Friday, May 27, 2005

Lebanon vs. Iraq

Michael Young has written a very informative piece in Slate on the current state of affairs in Lebanon. Elections begin this weekend and will likely result in a government far less dependent, and beholden to, Syria. Events have progressed at a phenomenally quick pace since the yet-unsolved murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, and while there are still some major obstacles (see: Hezbollah, disarming) there is much good news. The only issue I have with the article is the following paragraph:

Those who accuse the Bush administration of incompetence in the Middle East because of events in Iraq may soon have to temper that with an assessment of its shrewder behavior in Lebanon. Lebanon is today under de facto international trusteeship, and the mainstays of that order, ironically, correspond to what the Bush administration's critics would have regarded as ideal in Iraq: The United Nations is involved; the United States and the Europeans are reading from the same songbook; the administration has not used military force; and a heinous crime may one day be punished. Most important, change came through a combination of outside and domestic pressures, so even compulsive foes of U.S. unilateralism might approve.
While it is true that the Bush administration has played its hand well in Lebanon so far to compare what has taken place there since February with the events in Iraq since 2003 is laughable. To begin, the nations of Western Europe (save Britain) have largely abdicated responsibility in Iraq. Hitching a ride on the diplomatic cakewalk that has been the movement toward Lebanese independence does not make up for that abdication. Indeed, when Egypt and Saudi Arabia are calling for Syrian withdrawal, it is somehow not as bold to step in and 'help.' At no point was outside (re: U.S.) military force needed or even suggested in Lebanon as the transition has been largely peaceful. Rest assured, however, no empty threats were needed to convince Syrian President Assad that it was in his best interest to pull out of his smaller neighbor's land. Perhaps most astoundingly is the implication that only in Lebanon will a 'heinous crime' be punished. Is Saddam, murderer and torturer of thousands, not in prison awaiting trial by his own people?

To state a case for Lebanon as a model for a peaceful uprising is fair; to compare events there to those in Iraq is amateurish at best and disingenuous at worst. The overarching answer to all of the criticisms leveled above is simple: the dramatic and inspiring events in Lebanon would not taken place without intervention in Iraq first laying the groundwork. The Lebanese protestors knew they had an ally in the Bush administration, Assad knew he could not respond to the protests violently because a precedent for direct U.S. intervention had already been set and thus no military intervention was necessary.
--Frank

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