March 12, 2005


This time they're waving flags not guns (Rami G. Khouri, March 11, 2005, Lebanon Daily Star)

The rapid-fire succession of political events in Lebanon and Syria in the past week, coupled with continued international pressure on the two countries, seems to have brought Lebanon back to its messy status from the 1950s to the 1980s - as the surrogate political field of battle for competing local, regional and international forces. Thursday's formal designation of Omar Karami to form a new Lebanese government of "national unity" marks the unofficial start of the next and probably difficult phase of the current political battle between Lebanese opposition forces and the Syrian and Lebanese governments and their supporters.

Conditions in Lebanon today are very different from what they were in the 1970s, however, and the odds are heavy that the contestation to come will remain in the political arena, without much chance of the country slipping back into war, or surrogate thuggery and warlordism, on behalf of foreign and regional patrons.

The principal actors have evolved somewhat - Palestinians, Israelis, and Russians play only an indirect role today, while Iran, Europeans, Arab Islamist militants, and the UN are more closely involved. The global context also has changed radically, with the end of the cold war, the rise of Islamist militancy, and the advent of the U.S. post-September 11 global pre-emptive war strategy. Yet the dynamics remain constant: Lebanese national parties, political forces, and religious/ethnic groups, anchored in region-, town- and even neighborhood-level territoriality, act as surrogates for other powers in the Middle East or abroad.

This peculiarly Lebanese phenomenon of national politics that are at once very local and global is a blend of provincialism and cosmopolitanism that has recurrently plagued modern Lebanon (and other Arab lands) since the invention of the modern Middle East state system by European statehood craftsmen in the 1920s.

Thus what appears on the surface to be a slightly beleaguered and isolated Lebanese president designating a partially discredited politician to engage the newly expanded Lebanese opposition forces to form a Lebanese government of national unity is in fact the fulcrum and foundational layer of overlapping multiple interests and ideological strategies that ripple throughout the Middle East and the world. At least five issues are at play here.

Mr. Khouri has always seemed one of the more reasonable voices on Arab/Israeli affairs--if he's fairly optimistic about Lebanon's chances of getting through this without descending into real violence there's no reason for us not to be.

UN Envoy: Syria Promises Total Pullout from Lebanon (Michael Drudge, 12 March 2005, VOA News)

A senior U.N. diplomat says Syria has promised a total withdrawal of military and intelligence personnel from Lebanon as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

The announcement follows talks between U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern Syrian town of Aleppo.

Who do they think they are, ordering around sovereign states like this?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2005 1:07 PM
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