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A “Cedar Revolution” II


The “Arab World” keeps turning up lately. So much so, in fact, that it sometimes seems as if the English-language media have caught an “Arab World” cold, and can’t stop blowing their collective nose. Of course, I won’t speak for you. But I for one can’t help but feel that a hitherto unknown continent suddenly has been discovered, one teeming with wretched masses, tyrannical regimes—and a longing on the part of the former to do away with the latter.

Strangely enough, this newly discovered continent very much resembles the old “Arab World” that Edward Said had in mind (1981) when he lamented the fact that so much of what the West knows about the “non-Western world it [knows] in the framework of colonialism,” with most politicos and intellectuals and journalists being alike in approaching their “subject from a general position of dominance,” such that what they “said about [their] subject was said with little reference to what anyone but other European[s]” had said. Other subjugators. Whether of the sword or the pen.

Commenting elsewhere about the points of view of two characters in Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, Said noted that the author “seems to be saying” (1994)

We Westerners will decide who is a good native or a bad, because all natives have sufficient existence by virtue of our recognition. We created them, we taught them to speak and think, and when they rebel they simply confirm our views of them as silly children, duped by some of their Western masters.

Along the same lines, Said also noted (1994):

Much of the rhetoric of the ‘New World Order’ promulgated by the American government since the end of the Cold war—with its redolent self-congratulation, its unconcealed triumphalism, its grave proclamations of responsibility—might have been scripted by Conrad’s [characters]: we are number one, we are bound to lead, we stand for freedom and order….[L]est we think patronizingly of Conrad as the creature of his own time, we had better note that the recent attitudes in Washington and among most Western policymakers and intellectuals show little advance over his views.

Or perhaps not so strangely after all. Just yesterday (March 8), the American President proclaimed that:

History is moving quickly, and leaders in the Middle East have important choices to make. The world community, including Russia and Germany and France and Saudi Arabia and the United States has presented the Syrian government with one of those choices — to end its nearly 30-year occupation of Lebanon, or become even more isolated from the world. The Lebanese people have heard the speech by the Syrian president. They’ve seen these delaying tactics and half-measures before. The time has come for Syria to fully implement Security Council Resolution 1559. All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections, for those elections to be free and fair. (Applause.)

The elections in Lebanon must be fully and carefully monitored by international observers. The Lebanese people have the right to determine their future, free from domination by a foreign power. The Lebanese people have the right to choose their own parliament this spring, free of intimidation. And that new government will have the help of the international community in building sound political, economic, and military institutions, so the great nation of Lebanon can move forward in security and freedom. (Applause.)

Today I have a message for the people of Lebanon: All the world is witnessing your great movement of conscience. Lebanon’s future belongs in your hands, and by your courage, Lebanon’s future will be in your hands. The American people are on your side. Millions across the earth are on your side. The momentum of freedom is on your side, and freedom will prevail in Lebanon. (Applause.)

This kind of empty bombast really wows them in the English-language parts of the world. Last Friday, the American President had made his most succinct demand to date of the governments of Lebanon and Syria (March 4—see par. 16):

Lebanon is a democracy, and we strongly support that democracy. I was pleased that Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia sent the very same message. (Applause.) The world is beginning to speak with one voice. We want that democracy in Lebanon to succeed, and we know it cannot succeed so long as she is occupied by a foreign power, and that power is Syria. There’s no half-measures involved. When the United States and France and others say, withdraw, we mean complete withdrawal, no half-hearted measures. (Applause.)

Nevermind that “Syria’s supporters in Lebanon”—inasmuch as it’s even fair of me to use this phrase, mindful, as I am, of how general phrases such as this tend to work—”struck back against the ‘cedar revolution’ yesterday with a show of strength which easily dwarfed anything their opponents have been able to muster,” as The Guardian reported this morning—along with literally hundreds of other news sources.

“Trying to estimate the number was futile, but half a million would be plausible and a million not unbelievable,” this particular report continued (“500,000 Mass for Hizbullah in Beirut,” Brian Whitaker, March 9). I’ve also run across estimates as high as 1.5 million—though I honestly have no idea. I’ve seen a series of photos that convey the enormity of the scene and am sure you have as well. (For a dozen Reuters photos—while they last, anyway—see “Pro-Syria Protest in Lebanon,” March 8.)

As The Guardian‘s report elaborated:

From a distance it resembled a larger version of Monday’s opposition rally. As on Monday, they patriotically waved the red and white Lebanese flag and the national anthem blared out several times over the loudspeakers.

But they also waved pictures of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and his Lebanese counterpart. There were even a few of President Bashar’s late and largely unlamented father.

Much of the language, unless decoded, sounded similar too: one of the slogans was “Sovereignty, not foreign intervention”. But the foreigners referred to were the Americans, the Israelis, the French: anyone but the brotherly Syrians.

Looked at more closely, this was a very different crowd.

The anti-Syrian protesters who have attracted worldwide attention are mostly Christians, plus Sunni Muslims and Druze, and they are generally from the better-off sections of Lebanese society. Yesterday’s masses were overwhelmingly the poorer – and historically downtrodden – Shia, who form 40% of the population.

Armani sweaters and flashy sunglasses were not to be seen. Some of the women were clad from head to foot in black, Iranian style, a few cradling babies in their arms. Among the men there was more than a smattering of beards.

