Monday, May 30, 2005

The Return of Hariri

If the headlines weren't dominated by the French rejection of the EU draft constitution and the massive counterinsurgency sweep in Baghdad, the Lebanese elections would top the news.

Saad Hariri, the son of the dead former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has swept parliamentary elections in the capital Beirut, according to official results announced today. The elections were the country’s first to be held largely free of Syrian domination. Riding a sympathy vote, candidates led by Hariri won all 19 seats in the Beirut polls. The election is seen as a tribute to the leader whose February assassination triggered international anger and street protests that ultimately drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon.

In a divided country like Lebanon, where power is shared out between ethno-religious groups, Hariri's victory does not mean that one Lebanese faction has achieved a clear ascendancy over the other, especially with the low voter turnout, but the one clear loser was Syria. Across the Bay links to an interview with a Syrian writer who argues that Assad regime in Damascus is now doomed. However that may be, it is safe to say that Syria is under pressure on two fronts, three if internal politics is considered. Lebanon, Syria itself and Iraq.


Blogger desert rat said...

The Wave is cresting and will soon break over Assads head.
His small ethnic minority cannot long control the entire country if we continue on our current course. Between our soft power, Iraqi threats and the Kurdish covert options available, the Baathists in Damascus are not long for power.
I bet we will see cash flow problems begin to effect Assads optionss. Geneva is nice in the summer, I think he may be wanting to take an extended visit, soon.

5/30/2005 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger PresbyPoet said...

Question: Are we better off if Assad is overthrown, or if he is turned? Total Syrian cooperation might be in our best interest on a temp basis. In the same way in WWII we didn't go after Spain, but allowed it to exist because it wasn't a direct threat, and helped us win the war.

Iran is the most dangerous country right now. The mullahs are trying to grab all the power, with their blatant blocking of candidates. That is a sign of how weak they are. They cannot afford to allow even a powerless assembly.

If Assad, in order to keep power, turns on Iran, it can only help us. When Iran falls, Syria becomes a minor footnote in the same way we tolerate Libya.

5/30/2005 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

No more useful dictators, have you not been listening. Libya is not on the front and is a perhipial player in this action. Syria is central to the Region, not a footnote.
As long as Hezbollah is armed and active in Lebanon there will not be a solution. They are an extension of both Syria and Iran, both of those players must be eunuched. Our Kurd allies and the Iraqi government will be instrumental in the successful surgery.
This is a multifront operation and may be handled politically. Marrrvelous.

5/30/2005 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Desert Rat,
It is my experience that the poet almost always listens.
Don't be so cruel.
How 'bout temporarily useful dictators?
Beats Saudi Royalty.

5/30/2005 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

I don't think Syria under a "turned Assad" would have any influence over Iran; if they were closer geographically, perhaps. A SYria that is moving towards democracy, though, would have an encouraging effect on the Iranian opposition.

A completely cooperative Assad would make a huge difference in Iraq, though. I don't think that there is any problem with using dictators to help us. The fact is that we can't overthrow all of them immediately.

5/30/2005 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"The fact is that we can't overthrow all of them immediately.
We COULD if 'Rat were in charge.
...but he ain't.

5/30/2005 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"I don't think that there is any problem with using dictators to help us. "
Sometimes, in the not too distant past, some of our leaders did it to the point of seemingly actually believing these folks were personal friends, ...and trustworthy.
Gave the whole enterprise a really bad taste, both here and abroad.
(and resulted in apparently actually trusting the untrustworthy)

5/30/2005 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger Bookworm said...

Considering that Damascus has always been one of the more sinister threats to Israel through the puppet state it set up in the Lebanon, I do wonder how all of this will play out from Israel's point of view. Perhaps ordinary Palestinians will be able to shake off the dictatorships shackling them, and to enter into a true nation-to-nation relationship with Israel.

5/30/2005 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Baron Bodissey said...

Does anybody have a handle on the reason for the low turnout? It seems strange that the Lebanese mustered less than half the percentage of the French who turned out to vote on the EU constitution.

I don't know how much fear of Hezbollah there is in Lebanon. I hope one of the resident experts here at the Club will weigh in on this.

