Today in Lebanon,
Reuters reported that Lebanese police found and confiscated large quantities of explosives, detonators and timers in houses owned by members of a pro-Syrian group in north Lebanon on Thursday, security sources said. They said police had also moved to encircle some offices of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) in Beirut after making some arrests in the northern Koura province. Alas, the state flexes its miniscule muscles. I Expect protesters tomorrow to chant against an "autocratic" and "dictatorial" regime.
The Daily Star reported, "A meeting of Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled after a clash between" MPs Neamatallah Abi Nasr and Walid Eido. Apparently, "Abi Nasr had taken issue with Eido's rejection at a separate committee meeting earlier this week of a proposal to create a separate electoral governorate in Mount Lebanon comprising the qadas of Kesrouan-Ftouh and Jbeil." You know what really caught my attention here: the fact that a parliamentary committee is actually meeting! So parliament's doors are locked, but committees are holding meetings? Interesting
The Daily Star reported, "hundreds of bankers, businessmen and merchants held a meeting at Beirut's Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel on Wednesday to condemn the standoff between the government and the opposition over the latter's demand for more influence in Cabinet." If Lebanese were sane, and Lebanese politics not so dysfunctional, this group would constitute the most influential body in the country. Politicians would appeal to them for support, and would coordinate pulic-private initiatives to help boost economic performance. But, of course, Lebanese are not sane, and politics in Lebanon is dysfunctional... which brings me to the real news of the day,
What International Developments Will Steer Lebanon In The Near Future?
Yesterday, in a press conference, President Bush emphasized commitment to the Iraq mission despite the fact that his party lost both houses of Congress, and his recent declaration that the US is not winning the war. The New York Times writes that as he spoke, he "showed no indication that he was inclined to change goals or pull out of Iraq." The newspaper writes that he "used the news conference to confirm his plans, disclosed Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post, to propose an increase in the permanent size of both the Army and the Marines. He called the global campaign against terrorism 'the calling of our generation,' and he said the military needed to be beefed up to fight it.
On that note, the Wall Street Journal published a very telling article about the how the State Department percieves the region, and what it plans to accomplish in the foreseeable future.
The newspaper writes that Condi Rice is about to embark on “a new diplomatic push in the Middle East to win increased support in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories from what she calls ‘mainstream states’ such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.” She “touted what she described as ‘a new opportunity’ to get moderate forces in the region 'to support the development of stable new governments in Iraq and Lebanon...and to make progress toward the emergence of a Palestinian state that is founded on the same principles.’”
As the White House continues to weigh changes to its Iraq strategy, Rice, writes the Journal, “argues that a new alignment is shaping up in the Middle East that offers fresh promise for a new US diplomatic effort.” According to her, the US is “calling upon Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and key Gulf states to help calm the sectarian passions in Iraq, even going so far as to recognize the current Shiite-led government in Baghdad.” They are also are being asked to “ramp up support for the embattled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to weaken Iranian-aided radical groups” such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In exchange, the Bush administration is “promising its Arab partners to try to reinvigorate the long-moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”
For its part, the Washington Times notes that Rice said the US will not even “wait for Palestinians to agree on a unity government or to hold elections in order to push for a renewed peace effort with Israel and will step up its support for President Mahmoud Abbas.” Rice pointed out that “the chief mission of US diplomacy in the Middle East in the next two years will be to strengthen the ‘alignment’ of moderate forces so they can take on extremists who have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years.”
Now if we juxtapose this American position (as articulated by both Bush and Rice) with that which Russia articulated two or three days ago, you see two powers that perceive themselves playing fundamentally clashing roles. Neither power mentions the other in their discussions - nor even institutions or entities designed to foster at least a facade of cooperation (like the Middle East Quartet).
This collision makes me worry that Putin will continue to play the role of "spoiler" to American policy in the Middle East until he gets the kind of recognition from the Americans that he wants. He uses oil and natural gas for leverage in Europe, and he'll use weapons (as well as the nuclear issue) as leverage in the Middle East. Yesterday phone call to PM Seniora, in which Putin "expressed concern" about Lebanon falling into the same sort of chaos that the Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing was not a good omen at all - I perceived it to be more of a warning than anything else.
Yalla... let the roller coaster ride begin. Truth is: whether you believe that Hizballah or March 14 is the "righteous" party, righteousness is irrelevant. In fact, I'll take it one step further and say: Lebanon no longer matters now. The big boys apparently have only just started to get their hands dirty.