(Quick aside. This bit about the Armani sweaters and flashy sunglasses is more relevant than you may think. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (December, 2003), of the nearly 1.2 million members of the resident population of the United States who reported “Arab” ancestry in 2000, both the largest percentage of the total (37 percent, or 440,279 overall) and the most affluent group by country of origin ($61,000 median family income) were Lebanese Americans. As the Financial Times reported last Saturday, the renaming of Martyrs’ Square as “Freedom Square,” the establishment of a “tent city” nearby, the founding of the new organization called Independence ’05—Civil Society, the daily protests against Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs, the daily broadcasts over some of the Lebanese media (including the Hariri-owned Future television station) of the message that Syria ought to withdraw from Lebanon, have all created a “magnet for people who have never paid attention to politics” before, and “played a big role in the mobilisation” of what the English-language media have anointed the “opposition,” often meaning the pro-Armani crowd. (“From Martyrs to Freedom in Beirut,” Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, March 5.))

(Quick aside to this quick aside. Anybody wanting to read an exercise in gullibility about the “fabulous” happenings now going down in Lebanon should take a look at Laurie King-Irani’s “Fables of Freedom and Democracy: Will Lebanon’s Story have a Happy Ending?” “An unexpected social transfiguration occurred,” King-Irani tells us: “The Lebanese transcended the barrier of silence and stopped being afraid. In the process, and maybe just temporarily, they stopped being Maronites or Sunnis or Druse, Communist or Kata’eb, and became equals….” Yeah. Fables indeed. All of the Lebanese people but the ones who took to the streets of Beirut in massive numbers yesterday—at the behest of no less than Hizballah (“Party of God,” officially designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Government since 1997)—to challenge the right of the Americans, the French, the British, the Israelis—and UN Security Council Res. 1559 of the so-called “international community” to interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs.)

“[T]the political straitjacket that has long imprisoned the Arab world is loosening,” The Independent‘s Rupert Cornwell wrote yesterday, “if not yet coming apart at the seams.” Syria’s troop movements within Lebanon—and promise of complete withdrawal by May—is one sign of this change, Cornwell thinks. Events there are forcing the world to question whether Washington finally “got it right” in the region, and whether the American war over Iraq “proved a catalyst” along the way. (“Was Bush Right After All?” March 8.)

On the very same day that the Master of the World proclaimed once again that “The Lebanese people have the right to determine their future free from domination by a foreign power,” untold hundreds-of-thousands of Lebanese people rallied in Beirut, in a show of solidarity with what the Master of the World has been prescribing for them—hewing to the Master’s words, that is, rather than the Master’s actions.

Only problem was that the foreign powers whose influence these Lebanese people want to eradicate from the life of their country is that of the Master and of the little masters—not necessarily the government of Syria.

Was Bush right after all? Ought this question even to be broachable?

To date, the only kind of “people power” that those looking at the “Arab World” from a general position of dominance have been able to countenance is the kind that brings American-friendly forces out onto the streets: The purple-stained fingers in Iraq and the Independence ’05 group in Beirut. But no teeming masses of Hizballah-inspired adversaries of the American game in Lebanon. Much less any form of armed resistance to American Power within the Iraqi theater of subjugation. It strikes me as unimaginable that one of the mass-circulation newsweeklies in the States would ever place an image taken Tuesday of the hundreds-of-thousands of demonstrators at the Riad al-Solh Square in Beirut on the cover of next week’s edition, along with the headline “People Power,” the way that the current edition of Newsweek (March 14) did with the Independence ’05 group. People power only becomes people power in the sense sanctioned by American Power if the people are working toward approved goals.

To save the last words for Edward Said:

On the one hand there are Westerners; and on the other there are Arab-Orientals; the former are (in no particular order) rational, peaceful, liberal, logical, capable of holding real values, without natural suspicion; the latter are none of these things. Out of what collective and yet particularized view of the Orient do these statements emerge? What specialized skills, what imaginative pressures, what institutions and traditions, what cultural forces produce such similarity in the descriptions of the Orient to be found in Cromer, Balfour, and our contemporary statesmen?
—-Orientalism, 1979

[T]here is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation. There is, after all, a profound difference between the will to understand for purposes of co-existence and enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for the purposes of control. It is surely one of the intellectual catastrophes of history that an imperialist war confected by a small group of unelected US officials was waged against a devastated Third World dictatorship on thoroughly ideological grounds having to do with world dominance, security control, and scarce resources, but disguised for its true intent, hastened, and reasoned for by Orientalists who betrayed their calling as scholars.
—-Writing in CounterPunch, August 4, 2003

The Arab Population: 2000, U.S. Census Bureau, December, 2003

UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (SC/8181), September 2, 2004

Hizballah (“Party of God“), “Appendix B — Background Information on Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003, U.S. Department of State, 2004.

