On Wednesday, October 20, the long-serving Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafik Al-Hariri—one of the richest people in the world, and widely acclaimed as the man most responsible for lining up the capital to rebuild the central area of Beirut, devastated by the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s—but also a man “blamed for saddling the country with a public debt of [$33 billion] because of his borrow-and-build scheme,” as the Financial Times put it—resigned his post. Effective immediately.
Lebanon’s President Emile Lahoud lost no time appointing Hariri’s successor, the “pro-Syrian Omar Karami,” as Reuters described Karami Thursday, the change coming just as the “United Nations and Washington heap pressure on Syria over its grip on Lebanon.” (“Lebanon President names Pro-Syrian Karami as New PM,” Oct. 21.)
(Quick aside. For whatever reason, this story—namely, the Hariri resignation and the appointment of his successor—fell off the news media’s radar screens roughly halfway through covering it. Hariri’s resignation, that is, received some coverage in the wire services (to be expected) and a little bit in the print dailies (which I’ve used below). But President Lahoud’s naming of Karami to succeed Hariri has passed virtually unmentioned in the print dailies. Just the shortest of blurbs in the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and the Ottawa Citizen. Don’t ask me why.)
Hariri’s decision “[cast] a cloud over the economic health of the country,” the Financial Times continued, adding that it followed “weeks of speculation about the fate of his government, amid a political crisis triggered by intense international pressure on Syria over its influence in Lebanon’s political affairs.” (“Lebanon in crisis after resignation,” Oct. 21.)
“The departure of Hariri…could further isolate Lebanon and its political master, Syria,” The Times of London noted, Hariri himself “vowing not to return as his country faces intense international scrutiny.” (“Lebanese leader quits over Syria’s role,” Oct. 21.)
“Hariri stepped down as there is growing international pressure on Lebanese politicians to more forcefully turn against Syria’s long-standing presence in their country,” the Washington Post explained—identifying the decision as a clear “sign of deepening divisions within Lebanon’s fragile government over the decisive role that Syria, a larger and powerful neighbor, plays in Lebanon’s political life….Although his departure was not entirely unexpected, it will likely deepen the perception that Lebanon, which is among the Middle East’s most economically vibrant and socially progressive countries, has entered a period of political tumult. The billionaire real estate tycoon has been a reassuring symbol to Lebanon’s international lenders and potential investors because the fiscal program he favored called for budget cuts and privatizations to help reduce the country’s heavy debt.” (“Lebanese Premier Quits in Sign of Tension on Syria,” Oct. 21.)
No official reason was published by Hariri (i.e., that I’ve managed to stumble across). Though one must be floating around. Somewhere.
The Americans were less reticent. For example, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman greeted the resignation with the statement that “The new government should be able to take decisions free of foreign interference.” (“U.S. tells Syria to stay out of Lebanese politics as PM resigns,” Agence France Presse, Oct. 20.)
“We would note that this political step still takes place against a context that is seriously distorted by Syrian interference in Lebanon,” the American Secretary of State’s chief spokesperson, Richard Boucher, said in answer to an question. “[O]ne has to understand the whole context is distorted by the Syrian interference that we’ve been talking about and we would hope that this matter, at this point, would be left entirely to the Lebanese to work out through their own political process without any interference.” (“Daily Press Briefing,” Oct. 20.)
In an interview broadcast over Abu Dhabi TV just before he departed Washington for Tokyo, the Secretary of State explained (“Interview by Hany El-Konayyesi of Abu Dhabi TV,” Oct. 21):
MR. EL-KONAYYESI: Moving to Syria, what would be the next step after the latest Security Council, the rejection of the latest Security Council resolution on Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon? What’s, what will be the next step towards Syria?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, the next step has been taken by the Security Council to the issuance of a Presidential Statement—takes note of the fact that Syria still does not respect the UN resolution. And when we see the personnel changes that have taken place with Mr. Hariri stepping down and others coming into positions of power who are even more closely linked to Syria, once again shows that Syria is playing an inappropriate role in political life and in the civic life of the Lebanese people. And that is what this resolution was about.
Syria should allow the Lebanese people to decide how they will be governed, and they should remove their military forces from Lebanon after all these years. And the United Nations will continue to monitor this, and we’ll be asking for reports on a regular basis.
And I hope the Syrians realize that we are now in a new age. Things are different. And it is time for them to examine their strategic position on policies they have been following and adopt policies that are more relevant to the new world that we’re in.
As Powell’s exchange with his interviewer showed, looming behind the American reactions to the “pro-Western” Hariri’s resignation and the “pro-Syrian” President Lahoud’s naming of the “pro-Syrian” Omar Karami to replace Hariri (by no means a done deal, incidentally, as there is considerable strife within the Lebanese Parliament and political factions whether to assemble a Government that is pro-Syrian or pro-American—the two major foreign interferers in Lebanese life these days) is the UN Security Council. For it was through the adoption of Resolution 1559 on September 2 by the barest minimum of votes possible (only 9 votes in favor, with 6 abstentions) that the Americans managed to multilateralize (to coin a phrase) their anti-Syria agenda, and to place this American agenda squarely on the Security Council’s list of recurring concerns.
