Wednesday, February 14, 2007

US seen as more aggressive, not less, in Lebanon, following the Mecca agreement

Joseph Samaha, in his regular column in Al-Akhbar, writes about the relationship between the "Mecca agreement" respecting Palestine, and the situation in Lebanon. There has been optimism recently, he says, about the chances of applying the Mecca-agreement idea to Lebanon, partly bolstered by the reported Saudi-Iranian talks. Samaha explains where he thinks the big difference lies.
The "Mecca agreement" fits, in one way or another, into the American strategy for the region. It is a strategy that calls for starting movement in the Palestinian negotiations, [but this is] in order to facilitate the regional re-alignment, and give the "moderate powers" a political weapon against the "extremist powers". Now it is true that Hamas is classified as part of the extremist camp, and it is true that some clauses in the agreement weren't what America and Israel were hoping for. However, acceptance by America of the agreement is a good bet insofar as it paves the road for the overall American strategy, even if this is something temporary and partial.
So the first point is that the Mecca agreement didn't represent a change of heart, or a Saudi declaration of independence, or anything like that. Rather it was still part of the plan to give political cover to the "moderate" Arab regimes in the overall "re-alignment". But Samaha goes further:
I think we can even say that the Mecca Agreement, as some kind of a preliminary to a Palestinian common front, is seen in Washington as strengthening their attack on the two other regional fronts against "extremism", namely in Iraq and also in Lebanon. Which would mean that the Lebanese crisis is developing in a completely different framework from that in Palestine, as far as the Americans are concerned. ... Naturally this is merely tactical, but it is the case, and it will be for a while yet. If this is the right analysis, and I think it is, it becomes possible to understand the purport of the statement by read by the US ambassador [to Lebanon] Jeffery Feltman [on Monday], namely that it is a statement against domestic accord, against agreement, against the domestic interests, against the opposition forces, and so on. It was an open invitation to continue the crisis with all of its dangers.
(The Feltman statement in question doesn't appear to have been reported anywhere in English when it was made, but the gist of it is explained in this Daily Star news item reporting on the Hizbullah rebuttal). Feltman apparently accused Hizbullah of working to restore Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, of contributing to the destruction of Lebanon's constitutional institutions, of having triggered the summer war with Israel, and so on. Samaha's point is that issuance of a belligerent statement like that, at a time when optimism was building for a meeting of the minds, underlines his hypothesis that the US is currently becoming more hawkish, not less, with respect to Lebanon, and is treating the Mecca agreement as a form of political cover in the broader regional "re-alignment". And consequently, he says, the nice idea that the Mecca agreement might be soon copied in Lebanon, is probably the wrong way of looking at this, at least as far as American strategy is concerned.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Badger,

first, I really appreciate your regular media-watch - thank you. I consider Samaha too as one of the most thoughtful analysts - but must admit that I can't follow him anymore lately. Didn't he write a few days ago that there is nothing wrong in hoping for a Saudi initiative for arranging something for Lebanon?! I didn't understand that at the time anyway... I mean, Saudi-Arabia???!

Then Al-Akhbar published yesterday or so this possible peace-scenario with a new government formed out of 19 seats for the "majority" and the rest for the opposition.

And today he writes in his column: no the escalation will go on, at least that's what America wants.


By the way: what is the American plan for Lebanon / the region?! Splitting everything up? Sectarian fights all over?

Thanks for letting us know your opinion.

5:01 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I think the peace-scenario you refer to was part of the recent optimism Samaha refers to. His point in the recent column is that in the face of hopeful signs like that, the Feltman statement appeared to indicate the US was digging in its heels against a resolution.

On your other point, I think the hypothesis at the time was that maybe, just maybe, Saudi would start showing some real independence (for instance by following through with the Mecca agreement on Palestine by lobbying internationally for the Palestinians and so on). I thought it was just sort of an "unlikely, but why not wait and see" kind of a comment. Partly those comments were to highlight what would be required of the Saudis to be considered serious pro-Arab players, as opposed to merely having hosted the Mecca meeting.

Saudi influence is a fact in Lebanon, so I guess you'd expect them to be involved, along with others, in any settlement.

Finally, I hope you don't think I know what is the Bush "plan" for Lebanon/the region. I am not a psychiatrist. But I guess the working model of Samaha and others is that instead of working with Hamas, Hizbullah, and the nationalists in Iraq, and encouraging others to work with them, the "plan" is to polarize these situations, and eventually crush any groups that don't agree with Washington. Samaha's point in the recent column had to do with timing: Turning down the heat a little in Palestine along with turning up the heat in Lebanon.

Thanks for your kind remarks.

5:36 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I gave you short shrift on the Saudi-Lebanon part of your query, anonymous, but as it happens, there is a good discussion (or a discussion with good parts to it) at the blog today, under the heading "Feb 14 raises the rhetoric", in the comments by "Alex" and "Ford Prefect" and others where they give us a bit of relevant history. I thought it was kind of enlightening, anyway...

On another point, one of the commenters says: Luckily for Lebanon it appears the US isn't going to accept the Mecca agreement on Palestine, so they'll still have Palestine as a battleground, taking the heat off us...

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Badger, for elaborating. Yes, that makes things much clearer (what makes it a bit problematic, at least to me, is that I never know: do these (really good) people write things because somebody wishes them to do so or is it their true conviction?! Especially when it comes to Saudi-Arabia, the holy cow.)

3:36 AM  

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