President Discusses Strengthening Social Security in New Jersey,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 4, 2005
President’s Radio Address,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 5, 2005
President Discusses War on Terror,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 8, 2005

Fables of Freedom and Democracy: Will Lebanon’s Story have a Happy Ending?” Laurie King-Irani, Common Dreams.org, February 25, 2005

Lebanese Premier Resigns As Street Protest Heats Up,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 1, 2005

Three Cheers for the Bush Doctrine,” Charles Krauthammer, Time Online, posted March 7, 2005

People Power,” Newsweek, March 14, 2005
An Arabian Spring,” Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 14, 2005
What Bush Got Right,” Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, March 14, 2005

“From Martyrs to Freedom in Beirut: Roula Khalaf meets the corporate events manager helping focus Lebanese protests,” Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, March 5, 2005

U.S. Rebuffs Assad Offer To Pull out of Lebanon,” Robert Fisk, The Independent, March 6, 2005
Syria Offers Gradual Pullback of Its Troops From Lebanon,” Hassan M. Fattah and David E. Sanger, New York Times, March 6, 2005
Unexpected Whiff of Freedom Proves Bracing for the Mideast,” Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, March 6, 2005
Lebanese rejoice as Syria retreats,” Hala Jaber, The Times, March 6, 2005
The Arabian Spring,” Jon Swain and Sarah Baxter, The Times, March 6, 2005
Syria Offers ‘Gradual’ Troop Pullback,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 6, 2005
U.S. Rejects Syria’s Withdrawal Plan for Lebanon,” Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 6, 2005

Lebanon’s fragile peace under threat,” Tim Butcher and Ramsay Short, Daily Telegraph, March 7, 2005
The winds of change,” Toby Harnden et al., Daily Telegraph, March 7, 2005
Syria is forced to expel Palestinian extremists,” Damien McElroy and Toby Harnden, Daily Telegraph, March 7, 2005
Syria to begin moving troops as part of pull-out,” Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, March 7, 2005
Is Lebanon Walking into Another Nightmare?” Robert Fisk, The Independent, March 7, 2005
Hezbollah Backs Syria, Challenging Lebanese Opposition,” Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, March 7, 2005
Embattled Syria beats a retreat,” Nicholas Blanford, The Times, March 7, 2005
Hezbollah To Protest U.S. Stance On Lebanon,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 7, 2005

“An Historic Day in the Life of My City,” Robert Fisk, The Independent, March 8, 2005
Was Bush Right After All?” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, March 8, 2005
“Don’t Be Fooled: Middle East Democracy Has Only the Most Tenuous Link with War in Iraq,” Editorial, The Independent, March 8, 2005
Protests in Beirut Grow as Assad Gives No Date for Pullout,” Jay Mouawad, New York Times, March 8, 2005
US rejects Syria’s phased pullout as a half measure,” Nicholas Blanford, The Times, March 8, 2005
The Autocrats’ Answer,” Editorial, Washington Post, March 8, 2005

Strong U.S. policy pays off, Bush says,” Ken Herman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 9, 2005
Democracy faces test on streets of Beirut,” Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian, March 9, 2005
Throng of Lebanese gives support to Syria,” Evan Osnos, Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2005
Pro-Syria voices push back,” Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 2005
Two faces of protest,” Frances Z. Brown, Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 2005
Does Hizbullah get to stay ‘special’?” Ghassan Rubeiz, Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 2005
Hizbollah rallies support for Syria to stay in Lebanon,” Tim Butcher, Daily Telegraph, March 9, 2005
Bullish Bush hails ‘shift to democracy’,” Alec Russell, Daily Telegraph, March 9, 2005
Hizbollah followers back Syria on streets of Beirut,” Kim Ghattas and James Harding, Financial Times, March 9, 2005
Hizbollah puts on a show of political muscle,” Roula Khalaf and Harvey Morris, Financial Times, March 9, 2005
Damascus prepares for unrest as regime feels the heat,” Ferry Bieberman, Financial Times, March 9, 2005
Stand-off in Beirut,” Editorial, Financial Times, March 9, 2005
500,000 mass for Hizbullah in Beirut: Shia poor throw their weight behind status quo,” Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, March 9, 2005
Lebanese Grafitti,” Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, March 9, 2005
Bush sees Lebanon changes as move to free Middle East,” Julian Borger, The Guardian, March 9, 2005
“Half a Million Gather for pro-Syrian Rally To Defy Vision of U.S.,” Robert Fisk, The Independent, March 9, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
Bush: Dictators Have Had Their Day in the Middle East,” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, March 9, 2005
“A Tale of Two Revolutions,” Johann Hari, The Independent, March 9, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
“Hizbullah organises huge pro-Syria protest,” Laura Marlowe, Irish Times, March 9, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
“Bush feels ‘validated’ by democracy wave,” Conor O’Clery, Irish Times, March 9, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
“Vital that Europe, US pull together over Iraq,” James C. Kenny, Irish Times, March 9, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
Mass Pro-Syria Rally Shows Lebanese Split,” Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2005
Bush Sees Middle East ‘Thaw’ on Democracy,” Peter Wallsten and Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2005
Pro-Syria Party in Beirut Holds a Huge Protest,” Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, March 9, 2005
Bush Presses Syria to Leave Lebanon Soon,” Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, March 9, 2005
For Bush, a Taste of Vindication in Mideast,” Todd S. Purdum, New York Times, March 9, 2005
Lebanese Find a New Identify in Peaceful Protests,” Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, March 9, 2005
Can Hezbollah Go Straight?” Michael Young, New York Times, March 9, 2005
‘We’re not a weak people’,” Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, March 9, 2005
Bush Sees Democracy on the Rise in Mideast,” Ann McFeatters, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 9, 2005
Don’t Be Fooled—This Is No Arab Glasnost,” Fraser Nelson, The Scotsman, March 9, 2005
Hezbollah fights back in war of words over Syrian influence,” Nicholas Blanford, The Times, March 9, 2005
Bush demands Syria quit Lebanon by May,” Tim Harper, Toronto Star, March 9, 2005
Syria Supporters Rally in Lebanon,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 9, 2005

