Across the Bay

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hezbollah Pits the Shiites Against Lebanon

Once more, while I continue to draft my own lengthy commentary, I strongly recommend you read Michael Young's latest op-ed. There's little more I would add when it comes to commenting on Sunday's riots. Here's Michael's take:

[A] cooler analysis of what took place shows an equally disturbing reality: Sunday was a political disaster for the Shiite opposition parties, Hizbullah and Amal, whose inability to achieve their political ends, but also to retreat from the brink, makes the likelihood of further hostilities much greater.

After the end of the summer 2006 war and the growing confrontation between the parliamentary majority and the opposition, Hizbullah was always careful to place non-Shiites in the forefront of the opposition's actions. While Sunni representatives were anemic, Michel Aoun was, for a time, someone who added credibility to the claim that the opposition was multiconfessional. That argument took a severe beating in the street protests of January 23, 2007, when the Aounists were unable to block roads for very long in Christian areas without assistance from the army. By nightfall, even that endeavor had collapsed as roads inside the Christian heartland and between Beirut and Tripoli were opened.
But then put yourselves in Hizbullah's shoes, and those of the Amal movement. With your Christian partner neutralized, suddenly the opposition looks mainly like a Shiite phenomenon. Worse, it looks like a mainly Shiite phenomenon directed against the Lebanese Army, a presidential election, and, by extension, the Lebanese state itself. This is certainly not where Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, ever wanted to position himself; and it is, in a word, suicidal for Shiites.
Suddenly, Hizbullah finds itself in the uncomfortable position of blocking the election of a man many Christians regard as a potentially strong leader, all because the party won't abandon Aoun, who is on the political decline. And why won't it do so? Because Hizbullah desperately needs the general as an ally in a future government.

Whether Hizbullah's calculations are mainly domestic, or are shaped to a large extent by Syria is irrelevant. The party is, perhaps unintentionally, pushing Shiites into a confrontation with the rest of Lebanese society to protect itself, and nothing could be worse for the community. Hizbullah's inability to achieve any of its political aims in the past 13 months has only increased its sense of frustration, and the prospect of violence. The party is flailing, but March 14 must at all costs help think of creative ways to prevent the Shiites from succumbing to a new "Kerbala complex," a sense that victimhood is the historical lot of their community.

In 1975, the Christians had their own Kerbala complex, one that dictated stubbornness in the defense of Christian prerogatives, which at the time were regarded as an existential red line. In the process they lost their control over the state. Hizbullah has made defense of its weapons an existential red line for the Shiite community. But Kerbala, as one astute analyst has put it, is hardly something the Shiites should want to remember, as it ended in a massacre and defeat. Nor is it something any Lebanese should want the Shiite community to remember, or repeat.

The Christians learned to their detriment during the 1975-1990 conflict that a war against the Sunnis was also in many ways a war against the Arab world. The Christian community never recovered from that disaster. That's a lesson the Shiite community should not have to learn.

Read the whole thing.

And a propos, here's a relevant post I wrote a year ago almost to the day. At the time, I entitled it "The Path to Suicide."

Having proven a complete failure in politics, opting for a deadly "double or nothing," perpetual fuite en avant path all the way to the abyss, Nasrallah seems intent on taking the Shiites, and indeed all of Lebanon, towards that fate.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's All About the Tribunal

As I finish up a long (and delayed) post summarizing and analyzing the developments of the last couple of weeks, including yesterday's riots, I wanted to make sure this item got the attention it deserves.

The Kuwaiti al-Qabas ran a report today quoting Arab ministerial sources on the "difficult" Arab FM meeting that was held in Cairo on the 27th.

The report carried quite the interesting nugget regarding the gigantic elephant in the room -- the tribunal. Amr Moussa reportedly said, according to the same Arab ministerial sources, that he "found that the Syrian president had a different agenda than that of his allies in Lebanon. For he, i.e. Assad, gave absolute priority to amending the international tribunal, and to its fate, and didn't care about the presidential void or the formation of a Lebanese cabinet."

This is hardly news to many of us, and we didn't need the regime dynasty scribe to know this, but that this was in Moussa's report is quite interesting. It's all in the open now. This also comes as progress is being made in the process of establishing the tribunal, including funding and the naming of its judges. It also comes as President Bush recently made sure to stress this in his statement after the Eid assassination.

