WILL LEBANON EVER ESCAPE SYRIAN IMPERIALISM? DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH!

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(Washington, D.C.): According to the
accord signed in Taif, Saudi Arabia in
September 1989, Syria was to have
completed by last week the withdrawal and
redeployment of the army of occupation
through which it has effectively ruled
Lebanon. To the surprise only of those
who fatuously believed President Hafez
Assad would actually honor his
commitment, there has been no
evident relocation of forces or other
relaxation of Syria’s iron grip on its
neighbor/colony
.

Assad’s contemptuous disregard for his
obligations under the Taif accords is the
more remarkable, however, insofar as the
need for continuing physical
Syrian control of Lebanon would seem
sharply diminished thanks to the recent
Lebanese elections — which assured
Damascus effective political
control of the country
. That
outcome was, of course, no accident;
indeed, it was pre-ordained.

How Assad Has Effectively
Annexed Lebanon

For one thing, the fact that the
balloting was conducted literally under
Syrian guns prompted Christian voters to
boycott the election and helped assure
the triumph of pro-Syrian factions. A
less obvious, but no less real
consideration, has been Syria’s success
in the wake of the Taif accord in
burrowing deeply into the entire national
fabric of Lebanon.

Although the Syrians have had a
substantial military presence in Lebanon
since 1976, the Taif accord marked their
first significant step toward
establishing permanent political
dominance there. This agreement, brokered
by the Arab League — with the active
support of the Bush Administration —
amounted to a Faustian deal with Assad:
The ongoing civil war in Lebanon was to
be brought to an end by legitimizing
Syrian administration of the country

for two years. During this period,
political reforms were to be undertaken
and free elections held. After the
election, Syria agreed to end its
occupation of most of Lebanon and to
confine such troops as would remain to
the strategic Bekaa Valley.

On 23 September 1988, Lebanon’s
vehemently anti-Syrian General Michel
Aoun had been appointed head of a
national emergency government by outgoing
Prime Minister Amin Geymayel. Immediately
after his appointment, Aoun and his
government’s supporters came under
withering military attack from pro-Syrian
and pro-Iranian forces, escalating the
civil war dramatically. After
withstanding nearly a year of this
violent aggression, 62 out of the 99
members of Lebanon’s Parliament agreed to
accept the conditions imposed by the Taif
agreement and stripped Aoun of his
office.

Following the signing of that
agreement, Syria wasted no time in
attempting to liquidate General Aoun and
his army and otherwise consolidating its
control over Lebanon. After the 22
November 1989 suspicious assassination of
the first president appointed under the
accord, Renee Moawad, Syria quickly
installed the pro-Syrian Elias Hrawi as
the new president. In October 1990, Syria
launched a successful military offensive,
utilizing some 30,000 troops to drive
Aoun out of Lebanon.

Then, in May 1991, Syria dictated the
terms of a new “Treaty of
Brotherhood, Cooperation and
Coordination” to Hrawi, assuring
that all actions by the
government in Lebanon would be taken in
coordination with Syria
. One of
the first manifestations of this
agreement — and instruments for its
implementation — was the Hrawi
government’s prompt appointment of 40 new
Syrian-approved members to the
Parliament.

By this time, Syria had already gained
control over much of the political,
military, judicial and economic life of
Lebanon — including the lucrative (i.e.,
$1 billion-plus per year) drug trade
emanating from the Bekaa Valley. The
absoluteness of Syria’s domination of
Lebanese affairs was demonstrated in
March 1992 when Elias Hrawi went to
Damascus to seek Assad’s permission
to appoint a new Cabinet — only
to have his request turned down
.
What is more, in Lebanon, as at home,
Assad took steps to neutralize any
significant political opposition; for
example, the popular anti-Syrian
Christian leader Dany Chamoun was
assassinated on 21 October 1990 amidst
widespread political arrests.

Evidently satisfied that the outcome
had been adequately rigged, Syria gave
its blessing for elections to be held in
Lebanon from 23 August-7 September 1992.
Just to be sure, they took pains
to control the election process itself
;
according to numerous reports, the
Syrians stuffed the ballot boxes by
including large numbers of Syrians and
Palestinians on the voting rolls.
Understandably, the Christian parties
refused to legitimize such elections by
participating in them.