Bush urges Lebanese to stand firm,” Roy Eccleston, The Australian, March 10, 2005

Orientalism, Edward W. Said, Vintage Books, 1979
Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts determine How We See the Rest of the World, Edward W. Said, Pantheon Books, 1981
Culture and Imperialism, Edward W. Said, Vintage Books, 1994
Orientalism 25 Years Later,” Edward W. Said, Counterpunch, August 4, 2003

UNSC 1559: The Resolution Out of Nowhere, September 5, 2004
This Masquerade, October 22, 2004
Governments of Confrontation, October 26, 2004
A “Cedar Revolution” I, March 3, 2005

FYA (“For your archives”):

The Independent (London)
March 9, 2005, Wednesday
SECTION: First Edition; NEWS; Pg. 4,5
HEADLINE: PROTESTS IN LEBANON: HALF A MILLION GATHER FOR PRO-SYRIAN RALLY TO DEFY VISION OF US
BYLINE: ROBERT FISK IN BEIRUT

IT WAS a warning. They came in their tens of thousands, Lebanese Shia Muslim families with babies in arms and children in front, walking past my Beirut home. They reminded me of the tens of thousands of Iraqi Shia Muslims who walked with their families to the polls in Iraq, despite the gunfire and the suicide bombers.

And now they came from southern Lebanon and the Bekaa to say they rejected America’s plans in Lebanon, and wanted – so they claimed – to know who killed Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister murdered on 14 February, and to reject UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which demands a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarmament of the Hizbollah guerrilla movement, and to express their “thanks” to Syria. This was a tall order in Lebanon.

But only 100 yards from the Lebanese opposition protests, the half-million – for that was an approachable figure, given Hizbollah’s extraordinary organisational abilities – stood for an hour with Lebanese flags, and posed a challenge to President George Bush’s project in the Middle East. “America is the source of terrorism”, one poster proclaimed. “All our disasters come from America”.

Many of those tens of thousands were Hizbollah families who had fought the Israelis during their occupation of southern Lebanon, been arrested by the Israelis, imprisoned by the Israelis and feared that American support for Lebanon meant not “democracy” but an imposed Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty.

There were Syrians among the crowds – indeed, I saw buses with Syrian registration plates that had brought families from Damascus – but almost all the half million were Lebanese Shias and they wanted to reject 1559 because it called for Hizbollah to be disarmed. They were perfectly happy to see the Syrians leave (who now remembers the Syrian massacre of Hizbollah members in Beirut in 1987?) but, bearing in mind Syria’s transit of weapons from Iran to Lebanon, Hizbollah wanted to be regarded as a resistance movement, not a “militia” to be disarmed.

What the Shia were saying was that they were a power, just as they said when they voted in Iraq. In Lebanon, the Shia Muslims are the largest religious community.

Syria is run by a clique of Alawis – who are Shia – and Iraq is now dominated by Shia Muslims who voted themselves into power, and Iran is a Shia nation. So when President Bush said “the Lebanese people have the right to determine their future free from domination of a foreign power”, the power the Shias were thinking of was not Syria but the United States and Israel.

And 100 yards away, the demonstrators who have bravely protested against the murder of Rafik Hariri have become factionalised, courtesy of the Syrians. At night, the opposition protesters are largely Christian. Yesterday’s Hizbollah rally, while it contained the usual pro-Syrian Christians, was essentially Shia. And their message was not one of thanks to President Bush.

“The fleets came in the past and were defeated; and they will be defeated again,” Nasrallah said in reference to the Americans. Ironically, President Bush was to refer within hours to the killing of 241 US Marines in Beirut in October 1982, as if their deaths were the responsibility of al-Qa’ida. To the Israelis, Nasrallah said: “Let go of your dreams for Lebanon. To the enemy entrenched on our border, occupying our country and imprisoning our people, There is no place for you here and there is no life for you among us: Death to Israel’.”

Nasrallah’s take on the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war was predictable. The crowds were meeting on the front lines that had separated the Lebanese during the civil war; indeed, on the very location of the Christian-Muslim trenches of that conflict. “We meet today to remind the world and our partners in the country,” Nasrallah said, “that this arena that joins us, or the other one in Martyrs’ Square, was destroyed by Israel and civil war and was united by Syria and the blood of its soldiers and officers.”

This was an inventive piece of history. Israel certainly killed many thousands of Lebanese – more than the Syrians, although their soldiers took the lives of many hundreds – but the half million roared their approval.

So what did all this prove? That there was another voice in Lebanon. That if the Lebanese “opposition” – pro-Hariri and increasingly Christian – claim to speak for Lebanon and enjoy the support of President Bush, there is a pro-Syrian, nationalist voice which does not go along with their anti-Syrian demands but which has identified what it believes is the true reason for Washington’s support for Lebanon: Israel’s plans for the Middle East.