As for the Arab FM meeting itself, the sources confirmed what other reports and leaks had already revealed (to no one's surprise) that the air was quite tense, and Syria was basically isolated and at odds with everyone (except for some sympathy from Libya). The thinly-veiled charade that it "supported the Arab proposal" -- a laughably obvious lie from the get go -- is now out in the open. In fact, Arab diplomatic sources who spoke to al-Hayat said just that: "[Arab ministers reached the conclusion that] there is a duality in the Syrian role, which seeks a text it can go along with on the level of governments, then sabotages through allies internally." Moussa in fact made sure to comment on the massive campaign launched against him by Syria and its allies. Moallem in fact confirmed this attack as he tried to blame it on Moussa, saying that he exhibited "hostility" towards Damascus.

Al-Qabas's sources talked about Moussa's report on his efforts in Lebanon and with Syria. They said that "Moussa was tough on Syria, describing it as the biggest reason why the situation in Lebanon remains as is." This rhymes with other leaks that relayed how Moussa "blamed Tehran and Damascus" for the obstruction of the proposed solution, which al-Qabas repeats further in its report.

Moussa continued and said that he told Assad that the repercussions of this crisis will reflect negatively on the summit in Damascus. Other Arab diplomatic sources said the same thing to the Saudi paper Okaz. In fact, several Arab delegations were unofficially informed that the summit might be transferred to Sharm al-Sheikh if the Syrian position continued as is. The sources added that Syria's position would lead to an "Arab isolation" and the disappearance of any enthusiasm to support the resumption of the Syrian-Israeli track.

Then Walid Moallem, who according to Arab diplomatic sources who spoke to al-Hayat, "had clear instructions to maintain a hard line," rejected any clarification of the supposed ambiguity in the Arab ministerial statement.

Nevertheless, Moallem tried to impose his regime's reading of it, trying to push for the unconstitutional monstrosity known as the 10-10-10 distribution in the new cabinet, whose aim -- a constant Syrian aim since 2005 -- is to eliminate the reality that March 14 is the parliamentary majority. This was unanimously rejected by the Arab ministers, with the exception of some sympathy from Libya (not Qatar, mind you). The Arab ministerial sources speculated that this was perhaps an attempt by Libya to open a window to the Shiite party Amal (whose founder, Mousa Sadr, "disappeared" and was liquidated during a visit to Libya in 1978). Some may recall a series of Iranian diplomatic attempts at rapprochement with Libya.

Moallem then tried his best to undermine the Lebanese government by expressing his objection to not having the opposition represented by a delegation. Several Gulf ministers replied angrily that "this would mean an acknowledgment that the Lebanese government is illegitimate, and that is something we reject."

The sources also said that Syria is trying to get the Saudis to concede in Lebanon and resume contacts with Syria regardless of Syrian sabotage in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador in Lebanon dashed any such notions by asking "what does this have to do with domestic Lebanese affairs?" Khoja then called for the immediate election of a president, and, directly contradicting the Syrian demand, said that it was a mistake to tie the election to the formation of a cabinet. Once the election takes place, he said, then the democratic game plays itself out.

This may be, and indeed should be, the upcoming Arab position should the election not take place on Feb. 11.

In any case, all the masks have fallen as they say. It is, as we have always known and said, all about the tribunal. Next step, the indictments.

Friday, January 25, 2008

An Unsubtle Hint from Abul Gheit

What more is there to say about yet another Syrian murder of a Lebanese figure? How obvious are the means, motives, target selections, political geography, and aims?

As such, how much clearer can Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit get:

"Those who think that assassinations may force a settlement of the current crisis to their advantage are mistaken."

Should he spell it out? Actually, yes, perhaps he, and the rest of the world, should do just that.

Indeed, Abul Gheit's statement is in line with the motive and political context established by the UN investigative commission for the Hariri murder and all the other related assassinations. As with Abul Gheit's unsubtle hint, that points the finger squarely and exclusively at Syria. It's time to name names.

Addendum: Walid Jumblat had very similar comments.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Satterfield, Kouchner Blast Syria

David Satterfield blasted Syria for its sabotage in Lebanon and its continued support for foreign fighters in Iraq.

"Syria must be held accountable"

In an interview with UPI, Satterfield said: "The Syrian government bears responsibility for the political crisis in Lebanon, and is obstructing the election of a new president in order to peddle its demands in that country, seeking to restore its hegemony over it. This behavior is rejected by us and is unacceptable to the democratic majority in Lebanon itself, and should be rejected also by the region and the international community."

