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Governments of Confrontation


According to an Agence France Press report last week, the morning after Lebanon’s long-serving Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri resigned his post—under an “ultimatum,” AFP added, “from the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, either to accept [President] Lahoud’s demands to form a new government or leave office”—Beirut’s “leading leftist daily” newspaper, As-Safir, carried a headline that read:

Hariri Chose His Departure and Lahoud
Chooses a Government of Confrontation


A second Beirut daily spelled this out more explicitly: “Lahoud now has a free hand to form a new cabinet,” L’Orient Le Jour reported, “although homogenous but dangerously monochrome: a real government of confrontation.”

Omar Karami, named by President Emile Lahoud to be Hariri’s successor and having earlier today announced his interim government to serve until new elections can be held next spring—and with maybe one-third of Lebanon’s Parliament opposing his effort, and none of the chief opposition figures participating in it, Karami’s new government very well could fall apart—said that he understood the “enormity of the external pressures against Lebanon and Syria,” as well as the “sensitive international situation and the crises the people are suffering from.” (“Lebanon’s new prime minister tries to form Cabinet amid internal, U.S. criticism that Syria influencing decisions,” Associated Press, Oct. 22.)

The “international situation” with respect to Lebanon and Syria is in fact a combination of two situations, if not more (the third would be Syria’s weight within Lebanon’s affairs): Increasing American pressure on the governments of Lebanon and Syria for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanese territory (though the Americans also like to toss in sealing Syria’s border with Iraq, allegations about Syria’s weapons of mass destruction programs, an end to Syria’s support for “terrorism,” principally its support of Hezbollah—and, last but not least, its opposition to American and Israeli policies in the region); and, more recently, UN Security Council pressure on the governments of Lebanon and Syria for Syria to do likewise under Resolution 1559, adopted by the slimmest of margins on September 2. Hence, when the American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield was quoted last weekend in Beirut’s An-Nahar newspaper expressing his Government’s “concern about Syria’s attitude towards Lebanon, Iraq and terrorism,” and he added “We want to see Syria take concrete measures because words are not enough,” this was what he meant: Not only that the American Government is demanding that Lebanon and Syria take specific actions, but that the Americans have chosen a path of confrontation until such time as they do. (“US demands action from Syria, warns of further sanctions,” Agence France Presse, Oct. 23.)

What almost nobody had counted on until 1559, however, was that the Americans (and in this instance the French as well) would succeed in dragging the UN Security Council along the same path of confrontation with Syria and Lebanon that the Americans had chosen. (Though I should add that after what we’ve seen the Americans manage to pull off in Afghanistan and Iraq these past three years, getting the Security Council to line up behind American Power towards Syria and Lebanon must have felt like child’s play.)

The current phase of this deliberately-chosen path of confrontation with Syria and Lebanon was initiated with the entry into law of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act back on December 12, 2003—a horrific piece of legislation that passed both chambers of the American Congress with a total of only four Nay votes cast against it, all four of them in the House alone. (Namely: Two Republicans (Jeff Flake (AZ) and Ron Paul (TX)), and two Democrats (Neil Abercrombie (HI) and Nick Rahall (WV). How’s this for a near-totalitarian equivalent?)

As Stephen Zunes aptly sums of the reasons this seemingly—but only seemingly—crazy piece of legislation was so warmly embraced by the American Congress, including language “emblematic of the new bipartisan consensus in Washington in favor of a hegemonic world order led by the Bush administration”—or by a Democratic alternative, just so long as it is equally committed to the principle of American hegemony in world affairs (“The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony“): The answer lies

in today’s unipolar world system where the United States, rather than supporting comprehensive and law-based means of promoting regional peace and security, insists upon the right to impose unilateral demands targeted at specific countries based largely upon ideological criteria. As the one-sidedness of the vote on this resolution indicates, both the Republicans and the Democrats—including the most liberal wing of the party—now accept this vision of U.S. foreign policy.
…………

In the near-unanimous passage of this bill, Republicans and Democrats alike are on record in their conviction that the United States has the right to punish particular nations for certain policies while providing military, economic, and diplomatic support for allied nations that engage in those very policies. Both Republicans and Democrats alike are on record trusting unsubstantiated claims by neoconservative ideologues who have lied repeatedly about so-called “rogue states” in order to justify increased U.S. militarism and foreign wars. Both Republicans and Democrats alike are on record rejecting multilateral arms control treaties in favor of forcing unilateral disarmament by some governments while sending billions of dollars worth of sophisticated weaponry to neighboring states. Both Republicans and Democrats alike are manipulating popular concern regarding international terrorism to justify policies that actually weaken the United States’ ability to counter this very real threat.

The Syrian Accountability Act is not a reflection of popular concern for the Lebanese people, for non-proliferation, for preventing terrorism, or for defending the United Nations. It is a reflection of an imperial world view.

