December 22, 2009

Assad Returns as the Strong Horse

Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah’s bayonet in his back.

Assad’s regime assassinated Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically “positive” statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri’s house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can’t quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it’s not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government’s cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis.

Hariri and his allies in parliament resisted an extraordinary amount of pressure on these points for months before caving in, but cave in they did. They didn’t have much choice. The national army isn’t strong enough to disarm Hezbollah, and unlike Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei, Hariri doesn’t have his own private army. Hezbollah militiamen surrounded his house last year and firebombed his TV station when the government shut down its illegal surveillance system at the airport. At the end of the day, Hariri has to do what Hezbollah and its friends say unless someone with a bigger stick covers his back when push comes to shove.

No one has Hariri’s or Lebanon’s back, not anymore. He and his allies in the "March 14" coalition have sensed this for some time, which is why Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has grudgingly softened his opposition to Assad and Hezbollah lately. When Hariri went to Damascus, everyone in the country, aside from useless newswire reporters, understood it meant Syria has re-emerged as the strong horse in Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt is another member of what David Schenker calls the Murdered Fathers Club. Assad’s ruthless late father, Hafez Assad, put Jumblatt through a similarly gruesome experience back in the 70s during the civil war. First Assad murdered Walid’s father, Kamal, then summoned the surviving Jumblatt to Damascus and forced him to shake hands and pledge his allegiance. Who can even imagine what that must have felt like? Hariri knows now, and Jumblatt still tells everyone he meets all about it.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 22, 2009 1:33 PM
[...] How the Left Handles Indingeous Populations December 22, 2009 Posted by ymarsakar in Politics. trackback Contrary to Avatar’s view that natives are exploited by companies, in this reality of Planet Earth, they are exploited by power mad tyrants and those that enable them. [...]
Posted by: How the Left Handles Indingeous Populations « Sake White at December 22, 2009 1:51 pm
In your previous post about Shia-Sunni, and Arab-Persian conflict overshadowing Israel, you state:
"the policy implications for both the U.S. and Israel are profound."

But now it seems Obama is supporting Syria ... Both posts are quite interesting, but they don't mesh well together.

The need of weak rulers to shake hands with the killers of their fathers is a very strong tragedy.
Posted by: Tom Grey at December 22, 2009 6:42 pm

Obama isn't supporting Syria, he's inadvertently enabling it.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 22, 2009 6:47 pm
Hariri isn't without options MJT. He can reach out to PM Maliki, Sistani, and the Najaf Marjeya . . . the real strong horses in the middle east.

Assad might have been complicit in the recent terrorist attack against Iraq. (They found a sim card linked to Syria.) There is a nationalist wave against Iran for trying to steel Iraqi oil fields.

The Iraqis have a powerful ISF and the will to use it. Iraq could be a great asset to Lebanon.

Perhaps this could take the form of a Amal, Najaf, Maliki, Hariri, Lebanese Christian alliance.
Posted by: anan at December 23, 2009 3:20 pm
Anan has a good point. A Maliki/Hariri axis of democracies would be a very heartening thing.

Too bad President Obama is too busy dreaming up well-intentioned non-binding climate change agreements in Copenhagen to encourage such an alliance.
Posted by: KingShamus at December 24, 2009 6:20 am
PS: Mr. Totten, I like the feel of the new Wordpress site. Good job, sir.
Posted by: KingShamus at December 24, 2009 6:23 am
[...] by KingShamus on December 24, 2009 Whatever is good for Hezbollah/Bashar Assad/Iran is bad for Lebanon, Israel…and America US too. Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri┬ájust spent two [...]
Posted by: Michael Totten on Lebanon 2009 « Blog de KingShamus at December 24, 2009 7:42 am
Merry Christmas, Michael.

enabling is supporting, and I don't really believe it's inadvertent; tho his Peace Prize speech was great (if, for once, his actions agree with his words).

Maliki-Hariri is a great idea, but maybe not from America (altho definitely in US interests for democracy promotion).

Please keep working on your book, even tho I/we miss your fantastic blog posts, too.
Posted by: Tom Grey at December 24, 2009 5:58 pm
Gotta love the Lebanese Forces and Samir Geagea. They are the only party that won't step foot in Syria and the only party that won't be invited. No other party has been as consistent with their beliefs as the LF. From 1990 - 2005, the LF took beatings on a regular basis, were legally banned, their leader Geagea imprisoned, and many officials such as Ramzi Irani were assassinated, all on Syria's orders. They still didn't change their beliefs. Everyone else, with the exception of the Aounists, decided to work for the Syrians and lived the good life during that time. Aoun went on to do the same thing. The LF remains what it was when formed by Bachir Gemayel - a party of nationalists safeguarding Lebanon and resisting all foreign attempts to destabalize our country.

As anti-Syria as I am, I won't hold the visit against Saad. Hariri visited Syria as Prime Minister of Lebanon and not as head of the Future Movement. As long as a leading official like the president or prime minister is in Syria, it's not a problem. The problem comes when party heads like Michel Aoun go, then they clearly go for personal interests.

Still, it's a disgrace no one is doing a thing to help release the hundreds of Lebanese illegally detained in Syria's prisons. To think Hezbollah started a war over it's four detainees in Israel, yet the most we hear from March 14 about the detainees in Syria is from Sami Gemayel once every 6 months. Relations with Syria cannot be good until we get our prisoners - LF, Aounist, Muslim, Christian, even the minority who are criminals - out of Syria's prisons.

As for Jumblatt, the man has no cause, he has no beliefs, he has no stances. He was in and out of bed with Syria for the last 30 years more than once. Here's hope for an end to the Jumblatt dynasty, a family of corrupt leaders and murderers.
Posted by: Carlos at December 26, 2009 4:00 pm
Oh, and Merry Christmas Michael. I really enjoy reading your articles.
Posted by: Carlos at December 26, 2009 4:01 pm
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