Who's Responsible for the International "Retreat" in Support for Lebanon's Path of Independence?
US President George W Bush is politically and morally responsible toward a small country called Lebanon because he took the initiative to make statement after statement in which he pledged support for this country's path toward independence and democracy and its standing up to extremism and plans to turn it into a base for Syria or Iran. Bush then let this country down with his frightening silence, which told those who had relied on his commitments that he was now unable to do anything. The same goes for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who pledged his love and loyalty to the US and received Bush's permission to manage the Lebanon "issue." He now has a duty to explain what he and his team did when they decided to return Syrian influence to Lebanon, in a French piece of acrobatics that was astonishing in its ignorance and arrogance. Of course, the US administration and the French government aren't directly responsible for every new political assassination of a government official, journalist or prominent officer in the Lebanese Army. However, they aren't exempt from some responsibility for leaving the impression that it has now become possible to escape punishment for the political assassinations; and that all possibilities are open to deal-making. It's true that Lebanon will be the direct price for the US political decision to abandon it, for reasons that appear to involve Iran and its role in Iraq, and Syria in its relationship with Israel. However, Lebanon will not pay the price alone. America will also pay an expensive price in allowing the Iranian regime to dominate Iraq and Lebanon and giving in to the forces of terror, intimidation, political assassinations and sabotage.
Europe will also be an open arena for the repercussions of following a policy of knuckling under, for which France was tasked by the European Union to carry out. During the era of Sarkozy, France has eagerly embarked upon policies dictated by financial interests in the billions, such as those between France and Qatar, which has a close relationship with the Syrian regime. The victor and vanquished in the battle over Lebanon are not the Lebanese alone, but also those who trusted the US, France and the international community, as represented by the Security Council and Secretariat-General of the United Nations. They represent a popular and elite in the Middle East and part of the Islamic world. They have asked the Security Council to defend its resolutions as much as the forces loyal to the Lebanese government defend the centrality of these resolutions and the need to see them implemented. Meanwhile, the opposition and its allies in Damascus and Tehran have worked to methodically whittle down the international resolutions. They are asking UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to stop his photo-op diplomacy of planned and surprise visits, and truly contemplate the meaning of losing the battle of international resolutions in Lebanon and its impact on the region and the UN.
It's clear that China doesn't assign Lebanon much importance and leaves it, in the Security Council, to Russia, the ally of Damascus and Tehran. Meanwhile, Britain is leaving behind its leading role on the Lebanon issue and turning it over to France. The French and British ambassadors to the UN are new, and follow experienced people who had direct and active roles in the Lebanon and Iran issues. The US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, is also new, to a certain extent, and isn't concerned with Lebanon and Iran, in contrast to his predecessor John Bolton. Khalilzad wants to see the UN return to its role in Iraq, to help the US there. Lebanon isn't helped at all by the fact that the only Arab representative on the Security Council during the last two years has been Qatar (whose membership ends at the end of this year), which "produced" the formation known as the "Gang of Five," in a reference to the group that is always trying to abort UN resolutions that Syria and Iran dislike, and these are South Africa, Indonesia, Qatar, Russia and China.
Less than two months ago, the US president informed Lebanese groups that had wagered on his support for the country's path toward democracy and independence that he would issue a credible warning to Syria to keep its hands off Lebanon. Bush then turned around and sent clear messages that the US was unable to do anything of this sort. His administration said that the climate doesn't permit sending a "credible warning" to Damascus, which would clearly show that the US was committed to its promises to Lebanon and would not let the Syrian regime regain its influence and dominance over the country or escape punishment. There are two basic points of view among the various contradictory opinions about what happened and what is happening in US policy toward Iran and Syria, through Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. One opinion holds that the main issue for the US is Iraq and not Lebanon, and that Iran and Syria are cooperating now regarding Iraq, each in its own way, after they had used Iraq to send the US more than one message, through methods that included facilitating the flight of volunteers to Iraq and direct strikes against US forces in that country.
