The theory of both supporters and opponents of the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq was that any success there would be followed shortly by a U.S.-led move against Iran or Syria.
It appears that the conventional wisdom has turned out to be correct. As the Times of London reports today, the United States and its allies, including in this case France, is increasing pressure on Syria to get out of Lebanon:
“America and France today issued a joint demand for Syria to pull its troops and spies out of Lebanon.
“The initiative by Condoleeza Rice, the US Secretary of State, and Michel Barnier, the French Foreign Minister, came the day after the entire Lebanese cabinet resigned in the face of mass public protests against Syrian influence in Lebanese affairs.
“. . . They spoke at a London conference on Middle East peace attended by 30 countries, but to which Syria had not been invited – in itself evidence of Syria’s increasing isolation on the world stage. The statement warns Syria to pull out its troops and intelligence services, to allow Lebanon to regain its sovereignty, and to allow the country to hold free and fair elections. . . .
“Ms Rice accused Syria of being out of step with the transformation occuring in the Middle East, where democratic elections have been held in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories, and have been promised in Egypt and Lebanon.
“She also charged Damascus with supporting violence in Iraq, aiding the militant Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process, and obstructing events in Lebanon, and issued a stern warning.
“The peaceful demonstrations by tens of thousands of people on the streets of Beirut and other cities against Syria’s 30 year stranglehold on their country have been dubbed ‘the Cedar Revolution’ – a reference to Lebanon’s national symbol and a nod towards the similar peaceful protests that achieved democratic change in the Ukraine last year, called ‘the Orange Revolution.'”
The mass protests began after the car-bomb assassination of Lebanan’s former prime minister two weeks ago, and pressure from the West has been increasing. Unlike the alleged Iraqi WMDs which were never found, the assassination in Lebanon provides a definite casus belli, though it is really but a small symbol of the greater depredations visited on that once-beautiful country and its people in the past quarter-century at the hands of its ruthlessly cruel occupiers.
Coming on the heels of a likely diminishment in American involvement in Iraq, the U.S. response to the Lebanese problem may seem to the Bush administration’s opponents to be part of an insidious plan of neocons for a further increase of the U.S. presence in the oil-rich region by pretending to try to bring democracy and free markets to places that cannot support it. One suspects that any real moves against Syria will encounter widespread opposition within the United States. The enthusiasm of France for action, however, will probably give pause to the American Left, which followed the EU line in the runup to the war in Iraq.
I certainly hope that we can avoid war or anything like it in this case. However, what has been done to Lebanon is an international scandal and should never have been allowed to continue for so long. People such as ourselves, who claim complete fealty to the idea of political self-determination, not to mention morality and conscience, must support such efforts when they arise and are in our national interest.
The situation in Lebanon fits that description perfectly. As such, it has called out for attention for a quarter-century, and it is right for the West to increase pressure on Syria to set Lebanon free, and accomplish what even President Reagan failed to do: to give Lebanon back to the Lebanese.
The task for Bush, Rice, and the rest of the administration will be to do this through measures far short of open combat. It seems likely that it can be done, but ultimately the threat of force must be present. It is a certainly a risk, but one that the United States should consider well worth taking.