on the Syrians and any wiggling room they might have banked on, as it now reinterprets Taef in light of 1559, which is the way the opposition sees it. Satterfield met with Jumblat and the Maronite Patriarch Sfeir, and they probably coordinated with him on the matter.

Jumblat also wants this alternative in order to woo in Hizbullah, which opposes the disarmament clause in UNR 1559. At the same time, he's calling for the closing of the southern Lebanese front in the disputed Shebaa Farms. His main focus right now is the full withdrawal of Syrian intelligence services and the removal of their cronies in Lebanon and the establishment of a sovereign national government. He and other opposition members are hoping they can handle Hizbullah through talks and pragmatism once the Syrian element is removed.

Update: This story in the WaPo is somewhat alarming:

Shortly before Satterfield met with a Sunni Muslim spiritual leader Monday, about a dozen plainclothes gunmen carrying assault rifles appeared on a Beirut street, Lebanese security officials and witnesses said.

An advance team of U.S. security guards detected the gunmen and alerted the Lebanese military, the officials said. Lebanese troops went quickly to the Aisha Bakkar neighborhood where the country's Sunni Muslim grand mufti, Sheik Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, has his offices.

By the time soldiers arrived, the gunmen had left, Lebanese security officials said on condition of anonymity.

Everyone is afraid of such planted instigators that would turn the peaceful and organized protests violent and bloody. So far nothing has happened, let's hope it stays that way.


I'm not sure if Bashar is reading the papers, but from the looks of things he's either not listening, clueless, or simply delusional. In an interview (Italian) with La Repubblica, with English excerpts in Naharnet, Bashar revealed the bizarre thought process of the Syrian regime:

We are essential to the peace process, for Iraq. You will see, maybe one day the Americans will knock on our door.

He also tried to play the stability card with the Europeans:

Europe knows that our first interest is stability, and it knows that we know how to fight terrorism.

He then made my heart bleed with this heartfelt statement:

[Syria's] paying a high economic and political price by its military presence in Lebanon.

Now I'm not sure who exactly he's trying to impress with these kinds of statements, but he's clearly out of touch. He still insists that if he helps out by handing in info on Islamists that he'll get a free hand in Lebanon! Or, better, if now all of a sudden he starts talking about Iraq (er, it's a tad bit too late!) the US will simply abandon everything and, how did he put it?, "come knocking on his door!" Now that's classic! The machismo (matched only by the rhetoric of his own employees, Farouq Sharaa and Buthaina Shaaban) is simply a treat to observe! Especially that part on them being "key to the solution" and that "sooner or later" the US "will realize that." The one-liners are marvelous! He doesn't realized that all these cards (Lebanon, PT, Iraq) have blown in their face, as Josh Landis wrote.

He once again tied his withdrawal from Lebanon to an agreement with Israel on the Golan, and to "when there is stable peace" in Lebanon! As Rich put it: "It just goes to show the intransigence that is built into the Baath mindset - not to offer serious terms for negotiation until their side is already bankrupt. How stupid."

I.e., Assad is digging in and not changing anything in the bankrupt, Cold-War-era Syrian rhetoric. Let's see how this rhetoric matches or clashes with reality.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Arab Framework

The Arab states' attempts to get Syria to save some face are still alive as Sharaa met with Mubarak in Cairo and will go on to meet with the Saudis (who are none too pleased with the Syrians!) and Syrian minister Naji Otari has met with the Jordanians. All these meetings, as Mubarak put it, are attempts to find the "overlap" between 1559 and the Taef agreement that will let the Syrians pull out gradually and make them feel good about themselves as not having succumbed to international pressure. Or, as Sharaa put it: "[Arabs must] recover their solidarity and a little respect. We must not simply bow to diktat."

The problem is that the way the Syrians view Taef and the way the international community and the Lebanese opposition view it are entirely different matters! The Syrians want to use it as a way to maintain their influence intact, by redeploying troops and then negotiating further with the Lebanese government (which is still their puppet!). This doesn't say anything about the intelligence apparatuses and the meddling in Lebanese affairs or the infiltration of Lebanese institutions.

The opposition is still offering the Taef option to Syria. However, the opposition understands the caveats and loopholes, and that's why Jumblat made their position crystal clear:

The Taef accord states that the Syrian army should redeploy fully and honorably to the Bekaa. Then a national consensus government should be formed who would negotiate with the Syrians on the total and honorable withdrawal from Lebanon. Taef is clear, and that's what we want. However, we want an independent national government and not a subservient one. And what's more important than the Syrian army -- because our problem is not with the army -- but with the joint Syrian-Lebanense intelligence apparatus which has oppressed the Lebanese people long enough, and since it is in control of everything, it is responsible for the enormous security events that have hit the country.

This is why opposition figures, including the Maronite patriarch, have called for the resignation of the puppet government and for free and honest elections that will lead to the establishment of a sovereign national government which will be able to set a timetable for a full and comprehensive Syrian withdrawal.

All this leaves the international community out of the picture, but they are clearly not out of the game (deputy assistant secretary of state David Satterfield will be meeting with Jumblat to discuss the possible overlap of the Taef and 1559. Jumblat wants to leave out the clause about disarming Hizbullah "for now" and focus on the Syrian withdrawal)! They will decide based on the UN report whether Syria is complying with UNR 1559 (it will not go away!) and take steps accordingly. Furthermore, the US and the EU have asked that Syria be out before the elections, and they have also asked for election monitors to guarantee free and honest elections. Syria is mistaken if it thinks it will be able to maneuver its way into preserving the status quo. That's the main thing that the Syrians have failed to grasp so far, as evident from Sharaa's almost disoriented statement: the status quo is no longer tenable or acceptable to anyone. Paul Wolfowitz made that clear in an interview on LBC's "Al-Hadath" (I'm retranslating from the Arabic excerpt):

The Syrian redeployment to the Bekaa is only the first step. We in the have agreed, and we are in agreement with various world leaders, everyone's agreed that this is the first step and Syria must understand that. It must also put an end to the presence of the intelligence services and quit meddling in the affairs of its neighbors and start minding its own business. (Emphasis added.)

Wolfowitz went on to draw an analogy with the 1986 elections in the Philippines, where the dictator tried to tamper with the results. This is the best way to approach the Lebanese case, he said. The most important thing is to support the Lebanese people who have shown their capacity to express their will, and the Syrians must understand that, he added.

Let's see if they do.

The Counterattack

The pro-Syrian government and its cronies have made a move: a loyalist demonstration (that naturally features the pitbull Nasser Qandil, the most insufferable pro-Syrian figure that the Syrians save for precisely these kinds of provocative moves) to coincide with a planned opposition sit-in, and a security dragnet around the parliament to prevent the sit-in aimed at demanding the vote of no confidence for the current government.

Needless to say, I would watch for provocations and violent instigations. This is what a Nasser Qandil demonstration usually does. So far, the opposition has been completely peaceful. I wouldn't be surprised if something is staged. This tactic is quite common of course to give the government a pretext to forcefully do away with these demonstrations. This was Naharnet's take:

Fears have been voiced of attempts to create a climate of tension to defuse the immense moral pressure to bring down the government in the wake of Hariri's assassination. Similar fears are ripe of a Syrian intervention against the opposition.

Rich thinks that this may be an escalation the government shouldn't be seeking. Also, rumors have been flying around that the Syrians are arming cronies in preparation for confrontation, even as they talk about withdrawal (even though none of their troops, let alone the mukhabarat, have budged). Even if the notion is not inconcievable, I take this report with a grain of salt. Still, Karami has made further provocations and threats about who will maintain order if the Syrians leave, and was slammed for them. But there is an implicit threat in there, and that's why people are jittery about the possibility of Syrian or loyalist violence. (Although, the fact that al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya, the Sunni Islamist organization in Tripoli has withdrawn from the loyalist Ain el-Tineh gathering shouldn't be taken lightly. This means less Sunnis to rely on.)

