April 20, 2005

Providing Cover for Lebanese Democracy

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Though you read the newspaper and watch the news on TV, it shouldn't surprise you to hear that there is a huge pro-democracy movement taking hold in Lebanon. That's what Michael is currently documenting and making common cause with as I write this. History seems to be sowing the soil for this sort of bloodless revolution — and we have reason to hope that this is what the Cedar Revolution will turn out to be.

It's not easy to apprehend the precise dynamics that make a movement like this possible, but I'm mindful of a comment by one of the democracy activists in Lebanon that was reported recently by Michael:

Later, inside a different tent, a young woman took me aside. And she said: “I must tell you something. If we didn't think we had American support we would never have done this. They would kill us. We need you. It is just a fact.”

This resonates profoundly with my sense that, while Lebanese and Iranian democracy activists might not want to see U.S. troops invading or occupying their country, they need to be able rely on the fact that we've got their backs, so to speak. I don't think, prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that American citizens could have made such a claim and expected anyone in the Middle East to believe it.

And there seems to be a sign this week that Syria is wary of violently opposing this democracy movement with its now credible support from the U.S:

BEIRUT — Lebanon's prime minister formed a new government yesterday, boosting chances that a general election can be held on schedule, in line with demands by the international community and anti-Syria opposition.

But it's important that the protestors don't let up, and they could use our help.

It's outrageous that American news companies are not treating this as a major story, or are reporting it as a minor blip within a fatalistic perception of the hope for democracy in the Middle East.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Company seems to be under the impression that this call for a genuine election in Lebanon and for the the withdrawal of Syria is important enough to expect President Bush to agree to an interview. President Bush seems to think so too:

QUESTION: Thank you for your time, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: My honor, thank you.

Q: Recently there isn't a day that passes by without you mentioning Lebanon. Why now, this country that was under occupation for almost 30 years, became so important for the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, there's a movement toward freedom around the world. And the Lebanese people have made it clear that they want to be free of Syrian influence, they want there to be free elections. And the United States of America stands squarely with the people of Lebanon.

[…]

Q: I'm sure, Mr. President, you heard what I want to say maybe thousands of times, and maybe from Presidents and Kings that come and see you here in the White House — some people think that it's not in the best interest of America to have democratic Arab countries —

THE PRESIDENT: Right.

Q: — because democracy and free elections may help anti-American groups, radical groups to come to power. What do you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT: I respond to them and say, well, I guess they don't really understand me, and they don't understand my view of freedom, because I think freedom is embedded in everybody's soul… [*] …I believe that a true free society, one that self-governs, one that listens to the people, will be a peaceful society — not an angry society, but a peaceful society.

*note that I deleted a religious reference that, you would think, Bush dropped in to ensure that liberal atheists like me will have trouble convincing our friends to listen to what he is really saying. The good news: Lebanon is listening to what he is really saying!

Posted by Jeremy Brown at April 20, 2005 8:23 AM
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