A New US Policy Towards Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah
Syrian influence of Lebanon began in 1975; its implications continue adversely to affect what is the world’s only satellite state. At the same time, Lebanon policy has atrophied in Washington.
When Syria imposed itself on its western neighbor in 1975, Washington officially supported “the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Lebanon.” Instead, it deepened Syria’s hold on Lebanon. Today, Syria’s influence over Lebanon appears more entrenched than ever.
My takeaway is that the administration’s recent deliberations do not inspire much confidence towards either Syria or Lebanon as the process has been slowed by internal divisions, miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia.
President Obama has been so desperate to stay on the sidelines, in spite of ample evidence that a standoffish American attitude is making the situation for both Syria and Lebanon worse, that he has fallen time and again to the lure of wishful thinking—imaging that Assad might be forced out by the rebels or that a diplomatic initiative could possibly succeed. The interagency committee working on Syria policy was directed to focus on planning for post-Assad Syria—while largely ignoring the substantial issue of how to get rid of Assad in the first place.
It is clear to everyone by now that Obama wants to keep U.S. forces in reserve in the event they are needed if he decides to attack Iran. When it comes time for the big hunt, as some former Obama aides have put it, we don’t want the dogs distracted chasing squirrels. The problem with this interpretation is that no one is calling for a large commitment of American forces, but rather to aid the rebels. How that would constitute taking our eye off the ball regarding Iran is unclear.
No, if Obama does see the Syrian conflict strategically, perhaps the reason he is not taking a more active position is because he fears that it will anger Iran. It doesn’t matter whether the administration’s negotiating team really believes there’s a deal to be had with Iran, or if Obama simply wants to keep the Iranians at the table for appearance’s sake, it seems he doesn’t want to get the Iranians mad by backing Assad’s adversaries.
Obama came to office in the belief that there was a deal to be had with Iran. There is nothing to indicate he’s changed his mind—even as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says he is not optimistic. “Our past experiences show that talks for the American officials do not mean for us to sit down and reach a logical solution,” Khamenei said recently. What they mean by talks is that we sit down and talk until Iran accepts their viewpoint.
Add to that Hezbolla’s influence over Lebanon and you have a recipe for disaster. It is a fact that 30 years after the massive bombing in 1983 of the US Embassy and US and French barracks in Beirut, Hezbollah’s control along with its partner Syria of Lebanon is at its peak..
Far from being in a continuous process of identity construction, Hezbollah has indeed striven during the past few years to overcome its limitations and promote its ultimate goal of transforming Lebanon into an Islamic state modeled after Iran’s wilayat al-faqih (the guardianship of the jurist).
As a totalitarian political party, Hezbollah cannot survive without a military component and will not accept anything less than full control of the Lebanese political system. The problem of Hezbollah, which possesses the premier military force in Lebanon, is its inherent incapability to transform itself into a genuine domestic political force in fear that its legitimacy would become equal to ordinary political groups that accept the rules of accommodation. This in turn means that Hezbollah has not abandoned its goal of creating an Islamic state of Lebanon.
Hezbollah dominates the country’s domestic and foreign policy and operates a military machine superior to the national army. It has the final say on making governmental, administrative, and judicial appointments, and its interaction with Lebanese political groups has shown that it has no intention of truly assimilating into Lebanese political practices, not least since its Islamist Shiite orientation precludes its ability for a meaningful dialogue (as opposed to tactical alliances) with the Sunnis. Moreover, the Iranian paradigm of wilayat al-faqih, to which Hezbollah subscribes, baffles many critical-minded Shiites. Not surprisingly, Ahmad al-Asaad, leader of the fledgling Shiite party, the Lebanese New Option Gathering, believes that “we must get rid of Hezbollah in order to build a viable state.”
It is high time for the Obama Administration to seriously put together a policy to get rid of both the Syrian regime of Assad and of Hezbollah as well – not for the sake of Lebanon but for US interests in the region as well.
Because I strongly believe that if Assad prevails , Bahrain, Kuwait, and Eastern Saudi Arabia may fall to Iran as well….along with every emerging country in the region such as Lebanon, Jordan, etc…
The oppressed Shia populations in the Gulf countries are torn, if I had to guess, between freedoms from the oppression of the Gulf rulers only to fall victims to Iranian servility if Assad comes out on top in the Syrian civil war. I would imagine many Gulf Shias would find more solace in Iran ruling over them than the Gulf families because servility trumps oppression.
It is human nature to seek power even through the wrong means than to be wronged, therefore weak.
To those who doubt Iran will target the Gulf countries openly if Assad wins, I suggest they analyze the effects of the Budget Control Act signed into law in August of 2011, which cuts the Pentagon budget by $1 Trillion over a decade. How can this Pentagon muster the resources and the materials for another Desert Storm?
Even if the US maintains a minimal ability with a high-level of readiness for this kind of eventuality, the will is missing in our Commander-in-Chief. So missing that the President will not take any decisive or serious steps to help eradicate Hezbollah now that the chance has presented itself in Syria and when all of our allies are on-board. So missing indeed, that watching the President’s facial expression when discussing Syria is equivalent to watching a mother giving birth to a 30Lbs. baby while cursing that 9 months old moment.
The President does not realize that his dithering on Syria has far deeper repercussions for US power and prestige down the road when US interests are really threatened. A sectarian war is raging in Syria that has ramifications for the whole region, and this President still finds the time to justify his past mistakes with more mistakes today.
The US must get involved directly to REMOVE Assad, not make peace with him. Period. And the US must implement a plan for a no-fly, no-go zone to protect the minorities and make it public if it wants Assad to fall. No Islamist will provide that kind of advice to the NSC, which is why the failures have been piling up ever since the US State Department chose to tie a knot with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Those miscreants could care less about US interests or Syria’s future because power is their ultimate goal…. Besides, Assad is not worth destroying Syria and Lebanon as well.
Defeating Assad who is able to command hundreds of thousands to spread terror, just as it did over the last 43 years, should be a higher priority than defeating the 6,000 Jihadists because those 6,000 will slowly turn into millions if Assad wins the battle for Syria. Then, no one will be safe anymore.
To win the region, there have to be two key policy changes towards Syria.
•To protect the minorities in Syria, tie the defeat of Assad with a no-fly, no-go zone. The American people will back such a plan if to protect the Christian and the Alawite communities in the Levant; Saudi Arabia and Qatar will be happy to foot the bill if it clips the wings of the Iranian Mullahs.
•Drop the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood in favor of a new Syrian Government where the minorities occupy half the posts and the responsibilities while warning the Saudis and the Qataris to back off with a language they never heard before.
Defeating Assad will send shockwaves to Hezbollah and the Iranian regime and totally change the dynamics in the region.
What good is peace with extremists if extremism flourishes as a result or worse yet, it grows exponentially occupying a larger footprint geographically while we all believe we are safe playing a round of 18 in some paradise?
If you believe, after we allowed Assad his sectarian war, the Sunni or the Shia extremists hate America now more than they hate each other, you are in for a grand Muslim July 4 with pestilential surprises.
If you believe the west will be sheltered from mutually destructive sectarian wars both sides will blame you for, you are more comatose than a dying patient is.
People do not realize the destructive forces of Assad and Iran, but now that Assad sparked the sectarian wars aimed at threatening the west, it is high time to remove this cancer.
If there is to be decisive action, the time is NOW.
Ziad K. Abdelnour is Founder & President of the US Committee for a Free Lebanon – America’s Pro- Lebanon lobby – and co-Author of Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon.