June 7, 2008

Assad in the Driverís Seat

I don’t know what is going to happen in Lebanon in the short or medium term, but whatever it is, it isn’t likely to be good. Michael Young’s latest column in Beirut’s Daily Star is a sobering read. It’s impossible to summarize, so you’ll have to read the whole thing, but here’s his conclusion:

Resolution 1701 has been in the crosshairs of Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah for some time. With the Bush administration on its way out, the Europeans ripe to end Syria's isolation, Syria's Arab foes anemic, Israel little interested in reinforcing the UN's credibility in Lebanon, and the Hariri tribunal looking like an afterthought, now may be the ideal time to begin chopping down the edifice built up in Lebanon by the Security Council between 2004 and 2006. Assad is in the driver's seat and no one seems willing to stop him.

UPDATE: Lebanon's "elected" moderately pro-Syrian president Michel Suleiman had predictably caved on the disarmament of Hezbollah, either because he sincerely supports Hezbollah's "resistance" or because he knows the state is too weak to do anything anyway. Whatever. It makes little or no practical difference what his reasons are. There will be more war in Lebanon, and there will be a lot of it. I often miss the place, but I'm glad I don't live there anymore.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 7, 2008 7:59 PM
Comments

The flaw of his article is that it presumes that 1701 has ever had any relevance to anyone but a handful of U.N. bureaucrats and the soldiers stuck in Lebanon and told to do nothing.

Posted by: Eric Akawie Author Profile Page at June 8, 2008 5:58 AM

Gotta go with Akawie on this one.

If you live in a third world hole and are at your last resort and receive word that the U.N. is going to save you...

... you better go ahead and save a bullet for yourself.

History will treat America's continued involvement with the U.N. at the beginning of this century in the same manner as it has the history of Europe's powers the League of Nations in the runup to World War 2.

Posted by: TmjUtah Author Profile Page at June 8, 2008 12:21 PM

I agree with you guys to an extent here. Yes, 1701 is far too weak, certainly too weak to save anyone from Hezbollah's depradations. But if it only mattered to UN bureaucrats, why would Hezbollah and Assad squawk about it at all? It doesn't hurt them a lot, but they aren't fans of it either.

The point here is that the so-called "international community" has put up only token resistance to Hezbollah-Syria-Iran in Lebanon, and no one is willing to bolster or defend even that much. They can do whatever they want right now, even with the supposed "cowboy" in the White House. Just about everyone who matters, and even some who don't, have caved. The only resistance to the resistance in Lebanon is likely to come from some very unlikeable characters who were willing to lay low as long as they thought someone with power had their back.

I was optimistic about Lebanon for a while, but I sure am not now.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at June 8, 2008 12:40 PM

The "weak" has nothing to do with the resolution in question, sir, but instead the organization that authored it.

It will never happen, but I would pay money to see a public solicitation of the U.S. from Lebanon for defense assistance. If the request noted the failure of the UN and was combined with a simple declaration that Hez is a criminal element, funded by Syria, would be nice.

And I understand that they want iced tea in Hell, too.

Posted by: TmjUtah Author Profile Page at June 8, 2008 12:56 PM

TmjUtah: The “weak” has nothing to do with the resolution in question, sir, but instead the organization that authored it.

Mostly, I agree. But if the UN sponsored a Chapter 7 resolution, as in Kosovo, and NATO went into Lebanon, things would be different. The UN wouldn't run that show, it would merely green-light it.

NATO isn't going in there, though. Not likely ever.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at June 8, 2008 1:21 PM

The current situation in Lebanon is proof, (approximately 1,201,033rd piece of evidence on record) that our foreign policy of relying on the UN and our terror-supporting Saudi allies to bring peace and moderation to the Middle East isn't working. It hasn't been working for more than a decade.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at June 8, 2008 3:24 PM

Mostly, I agree. But if the UN sponsored a Chapter 7 resolution, as in Kosovo, and NATO went into Lebanon, things would be different. The UN wouldn't run that show, it would merely green-light it.

People keep talking about the UN as though it were a sovereign body. It isn't, it's a forum. The US, for example, is a security council member, and can propose action.

Has any such resolution been proposed?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at June 9, 2008 12:14 PM

The current situation in Lebanon is proof, (approximately 1,201,033rd piece of evidence on record) that our foreign policy of relying on the UN and our terror-supporting Saudi allies to bring peace and moderation to the Middle East isn't working.

What else would work, specifically, with the current situation in Lebanon?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at June 9, 2008 12:22 PM

What else would work, specifically, with the current situation in Lebanon?

If your hand is being burned because you keep putting it into a fire, the best solution is to stop doing it. Then you can look into the alternatives.

There are a very wide variety of alternatives to our current policy of relying on the hub of world terrorism and the UN to bring peace to the middle east.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at June 9, 2008 5:51 PM

There will be more war in Lebanon, and there will be a lot of it.

Here, let's mark the spot. I don't think there will be much war in Lebanon over, say, the next decade. Let's call "much war", "a violent conflict that kills people every week for more than three months, and/or kills more than 1000 people in a year, or 5000 people in the next decade", and let's bet a steak dinner on it.