The Beirut demonstration yesterday was handled in the usual Hizbollah way: maximum security, lots of young men in black shirts with two-way radios, and frightening discipline. No one was allowed to carry a gun or a Hizbollah flag. There was no violence. When one man brandished a Syrian flag, it was immediately taken from him. Law and order, not “terrorism”, was what Hizbollah wished. Syria had spoken. President Bashar Assad’s sarcastic remark about the Hariri protesters needing a “zoom lens” to show their numbers had been answered by a demonstration of Shia power which needed no “zoom”.

And in the mountains above Beirut, still frozen under their winter snows, few Syrians moved. There were Syrian military trucks on the international highway to Damascus but no withdrawal, no retreat, no redeployment. The Taif agreement of 1989 stipulated that the Syrians should withdraw to the Mdeirej heights above Beirut, which they have now agreed to do, 14 years later than they should have done.

The official document released by the Lebanese-Syrian military delegation in Damascus suggests this is a new redeployment and that in April the Syrian forces, along with their military intelligence personnel, will withdraw to the Lebanese-Syrian border.

But the question remains: will they retreat to the Syrian side of the frontier, or sit in the Lebanese-Armenian town of Aanjar, on the Lebanese side, where Brigadier General Rustum Gazale, the head of Syrian military intelligence, still maintains his white-painted villa?

Either way, Lebanon can no longer be taken for granted. The “cedar” revolution now has a larger dimension, one that does not necessarily favour America’s plans. If the Shia of Iraq can be painted as defenders of democracy, the Shias of Lebanon cannot be portrayed as the defenders of “terrorism”. So what does Washington make of yesterday’s extraordinary events in Beirut?

The Independent (London)
March 9, 2005, Wednesday
SECTION: First Edition; COMMENT; Pg. 31
HEADLINE: A TALE OF TWO REVOLUTIONS (OR WHAT LEBANON AND BOLIVIA TELL US ABOUT BUSH’S IDEA OF FREEDOM)
BYLINE: JOHANN HARI

There are two democratic earthquakes happening right now. You’ve probably heard about the “Cedar revolution” in Lebanon – but have you heard about the watery revolt in Bolivia? These countries are 7,000 miles and a mental universe apart, but taken together they reveal basic truths about the nature of American power – and about the world we share.

You won’t find many people eager to talk about both these rebellions. The Bush administration and its cheerleaders are very happy to talk about Lebanon, where a huge popular movement has spontaneously arisen to demand an end to the 29-year Syrian occupation. The Bush message is clear. See? We told you Arabs wanted to be free, and Iraq would begin a “domino effect” for democracy throughout the region. The Iraq war has blasted a hole in the Arab Berlin Wall. Now Arabs are beginning to stream through, demanding throughout the region that their governments answer to them.

The opponents of the Bush world-view have been cautious or silent about this “ripple of change” (copyright T Blair). Some have even sneered, claiming that any change will simply risk restarting the Lebanese civil war or reactivate Arab “tribalism”.

By contrast, left-wing campaigners are eager to talk about the rebellion erupting in Bolivia, a small, bitterly poor, landlocked country in South America. It has technically been a democracy since 1982, but in practice the Bolivian government has not been accountable to its people.

No: it has been subject to the undemocratic demands of the US government, and to massive corporations, and their proxies, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. For example, the US demands that – in the name of the “war on drugs” – Bolivia destroy the coca crops of its peasants, one of the few sources of income for over 5 million poor Bolivians. Or, in another example, the World Bank ordered the Bolivian government to sell its water supplies to Bechtel, a Californian multinational, even though they increased water bills by as much as 200 per cent – in a country where thousands of children die every year because they don’t have access to clean water.

But then – in 2000 – something remarkable happened. The Bolivian people rose up and expelled Bechtel from the country, keeping their water supply under democratic control. Over the past week, the Bolivian people have risen again. They want to be allowed to grow coca without American interference, including – yes – for the huge global market in recreational drugs. And they want the massive (mostly US) multinationals operating within their borders to pay 50 per cent corporation tax – the same level of tax that poor Bolivians pay. The rebellion has been so popular that the President, Carlos Mesa, has resigned.

This time, the roles are reversed. The left is eager to speak while the Bushies are silent. The neoconservatives’ warm words about democracy are sent into the deep freezer when it comes to Bolivia, or any other Latin American country which has the temerity to ask for democratic control of its own resources and of corporations operating within their borders. Indeed, the Bush administration actually tried to destroy the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2000 for just this kind of anti-corporate policy.

So what can we learn from this Tale of Two Revolutions? The most important lesson is that there are such things as universal values. It is a natural human desire to want to live in a free, self-determining democracy. Lebanon and Bolivia have totally different histories and totally different intellectual heritages – but both want to be democracies. So it’s not right to respond to neocon rhetoric about “ending tyranny” and “spreading democracy to the darkest corners of the earth” by howling that this belief is “utopian”.

But – the second crucial lesson – nor is it right to take them at their word. Bolivia – and the wider US strategy in Latin America – reveals the limits of the “freedom” the US government wants to spread. Let’s look at what neoconservative “freedom” does not include. It doesn’t include freedom from torture. The less-than-White House is knowingly handing suspects over to torture in Egypt, Uzbekistan and elsewhere.

