Revolution amongst the cedars.
If I were Stateside, or had a bit better internet connection, this would likely not be my first post here on Lebanon. Some of you who know me might remember a time (about two years ago) when I was quite Lebanon-obsessed. That's never totally gone away, though I've been more focussed on places like Sub-saharan Africa and Latin America of late. It's a complex and difficult to understand place, not unlike the rest of the region. The main reason for this is that everyone keeps switching sides. Back when groups like this:
made up my daily reading, Rafik Hariri and Walid Jumblatt were staunch defenders of Syria. Hariri was certainly not the darling of neoconservatives, and Jumblatt (deservedly) had scorn heaped upon him for some rather racist comments he made about then National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Jumblatt has called Pierre Jemayel, founder of the lebanese Falanj (a rather rightist party representing Lebanon's maronite Christians) a fascist who trained under Hitler. If you thought Kerry was a flip-flopper, the man ain't got nothing on Jumblatt. And apparently, since some time last year, he's felt the wind blowing the opposition's way. Of course, Hariri's perhaps a bit different. First and foremost, he's a businessman, trying to get Lebanon out of debt. Yet, apparently something snapped with him too, for he's now a martyr to the anti-Syrian cause. Now, the traditionally Christian opposition seems to have some non-sectarian support, and Bashar is feeling the heat. The ineptitude of the Hariri assassination is staggering, not least because of it's timing right before a "mending fences" visit from President Bush to Europe. One of the few things the french agree with Bush on is a belief that Syria should be out of Lebanon. (Indeed, it's interesting to wonder what France's reaction would have been had it been Syria, not Iraq, which Bush pressed to invade). Now, Assad has given Bush and Chirac the pretext they both need to paper over their differences and unite against a common enemy: him.
Which has led, of course, to lots of Middle Eastern paranoia about how the Israelis are behind the assassination. To understand this, you've got to realize the history of Lebanon (particularly during the civil war) was one of really really strange bedfellows. Former spook Robert Baer even speculated in his book _See No Evil_ of an alliance between radical shiah militia Hezzbolla and the falanjists of the Lebanese Forces. One man, Eli Hobika, seems to have worked (according to his bodyguard at least) for Israeli intelligence then, subsequently, for the syrians. So, when you've got such a conspiracy-laden environment, why not finger an unlikely culpret like Israel? Well, because the Israelis aren't quite good enough at that game. Israel tends to do things in an appallingly "We don't like you, stop doing what you're doing or we'll kill you...oops, you didn't stop, here's a missile" fashion. If the Israelis would just do their killing covertly and let it appear as if someone else was doing it (EG, play the regional game), perhaps they wouldn't be so reviled? No, but it is an interesting thought. No, the MO is much more Bashar's He's incompitent really, when it comes down to it. One could speculate that his father never would have made the kinds of mistakes that he's making, and one would probably be right. But if, as some commentators have speculated, Bashar's trying to run things in Lebanon himself, much about the ineptitude of the assassination might be explained.
So, it would seem, it begins. And for Lebanon junkies like me, it's going to be fun to (hopefully) watch her slip out from the clutches of Syria.