Thursday, August 16, 2012

On the Brink Again

It was Bismarck who once quipped that a fool learns from his own mistakes but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. But what would you call those who learn from neither? Well, I am afraid the way things seem to be heading here, you might as well call them Lebanese.

Life teaches that it is a mistake to assume that doing nothing is always the safest bet or that when you don’t move you are surely less likely to fall. It is also a mistake to think that by turning your eyes away from danger, the danger will somehow disappear. It is an illusion that can be very costly for people and for countries. Four decades ago it was a mistake of governance that cost Lebanon a great deal.

Lebanon may well be on the verge of plunging again into a real disaster. It would be twice in a lifetime. A disaster that the Lebanon may not be able to survive this time around. The current dangerous slide should be stopped. Before it is too late.

This is not the first time that such a warning has been voiced on this blog. But the recent dramatic developments, including the uncovered plot of the Syrian regime to detonate a sectarian conflict in Lebanon, and the recent reciprocal kidnappings of Lebanese in Syria and vice a versa, coupled with the ostrich-like attitude of the Lebanese government force us to ratchet up the volume. The temperature has reached danger zone. Doing nothing is not  responsible policy. It is not policy at all. This may not be a storm that will blow away on its own.

Unfortunately, by all accounts this government is unable to take any serious remedial steps of any kind, even if it wanted to. It had simply lost the confidence of the Lebanese public, a long time ago. And in its current makeup it surely doesn’t have the necessary collective mandate from a sharply divided nation.

I strongly believe that a new emergency government should be formed. It should be composed of neutral but capable and respected individuals who can create a much needed positive jolt in the despondent but anxious national psyche. It can be done. President Suleiman and Prime Minister Mikati hold the responsibility and the key to make it happen. The opposition has endorsed such a move, without any hesitation. It is an offer that should be embraced.

What about the policy steps that the government should take?

In addition to the obvious urgency of demonstrating the state’s security presence in the streets of Lebanon's cities, the government should start with a number of concrete measures to insulate Lebanon as much as possible from what is happening in Syria:

First, it should request all Lebanese citizens not to enter Syria for any reason, and those who are there to leave immediately. It doesn’t matter if they support the revolution or believe it is just  a Zionist conspiracy. Second, it should freeze all relations, including especially security realtions and coordination agreements, with the Syrian regime. It is almost offensive and certainly dangerous to continue such coordination when bombs are being sent by the Syrian regime to tear Lebanon part. Third, the Lebanese government should ask the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to provide assistance to the Lebanon army to help control its border with Syria. Such assistance is already mandated under UNSCR 1701.

That would be a good start for the Lebanese people and the rest of the world to begin to treat the Lebanese state with the respect all sovereign states deserve. It would hopefully also usher a reversal of the current downhill path of state authority in all respects; a path which, if left unchecked, is likely to lead Lebanon into the same disastrous experience of forty years ago, with no lesson learnt. Let’s hope we can meet Bismarck's standard of being just fools.

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