Nor does “freedom” mean that a democracy should be allowed to control its own economy and resources, even to the limited extent we enjoy in Europe. In Iraq, the democratically elected government – put in office with stunning courage by the Iraqi people – will have to hand over its economic policies (including its tax rates) to the International Monetary Fund for the next decade. If they refuse – or defy the demands of their new masters, Bolivia-style – the “international community” will reverse the cancellation of Saddam’s debt and slap a £101bn bill on the Iraqi table.

It goes on: “Freedom” doesn’t even mean more countries adopting US-style capitalism. The model of “democracy” spread by the Bush administration is far more extreme than the capitalism that Americans practice at home (which is itself the most extreme in the democratic world). In the US, for example, 85 per cent of water is owned by public utilities – yet the US demands other countries privatise their supply completely.

So what does the Bush administration mean when it says it wants to promote “freedom”? In reality, what it wants is a pallid semi-democracy conditional upon a willingness to serve US corporate and strategic interests. In a “free” country, you must allow the IMF and World Bank, in effect, to run your economy. You must enforce the “war on drugs”. You must privatise your entire public sphere. You must accept massive inequalities in wealth. But you will be allowed to pick your own local administrator to implement these policies. When it comes to anything outside the US conditions – religious rules, say, or women’s rights – you will be allowed to decide for yourselves. But if you push this democracy lark too far – as the people of Venezuela did, by trying to control their own oil and impose restrictions on corporations – you will be crushed, and a more corporate-friendly viceroy will be installed for you to approve.

There are some countries in the world so locked in tyranny that this American-imposed model of quasi-freedom is a significant advance on the status quo. Having some say over some issues – however unacceptably limited – is much better than living under Saddam’s genocidal dictatorship, for example. But in most other circumstances – and eventually, as it develops, in the Arab world itself – the very same model will be hideously regressive. This complexity doesn’t lend itself to scabrous polemics – but it is the truth.

So sincere advocates of democracy should simultaneously welcome the ripples of change in the Arab world and the changes in Latin America. Indeed, we should embrace these stirrings so enthusiastically that we demand they are followed through to their proper conclusion. The people of Lebanon, Bolivia and everywhere in between deserve more than an corporate neocon “freedom” where most of the people’s choices are ignored or crushed. They deserve real democracy.

The Irish Times
March 9, 2005
SECTION: World; Pg. 11
HEADLINE: Hizbullah organises huge pro-Syria protest
BYLINE: Laura Marlowe

Lebanon: Anti-American feeling was to the fore as half a million demonstrated, reports Lara Marlowe in Beirut

People power, the anti-Syrian opposition learned yesterday, is a dangerous weapon. With three weeks of demonstrations, the Lebanese, whom Washington hailed as the “cedar revolution”, gave impetus to the US and French-led drive to throw Syria out of Lebanon.

But the pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian Hizbullah movement outdid the opposition by mobilising close to a half-million people yesterday.

Everyone on Riad Solh Square was a Shia Muslim, the largest of Lebanon’s 17 religious sects, representing nearly one-third of the population. They came at the request of their leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.

“You have always been there for the freedom, sovereignty and independence of Lebanon,” Nasrallah harangued the crowd, hijacking the slogan of his anti-Syrian opponents. “Today you are deciding the destiny of your country.”

The first placard I saw was carried by a little girl, aged six or seven. “America is the Source of Terrorism,” it read. “All our problems are from America,” said a poster hanging over a kebab stand. “No to Foreign Intervention and Gratitude to Syria,” was a common theme. “Stop Israel Controlling the World,” read a huge banner on an overpass.

Four teenage sisters from Gobeiri High School in the Shia southern suburbs were covered from head-to-toe in long robes and headscarves.

Did they really want the Syrians to stay? “Yes,” Fatima (18) answered emphatically. “Because we don’t want the Americans to take their place.” Her sister Zeinab (17) said: “Syria is not doing anything wrong in Lebanon. Syria supports us; America will harm us.”

Hizbullah opposes UN Security Council Resolution 1559 because it would require its disarmament. “Hizbullah has weapons so that we can defend our freedom and independence, that’s all,” said Fatima.

A 50-year-old orange grower from “the border with Palestine” in southern Lebanon looked distinguished in his poloneck jumper and grey wool blazer. He had to leave his home during the 1978-2000 Israeli occupation and said proudly: “I support and assist the resistance.”

Though the assassinated former prime minister Rafik Hariri was a Sunni Muslim, the orange grower admired him. “Israel and the Americans killed Hariri,” he asserted, launching into a bizarre tale of a depleted uranium bomb no larger than a Kleenex box.

But he was correct in saying that Hariri opposed the naturalisation of 350,000 Palestinians in Lebanon. This, he believed, was a motive for his assassination.

“We are here today to demand the truth about the assassination,” he continued. “We are not saying we want Syria to stay, but we do not agree that Syria should be equated with Israel by UN resolutions.”

The Lebanese cannot agree on their own history. When they were growing up, the Christians who demonstrated on Martyrs’ Square learned that “notre mere la france” created the Maronite-ruled etat du grand liban for them. But Soukaina (28) a computer programmer, did not see France in the same way.

“France had the mandate after the first World War and we fought and kicked them out,” she said. “If they come back, we will kick them out again.”

“I have one question to ask the Americans,” said Zeinab (42) a nurse at Hizbullah’s Rassoul al-Azzam Hospital next to Beirut airport. “Who appointed them to spread democracy across the globe, and give lessons in democracy to other people? They don’t have democracy; we’re not stupid like Americans who don’t study or read newspapers.”

