This week, things turned for the worse in Lebanon, with violence erupting in Beirut. But both the government and the opposition seem to be showing maturity by calling for unity in Lebanon to prevent an outbreak of civil war.

This situation is very indicative of what is going on in Lebanon: the protests of recent months are not opportunistic, but realistic. There is a significant segment of the Lebanese population that dislikes the way the current government is handling the country. And instead doing things un-democratically, through terror, the disenchanted are taking peaceful means to voice their concerns and demands. No one can doubt that Hezbollah, a key player in the protests, is capable of acts of terror (and ones of magnitude). After all, it was Hezbollah that seriously challenged the reputation of the IDF this summer. However, Hezbollah has not been violent. There is no indication that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, which occurred before the protests began, has been linked to the politically active group.

Nevertheless, some pro-government officials in Lebanon are saying the violence is the responsibility of protesters. Samir Geagea has accused the opposition of trying to take force by “force” and has said that the continuation of protests would lead to “civil war.”

Gaegea has a point, in that if the government continues to dispute protesters’ demands, violence will eventually break out. But it won’t be the fault of the protesters, but Lebanon’s government. Now is not the time to be stubborn. The opposition — and a large number of the Lebanese population — have shown this movement to be more than the Orange revolution, so widely publicized as a triumph for democracy, so it’s time for Prime Minister Siniora to listen and stop demanding.

The PM has refused to negotiate with the opposition until protests cease.


An Iraqi Democracy

December 4, 2006

The Iraqi project, led by Britain and the US, is increasingly coming under fire from all directions.

While it is not a surprise to see outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan speak about the devastating shortcomings of Iraq, it is somewhat unexpected to see a Donald Rumsfeld memo stating that US tactics in Iraq are “not working well enough” and that a shift in policy must ensue.

The revelation of the memo comes after both Human Rights Watch and a panel of UN experts criticized the Dujail trial of Saddam Hussein as being flawed and unfair. The UN panel even called the Hussein’s detention illegal. While the Dujail trial was not a direct consequence of US or British tactics — the former Iraqi leader was tried by the new Iraqi government — it does raise serious questions about an Iraqi democracy.

Ultimately, the Iraqi project’s goal was to bring democracy to the Middle East with Iraq as a starting point. And Iraq did get an electoral democracy with real elections and a real voter turnout. But democracy is more; it is fundamental for any democracy to have a judiciary that is independent and, in the end, fair. If Human Rights Watch is right in that Saddam Hussein did not receive a “fair trial” — and their report is quite compelling — then there’s a lot more work to be done in Iraq, in addition to ending the ongoing civil war in the country. It is imperative to address the problems with the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT), which has been scrutinized for its poor handling of the Dujail trial. If these current standards remain, then Iraq will not get past an electoral democracy and can easily slip back into totalitarianism.

A democracy is also about the ability of different factions to work in concert, despite differences. In that sense, Kofi Annan’s characterization of the ongoing conflict within Iraq as “much worse” than a civil war is quite alarming: the Iraqi project has actually destabilized the country, if one compares it to pre-occupation Iraq with violence rampant and not declining. Part of this could be US forces “not working well enough” as Rumsfeld’s memo states, but it’s also a question of choosing the right model of democracy. After all, Lebanon lived through years of civil war, until it came to a model that accommodated its Druze, Christian and Muslim parties. This does not mean that the current model in Iraq does not work; it just means that necessary adjustments must be made, and that elected officials like PM Maliki must be ready to work with opponents in order for the government (and democracy) to truly flourish.

Britain and the US will likely exit from Iraq within the next year and this may actually increase the likeliness of the success of an Iraqi democracy. Whether Britain or the US intend to or not, they are influencing the direction of Iraq’s democracy. And the democracy in Iraq is more likely to succeed if it is chosen and embraced by Iraqis themselves. With a British-US exit, on the surface, nothing may change, except a sense of ownership and a stake in the democracy, which is something hard to experience when your country is under occupation.

The biggest dilemma for the US right now is the civil war and what role the US will play in it, because by participating, the US will have to pick sides, and, once again, influence the direction of the democracy.

US President George Bush is set to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman. And President Bush has some questions.

“My questions to him will be: What do you need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence,” said Bush.

Ultimately, the US President is ridding himself of any responsibility of having to deal with the sectarian violence and is making it look like the issue is with the Iraqi government. It is, but the occurrence of the sectarian violence is not the result of the Iraqi government’s policies. The sectarian violence is something that developed with the American occupation of Iraq. If we look back to the initial occupation of the country, sectarian friction in the country was at its lowest. However, as the US occupation of Iraq has elapsed, sectarian violence has been on the rise.

It is up to Iraq’s government to solve the state of civil war it is in right now, but if the US had any good intentions when it invaded the country, then it is also up to the US to be involved. Especially considering the fact that President Bush has spoken out against any troops withdrawals.

Meanwhile, Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei has told Iraqi President Talabani that US forces must leave Iraq for a possible peace in the country. Khamenei offered the Iraqi President assistance in stabilizing the country.

Iraq: Not a Civil War?

November 28, 2006


While NBC along with other media outlets have decided that “civil war” is no longer an inappropriate term to use when describing Iraq, the US has continued to use guarded language.

“We‘re clearly in a new phase characterized by an increase in sectarian violence that requires us to adapt to that new phase,” National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was quoted as saying by AP.

Hadley refused the notion of Iraq being in a civil war and rejected the suggestion that President Bush would address the issue of troops withdrawal when he meets with Iraq’s Prime Minister this week.

Yet Hadley is contradicting himself. Sectarian violence at levels its been at this week is a civil war. The “new phase” that he mentions is the civil war. Needing “to adapt” is adapting to the reality of a civil war. But the White House cannot directly say that and must use guarded language. If the White House declares Iraq in a state of civil war, it will be seen as an American (and British) failure.

With a declaration of a civil war, the United States will not be capable of declaring victory and will be blamed for not upholding the peace. Moreover, the declaration of a civil war will also give credibility to the need of having Iran involved in solving Iraq’s problems. The US, however, wants to deal with Iran on US terms, something that is becoming less and less likely. Civil war also makes the eventual exit from Iraq look bad, since the US will be seen as responsible for having created the conditions for the civil war.

So the White House confines itself to a “new phase.”

The above image is taken from Barney’s official website. It is not being used for profit and is thus claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law.