The Bush Doctrine has set a bit of a wildfire of freedom in the Middle East region. In elections this weekend in Lebanon we saw Lebanese continue to fight back against Syria (albeit in complicated alliances) in yet another step in what’s been dubbed a Cedar Revolution.
But following that success for democracy came the assassination of an anti-Syria politician Tuesday morning.
NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez asked Walid Phares, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Lebanon-born professor of religion and world politics at Florida Atlantic University about some of the most recent Cedar happenings.
National Review Online: How good are the Lebanese people’s chances of breaking free from Syria?
Walid Phares: Thanks to the Bush administration’s decision to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution back in September, with the backing of the U.S. Congress and the efforts of the Lebanese Diaspora worldwide, Lebanon’s civil society had a historic opportunity to free itself from the Syrian occupation with UNSCR 1559. I had the privilege of working on the policy memo that called for such a resolution on behalf of Diaspora NGOs. By delegitimizing Syria’s military occupation of Lebanon–something not done during the 1990s–Washington and its allies, including France on this one, made it possible for the Lebanese inside and outside the country to express their rejection of Baathist dominance. With the assassination of Hariri, Damascus invited further pressures by the Bush administration and the world community to evacuate the country. The demonstration of around one million people on March 14 produced the Cedar Revolution.
This was the opportunity for the Lebanese to break definitely out from Syria’s grip. The first projection in the West and among overseas Lebanese, was that the revolution would crumble the all political institutions of the pro-Syrian regime (hence the name revolution) and allow the international community to remove Hezbollah’s Iranian weapons immediately after Syria’s withdrawal. This was the highest moment. Unfortunately the Syrians and Hezbollah counter-maneuvered by breaking the ranks of the opposition and convincing their leaders not to remove Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president. The Christians divided between Michel Aoun on one hand and the Lebanese forces on the other. Both are pro-Western but found themselves in strange alliances. The Lebanese forces were drawn into an electoral alliance with Hezbollah in some districts and with pro-Saudi Hariri, and Aoun added pro-Syrians on his lists. From that moment on, it became logical that Saad Hariri, son of the slain prime minister and close ally to Saudi Arabia, would lead what has become a wider but more complex anti-Syrian opposition.
In short, the Lebanese opposed to Syria won the first round by getting the Syrian forces out. They are now facing Hezbollah’s weapons.
This is the middle of the battle.
NRO: How much of this would have been possible without the liberation of Iraq?
Phares: Theoretically, the liberation of Lebanon should have been done in the 1990s. The Clinton administration didn’t move forward. It took 9/11 and the liberation of Iraq to create the realities allowing the Bush administration and allies to proceed with the removal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Yes, the move in Lebanon is a direct result of the changes that occurred since Saddam’s removal. But Syrian behavior since the Saddam removal accelerated the U.S. response: The U.S. Congress (both parties), France, and even the Arab League endorsed the removal of Assad’s troops from Lebanon.
NRO: How important to the United States is it that the Cedar Revolution succeed?
Phares: It is crucial for the U.S. to see the Cedar Revolution succeed. The United States wants to see Lebanon develop its own defenses and establish a pluralistic democratic government. The liberation of Lebanon would be the greatest help to win the war on terror. Beirut is the intellectual capital of the Arab world. Any change there will affect the whole region, even more than in Iraq.
NRO: There was another assassination Tuesday morning. Will there be more of this before less?
Phares: There is a Syrian-Hezbollah “list” of politicians and cadres to eliminate. Its first tier has the names of those leaders who “were” allies with the Syro-Iranians before UNSCR 1559 but shifted against Syria in the last few months. There was an attempt against Druze leader Marwan Hamade in the fall, and since then we have seen the assassination of Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri, left-wing journalist Samir Qassir, and today former Communist leader George Hawi. The Baathist-Khomeinists are eliminating their past allies. The list is long, and has more than one tier.