(For the record. Resolution 1559 not only declared its “support for a free and fair electoral process in Lebanon’s upcoming presidential election” (which was circumvented the next day when the term of President Lahoud was extended three years beyond this coming November), reaffirmed the “political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon,” and called upon “all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon.” But, crucially, Res. 1559 also called upon “all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the Security Council for the full implementation of this and all relevant resolutions…,” and, last but not least, requested that the “Secretary-General report to the Security Council within thirty days on the implementation by the parties of this resolution and decides to remain actively seized of this matter.” In effect, 1559 places Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs permanently before the Security Council, to be placed on the front burner of the “international community” as the Americans see fit, or left in the back, should they be preoccupied with other concerns. Thus is American interference, not only in Lebanon’s affairs, but Syria’s affairs as well, raised to the level of a Security Council-mediated issue, and made normative and enforceable. Always presuming the American can coax, bribe, and threaten their way to the minimum 9 Yes votes required.)
In terms of the workings of the Neocolonial Community, this really is textbook stuff here. Ask yourselves how many times over the course of the past 15 years (i.e., since the collapse of the old Soviet bloc) the Americans have succeeded in shoving their agendas down the throats of so-called multilateral institutions—and not just “multilateral” institutions like NAFTA or the International Monetary Fund, either, but the crème de la crème of all multilateral institutions, the United Nations, including its organs of enforcement and its organs of propaganda? Of course, in terms of its actual material consequences, 1559 does not come remotely close to equaling the successes that American Power has enjoyed in exploiting the United Nations in places such as American-occupied Afghanistan (i.e., the demonstration election of October 9, for example) and American-occupied Iraq (Res. 1546 of June 8 constituting nothing less than the Security Council’s rewriting of history to make-believe that the American occupying power was invited to remain in Iraq as the leader of a “multilateral” force by the Interim Prime Minister of Iraq—the very same puppet regime the Americans themselves had installed in office just days before)—two stellar cases of criminal interference in the affairs of sovereign states rendered all well and good by the Americans’ weight within the contemporary world order.
But 1559—and in particular the institutional machinery that its adoption has set in motion, if the Americans decide to avail themselves of it at some point in the future—certainly is of the same kind as the other two cases. And what is far worse this time, the Americans can carry 1559 around with them in their back pockets until such time as they need it.
When the Americans interfere in the affairs of other states, they do it unilaterally, multilaterally, and omnilaterally—and every way in between. Just sticking to the past three decades, Lebanese history has suffered massive foreign distortions from the Israelis, the Americans, and the Syrians. Still. To this list we can now add the UN Security Council, whose Res. 1559 provides a multilateral cloak behind which the Americans can work this masquerade.
“U.S. tells Syria to stay out of Lebanese politics as PM resigns,” Agence France Presse, October 20, 2004
“Lebanon in crisis after resignation,” Kim Ghattas, Financial Times, October 21, 2004
“Lebanon President Names Pro-Syrian Karami as New PM,” Nadim Ladki, Reuters, October 21, 2004
“Lebanese leader quits over Syria’s role,” Nicholas Blanford, The Times (London), October 21, 2004
“Lebanese Premier Quits in Sign of Tension on Syria; Cabinet Dissolved as Pressure Builds Over Larger Neighbor’s Political Influence, Military Presence,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post, October 21, 2004
UN Security Council Resolution 1559, September 2, 2004
“Security Council Declares Support for Free, Fair Presidential Election in Lebanon; Calls for Withdrawal of Foreign Forces There,” Press Release SC/8181, September 2, 2004
“The Situation in the Middle East,” Presidential Statement, UN Security Council, October 19, 2004
“Reaffirming Strong Support for Lebanon’s Sovereignty and Independence, Security Council ‘Notes with Concern’ that Requirements of Resolution 1559 Remain Unmet,” Press Release SC/8220, October 19, 2004
Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, U.S. Public Law 108–175—December 12, 2003 (as archived by the Federation of American Scientists)
“Fact Sheet: Implementing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003,” The White House, May 11, 2004
“The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony,” Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, October, 2003
“U.S. Policy Towards Syria and the Triumph of Neoconservativism,” Stephen Zunes, Journal of the Middle East Policy Council, Spring, 2004 (Readers who can’t access the complete text should ask me, and I’ll be happy to forward a copy of it.)
UNSC 1559: The Resolution Out of Nowhere, ZNet Blogs, September 5, 2004
Principals of World Order I, ZNet Blogs, September 25, 2004