By Barry Rubin
Even when you say the right thing it can only highlight the fact that you haven’t been doing it. Take President Barack Obama’s statement on Lebanon. The wording is all correct, yet it only makes the fact that this has nothing to do with actual U.S. policy stand out even more vividly.
Thus, when Obama said that he is committed to keeping Lebanon free of “terrorism,” the fact is that—in part due to weak U.S. policy—the country is largely under the control of Hizballah, a terrorist group. Right now, Hizballah doesn’t have to make many terrorist attacks since it has already used terrorism successfully to gain veto power over state policy.
Obama’s statement was timed for Lebanon’s Independence Day, but that is only all the more ironic because Lebanon has once again lost its independence to Iranian and Syrian control. The message was also prompted by growing tension over the special tribunal investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
Pretty much everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrians killed Hariri and it seems increasingly demonstrated by the tribunal investigation that Hizballah was involved. But what a hollow joke it is to speak of this when the Syrians and Hizballah hold such overwhelming power as to intimidate anyone else in Lebanon from doing anything about it.
Probably, even if the tribunal issued a report saying that Syria and Hizballah were guilty, Hariri’s own son—Said, leader of the Sunni Muslims and the Sunni-Christian moderate alliance—would denounce it as false. That’s tragic and one major reason why he would have to defend his own father’s murderers is that he knows he cannot rely on the United States.
“I am committed to doing everything I can,” said Obama, “to support Lebanon and ensure it remains free from foreign interference, terrorism, and war.”
–Why, then, has not the U.S. government broken off its engagement with Syria—which has been leading nowhere—to protest Syria’s growing interference in Lebanon (not to mention involvement in killing American soldiers in Iraq and other misdeeds)?
–Why doesn’t he mention the U.S. pledges in 2006 to support a strong UN force capable of keeping Hizballah out of the south, stopping arms smuggling, and even helping the Lebanese government disarm that militia? Obama has not lifted a finger to get tough on these issues. He has stood by and watched while the UN force has been intimidated into passivity by Hizballah. In a real sense, Hizballah took on the entire world, supposedly under U.S. leadership, and won total victory.
— Syria and Iran have given their side lavish financial and military support. They have helped commit acts of violence to intimidate those favoring a sovereign and independent Lebanon. Where is the U.S. counter-effort, including covert operations and behind-the-scenes funding? The Saudis—not Obama–tried their best to fight the radical Islamist axis without help from Obama.
And so, Obama has not done “everything I can,” he has done almost nothing at all. The moderates tremble and the radicals rejoice at this fact. Is there anyone in Lebanon, or even the Middle East, who doesn’t know this?
And then there’s this statement which in theory sounds good but is actually a disaster:
“The only way ahead is for all Lebanese to work together, not against each other, for a sovereign and independent Lebanon that enjoys both justice and stability.”
To preach everyone working together, while it may enhance stability, also reinforces the status quo which is what’s making a sovereign and independent Lebanon impossible. Only if the United States had given the Sunni-Christian-Druze alliance had stood up to Hizballah and not worked together in a national unity government would there have been hope.
The Druze saw the writing on the wall and dropped out. Their leader went from praising America and damning Syria, to praising Syria and damning America because he had no faith in Obama backing his people and keeping him alive in the face of the other side’s terrorism. His allies caved in also. Can you blame them?
You can practically hear the dictators sneer in Damascus, Tehran, and the terrorists chime in at Hizballah headquarters:
Ha! You are isolated. No one cares. No one will help you. Do you think America and Obama are going to come to your rescue? We will kill you and your families without the United States doing anything. Surrender or else!
And so they did.
Thus, it sounds a bit disgusting to hear Obama opine: “Lebanon and its children need a future where they can fulfill their dreams free of fear and intimidation.”
Sad to say, they aren’t going to get it with your policy.