Across the Bay

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Schenker: Lebanon's Government by Murder

David Schenker has a nice piece in the LAT today, where he lays out what's at stake in Lebanon:

The Bashar Assad regime in Syria is widely assumed to be behind the campaign of assassination. Its goal is to weaken, supplant or intimidate the democratically elected government in Beirut and thus end the international tribunal that will almost certainly implicate Damascus in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Hezbollah-led, Syrian-backed opposition says it will not recognize a non-consensus president. For its part, Damascus has stipulated that the next Lebanese president should be moqawam, i.e., a supporter of Hezbollah, and "of Arab belonging," i.e., pro-Syrian. Should the Syrians and the opposition succeed in either toppling the government by attrition or installing a crony like outgoing President Emile Lahoud, the tribunal could be delayed if not derailed.

The tribunal, convened at the behest of the U.N. Security Council, appears to be a train that has left the station. But election of a "compromise" president -- someone more sympathetic to Damascus -- could weaken Beirut's commitment to and undermine international support for the tribunal. Syria could also scuttle the tribunal by ending March 14th's control of the government.
Clearly, Lebanon cannot protect itself. Likewise, to date, the U.N. resolutions censuring Syria for its role in Lebanon have not proved an effective deterrent to Syrian misdeeds. Given the stakes -- a revitalized Syrian and Iranian presence in Lebanon and the potential reorientation of Beirut away from the West -- the preservation of the current Lebanese government is a must.

For Washington, the key will be to craft a policy to prevent Syria and its Lebanese allies from subverting the government in Beirut. One possibility is to deploy, at Lebanon's request, international forces -- under the auspices of already-in-force U.N. Security Council resolutions -- to protect targeted politicians. A more effective but politically difficult option would be to hold Syria accountable for all future political murders in Lebanon.

Regardless of how Washington proceeds, immediate action is required. The ongoing thinning of the majority raises the very real specter that the results of the 2005 parliamentary elections in Lebanon will be reversed by terrorism.

The latter of Schenker's proposals echoes what Barry Rubin recently told Lee Smith in a piece for NOW Lebanon: “First of all, the US should say that if any more Lebanese politicians get killed, we will blame you and you will pay a price for it.”