The parliamentary session is unlikely to topple Karami's government. But they are apparently trying to keep away the dramatic effect of the sit-in. Karami is certain that the loyalists will win in the upcoming elections as well, which is why sending international monitors will be a good idea, as I have said before.

The Syrians are trying to wiggle some more, claiming to be working within the Taif framework, and hence their withdrawal as stipulated by the accord. It's an obvious trick, and so far no one is impressed. But let's wait and see, and keep checking Rich's blog for more on this.

Update: The government apparently thought better than to organize a counter demonstration and decided to ban all demonstrations instead. The opposition doesn't seem to care and will go ahead as planned. In fact, demonstrations have already started since the early hours of the morning (see picture above).

Update 2: Jumblat has also made reference (Arabic) to "weapons being distributed" (by loyalists or Syria). He notably addressed the Palestnian factions in the camps urging them not to be "dragged in by the intelligence appartuses" He also believes that the vote of confidence will be forced, which will result in another extension, similar to the Syrian-forced unconstitutional extension of its crony president, Emile Lahoud.

Update 3: Blogger Publius Pundit has also been following the Lebanese scene. Make sure to take a look.


Readers have asked for my reading of the latest Tel Aviv suicide bombing, and whether it was related to the current situation in Lebanon. Needless to say, I have no idea for certain, so all I have to offer is speculation. There are several theories floating around and I'm sure you've heard most of them.

An Islamic Jihad official in Beirut claimed responsibility. The Damascus-based Islamic Jihad had also told reporters that the attack was in retaliation to Israel's violation of the truce. There are rumors that Islamic Jihad may have split, as the Gaza office vehemently denied any involvement, whereas the West Bank office seemed to endorse it.

The other suspect is Hizbullah. It was senior Palestinian officials who fingered Hizbullah, and Abbas appeared to be implicitly accusing them when he talked of "third party" involvement. Allegedly, a Hizbullah official by the name of Qays Obeid recruited the Palestinian youngster and then asked the Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades to endorse the operation. Hizbullah has denied any involvement and so has Syria. It's also worth noting that Israel, while not ruling out a Hizbullah involvement, seems to be leaning more in the direction of the Damascus-based Islamic Jihad and its Syrian patrons, as Mofaz's statements suggest. This may be significant.

What's certainly significant is the reaction of the Palestinians, both officially and on the popular level. A resident of Jenin voiced his frustration at Hizbullah: "If Hezbollah was behind this attack, I as a Palestinian tell them, 'Deal with your own problems and stay out of ours.'" As the Palestinians continue to sense that negotiations are delivering better results than violence, the infatuation with Hizbullah will continue to diminish, and with it Hizbullah's regional prestige. So such statements are very important.

However, I find the official Palestinian blame of Hizbullah somewhat all too convenient. I mean, Israel is blaming Islamic Jihad in Syria, while it could just as easily have focused on Hizbullah, if all it was interested in is pressure on Syria. The Palestinians are understandably trying to disentangle themselves from this attack, lest it ruins the talks and embarrasses Abbas. So it might be convenient for them to blame it all on Hizbullah, when it may be an internal Palestinian thing, as Josh Landis seems to think (although he's more interested in saying that the Syrians may not have had foreknowledge about this. Color me suspicious!). This is not to say that Hizbullah is not involved, but one has to keep the former point in mind if indeed the Syrian-based Islamic Jihad is the culprit, as Israel seems to believe. At any rate, the rejection of this "regional resistance" rationale for the sake of national interests is important (the whole notion of the primacy of national interests as opposed to ideologyand rage in itself is a significant development in the Palestinian territories). It also echoes Jumblat's statements about Hizbullah and the Shebaa Farms (see my post "Jumblat vs. Hizbullah"). As this gains traction it will damage Hizbullah's prestige in the immediate region. Similarly, Josh writes in relation to Syria: "Syria’s old cards are blowing up in its hands ... It is completely isolated. The Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian fronts have all boomeranged against Syria. They are not cards but self inflicted wounds. The government will have to give them all up to save itself." (Emphasis mine.)

So, while it may be Hizbullah trying to revive the primacy of the fight against Israel (as opposed to Syria) from which it draws its prestige, and thus trying to match its rhetoric, what if it was the Syrian-based Islamic Jihad? Whether this indicates a split in a Palestinian organization (it wouldn't be the first time either) or not, it's clear that if the Damascus-based office did it, the Syrian knew about it. So is this Syria trying to remind everyone that it can still do a lot of damage and not just in Lebanon? Does this say that even if you take away the Lebanon card, we can still do a whole lot of damage in Israel and we still have a say in Palestinian affairs, so you better make sure to resume talks on the Golan? Bashar recently called for a direct talks with the US to continue discussion over "security issues" because, as he put it, the US "lacks vision" in the region, and that can create a lot of "chaos." Is this his attempt to try to bargain over "security" in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories? Also, the Syrians have supposedly handed Saddam's half-brother along with 29 other officials (what, all of a sudden they are operating in Syria!?) to Iraq. So is this Bashar's way of both enticing (and bribing, in order to see where the US priority lies, in Iraq or Lebanon, so maybe he'll catch a break on Lebanon) as well as reminding the US of the kind of trouble he's capable of causing? The US has so far dissociated all these issues, and maintained that it won't do any "swaps." It's all plausible, but this is all speculation, and I clearly can't say for sure.

So after all this, that's all I have!! Nothin'! We'll see how this develops.

Update: Ghassan Tueni of An-Nahar picks it up a couple of notches. Tueni wondered (Arabic) why the Damascus-based Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility from Beirut!? He wonders whether this was hoping somehow to draw an Israeli retaliation against Lebanon, thus providing the pretext for the Syrians to claim that their presence is necessary to protect Lebanon and its unity. Tueni said that the Syrians know very well that any threat from Israel against Lebanon would give them that pretext. Tueni also accused the Syrians of instigating a renewal of an Israeli-Palestinian war, that the Palestinians don't want, in Lebanon, and whose price Lebanon will have to pay. This is partially why I said that Israel's insistence on pointing the finger at Syria (and not Lebanon or Hizbullah, as the Palestinians did) is significant.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Landis on Syria's "Dead End"

Josh Landis has a couple (new, working link!) of new interesting posts on Syria's current dilemma that are very much worth reading.

In the latest post, Josh discusses the European position:

Everything turns on European sanctions. Unlike the US, Europe is Syria’s major trading partner. Sixty per cent of Syrian trade is with European states. France has already called for sanctions. Will Germany and Britain follow suit? If Germany and Britain agree to join an economic embargo of Syria, the entire EU will be pulled behind them, whether they like it or not. Spain and Greece, the states which have traditionally been most outspoken in Syria’s defense, will be mute. Surely the European powers will look for ways to stop the sanctions train before it leaves the station.

The problem for the European states is that once they attach their wagons to America’s economic sanctions engine, they are hostages to George Bush’s Syria policy. Once imposed, sanctions are likely to continue for decades. In all likelihood, they will not end until there is regime change in Damascus. Even if the European powers enter into a sanctions regime with the US for the sole purpose of forcing Syria from Lebanon, they will not be able to escape sanctions until the entire list of American demands are met. America’s list of demands is endless. It wants Syria to end support for the Palestinian resistance and Hizballah. It demands Syria pull out of Lebanon; it wants Syria to give up its WMD; and it wants Syria to arrest a long list of Iraqis accused of financing and organizing the resistance in Iraq. Syria will never meet all these demands. Not so long as is a Baathist state.

Should Europe try to end sanctions on Syria before all of America’s demands are met, Washington will accuse them of recognizing Syria’s right to WMD or its right to support Palestinian fighters. Sanctions on Cuba have lasted 40 years, those on Iran have been in place since the revolution, sanctions on Iraq lasted until the overthrow of Saddam, and US sanctions on Syria as a terrorist state have been in place since the late 1970s. Sanctions are a very blunt weapon that once begun can rarely be ended. Moreover, they hurt the defenseless masses more than the well provisioned leadership. At least initially, they stoke the passions of nationalism and popular will to resist, rather than the opposite. The logical end to sanctions will be regime change. This Europe wants to resist. The Europeans were opposed to President Bush’s plan to reform the greater Middle East when it was declared and most still do.

