Friday, May 22, 2009

Biden's Three-Hour Tour

Analysis by Nicholas Noe in Middle East Times/Insight
"BEIRUT -- At some point today (Friday), U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden will sweep into the Lebanese capital for what will be yet another "three-hour" visit by a top U.S. official ahead of the critical June 7 parliamentary elections here.
Like those who came before him in a similar fashion most recently -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- the vice president will likely offer a range of promises: The U.S. will never sell out Lebanon (like it did following the 1990 Gulf War when Syria was given the keys to the country); the U.S. wants an election free of violence and intimidation (alleged Israeli assassination networks and massive military maneuvers this week are free to proceed without criticism, however) and Hezbollah should give up its weapons and recognize Israel in order to get Washington's stamp of approval (i.e. give up, in advance, precisely what a credible political process is supposed to deliver as an end result).
Biden's visit is intended to shore up the waning brand appeal of the pro-U.S. March 14 alliance before the polls. However, the VP and his advisors should consider that the long list of "lightning" visits over the last four years have actually tended to undermine exactly those leaders who were the purported beneficiaries.
Indeed, unless Biden intends to dramatically break with past practices, his visit will merely underscore, yet again, that the U.S. is either unable or unwilling to deliver on key March 14 governing objectives: mainly, getting Israel to return occupied territory and end illegal over-flights, and seriously beefing up the Lebanese army beyond the donation of a lone Cessna aircraft and several dozen refurbished Jordanian tanks that, incredibly, still have yet to be delivered.
If, conversely, Biden hopes to bolster President Michel Suleiman and a best-case scenario for March 14 that he might control a few swing MPs in the new parliament, the VP should also consider that Suleiman is necessarily, but precariously, positioned between the two opposing sides currently battling it out for the majority.
A large bear hug by an administration that once again refuses to demonstrate how the U.S. embrace can actually deliver on repeated promises of support could instead have the effect of suffocating and undermining Suleiman, not unlike the suffocation of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Either way, the now fashionable approach by Western governments to attach themselves to Suleiman will only reproduce exactly the strategy that ultimately doomed the "Cedar Revolution" of 2005, when Syrian troops were forced to leave following the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri: betting on a few parties and personalities rather than on core reforms.
Should Suleiman become the new personality that the West, and especially America, openly invests in as their man in Beirut, it is not likely that he would be able to preserve the domestic credibility he desperately needs to drive the critical institutional changes: Ending the sectarian system of government and forging a compelling roadmap for Hezbollah's integration into the Lebanese army, both of which would truly benefit Lebanese, regional and international interests in the long-run.
Sadly, Biden's visit to Beirut comes far too late and with little imagination or apparent thought as to why a new U.S. approach might be needed to finally address the problems that continue to plague Lebanon.
When the VP explains to reporters today that the Obama administration will never sell the country out for any regional deal with Iran and/or Syria, one should remember that not pursing change, and not expending efforts to back up U.S. rhetoric, can also sometimes be just as destructive as selling out one's supposed friends."

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