He added that Syria must be held accountable "for its obstruction of the election of a president for Lebanon and preventing the Lebanese from deciding their own future by themselves."

Regarding the recent meeting between President Bush and Syrian dissidents, Satterfield said that the meeting "reflects our interest in supporting the voices calling for change and freedom and democracy in Syria."

As for "Syrian cooperation" on Iraq, Satterfield said, "there was no Syrian cooperation on that end. Syria still allows foreign fighters and suicide bombers to pass across its territories into Iraq. [TB: Indeed, 90% of foreign fighters entering Iraq come via Syria.] Even if their numbers have recently been reduced, we think that the reasons behind that are the increase in our troop levels and the 'awakening' movement among Iraqi tribes, which created a hostile environment to their activities, in contrast to previous years, and made matters more difficult for al-Qaeda and its followers to do what they want in Iraq."

Kouchner: Talks with Syria lead nowhere

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also lambasted the Syrians for their subversive interference in Lebanon, and acknowledged what we've been saying all along, that talking to Syria leads absolutely nowhere. Engagement with Syria has always been and continues to be a disastrous failure.

Kouchner made the following comments in an interview with the German Süddeutsche Zeitung (my translation):

We have often talked to Syria, very often. And every time, when we believed that we had found a solution, there was a new obstacle. The Arab league, Saudi Arabia, Jordan -- they all talk to Syria. The German Foreign Minister has done it. But we have not made progress.

Kouchner had earlier made the following comments to Arab reporters in Paris:

“Who could provide me with a response to the opposition’s rejection of electing Army Commander General Michel Sleiman as president?” Kouchner asked.
“I will give the answer: They don’t want the presidential elections to take place,” Kouchner said. When asked to whom he was referring, he said, “Syria, through its allies in Lebanon.”

Syria wants to appoint the prime minister in Lebanon, the ministers, the distribution of ministries and the governmental plan of action through its allies in Beirut,” Kouchner added. (Emphasis mine.)

"Inalterable enemy of democracy"

Kouchner's last statement reminded me of an exchange at a November Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing between Sen. John Kerry and Bashar groupie, propagandist and court biographer, David Lesch.

The regime tool Lesch started with the usual flackery about how Bashar wanted "good relations" with the US.

Not particularly interested, Kerry responded by asking whether Bashar had "a preparedness to give up what he views as a long historical and cultural right with respect to Lebanon?"

Lesch at first replied: "He's not going to give that up."

Kerry then asked Lesch how Bashar thought he could have a good relationship with the US if he's "not willing to respect sovereignty and democracy in Lebanon?"

Lesch prevaricated as usual with the typical Syrian regime doublespeak that he was fed about how really (really!) Syria wants to establish diplomatic relations and demarcate borders with Lebanon!

Unimpressed, Kerry asked whether Lesch's statements were made with the assumption that Bashar was betting on dealing with "a government that he has essentially planted in place and can count on to be subservient to him?"

Lesch's answer was even more pathetic and dishonest. He literally responded: "He wasn't that specific, and he's not going to be that specific."

Kerry brushed this nonsense aside and asked for Lesch's own opinion only to get yet another Baathist-instructed litany about how the Syrians don't want Lebanon to be "a host country for what they view as this American project for transforming the Middle East, which would transform the regime in Syria."

Kerry actually then cut through the BS and hit the nail on the head: "Well, doesn't that make them therefore an inalterable enemy of democracy? I mean, opposed to the capacity for Lebanon to actually be a full-fledged sovereign nation."

Again, the dishonest Bashar groupie tried to sleaze his way out of it: "No, I don't think you can look at it that -- in that Manichaean fashion. I think there is room for compromise."

Now, of course, anyone who heard what Lesch said 5 mins. earlier, about how Bashar "was not going to give up" his dreams to colonize Lebanon, realizes that he's lying through his teeth.

But Lesch is a nobody. We don't need him to realize that in fact, as Kouchner's highlighted statement shows, Bashar has no interest in "compromise." This is a terrorist regime that plays a zero-sum game. Bashar wants to rule Lebanon with his boot. He even thinks he's entitled to it.

As such, combining Satterfield's and Kouchner's statements, one gets what we've been saying all along: engagement with Syria is a perennial failure. It's time for serious sticks.