The European diplomats in Damascus disagreed with Bush’s policy of driving Syria to the wall. Many privately blame the US for creating the political tension that has led to Hariri’s assassination. They wanted Washington to cut a deal with Bashar al-Asad months ago, to trade the Golan for a Lebanese withdrawal. They never bought into the notion of “Democracy in the Middle East.” Perhaps “old Europe” appreciates the difficulties of democratic transformation in “old societies” better than young America? Or, perhaps, as Washington claims, Europe is merely stubborn and contrary, having failed to appreciate the new temper of the times? Washington refused to negotiate with Syria for ideological reasons. “It would not negotiate with dictators and terrorist states.” Europe, at least initially, hoped to make something out of Bashar.

The Hariri assassination has placed the Europeans in a very awkward position. If they don’t agree to economic sanctions, the US will accuse them of sanctioning murder. Bashar’s blunders have cut the legs from underneath Europe. A few days ago, when the Canadian PM claimed that the Lebanese situation was a delicate one and that Syrian troops played an important role in maintaining security, he set off an uproar. Opposition members and supporters alike forced him to retract his statement. When Solana – the EU foreign minister – initially said that Europe’s relationship with Syria would not change until the author of Hariri’s murder had been found, his words were drowned out by Tsunami of American and French accusations. Europe will have to give way to America on the Syria-Lebanon question. Chirac has stated that Lebanon is France’s Iraq. All Europe will soon be confusing Beirut with Baghdad.

In the post before that, Josh graciously gives me a plug, but misquotes me somewhat. I left a comment on both posts on his site that I'm reproducing here:

I didn't quite say that Bashar will burn Lebanon, only that he might if pushed too far. In essence, this is what lies behind all the fear in certain anachronistic and fossilized quarters (Martin Indyk and some euros) that you give too much credit to by making them seem like some wise men who know about "old societies!" Well, "old Lebanon" wants its democracy and freedom back, no matter what "old Europe" or good ol' Martin Indyk says!

Besides, there seems to be a fundamental contradiction in your position on Europe when you present Chirac as not being in the mood to cut deals, and as being repeatedly embarrassed by Bashar who turned out to be the furthest thing from a reformer and just another thug. Add to that the statement about Lebanon being France's Iraq. Not the the greatest message if you're Bashar. So I think that the reluctance theory doesn't fit well with this presentation of Chirac. Which is why the Lebanese pro-Syrian government has called Chirac the most extreme of the lot! Can you believe that?! Well, it's a lot at stake for Chirac on this one. He can't be embarrassed by a bumbling novice like Bashar. It will kill any credibility Europe wishes to have in its dealings with the ME, as if that's not dead already.

Regardless of their differences, I think the US and France are determined to use Lebanon as common ground. It's not only convenient in terms of policy, but it's also a matter of personal prestige for Chirac. He will try to counter the US policy by taking hold of the Lebanon file himself. Hence, Lebanon is France's Iraq. So far, they've managed to compromise well, to the detriment of Bashar. Also, on the US demands, I think that the most important one for them is the insurgency in Iraq. The Palestinian issue can be taken care of by the Palestinians themselves just as they have been trying to curb Hizbullah's interference in the OT. As for the Hizbullah issue, the US will likely compromise with France on the "terrorist" label, because it sees that the opposition in Lebanon is demanding the cessation of operations against israel and a return to the armistice. Therefore, the Lebanese themselves will take care of Hizbullah's military wing. Right now, by pushing the issue, the US risks to alieante France, and to push Hizbullah further away from the opposition. I think they'll see that and focus more exclusively on the comprehensive Syrian pull-out and the free elections as that seems to be the common ground they have with Europe, as reflected in their statements.

As for the insurgency, other options will develop. For one, the US is already holding back-channel talks with them and they will continue to join the process in Iraq. That will be a set back for Syria because the Syrian Sunnis might put two and two together, as Lee Smith said. Add to that Jordanian and Saudi support for a stronger Sunni role in Syria (to counter the Shiite ascendency in Iraq) and Bashar will face a serious internal and regional problem, especially if he keeps alienating the Sunni neighbors, as he did with Mubarak. So the cards are quickly flying from Bashar's hands. Yet he remains dangerous, and that's why people are afraid of reprisals in Lebanon, as made clear by Walid Muallem's recent remarks on how "Lebanon always pays the price."

At this stage, any move by Bashar that doesn't essentially conform to US-EU demands is likely to piss people off more and more, most notably Chirac, but also the neighboring Sunni Arab states, let alone the Lebanese and the US.

On another note, you seem to confirm my suspicions that the entire "Old Guard" theory is utter bogus. They are out of the loop, not Bashar. But if they get pissy, and there is Sunni pressure from the neighbors, and the Syrian Sunnis wake up to the possibility of being able to remove the Asads, things might turn ugly for Bashar. I know usually the Syrians are either too afraid to speak up (although that seems to be cracking as you mention) or somehow side with the regime in some misguided notion that they're being nationalistic. The problem here is that perhaps they could have justified that in the past. But how can they rationalize what Bashar is doing as for the good of the Syrian nation, as opposed to his kleptocratic extended family? Will he then crack down on his own people? Will he want to manage two revolutions!?

A dead end indeed, but when cornered, desperate people do desperate things. That's our fear.

Addendum: The Lebanese French daily L'Orient-Le Jour ran the following story, which is relevant to the discussion above:

Le Parlement européen a demandé hier dans une résolution «le retrait des troupes syriennes du Liban» et laissé entendre qu’il en ferait une condition au moment d’approuver l’accord d’association entre l’Union européenne et la Syrie. Le Parlement affirme qu’il fera du respect des résolutions du Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies demandant le retrait des troupes syriennes du Liban «un élément crucial de l’appréciation au moment voulu de la signature de l’accord d’association UE-Syrie». Le Parlement dispose d’un droit de veto sur cet accord qui a été paraphé le 18 octobre 2004 par les ministres des Affaires étrangères des 25, mais non encore officiellement signé. De son côté, la députée européenne Véronique de Keyser a déclaré que l’assassinat de Hariri «relance la polémique autour de l’accord d’association entre l’Union européenne et la Syrie, et l’application stricte de la résolution 1559». Elle a également estimé que l’Union doit demander à la Syrie de se retirer du Liban et de s’abstenir de toute interférence dans les affaires libanaises.

For those of you who don't read French, it says that the European Parliament has demanded in a resolution yesterday the full withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and added that it will make this a condition for approving the EU-Syria trade deals (part of the EuroMed initiative). Deputy Véronique de Keyser added that the EU should threaten to veto the provisional agreement (which has not yet been finalized) unless Syria complies with UNSCR 1559 and abstains from all interference in Lebanese affairs.

No deal making mood is right.

The Speared Beast

In his op-ed today, Michael Young discusses how the Syrians are shutting the "Arab door" -- the face saving "Arab alternative" -- possibly alienating three key players: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Egypt has been trying to get Syria to withdraw on its own terms for a while. Mubarak tried again by sending Amr Moussa, who was turned down, and then again by sending his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Mubarak is not hiding his frustration either, stating that "something must be done." But the Syrians won't budge.

Saudi Arabia, as Michael noted, has been eerily silent in the face of the growing pressure on Syria save for a few token statements. Other than that, Saud al-Faysal met with Chirac for 45 mins. at Hariri's funeral, and may be on board any international initiative. We'll come back to the Saudis in a minute.

Finally, Jordan was perhaps the most vocal. Young noted Abdullah's statements in El Pais on how the bomb was too sophisticated to have been set by a terrorist group, implicitly pointing the finger at state involvement, namely Syria and its puppet government in Lebanon. Moreover, following talks with Jacques Chirac (as happened with Saud al-Faysal), Abdullah said "Syria should respect a UNSCR 1559 and withdraw its forces." Abdullah added that "the future of Lebanon should be in the hands of the Lebanese" effectively echoing the European and American position.

