Tuesday, November 21, 2006

 

Events in Lebanon

Unidentified gunmen assassinate yet another Lebanese Official, and speculation abounds as to the likely Syrian role in the killing.

Incredibly, the best background on Syrian motives and strategic planning in Lebanon can be found readily at hand, in two articles written prior to the killing of anti-Syrian Christian politician Pierre Gemayel showed up as background.

Eyal Zisser, writing in Middle East Quarterly (via Michael Rubin at National Review Online), describes the increasing and calculated boldness of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, emboldened by a perceived weakening of the Bush Administration, and recent talk of inviting Iran and Syria to “assist in finding peaceful solutions for Iraq.”

Zisser introduces his essay with a warning about Assad:
Even as Syria faces domestic crisis and appears to be on a collision course with the United States, France, and many Arab states, Bashar has retrenched rather than adjusted his chosen course. He is neither committing political suicide nor acting illogically. Rather, he assesses threats to his regime to be less severe and his position to be more secure than many outside Syria believe. He calculates that persistent resistance to U.S. pressure wins the domestic and wider Arab support needed to ensure regime survival and gambles that, even if White House threats have substance, he can outlast the Bush administration and emerge victorious from his diplomatic clash. Rather than mitigate his international defiance, he will maintain it.
Next, Michael Young, editorializing in the Opinion Journal (via Memeorandum), warns that Syria must be held accountable for the murder of Rafik Hariri, and no doubt, other Lebanese Government officials.

Young also warns of potential dangers in letting up the pressure on Syria’s Assad, and giving him any cover or concession prior to further findings of the Hariri investigation:
Wherever one stands in the spectrum of U.S. foreign-policy thinking, the Hariri tribunal is a mechanism that should satisfy all. Democracy defenders see in it an institutional means of buttressing Lebanon's independence from Syria--presuming that U.N. investigators demonstrate Syrian involvement in Hariri's elimination. Realists will gain a splendid stick with which to force Syrian compliance with American priorities elsewhere in the Middle East, including Iraq. The court's mandate does not oblige presidents to put in an appearance (though there is no immunity from crime, meaning they can be sentenced in absentia), so Mr. Assad can be destabilized if his involvement is proven, but not necessarily forced from office. It would make him conveniently vulnerable to outside coercion.

That's why events in Lebanon are so important. Syria's Lebanese allies are trying to undermine the Hariri investigation from within, and are expected to escalate their efforts very soon, maybe even this week. It makes no sense for the U.S. to hand them more ammunition by prematurely transacting with Mr. Assad before the U.N. completes its task and assigns responsibility for the assassination.
The Bush Administration needs to block any effort, extra-governmental, clandestine, or internal, that offers Syria or their Iranian masters terms what will no doubt be perceived by our enemies as the initial terms of our surrender. There remains much still at stake, in Lebanon, Iraq, or the broader Middle East, and far too many American opinion-makers, Realist or otherwise, prepared to make a deal with the devil to return us to a “see no evil” foreign policy. Not least at stake, any hope for the preservation of these fledging experiments in Democracy in the region.



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