Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mr. Mikati’s Three Major Mistakes

It is probably too early to write Mr. Najib Mikati’s political obituary. It may even be too early to write the obituary of his current government. But it is not early to point to three major negatives on Mr. Mikati’s performance evaluation ledger since he took over as Prime Minister a little less than two years ago.

The first is accepting to serve as Prime Minister to begin with. This was a terrible decision on Mr. Mikati’s part precisely for the reason he said he accepted the job, namely to avoid fitna. Basically, to save us and the country from the wrath of Hizbollah and its heavily armed militia. Walid Junblat joined Mr. Mikati in this about-face for the same reason. Avoiding Hizbollah's threat of fitna. The implication of Mr. Mikati’s decision to accept the offer in those circumstances was clear. If you have an armed militia you can use it to achieve political goals by threatening the country with fitna. If you (Sunnis, Maronites or Druze) don’t have a militia then maybe it is time to start one. That was the implied message. A terrible one.

The second major negative item on Mr. Mikati’s performance card was not to raise much fuss about Hizbollah’s unabashed protection of party members indicted by the Special Tribunal for their role in the assassination of the late Rafic Hariri, as well as a suspect in the attempted assassination of former Minister Butros Harb, a prominent March 14 figure. The implied message was also quite clear. if you are planning an assassination, you don’t need to worry about being discovered or prosecuted, provided you have a powerful militia to give you impunity.

His third major mistake was to basically do nothing in response to the blatant act of aggression against Lebanon by the Syrian regime. This was the so-called Mamlouk-Smaha conspiracy to blow up public figures and gathering in North Lebanon, which was uncovered by the late General El-hassan a few months ago. Mr. Mikati did not even complain to the Arab League or to United nations or take any diplomatic action, which would have sent a message that an attack on Lebanon by the Syrian regime will not be costless – at least politically and legally. The decision to ignore March 14’s call for appropriate diplomatic steps and to opt instead for sheepish expressions of disapproval fell far short of the needed deterrence against future acts of aggression. The excuse of waiting for the judicial process was an uncovincing one. Sovereign states do not wait for judges to make policy in such cases. The available evidence was sufficient to take action.

There is no doubt that Mr. Mikati can point to other things in his favor. He probably would also argue that doing otherwise than what he did would have been overruled by his own cabinet. Maybe so. But that would mean that his government was not suited to protect the nation in these dangerous times. That’s all the more reason for him to bring his own government down without much delay. Better late than never.

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