Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Assad outlasted Bush & outwitted Obama"

"... One could almost hear a collective gasp across the Middle East when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri made a most astonishing statement earlier this month. After vehemently accusing Syria of orchestrating his father's murder in 2005, after leading a revolt that pushed Syrian troops out of Lebanon on the strength of that accusation, after galvanizing what seemed an unstoppable political movement on the power of those charges, Hariri said it had all been just one big mistake.
The reversal marked the passing of a short-lived era in Lebanese history and of Western influence in Lebanon, .... an ominous loss for moderate forces in the region, especially in Lebanon, and the disheartening evanescence of America's ability to play a meaningful role in shaping events.
When U.S. envoy George Mitchell traveled to Beirut a few weeks ago to secure Lebanese participation in Mideast peace talks, his hosts flatly rejected the request. Arab observers attributed the snub to the Lebanese government's outright fear of Hezbollah. It was a startling turn of events.
More than five years ago, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon became the epicenter of a power struggle between East and West, between allies of Iran and backers of the United States.... Hariri, the once-inspiring heir to his martyred father, is now running scared. A fragile Lebanon stands on a knife's edge.... , and Washington's influence is now a barely audible echo of its earlier thunder.
Just as the success of the Cedar Revolution was not all the Bush administration's doing, the loss of Lebanon did not result in its entirety from the Obama administration's actions. But there is little question that policy shifts in Washington changed the regional realities to the point where Saad Hariri now feels he has no choice but to side with Syria (Iraq? Afghanistan? the economy? Frida? ) ....
One major change brought about by the Obama administration was the diplomatic unfreezing of Syria.... Assad outlasted Bush and outwitted Obama....
As the West, led by the Obama administration, has warmed to an unreformed Assad and downgraded its support of Lebanon's moderates, Hariri has gradually toned down his antagonism to Syria. His first visit to Syria came in 2009, and since then he has become a frequent caller in Damascus, each time leaving a little more of Lebanon's independence at Bashar's feet.
When the U.N. tribunal was first set up, Hariri was its vocal champion, and the Lebanese government backed it completely. Since then, the investigation has stumbled along, spending years and millions of dollars looking into the assassination. Its scores of well-paid staffers, who live comfortably in the Netherlands, proceed unimpressively with their search for the killers of Hariri and 20 others who died in the massive explosion five years ago. The panel, incidentally, also has jurisdiction to investigate the many assassinations that followed Hariri's, if they find that they are connected. No indictments have been brought so far.
Nasrallah, who in recent months has launched an intense campaign to discredit the investigation, now says the Israelis killed Hariri and calls the tribunal "an Israeli project,"...more ominously, Nasrallah has warned that if the Lebanese government accepts the verdict, with an expected indictment of Hezbollah agents, "It will be a hundred times worse than in May 2008."....
The threat of violence is so real that Walid Jumblatt, .... told the French foreign minister a few days ago that "truth and justice are important, but the country's stability is even more important."
In other words, do not antagonize Hezbollah -- and its backers in Syria and Iran.
A few days ago, the pro-Syrian Christian politician Suleiman Franjieh said, if Hezbollah members are indicted, "there will be war in Lebanon." It looks as if Hezbollah, Iran's long tentacle inside Lebanon, has now thoroughly succeeded in bullying Lebanon. As for Washington, it barely looks like a player anymore...."

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