This group says that the Americans aren't the party that took the initiative to repair the relationship and ask for assistance. The Iranians did so after the US was able to achieve important security accomplishments in Iraq. In other words, this is after it appeared to Iran that Bush would not leave Iraq in a rush. Iran offered its assistance and proved that it had intelligence information from inside Iraq, helping the US. The US president, who longs for success in Iraq, found that the strategic interest of the US and himself lay in accepting the Iranian invitation, and this is how a radical change in the relationship with and toward Iran took place.
For its part, Iran wanted to be recognized as a key, indispensable player in the US strategic balance in the Gulf and Middle East, beginning with Iraq. The immediate priorities are clear: keep the regime in power, not lose Iraq, in which it enjoys dominance and influence thanks to the US invasion.
US decision makers have arrived at the conviction that they have no objection to giving Iran shares in a partnership in Iraq if Iran is ready to behave positively - facilitating rather than hindering the reordering of US bilateral relations with the Iraqi government. This new relationship crowns the efforts to get US troops out of Iraq's cities so that they won't become hostages to security developments as troops are re-deployed, instead of initiating a US withdrawal from Iraq. According to people holding this view, namely that arriving at a US-Iranian agreement involves Iraq, the conflict has been settled between supporters and opponents of Iraq's partition, whether this has taken place "crudely" or "softly." This group says that the final decision in the Bush administration is to remain with a united Iraq. If the Democrats gain office, the situation might change, especially with people like Senator Joe Biden, Lesley Gelb and Richard Holbrooke who call for dividing the country in order to save it, in their view.
Finally, people holding this opinion believe that the nuclear issue in the US-Iranian relationship has been settled, in its turn, by the National Intelligence Estimate, which said that Tehran stopped its secret program in 2003. This group adds that the regime in Iran has not sought to obtain a nuclear bomb as much it has sought to "create a debate" about Iran's "right" to possess nuclear capabilities. This "debate" about this "right" is what has helped garner popular support behind the Iranian regime, since it has played on national feeling and pride based on the "right" to a Shiite nuclear bomb, in the face of Pakistan's "Sunni" version of that weapon, and Israel's Jewish version, and India's Buddhist version.
Therefore, this group believes that Iranian pragmatism and wisdom are what has produced the simple calculation: the US's accomplishments in Iraq, the Iraqi Shiites' resistance to Iranian dictates and the cooperation of Iraqi tribes with the US put Iran before the opportunity of fixing its situation with the US and with Iraq, or waste the chance and pay the price. Iran has taken the decision to cooperate and work in a silent partnership with the US.
This partnership, in this point of view, is not being translated negatively in Lebanon, but perhaps the contrary could be true. This group - and they are directly involved in Lebanon's relationship with US and Iranian strategies toward each other and toward Iraq - says that Tehran wants to rid itself of the burden of Hizbullah in Lebanon in a face-saving way and with US guarantees that neither it nor its proxy in Lebanon will be embarrassed. Hizbullah is a project that costs Tehran hundreds of millions of dollars a year, in addition to the political cost. Iran might put its ties to the party in a different scale if it will hinder its strategic relationship with the US. This relationship will be built on recognizing the regime and stopping attempts to destabilize, threaten and isolate it; it will recognize its regional weight. This is a big return and will require re-evaluating whether there is an alternative to sticking with Hizbullah and sacrificing the opportunity to shore up the Iranian regime.
The question for Bush today is the following: will US-Iranian cooperation in Iraq lead to the model of pluralism that the administration promised when it invaded and occupied Iraq? Or will the partnership with the rulers in Tehran, who impose their model that rejects pluralism, frustrate and lay bare all of the claims that the US favors democracy and pluralism? These are not random or marginal questions; they coincide with the beginnings of Bush's abandonment of his commitments to support pluralism in Lebanon, of the betrayal of the democratic process and independence, and the confrontation of Syrian hegemony; which has used political assassinations of Lebanese figures as a model and a policy.
This leads to the second point of view about the meaning of events in Lebanon, the last one being another terrorist assassination, which killed General Francois Hajj, the commander of operations in the Lebanese Army. Hajj was a leading candidate to succeed Army Commander General Michel Suleiman (after he is elected president of the Republic) and one of the most competent military men, who led the battle against Fatah-Islam terrorists and others.