You can say that again.—Indeed. What the American Government did when it passed the Syria Accountability Act was to create for itself a legal facade behind which it can continue to make demands of Syria and Lebanon not only that they cease to oppose American policy in the region (and Lebanon is a secondary concern here, compared to Israel and the American occupation of Iraq), but that they must actively support those policies, no matter how egregious—and even get down on their knees while trying. Or like I said above: The American Government has chosen the path of confrontation.

Now. I do not possess any Syrian or Lebanese government documents addressing these issues as they were raised last December in the context of American law.

(Quick aside. Here, in place of American law, one really ought to read: In the context of world law. At least as far as the Americans are concerned. American law exercising jurisdiction over the entire world—if and when the Americans assert as much. Witness, for example, (a) the Americans’ presumption of their right to invade Iraq in March, 2003—a sovereign state being no different than the territorial United States, because the American Government said so. And (b) the Americans’ rejection of the World Court’s jurisdiction in the case of Nicaragua vs. United States of America (June, 1986). What right does the World Court have to sit in judgment of the Americans?)

But I do possess Syrian and Lebanese government letters addressing these exact same issues as they were first raised before the UN Security Council in late August and early September, impelled by the American introduction of a draft of Resolution 1559, as well as both governments’ responses to subsequent deliberations under the terms of 1559. And they are definitely worth taking a look at. And putting on display. (FYA—”For your archives.”)

Throughout, the single most resolute theme of the Lebanese and the Syrian letters to the UN is the right of sovereign and equal states to engage in relations between themselves so long as they do not violate international law or threaten international peace and security. In other words, the fundamental rights of states under the Charter of the United Nations, specifically Chapter I (“Purposes and Principles“), Article 2 of which affirms in part:

The Organization and its Members…shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.

For the Security Council to contemplate, let alone to adopt, the draft of Res. 1559, would therefore “set a dangerous precedent, in violation of international law and norms,” Lebanon’s August 30 Letter argued. The Letter concluded (A/58/879-S/2004/699):

4. The attempt made by certain States to interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs under the pretext of respect for the Constitution [of Lebanon] on the eve of the presidential elections is a cover for political intentions of no relevance to such claims, aimed at manipulating the domestic situation and creating conditions of instability which would only expose the country to grave dangers.

5. We hope that the Secretary-General of the United Nations will intervene with the Security Council to prevent this draft resolution from going forward and avert this grave precedent which could lead the United Nations to abandon its fundamental role and become involved in the internal affairs of a Member State.

Syria’s Letter of September 1 re-affirmed the same fundamental rights. “The Syrian Arab Republic rejects in principle any discussion of the proposed draft resolution,” this Letter opened. It continued (A/58/883–S/2004/706):

2. The discussion by the Security Council of this issue contradicts paragraph 7 of article 2 of the Charter, which stipulates: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter.”

3. The issue raised [by the draft resolution] is not linked to any dispute and does not constitute a threat to international peace and security; consequently, the overall question does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Security Council by any means.

Needless to say, on September 2, the Security Council adopted Res. 1559, with 9 states voting in favor, and 6 abstentions. (See UNSC 1559: The Resolution Out of Nowhere, ZNet Blogs, Sept. 5.) Under 1559, the Secretary-General is requested to “report to the Security Council within thirty days on the implementation by the parties of this resolution….” On October 1, the Secretary-General did. (See Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1559 (S/2004/777).

(Quick aside. The Secretary-General’s document deserves a very close reading as—though exactly as what it’s hard to say. Historical revisionism, perhaps? Sorry I can’t do more with it right here, right now. For example, paragraph 6 opens: “In June 1982, Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon, the trigger for which was an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom.” In its final section, “Observations,” the document asserts that “many are of the view that full implementation of resolution 1559 (2004) would be in the interest not just of Lebanon, but of the Syrian Arab Republic, too, and of the region and the wider international community. It is time, 14 years after the end of hostilities and four years after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, for all parties concerned to set aside the remaining vestiges of the past. The withdrawal of foreign forces and the disbandment and disarmament of militias would, with finality, end that sad chapter of Lebanese history” (par. 35).)

Both the Lebanese (S/2004/794) and the Syrian (S/2004/796) governments responded to the Secretary-General’s October 1 findings. For reasons that I cannot explain, Lebanon’s Letter of October 5 has been archived in the United Nations Bibliographic Information System without any text (S/2004/794/Corr.1).

