ArDO: Yes we want Lebanon to be the Switzerland of the East and Beirut the Paris of the East


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Dr. Walid Phares



Dr. Walid Phares

THE ROAD TO UNSCR 1559 (Part One)

By Walid Phares
Special To Lebanonwire

The main question on most Lebanese minds -both inside the country and overseas- as well as on the desks of many foreign policy decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic is about the next steps to implement UNSCR 1559, calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Voted back in September by the highest international body and backed by a unanimous letter issued by the Presidency of the UN Security Council, 30 days later, this resolution has set the new context of Lebanon's future: that is free from all foreign forces and of armed militias. The pressing word is: how?

To be able to reflect on what is to come, one has first to understand the "why" of it. Indeed, why was it that after 14 years of the installment of the Taif system in Lebanon in 1990, 13 years after the signing of the Brotherhood Security treaty between the twin regimes of Damascus and Beirut in 1991, 4 years after Israel's withdrawal from the south, and three years after September 11, suddenly Washington moved to signal the end of the Syrian era in Lebanon, followed unexpectedly by Paris and other European and Arab countries?

What did really change and what provoked this new international energy? Neither Syria unilaterally evolve in its vision of a controlled neighbor, nor did the Lebanese regime develop a "perestroika" of its own. Neither did the internal opposition to Syrian occupation transform its protests into qualitatively different dynamics, nor did the international media started to treat Lebanon as East Timor or the West Bank. So what is it that tipped the old equation of abandoning Lebanon to Syria and leaving all efforts by its civil society unnoticed worldwide? There were dozens of demonstrations throughout the 1990s, almost all brutalized by the regime's security services. Hundreds of Lebanese activists from all currents were arrested, tortured and many sent to Syrian jails. Many attempts by the political opposition to position itself in different postures and under different names, didn't affect world opinion significantly. Even the Maronite Patriarch trips to the West, including Rome, France, and the United States left no major direct shifting leading to UN resolution at the time.

To the opposite, the more vocal and intensive were the activities of both the internal opposition and the exiled leaders and groups, the more suppressive were the reactions of the pro-Syrian regime in Beirut. The shut down of MTV, the crack-down on Qornet-Shahwan, the students and the arrest of Toufic Hindi and journalists were all indicators that the Baathist-dominated state apparatus was able to ignore international human rights norms with total international impunity. The United Nations were no where to be seen or to be called upon to intervene. The international equation was totally in favor of Syria's "role" in Lebanon. A formula, agreed upon in the Taif agreement back in 1989, and more importantly tolerated -even with excesses- by the combined foreign policies of the United States, France and the Arab League. In short, till things changed inside Washington couple years ago, Lebanon was totally in the hands of Syrian discretion.

As someone who followed, and participated in the advocacy for a free Lebanon, particularly in the US, I had concluded in the 1990s, that without a political earthquake in the new Rome (Washington DC), it would have taken a whole new generation both in Lebanon and in the Diaspora to mature the freedom movement to a higher level of sophistication, so that it would affect international relations and by ripple effect the "Lebanese cause." The previous statu quo ante between the Syrian endless control and the opposition efforts wasn't to produce more than what it did. Unless the international and regional environment would change, the Lebanese situation was projected to remain as is, or by default, to worsen for the freedom movements inside the country and overseas. But an earthquake took place. Its epicenter wasn't in Lebanon, nor was it directly related to its politics. However, the shock was expected to occur, at least in my own analysis and writings and in the projections of a few intellectuals in America and in the Middle East: The Jihadist Terrorists broke the international red lines, at least with regards the United States. Ironically, Lebanon's history and the way this country was treated in the last few decades may have played a role in the Terror wars, but one fact is firm: As of September 11, 2001, America's world has changed, and with it the policies that would produce UNSCR 1559

The vote in Manhattan last September was the result of two converging realities: On the one hand, the "international context" and on the other hand, the "Free-Lebanese efforts." One without the other wouldn't have produced a decision by Washington to seize the UN Security Council on the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, at least that early in the process. Here is the evidence. For 14 years, many "Free-Lebanese efforts" (including a number I personally witnessed) have been deployed to convince the international society and the US Government to raise the issue, but not to avail. At the same time, it is also a fact that the decision-makers in Washington and Paris wouldn't have decided to move jointly at this time, despite their disagreements on Iraq, and the delicate situation in the region, without being convinced that Lebanon's civil society is deeply committed to show up in the international debate about the "Syrian occupation of Lebanon." The marriage between the two realities made the birth of 1559 possible.

