Death by a Thousand Cuts
Lebanon's constitution is falling apart.


The controversy over the tribunal has become central to the political impasse in Lebanon. Siniora has concluded that the parliamentary speaker will not permit the formation of an impartial tribunal under domestic law, and has formally requested that the Security Council create and impose the needed tribunal under Chapter VII. President Lahoud wrote a letter to the U.N. secretary-general on Tuesday imploring him to block Chapter VII action, because it would imply “a full of bypass of the constitutional mechanism in Lebanon.” That is right. The constitutional mechanism in Lebanon is broken, and it must be bypassed. Another opposition member argued that accepting the Chapter VII tribunal would be a concession of Lebanese sovereignty. But the key problem is precisely Lebanon’s lack of sovereignty. Lebanon ceded its sovereignty to armed militias in 1969, and to Syria in the following decades — and never got it back.

The government there is too weak even to claim a monopoly of legitimate force, much less exercise one. Several leading Lebanese, including a senior Christian army general and a Sunni cabinet minister, suggested to me that the weakness of Lebanon’s institutions is indeed necessary for political stability there. Such thinking, incredible as it may seem, is common in Lebanon. The Lebanese army maintains its power and prestige chiefly by never acting to defend any institution in Lebanon except itself.

As long as both the Lebanese army and the U.N. forces under UNIFIL stay out of the political conflict, Hezbollah will remain the only force in Lebanon able and willing to impose its will. The international community needs to wake up to the fact that neither the tribunal it has called for, nor the government of Lebanon generally, can long survive without outside protection. It is vital to expand the mandate of UNIFIL into one that protects Lebanon’s key institutions — its parliament as well as the tribunal — from its internal as well as external enemies.

Opponents of intervention will invoke Article 2(7) of the U.N. Charter, and argue the U.N. should stay away because the current constitutional crisis is “essentially a matter within the domestic jurisdiction” of Lebanon. But it isn’t. The forces currently preying on Lebanon are very definitely coming from the outside — chiefly Iran and Syria — and have now assumed decisive influence over both the investigation into Hariri’s death and the coming presidential election. This is of critical importance, because all the evidence thus far adduced in the investigation suggests that responsibility for the murder of Hariri rests at the highest levels of the Syrian government and that it was carried out by the instruments of an illegal Syrian occupation.

President Emile Lahoud argues that the government of the prime minister is illegitimate — but he was himself “elected” by a parliament installed under Syrian occupation, and his term was illegally extended by this same rubber stamp for an illegal occupation. Now both he and the speaker of parliament, who is increasingly under Hezbollah’s thumb, argue that the current parliament won’t be able to select a president with a simple majority vote unless it first achieves a supermajority quorum — which it can’t do without the presence of the opposition. So another defeat for majority rule and for Lebanon is looming.In default of any general agreement on a constitutional means to elect future governments, the international community must intervene, just as it did in the former Yugoslavia. The vacuum of sovereignty that exists in Lebanon needs to be filled, and only the Security Council has the perceived legitimacy to fill it.

If we don’t move to save Lebanon now, we will be handing America’s enemies an enormous victory, and the spread of democracy in the Middle East will suffer a deadly blow. After all, if democracy cannot be saved in the one Arab country where it has existed for a long time, what hope is there of democracy surviving among Iraqis and Palestinians who have never had it?

– Mario Loyola is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He recently returned from a trip to Lebanon.