Syria Removal From Lebanon, an Issue to U.S.

On Monday, February 28th, Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karame resigned from office, accompanied by his Syrian-backed government. His eventual decision to resign despite Syrian protests was the result of mass public protests in Beirut, the likes of which are “unheard of in the Arab world,” says General John Abizaid to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The campaign of peaceful rallies that occurred in Lebanon was fairly unusual in a part of the world where violence is how things get done. Years of jihad and the glorification of martyrdom has changed little for the citizens that are still tied to oppressive regimes. The nonviolent protests drew huge crowds, and forced government action in a way that suicide bombers could not. The protests were spurred by the assassination of Karame’s predecessor Rafiq Hariri in a massive bomb blast three weeks ago.

Lebanese, convinced that the murder was planned and carried out by the Syrian government, vowed to remove Syria occupation from Lebanon once and for all, and began this process with one of the largest and most effective nonviolent protests that the middle-east has ever seen.

This is all well and good, but it seems as though a key point is missing. Who killed Rafiq Hariri? The Lebanese believe that the Syrians are behind the murder, and the U.S. seem to as well, as they have been backing Lebanon throughout the struggle. The U.S. and the United Nations have gone so far as to urge Syria to implement a UN resolution that mandates Syria withdraw close to 15,000 troops from Lebanon.

These troops entered Lebanon as part of an Arab League peacekeeping force after civil war broke out in 1975, a war that has now been over for 15 years, since 1990. The Syrians were invited into Lebanon to bring stability in 1976 when the country’s civil war was at its bloodiest. Over time, this it helped to achieve. Since the Lebanese civil war, Syria has occupied Lebanon to some degree, although its troop levels have gone steadily down in the past few years. Rafiq Hariri was the people’s leader in the years after the civil war, though what he did that would warrant mass protests over his death seems uncertain.

Hariri began his rule in contact with, and some might say catering to, Syrians and pro-Syrian former warlords who exercised influence in Lebanon. During Hariri’s years in office, the government resorted to coercion in order to silence criticism of the growing inequality that resulted from Hariri’s policies. The government banned public demonstrations in 1994 and relied upon the Army, which had swelled to 45,000 men, to enforce the decree. Hariri lost control of the government in 1998 to General Emile Lahoud, who was installed as president and who appointed a new prime minister, Selim al-Hoss. Hariri was soon re-elected as prime minister in 2000, and surprisingly began to flout Syrian rules and regulations, no longer courting to Syria but angering Syrian government officials.

Syrian officials, who frequently discipline wayward political allies by courting their political opponents, began reconciling with Tripoli MP and former Prime Minister Omar Karame, who was soon named Prime Minister. Despite his irritation of the Syrian government, Syrian force had little to gain by assassinating Hariri. The immediate consequences of the assassination have spelled nothing but trouble for the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

Almost directly after the knowledge of the assassination was made public, mass demonstrations were organized by anti-Syrian political forces in Lebanon demanding that Syria withdraw its troops from the country. Washington has reiterated and revamped threats of anti-Syrian aggression, and there is a prospect that Lebanon may descend into another Civil War. All bad news for Syria.

The immediate backlash of the assassination of Hariri leads one to question the motives behind the threats and demonstrations. World War I began with the assassination of Arch-bishop Ferdinand, yet the assassination only provided the excuse that Austria-Hungary needed to go after the Serbs, and cause a world war in the process. Lebanon seems to be on the same track, though on an admittedly much smaller scale.

The rest of the Middle East is in a seemingly endless state of political turmoil – Palestine is occupied, Iraq is occupied, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Gulf and the Caspian are brimming with US military personnel, pilots, submarines, and fighter jets. Iran and Syria are being threatened. And yet, it is absolutely imperative that Syria quits Lebanon without delay, or so goes the White House line.

What is the US gain in all of this? Syria worked with the US in the months following the Sept.11 attacks and was one of the main player’s in Bush’s famed, “War on Terror”. Until, that is, the US-led invasion of Iraq, which Syria publicly and vehemently opposed. Syria has also never supported the state of Israel, a project defended and protected by the American government.

Now that Iraq is in the process of being democratized, the last thing the Americans want is a renegade Syria on its borders. The assassination of Hariri has come at a perfect time for those in the international government, specifically the US, to lay down the line and force the Syrian removal from Lebanon, decreasing Syrian power in the middle-east.

Yet there is a difference between the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the afore-mentioned Middle Eastern occupations. The Syrians were invited into Lebanon to end a long and bloody war, and they helped to do this. Yes, the Syrians have overstayed their welcome, this is true, but perhaps the situation is less severe than the US government and media would have it appear to be. Progress seems to be happening, and the peaceful demonstrations are a good sign of this.

The demonstrations were something truly new for Lebanon, and for the Arab world. The incredible and present effects of the protests are a sign of hope for the Middle Eastern countries, and for the world. Perhaps the US government should pay attention to the results such efforts produce, and work with Syria and Lebanon to finally bring some modicum of peace to an area that has seen so much war.