First ingredient: September 11

It goes without doubt, to most experts on US Foreign Policy, that the attacks of September 11 produced a decisive, global and doctrinal change in America's policies vis a vis the Middle East. Even if we skip the hot debate about the successes and failures since 9/11, including the management of the Iraq campaign, the Bush Administration public statements alone are indicative of that torrential change. "Regimes which harbor or aid the Terrorists will be held responsible on Terrorism grounds" repeated the President and his senior officials. The Taliban and the Iraqi Baath were removed on that ground. The Iranian Khumainists, the Sudanese Islamists and the Syrian Baath have been warned. What made a new US policy towards Syria even more necessary in the new Washington, was Damascus' faulty behavior at least in three areas: Support of the anti-Peace radicals among the Palestinians, protection of Hizbollah in Lebanon and -worse- actively endorsing the Jihadi insurgents in Iraq, with American blood on their hands. The Syrian regime offered three dishes to the US. In return it obtained an expected reaction, including a move to isolate and punish the Baathist power. By 2003, Syria was on the American list of regimes to "deal with."

The "Free Lebanon Lobby"

By the time the Bush Administration was ready to address the "Syrian problem," a qualitative development has been emerging in the Lebanese Diaspora, particularly within the Lebanese American community. The change in Lebanese advocacy in the US was visible both on the level of action and language. It met half way, the readiness to deliver within the high spheres of the Administration. Pro-Lebanon activism in the US has always existed, including since the early 1990s. But the articulation of the new activist strategy matched the seriousness of American intent. As of the past decade, diverse Lebanese American groups kept pounding the doors of the State Department and Congress hoping to alter the rigid equation on the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Many attempts by grassroots affiliated with exiled General Michel Aoun, followed by -as of the mid 1990s- by the exiled cadres of the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea as well as other smaller independent groupings such as the WLO and the Maronite Union sought affecting the Syrian lock in Washington, with no real results. However, small steps as of late 1990s, including an intensive work with the US Congress, key Think Tanks and coalition-buildings, created a minimal change in the positioning of the so-called Lebanese lobbies.

The qualitative resurgence of the pro-Lebanon advocacy in the US as of 2000 is complex and interesting. The abrupt Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon left the "Syria factor" exposed and without significant arguments to remain in the country. From Lebanon, civil society voices became louder, both from the Council of Maronite Bishops and the Human Rights organizations, including the parents of Lebanese detainee in Syrian jails. In parallel, three major developments were taking place in the Diaspora. The worldwide non-governmental organization representing the 10 million emigrants around the world experienced a renaissance. From Mexico into the US, the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU) abandoned its dormant attitude towards the Lebanese cause and initiated the single largest reform in the Diaspora's history. It transformed itself in a transnational lobby for the liberation of Lebanon, backed by a multi-partisan participation. In the US, a majority of pro-Lebanon organizations, including the LF-created Lebanese Information Center (LIC), the American Maronite Union, the Ahrar-inspired and Detroit-based Assembly for Lebanon launched by Mel Zuhrob , the US Kataeb represented by Miami-based Joseph Haje, the WLCU-USA chaired by Boston Attorney John Hajjar and a Midwest-based group represented by Tony Abousamra, formed the American Lebanese Coalition (ALC) a key grass-root alliance. Along with the Aounist-inspired Lebanese-American Council for Democracy headed by Tony Haddad and the Council of Lebanese American Organizations (CLAO), the new "lobbies" represented more than 90% of the effective advocacy community. By that alone, one major step was accomplished: Energizing the grass-roots. The second step was to brake the lock of Syrian hegemony in Washington.

New Lebanese American strategy

In addition to the change in American strategic thinking in post 9/11 era, at least at the level of the Administration and in US Congress, the "Free Lebanon" Diaspora groups also operated a transformation in their strategies. The first component was to build necessary "coalitions" within the US political spectrum, a matter only few active groups have practiced in the 1990s. But as of 2000, most Lebanese-Americans rushed to build bridges with like-minded forces in Congress and in the grass-roots world. This new approach was implemented by both the ALC member organizations and the LACD inside the US, and reverberated by the WLCU worldwide. The Maronite Union had already initiated a series of alliances as of the late 1990s, peaking in June of 2000 in a US Senate sponsored forum gathering including main Human Rights bodies and Think Tanks. That particular meeting was attended by Dr Elliot Abrams, who will become the National Security Middle East director under President Bush's first term. The new strategy of the Free Lebanon "lobby" understood the necessity of a bi-partisan approach in Congress. Hence, the move that would introduce the "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act of 2003" will be co-sponsored by two distinguished legislators from both parties: Eleana Ros Lethinen R-FL) and Eliott Engle (D-NJ). Dynamic Lebanese activists, such as Tony Haddad (LACD), Dr Joseph Gebeily of the LIC, and many other organizations and cadres pushed hard in the grassroots to insure endorsement, but one must admit that the inter-ethnic "alliances" emerging in Congress on greater strategic scales, and resulting essentially from a whole decade of "ideological-academic" ground work (I would digress about in future articles), brought about an overwhelming 90% vote in Congress that year.

