June 15, 2004


The Road to Democracy, via Damascus: The Bush administration and the European Union should be doing more to encourage Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. (MICHAEL YOUNG, 6/12/04, NY Times)

What the United States and the European Union should do is put Lebanese sovereignty at the top of their agenda — even if they have few means of enforcement. And Syria and Lebanon should themselves recast their relationship and set a sensible deadline for a Syrian withdrawal; it need not be immediate, but neither should it be relegated to a distant future. This would help marginalize those who, wrongly, seek a rude divorce between Beirut and Damascus.

What would the advantages be to Syria and Lebanon? It would end a debilitating relationship that benefits neither — so that both can, together, endure the impact of future regional realignments. But it would also acknowledge that Syria's real challenges come not from Lebanon or even from Israel (the Syrian-Israeli border is among the quietest in the region), but from Iraq, where American forces can continue to intimidate Syria.

How can the international community help? First, by calling, after years of indifference, for the peaceful carrying out of United Nations and other resolutions demanding foreign troop withdrawals from Lebanon. This would include a renewed commitment to the 1989 Taif accord that ended the civil war and outlined a Syrian redeployment to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon within two years. While the wording of the accord is open to interpretation, its spirit is not: the Syrians are asked to move their troops with the implicit promise of a total withdrawal.

Second, the United States and Europe should insert themselves into the Syrian-Lebanese relationship by advising the two states to redefine their rapport and set a framework for a Syrian departure. Both power blocs say they favor democratic self-determination; they can prove it in Lebanon. This might represent interference in the bilateral affairs of foreign states — but sovereignty should not be an excuse to allow the domination of one country by another.

Third, the United States and the European Union should protect and enhance Lebanese liberal institutions — timely and free elections, and respect for the constitution, judicial independence, civic groups and opposition parties. A priority is guaranteeing that Lebanon's presidential election this year and parliamentary elections next year take place and are free and fair. After all, it is Lebanese democracy itself, not Syria's presence, that makes Lebanon stable. Only true democracy will ensure a Syrian pullout goes smoothly and that a durable Syrian-Lebanese bond — one between equals — is built afterward.

When does he get to the part where Syria has to democratize?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 15, 2004 11:57 PM

This article reads like an undergraduate thesis. If only . . . and if only . . . and if only . . . then we will have peace in the Middle East. I'm sure that Mr. Young graduated from the finest Ivy League college, thus his grammar is correct, but his assumptions are no better than those of San Francisco State undergraduates.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at June 16, 2004 1:03 AM

But he's writing this based in Beirut, I believe. And that takes guts.

Though he's taken independent stands, all things being relative, in the past. Even if this may feed the illusion that whatever thinking there is "outside the box" in the Middle East---and there is---has any influence on events there....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 16, 2004 3:13 AM

Why does he say "even if they have few means of enforcement"? We have 130,000 troops next door who're going to be looking for something else to do pretty soon.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 16, 2004 7:39 AM

Remember, he's writing from Beirut; and it would not be too politic of him to point out that particular elephant, especially as everyone can see it. That is, he wouldn't want it to be perceived as an invitation.

He also neglects to mention that Lebanon is a (relative )cash cow for Syria, which is one very good reason why Syria is reluctant to end their "special relationship." (Besides, Chirac has given his blessing to the occupation, appraising it as necessary as long as the Israeli-Palestinian problem is not solved. Which ought to indicate why Syria is not exactly sedulous in its efforts in the latter direction....)

And who knows whether a Syrian withdrawal will trigger a return to anarchy in Lebanon? Moreover, it is this "humane" consideration that Syria will likely exploit to the max.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 16, 2004 9:10 AM

I guess he missed the memo about a free and democratic middle east not passing the Freanch sniff test!! lol

Posted by: Bill from NYC at June 16, 2004 10:13 AM