Those who hold the second opinion believe that this assassination coincided with the general feeling in Lebanon that the US and the international community, represented by the Security Council and secretary general of the United Nations, have abandoned Lebanon, and that this atmosphere has strengthened the confidence of those perpetrating these crimes that they will be able to escape punishment.
Everything that the Security Council and the secretary general have done in the last few months involves issuing statements asking Iran and Syria to stop using Lebanon as a negotiating card by the methodic obstruction of constitutional institutions, from Parliament to the Lebanese Army. Russia is also behind the stalling and the demolishing of previous stances by the Security Council; it's the party primarily responsible for the international community's retreat from supporting international resolutions that its issued and from supporting the Lebanese government and the army. However, this retreat in American and French positions has radically helped in the strengthening of Russia's call to methodically obstruct the resolutions and Lebanon itself.
Ban Ki-moon has also helped in this destruction (of international resolutions); he repeatedly hesitated to ask Syria to implement what the resolutions ask it do, such as cooperating in the investigation to demarcating the borders with Lebanon, recognizing its independence by establishing diplomatic relations, halting its intervention in Lebanese affairs, and carrying out the Security Council's orders by not allowing arms, men and terrorists flow into Lebanon via the Syrian border. The silence of Ki-moon and the Security Council about the transgressions is tantamount to a blessing for Syria and its destructive role in Lebanon, which is also a blessing of Iran and its financing and arming of Hizbullah.
The Security Council and the secretary general were silent even after Serge Brammertz, who heads the international investigation into the political assassinations (tasked by Security Council resolutions), said that the operational ability was present in Lebanon for additional political assassinations - the silence has been embarrassing. General Hajj was then assassinated, in a disgrace to the international community, which behaves apologetically whenever it should be making firm demands and credible threats against those who are committing these horrible crimes, so that they tremble in fear. Instead of this, the government of Nicolas Sarkozy is proud that it, unlike the previous government of Jacques Chirac, will not seek to isolate Syria; it is shameless enough to be proud of its determination to help the Syrian government, which has worked against all international resolutions. What's worse is that Sarkozy tasked a person with a long history of seriousness with the Foreign Ministry; Bernard Kouchner has taken on the responsibility of letting Syria enter Lebanon once again, through the "window" of Sarkozy, after Chirac's France kicked Syria out of Lebanon through the door, shoring up international support behind it for the move.
Sarkozy and his team have forgotten that the Lebanese gateway is what returned Franco-American relations to a situation of partnership and friendship in the wake of the cool ties following the Iraq war. Sarkozy today is begging the US to accept him as a partner, to take the place of the British "poodle," Tony Blair. He is doing this in a clear case of treachery against Lebanon, which helped the Franco-American reconciliation take place; he's doing this now by opening the window to let Syria in once again, so that it can control Lebanon. The recent remarks by Syrian Vice President Farouq Sharaa signaled the triumph of the model of violence and ignoring international resolutions and calls for democracy and respect for the independence of Lebanon. France's policy, supported by the US, is what allowed Sharaa to make such a speech, and not just Syria's alliance with Iran.
The coming "victory" speeches by the leaderships in Tehran and Damascus do not involve delusions. The victory is one over the international community and resolutions issued its name, calling on these two countries to respect them or else… the US and French retreat from the "or else" now represents a betrayal of Lebanon. However, the price of misleading, retreating and disappointing will not be paid by the Lebanese alone. The price to be paid will soon be upon the Americans, French and the Europeans who paid the price of making deals with regimes that use political assassinations and car bombs and that use the borders to facilitate the movement of terror, finance and arm militias in Lebanon, and do the same thing in Iraq, to strike at US forces.
The Lebanese have held on for three years and have captured the hearts and minds and aspirations of millions of people in the Arab and Islamic worlds. They have become a model for democratic elections, international resolutions, and political acumen in the face of assassinations and imported terror. The ones who haven't held on are the Bush administration, the government of Sarkozy, the Security Council and the secretary general of the UN; they are the losers because they caved in to the blackmail, fear-mongering and bribery and they are going to pay a steep price.