For context, the 2006 campaign, according to Wiki, killed about 1200 people. The Lebanese Civil War killed about 100,000.

My bet is that, if there is any future conflict, it will be 2006-sized or smaller. You seem to be suggesting something more like the 80's.

The 80's annihilated Lebanon as a country - like living in Iraq, or Gaza. 2006, while surely unpleasant, isn't all that bad for places in the world that are not in the 'first world' territory.

If not for Israel (and this is not a moral judgement on potential Israeli actions) I would cut those numbers even lower (maybe 500 in a year and 2500 in a decade).

I think you're overpessimistic. I agree with you that Assad may have the upper hand on his UN resolution, but that does not = all the rest of this.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at June 9, 2008 6:53 PM

Given the rather high state of Sunni-Shiite tensions in Lebanon, Sunni attacks on UNFIL would likely make UNFIL more popular in the Shiite South and indirectly weaken Hizballah's hold on the population. The minimum local cooperation required to make a sustained sequence of attacks plausible seems somewhat unlikely.

Not to mention, that a rather large collection of intelligence assets would be rather interested in looking for Syrian connections. I doubt Syria fails to understand that that level of recklessness is not exactly a precursor to better relations with America.

I'm not laughing off the question of Syrian connections to Fateh, but I think Michael Young is wrong to see them as incapable of independent grudges and plans.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at June 9, 2008 7:06 PM

If your hand is being burned because you keep putting it into a fire, the best solution is to stop doing it. Then you can look into the alternatives.

That isn't very specific. What I meant was, seeing as you are critical of what the UN has done, what do suggest they should have done?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at June 9, 2008 7:16 PM

What I meant was, seeing as you are critical of what the UN has done, what do suggest they should have done?

I'm critical of our reliance on the UN. We obviously can't make them change, so our best option is to find another means/ally to help bring sanity to the Middle East.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at June 10, 2008 7:45 AM

...so our best option is to find another means/ally to help bring sanity to the Middle East.

Duck, dodge, bob, weave.

What, specifically, would you do to fix the situation in Lebanon right now that the UN has failed to do?

Or do you just have no idea?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at June 10, 2008 10:39 AM

Duck, dodge, bob, weave

Yeah, right. I was answering your questions. If you don't like the answers, phrase the questions more succinctly.

What specifically would I do? The situation in Lebanon, like most of the problems in the Middle East, is caused by the idiotic 'Great Game' were playing with the Russians and the Chinese. We believe that the Saudis are our most powerful pawns in an absurd chess game we keep playing. The Russians back the Iranians, the Chinese and the Europeans back whomever they can.

Various Iranian and Saudi sponsored terrorist groups are the weapons of this war. Little countries like Lebanon and Israel are unfortunate enough to be located in the area that's responsible for worldwide production of terrorist goons. They're suffering the most as a result of this game.

The best solution is to change the rules of the game. There are an infinite number of choices. The best solution is to promote alternatives to oil, which would promote the development of new technologies, reduce carbon output and improve most economies worldwide. Alternate solutions would be to leave the leaders of terror-supporting states in power, but work behind the scenes to weaken them to the point where they are, literally, pawns.

Or the superpowers could stop fighting, start cooperating and form a true alliance to just take whatever resources we need. We could call it the 900 lb. gorilla alliance (we sit wherever we damn well please). It's an evil plan that might not improve Lebanon and Israel's prospects, but it would eliminate the need for terrorist 'weapons' and states like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

There are many more (and probably better) solutions out there, but the fact that our govt. does not seem to be genuinely pursuing any alternatives is alarming. We keep doing the same thing, hoping for a different outcome this time..

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at June 10, 2008 12:37 PM

Yeah, right. I was answering your questions. If you don't like the answers, phrase the questions more succinctly.

Let's see. I literally asked:

1. What else would work, specifically, with the current situation in Lebanon?

2. What I meant was, seeing as you are critical of what the UN has done, what do suggest they should have done?

3. What, specifically, would you do to fix the situation in Lebanon right now that the UN has failed to do?

I'm at a loss to understand how to phrase the question any more clearly or succinctly. In all three cases, you ignored the question or answered with vague generalities.

The best solution is to promote alternatives to oil, which would promote the development of new technologies, reduce carbon output and improve most economies worldwide.

Once again, this and the other suggestions are generalities. Lebanon and UN do not have the power nor ability to implement these suggestions. Besides, I can only imagine your reaction if the UN Security Council suggested alternative energy as the solution to the Lebanese crisis. I have no idea what the Lebanese facing the crisis would think. Not much, I suspect.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at June 10, 2008 2:55 PM

Once again, this and the other suggestions are generalities. Lebanon and UN do not have the power nor ability to implement these suggestions.

The problem in Lebanon is a symptom of a systemic problem. Our foreign policy is diseased and dying. So is Russia and China's. The cure for the disease is also the cure for each individual symptom.

If someone wants a cure for diabetes, should they just treat individual symptoms, or should they change their diet and start taking insulin?

If someone wants to do something about another systemic problem, global warming, should they look at the big picture, or should they treat every symptom as an unrelated, individual problem? Are climate scientists talking about "generalities" when they complain about the worldwide effects of bad policy?

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at June 11, 2008 4:14 PM
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