Onward with the tribunal -- full throttle. Let's get those indictments.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When Syria Threatened Amb. Feltman

I'll be commenting on the recent attack against the US in Lebanon asap. In the meantime, I thought I'd remind you of something that came to my mind when I heard that the target was a US embassy convoy.

Back in June 2007, Le Monde ran an article containing excerpts from the official minutes of an April 24 meeting between the UN's Ban Ki-Moon and Syria's terrorist dictator, where Assad threatened Ban directly to his face, threatened UNIFIL, and threatened that the passage of a Chap. VII tribunal would "cause a conflict that would degenerate into civil war."

In those official minutes, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Moallem, is quoted as saying to Ban: "Feltman should leave [Lebanon]; I'm prepared to pay for his vacation to Hawaii."

As Michael Young accurately noted at the time, "That statement, too, could be interpreted as a threat." That's putting it mildly.

This wasn't the first time that the Syrians threatened to assassinate an ambassador in Lebanon. They had seriously threatened to take out the ambassador of another country they're at odds with: Saudi Arabia. Syria indeed had a hit out on Amb. Khoja, who for a while had to move back to Saudi for security purposes.

In a curious cloning of Moallem's thuggish threat against Feltman, in September 2007, Syria's primo pitbull Wi'am Wahhab said that he "read on the internet" (he meant this and Champress) that Khoja was involved in a plot to assassinate Nasrallah. If true, he said at the time, then we must cut all ties with KSA and kick Khoja out of the country.

It's interesting that the two countries seen by Syria as the main obstacles to its colonization of Lebanon get threatened (not to mention specifically targeted on a daily basis by Syria and its pitbulls).

David Schenker commented on the attack at the Counterterrorism blog. He sees it as "a message to Ambassador Feltman ... and his successor, Ambassador Sison, who was confirmed by Congress last week and heads out to Beirut in February. Quite simply, the message is: 'stay out of internal Lebanese politics.'"

That's funny, that's precisely the message of Walid Moallem's threat to Ban.

In the past, as Schenker notes, "the response to these kind of developments has been for the US and the international community to draw down and scale back. Obviously, this response is what those who seek to destabilize Lebanon most want."

Unfortunately for Moallem and his boss, Feltman is headed back to Washington to be David Welch's first assistant, and he will essentially be the lead guy on Lebanon at the State Department.

As Feltman himself put it, this won't please a lot of people -- including the thugs Moallem and his boss, "but I will continue to work for the US-Lebanese partnership."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Making of a Footnote

A very good editorial in NOW Lebanon on the Aounists.

The bit about Murr should perhaps be read in tandem with this news item.

Considering that it was Murr who managed to hand Aoun the narrowest possible (418 votes) victory in the Metn by-elections -- where 60% of the Maronites voted against Aoun -- this is worth keeping an eye on, as the editorial suggests.

The bit about Gebran Basil is priceless. One wonders if among the Aounists (not including Aoun himself of course) he really is the worst, which is saying something. It's unclear cause the crew is so awful overall. But Basil must take the cake because it is his geniuszzz that negotiated the MoU with Hezbollah, otherwise known as Toilet Paper.

A more thorough commentary about the latest developments should be up shortly. I've been sick... again.

Update: A powerful piece on Aoun by Michael Young.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Opposition in the Streets?

NOW Lebanon's editorial comments on the so-called "opposition's" latest new-old plan.

It's very clear that this is the Syrian order of operations, as it was the Syrian regime's orphaned pitbulls -- Naser Qandil, Wi'am Wahhab, Suleiman Frangieh and the mukhabarat rag al-Diyar -- who were enthusiastically announcing the marching orders.

It was interesting to hear that clown Qandil (who will likely end up in jail for his role in the Hariri assassination) try to base this on Nasrallah's latest imbecilic and pitiful interview. This point was accurately noted in the NOW editorial:

Is it us, or did you also sense that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in his interview on Wednesday night, was walking a fine line between Syrian priorities and Iran’s apparent desire to avoid a breakdown in Lebanon? If we are right, Nasrallah’s threat to take to the streets is a sop to Syria...

In other words, the order is Syrian par excellence. But Qandil laying this at Nasrallah's feet, aside from showing just how much they need his cover to have any weight at all in the country, shows just how much Syria is pressuring Nasrallah to blow up the place. His lame balancing act in his interview was a reflection of this.

What they will do is use socio-economic issues and unions as cover for some sort of street movement and possible street closures.