5/30/2005 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger PresbyPoet said...

I am speaking of actual real cooperation by Assad. He is not his father, so may simply want to keep power. Up til now the calculus has been to support Sunni in Iraq, but if we can convince him that there is no other choice, he is in a position to do us some large favors.
1. Tell the truth about the WMD that flowed into Syria.
2. give up the WMD.
3. Cut off support to Hezballah.
4. Cut off support to Sunni/A Q terrorists.
5. Give us even more of the guys hiding in Syria.
6. Remove worry about second front when we go after Iran.
7. Eliminate worry in Lebanon about Syria. Which permits peaceful settlement in Bakka and productivity.
8. Remove last hostile force from Israel's borders.
9.Increases the chances the Palistinians actually cooperate.

These are worth a lot. If we can get them by permitting Assad a transition time toward democracy, in the same way we are putting pressure on Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Egypt, KSA etc. to move toward democracy, but working to insure it is not just one vote one time, then it would be well worth it.

5/30/2005 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Asher Abrams said...

Heh ... Syria under pressure from Lebanon ... I love it!

5/30/2005 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

If Assad did all the things you request, he would not be Assad. I think we will find him to be 'difficult' at best. Syria is a key to the region, both for US and the Israelis. The entire War on Terror will continue until Hezbollah is a disarmed political party, Syria is not Baathist and Iran is reformed. There are multiple options to achieving these goals, but rest assured the WAR will not be over until they are met.
That is one of the major problems with this War on Terror, the definition of Victory. Until that is laid out in at least general terms public support for the battle will continue to drop. It is one of the Administrations major errors in the conflict. It is part of their PR challenge.

5/30/2005 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger zeppenwolf said...

baron: Does anybody have a handle on the reason for the low turnout?

You beat me to it. After all those pictures of bazillions and gillions of protesters... A couple weeks later, and they can't get their butts to a polling booth?!? I was about to ask the same thing; it makes no sense at all.

5/30/2005 06:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lebanon election isn't over yet, is it? I thought they do it over a few days.

5/30/2005 11:59:00 PM  
Blogger PresbyPoet said...

Barron and wolf,
This sounds like this is the election in the Sunni section, where no one bothered to challenge. That could help explain why the low turnout. I don't know the exact details of how they are voting, only that it is over a month long period. It sounds like it is by area.

It sounds like your take on Assad, that he is finished, should encourage him to grab for the rope we are offering. Why wouldn't he agree to my wildly optimistic request if he knew it would result in his retaining power.

Now our primary goals must be:
1. Finish Iraq
2. Keep Iran from nukes
3. Keep the oil flowing
4. Attack Al Q.

China, NK, Europe & Venezuela are long term problems. Syria is important only in prying it loose from Iran, so that is no longer impacts 1-4. I suspect that like Libya, Syria is ripe for a deal.
They certainly have been doing some things right, like withdrawing from Leb.

On September 11, 2001, Pakistan was the prime supporter of the Taliban. One of the most unappreciated triumphs of the war was the swift courtship of Musharraf. If you can defeat your enemy without battle, you are much better off.

5/31/2005 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Assad and his boys only represent about 20% of the country. They rule by fear and intimidation and are funded, now with the lose of Lebenese cashflow, by Iran.
Assad's boys know that if he took your deal they would be finished. The tide of history won't leave him high and dry.
Like "Turning" Italy but leaving Mussillini in power. Not a chance of that happening on Bushes Legacy.
While all your goals are worthy and required, they are not Victory and that is the mission objective, not Stability. No Syria has to deBaathisize before this is over.

5/31/2005 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

I think that the rise of Iraqi 'moderate' Shia Government with Kurd and Sunni participation will have a greater chance of 'turning' Iran than Iran 'turning' Iraq.
The need is to reform Iran's nuclear policy. Best estimates are three years before they have capacity. VP Cheney reportedly said he foresaw Iraq being "over" by end of the current term, 2008. Same timeline. Many options, mostly political and covert military for the short term. Our friends, the Kurds, have a large minority in Iran as well as Syria, and they all yearn to be free, just like their Iraqi cousins.

5/31/2005 07:05:00 PM  
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