As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to move to the White House, consider these fine words: “The world cannot stand aside, watching in morbid fascination… The time has come to take concerted action in support of both Lebanon’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and a strong central government capable of promoting a free, open, democratic and traditionally pluralist society.”
They could have been said by the outgoing incumbent of the Oval Office, President George W. Bush, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, or any of his White House aides during his second term. They could also have been thrown out on the campaign trail by senators John McCain or Barack Obama, had it suited them at some point to declare their support for “this small nation.”
But the words belong to none of the above. They were said in 1982 by President Ronald Regan’s secretary of state, Alexander Haig, on the eve of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to root out the threat of terror. Sound familiar?
It was a conflict that had many parallels with the relatively recent 2006 July War, not least because of fact that the PLO, whose elimination was seen by Israel as the key to a peaceful and compliant Lebanon, claimed, as they left Beirut with their weapons, to have bloodied the most powerful army in the Middle East. It was a “victory” that cost thousands of innocent Lebanese lives. Sound familiar?
Twenty six years later, Haig’s priorities are still achingly elusive. Since America last went to the polls, “this small nation” has endured “violence and chaos,” while a “strong central government” has been hamstrung, abused and held hostage at gunpoint, and “its territorial integrity and its internationally recognized borders” have been laughed at and spat on. And yet many of those who believe in the tenets of democracy and who feel that a “free, open, democratic and traditionally pluralist” Lebanon should be part of that robust family of nations, one that seeks stability and prosperity over conflict and repression, still look to the West, the US in particular, for salvation.
But it is worth remembering that the 2005 Independence Intifada, arguably the defining moment in Lebanese history and one that did more for Lebanon than any US administration, came about not from lobbying efforts, interest groups, direct foreign intervention or from, if the truth be told, the initial efforts of Lebanese politicians, but from popular anger.
It was the anger of a nation that had peered into the a smoking crater in front of the Hotel St Georges where former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a man who had dared to dream of rebuilding a nation, one in which all Lebanese could share, was killed for his refusal to take that nation back into regional bondage. It was the anger that prompted a nation to take to the streets uncertain of how the security services would react. It was a popular outpouring of anger that, if it could be bottled, could transform a region that has for so long sweated under the boot of dictatorship.
NOW Lebanon welcomes any support from President-elect Barack Obama and recognizes that, building upon strong historic ties, the US and Lebanon can work within the framework of strong bilateral relations to achieve Haig’s shopping list. But the Lebanese should not look to foreign support as the ultimate panacea. History has proved what Lebanon can achieve by people power and by belief in its own conviction.