The Election Results Are
In: Syria Won

It was, therefore, hardly astonishing
that the final tally gave a substantial
victory to Islamic fundamentalist
extremists and others supported by both
Syria and its ally, Iran. The
Iranian-supported Amal, for example, won
the largest bloc of seats — eighteen —
in the 180 seat Parliament, with the
Syrian-sponsored Hezbollah coming in
second with a twelve-seat bloc. In
southern Lebanon, moreover, the Hezbollah
won 22 out of 23 seats in the local
council. The Christian boycott ensured
that they would have no
representation in the Parliament.

In practice, the 1992 Lebanese
elections mean that the factions backed
by the Syrians and Iranians now have
total dominance in the parliament in
Beirut.
Syria and Lebanon have
agreed to delay the
“redeployment” of Syrian troops
until after the new government assumes
power. In reality, this means
that no redeployment will take place —
if it takes place at all — until Syria
is satisfied with their control over the
new government
.

The recent balloting is also likely to
have consequences beyond Lebanon itself:
The elections effectively legitimated
Hezbollah’s political — as well as
military — hegemony in Southern Lebanon.
This area has historically been a jumping
off point for terrorist attacks into
Israel or its security zone in the border
area. In recent weeks, surely with
Syria’s consent if not its
active support, these attacks have
intensified.

Bush-Baker Sacrifice
Lebanon as Part of Coddling of Assad

In commenting on the outcome of the
elections, State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher stated on 8 September
1992 that “The United States is
clearly disappointed that the elections
were not prepared and not carried out in
a manner to ensure the broadest national
consensus.” Such official
“crocodile tears” cannot
obscure the fact that this outcome was a
result to which the U.S. policy of
appeasing Hafez Assad directly
contributed.

Importantly, this policy of pandering
to Assad did not begin — as many believe
— with the effort to recruit Syria into
the anti-Iraq coalition prior to the Gulf
War. In fact, it was initiated as early
as the fall of 1987 when the Syrian
despot was confronting myriad crises that
threatened his regime’s long-standing
strategic objectives, if not its
continued survival. These objectives
included creating a “Greater
Syria” and amassing the political,
economic and military power necessary to
extend Damascus’ influence elsewhere in
the Middle East.

Ever the skillful opportunist, Assad’s
response to these crises was to seek to
turn his increasingly desperate position
to advantage. He did so by striking more
moderate stances in one area after
another. For example: He initiated a
reconciliation with Egypt and Yassir
Arafat’s Palestine Liberation
Organization; he let it be known that he
was distancing Syria from Iran; and he
exhibited a new openness to progress in
the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Assad gave no indication, however,
that an end to Syria’s occupation of
Lebanon was in the offing. Worse yet, the
other steps appear to have represented
merely a tactical adjustment; they
in no way altered Assad’s determination
to achieve his ominous strategic
priorities.

Shades of the Pre-Kuwait
Policy Toward Baghdad

Regrettably, the Bush
Administration’s response to this new
“moderate” Hafez Assad was of a
piece with its now notorious policy
towards another Middle Eastern despot:
Saddam Hussein
. The operating
principle towards both Syria and Iraq
seems to have been: Give the
“strongman” virtually anything
he wants. This policy was, in at least
one sense, even more reprehensible in the
case of Assad than that of Saddam: Coddling
the Syrian tyrant involved overlooking
Syrian complicity in the terrorist
murders of hundreds of American citizens. href=”#N_2_”>(2)

One of the first victims of this
benighted U.S. policy was the sovereignty
of Lebanon. As early as the spring of
1988, the State Department was openly
siding with the Syrian occupation forces
as they sought to compel the Christian
and Muslim Lebanese communities to accept
a replacement for Prime Minister Amin
Gemayel acceptable to Damascus. Not
coincidentally, these discussions took
place roughly at the same moment that
Syria was expressing its willingness to
aid in the release of American hostages
held in Lebanon.