Why are these (Sunni) states, particularly Jordan, taking such a stance? Michael explains:

Ultimately, is King Abdullah's skepticism so difficult to understand? Having publicly expressed last December his fear of a "Shiite crescent" stretching from Iran to Lebanon, passing through Iraq, the monarch has little incentive to confront that reality with an anemic, minority-ruled pariah as neighbor. Indeed, Syrian weakness poses a long-term threat to two other Sunni-majority Arab states besides Jordan, namely Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Each, in its own way, has deep problems with Damascus.

This brings us back to Lee's "Sunni theory" in his Weekly Standard piece:

"Opposition from the Sunnis shakes the foundations of the Assad regime since it is capable of generating sympathy throughout the Arab world."
What [the Alawite Asads] most fear at this point is being isolated in a region where they have little natural-sectarian-constituency.

So there may be a little more to that Syrian-Iranian alliance. Martin Kramer comments:

The political ramifications of the Alawi-Shiite link are hard to pin down. It may have played a role in facilitating the Syrian-Iranian relationship. Today, the only major faction in Lebanon that unequivocally defends the Syrian regime is the Shiite (Islamist) Hizbullah. And it's only this link that makes it possible to speak, as some do, of a contiguous "Shiite crescent" from Iran to the Mediterranean. Even so, Alawi power-brokers don't take their cues from beturbanned ayatollahs, and their Shiite loyalties rest rather lightly on their shoulders. They're also careful not to overplay the Shiite card, lest they offend Syria's Sunni majority.

The "Shiite crescent" idea, real or fictitious, is alarming to the Saudis and the Jordanians. Given the loss of Sunni dominance in Iraq, the Jordanians and the Saudis might be on board to have a counter-balance in Syria, where the majority of the populace is Sunni, with significant Kurdish, Alawite, and Armenian and other Christian minorities. So just as Iraq's communities share power, with the clear Shiite majority getting its fair share, the same can happen in Syria with the Sunni majority. The Jordanians, like the Saudis and even the Egyptians, also don't want Islamists to come to power, so they might be favorable to an Iraq-like arrangement, a consociational system, to curb any such development, but still give Sunnis a fair share of power. But now I'm getting way ahead of myself!

As Lee said, this may be why the Syrians have been flaming the "Sunni rage" in Iraq: to keep it away from home, lest the Syrian Sunnis put two and two together. Well, it seems that Jordan and Saudi Arabia might be a little quicker in calculus. Furthermore, with the Iraqi Sunnis gradually joining the political process in Iraq, and holding back-channel talks even with the US, it seems that keeping the "Sunni rage" aflame for too long will prove difficult. Rich Anderson has more:

Nothing could please Saudi Arabia more than the prospect of being able to take a few jabs at Syria, and the prospect appears even more likely now. Stratfor now reports via Time magazine that the U.S. is now holding back-channel talks with Iraqi insurgents
It does not even matter at this point whether the story is true or not. As Syria has effectively encouraged the insurgency in Iraq, such a prospect must strike Syria's soft spot in a way that nothing else can.

Bottom line, the US, the EU and the key Sunni Arab states might be coming together on not only the need for a "comprehensive" Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, but also on the possibility of regime change in Syria. As Michael put it:

It is probable that the Bush administration has taken out an option on regime change in Syria. However, unlike Iraq, this will not involve dispatching American soldiers. Instead, it may be fairly close to what the Syrians advised Washington to do against the former regime of Saddam Hussein in 2002, namely operate through the United Nations, build up an international consensus, and use diplomacy and other peaceful means rather than force. This strategy could open the door to potentially crushing economic sanctions, but also military pressure along the Iraqi border or in Lebanon, which Syria has few means of fighting against. 

But the Syrians can still do a lot of damage, as Young points out. You can read the comments by Jumblat (see right below) on how Asad is willing to "destroy Lebanon" if pushed out. That was no fabricated story either. Take a look at what Syrian deputy foreign minister Walid Muallem told a news conference:

"The continuation inside and outside Lebanon of provocations and incitement against Syria and Lebanon risks leading to negative developments that will harm the interests of all concerned"
Lebanon was particularly at risk "because in times of crisis it has always paid the price in terms of the lives, safety and prosperity of its citizens."

As for now, they'll try to negotiate more time, and as Rich explains, the theatrical play of the upcoming parliamentary vote of confidence on the pro-Syrian Karami government, followed by some sort of redeployment and government reshuffling, might buy it for them.

Clearly, that won't impress anyone, domestically or internationally, as the US-EU demands have been becoming clearer by the day: full withdrawal of troops and intellegience apparatuses before the May elections in order to ensure (probably with the help of international monitors) free and honest elections.

But that still leaves a few things unsaid. Clearly, by pushing away the Arabs, Bashar knows that he can't trust them, nor does he want their option, because he's clearly not looking to leave Lebanon. What he's doing is calling the US-EU bluff. What are you prepared to do? Sanctions? If they come from the US alone they would be meaningless, as Fareed Zakaria notes. Only if they are multilteral will they have an impact, but it's not sure if that will be enough to dislodge the Asad regime. Perhaps a combination of that and playing the Sunni card might do something, but it's still unclear. It's not sure that Chirac is really hot on sanctions either: "France was never very favorable to the sanctions system," Chirac said. " But it's up to the Security Council to decide…Therefore, if the application of 1559 does not begin, the Security Council would deliberate on sanctions in light of report submitted by the U.N. secretary."

Zakaria never really offers any other option. I'm sure Bashar has thought of the limitations as well. But one important thing Zakaria did say is that Washington "should focus single-mindedly on one issue that can gain international support: getting Syria out of Lebanon." That would entail sustained pressure and complete disregard for Syrian maneuverings, coupled with all sorts of jabs, economically, socio-politically (the Sunni and minorities card), etc. But also, it might have to mean that the US must put the Hizbullah thing aside for now, and focus exclusively on Syria. The call to label Hizbullah a terrorist group will prove a sour point with France and serve to push Hizbullah more into Syria's hand and away from the opposition, which continues to reach out to Hizbullah. The US needs to understand that once the Syrians withdraw, an agreement will soon follow in Lebanon on the issue of Hizbullah's military wing and its operations against Israel (which are limited as it is in the Shebaa Farms). Everyone in Lebanon, from Jumblat to Aoun, has made it clear that the military operations are over. The raison d'être is gone, and will be even more so if Syria pulls out. Hizbullah knows that as well, and that's why it's in a pickle. I'll have more on that when my post on Hizbullah goes up shortly. But the point is that it knows that one day it was bound to face this moment of truth. So the US demands will be meaningless at that stage (and this has nothing to do with whether Hizbullah is or isn't a terrorist outfit), as Hizbullah will have to disarm and stop all operations against Israel, and give way to the deployment of the Lebanese Army (as for their activities inside the Palestinian territories, the Abbas government is countering that on its own, and the whole thing will lose its luster with the above-mentioned scenario, and the possibility of a return to the 1949 armistice, as Jumblat has suggested. Or, as Nick Blanford, looking further down the road, put it in an email: "Who knows maybe Hizbullah's 'militancy' in the future will consist of former resistance fighters picketing the Israeli embassy in downtown Beirut.")

But it's going to be a very delicate time for all involved. The most important thing however is not to allow Bashar to get away with it, and stick around some more, speared as he may be. In other words, for God's sake, please don't listen to people like Martin Indyk!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bad Omen

A reader asked for my view on Hizbullah and the current scene in Lebanon. I have been (and still am) doing research and contacts to give you my reading and my sources' reading. It should be up very soon. In the mean time, take a look at this story from Naharnet:

Walid Jumblat has asserted that "Syria's mission in Lebanon is over," warning that Hizbullah "is a Syrian pressure levy with a frightening militia that may be used against us." He also revealed that he had sent his elder son and political heir to Paris to stay alive.