Not so Syria‘s Letter of October 7 (S/2004/796). As Syria’s Letter states:

– The Syrian Arab Republic reiterates the position which it communicated in a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President and members of the Security Council dated 2 September 2004 (A/58/883-S/2004/706), in which it stated that the discussion of Syrian-Lebanese bilateral relations in the Security Council constituted a precedent that would make the Council a tool for illegal interference in the internal affairs of independent States Members of the United Nations. This is in conflict with Article 2, paragraph 7, of the Charter of the United Nations, which explicitly prohibits intervention of the United Nations “in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state,” and constitutes a violation of the functions of the Security Council defined in the Charter, particularly in view of the fact
that the privileged fraternal ties existing between Syria and Lebanon pose no threat to international security and peace and there exists no complaint by either of those States against the other;

– In Syria’s view, the real causes of the troubled situation in the region is the absence of a just and comprehensive peace, owing to Israel’s constant defiance of the Charter of the United Nations, refusal to implement the resolutions adopted by the Organization and continuing violations of the Geneva Conventions in the occupied Palestinian territory.

It has been our hope, a hope that we still entertain, that the Security Council will shoulder its responsibilities and prevail upon Israel to comply with the more than 40 resolutions adopted by the Security Council that call upon Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967 as a basis for the establishment of a just and comprehensive peace in the region.

The Syrian Arab Republic reiterates its willingness to cooperate with the Secretary-General of the United Nations with a view to seeking the best possible ways to realize the hope expressed at the close of his report, namely the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in keeping with the relevant Security Council resolutions. As for Syria, finally, what we were hoping to see internationalized and followed up by the Security Council was the question of the Israeli occupation, which constitutes a threat to international security and peace, and not Syrian-Lebanese relations, which respect the goals and objectives of the Charter of the United Nations and are aimed at bringing peace and stability to the region.

As best I can tell, neither Lebanon’s position as communicated to the United Nations on August 30 and then again October 5, nor Syria’s on September 1 and October 7, have ever been reported in the mainstream news media of the United States. Certainly in no form even remotely comparable to their positions as articulated in the letters cited above. The American Government’s position, on the other hand, is hard to miss. (Presuming that one looks, of course.)

What we find, when we bother to look, are two states whose governments are pleading felicity to the principles of the UN Charter, increasingly threatened by their own internal dynamics and, more important, by the dynamics of an international system wherein they are never free of the interference of certain foreign powers, and, now, on top of this, the interference of certain organs of the United Nations, at the behest of these same foreign powers.

This is a confrontation that neither the government of Lebanon nor Syria wanted. But they’re stuck with it. As is the United Nations. Which performs more and more like a government of confrontation these days. Particularly when the real Government of Confrontation wants it to perform this way.

Lebanon seeks new PM amid blunt demands for Syria to back off,” Agence France Presse, October 21, 2004
Lebanon’s new prime minister tries to form Cabinet amid internal, U.S. criticism that Syria influencing decisions,” Associated Press, October 22, 2004
US demands action from Syria, warns of further sanctions,” Agence France Presse, October 23, 2004
Postwar Beirut Debates How Much to Remember; City Acquires Symbol of Its Culture, Its Warfare,” Robin Shulman, Washington Post, October 23, 2004
Reform or Die for Damascus,” Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian, October 25, 2004
Syria’s Grip on Lebanon Tested,” Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, October 25, 2004
Sanctions Sought on Some Lebanon Officials,” Associated Press, October 26, 2004
New government lineup announced in Lebanon after backroom deals,” Agence France Presse, October 27, 2004

Lebanon and the IMF, International Monetary Fund (accessed Oct. 26, 2004)
Inauguration of the Middle East Technical Assistance Center (METAC),” International Monetary Fund, October 25, 2004

Letter from the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations (S/2004/699), August 30, 2004
Letter from the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations (S/2004/706), September 1, 2004
UN Security Council Resolution 1559, September 2, 2004
Security Council Declares Support for Free, Fair Presidential Election in Lebanon; Calls for Withdrawal of Foreign Forces There,” Press Release SC/8181, September 2, 2004
Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004), October 1, 2004
Letter from the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations (S/2004/794/Corr.1), October 5, 2004
Letter from the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations (S/2004/796), October 7, 2004
The Situation in the Middle East,” Presidential Statement, UN Security Council, October 19, 2004
Reaffirming Strong Support for Lebanon’s Sovereignty and Independence, Security Council ‘Notes with Concern’ that Requirements of Resolution 1559 Remain Unmet,” Press Release SC/8220, October 19, 2004

Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, U.S. Public Law 108–175—December 12, 2003 (as archived by the Federation of American Scientists)
Fact Sheet: Implementing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003,” The White House, May 11, 2004

The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony,” Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, October, 2003
U.S. Policy Towards Syria and the Triumph of Neoconservativism,” Stephen Zunes, Journal of the Middle East Policy Council, Spring, 2004 (Readers who can’t access the complete text should ask me, and I’ll be happy to forward a copy of it.)

UNSC 1559: The Resolution Out of Nowhere, ZNet Blogs, September 5, 2004
This Masquerade, ZNet Blogs, October 22, 2004

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