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Suddenly, the United States has awoken to the fact that in one month Lebanon is likely to be taken over by a radical government and hijacked into the Iran-Syria alliance. Unfortunately, this apparently doesn’t mean it—or European states—are going to do anything about it.
In early June, the odds are—though one can still hope otherwise—that the parliamentary majority will be held by a coalition backed by Tehran and Damascus. Hizballah is not going to “take over” the country politically and that is a point no doubt which will be used by governments and media to prove that there’s no problem.
Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, not generally identified as an alarmist and activist, has just started sounding the alarm, “The threat that armed groups and militias pose to the sovereignty and stability of the Lebanese state cannot be overstated,” he said.
The new government is likely to consist of traditional Syrian-backed politicians, the Christian forces of Michel Aoun, Hizballah, and Amal, along with various independent figures. It will take power thanks to the money and guns paid for by Iran and smuggled in by Syria. It will be anti-American and anti-Western, though it won’t go out of the way to advertise that fact in English. And, most important of all, it will be a new base for the spread of Iranian influence as well as a signal as to who’s winning in the Middle East.
President Michel Sulayman who was, people seem to forget, the Syrian candidate for that post, will go along with this new situation, though in Western eyes he will still appear to be moderate. The Lebanese army is not a reliable guard against it, though it is likely to continue receiving Western military aid.
The Obama Administration’s words may be formally proper but what was and is needed is a massive effort by the United States in coordination with Europe and moderate Arab states, including covert assistance to the Lebanese independence forces, the May 14 coalition. That group is, of course, daily accused of receiving such help by Hizballah and company—sometimes with the help of the New York Times—but has received little help.
Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has travelled to Lebanon, given Sulayman a letter from President Obama, and on April 26, she declared that the letter was one “expressing the Obama administration’s strong support for a free, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.”
She praised the contributions of Lebanese-Americans, the country’s “courageous citizens,” and the elections as a “milestone.” It sure will be a milestone, though unfortunately probably one marking the end of the road for independent Lebanon. And then Lebanon will become a millstone around the neck of anyone who hopes for a more peaceful, moderate Middle East.
While Clinton was talking as if the Lebanese election might be free and fair, it’s already clear that this has no relationship to reality. Even the UN secretary-general is warning about the “atmosphere of intimidation” being created by Hizballah.
Clinton’s job is to denounce what Iran, Syria, and Hizballah have been doing. Instead, she takes up a stance of neutrality that would be more appropriate regarding elections in Belgium. The only mention of Syria was to praise that country for finally, after six decades, sending an ambassador to Beirut. There is no mention of Hizballah or Iran, in fact–as we will see at the end of this article–her statement is objectively pro-Hizballah.
Instead, we get this priceless exchange:
QUESTION: “I know you don’t want to speculate about the results of the elections, but it does look likely that Syria’s allies, including Hizballah, will make a strong come-back.” Now how’s that going to affect things?
SECRETARY CLINTON: “Well, Kim, first let me say that it’s a great delight to have you with me on this trip. As some of you know, Kim is Lebanese, and has been so excited about coming back to a country that she loves, and I am pleased that I could be the reason she got to come back at this particular time.”
Yes, Kim sure is excited to be coming back to a country that she loves. She just worries that it won’t be there any more in a few weeks. Obviously, Clinton could not—as she explained—“speculate about the outcome of the elections.” She said: “We hope that the election is free and fair of intimidation, we hope that the people of Lebanon make a decision that will continue the progress that we have seen over the last several years.”
Sure, I hope so also and so do a lot of newspaper readers. But you are secretary of state so what are you going to do about it?
Clinton does mention continuing U.S. support for the special tribunal” investigating the dozen politicians and journalists gunned down, all supporters of the March 14 coalition—by Syria and its friends. She also visited the memorial to former prime minister Rafik Hariri, the most prominent of those murdered. She says nice things about the Cedar Revolution which succeeded, with U.S. and French help, in throwing out the Syrians. She visited on the anniversary of that pull-out.
And, she continues (one can almost see her stamping her foot at this point):
“There needs to be an absolute end to an era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon. It cannot, must not, be used as a bargaining chip. When I visit former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri’s memorial, I will honor his memory, and pay my respects to all those who have been killed while defending Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence.”
You hear that! Stop those assassinations and intimidation, the great and powerful America says that. But Iran and Syria and Hizballah have already looked behind the curtain.*
And then Clinton continues with this dreadful bit of multicultural generality:
“It won’t surprise you to hear that I think moderation is important in the affairs of states, because that gives people from all backgrounds, and all different beliefs and convictions, an opportunity to participate. So that is up to the Lebanese people to decide, but we certainly look forward to working with and cooperating with the next Lebanese government.”
It’s up to the Lebanese people to decide, making things sound a bit like the New Hampshire primary in a country full of armed militias, millions of Islamist-provided dollars (some of them counterfeited by the Syrians and their Lebanese allies). And that last sentence may come back to haunt her—or at least everyone else.
To say, in advance, that the United States looks forward to working with the next government is, in usual terms, a banal and proper diplomatic statement. But in the specific context of contemporary Lebanon it comes across as a pro-Hizballah statement.
No matter who wins, the United States will deal with them so Lebanese voters don’t have to fear that a vote for Hizballah will lead to hostile U.S. action and Hizballah doesn’t have to worry that if it continues terrorizing Lebanon the United States will strike back even to the minimum extent of rejecting their regime and cutting off aid.
She then promises:
“I want to assure any Lebanese citizens, that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”
No problem. By the time the United States makes any deal with Syria—which I believe to be unlikely any way—Lebanon will have already been sold out long ago.
She adds: “We certainly look forward to working with and cooperating with the next Lebanese government.”
But suppose that government is dominated by pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian forces; a radical Islamist militia with genocidal intent against Israel; a regime dedicated to driving U.S. influence out of the region.
I don’t want to suggest there will be a revolution with green flags flying and every woman forced to wear a chador. No. The Christian and Druze communities will be left alone, there will be no attempt to invade their turf. But Iran’s friends will control national policy and Hizballah’s militia will control the south and east of the country. Iranian and Syrian agents will flood in to use Lebanon—like the “good old days” of the 1970s and 1980s—for operations against Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.
It is even possible that the resulting parliament will be split evenly enough that there will be a coalition again, albeit with the moderate’s power steadily slipping away as Hizballah grows and strengthens its domination over large parts of Lebanese life.
The United States doesn’t need a government that proves how nice it is. The United States and the democratic and would-be democratic world needs a U.S. government that proves how capable it is of providing leadership and fighting the battle now before it.
Alas, Lebanon, the first victim of the new era in U.S. politics and policy.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. His blog, Rubin Reports is at http://rubinreports.blogspot.com