Across the Bay

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"The End of the Arab Bismarckian Era"

An-Nahar columnist Ali Hamade wrote a somewhat interesting piece today that I thought I would translate and share with non-Arabic readers.

Its assessment of Bashar Assad echoes that of Gary Gambill ("the most acute diplomatic reversal of fortune in modern history") and Abdel Rahman al-Rashed in his piece today on the almost unprecedented level of deterioration in Saudi-Syrian relations, incredibly achieved by Assad in just two years ("[Syria] has lost almost everything ... The [Riyadh] summit cannot save Damascus from a dark future, for it has besieged itself with its own hands."), which I have loosely compared to the Salah Jadid era.

Here is Hamade's article in full.

"The End of the Arab Bismarckian Era"
An-Nahar, 2/4/2007

Regardless of the results of the Saudi-Iranian summit, there is an essential constant that will not change anytime soon: the era of the Arab Bismarck is over. The Arab Bismarck is of course a reference to the late Syrian president Hafez Assad, who was dubbed by some in the press as the would-be Bismarck of the Arabs, in reference to the Prussian statesman who unified the three hundred feuding German principalities, and led a unified Germany to victory over France under Napoleon III in the war of 1870, stripping it of the Alsace and Lorraine.

Hafez Assad got the title the Bismarck of the Arabs in a decisive and final manner after his total takeover of Lebanon in 1990, and after getting exclusive mandate to implement the Taef Accord.

At the time, some extremists went as far as considering that Assad managed after 75 years to shred the Sykes-Picot agreement and avenge for Greater Syria, which was stripped of the four districts and Mount Lebanon itself. And in the fits of extremism in those days, it was said that the train of Arab unity had taken off starting with Syria's de facto annexation of Lebanon and from Assad's success in gathering several regional cards in his hands to cement the "imperial" basis of Assadist Syria. In other words, he managed to launch his imperial stage beginning with his "crown jewel," Lebanon.

When president Bashar Assad inherited Syria and Lebanon from his father in 2000, after the Israeli withdrawal, he did not inherit a "unified Germany," à la Bismarck, as it seemed. Rather, he inherited from his father a dominion similar to the Austrian empire of the early 20th century, which was comprised of Austria and Hungary, and whose separation was a matter of time. The first World War came to hasten that separation and mark the end of the empire.

The political blindness -- in Lebanon and regionally -- which hit the leadership, is the primary hastening element in the disintegration of Bashar Assad's dominion. And so, the leadership resorted to excessive strangulation of the "crown jewel," considered an open land without constrictions.

It's important to note here that the decision to extend the term of president Emile Lahoud*, which by itself does not encapsulate the string of mistakes, was built on the basis that Lebanon was on its way to becoming even more fused with Syria, perhaps to the degree of declaring a confederation between the two countries, paving the way to the declaration of final unification down the road. (Several articles written in Bashar's first years by a Syrian security official but published in the Lebanese press under the name of a former [Lebanese] MP, revealed the confederation project.)

As political blindness was the essential mark of that stage, UN Resolution 1559 came to declare a unanimous international will to end the empire of Hafez Assad, and as a signal that the inheritor-president must now lead a normalizing country, not allowed to expand.

Assad and the leadership didn't read the message, and he dived deeper into adventurism all the way to launching the stage of blood, the peak of which was the assassination of PM Rafik Hariri. And in record speed, Hafez Assad's imperial project collapsed in the streets of Beirut. The Syrian army withdrew in the manner which we know, and the stage of the regime fighting for its survival began, and -- even if the scenes of the current crisis in Lebanon might appear to say the opposite -- continues in force.

For the actual presence of the Syrian regime in the Lebanese social equation is on the wane, and increasingly so with every passing day. The actual hoist for the regime is the Iranian military and political arm, with its Lebanese public, enshrined in a principal community. And the observer does not need much effort to realize the extent of the marginality of the forces totally appended to the Syrian regime.

Meanwhile, it is Iran that holds the card of Syria's legal inheritor in Lebanon, the "party of the velayat-i faqih." Of course, there's one essential difference, that for the said party, the doors of infiltrating the nooks and crannies of the Lebanese construct, with all its particularities, are closed. Therefore, it is impossible for it to dominate it, regardless of its military might.

Why this talk of the end of Arab Bismarckianism? Quite simply, to shed light on the picture in Riyadh since yesterday: Bashar is not in the picture.

He can blow things up and sabotage in Lebanon as much as he wants, but in the end, he has lost actual primacy in regional events.

The era of Arab Bismarckianism has ended.

* [Ed.'s note: the Syrians forced the Lebanese to extend Lahoud's term since he was their agent and this--they thought--ensured their hold on Lebanon.]