March 03, 2005

Syria's Lebanon Exit Now Increasingly Certain

Who'd have thunk it so soon after the Villepin-Powell spats at Turtle Bay? A joint Franco-American ultimatum!

The US on Wednesday delivered its strongest message to Syria, ordering Damascus to remove its troops and secret services from Lebanon.

The stern message was echoed by the Lebanese opposition, which also demanded the resignation of top security officials backed by Syria.

Applauding the joint statement delivered on Tuesday by Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, and Michel Barnier, the French foreign minister, President George W. Bush said the world was speaking with one voice.

You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish, he said.

Roula Khalaf writing in the FT.

I guess that's pretty clear, isn't it (it's the secret services part that will really smart--and will be harder to monitor)? Oh, but Bush has nothing to do with all the Lebanon going-ons, remember? Heh.

P.S. Don't miss Roula Khalaf (one of the FT's best journalists) on Hezbollah's dilemma either.

Admist all the euporia, some more sober points:

1) Hezbollah, manifestly not a friend of the U.S., must now be persuaded to throw in its lot with the Lebanese opposition given its important role in Lebanese politics;

2) Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon should not be disorganized and hyper-precipitous, leaving dangerous vacuums, but ordered (if rapid);


3) Syria will continue to have a strong role to play in Lebanon given historic links.

More here.

The man with whom the opposition should be dealing is Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is the one in possession of the key to progress in Lebanon.

What may yield results on this front, and what is worthwhile in any case, is the opposition's investment in time and energy in talking with Hizbullah. This is time and energy well invested since, unlike Lahoud, Hizbullah represents a significant percentage of the Lebanese population and is a grass roots and very effective sociopolitical body. The future of Lebanon and the future of Hizbullah cannot be divorced - unlike the latter's marriage of convenience with the Syrian regime. Lebanon, and the opposition, need Hizbullah as much as Hizbullah ultimately needs to throw in its lot with the newly emerging Lebanon.

None of this, though, means that Syria should be estranged. While Lebanon has its own path to follow, Syria will always be Lebanon's closest neighbor, and that naturally means close political, economic and cultural ties. But it does not mean totalitarian Syrian dominance of Lebanon.

Fulfilling the terms of the 1989 Taif Accord will be an important step on the road to establishing a new Lebanese-Syrian relationship. In Lebanon, it will pave the way for such vital developments as judicial reform, administrative reform and attending to the deficiencies in the new electoral law that was introduced during the final weeks of the Karami government.

Note that Walid Jumblatt has been pushing Taif as the way forward too--rather than the joint U.S./French Security Council Resolution. Pushing too heavy on the U.N. resolution could backfire--especially as the going gets more controversial (beyond a Syrian withdrawal to issues like the role of Hezbollah, ie. disarming of militias). Note U.S.-French unity will also look to diminish in the coming months on issues like Hezbollah's role in an independent Lebanon too. For a brief sketch of some of the differences between Taif and UNSC 1559 go here. And more here on resistance in some Shi'a quarters to 1559.

Posted by Gregory at March 3, 2005 04:17 AM | TrackBack (4)

"Syria will continue to have a strong role to play in Lebanon given historic links."

Yeah - but the same can be said about the US and Canada. The Canadians don't seem to have any problem telling us off and declining to cooperate in military programs such as missile defense. We don't react by standing up the 10th Mountain Division and have them roll out from New York and occupy Ontario. I just hope that Lebanon can get to the point where they can feel free to be very 'Canadian' about their relationship to Syria, heh.

Posted by: Major John at March 3, 2005 05:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Who'd have thunk it so soon after the Villepin-Powell spats at Turtle Bay? A joint Franco-American ultimatum! "

I don't see why you, presumably as a student of the ME, should be surprised here. This has little to do w/ the transatlantic alliance and a lot to do w/ longtime French support for Lebanese nationalism. Surely you're read about this, yes?

Posted by: praktike at March 3, 2005 05:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

how snarky prak! of course i know about the special french-lebanese relationship. but cobbling together 1559, given differences as btwn the French and Americans on disarming of militias and the like, was still no mean feat. Particularly after all the major discord btwn Paris and Washington of the past two odd yearrs. As a keen observer of the geopolitical scene, surely (presumably?) you get this, yes?

Posted by: greg at March 4, 2005 12:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Snark begets snark. It's all part of the show.

(Agree with your comment, btw. Actually, I'm much more impressed that the Russians are playing nice. And now with the Saudis and Egyptians and Turks--to a lesser extent--on board, things are looking bad indeed for the opthamologist. Just have to watch the tricky situation vis-a-vis HA and Taif/1559, and watch whether Iran is willing to burn the place down, which I doubt at this point.)

Posted by: praktike at March 4, 2005 01:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

iran ain't burning the whole place down. they're busy on other, er, fronts. as for the russians, i'm sure vladimir and george broached syrian-related issues in bratislava in some detail.

Posted by: greg at March 4, 2005 02:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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