The Lebanese Christian factions
resisted such initiatives as a blatant
infringement upon their nation’s
sovereignty. These sentiments did
not find favor in Washington.
To
the contrary, even after Prime Minster
Gemayel appointed Gen. Aoun to head an
interim emergency government, the United
States actively supported Syria in its
efforts to establish a government
subordinated to Damascus’ control.
Washington went so far as to lend its
authority to Assad’s initiatives by
inviting principals from the various
Lebanese factions to attend meetings at
the U.S. embassy in Beirut — where they
were lobbied to accept his proposals.

When this campaign failed to bear
fruit, the Bush Administration decided to
support Syria’s idea of having the Arab
League broker a proposal with a view to
getting the League to induce the Lebanese
to accept Damascus’ terms. The result was
the meeting in Taif, Saudi Arabia. For
reasons that have now been fully
vindicated, Aoun’s forces refused to
attend the meeting unless Syrian troops
were first withdrawn. Despite the
fact that the legitimate government of
Lebanon was not party to the agreement,
the United States gave full backing
to Taif
, and urged the Aoun
government to work with Syria — its
occupier and oppressor — to implement
“reforms.”

The ultimate betrayal of an
independent Lebanon, however, occurred
during the run-up to the war with Iraq.

At that time, the United States was
frantically beseeching Assad to
participate in the coalition — or at
least to refrain from opposing it. Like a
naive tourist being shaken down in the
bazaar, Washington foolishly offered
concession after unnecessary concession, all
to secure Syria’s assent to the
destruction of its worst enemy
.

On 13 October 1990, Syria launched a
final offensive aimed at driving Aoun out
of power. Thirty thousand Syrian troops,
tanks, artillery and aircraft were thrown
into the assault. With tons of bombs
raining down on his headquarters and a
gross disparity in firepower and
resources, Aoun sought refuge in the
French embassy and exile in France.
Thereafter, Syria’s puppet government
assumed unchallenged power in Beirut.

Despite the documented slaughter of
hundreds of Christian troops — including
reports of the cold-blooded murder of
Christian soldiers after they
surrendered
, the elimination or
disappearance of many others in and out
of uniform and the assassination of Dany
Chamoun and his wife, the Bush
Administration raised no protest against
the Syrian conquest of Lebanon
.
Instead, with the sort of moral turpitude
that has come to characterize U.S.
reactions to genocide around the world,
Administration spokesmen blandly
expressed concern at “excessive
violence,” and did nothing.

The Bottom Line

The Center for Security Policy
strongly agrees with the views expressed
by one of the distinguished members of
its Board of Advisors, Ambassador Jeanne
Kirkpatrick, who wrote in her column in
the Washington Post on 29
October 1990:

“It seems almost incredible
that the United States should
have tacitly accepted Syria’s
final aggression….Instead an
anonymous official was reported
to have piously ‘hoped’ that the
Lebanese would finally be in a
position to get on with building
a united stable government. That
is like saying the Nazi conquest
of France paved the way for
strong executive leadership in
that country.

(Emphasis added.)

The United States’ betrayal of Lebanon —
and the larger policy of appeasing Hafez
Assad of which it is a part — is an
odious blot on the good name and people
of the leader of the Free World. Like its
betrayal of democrats in China, its
coddling of Saddam Hussein, its propping
of Mikhail Gorbachev’s communist empire
and its outrageous indifference to
Slobodan Milosevic’s carnage in Bosnia
and Croatia, this policy must not
be permitted to stand
.

The failure of Syria to redeploy its forces
in accordance with the Taif accord —
even after it has succeeded in assuring,
through a rigged election, continued
domination of Lebanon — must be
condemned in the strongest terms.

A nation that persists in enslaving and
exploiting its neighbors, among other
reprehensible activities
, is an
unreliable partner in Middle East peace
and an unworthy beneficiary of U.S.
diplomatic and other support.

– 30 –

1. This
is the fifth in a series of Center for
Security Policy Decision Briefs
on the Bush Administration’s misbegotten
and potentially recklessly dangerous
policy toward Hafez Assad’s Syria.

2. See
the Center’s Decision Brief “‘Getting
Away With Murder’: Bush-Baker Enable
Assad To Go On Sponsoring International
Terrorism,”
( href=”index.jsp?section=papers&code=92-D_102″>No. 92-D 102, 30
August 1992).

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