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Lebanese Civilities and The Syrian Fallout

Could someone please tell me how THIS GUY has become the “decider” in Lebanese politics?

Lebanese Civilities and The Syrian Fallout

Walid Jumblatt. Lebanon's Ouija Board

Anyway, as I’m sure you know Lebanon has been going through some issues lately. Obviously Syria is deeply involved so I will do my best to discuss the Syrian side of events while trying not to get too caught up in the morass that is Lebanese politics.

If you feel like trudging through the swamp on your own I have a few suggested links.

The single best resource on the current situation is the most recent International Crisis Group report on Lebanon, which appears in ICG Middle East Report #100 (Dec 2010). You can find the full .pdf file here.

The most up-to-date information comes from the Daily Star. The Beirut based newspaper contends that Najib Miqati, a telecom baron of sorts, will be the Hezbollah choice for Prime Minister. He will be going up against Saad Hariri for the post with consultations kicking off today. You can read the article here.

Qifa Nabki breaks down the actual numbers involved in the process here.

For general information on the implications and background of the current crisis check the NYT here–Al Jazeera English here and here–and Reuters here.

David Pollack has a really insightful article for Foreign Policy Magazine which discusses some very recent polling data and its implications for the current standoff here. Apparently only 4% of the Lebanese Sunni population supports Miqati, and only 2% support Omar Karameh (another possible candidate of the March 8th bloc).

Ok, time to transition to Syria.

It has been clear that the Syrian government is playing a fairly central role in the current Lebanese crisis for some time now. Since the most recent flare-up began January 12th, multiple Lebanese players have made the “pilgrimage” to Damascus to “consult” with the Syrian President. Of course, the true nature of these meetings is impossible to know, but the behavior of my good friend Walid Jumblatt is informative.

The Lebanese government officially collapsed January 12th, which was a direct result of failed Saudi-Syrian negotiations attempting to find a compromise solution in Lebanon. Mr. Jumblatt visited Damascus the following Saturday, January 15th, meeting with Syrian President Assad regarding the crisis. Six days later Mr. Jumblatt announced that his Parliamentary bloc would “…stand firm in support of Syria and the resistance” effectively abandoning Saad Hariri, and the March 14th bloc, and endorsing Syrian policies and allies. Syria first, the resistance second. As the above linked ICG report makes clear, many prominent politicians who have publicly broken with Syria in the past have met with an untimely demise. Jumblatt, the ultimate survivor, doesn’t seem willing to make the same choice as evidenced by his recent move in support of the March 8th parliamentary bloc.

Just how much influence is Syria exerting? That remains to be seen, as the consultations over the next Lebanese PM are ongoing, but Syria does seem to benefit from an increase in Hezbollah’s power. Not to mention that the entire raison d’etre for the March 14th political movement is anti-Syrian, and as it stands now, March 14th will have a much smaller role in Lebanese affairs. Even if Hasan Nasrallah’s calls for a unity government are heeded, Hezbollah will assume much greater influence over the Lebanese government, with Syria as a principle patron. While this won’t be a full recovery of pre-2005 levels of control, Syrian influence will have reached its highest point post-2005. A good WSJ piece on current Syrian influence in Lebanon can be found here.

This ends up relating back to the appointment of Ambassador Ford. Richard Grenell reiterates a common criticism of the appointment in the Huffington Post this week (found here). The main point of the article is that the US has abandoned Lebanon, and the STL, in favor of kowtowing to Syria (and Iran) via the appointment of an Ambassador. Obama no tough guy. Me no like. If Syria is truly influencing events in Lebanon, especially Hezbollah, as much as it seems doesn’t the US want to try to influence Syria? I agree with Mr. Grenell on one point, US policy towards Lebanon has been poorly planned and executed for some time. But if that policy is to be rescued isn’t engaging with Syria vital? I would contend that it is vital, vital for US-Syria relations, US interests region wide, and as we can see from Syrian influence in Lebanon, vital to US interests there as well.

The next few days will prove very interesting. The choice of the next Lebanese PM will be a telling reflection of power on the ground in Lebanon. We will find out if Hezbollah is capable of taking up real responsibility. We’ll also get a pretty clear idea of Saad Hariri’s intestinal fortitude. Most importantly for Syria, and other regional actors, the choice of the next Lebanese PM will tell us just how powerful Syria and its allies are within Lebanon, for this will have far-reaching implications for the future. The acting Iranian foreign minister is in Damascus right now meeting with President Assad. While Syria’s role in the current Lebanese crisis is murky, Iran’s is even more so. Representatives have officially acknowledged that the current meeting is regarding Lebanon, and more specifically Hezbollah. Some say we shouldn’t be talking to Syria?!?

More soon.



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.