The Syrian-American Tug of War
Minister/Brigadier-General Issam Abu-Jamra
August 20, 2004
The ongoing political tug of war between Syria and the US over the Lebanese presidential elections and the evacuation of Syrian forces from Lebanon is a lot like a pull-the-rope game; Victory is for the one who lasts longer.

However, assuming that after the flurry of visits and contradictory statements Syria wins the round of renewing the mandate of the sitting General-President, a pro-Syrian loyalist to the hilt, will Syria trust him enough to use him in the aftermath of a withdrawal of its troops to maintain its grip on Lebanon? Or will it win the war of opposing the remaining American demands?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, several presidents and regimes tried to play this game but did not succeed. In the end, and under intense political, economic, and sometimes military, pressures, they relinquished power, surrendered, or towed the line. In any case, victory was for America, the only superpower, irrespective of whether it monopolized the decision-making or shared it with other nations, albeit channeled later through a United Nations decision. The progression of events in Lebanon and the region is the best evidence in support of that element in US policy.

For if abandoning the policy of a Syrian dominion over Lebanon is difficult after a quarter of a century in which Syria controlled the government, hijacked its resources, and managed its foreign policy, it has now become a must because of the will of the majority of the Lebanese, a clear international decision, and the prevailing regional condition. All these factors no longer permit Syria to go against the flow. It must begin changes and reforms to its internal regime and to its foreign policy as it impacts its neighbors. It is now squarely under the thumb of the Americans and their allies in the region, beginning with Iraq and Turkey, and on to Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya and other Arab countries, and sooner or later, Syria will have to bend.

As to the proposal by an American congressman for settling the Palestinians in Lebanon, we remind the pro-Syrians that all the Lebanese reject the settlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon, and the Palestinians themselves know that they will not return by force to Israel or Palestine for that matter no matter how much weapons they stack in their camps. They have tried this approach in the past and failed. Everybody knows that they will not return even if there is a possibility for that under an agreement or with the international support of the United States and France.

Those who remain convinced that the Syrian army in Lebanon will prevent the settlement of the Palestinians have to realize or be reminded that their stupid policy and blind fanaticism of rejecting the end of the Syrian rule over Lebanon will add hundreds of thousands of Syrians to be settled in addition to the Palestinians. These Syrians are settling in Lebanon for other reasons and motives and for an indefinite period of time, what with the loss of sovereignty and everything else Lebanon stands for. Is that really what they want when they say they are fighting the Palestinian settlement project?

As to the more pressing issue of electing a president, the US Ambassador to Lebanon and other US envoys have confirmed the insistence of the US administration on electing a new president in accordance with the Constitution. Supported by the visit of Minister Al-Sharaa to Baabda, all those returning from consulting with the Syrian president in Damascus have stated that all options remain on the table. The Lebanese reactions, as is customary by now, have been an excessive understanding of the Syrian position, bordering on total harmony with it, among the supporters of renewing the Lahoud mandate. They believe that since Lahoud has not been de-listed from the Syrian ledger, then his chances have in fact increased!!

Can we hope to see all the opponents to the Lahoud renewal coming together from all communities to continue rejecting an amendment to the Constitution for the benefit of a president who has been a total failure in his previous term? Can we hope to see a consensus while the window of opportunity is open on a single candidate who will be able to add one option to the list, and this one will work for once to their advantage and interests?

Brigadier-General Issam Abu-Jamra
August 20, 2004