As the the editorial intimates, this is actually scraping the bottom of the barrel. Between Wahab, Qandil, Najah Wakim, Abdelrahim Mrad and "The Brother" Kamal Shatila, this is really a third division match. But, after all, this is all that Syria has left in Lebanon -- moronic thugs like these -- which is why it is striving to restore its brutal military grip on the country.

But if their moves last year are any indication, this will likely prove yet another flop for the ragtag known as "the opposition." NOW's editorial adds:

But before we sound too bitter, let’s for a moment deconstruct what such action might actually mean. First, if Hezbollah decides to go ahead with street action, what is the result likely to be? One of two things will happen: The army will either confront the protestors, forcing soldiers to fight civilians, or it will stand aloof and do nothing. In either case, the army would be discredited. Is that the opposition’s true aim in its continuing efforts to derail the election of Michel Sleiman as president?

You also have to wonder about Michel Aoun. If the opposition has a lame leg, it’s him. The General seems to believe that a majority of Christians prefer him to Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. We have our doubts. We also remember that almost exactly one year ago, when the opposition tried to torpedo the Paris III meeting, Aoun was unable to mobilize very many of his own people to block roads in Christian areas of the country. By nightfall, the Aounists had been chased back into their homes, and Aoun was in convulsions about the lack of mettle of his partisans.

The reality is that while Aoun might still have some support, many of his followers are just not willing to give up a day of work on his behalf and cripple the economy as a consequence. Aoun always sold himself as the representative of legality, but all he is today is a persistent, petulant renegade; someone who has done as much as Hezbollah to undermine the state, the rule of law, the Taif Accord and the presidential election.
More importantly, if such pressure forces Aoun to step back from his reckless behavior, this would deny Hezbollah its vital Christian partner. Does the party of God really want to be alone in the midst of a Christian area, blocking the Awkar road, with a hostile population all around and an irritated Lebanese army deployed ahead? Does Hezbollah really want to be blamed alone for blocking Lebanon’s lifeline to the world: the airport? The party has hidden behind Aoun for much of the time, but place it in the forefront of action, and suddenly all tension coalesces between the Sunni and Shia. And we believe Hezbollah when it says that it wants to avoid this.

Fistfights between Hariri and Hezbollah and Amal supporters in recent days have already shown how high Sunni-Shiite tensions are in Beirut. This is precisely why Salim Hoss was warning against any street action by his comrades.

Then again, they seem to be begging for more rope.

Played for Fools

Following up on my previous post, Barry Rubin piles it on Sen. Specter:

[T]he way Mr. Specter went about his self-styled mission was disastrous. He praised Mr. Assad and vouched for his good intentions. Why should a U.S. senator provide alibis for one of the world's leading terrorists? As the Associated Press summarized Mr. Specter's message, "Syrian President Bashar Assad is ready for peace with Israel, an influential U.S. senator said Sunday after talks with the Syrian leader." How does Mr. Specter know what Bashar really thinks? He only knows what Bashar told him in order to get a public relations' victory.

"There is a sense that [Mr. Assad] is ready and the Syrian public opinion is ready (for peace)." What does Mr. Specter possibly know about Syrian public opinion? If one was to judge by what the government tells its people on a daily basis, no such conclusion is possible. Mr. Specter could at least limit himself to saying that Mr. Assad claimed he was ready for peace rather than endorsing that view personally.
To make matters worse, Mr. Specter basically took Mr. Assad's side against the U.S. government. If the United States wanted to do so, he insisted, it could broker an Israel-Syria peace. Without going into all the reasons why this is wrong, one could simply point out that this means the U.S. government is responsible for the lack of peace.

On two specific points, the Syrians literally and obviously fooled Mr. Specter.

According to Mr. Specter and his colleague, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Mr. Assad promised to release seven dissidents jailed after attending a meeting endorsing fair treatment of Lebanon by Syria. After the two Americans announced the pledge - as proof of Mr. Assad's wonderful intentions - Syria officially denied that any such promise had been made.

A better indication of the regime's nature is that the day after Mr. Specter's talk with Mr. Assad, a Syrian dissident, Faeq al-Mir, was sentenced to three years in jail. What was Mr. Mir's crime? He sent condolences to a Lebanese parliamentarian regarding a Lebanese politician murdered by Syria. Will Mr. Specter learn anything from this experience?

