From the Herald http://www.theherald.co.uk/
“Lebanon is a democracy, and we strongly support that democracy. The world is beginning to speak with one voice. We want that democracy in Lebanon to succeed, and we know it cannot succeed so long as she is occupied by a foreign power.”
These words could have been spoken yesterday. The world – excluding America and Britain – is speaking with one voice against the terrible revenge inflicted on innocent people by an incandescent Israel. We should support the people of Lebanon against the incursions of the foreign power that has declared its intention to flatten the southern portion of this mountainous little country.
But you have perhaps already guessed from the laborious syntax and repetitive vocabulary that these are, in fact, the words of George Bush. The American President was speaking in support of Lebanon’s Cedar revolution in March 2005. The foreign power to which he refers is Syria.
The Cedar revolution, you might remember, united thousands of mostly young Lebanese across the religious divide. Furious at the assassination of anti-Syrian former prime minister Rafik Hariri on Valentine’s Day last year, they protested by creating a tented city in the centre of Beirut. They demanded autonomy from the regime in Damascus. It was an extraordinary story from the heart of darkness. Here was a country whose destruction and suffering was so great it had entered the vernacular. “It was like a holiday in Beirut” was the careless phrase we used to describe mildly unpleasant events from DIY disasters to getting lost in a rough housing scheme.
While the inhabitants of Berlin rose up to bring their wall down, the cedar revolutionaries came together to rebuild their city and country. Last year we saw a very different Beirut, peopled by students in stylish sunglasses. They came from Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslim families, but appeared far too cosmopolitian for the sectarian factionalism to which we had grown accustomed. They were idealistic. They were united. And they won - in what seemed like another victory for people power. Free elections were held and won by a coalition led by Saad al-Hariri, son of the assassinated politician. His ally Fouad Siniora became Prime Minister. The Syrian troops were back on the road to Damascus.
American turned it into a rare moment of good PR. Some commentators attributed the Cedar Revolution to events in Iraq, where millions turned out to vote in January 2005 for the transitional national assembly. Might this be springtime for democracy in the Middle East? Bush and his allies insisted that some sort of a thaw had begun.
They had some impressive supporters. Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and author of The Future of Freedom, one of the more thoughtful responses to the 9/11 bombings, also captured the fleeting zeitgeist of spring 2005. He wrote: “People are nervously asking themselves a question: Could he (Bush) possibly have been right?” The short answer is yes.”
Mr Zakaria, a Harvard educated, Indian born Muslim, reasons that uneven democratic development explains the troubled region’s deep problems. These, he argues, are caused by “Decades of repression and an almost total lack of political, economic and social modernisation.”
Many liberals would agree with Zakaria’a analysis. But if he, and less intellectual cheerleaders for American intervention are correct, why on earth has Bush not done more to protect Lebanon’s flickering democracy? What happened to the president’s professed desire to see the Cedar revolution succeed?
The US administration has done nothing this last week to suggest it gives a jot about the survival of the new Lebanese government. Bush appears unmoved by the killings and burnings. If human survival is not a priority, the parliament stands no chance. Condoleeza Rice, a woman not known for frivolity, has taken more than a week to pack her suitcase. Last week the New York Times revealed that the US is speeding up a delivery of precision-guided missiles to Israel, including those designed to penetrate several feet of reinforced concrete. Washington’s bunker busters will arrive in the Middle East before Condi.
The state department speaks quite openly about giving Israel time to do the necessary. In military speak that mean’s creating “a sterile zone” in southern Lebanon. Like “collateral damage” and “softening up” the term could only have been created by generals who must distance their conscience from their actions. Sterile as in “no living organism”. Sterile as in dead.
Yet amid this destruction, we are witnessing the “birth pangs of a new Middle East” according to The Whitehouse. But, hold on: democracy felt her first contractions on the streets of Beirut last March. So what happened? There has been a subtle shift away from a “pro-democracy” to an “anti-extremist” agenda. In the last year, America has seen democracy in the Middle East and doesn’t much like it. Hamas won the Palestinian elections fairly, according to international observers. We may be appalled at their suicide bombings and refusal to recognise the state of Israel. But they have the ballot box behind them.
In Lebanon the situation is more complex. Hezbollah won 23 seats in the parliament in elections last June. They won all the seats in the south, hence legitimising their control of the region. They might well be backed by Iran and Syria, but they also appear to have rather a lot of support among people on the ground. Like Hamas, they provide clinics and run schools where otherwise there would be nothing but ignorance and illness.
The Lebanese government has been under pressure to disarm the movement and send its own soldiers to police the border. They have found this impossible because Israel still occupy part of their country, meaning they are officially still at war. The occupied area, Shebaa Farms, is small, but very rich in water. Last September the UN urged Israel to withdraw. A resolution would have greatly strengthened the Lebanese government and given them the authority to challenge the militia. But Israel refused, knowing that America would back its intransigent stance whatever the cost to Siniora’s fledging parliament.
Washington’s behaviour could be interpreted using the genie in bottle illustration. They didn’t like the democracy they had unleashed. But there is another theory, one that gives Washington even less credibility. Democracy was never the intention. Destabilization was always the goal.
In 1996 Richard Perle, the neo-conservative who later played a key role in shaping policy at the Pentagon, helped draft a document for the Likud party in Israel. The document was called Clean Break: A new Strategy for Securing the Realm. Much of what is proposes is now a reality.
Clean Break argues for a change of tactics towards Palestinians in which “the right of hot pursuit” is legitimate self-defence. It devotes much space to improving relations with America and how to influence Congress. It argues for regime change in Iraq, though proposes installing, not a democratic government, but a Hashemite monarchy.
Most significantly, in the current context, Perle suggests that Syria and Iran must also be dealt with. “An effective approach, and one with which America can sympathise, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon.”
If this is the case, the cedar revolutionaries were nothing but a decoy. Far from driving Syria out of Lebanon, the neo-conservatives hoped pull them further in. The country was viewed as little more than a battleground, which is exactly what it has become.