March 6, 2005


The shadow of another Iraq: The upheaval in Lebanon and the pressure for Syria to withdraw now threaten the survival of the Assad regime (David Hirst, March 4, 2005, Guardian)

"Total defeat in Lebanon," said another dissident, "is total defeat at home." First, that is because of Lebanon the strategic asset. For historical, geographical and political reasons Syria instinctively strives to be a regional power greater than its own resources alone can make it.

And today it is in a Syrian-controlled Lebanon that the last major cards lie - such as Hizbullah - in an eroding regional hand, cards by which its current rulers seek to secure their very survival in any new, American-dominated Middle Eastern order. Their ultimate trump is, perhaps, to withdraw. For if they did that, an intelligence chief once explained, Lebanon would become a hotbed of assorted militants, Islamic and Palestinian, in effect a kind of Iraq. And the Americans and Israelis would soon come begging them to return.

Second, there is the potential domino effect inside Syria itself, of Lebanese "people power". After the example of elections, however flawed, in occupied Iraq and Palestine, has come this new, unscheduled outbreak of popular self-assertion in a country where a sister Arab state, not an alien occupier, is in charge. It is a manifestly authentic movement, greatly encouraged, no doubt, by America and the west, but far from being inspired or engineered by it.

It is a fundamental blow to all that historic Syria, as the "beating heart" of Arabism, and all that Ba'athism and its pan-Arab nationalist credo have ever stood for. For the leading Lebanese columnist Samir Qassir, it means that "the Arab nationalist cause has shrunk into the single aim of getting rid of the regimes of terrorism and coups, and regaining the people's freedom as a prelude to the new Arab renaissance. It buries the lie that despotic systems can be the shield of nationalism. Beirut has become the beating heart of a new Arab nationalism".

The Syrians aren't going to rise up like the Lebanese - not yet anyway. Long repressed, they don't have the organised opposition, the strong residue of democratic traditions that the "Syrianisation" of Lebanon was gradually stifling.

What Lebanon has done is to add a whole new dimension to popular discontent with all those long accumulating domestic woes - the fruits of a decadent, outmoded, sclerotic ruling order - which they have endured for the past 40 years. It has added to the pressure for reform and democratisation, reform that is surely the only way the regime can hope to survive. For Syria, indeed, Lebanon is so intimate a neighbour that what happens there is hardly a "foreign" issue at all. And everyone knows that those who block reform in Syria - the so-called "old guard", shadowy centres of power in the army and intelligence services - are the same people who brought the Syrian presence in Lebanon to its current pass.

It is a pass now suddenly made all the more threatening in that the Lebanese "uprising" dovetails so nicely with President Bush's crusade to bring "freedom and democracy" to the Middle East.

Is it just me, or does the headline writer seem heartbroken about regime change in Syria?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2005 1:23 PM

When has a Guardian writer ever been happy about bad things happening to any for oe the United States anywhere?

Posted by: Brandon at March 6, 2005 1:46 PM


The story is at least open-minded--the headline is morose.

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2005 1:49 PM

The notion that Syrian control keeps terrorists out of Lebanon is the sorriest piece of utter tripe I may have ever read, even from the Guardian.

Posted by: Bart at March 6, 2005 2:11 PM

And the Americans and Israelis would soon come begging them to return.

Why would we do that when we could handle the problem ourselves? Lebanon today isn't Lebanon 1982. The militas, factions, etc. will listen to us for a good while because they've seen what we've done in Iraq.

Babyface doesn't have a trump card, he has a three-of-clubs.

Posted by: Steve White at March 6, 2005 5:07 PM

We need put together a video of Chauchescu's last moments, and broadcast it daily in the Middle East.

Posted by: ray at March 6, 2005 9:28 PM