Watering Lebanon's cedar revolution
A year ago this week, the Middle East saw a rare display of freedom. Syria, under UN pressure and after an uprising in Beirut ("the cedar revolution"), withdrew its troops from Lebanon. That wasn't enough, however. Lebanon's revolution still needs help.
The tiny country's continuing woes remain overshadowed by bigger crises in the region - Iran's nuclear ambitions, Iraq's violent struggle for democracy, and a hardened Israeli-Palestinian standoff. Those conflicts have spillover effects in Lebanon, long a pawn of foreign powers. The reverse is also true: Establishing a fully independent and democratic Lebanon could help the entire Middle East.
Despite the pullout of troops, Syria still has spies in Lebanon, which are widely believed to be behind assassinations that keep anti-Syrian politicians in check. The UN has already charged Syria with a role in the 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. That event helped put Syria on the defensive after years of occupying its neighbor.
Iran, too, keeps a meddling hand in Lebanon, a fact which the United Nations officially noted only for the first time this week. In a report, UN chief Kofi Annan linked Iran to instability in Lebanon, citing the close ties between Shiite Iran and Lebanon's Shiite guerrilla band Hizbullah.
Financed by Iran and largely in control of southern Lebanon, Hizbullah is being slowly coaxed by other Lebanese political parties to cement itself as a democratic, nationalist political party, and not continue as an armed tool of Iran or Syria, or as a radical anti-Israel, Islamic militant group. (Hizbullah's leader acknowledged this week that the group helps fund militant Palestinian factions.)
Hizbullah needs to make a choice on whether to blend its forces with Lebanon's Army. Last year's legislative elections saw a victory for the anti-Syria, anti-Iran parties. Since then, a national dialogue between all parties to reconcile long-standing differences - while difficult - is moving along. That slow reconciliation needs more help from the US and the UN.
This week, the US pushed for a resolution by the UN Security Council that would highlight Syria's failure to abide by a 2004 UN resolution that demanded Syria respect Lebanon's sovereignty (and that demanded a disarming of all militias such as Hizbullah).
President Bush also turned the screws tighter on Syria this week by issuing an order that would freeze the international assets of anyone involved in the Hariri assassination.
The US can do more. Mr. Bush met with Lebanon's new prime minister, Fouad Siniora, last week, and heard his requests for more economic assistance and for US pressure on Israel to withdraw from a parcel of land called Shebaa Farms. Israel's occupation of that land, a result of the 1967 war with Syria, is used by Syria as an excuse to avoid delineating its border with Lebanon.
As Mr. Annan said, "A united Lebanon has offered an outstretched hand to Syria." But Syria, like Iran, shows no signs of abandoning its covert influence in Lebanon. They both ignore the popular will of the Lebanese and the will of the UN.
The revolution is unfinished.