Monday, August 07, 2006

Was Syrian Disengagement a Good Thing?

Let me preface my remarks by saying they are speculative, and commentary from TWR readers--especially anyone on the ground in Lebanon--would be greatly appreciated.

My guess is that as long as Syria was actively engaged "on the ground" in Lebanon, this acted as a restraint on Hezbollah; while they might engage in pinprick attacks and harassment, they were never going to launch a major assault on Israel because Israel would hold Syria responsible. The departure of Syria and the Cedar Revolution which put Hezbollah into the government changed the calculus; Hezbollah wasn't going to take direction from a weak government in Beirut and now had much more freedom of action.

Would Hezbollah have launched its attacks if the pre-2005 status quo in Lebanon was still operative? I don't know.

The U.S. assumption was that getting Syria out of Lebanon would strengthen Lebanon. Was that assumption based on factual analysis or was it just "hope"? It seems to me to be more of the latter, the same assumptions that assumed elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories would bring the "right element" to power.

Is Lebanon better off? I have a feeling that many Lebanese will look back and compare 2004 with 2006 in the same way that many Ukrainians also have made comparisons and concluded that sometimes the bad road you are on can be replaced by a much worse road. One "Orange protestor" summed up her experiences by saying, What did I spend all those nights on the square to achieve? Will similar comments be forthcoming from Cedar Revolution participants?

And no matter what it seems highly unlikely that any future Lebanese government is going to be pro-American.

The perception in many ME governments in 1970s was that the Lebanese civil war was triggered as an attempt by certain well-known states to carve up Lebeanon and gove a piece of it to the Palestinians. There was absolutely bo ME states, regardless of its government structure and ideological orientation during the Cold War, that could countenance that. For if Lebanon could be broken up, so could Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. Thus we had a proxy war there between ME states on the one side and those certain other states on the other.
When that project failed, Plan B was put into effect by the trio of US-France-Israel. This was thwarted by certain other ME states such as Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia. The rest, as the say, is history (Israel’s invasion, Syria’s counter moves, injection of Iran into the fighting, creation of Hizbuallah, etc.)
The political machinations of US-France after the murder of Hariri was the fourth time (US-French intervention under Eisenhower being the first) they had intervened in Lebanon.
All of this to illustrate this point: these governments could not claim ignorance of the conditions on the ground in Lebanon. They could not plead good intentions. For them, I am afraid, this was a tactical game to get Syria out of Lebanon with no thought for follow-up engagements. And then the aim itself was not realistic: how could you weaken Syria’s hold on Lebanon when Syria could effectively close its borders with Lebanon under the pretext of looking for smuggled goods and thus destroying her agricultural export economy?
Yes, a triumph of sophomoric Hope over Experience.
Followed by ignoring the government that they had put into place.
I cannot see how it could be worse except perhaps US bombing Lebanon targets with Israel.
One young modern Shia Muslim woman I met two decades ago in US actually advocated Lebanon being part of Syria. She also mentioned that there was a feeling of relief and safety in Beirut when Syrian soldiers entered Lebanon under the Arab League mandate.

Another young modern Shia Muslim man that I knew in college in US (alcohol, girlfriend, etc.) told me this in 1983 "Khomeini saved us."

Make of these 2 anecdotes what you will.
US has problem of identifying small minorities of opinion as somehow speaking for the broad mass of "the people." David Schenker's piece in this week's Weekly Standard has this myopic view where he says US cannot negotiate with Syria because this will undermine credibility with "Syrian reformers and Lebanese democrats." Thats like saying European engagement with US undermines US progressives fighting against tyranny of Republicans and Democrats.
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