Across the Bay

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Making the Case for Lebanon

Lee Smith has a nice piece on Saad Hariri's visit to Washington:

Hariri’s message was simple: Syria is killing our people –is Washington going to do anything to help?
“We came to explain where we are,” Hariri told the reporters, “And we came to protect Lebanon from some of the destructive forces in the region.” As if there was any doubt which particular force he was referring to, he spelled it out: “We told them: There is a killing machine in Syria.”
American officials are quick to dismiss these worries [of a "deal" with Syria], explaining that it is in part Lebanon’s posture toward Syria that has earned the Siniora government so much credit.

“The irony is that Saad, or at least this government, is much more popular than his father’s government was,” said one congressional staffer experienced in Middle East issues. “He is exceedingly popular. His father did some good things for Lebanon, but he was tethered at the hip to Syria. Privately I doubt he ever was, but publicly he had no choice. But this Lebanese government has a great deal of stature, and as long as it is anti-Hezbollah and anti-Syria, the support will remain very high.”
So what can the US do to protect Lebanon, and what can the Lebanese do to make their case?

“First of all,” said Barry Rubin, author of the recent The Truth about Syria, “the US should say that if any more Lebanese politicians get killed, we will blame you and you will pay a price for it.”
Rubin, like many friends of Lebanon around Washington, thinks it’s not enough to have visiting officials come to town from time to time to make their case, speak to officials and get the attention of a few prominent columnists. “If I were Lebanese, or Lebanese-American, I sure know what I would do. I’d write a manifesto on why the US should support Lebanon, put together a blue-ribbon panel to endorse it and launch a massive media campaign.”

Lebanon is under siege with, to quote Hariri, “a killing machine” at the controls. One way to start breaking the siege is to go to Washington with a steady, tireless campaign.

This time around, Hariri's trip was very different than his previous ones. It was clear from his statements to the media.

As far as I am concerned two statements he made deserve to be highlighted. The first was quoted in a piece by Nora Boustany in the WaPo:

"At the end of the day, what the Syrians want is terrorism, and what we want is democracy," he said. "If we do not succeed as a moderate democracy in the region, there will only be terrorism and extremist regimes like Syria will flourish."

The second, corollary statement, was made in an interview with Newsweek, in response to a question about voices calling for engagement with Syria:

Then why don’t you engage with Al Qae­da? How can you accept a regime [that] is killing members of parliament in Lebanon and has opened its border with Iraq and is sending hundreds of extremists and Al Qaeda followers there to kill Iraqis and American soldiers—a regime that hosts terrorist organizations? The message that is being sent today to our part of the world is you can do all that and get away with it.

These two statements are part of the reason why Lebanon matters, and why it should not be allowed to fall back into the terrorist Syrian-Iranian orbit.