Syria is haunted by the May 17th, 1983 peace treaty between Lebanon and Israel, and President Bashar al-Assad warned Lebanon on March 5th that “another May 17th agreement” is in the making.

These Shia families explained that fear: “We have a brother who was martyred with the resistance fighting Israel in southern Lebanon,” said Fatima (40) the sister of Soukaina and Zeinab. “We are duty-bound to ensure it was not in vain.”

Several demonstrators cited Washington’s double standards on enforcing UN resolutions. “The Americans never did anything about UNSC resolution 425 which demanded Israel’s departure from southern Lebanon in 1978 “, Soukaina said. “If it hadn’t been for the resistance, they would never have left.”

Ali Al-Ameli (42) a construction worker from the south also seized upon US hypocrisy.

“I want to ask the American president, who is asking the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon, why he doesn’t withdraw his troops from Iraq?”

Syrians were less articulate than the Lebanese. A man carrying a poster of Bashar al-Assad turned out to be a carpenter from the Syrian city of Aleppo, bused in overnight. Why had he come to Beirut?

“To stand with Hassan Nasrallah and the Lebanese people against the Israeli enemy. We are with Dr Bashar and the Lebanese government,” he said.

Judging from the size of yesterday’s demonstration, Hassan Nasrallah is arguably the most popular politician here. “Beirut was destroyed by the Israeli prime minister Sharon and it was protected by the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad,” Nasrallah’s voice boomed over the speakers. “Syria wants only the best for Lebanon,” he said.

Nasrallah warned President Jacques Chirac to “review your Lebanon policy”. He paused between the names of President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and the State Department official David Satterfield to allow the crowd to boo in a tremendous roar.

“Lebanon will not succumb to your dogs of war,” he warned Washington. “Do not interfere in our internal affairs.”

But Nasrallah’s angriest words were reserved for Sharon and his chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz. “We say to our eternal enemy, there is no life for you among us. Death to Israel.”

Yesterday’s demonstration was merely the beginning, Nasrallah promised. Every two or three days Hizbullah will hold a rally in a Lebanese city.

The next will take place in Lebanon’s most Syrian town, Tripoli, in the north on Friday. On March 13th the Shia will gather in the southern town of Nabatiyeh.

The Irish Times
March 9, 2005
SECTION: World; Other World Stories; Pg. 11
HEADLINE: Bush feels ‘validated’ by democracy wave
BYLINE: Conor O’Clery in New York

US: President George Bush looked unusually relaxed and confident as he delivered a major speech yesterday on the spread of democracy in the Middle East.

Asmile played around the corner of his mouth as he pronounced that “freedom will prevail in Lebanon”.

The president had good reason to be upbeat. He is said by officials to feel “validated” by the rapid pace of change in recent weeks that has brought about a public reassessment of his doctrine of pre-emption and spreading democracy. Many of his critics have been silenced and some have begun to say that Bush was perhaps right after all.

White House aides cite elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, limited elections in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a move towards multi-candidate presidential elections in Egypt, and the capitulation by Syria to demands to leave Lebanon, as evidence of the success of Bush’s policies.

They also point out that the “Arab spring” followed pro-western democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine where the US was a player.

The new mood was captured in a broadcast exchange on the liberal Daily Show in New York, where host Jon Stewart put it to former Clinton aide Nancy Soderberg that Bush may have been right about this all along about the Middle East as “I’ve never seen results like this ever in that region.”

Ms Soderberg replied: “There is a wave of change going on, and if we can help ride it in the second term of the Bush administration, more power to them.”

On National Public Radio, commentator Daniel Schorr, a frequent critic of the administration, startled regular listeners by saying Bush “may have had it right”, though he cautioned that “it’s a bit early to be taking a victory lap”.

This week’s edition of Newsweek carries on its cover a headline about Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” whose words are “Where Bush Was Right”. On Capitol Hill, questions about duplicity over weapons of mass destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq no longer arise, and the daily death toll in Iraq does not prompt the concern it did.

In his speech yesterday at the National Defense University in Washington, Bush said this was “a time of great consequences” which he compared to other periods when the US brought about global transformations, such as the fall of communism. His strategy, he said, was “to eliminate the terrorist threat abroad so we do not face them here at home” and to “change the conditions that give rise to terror”.

The advance of hope in the Middle East required new thinking but, “by now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future: it is the last gasp of a discredited past”.

Mr Bush isolated Syria and Iran as holdouts against reform. “The Syrian government must end its 30-year occupation of Lebanon or become even more isolated,” he said. “Delaying tactics and half measures” were unacceptable. “All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for these elections to be free and fair.”

His message for the Lebanese people was that “the American people are on your side”, though with unfortunate timing for Bush, the half-million Lebanese people demonstrating on the streets of Beirut as he spoke were calling for less, rather than more, American intervention in the region – a reminder that the future is fraught with danger.

Underlining this, the Washington Post carried a warning yesterday from former CIA officer Ray Close to colleagues that if Bush “makes the fatal mistake of arrogantly portraying a Syrian withdrawal in Lebanon as a personal triumph for himself in his ‘War on Terror’ and his ‘Spreading Democracy’ campaign – the fruits may turn out to be very bitter indeed”.

