Why Syria interferes in Lebanon? [Archives:2004/776/Opinion]

September 27 2004

By Manuela Paraipan
[email protected]

This is an article in response to the interview article by Walid Al-Saqqaf: 'Yemen had stood by Lebanon in its critical times, and rejects interference in its local affairs.'
President Lahoud's term was prolonged for three more years. The decision did not come from the Lebanese people, as it would have been normal, but from Syria. If, Reagan's administration abandoned Lebanon in the 1980's, Bush administration has a different agenda. President Bush seems to be aware of the fact that Lebanon, instead of Iraq, can be a starting point to spread peace and democracy in the region.
September 11th may very well be the result of wrong US policies in Lebanon. Terrorists weighed the consistency of the US policy against terrorism and found its weak link. All they have to do is to send some US troops home in body bags, and the United States will change its policy and will beat a retreat. The fundamentalist or liberation movements, as they are called in the region – followed this strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
The United States had given a strong hint months ago that it would ban Syria from selecting Lebanon's president and would oppose a constitutional amendment that would allow General Lahoud from seeking a new term in office. This time the US decided not to turn a blind eye to Syria's military occupation and hegemony over Lebanon, and signed into law the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA). More recently the United States together with France and
Germany, called on the UN 1559 resolution to be applied.
Moreover, in Lebanon, there is definitely a strong popular support for independence, democracy and an end to the Syrian influence. Because of the strong Syrian secret service apparatus and army presence within the borders of Lebanon, many people are afraid to take a clear stand against Syria. However, this may change if the secret service apparatus are not backed up by the physical presence of the Syrian army troops.
Implementation of sanctions comes after months of diplomatic efforts to convince the Syrian government to change its behavior. So far, the Syrian government has failed to take significant, concrete steps, towards addressing these concerns. Syria chose to ignore all the warning messages. Why would Syria choose to ignore the warning signals the United States send it through the last few months?
We have here two different scenarios. First, the Syrian regime is aware of the fact that the days of its totalitarian regime are at an end, and the trend of having satellite states is history. If this is the case then, they might have challenged the world openly to show that they are still in control while setting the stage for an inevitable retreat that would appear as if it was their own decision. Or, Syria may believe that the US has neither the means to extend the war beyond Iraq, nor does it want to have to deal with a leaderless post-Baathist Syria, or an out of control Hezbollah in Lebanon once the Syrian regime is destroyed. Even if that's the case, the 'survival instinct' of the Syrian leader will bring the country back to the negotiating table once they acknowledge the imminent danger.
Until this point, the world waved 'carrots' in front of Damascus wishfully hoping that the Syrian regime will take the right decision. Seeing Syria's reluctance, the US has the opportunity to use the 'stick' instead, and impose on Syrian to back up the deployment of the Lebanese army on all the Lebanese territory during a transitional period, in which Hezbollah will be given the choice to surrender their weapons and continue to exist as a political organization, or else.
The fact remains that there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East as long as Lebanon remains an occupied country and its people are oppressed. A Lebanon free from foreign troops, sovereign, independent and democratic is the key to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and to the defeat of worldwide terrorism and fanaticism.
The Middle East region needs more of a 'hands-on approach' – more stronger external pressures (e.g., potential military strikes, threats of regime change). Such an approach might be able to convince existing regimes, such as the Syrian one to get into an accelerated de-militarization and reform process without having to change the regime itself.
This is not a guaranteed approach and there is no easy solution to a change in the governance model in many of the countries of the Middle East, but it is worth trying it.