"The mere participation of Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in the recent meeting of Syria's loyalists is a bad omen," Jumblat said in an interview with the Parisian newspaper Liberation, which was highlighted by the Beirut media Wednesday.

Jumblat was asked whether he was afraid of being assassinated. "Everything is possible. The Syrians have crossed the red line and they tell us 'you have to negotiate on our terms or we will kill you.'"

Liberation noted that Jumblat was so afraid of assassination that he has sent his elder son and political heir Taymour to France to "make certain that at least one of the Jumblat family is safe."

Jumblat recited in the interview what President Assad told Hariri in their last meeting in Damascus in august last year shortly before Syria dictated the 3-year extension of President Lahoud in power.

"Lahoud is me," Hariri quoted Assad as telling him in the meeting that was held when Hariri was still the prime minister of Lebanon, Jumblat said. "That was the intro of Syria's dictation of Lahoud's extension in September, which led Hariri to resign and which touched of the current crisis," Jumblat explained.

He further quoted Hariri as having told him that Bashar said: "If Chirac wants to get me out of Lebanon I will destroy Lebanon. Jumblat has Druze in Mount Lebanon, but I also have Druze and I shall hit and destroy Mt. Lebanon."

Jumblat said the opposition in Lebanon "does not want to fight the Syrians. They are our neighbors. But we don't want to be annexed in a new Anschluss as Hitler did to Austria in 1938."

Jumblat, as you'll see in my upcoming post, is extremely worried that Hizbullah will turn on the interior. The story also confirms two things about Bashar that I've written on this blog: 1) Bashar is in charge of the Lebanon file, and what we're seeing (and have been seeing) is his policy ("Lahoud is me.") 2) Bashar will burn his way out of Lebanon, as he knows that his regime's/family's survival rests in great part on his holding on to Lebanon. But he does not have Druze in Lebanon that would do his bidding. He has managed to turn most if not all the Sunnis against him (see this piece by Nick Blanford, which also has more on the Shiites). Whatever cronies he has in the Sunni (and Christian) community won't be able to do much in terms of a military threat, and will be quickly exposed as doing Syria's bidding. So in fact, Bashar's hand in Lebanon is really tied with Hizbullah and the Shiites (hence the Iranian alliance?).

That's why everyone's crossing their fingers hoping that Hizbullah decides to join an emerging free Lebanon, and not be Syria's proxy. More to come.

Lebanese Neocon?

No, that's neither me nor Michael Young! According to this piece by David Ignatius (hat tip, Martin Kramer), it's Druze leader Walid Jumblat!!

Here's what Ignatius wrote:

    The old slogans about Arab nationalism turned to ashes in Jumblatt's mouth
    Over the years, I've often heard [Jumblat] denouncing the United States and Israel, but these days, in the aftermath of Hariri's death, he's sounding almost like a neoconservative. He says he's determined to defy the Syrians until their troops leave Lebanon and the Lahoud government is replaced.

What was the turning point? (Skeptics get ready!)

    "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

I already hinted at this in my last post (see right below), but I restrained myself from using the label Neocon, and I opted to use Michael's line instead.

Of course, the label doesn't really apply to the fullest extent (not to Jumblat nor to Michael or me), but the basic idea, brought forth by neoconservaties after 9/11 and fought by realists, old conservatives and Leftists alike, applies beyond the shadow of a doubt: US power (military or other) can, and in fact needs to be used to help in the democratization of ME countries to the benefit of both the US and the ME. That's why Jumblat was asking for the US and France to bring on more tangible pressure, because, as he put it, "we can't obtain it on our own." Every single Iraqi agrees with that statement. As Amir Taheri put it in a very nice NY Post op-ed: "Any failure to seize the moment would amount to a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of the Lebanese people."

Jumblat seemed to echo the sentiments of that other "neocon" (!) Ammar Abdulhamid: "The ripple effect that the White House wanted in the Middle East is actually starting to happen."

Who knew that the US "neo-imperialist" enterprise in Iraq will have found a convert in Walid Jumblat!?

Addendum: Speaking of converts and changes of heart, Juan Cole, who earlier had called the Iraqi elections "a joke" and sarcastically referred to them as "so-called 'elections'" and held them as a vote for a US withdrawal, sang a different tune on Lehrer yesterday:

    JIM LEHRER: Professor Cole, what about the presence of the U.S. Military and the coalition in Iraq? What is [candidate for the PM office, Jaafari's] attitude likely to be about that? Are we going to hear calls for the occupation to end or what?

    JUAN COLE: No, Jaafari has come out and said that it would be a mistake to establish a strict timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq or for the U.S. to withdraw in a precipitated fashion. He's a pragmatist on this issue.
    JIM LEHRER: So it would be a mistake, Professor Cole, for the United States to assume they've got somebody there who is in our camp or in their camp? It's going to be an issue by issue situation?

    JUAN COLE: It's an issue by issue situation, but it should be remembered that Jaafari has been elected. His party has 51 percent of the seats in parliament, was put there by an open election, and he has all of the legitimacy and authority that drives for that. He can claim to speak for a majority of the Iraqi people.

    So that, the United States just as it cannot expect the prime minister of a European country or the president of a European country that's an ally of the United States necessarily to agree with it on all issue; likewise, it can expect Jaafari to have an independent policy as well.

Good for you Juan.

Update: Walid Jumblat's comments to David Ignatius have just hit the air on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More International Pressure Please!

In an interview to the French "20 minutes," Walid Jumblat declared Lebanon "hostage" and said that "its liberation might take years" wondering about the support of the international community.

Jumblat said: "we are facing a terroritst rule, the Lebanese government backed by the Syrians." He added that after the assassination of Hariri and the anti-Syrian demonstrations that followed, "we can do nothing more than lead the struggle for a free Lebanon."

He clarified: "however we cannot obtain it on our own" and wondered "is the international community really exerting pressures on Syria? I'm not sure."

The significance of Jumblat calling for international interference cannot be overstated. This is not just a matter of the Syrians rejecting the Arab exit, it also speaks a lot about the attitudes towards the role of the Western powers in the democratization of the ME. Michael Young said it best: "we may be permanently rid of that idiotic phobia that foreign, particularly Western, pressure somehow soils any national Arab endeavor for emancipation."

Update: Here's one opinion that explains why Jumblat is still not too sure about the international pressure on Syria. If this editorial is right, then it will be another brick in the case that Bashar did not make an irrational move with the murder of Hariri. However risky (and perhaps ultimately stupid), it was a carefully thought-out challenge. He's banking on the toothlessness of the international community.

Digging Deeper

As I suspected, the Syrians have now issued a statement that Amr Moussa misunderstood what Bashar meant when he said he's willing to withdraw troops from Lebanon. What Assad meant was a redeployment inside Lebanon.

Well, no surprise there. Like I said, they're not interested in that. They're standing firm! No face saving from anyone (so alienate the West and the Arabs! Great job!) It turns out then that SANA was right in not reporting anything about a Syrian withdrawal after the meeting between Moussa and Assad!

Meanwhile, Bush and Chirac have once again demanded that the Syrians abide fully by UNR 1559, and withdraw immediately from Lebanon.

I once mentioned that Lebanon will be the place where the US and France can cooperate in the ME -- a rare event -- serving as part of their reconciliation. I also held that Lebanon will be integrated into Bush's ME democratization project. Hence Bush's statement:

    "The true commitment to democracy is taking place today in Lebanon, where thousands of Lebanese are trying to emerge from Syrian tutelage. Syria must end its occupation of Lebanon."

    He said Lebanon's parliamentary elections, due to be held in May, can be "another milestone of liberty" if Syria does not interfere.

Naharnet reports that shortly before the Bush-Chirac meeting, the American President served for the first time what amounted to an ultimatum for the Syrians to leave Lebanon before its Parliamentary elections in Spring or face heavier sanctions which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said would include "financial and commercial blockade without dropping the military option."