New Lebanese international strategy

While these transformations were taking place before, and immediately after 9/11 in the Lebanese American activist community, another global move was operated by the new leadership of the WLCU. The Diaspora institution, born in 1959 as the legitimate representative of more than 10 million Lebanese around the world has accomplished a major restructuring since its Mexico (2001) and Las Vegas (2002) congresses. In May of 2003, it launched a plan to "re-internationalize" the Lebanese cause. In other words, to ask the United Nations to seize the issue of Syrian occupation of Lebanon. The WLCU, under the leadership of Lebanese-Australian Joe Baini, wanted to break an international lock on Lebanon's liberation since the Taif agreement. The new doctrine -for which I have written and advocated since the early 1990s- aimed at provoking a "new" UNSCR to bypass and replace the 1982 resolution 520. In my analysis only a "new" resolution could signal a change in Lebanon's international posture. Ironically, on September 13, 2001, Sami Khoury and Tom Harb President and US chairman of the World Maronite Union, Dr Joseph Gebeily and myself had made appointments at the United Nations to launch the new request. The move was rather symbolic, but as the Terrorist attacks took place the on September 11th, it would only take time and efforts before UNSCR 1995 would become reality.

The road to UNSCR 1559

The lobbying for a "new" resolution wasn't easy. First, it had to be backed by the World Council of the WLCU -since it needed international advocacy- and the Washington-based ALC. Once the decision voted, a joint WLCU-ALC delegation (with Baini, Gebeily, Hajjar, Harb and myself) conducted a series of meetings with senior US officials. But one American official from Lebanese descent played a crucial role in obtaining and expediting the strategic meetings: Walid Maalouf, a Bush appointee to the USAID. Through Maalouf, encounters were made possible at the US delegation at the UN and in Washington's main centers of decision and a dialogue took place on the "necessity of a new UN resolution." The Maalouf-sponsored meetings facilitated an encounter between a US intention to address Syrian policies and a Lebanese Diaspora's readiness to express the aspirations of Lebanon's civil society. This was the breaking point and future archives will show the leap that occurred. Walid Maalouf's statements at the United Nations during the Fall of 2003, reminding Syria of a US policy calling for its withdrawal from Lebanon, contributed to mobilize for the resolution.

The writing of earlier drafts goes all the way back to 2000. However, the text that would become the model for resolution 1559 was touched and reshaped by members of the WLCU and ALC, including Jacksonville-based Attorney Joanne Fakhre as well as a behind the scene diplomat from Lebanese descent. The story of the writing of the resolution will also be revealed in the near future.

The WLCU delegation, led by Baini and comprising Sami Khoury, Tom Harb, Fadi Bark and myself headed to the UN and met with main players, including the US, France, Russia, Germany, Mexico, Australia and others. In reality, two powers had to join forces to make it possible: America and France. Bringing France in was the challenge. At the French mission, the Lebanese delegation assured the French of future friendship and of common cultural bonds, in addition to a Lebanese wish to see Paris and Washington acting jointly on Lebanon, even if Iraqi affairs separated them. The message seemed to have worked. But back in Paris, Franco-Lebanese organizations, including the "Institut du Liban" (IDL) lead by Attorney Elie Baraghid, and others have been lobbying the Quai d'Orsay systematically. General Aoun's presence in the French capital and his legislative contacts and militant grassroots helped as well. In addition, a sustained campaign of lobbying lead by the WLCU Vice President, Dr Rachid Rahme, in Europe with Carlos Keiruz and Anwar Wazen in Belgium, George Abiraad and Pierre Atallah in France, and other leaders around the continent. In May of this year, the WLCU leadership met in Brussels and conveyed to the European Union the "aspirations of the Lebanese Diaspora for a new UN resolution."

By September of 2004, on both sides of the Atlantic, Governments were ready to introduce the resolution draft. In summary, the road to UNSCR 1559 was a piece of art, diplomatic maze and perseverance on behalf of all those who took part in it. In future articles we will disclose more detailed history of its making, including how its strategy was designed, how its policies were planned, how its first versions were drafted, the various meetings and those who worked hard behind the scene.

These efforts, and Franco-American cooperation were essential, but the ultimate strategic decision came from President George W Bush who instructed his delegation at the UN to go ahead and introduce it. He was backed by a bi-partisan support at home, a Lebanese-American consensus, a mobilized Lebanese Diaspora and a determination to bring liberty to a small but deserving nation, on the Mediterranean East Coast.


Dr Walid Phares is a professor of Middle East Studies, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and the Secretary General of the World Lebanese Cultural Union. He contributed this commentary to Lebanonwire


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