Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ajami on Lebanon

Professor Fouad Ajami summarizes the long-running and abusive Syria-Lebanon relationship in the OpinionJournal today.

Rafiq Hariri was only the latest in a long line of Lebanese nationalists most notably Kamal Jumblat and Bashir Gemayal assassinated most likely at the behest of Syria.

Truth be known, [the] steady encroachment on Lebanon was aided and abetted by the silence of the world. ... A generation ago, the Pax Americana averted its gaze from the Syrian destruction of the last vestige of Lebanon's independence: In 1990-91, America had acquiesced when the Syrians put down the rebellion of a patriotic Lebanese officer, Michel Aoun, whose cause represented the devotion of the Christian Maronites to the ancestral independence of their country. That was the price paid by President George Herbert Walker Bush for enlisting Syria in the coalition that waged war against Saddam Hussein for his grab of Kuwait. Pity the Lebanese: They had cedars, Kuwait had oil. We would restore Kuwait's sovereignty as we consigned the Lebanese to their terrible fate in that big Syrian prison.

...The only antidote to this terrible, senseless death, is the eviction of Syria from Lebanon. In a rare, but important, case of French-American cooperation, those two powers have backed a United Nations Security Council Resolution calling on Syria to respect the sovereignty of Lebanon. If Damascus's operatives pulled off this assassination, the deed is a response, at once pathetic but brazen, to the mounting pressure on Syria to change its ways. It would be fitting that the Syrian hegemony in Lebanon consolidated during the first war against Saddam Hussein would be undone in the course of this new campaign in Iraq.

Lebanon (my birthplace, I should add) may never have been as pretty as its tales. It may never have been the "Paris of the Mediterranean," and its modernism may have been skin-deep at times. But it was and remains a vibrant Arab country of open ways, a place for refugees and dissidents, a country where Arab modernity made a stand, and where Christians and Muslims built a culture of relative compromise

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