Update: Mubarak tries again to keep it within an Arab framework.

Bitterness in Syria

Lebanese Demonstrators Place des Martyrs

Josh Landis and Ammar Abdulhamid have both written reflective pieces on the mood, and bitter disappointment, in Syria.

I'll start with Josh's post. Josh, himself a mild skeptic about the notion of Lebanese national reconciliation, was surprised at the Lebanese reaction. He echoed my sense of vindication at the current spectacle in Lebanon:

    Bitterness and cynicism have reigned as king and queen of the region for so long that most people have forgotten the simple and much maligned power of faith in the future. And it has not come out of Iraq or Palestine, but out of little, exceptional Lebanon, which so many had written off as the Noah’s Arc of disorder. Long live Lebanon!

Josh notes that the exact opposite spirit reigns in Syria:

    If Lebanon has seen a renaissance of spirit, Syria has had its spirit drained. The Ba’th (Renaissance) Party is in all time disarray. Fa’iq Ismail of the Progressive Front wrote the other day that the Party would not discuss “domestic maters” in its much anticipated meeting this summer. Only foreign topics would be on the table. That means no party reform as many had hoped, no legalization of new political groupings, and no end to the straight jacket of socialism and one party rule. If Lebanon is entering a new era of freedom with new leaders, Syria is mired in the old. There are no demonstrations here.

However, Josh repeated what he told me about how the Syrians are watching Lebanon, much more so than Iraq:

    A month ago, foreign reporters were swarming all over Damascus trying to read the impact of Iraqi elections here. Only 14,000 Iraqis voted. It is the impact of events in Lebanon that they should have come to report on. That is what the Syrians are paying attention to.

And they are watching very carefully. The final quote in Josh's piece is of interest to me: "The Lebanese have freedom. Every sect has a party to express the needs of the people. Isn't that what everyone wants and what Allah intended?" (Emphasis mine.) With an emerging consociational system to their east and a much more established one to their west, it's hard for the Syrians not to take notice. Syria itself has a mosaic of ethnic groups and minorities like its two neighors, although with a much larger Sunni Arab majority. However, with Kurds, Armenians, Turkomen, various Christian sects, and of course the ruling Alawites, a consociational system would be a very good solution for the Syrians, and especially the Alawites who have always feared Sunni Arab dominance.

Alas, instead of going down that road, the Alawites have continued to shun and ridicule that system, and opted instead to Sunnify themselves, and indulge the fantasies of Arabism. But as Josh mentioned, some in Syria are saying "Arabism is dead." Some on the street, like that newspaper seller, think the consociational system (oft maligned as "sectarian isolationism") is the best way to go. Remember what Ajami said on that Al-Jazeera roundtable where he reminded his audience that "we must see the Arab world for what it is, in all honesty." Josh wonders whether the ruling Baath party will wake up to this reality. I'm not holding my breath.

However, Ammar Abdulhamid is hoping against hope:

    [D]espite the lack of real progress with regard to the reform process launched more than four year ago, these leaders remain the main source of hope for change in the country. Now is the time to begin capitalizing on this. Now is the time for the reform process in Syria to develop some teeth.

I sympathize with Ammar's frustration, but at this point, I'm afraid he's kidding himself. In fact, as Michael Young repeatedly said, the notion of regime-driven reform was never more than a cruel joke. I'm sure Ammar knows this. In fact, despite the hopeful (if not desperate) call for the regime to do the right thing, you can see Ammar's mounting skepticism in the piece, which practically echoes my posts in the last few days:

    There have long been warning signs along the way that the Syrian regime chose to ignore. That's why it has painted itself into a corner today. The hard-liners in the regime have built up an impressive record of miscalculations during the last few years, paving the way for Syria's current predicament. Moreover, they seem ever capable of imposing their will in times of crises - the very crises they helped create in the first place. Indeed, for all the talk of reform in Syria, it is hard-liners who seem to have shaped the country's internal and external policies ever since President Bashar Assad came to power.

Hardliners, or Bashar himself! The reluctance of some Syrian progressives to accept that Bashar is not the reformer they had convinced themselves he would be is understandable. The anonymous Eurabian Times piece said it best: "Bashar turned out to be just another Ba’athist."

Ammar is asking this regime to actually have a long term vision that benefits the country. This kleptocracy as I said in my "Lebanese and Iraqi Order" post, "is not ... equipped for this kind of thinking."

    Bashar is no reformer, and surely no long-term visionary. Had he had a shred of long-term insight, he would have realized that his only bet was to start to lay the groundwork for a consociational system in Syria.
    Their reformer was nothing more than a shortsighted dictator.

A regime like that doesn't have strategies. As my friend Lee said, they have instincts. It's all about self-preservation.

Ammar is pleading with the regime to think straight (as opposed to making alliances with Iran and Russia!) and drop the delusional macho grandstanding (which, as I hinted in my last post with the quote from Buthaina Shaaban, is very much part of this). But the reality is that it's not capable of doing that. Witness these statements by that same insufferable Shaaban. If I'm not mistaken, she (a Minister in the Syrian government) just accused the US of murdering Hariri.

These are not people you work with. These are people that you pray will soon be out the door.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Saving Face, or What Exactly?

So it seems that Josh's father-in-law may have been right. He predicted that the Egyptians will try to orchestrate a face saving Syrian pull-out under the wing of the Arab League. Sure enough, the Arab League's secretary general Amr Moussa met with Bashar Asad today and said that the the Syrian President, had assured him that Syria was prepared to fulfil its obligations in the Taef accords. "The Taef and withdrawal (from Lebanon) are part of Syrian policy. Steps in these matters will be taken shortly," Moussa added.

Well, I'm afraid that I don't buy it. It may appear that this is the face saving measure, whereby the Syrians will convince themselves and their people that they're not retreating under Western pressure but rather, they're simply fulfilling their long held policy and promise based on the Taef accords. The thing is that the opposition had offered the Syrians that option before they murdered Hariri. They turned it down and went ahead with the assassination. It can be argued that they had anticipated a different reaction, and now are more inclined to take that offer to escape further trouble. But nothing in Bashar's or Moussa's words inspires confidence. They are not trying to save face, they are trying to get away with it by doing something very cosmetic and essentially safeguarding the status quo intact. All this talk about withdrawing troops "shortly," and how Bashar stressed the implementation of the Taef accord (and not 1559 of course) sounds all too familiar. The opposition had stressed a full and immediate withdrawal of not just the troops, but the entire security apparatus and the cessation of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Furthermore, the opposition wants free elections that will enable them to vote out the current pro-Syrian government which stands in the way of an honest Lebanese-Syrian dialogue on major issues like talks with Israel, and such. In fact, the opposition is more flexible on the troops issue, as it is secondary in comparison with the security apparatus, the Syrian interference, and the pro-Syrian government. As Jumblat put it (Arabic): "if there is no way around dialogue, we would want a direct dialogue with the Syrian government [and not the Lebanese government] on the issue of the implementation of the Taef accord and the gradual and honorable withdrawal of the Syrian troops, and the dismantling of of the intelligence apparatus and the government of terrorist rule, which is the Lebanese government. We don't harbor any animosity toward Syria, but we refuse this tutelage and this terrorist line." (Emphasis mine.) I.e., We will offer you an honorable way to withdraw your troops within the Taef framework, but we will not negotiate on the dismantling of the intelligence network and the political tutelage or the puppet government.

I'm afraid that Bashar's intention is only the first part, and Naharnet's report seems to share my skepticism. He has no intention to do the other half (Naharnet noted that Syria's official news agency SANA said talks between Assad and Moussa dealt with the "ongoing developments on the Arab arena" but made no mention of a withdrawal from Lebanon.) Bashar has made a clear choice with the assassination of Hariri, and it will take a lot more than Amr Moussa or the Lebanese opposition to convince him otherwise. Which brings us to the other parties in this drama.

