Across the Bay

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Election Debacle

Just to quickly keep you abreast of the latest on Lebanon's presidential dilemma.

The two camps seem to have hit a wall due to the so-called opposition's intransigence. Some of us had expected this after Nasrallah's and Aoun's escalation, the attack against the French initiative in the official Syrian media, as well as after the cancellation of Amr Moussa's trip to Beirut after meeting with Assad. It suggested that Syria, Iran and their allies were still blocking things, hoping to raise their price and bring the candidate they prefer, which is likely Army commander Michel Suleiman.

This development has led to an emergency return of French FM Kouchner, in an attempt to salvage the French initiative.

As we stand right now, the opposition has reportedly rejected the following names from the Patriarch's secret list: Butros Harb, Nassib Lahoud, Robert Ghanem, and Michel Khoury.

Harb and Lahoud are March 14th official candidates. Ghanem was apparently acceptable to March 14 but not to the opposition. The latter also rejected Michel Khoury. Khoury is an old former minister, former central bank governor and son of Lebanon's first independence president Beshara al-Khoury. He was part of the Qornet Shehwan gathering -- the pro-independence Christian gathering that was formed before the Syrian withdrawal.

Instead, the so-called opposition reportedly had no problem with Michel Edde. Edde is another weak octogenarian who should be nowhere near the presidential palace.

The opposition could be interested in Edde especially if they have already cut a deal with him that 1- he would be supportive of Hezbollah's weapons, and 2- he would resign after two years after the next parliamentary elections. Such a scenario has been floating in the Syrian-allied camp for a while. It possibly would have Aoun's acquiescence as it would keep him safe in Hezbollah's pocket nursing his fantasy that in two-years he could try once again to become president once, as per his ridiculous fantasy, he and his allies seize a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

A report in the Kuwaiti al-Rai claimed that Edde was spotted traveling tonight to Damascus in the company of Sy Hersh's handler Michel Samaha, as well as Narallah's aide Hussein Khalil and Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil. According to the report, Samaha is an aide to Edde, which would give the Syrians a direct line to him, since Samaha is an agent of the Syrians through and through, and is in the pocket of Raja Sidawi, a Syrian businessman who, as I noted before, is allegedly funding the anti-Lebanon, pro-Syria disinformation network in the US (the Michel Samaha-Rola Talj enterprise) and who is close to Bashar. Samaha is barred from entering the US. The administration should make sure to ban Rola Talj as well. She was just recently here and she's trying to revive her network. The recent Executive Order is basically tailor made for her and Sidawi's ilk.

However, it's also possible that Edde is just a smoke screen (and this report is most certain to "burn" him as a "consensus" candidate if he ever were eligible). This reading is bolstered by the fact that the name of central bank governor Riad Salameh has resurfaced in opposition circles. Salameh is reportedly not on the Patriarch's list, as the Patriarch did not include figures who would require a constitutional amendment since he's a first grade civil servant.

Salameh's entry here was first sold as not requiring such an amendment, and they pulled some obscure study to justify it. Of course it won't fly.

While Salameh might be amenable to the Syrian-allied camp -- he's weak and they might possibly have dirt on him -- my sense is that he too is a smoke screen; a stage setter for the real candidate: Michel Suleiman.

This suspicion was bolstered by an opposition position that developed tonight. After the introduction of Salameh's name (mind you, not by the Patriarch!), sources close to the opposition leaked that the opposition requested that since one name that requires a constitutional amendment was introduced, then another one has to be introduced: Army commander Michel Suleiman.

Of course, the pro-Hezbollah rag al-Akhbar had already prefigured this a couple of days ago when it asserted that the Patriarch's list included Suleiman! That of course wasn't the case, but as these people's propaganda works, they float these supposed "leaks," which they themselves generate, in order to push the message from their political patrons.

As I've noted before, Michel Murr has been pushing for Suleiman all along, and Nasrallah made a nod to Suleiman in his latest rabid speech. Aoun himself has agreed to Suleiman, only not as president (Aoun, after all, sees the presidency as his exclusive patrimony and views Suleiman as a direct threat to that), but as head of a transitional government to be appointed by the outgoing Lahoud in case no consensus is reached (and of course, Aoun and Hezbollah would make sure such a consensus is not reached). That transitional government, in Aoun's fantasy, would then work to materialize that fantasy by preparing for early parliamentary elections so that Aoun's fairy tale scenario maybe could be reached!

So it could be that the Syrians and Hezbollah will continue to block things, pushing things to the edge, in order to see whether they can induce capitulation out of fear of chaos (that they themselves would instigate) and an acquiescence that the only "savior" is Suleiman. Of course, the element of deniability for the Syrians and Hezbollah is the criminal useful idiot Aoun, as always. Meanwhile, their primary objective is to make sure that 1- they prevent anyone acceptable to March 14, and 2- push after the election for veto power in the future cabinet. The latter especially is the number one objective.

It is perhaps for these expected hurdles that Kouchner declared tonight that he is "less confident" now that a solution can be reached.

Stick around, this is just beginning.