Across the Bay

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Stalemate is the name of the game.

The net result of events up to this point is that the Syrians and Hezbollah are just as stuck as everyone else.

The Syrians put forth the following equation: Michel Edde (possibly for two years to keep Aoun on board) or Army commander Michel Suleiman (or possibly, a military takeover).

This indicates Syria's inability to impose things as it could in the past.

Michel Edde has been compromised, if not ruled out, and it's unlikely that March 14 would accept a constitutional amendment to get Suleiman in. But it's not just March 14, it's also Michel Aoun.

The reality is that Aoun is as much a problem for Hezbollah as he is for the rest. Hezbollah needs to keep Michel Aoun on board because they need him to make a push for a veto third in the next cabinet. But the problem for them is that Aoun will not agree to a Suleiman presidency. So both Hezbollah and the Syrians are stuck on this point. Michel Murr actually is still pushing to get Suleiman. Today he said that once this initiative fails, then other solutions, like Suleiman, become possible. Like I said in my previous post, I think this is what the Syrians are angling for, or perhaps creating chaos then maybe push for a military takeover (what some have called the "Edde or chaos" scenario). But I have doubts it will work. There has never been a military coup in Lebanon, so it's not that easy to pull off. Besides, Suleiman, at least for now, seems unwilling to play risky games.

Syria's men who are in Aoun's bloc, Michel Murr and Elie Skaff, have both signaled that they will vote in favor of a "consensus" candidate. But of course this candidate is either Michel Edde or Michel Suleiman. Murr doesn't seem to be too enthusiastic about a two-year Edde term, probably because he knows it won't fly. He wants Suleiman. But like I said, Syria doesn't have the pull to impose this. Furthermore, it seems they don't really trust any civilian candidate who's actually viable. The rejection of Robert Ghanem was actually telling. Because the theory was that Syria would agree to a weak president and push for veto in the cabinet, which is more important. But Ghanem was rejected as soon as it was hinted that Hariri was ok with him. Remember, these are the same people who when colonizing and occupying Lebanon opted to unconstitutionally renew Lahoud's mandate than pick any other figure they could've imposed at will.

Hezbollah and Aoun on the other hand have been throwing the ball back and forth into each other's court. Hezbollah says you have to get Aoun's approval, knowing full well he won't give it, and Aoun says he'll withdraw his candidacy, if Hezbollah approves the alternative. He then used Hezbollah's weapons to threaten that if Hezbollah doesn't approve the next president, there will be armed conflict! In the process, Aoun managed also to piss off Nabih Berri, and Berri's camp today shot back at Aoun!

That last statement about armed conflict if Hezbollah's approval isn't obtained is an indication of Aoun's own bankruptcy and his awareness that he doesn't have the muscle to pull anything on the streets, and so he has to threaten with Hezbollah's muscle. Meanwhile, Hezbollah cannot itself start a war, as it would be suicide.

And so we're left with the possibility of Syria's tools -- Lahoud or other terrorists -- trying to do something. However, I have serious doubts that that would be enough to force anyone into capitulation especially after everything we've endure. Besides, the Army has declared its intent on countering any such breaches, and stated that any weapon used internally would be considered a weapon of treason. Even should inter-Christians clashes break out, I doubt that would be enough. In fact, that's probably the easiest to deal with. There was a rumor that Aoun and Frangieh might launch a civil disobedience campaign, which will lead nowhere except to further political losses for Aoun, painting him as even more of a clown, if that's possible.

If there's no elections, then the Seniora government will assume presidential authorities and continue governing. That's much better than having Michel Edde, that much is certain.

There's always the possibility of Syria doing something against UNIFIL, but that would probably backfire at this stage. The Syrians are trying to keep the French on a leash, in the hope of extracting concessions on the real issue: the future cabinet and premiership, but reality is that they can't give the French anything. That much was clear from the choice they put forth on the presidency: Michel Edde or Michel Suleiman. They don't have anything and they can't give anything. The Iranians are also not too pleased they're not being consulted, and have made this clear to the French. After all, Iran is the senior partner, not Syria.

The question is, now that the French attempt has failed miserably, what are they prepared to do?