However, Bush officials point to a comment by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt that the elections in Iraq were the start of a new Arab world, and for people in Syria and Egypt too, “the Berlin Wall has fallen”.

“It’s still a very tenuous situation,” said Sandy Berger, former president Clinton’s national security adviser. “There’s obviously both hope and danger.”

The Irish Times
March 9, 2005
SECTION: Opinion; Opinion; Pg. 14
HEADLINE: Vital that Europe, US pull together over Iraq
BYLINE: James C. Kenny

The EU and US have new energy to advance our common purpose in Iraq and the Middle East, writes James C Kenny.

Iraq’s January elections showed the world what the Iraqi people want: peace, stability, democracy, and self-government.

Elections in Afghanistan and in the Palestinian territories, protests by Lebanese calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and Egypt’s recent moves to institute multi-party presidential elections all indicate a growing popular desire for democracy across the Middle East. But some people cannot stand this success; instead, they want to look back, complain and protest, but not offer honest answers to tough problems.

While the road ahead remains difficult, there is much to celebrate. It is in all our interests for the purple-stained fingers of millions of Iraqi men and women to win out over the bloodstained fists of insurgents who are desperate to stop democracy, before democracy can stop them, and to solidify the democratic gains that are being made across the Arab and Islamic world.

With President Bush’s successful visit to Europe, the EU, its member states and the US have new energy to advance our common purpose in Iraq and the Middle East. Unfortunately, some parties are deliberately spreading false information to advance a political agenda, even at the expense of the Iraqi people who need our help, support, and encouragement.

This false information centres around several myths. They do not stand up to scrutiny:

Myth 1 – “Let Iraqis determine their own future without interference.” Before the January elections, Iraqis had been unable to do that. Saddam’s brutal tyranny had oppressed Iraqis. Now, a legitimate, freely and democratically elected government deriving its powers from the consent of the governed is in Baghdad.

Iraqi and Coalition forces work together against Baathists, Jihadists, and foreign terrorist supporters who want to kill Iraq’s nascent democracy and return it to tyranny.

Iraqis have no interest in a premature Coalition withdrawal that would bring back the thugs. They do want Iraq’s own forces to take over the security job. That is what we should all want and what the Coalition is in fact helping to achieve.

Myth 2 – “100,000 Iraqis killed as a result of the US invasion.” Patently false. Iraq Body Count, a group that is not pro-American, pro-war, or supportive of the Coalition convincingly refutes that falsehood. According the Iraq Body Count website, and as shown daily on the Irish Anti-War Movement’s own website, the actual count of non-combatant civilians killed in Iraq is under 20,000, many killed by insurgents’ car bombs, suicide attacks, beheadings, kidnappings, and executions.

We now know that Saddam’s own policies and his corruption of the “Oil for Food” programme – not UN sanctions – killed thousands of children by denying them needed medicines and food while he could fuel his regime’s security apparatus and his megalomania.

Millions more were killed in Saddam’s wars against Iran and Kuwait, his slaughter of Kurds and Shias, and by ultra-repressive security forces – the full scope of the killing fields and mass graves is not yet clear. From what we already know, it is horrific enough. Saddam’s overthrow has meant countless Iraqi lives saved. Standing up to the insurgents and terrorists – who target civilians as a matter of routine – is essential to prevent future deaths by another tyrannical regime.

Myth 3 – “Falluja is an assault on peaceful citizens and it killed thousands of innocents.” Simply wrong. US and Iraqi forces warned civilians through leaflets and broadcasts to leave the city. The vast majority did. Terrorists hid in houses, mosques, hospitals, schools; they hid behind the civilian population; they killed civilians who tried to leave. Soldiers risked their lives to end al-Zarqawi’s imposed terror on the city.

Myth 4 – “Iraq is an illegal war.” Wrong. The UN Secretary General commented last September that he personally believed the war in Iraq was not in conformity with the UN Charter. That is not the institutional judgment. UN Security Council Resolutions 678, 687, and 1441 clearly mandated the use of force against Iraq. A total of 17 UN Resolutions, including 1441, detailed Iraq’s obligations, its refusal to disarm, and the consequences it would suffer for noncompliance. The United States and its partners made sure that the use of force was in compliance with UN Resolutions.

Saddam Hussein’s regime did not want to hear the voice of the people; it used a highly repressive police state, mass executions, poison gas, and intimidation to stay in power. There can be no question that morally, the regime’s removal is better for the Iraqi people.

Myth 5 – “American soldiers are deserting and refusing to go to Iraq.” Wrong again. The anti-war movement must be desperate. It invents facts; it wildly exaggerates figures – claiming 5500 American soldiers have deserted, gone into hiding, been sent to jail, or escaped to Canada to avoid military service. Only three soldiers have gone to Canada to avoid service, and one of them has Canadian citizenship. The total number of desertions is only about a half-dozen. The issue of conscientious objectors and deserters is virtually a non-issue in an all-volunteer army of over two million who serve willingly and bravely.

The people of Iraq need our help. It is vital that Europe and America pull together in common purpose.

After the January elections, the Iraqi people deserve our strong support to build a democratic government, run their own security, build a tolerant multi-ethnic state that respects the rights of women, religious and ethnic minorities, and is at peace with its neighbours.

With our help, the purple finger will win against the bloody fist.’

James C Kenny is United States ambassador to Ireland

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