While the United States has been talking to both Syria and Iran for some time over the nightmare that is Iraq, it seems negotiations may soon achieve the imprimatur of officialdom in the coming months. To be sure, the United States faces a difficult task — on both the domestic and international level — in attempting to extricate itself from Iraq, but the advent of the likes of Mssr. Baker likely presages a flurry of international deal-making that will make awkward some of the more ideological propaganda emanating from the empire.
Whatever the deals involved, one should expect the United States to lose interest in Lebanon at a rapid, albeit familiar, pace. In fact, this looming eventuality may explain why the March 14 crowd has grown ever more hysterical in its pronouncements, perhaps sensing already that whatever the promises of Mssr. Feltman the ground has already begun to shift against them. Such a development should give one cause to reconsider whether the demand for the international tribunal truly comes the American (and French) side or from a Lebanese side desperate to prove its value to the United States as a pawn in the regional order. This is not to say that some Lebanese in the anti-Syria coalition do not have a strong domestic interest in such a tribunal, but rather that most will concede whatever ground necessary to protect their parochial interests. In this context, it is also important to note that Hizbullah — despite the howls to the opposite among its opponents — does not oppose the tribunal in principle, but quite logically will not serve up its allies in Baabda and Damascus for a show trial without something concrete in return.
It seems likely, but not necessary, however, that Syria will soon fall off the American radar (Israel cares not a whit what Syria does at home or in Lebanon and would likely be satisfied with the return — more or less — of the prewar status quo with a Hizbullah). Reports suggest that the US has been making repeated promises of loyalty to the nervous members of the March 14 alliance, which likely means — as it does in relationships in general — that a betrayal cannot be too far in the future.
Undoubtedly, the Saudis, who have been running between the two Lebanese sides, will play a key role in making this crash of the anti-Syrian momentum into more of a soft-landing. So while I expect the Lebanese screaming match to continue for some time, with perhaps some isolated incidents of violence, both sides are likely to step away from the brink when the moment is politically convenient (meaning, no new government or parliamentary elections). As always, look for Jumblatt to be the weather vein in this development as he is usually quite astute in evaluating such barometics and adjusting accordingly. This transformation will take place under familiar rhetorical guise of “national reconciliation” and amidst warnings of civil strife. Such strife, however, is unlikely for a number of reasons, but chiefly because in the absence of a massive foreign intervention/disruption and flow of arms, Lebanese political elites have done well for themselves over the last 16 years in consolidating their power and know intimately that mass violence threatens the rise of both uncertainty and new political rivals to well-established security and financial patron-client relationships.
Of course, the timing will be crucially important (a low simmer?), especially as we get closer to the end of President Emile Lahoud’s extended mandate. While I would agree that Gemayel’s assination bolsters the ranks of the Christian elements within the March 14 alliance in the short-term, I expect to see some defection from the Christian ranks of the alliance as certain well-known egomaniacs position themselves as possible presidential candidates.
Basically, I am arguing that when Syria falls off the US radar, as it will, we will have a profound shift in the Lebanese political scene that may well include a return of what was familiar pre-1559, namely a Jumblatt praising the resistance, pro-Syrian Christian leaders wading in the difficult and divided middle of Christian opinion, Aoun matching the LF in its denouncements of Syrian hegemony, Hariri returned to the business of mediation and corporate profits, and Hizbullah out of the government and back to its tunnels in the South … We shall see … And apologies for the rambling nature of the post …