But there's more. Mr. Specter and Mr. Kennedy bragged that Syrian officials showed them an alleged agreement with France that was going to make possible a successful election of a president in Lebanon. As the two Americans were talking about this "success," the French and Lebanese government announced that no such agreement existed. Indeed, as a result of Syria's breaking its promises, Mr. Sarkozy announced he would hold no further talks with Assad.

If not so tragic, the follies of Mr. Specter in Syria would be amusing. But too many Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Israelis are paying with their lives or freedoms because of the Syrian regime's policies to make his performance tragic.

As I noted in my previous post, the regime has not only sentenced al-Mir, but also arrested two additional Damascus Declaration activists, the latest of which was writer Fayez Sarah yesterday.

Meanwhile, this is what Walid Moallem reportedly told Specter: "It's not Syria's policy to imprison political oppositionists. Those who are imprisoned are oppositionists who collaborate with foreigners against Syria."

This is what you call getting played for fools.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Visit Assad, Get Egg on Your Face

As though the visiting Congressmen needed any more embarrassment and more proof that Assad's word is worth less than an old onion peel, comes the following news item:

Syrian official media poured scorn late on Tuesday on comments by a visiting US Congressman that he had secured an undertaking from President Bashar al-Assad to free seven jailed dissidents.

Syria "denies the statement by House of Represenatives member Patrick Kennedy that he raised the issue of certain detainees during his meetings with Syrian officials," the state SANA news agency cited an "official source" as saying.

"Syria refuses categorically to discuss its internal affairs with any foreign official. All that a foreign official can do is to be briefed about the situation in Syria in general and to listen to answers.

"No one has the right to interfere in Syria's internal affairs," the official source said.

After talks with Assad on Sunday, Kennedy told a news conference that he had secured an undertaking that Syria would free the seven dissidents, whose arrest last month drew strong criticism from the White House.

"The president said that they would be released," Kennedy told reporters.

The regime didn't stop there. It made sure to sentence dissident Faeq al-Mir to three years in jail the day after the US Congressmen left (this is a pattern. Remember the Pelosi visit?). His crime? He offered condolences to the secretary general of the Lebanese Democratic Left for the murder of George Hawi.

And just for good measure, it made sure to arrest another member of the Damascus Declaration today.

In other words, not a single statement about Syria made by either Congressman during their visit held up. Specter's clueless assertion regarding a French-Syrian document was already proven false even as he made it, when Sarkozy announced the end of his contact with Syria, and the existence of such a document (still peddled to this day by Asef Shawkat's errand boy in al-Hayat, Ibrahim Hamidi) was denied by the French later on. Kennedy's claims were shot down the following day.

This is what you get when you talk to Assad and make ill-advised statements afterwards, like the ones made by Kennedy and Specter. The sad thing is that this is an established pattern. This is what always happens... every single time.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Engagement Always Fails, Time for Pressure

A briefing from the EIU nails the fundamental bottom line that all Syria "engagers" should understand:

By bringing up the issue of the Hariri tribunal, Mr Sarkozy appeared to be leaning towards the view that Syria is determined to prevent this judicial process going ahead at all costs. In the context of Lebanese politics this suggests that there are only two acceptable scenarios for Syria: either a government that defers to Damascus on all issues of concern to Syria; or no effective government in Beirut.

There is no "middle ground" with the terrorists in Syria. Assad seeks total brutal control over Lebanon, period. That's the number one priority of this terrorist regime.

Now that engagement has failed, again, as it was destined to -- as it always does, inevitably and without exception -- the time is for real pressure to be exerted on Syria.

Both the EIU and UN officials quoted below seem to agree on this point. So far, as the EIU notes, no real pressure has been put to bear:

The Lebanese crisis has not imposed any serious political or economic costs on Syria, despite periodic outbursts from US, European and Arab officials at Mr Assad's obduracy.

Now that France has once again experienced what it means to engage Assad and how incredibly silly and futile it is to gamble on this murdering thug, it's high time for some real pressure. The EIU points to a couple of potential avenues, both diplomatic and economic, and there are plenty others involving Syria's energy and fiscal sectors.

Even UN officials have voiced such views:

The main problem, as the UN officials see it, is that not enough pressure is being placed on Assad. "He will only move if he senses a threat to the stability of his regime," they said. "If the Americans were, for example, to send ships close to Lebanon's beaches, that would send a clear message to Assad, but they're not doing that."

The track record does not lie. Engagement with Assad has always failed without exception. Only pressure works. It's high time to apply it.