Regardless of what musings the Arabs have in mind to try to safeguard the "Arab honor" of an Arab state, the US and the EU have plans of their own. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters that the EU was "on exactly the same page as the United States" calling for Syrian troop withdrawal and ending its political influence over neighboring Lebanon. Straw further added that there was a "high level of suspicion of the potential involvement of Syria in the assassination." Moreover, as this Naharnet story reports, it seems that "Bush and Chirac would move toward economic and diplomatic blockade if Syria remained procrastinating on the withdrawal in line with U.N. resolution 1559 and there is no positive development in the investigation of Hariri's death." (Emphasis mine.)

The Syrians want to make sure that they secure the upcoming elections to their advantage. The US and the EU are well aware of that and the EU foreign ministers issued a statement that the EU will "remain vigilant" to ensure the elections will be conducted freely "without any foreign interference of influence."

What does all this mean? That nothing has changed in the Syrian stance as of yet. It's the same old games, with the intention of having their cake and eating it too. They will pay no attention to any Arab initiative. If they wanted to, they would have taken it before. They made a choice as well as a statement with Hariri's murder. This is not about saving face, this is about the last card they have to play. This was the assessment of an anonymous commentator whose analysis was posted at "Eurabian Times:"

    In hindsight, the Syrian regime didn’t really have a choice. The risks it took are not as big as they seem considering it’s fighting for its survival and its future looks grim.

This is based on the author's assessment that

    [i]t is evident ... that the dependency of the Syrian regime on Lebanon goes well beyond a colonial abuse; its very existence depends on the annexation of Lebanon.

The author then asks the question: "how can Syria overcome [the current challenges from inside and outside]?" His answer:

    I believe the answer is, by the same tried and true methods Syria has been practicing all along – by setting Lebanon on fire.

This is similar to my own assessment that if the Syrians perceive that they are pushed to a corner, they will burn their way out if they are made to leave. This is well beyond a bargaining chip for the Golan. This is about survival.

Therefore, excuse me if I'm not over-enthused by Bashar's and Mr. Moussa's words. As Sami Baroudi put it: "[T]he Syrians don't feel this is the right time to make a 180 degree turn in their policy." That would amount to capitulation (not that that's too far off, regardless!). The Syrians are still fantasizing about deals, as their unbearable, venom-dripping Minister Buthaina Shaaban said, in a statement that's almost hilarious in its audacity: "[T]hey (the U.S.) have to change course and work with Syria as a partner." The Syrians still believe that they can bomb and assassinate their way to the dealing table! The world needs to prove them dead wrong.

PS: I will return to the analysis in the Eurabian Times in my upcoming post on the position of Hizbullah.

Update: Walid Jumblat again clarified what the Lebanese want from Syria:

    "The Syrians must leave. We harbor no heart-feelings, we are not the enemy of the Syrian people. We want Syria's reigning intelligence regime taken out of our country."
    "There is no sovereignty left in Lebanon because every single branch of authority is now affiliated with the Mukhabarat of Anjar."

So while Jumblat wants the troops out, he wants to clear that the mukhabarat and Syrian tutelage also leaves with them.

Did I Do That!?

You know you've done something breathtakingly stupid when you've managed to do this:

    The European officials also applauded when Bush described the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon as an 'occupation' force.

    'Just as the Syrian regime must take stronger action to stop those who support violence and subversion in Iraq, and must end its support for terrorist groups seeking to destroy the hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Syria must also end its occupation of Lebanon,' Bush said.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Got it Backwards

I just got around reading this piece by Hala Jaber in the Sunday Times. It relates that Syria will leave Lebanon if it gets the Golan back first. I've talked about this before, and Michael Young has also thought about it with more nuance.

Syria is risking going from a crucial regional player to a nobody. In both cases, Lebanon is key. The problem however, is that it's not our fault, nor is it the US' fault! As Walid Jumblat said to Bashar (in the papers and on TV): "you extended Lahoud's term, what do we have to do with that?!" I.e., it was Bashar's shortsightedness and political blunders that internationalized the situation. He has had missteps all the way through since before the Iraq war. As the war began, and the US pressure became that much closer, it caused more and more blunders as the Syrians were on the defensive (hence my quote from Virgil -- see below -- "hard pressure and the novelty of the reign"). Bashar continued his miscalculations with the assassination of Hariri. So when I hear Ayman Abdel Nour quoted in the Jaber piece saying: "Syria was concerned that if its forces were driven out of Lebanon in a humiliating manner, it could lead to a rift between the peoples of the two countries which would “last for generations”," I have a similar reaction to Jumblat's. You think that the humiliating withdrawal will create a rift!? How about assassinations via planted bombs!? I'd say that would create a rift! Perhaps a history of those might create something more, like the Sunni calls "there is no God but God and Asad is the enemy of God!" I'd say that's the sign of a rift! But who's responsible for this? As Jumblat said, you have no one but yourselves to blame. "Why did you make us hate Syria?"

That Bashar thinks that people will be willing to cut a deal with him if he displays such behavior signals his political immaturity and his lack of touch with the changing times and the shifting policies. Not only did he miscalculate on all levels (in Lebanon and externally), but he managed to drive rivals (France and the US) into a rare area of agreement on ME policy, which coincidentally happens to be Lebanon! That's why Chirac is refusing to even consider Bashar's offer for a gradual withdrawal! It's too late! This is like Arafat trying to cut a deal after the train had long left! Besides, this behavior doesn't give anyone any confidence that Syria is interested in leaving Lebanon. Why should anyone then cut a deal with it on the Golan!?

Here's how I think it is now: Everyone including the leading Arab states will continue to pressure Syria to leave unconditionally. You don't get a carrot for that. You ruined your own dinner. As for the Golan, they'll move on to another set of bargaining chips beside Lebanon. Let's talk about real opening up of the society, free press, freedom of expression and political opposition. Let's talk about minority rights and participatory politics, etc. Let's talk about cessation of support for the insurgents in Iraq. We'll talk about the Golan then. That is, after you've already pulled out the troops and all the secret services, and you've not interfered in the elections, leaving the Lebanese to choose their own representatives, which means the opposition will get to grab enough seats to get rid of the pro-Syrian government and start a new page of independent, free, and sovereign self-governance. Oh, and don't even think of carrying out more attempts in Lebanon or threatening of blowing up the Lebanese interior in order to instigate a "civil war" to prove your indispensibility. Because trust me, the Lebanese are well capable of running their affairs without your "security" which somehow always manages to get their leaders who oppose you dead or evoke threats of an "imposed" civil war! Don't worry, they won't kill each other, so your public opinion can relax. You can stop feeding them that propaganda now. You duped them long enough.

Lebanon is done, finished. You're out. No amount of intelligence about Jihadists is going to keep you in Lebanon. It's over. You want the Golan, we'll talk about something else, not Lebanon. The sooner you realize that, the better, instead of wasting time with Russia and Iran.

The Wrong Nationalism

Tom Friedman is back on the train of Neoconservatism!! I say that jokingly of course, but it's nice to see how assertive and optimistic he's become once more, ever since the Iraqi elections took place and surprised many a skeptic. Friedman had tried to jump ship somewhere in the middle of the war when things didn't look well in the papers. But Friedman got the right idea, so he gets a pass! Anyway, now he's making quintessential "neocon" statements like: "The good news is that what you are witnessing in the Arab world is the fall of its Berlin Wall. The old autocratic order is starting to crumble." This echoes Ammar Abdulhamid's "neoconnish" statement: ""The ripple effect that the White House wanted in the Middle East is actually starting to happen."

But Friedman is right to be cautious:

    But we have to be very sober about what is ahead. There will be no velvet revolutions in this part of the world. The walls of autocracy will not collapse with just one good push. As the head-chopping insurgents in Iraq, the suicide bombers in Saudi Arabia and the murderers of Mr. Hariri have all signaled: The old order in this part of the world will not go quietly into this good night. You put a flower in the barrel of their gun and they'll blow your hand and your head right off.

Absolutely. That's why the international community should take heed and make sure to respond properly because this is a statement aimed at much at it as it is at the Lebanese. How it will respond will set the tempo to how much "Vaclav Havels and Lech Walesas" will dare to speak. But the Lebanese have spoken, regardless.

That's why I take issue, when it comes to Lebanon, with this passage from Friedman's op-ed:

    The fact that the extremists and autocrats have had to resort now to unspeakable violence shows how much they have failed to win the war of ideas on the Arab street. But the emerging progressive forces still have to prove that they can build a different politics around united national communities, not a balance of sects, and solidarity from shared aspiration, not a shared external enemy. There is still, throughout the Arab world, a very weak notion of statehood and citizenship. And there are still very few civil society institutions outside the mosque, and little historical experience with a free press, free markets or real parliamentary democracy to build upon when the walls fall.

The first sentence is very true. However, one still detects the confusion and cripto-contempt hiding in the following line: "progressive forces still have to prove that they can build a different politics around united national communities, not a balance of sects, and solidarity from shared aspiration, not a shared external enemy. ... there is a very weak notion of statehood and citizenship ... and there are still very few civil society institutions outside the mosque, and little historical experience with a free press, free markets or real parliamentary democracy to build upon when the walls fall."

Well, in Lebanon's case this is simply not true, especially the last part. In many ways this is directed at Lebanon and I reject it, as it's clearly not reading events properly. Just listen and watch what the Lebanese -- the political elite of the opposition, the Maronite Church, and the masses -- are saying on the streets. They want a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon. Jumblat has been talking like the most ardent Lebanonist of the '40s. The idea of a consociational Lebanon (which is the only Lebanon that can emerge, so Friedman's contempt for communal politics is simply confused) is what people are effectively saying when they come together for Lebanon, as Lebanese Druze, Maronite, Sunni, Shiite, etc. In other words, the thing that unites them in their diversity is Lebanon. But not any Lebanon, rather, it's a Lebanon where all these communities coexist and share power. You cannot get any more Lebanonist than that. I think that somewhere deep inside, Friedman still thinks that Lebanese consociational democracy isn't real democracy, even as he's advocating it in Iraq. This is what I meant when I talked about long-held contempt for Lebanon, even among enthusiasts.

But how Friedman got it wrong is exemplified in his quote from Samir Kassir's op-ed (Arabic) in An-Nahar (Kassir also got it wrong on some level):

    [With the Hariri funeral] Beirut was the beating heart of a new Arab nationalism. ... This nationalism is based on the free will of citizens, male and female. And this is what the tyrannical [Syrian] regime should fear more than anything else if it tarries about ending its hegemony over Beirut and Lebanon."

This is not an Arab nationalist revolution. This is a "Lebanonist" revolution! This is about the coming together of the Lebanese (Druze, Maronite, Sunni, Shiite, etc.) for Lebanon and the idea of Lebanon as a plural society. This is not an Arab nationalist revolution just as Iraq's election wasn't an Arab nationalist revolution (remember that Arabist journalist who was dismayed at the lack of the word "Arab" in any of the names of the Iraqi parties competing for seats). On one level it's the exact opposite: Arab nationalism denies any other ethnic or communal identity. Lebanonism (and the new Iraq) acknowledges it and works with it. Arab nationalism (new or old) isn't what the Syrian regime fears (it's used it in both its older Baathist form, and its newer "reformist" form). What it fears is that the Lebanese come together as Lebanese for a democratic and free Lebanon. Nothing Arab nationalist about that. Syria has spent 30 years trying to prevent that from happening, assassinating and scattering at will. This time, the assassination backfired disastrously.

This is what Kassir talked about in the op-ed, a part that Friedman missed:

    The red line was until the day before yesterday exemplified in the silence -- voluntary or forced -- of the Muslim general opinion in Lebanon with regard to the Syrian rule for more than a quarter century. This silence was renewed on several occasions of oppression and assassinations that it became a conviction that the price that Muslims pay, should they decide to oppose [the Syrians], is far higher than that payed by the Christians.
    The breaking of this silence is not just the crossing of the red line, but a symbolic and political coup whose repercussions go beyond Lebanon's borders. Irony has it that the slogan of "one people in two countries" [which was once hailed by Sunnis, who historically didn't want to join the emerging Lebanese state] has blown up in the face of those who coined it [the Syrians]. For when the streets of Beirut are shouting sontaneous slogans of either a sectarian or religious character, the Syrian ruler knows that this reaches Damascus and Aleppo. When we hear [echoes of the Muslim] calls for prayer saying "there is no God but God and Asad is the enemy of God" then you know that trying to prove the innocence of the Baathist regime is futile.

He goes on to chastise the Arab rulers for not showing in person at the funeral when Jacques Chirac did. This is a sarcastic jab at Arab nationalism. But the point is that the Lebanese Muslims got a taste of the Arab order for a quarter of a century, where they paid a high price in assassination and heavy-handedness. Finally, it was enough. Syria tried to hit the Druze (Hamade) and the Sunnis (Hariri) and both have dumped that quintessentially Arab nationalist political order and opted for a free, pluralist (i.e., one that doesn't deny the Sunnis' Arab identity) and sovereign Lebanon with its political system which is based on consensus and compromise, not assassination and oppression. So it was indeed that "shared enemy" so-to-speak that managed to spark the conviction that the best way for Lebanon (and Lebanese Sunni Muslims and the Lebanese Druze) is for it to be separate from Syria and to run its affairs in its own way (in anthropological terms, this is called the "circumstantialist" understanding of the formation and formulation of ethnic identity and the drawing of ethnic boundaries. It's responsive and interactive. It's opposed to the "primordialist" view which sees ethnic identity as a pre-established static constant.) It wasn't the civil war alone that gave rise to a nation (cf. Theodor Hanf). It was life under the Pax Syriana that made all the Lebanese realize that they can do a lot better dealing with themselves by themselves in a Lebanon big enough for all of them and shared by all of them as their homeland. Josh Landis once wrote on his site how the Lebanese Sunnis were stuck: on the one hand, they have sympathies for an Arab identity, and most adopt it. On the other hand, as Lebanese, they also have a sense of uniqueness. However, as Josh pointed out, they don't have an independent Lebanese narrative of their own! The Lebanese narrative is de facto a Christian-written narrative. Ironically, as Asher Kaufman points out in his book, this narrative (even the Phoenicianist element) has become so pervasive that even those who oppose it are influenced by it. But more importantly, maybe these current events, which have drawn Jumblat into an effectively Lebanonist rhetoric, will inspire that Sunni narrative. That needs to be watched closely. The Syrians knew the importance of the Sunnis when they planned the hit. Unfortunately, they didn't plan on this reaction. They certainly didn't plan on the "lebanonization" of the Sunnis.

Kassir exhibited a similar apprehension and contempt as that detected in Friedman's piece: "A new Arabism, even if it's painted with some expressions of sectarian or clan loyalty." Kassir himself espouses a version of the Arabist identity, and that's fine, and Lebanon and Lebanonism are not in anyway hostile to that. But he misread the expressions of the demonstrators, just as he failed to come to grips with the necessity of consociationalism in Lebanon. This contempt is a variation on the antiquated 19th European nationalism. This is not what Lebanon or Iraq are (see Salem's piece in the post below).

This is a vindication of the Lebanonist idea, not an Arab nationalist renaissance. This is Lebanon rising on the back of a cross-sectarian opposition.

Addendum: This post by Martin Kramer quotes a very interesting article by Elie Kedourie on the tendency of "writers of books" to hang on to and reinvent the Arab collective moniker which "smother[s] the charm and variety of this ancient and sophisticated society." As Kedourie remarks, "by Arabs of course we do not mean the lively and interesting denizens of Cairo, Beirut, Damascus or Baghdad," rather the "collective entity [which] is a category of European romantic historiography." That same European romanticism and nationalism is behind the contempt in Kassir's words, and perhaps also in Friedman's, even when he is effectively calling for a consociational Iraq!